Sunday, February 10, 2008

Christ's Kinfolk

Massive crowds of people from Galilee and every surrounding province had descended upon Capernaum. Capernaum had become a major attraction for one reason: Jesus Christ was there. This amazing man who performed miraculous deeds was sought after by all. Everyone wanted to be healed, or else they wanted to witness people being healed. This was the biggest sensation of their lives, and they were not about to miss out. The crowds were so intense that some had even tore a hole in a man’s roof to get to Jesus. The crowds were so large and so intent on being touched or touching Jesus that the Lord actually had an escape boat ready to launch out onto the Galilean Sea.

The determined horde included a broad assortment of individuals. Nearest to Jesus were His disciples, particularly the Twelve. These men were hanging on every word from Jesus’ mouth. Their enthusiastic faces were contrasted by the scornful grimaces of the religious and political elite; the scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. These groups were also hanging on every syllable from the Savior’s lips, but only in hopes that He would utter something which they could use against Him. He was hated by these men, and they had just accused Him of being in league with Satan.

The disciples and the detractors formed opposing ends of the spectrum and the remainder of the colossal crowd fell somewhere in the middle. There were collaborationist tax collectors and nationalistic zealots; ignorant fishermen and sophisticated intelligentsia; men, women, and children; Jews and Gentiles; the truly converted and the purely curious. Anxiously standing on the outskirts of this massive collection of humanity, however, was an interesting group of people from Nazareth: Christ’s kinfolk. This group is first spotted in Mark 3:20-21 and then again in vv. 31-35:

And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

This is the only mention of Christ’s earthly family in the gospel of Mark. We are not told their names in this passage, but Matthew 13:53-58 lists the brothers’ names: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, and that Jesus had sisters as well. Of course, we know that Christ’s mother’s name was Mary. Her husband was Joseph, to whom Mary was engaged when the Holy Spirit came upon her and she conceived. Contrary to the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church, Joseph and Mary’s marriage was consummated after Christ’s birth. Scripture is quite clear that Joseph and Mary’s quiver was chock-full; counting Jesus there were at least seven, and probably eight or nine children.

These were Christ’s earthly kinfolk, but according to Jesus there is a deeper kinship to be had with Him; a spiritual kinship. Upon that topic this text is concentrated.

He Needed Rescued (they thought) - vv. 20-21

At this early stage in Christ’s ministry His family (that is who “friends” refers to in v. 21) went out to seize him, “to lay hold on him”. Mark used a word (krateĊ) that means “to get possession of; to become master of”, or one might say “to arrest”. His family had joined the throng in Capernaum with a motive unlike any other person in that great company; they wanted to remove Him, forcibly if necessary, back to Nazareth and the safety of home. Jesus’ family thought He needed to be rescued!

There is no explicit reason given why the family sought to seize Him, but the implicit reasons are obvious. He was a beloved son and brother, and His words and actions were anything but normal. At least, they did not think it was normal behavior. Religious fervor was fine; it good to be devout, but Jesus was taking things way too far. They had heard that some nights he stayed awake all night praying. He wasn’t eating right. He was spending all of his time with other people, to the point that his family couldn’t even get close to him. On top of all that he was making enemies with the powers that be in Jewish society. His family was left with only one possible conclusion: “He is beside himself”. They literally thought that Jesus was out of his mind. In gauging what must have been the thought’s of his family Kent Hughes writes:

No sane man would give up a business which met his needs, set himself against the powers that be, and gather a motley group around him such as he had. They were afraid that his crazy life would kill him. (p. 90)

Christ’s family thought that he was out of his mind because they had not yet come to believe that he was their Messiah; at least his brothers did not believe: “For neither did his brethren believe in him” John 7:5. They were certain that He had taken leave of His senses, and they were worried for His welfare. They needn’t be, for He was the sanest person who ever lived!

Like His Lord, the apostle Paul was accused of being crazy. After hearing Paul’s testimony and presentation of the gospel Festus declared, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” (Acts 26:24) The mistake of Jesus’ family and of Festus is not uncommon. Still today men and women who have forsaken all too completely follow Jesus are viewed as odd; many times even by their families. The one who dies daily to self, takes up his cross and follows Christ will be counter-cultural, will be different from the world. Not counter-cultural because of some silly hang-up or bizarre behavior; different because to follow Christ is to go opposite of the world.

Who really are the sane ones in the bunch? As Kent Hughes writes:

Given the truth of Christ and the truth of the gospel, such people are supremely sane! If Christ is who he says he is, then the sanest thing in the world is to follow him. If Christ calls us to total commitment, anything else is crazy. Christianity needs more of Christ’s madness! (emphasis original)

Jesus Christ was in total control of his faculties, and he was in no need of rescue. Everything He did was all according to plan, including His death on the cross. The ones who were in need of rescue were Christ’s family, and everyone else. Jesus was and is the Rescuer!

They Needed Rescued (He knew) - vv. 31-35

Jesus had come to seek and to save those who were lost; to call sinners to repentance; to rescue the perishing. His devotion to that mission was unparalleled. Everywhere He traveled he brought physical rescue to those he healed. This type of rescue was only temporary. More importantly, he brought spiritual rescue to those who repented and believed. This rescue was (and is) permanent!

A tense showdown between Christ and his enemies had just concluded. He had just been accused of being in cahoots with Satan. He warned the scribes that they were treading dangerously close to being beyond forgiveness. To deliberately and continually reject the Spirit’s plain witness of Christ’s deity and Messiahship; the refusal to believe Christ in spite of the evidence, will result in a loss of opportunity to believe. That is serious, and Christ had just finished teaching lesson.

That is when word came to him through the crowd; Matthew said a man told him: “Hey, your mom and brothers want a word with you.” That could be a little embarrassing, frankly. Here he is, a grown man who has been teaching and exercising tremendous authority against these scribes, Pharisees, and unbelievers. He has just blistered them with his typical dynamic, dramatic teaching. He has lovingly warned them of the eternal danger they faced if they continued to tread their current path. There He stood; a powerful presence. His hearers were still mulling over the implications of what he had just pronounced, when this guy comes in and says, “Your mom wants you.”

That could be a little embarrassing. “Excuse me, everyone, my mother is calling.” This wasn’t embarrassing for Jesus, because, as always, He was the master of every occasion. This was also, however, not a time for mothers and brothers to dominate His life, even though they cared for and loved Him. This was a time for preaching a message that needed to be preached, and he took advantage of the opportunity that gave him.

Like so much of his preaching, the answer that Christ provided was shocking to the crowd: “Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, {Matthew 12:49 indicates that he stretched his hand towards his disciples} and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!” This statement would have been startling and even offensive to many of His hearers, and it may well have been initially painful to his family. This is one of the hard sayings of Christ; even with the advantage of Biblical perspective (these people were hearing this for the first time) it still carries a stunning effect. Was Jesus showing a callous disregard for his family?

Not at all!

Christ was not severing family ties. He loved and cared for his family. Jesus held parenthood in the highest regard, and one of his most scathing sermons was directed towards the Pharisee’s disrespect for their parents as evidenced by their use of Corban (Mark 7:9-13). Even while he hung on the Cross, paying the penalty for mankind’s sin, He is still careful to ensure that Mary be given care and protection: “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own [home].” (John 19:26-27) We know He loved them; although he did acknowledge that Christian commitment would sometimes bring division within the family (Luke 14:25-33).

What did Christ mean when he asked: “Who is my mother? Who are My brothers?” He meant: “Who is really related to me? Who is in my family?” His answer was to stretch out His hand toward His disciples and say, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”

That means this: there is a deeper kinship than flesh and blood, a spiritual kinship which is marked by obedience to the Father. By the way, aren’t you glad that beautiful statement “For whosoever,” is there?! “Whosever” – there is no limit on that term. It is crucial to understand relationship to God is originated by grace through faith, but obedience is the sign that one has been saved by grace through faith.

“To be related to me,” Jesus says, “is not about physical family but spiritual family.” Those who are spiritually related to Christ are characterized by doing the will of the Father. What then is the will of the Father?

  • Matthew 3:17“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God's will is that people accept Jesus as His Son and be as pleased with Him as God is with Him.
  • Matthew 17:5 – “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him The Father's will is that you recognize the Son, believe in the Son, and have a faith relationship with the Son.
  • John 6:38-40 – “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The will of the Father is that you hear the Son. The will of the Father is that you believe in the Son. The will of the Father is that you be saved. It is not the will of the Father that you perish. The apostle Peter, who had a front row seat for this sermon, and who was even used as an illustration put it this way in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord…is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Paul would write in his first letter to Timothy: “For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (2:3-4)

God's will is that people be saved!

There is one other passage that needs to be discussed. Matthew 7:21: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

There are going to be a lot of people who profess this relationship but do not possess this relationship. This passage is always sobering; no matter how many times I read it. Certainly the passage indicates that those people who never say, “Lord, Lord,” will not be saved, but there are also those who do say “Lord, Lord,” that will not enter the Kingdom. Here is why. You are not saved by saying something. No one will enter the Kingdom by saying the secret password. One does not enter the kingdom of heaven like Ali Baba entered the secret treasure cave of the 40 thieves. Neither “open sesame” nor any other incantation will gain you entrance into heaven.

How then? Christ said in Matthew: “He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” and in Mark: “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” It is not what you say, it's what you do. Doing the will of the Father is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving the gift of salvation that He offers.

By nature we are sons and daughters of Adam; “children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2; cf. Romans 5). To become children of obedience a new birth must occur; not one that is physical but spiritual. John 1:11-12; 3:3

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

The principle of obedience that characterizes Christ’s spiritual kinfolk is illustrated in the conversion of Saul. Once he placed his hope for salvation on Jesus Christ, once he enthroned Jesus as Lord of his life, he said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) Before that moment all of Paul’s religious zeal and activity was like shadow boxing. He was just beating the air. He had a clean outside, but the inside was filthy, rotten, and lost.

Please understand that when Christ claimed that only those who do the Father’s will are his family, he was not speaking about making reforms. He was speaking about a relationship. You can completely reform your life, but if there is no relationship with Christ you will be worse off after the reforms than before. That is the point of Matthew 12:43-45:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.

That is why you can have a Pharisee who doesn't cheat, lie, steal, or commit adultery, who gives tithes of everything he possesses, fasts twice a week, but goes to Hell, because he's swept up the place and adorned it, but it's empty.

It’s also why you can have someone who was raised in church, who walked the aisle as a child, made an early profession of faith, and was baptized, but have that same person rarely ever live for Christ on a consistent basis; rarely if ever obey the will of the Father. It’s all reforms and no relationship.

On the other hand, you can have a tax collector who was an extortionist, adulterer, a cheat, a liar, and all of that, but he goes to Heaven because he has Christ on the inside, and when Christ comes to the inside, He will clean up the life.

The good news is that Jesus is the only way of salvation. The good news is that whosoever desires to be a member of Christ’s family may be a part of Christ’s family. And we know who those folks are because they do the will of the Father. It about a relationship; not a reformed behavior.

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