Family is important for me, and I would assume it is for you. I would do anything for family. They are truly God’s gift of grace to me, and I am blessed because God has given to me a wife and children who love God first and foremost and who love me…flaws and all. Today we are going to look at family and what Jesus said about family. It is safe to assume that Jesus was a family man. He loved his mother and siblings, but his family did not extend to flesh and blood. It was large and expanding. His delineation fits our understanding of family, but he also redefines family and expands it beyond mere flesh and blood. Let’s dive in and see what Jesus says.
Mark 3:31 – 32
Jesus’ family is outside of a house, and they ask someone to tell Jesus that they are outside and wanted to speak to him. At this point in his life Jesus is beginning to get some attention from the masses. He has called his 12 disciples, he has been healing the sick, and he has been casting out demons of the possessed. He has preached some sermons that have been controversial and brow raising. The attention he was receiving was not all positive, especially among the religious leaders. There was talk about this Jesus being a crazy man, a demon possessed man, and a false prophet. He was starting to be despised among the leaders and he was becoming the laughingstock in the public’s eyes. So, when his family heard what he was doing they took to a trip to Capernaum and went to the house where he was teaching, and they asked to speak with Jesus. They wanted to talk to him as they were hearing rumors about all the crazy things they heard he was doing and saying. I imagine they were sort of embarrassed by Jesus right now. They may have even started to believe he was a little crazy, and they wanted to stop him before he went too far. Ultimately, I think they wanted to put an end to any further public attention (especially from the religious leaders.) Some Bible teachers have suggested that they may have been trying to protect him because they did not know what he was up to. Yes, Mary did know that Jesus was a special child and God was going to do great things through him, but I don’t think she saw what Jesus was doing at this time as what God had intended. They thought he was mad!
Vs 33 – 35:
When I read this passage, as a parent I cringe a little at the words of Jesus. I try to imagine how I would feel as a parent if I heard my son or daughter say, “Who are my brothers and sister and mother?” then pointing to a group of strangers and saying, “These are my brothers and sister and mother.” This would sting a little if this was the response of my children or wife.
Jesus’ statement may seem a bit confusing and abrasive at first reading, and it may cause you to think about what he is talking about. In fact, what he said was scandalous to all who heard him. Why is this? The family bond was important in Ancient Israel. Families were very connected and long lasting. It was normal for children to live with their parents or very close to their parents. Everything revolved around the family. In many cases the family was a business unit, and they would share everything in common. When the parents got older the children would care for them and provide for them. Once they neared death the children would put their lives on hold and wait for their parents to die so they could prepare and tend to the body of the parent and bury them in the family plot for a proper burial. Loyalty to family was key, not only for the benefit of the family, but also for the benefit of Israel as the people of God. Breaking the family bond was not a good thing to the first century Jew. So, therefore Jesus’ words were scandalous. As with everything, Jesus wasn’t just making an off the cuff remark or flippantly speaking about his family. He had a point and a reason for saying what he said, and it applies to us today (and we will get to that in a moment).
Jesus’ response was not what people, and his family were expecting to hear. This is where we are going to park for a bit and try to understand what Jesus is saying and implying. It is important to establish first that Jesus is not denouncing his family nor is he saying that he was not part of his immediate family. He is not saying family is unimportant. Instead, He is redefining family and expanding the truth of who belongs in his family. Jesus’ response is radical and in one fell swoop he has cut the ties of the traditional family and has given it a new face. Jesus is showing us and his listeners what the true family looks like. His blood relatives probably did not realize it but by them trying to stop him they were going against God’s plan. His family thought he was mad, but God had ordained him to do what he was doing and to go against what Jesus was doing was the same as going against God.
I like what David E. Garland writes, “Life under God is not defined in relationships in a biological family, which is geared for the preservation of the family line, it’s wealth and honor. One’s ultimate devotion is to God alone who is the head of this unique family that consists of all types of people. The only requirement to this family is commitment to God.” Jesus’ redefinition of family is huge because at first one would think his response to his family was heartless and rude. But when we look at what he was saying they were just the opposite, they are words of encouragement to the people in this house because these were men and women who had given up everything to come and follow Him were now part of a God’s extended family. Jesus says that family is not just about blood lines or relations through marriage, He is saying the true family is found in our shared commitments to God and doing His will. He is saying that people who are committed to God have a stronger bond to one another than with our true blood relatives who have no relationship with God. That is certainly a controversial statement today, how much more do you think it was in the first century when family was all that mattered?
The people Jesus was calling his family were those whose allegiance lies in doing God’s will. Doing God’s will simply meant submitting oneself to Him, following him to bring glory to His name, and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. This is our common bond.
Now, let’s go back for a moment and determine, is Jesus saying that families are bad? No, not at all. He is saying that family is much more than we think it is. The bond is still strong, and the rule of the family still applies. Children are still commanded to be respectful to parents, parents are to love our children and not provoke them to wrath. Husbands should honor their wives and love them sacrificially. Wives should mutually honor and love their husbands as well. We are to protect, love, and care for our families… this is biblical. However, our loyalty is to God first and then to family. And in the same regard when we love God fully, we can love our families fully.
If I could sum up Jesus’ words it is, “The body of Christ (the Church… His people) is our family. You are my brothers and sisters.” Unfortunately, sometimes our commitment to Jesus Christ causes unwanted division within our families and for some of us our loyalties must lie in doing God’s will over appeasing family. This may sound radical, but I do believe it is what Jesus is saying. He went against his families wishes himself because they did not understand what God was up to at this point in their lives and He knew he had to do God’s will instead of being loyal to his family.
Eventually, his mother and many of his brothers and sisters came around and grasped what God was doing and this may be the case for some of you. Jesus ultimately was suggesting that a family who is blood related AND bound together by loyalty to Him makes for a strong and impenetrable family. This is the ultimate family. This is my prayer for every family here. I pray that you will be a family who is glued together and kept by faith in Jesus Christ.
So, what is the response today? What are we to do with these words of Jesus?
Is family important? To use one of my favorite Wisconsin quotes, “You Bet!” This radical new concept of Jesus may be controversial today however I pray that we wouldn’t look at it as a negative or heartless response. Instead, I pray that it would enlarge our understanding of family and remind ourselves that we are part of a larger family. We are a part of God’s great family. We are part of a family that is connected by the common love and loyalty to our great and faithful God who in his love and care gave us the ultimate model of what a true family is and how it should function. So may we as a church body continue (or begin) to live as a family joined together by the love, grace, and mercy of God; showing forgiveness, compassion, love, loyalty, and blessings to one another because we are indeed a family. In 2023 may we be a family that is growing both spiritually, numerically, and in faithfulness to God. This is one of the joys of the family oof God, we can invite people in to be part of God’s family and it can be an ever growing family designed to edify one another and bring glory to God.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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