What is Family?
Good morning! Today, we will be wrapping up chapter 12 of Matthew.
Last week, Mike brought us through verses 38 to 45, where Jesus responds to the pharisees demanding a sign from him, to prove that he’s the Messiah. He says they’ll only get the sign of Jonah, referring to how he’ll be killed and resurrected after 3 days. Then he provides a parable to illustrate how evil and corrupt they are, refusing to believe him even though he’s greater than anything that has come before.
When we get to verse 46, the narrative shifts a bit to a different topic, because Jesus literally gets interrupted in the middle of talking. And of course, master teacher that he is, Jesus doesn’t get upset for getting interrupted, he uses it as a teaching opportunity.
Let’s read together beginning in verse 46:
Matthew 12:46–50 CSB
46 While he was still speaking with the crowds, his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to the one who was speaking to him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 49 Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
This is a bit of a shorter passage than we’ve been tackling lately, but it’s such a great and relevant topic that I think it’s worth spending some time reflecting on it.
Notice how verse 46 starts off with “While he was still speaking to the crowds...”
The past few passages have been Jesus directly addressing the Pharisees, the religious leaders, but this is a reminder that they weren’t alone! He was saying all of those harsh things, condemning them in front of a large audience of witnesses! It was humiliating for them, and of course it would have just fueled their hatred of Jesus.
On the other hand, he has also applied all his condemnation of the religious leaders to the “evil generation” as a whole, so really his statements about the sign of Jonah, and the parable of the unclean spirit, are applicable to anyone present who is willingly and knowingly rejecting the truth when it is revealed to them.
I’d like to point out this wording in verse 46…did you notice anything odd about what it says there? It says his mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.
WHO is missing?
What about his father? His earthly father, that is. Where do you think Joseph was?
Of course, it’s possible he was simply busy working, however Joseph is not mentioned in any of the gospels after the story of Jesus in the temple when he was 12. By the time Jesus is an adult, there is no mention of Joseph, even though his mother Mary, and his brothers, are mentioned several times.
We don’t really know for sure what happened to Joseph, but it is a reasonable guess to say he may have died at some point between then and now, and that Jesus and his brothers would have been responsible for taking care of Mary. Jesus being the first-born would have especially had this responsibility and leadership role in the family.
Seeing him spending so much time out teaching and preaching and healing, and with all his disciples, instead of with his mother and brothers, could appear to some like he was neglecting that role, couldn’t it?
It’s possible, and this is just an educated guess, but based on the context, as well as later statements Jesus makes, it’s possible that his mother and brothers were there to try to get him to go back home and take care of his household!
To get some more context, we can cross-reference some other passages in Mark and John. Turn with me to Mark chapter 3, where we get some more insight as to how his family viewed him at this point in his ministry:
Mark 3:20–21 CSB
20 Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard this, they set out to restrain him, because they said, “He’s out of his mind.”
Be honest: don’t name any names, but have you ever thought that your sibling or your child, or any other family member was just out of their mind?
Maybe better not tell me about it now, but I think most of us can somewhat relate to this feeling of not understanding why someone in your family would be doing what they’re doing or saying what they’re saying.
Then, later in this chapter, after introducing Jesus’s family in this context, we get the same story as we have in Matthew:
Mark 3:31–35 CSB
31 His mother and his brothers came, and standing outside, they sent word to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him and told him, “Look, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside asking for you.” 33 He replied to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 Looking at those sitting in a circle around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
So, looking at how Mark frames the story, it’s almost like they were chasing him around trying to get him to stop doing what he was doing! The word “restrain” is the same word translated as “arrest” elsewhere…they wanted to arrest him! Possibly because they didn’t want the authorities getting to him first, possibly because they just wanted him to stop making a spectacle of himself.
Whether it was because they knew he was going to get in trouble with the authorities, or were embarrassed because they thought he had totally lost it, or because they just wanted him to be at home, it certainly doesn’t sound like they weren’t looking to speak to Jesus to learn from him, or because they urgently needed help with something.
It’s important to keep that in mind when we consider his response.
To further drive this point home, let’s turn to one more cross-reference, in the gospel according to John.
John 7:1–5 CSB
1 After this, Jesus traveled in Galilee, since he did not want to travel in Judea because the Jews were trying to kill him. 2 The Jewish Festival of Shelters was near. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples can see your works that you are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his brothers believed in him.)
So…Jesus doesn’t want to go to Judea because the Jews were trying to kill him, but his brothers give him this terrible advice to go there anyway!
And we get this parenthetical from John that explains they were giving this bad advice because of their unbelief, stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus’s messianic identity.
Anybody know the names of Jesus’s brothers?
Later, in the next chapter of Matthew they get named:
Matthew 13:55 CSB
55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
We know that at least two of these brothers eventually came around to recognizing and believing in who Jesus was, because two of our new testament books are written by them! Which ones?
James and Jude! Pretty cool!
So did Jesus only have brothers? Did he have any sisters? What do you think?
If we look at the parallel verse in Mark, we get the answer to that:
Mark 6:3 CSB
3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended by him.
So indeed, although the brothers are mentioned more often, he had sisters too!
The important thing to remember, though, is that Jesus was not neglecting his family, there is no reason to think they actually needed him at that moment, rather they were trying to stop him, hinder him from his ministry that he knew he needed to continue at that time.
Alright, now let’s look at how Jesus responds:
Matthew 12:48 CSB
48 He replied to the one who was speaking to him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”
In classic Jesus fashion, he begins answering with a question. He’s forcing his listeners to not just be passive listeners but active learners, by asking them to think about it.
Essentially, he’s asking them to consider the idea of family. Who is my family? What is a family?
What is a Family?
So, what is a family? How would you define the basic term as it is normally used?
The most basic definition of family is people who are related to each other.
Oxford Dictionary defines it as:
- A group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit.
- All the descendants of a common ancestor.
So, either people related simply by proximity and function, or by ancestry…their DNA, their blood.
Remember, the concept of family was VERY important to the Jews! They were all descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham, which made them God’s chosen people! God’s special, chosen family! And they were closely tied to their roots going back to the 12 tribes, the 12 sons of Abraham’s grandson Jacob. So, their ancestry as well as their individual family units were very important, sacred to them!
Just imagine how shocking, then, it would have been when Jesus offered an alternative, unexpected definition of family in verses 49 and 50:
Matthew 12:49–50 CSB
49 Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Why did Jesus say this?
First of all, is he totally neglecting and negating the importance of his biological family?
It may seem that way at first, and it probably came across that way to his mother and brothers at the time! However, we know that he did in fact care for his natural family, and especially his mother Mary. This is evidenced towards the end of his ministry, where John recounts how Jesus passed on his role of Mary’s son to John:
John 19:25–27 CSB
25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
By doing this, Jesus was putting the responsibility of care on John, to make sure that his mother was cared for and provided for after he was gone. After all, Jesus did say how important it is to take care of widows and orphans, right?
Jesus understood how precious and valuable the natural family unit is, and how devastating it can be when a family is broken, whether by death or divorce, and that’s why he spoke so harshly against adultery and divorce, and so adamantly about caring for widows and orphans!
So, we have to take that into consideration when we look at this statement he’s making in Matthew 12. He’s not saying that immediate family units are unimportant.
So, what is he saying?
He’s introducing a new type of family that is even more important: a spiritual family, united not by common biological ancestry but common spiritual ancestry; united in Christ.
United not by marriage or any other human law or institution, but as the bride of Christ, by the law of God, by the ultimate judge of the universe declaring us as his, as part of his family.
Not by being born into a privileged elite group of people, but by being adopted and declared sons and daughters of the father of the universe, and as brothers and sisters of the King!
Ephesians 1:3–6 CSB
3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. 5 He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.
I think the message of this passage is pretty simple. It’s clear that family is super important! All types of families…but the MOST important family is the spiritual family of God, the eternal body of Christ that will rule the earth with Jesus as our high priest and king. Jesus revealed that the kingdom of God is so much more than a castle and walls and conquest…it’s made up of people, of families across the whole earth, and what our king came to conquer and overthrow was not people or their earthly kingdoms, but sin and death itself, so that all people could be saved from that underlying condition which causes hate and pride and greed and corrupts kings and kingdoms and churches. He came to cure the disease, and displace it with love.
That’s why God’s spiritual family is so cosmically more important than any one biological family.
That said, this does NOT mean that our church family should be prioritized at the expense of our home family.
it DOES mean that we shouldn’t allow any relationship, whether it’s relationships with people...family or friends, OR relationships with different aspects of life like work or hobbies or money…anything…to actually hinder us from our relationship with God and the ministries he has called us to.
Now, for those of us with a spouse and/or kids, our immediate family IS our number one ministry! And they SHOULD be our number one priority!
That’s why Paul talks about the value of actually staying single, so you can be totally devoted to other ministries without being divided between your immediate family and church family.
But of course marriage and children are necessary, for the perpetuation of the human race in general, but also for the perpetuation of “the church,” for growing the family of God! One of the most profound responsibilities we will ever have as parents is to pass on what we have learned about God and guide our children to the path of truth and light.
And it’s important that we approach this responsibility NOT with indoctrination and brain-washing tactics, because eventually when they learn to think for themselves, most likely they will resent and reject everything, throwing out the baby with the bath water.
It’s also not by pretending to be a “perfect” role-model, trying to make our children think we are without sin and never make any mistakes.
Rather, we need to be open and honest with our children about who we are, and what God has done for us, telling them our own stories of journeying through Grace, at appropriate age levels of comprehension of course.
We do need to model and reflect the love of God, showing them unconditional love, love that does not depend on them for anything, that we love them no matter what they do or say, that we will always be there for them.
We can show them that just as they depend on us for everything, and we depend on them for nothing, we in turn depend on God for everything and he depends on us for nothing.
We do not own our children, we are simply stewards, guardians and guides. Our role is to guide them through the journey of growing into adulthood, equipping them with the knowledge and wisdom and skills and tools to think for themselves, establish their own relationship with God, and navigate the world as an adult.
I need to also recognize that just as my relationship with any of you is unique from your relationship with anyone else, everyone’s relationship with God is different! God is of course the same person, but our relationships with him are as unique as they are with each other. And that’s a beautiful thing!
My hope is that one day I and Ellie and other people in our lives will have guided our children towards a relationship with God that is so established and intimate that they then are able to teach me, to share with me what God is teaching them as they mine the infinite depths of God’s word and are led by the ultimate guide, the Holy Spirit.
But all these same principles apply not just to our children, or to those of us with children, but to everyone else, too! The rest of our biological family, as well as our church family! We ought to be doing all those same things, reflecting God’s love and helping to guide each other and share with each other what God has done and what he’s teaching us!
In fact, we ought to be doing the same for those outside even our church family! Not in an obnoxious, shove it down your throat kind of way, but in relationship with each other, making disciples who make disciples, as a family of missionary servants. That’s true evangelism! Simply being willing to love people, help to guide them to the truth when they are willing to look for it, and being ready and willing to share the reason for the hope that is within you.
In the meantime we ought to be continually seeking to learn from and be lifted up by those who came before us, who are guiding us, of course always measuring everything and discerning every guide by the leading of the spirit and the standard of scripture, lest we allow ourselves to be led astray.
Paul warns about this in 1 Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:2–6 CSB
2 To Timothy, my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. 5 Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.
Notice too how Paul refers to Timothy as his “son in the faith.” He does this in four different letters, and often refers himself as a “father” to those he discipled and brought into the faith.
Later, in Thessalonians, Paul refers to Timothy no longer as a “son” but as a “brother,” indicating that a certain amount of spiritual maturity has occurred in Timothy’s life, which I think is pretty cool:
1 Thessalonians 3:1–2 CSB
1 Therefore, when we could no longer stand it, we thought it was better to be left alone in Athens. 2 And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith,
Paul was certainly not perfect, and he was the first to admit as such. None of us are or will be until our sanctification is complete for eternity. However, Paul was confident and bold enough in his faith and in his commitment to imitating Christ, that he was able to say this:
1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB
1 Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.
I challenge you to ask yourself this:
Can I confidently say that? To my kids, to my spouse, to my church family, to my coworkers? That ought to be our goal, with perhaps a caveat to ask for patience when we do not imitate Christ, and with the humility to ask each other for forgiveness when we’ve wronged them or misrepresented Christ to them.
Paul exhorts the Philippians as such in Phil 2:
Philippians 2:12–18 CSB
12 Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, 16 by holding firm to the word of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrificial service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and rejoice with me.
We’re not alone in this! We have the revelation and teachings and life of Christ to follow, we have the spirit to comfort and guide and teach us, and we have each other to exhort and encourage and guide and live together, celebrate together, grieve together, grow together, and continually propagate and reproduce disciples together.
Next week, we’ll be looking at yet another parable, a very famous one, that will help to continue painting this picture of propagation and what it looks like for the kingdom of God to grow exponentially, and what it takes for that to happen.