There are a lot of things Christians say that make me roll my eyes, a lot of painful plastic phrases that just sound phoney. We’re so quick to say things like, “I’ll pray for you, brother!” “Bless you sis!” Lord, if you’ll just put a “Hedge of protection” around us! “Invite Jesus into your heart” “God doesn’t respond to Email but He does respond to KneeMail” When people use amen as a question it drives me nuts—Amen?
This whole concept of the “family of God” is something we say but I wonder what we mean. Are we saying that our true family is made up of the people we share a common faith with? Or are we just saying some nice words to make church feel more special—instead of “these are some people I know from church” we say they are “my brothers and sisters.”
Some people like to say their workplace is a family, too. Funny though, because no matter how tight things get we don’t usually consider firing Aunt Mabel. Family, my foot.
Is blood thicker than water? Or, does Jesus want us to understand that if we are following Him then water is actually thicker than blood?
Last weekend I was able to go to a fantastic event at Oikos Church thanks to Pastor Aaron and his great team. It was a workshop seminar taught by Mike and Sally Breen. They have written some really great books on discipleship and being a family on mission. He said a few things that blew my mind, and I couldn’t wait to get back and share those things with you guys. Last week we were talking about how there are a million ways to do this church thing wrong, and this week I’m continuing on that theme—I want to talk about how Jesus teaches us that the church is our true family. It’s where we need to find our core identity, who we are and where we are going.
This might seem to be at odds with how our culture looks at the world. By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the teaching of Jesus turns what we think we know about the world on its head.
Quick recap of the life of Jesus: Christmas in Bethlehem with angels, farm animals, sheep and wise men. Fast forward: twelve-year-old Jesus amazes teachers at the Temple in Jerusalem, then stays behind when Mary and Joseph leave—they find Him and ask where He’s been, He says “I was at my Father’s House, Duh!” The next time we see Him He is thirty-years-old, He is with his mom at a wedding turning water into wine. It seems like He had a pretty good life with His family and friends in Nazareth.
He is baptized by His strange cousin, the sky opens up and God Almighty says in a voice of thunder “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” Then the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and blows everyone’s minds. It’s a cool moment. Jesus goes into the desert filled with the Spirit and is tempted by the Devil for forty days. Do you know what the temptation actually was? We think the temptation was to turn stones into bread, jump from the Temple or bow down to the Devil—but the real temptation is found in the Devil’s opening line each time he spoke. Each time he said, “If you are the Son of God…If.” He was attacking His identity as the beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. Jesus did not fall for the lie, and He left the desert in the Power of the Spirit, completely confident in who He is. In Luke 4 it says “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
That sounds really nice. Good for Jesus! Hold that thought and Let’s keep reading in Luke 4 starting at verse 16:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
It’s all going really well at this point. I can just imagine His mom back in the ladies corner beaming with pride as her son is being admired. His brothers are sitting there nodding their heads and smiling. Everyone is having a great time. Then Jesus says a little more and ruins everything.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
In Matthew it says that “he didn’t do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Which is funny, because it seems like one miracle would be plenty of miracles.
Then He looks into their hearts and says what they really needed to hear, but what they were not at all prepared to receive. He told them that just like in Elijah’s time, the great things that He came to do were not just for them. The oppressed who were going to be set free and the sight that would be given to the blind was not just for them, but was also for all the people they didn’t like. All those dirty Sirians, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans and Gentiles.
Look what happens after He tells them this:
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Well, that escalated quickly. We went from smiles and beaming with pride to a mob filled with murderous rage. We know that Jesus’ mom and brothers and sisters were there and yet it says “all the people in the synagogue were furious, got up and tried to kill Him.” You know what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say “But Jesus’ brothers gathered around Him in a circle and tried to protect Him from the angry crowd” it doesn’t say “But Jesus’ mother cried out ‘this is my son, BACK OFF freaks!” You know why it doesn’t say that? Because it didn’t happen, His family were part of the mob.
This is rejection you’re gonna feel when your mom and brothers go along with your enemies and try to smash your head with rocks. That’s not a good day. But it wasn’t time for Him to be betrayed and murdered, so He walked through the crowd and went on His way.
He walks all the way to the coast where He calls the disciples, teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, and does all the cool Jesus stuff we are all familiar with. I think this gives us a little more insight into some of the more difficult things Jesus said about family. For example, one day He’s teaching in a crowded house, there isn’t room for anyone to come inside and it says in Matthew 12:46:
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
It was like:
“Hey Jesus, your mom and brothers are outside.”
“Did they bring the police? Do they have guns?”
“No I think they just wanna talk.”
“I don’t really have anything to say to them right now.”
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I can hear the hurt and rejection in that passage. I used to just think Jesus was being cold. Like His poor mom can’t even get a backstage pass to visit her rockstar son—but that’s not what’s going on. They were not followers, they thought He was misguided and probably wanted to talk Him out of all this foolishness before someone tried to kill Him again. They did not believe his true identity and I think they were being used by the Devil to tempt Him all over again.
It makes sense out of some other hard things He said, too. Like in Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Water is thicker than blood.
If you’re close with your blood family, you know that relationships with your natural family can be precious and beautiful. God invented the family and set it up as the foundational building block of human culture. I’m certainly not trying to say anything to discourage anyone from loving and enjoying their family. I wish everyone could experience the warmth and tenderness of a good family. Unfortunately, family is usually a mixed bag and we are stuck with the bad along with the good.
My biological father was a cruel abusive man. He abused my mother, sometimes right in front of me. I carry scars with me to this day—physical and emotional—from things he did to me. One night he showed up with a shotgun, blasted his way through a locked door and had every intention of murdering his family. He was stopped by my grandma and the police, he was taken away to a mental institution and I never saw him again.
God wants us to think of Him as Father. But If God wanted me to think of Him as my Heavenly Father, then the picture I had was of someone who was angry, mean and didn’t like me. If God wanted me to think of Him as a loving father who cared about me, then maybe He should have given me a better example.
And then He did. My parents were divorced, a couple months later my mom met a coal miner named Bob Hart who married her and became my step-dad. He was as kind and good natured as evil-bio-father had been bad natured and dangerous. God used him to save us from a destiny of violence, darkness and poverty that we were previously locked on like a laser guided missile.
But along with my new step-dad came three step-brothers. Over the last three years I have been writing a book and parts of the book deal with my childhood, so I’ve had to relive and remember a lot of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I started to realize that I have a lot of bitterness and anger tucked away concerning one of my step-brothers. We fought a lot and he is probably the most difficult relationship that I’ve had in my life. I’ve only seen him a handful of times since high school. Over a year ago his daughter was killed in a tragic head-on collision—my heart was broken for her baby son, and I can’t imagine how hard it had to be for my step-brother, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. That’s not only jacked up, that’s not like me at all. My mom, his step-mom, died in January and just a few weeks ago his wife died—but I still haven’t talked with him.
I’m very close to my biological brother, Jeff. He’s not only a ninja, as some of you know, but he is also a brother in Christ. We were talking about all this one day and he admitted to me that he was not only surprised by my refusal to talk to our step-brother, but was also disappointed in me. Ouch. It was hard to hear that but that’s what a real brother can say to you.
There is nothing better than when our blood-family is part of our spiritual family.
As a side note, we parents are not raising our kids to become adult children, or good citizens, we should be raising them to be our spiritual brothers and sisters. All of our discipline should be aimed at making them disciples of Jesus so that we can one day stand beside them and pray to Our Heavenly Father.
So, lets continue fast-forwarding through the life of Jesus because I have one more punchline that is the best one yet.
He continues building His new spiritual family. The early church fathers and tradition says that eventually His mother Mary joins the followers and becomes part of the new spiritual family. We know that she is at the cross when He dies. Three days later is the first Easter and Jesus appears to a long list of people. This is where is gets really cool because St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that one of the last people Jesus appeared to was His brother James.
What an amazing show of forgiveness and mercy. Can you imagine? You tried to kill your brother, you publicly spoke against him, you sided with the religious leaders who finally took him down. You probably stood around the Temple and synagogue with all the cool intellectuals talking about how foolish it was to follow the misguided idiot. You served as the best proof of their doubt—THIS is Jesus’ brother, and even he doesn’t believe in Him.
And Jesus appears to His faithless brother, shows him tenderness and brings him into His true family.
After the resurrection James becomes a leader in the church. He is the head of the church in Jerusalem. He presides over the council of Jerusalem in Acts when they are trying to figure out what to do with all the new Gentile believers. Remember, this was the very thing Jesus was talking about all those years before in the synagogue in Nazareth—the very thing they tried to kill Him for. The blessings of what Jesus came to do were not just for the home team. And then James is the head of the council deciding what to do with the Gentile Christians.
I think this is amazing. And as Mike Breen was talking about it last Saturday I couldn’t help but think of my step-brother. Jesus reconciled with His half-brother James, maybe I need to have a little conversation with mine.
Who’s God putting on your heart right now? I’ll bet there’s someone.
When people follow Jesus together we call that the church. We have a greater, deeper more important relationship with each other than any of the previous relationships in our life. Jesus even teaches that we shouldn’t hesitate for a moment to give up blood family ties if it becomes necessary in order to put God first.
But, you know what’s infinitely better than cutting ties with family members who try to stand between you and God? It is far better to reconcile with them and make them a true brother or sister.
This is what Christ has done for all of us. He’s gathered us here to follow Him together. To be His mother and sister and brother, His true family. To remember our baptism when He clearly says that we are His beloved child in whom He is well pleased. The water that binds us together as the people of God is stronger than the blood that ties us to our family of origin.
May we rest in knowing that we are dearly loved children.
May we stand together as brothers and sisters, may we stand on this side of the resurrection with our Lord and brother who was once dead but is now alive, and will never die again.
May we walk in the power of the Spirit knowing that we are sons and daughters of the Living God. AMEN