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True Family

Series: The Gospel of Mark

Sermon by David Strain on Aug 5, 2018

Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

Take your Bibles in hand, would you please, and turn with me to the gospel according to Mark. We’ve been working our way through Mark’s gospel Sunday mornings, and we’ve come to the third chapter, Mark chapter 3, and to a pair of passages – really they’re connected passages – that teach us about Jesus’ family; show us something of the inner family life that was our Savior’s during years of His earthly ministry. We began looking at some of this material last time. We were introduced to Jesus’ family in verses 20 and 21. They’ve heard about some of the kerfuffle surrounding Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum. They’ve really begun to be concerned that Jesus is finally gone ‘round the bend and has some sort of episode, a breakdown perhaps, something like that. And so they’ve made the journey down to Capernaum from Nazareth to put a stop to all this nonsense; it’s sort of an intervention on their part. They’re there to seize Jesus and bring Him home.

And then in 22 through 30, a delegation arrives from Jerusalem. They’re scribes sent from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus’ ministry. And then in verse 31, notice Mark resumes his discussion of Jesus’ family. While Jesus is teaching in the house, His family finally arrive in Capernaum. They’ve made the twenty-five-mile trek, presumably largely on foot from Nazareth to Capernaum, which I guess tells us something about how seriously they’re taking their concerns for Jesus. But when they get there, the house is so filled that they’re unable to reach Jesus so they pass word inside through the crowd – they’ve come to take Jesus back with them. And Jesus’ reply, while it doubtless stung, nevertheless, I think, teaches us some important truths about Jesus’ own priorities and about what it means to be rightly related to Him.

So we’re going to consider verses 20 and 21 and 31 through 35. We spent a lot of time on 22 through 30 last week. And as we consider those two passages, I want us to think about two themes. First, we’re going to notice the mess of Jesus’ natural family. The mess of His natural family. Isn’t it helpful that Mark doesn’t airbrush out all the blemishes and present to us a carefully curated image when he presents Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters to his reading public, you know, like we all tend to do on Facebook. Pictures of our perfect family life: “Here we are all on vacation and we’re getting along famously! Everybody is happy. The children haven’t squabbled once. Mom and dad aren’t tired or irritable. Our tans are magnificent and life is great!” Yeah right! I’ve never had a vacation like that. Have you? Whatever our Facebook pictures may say to the contrary, the truth is, family life sometimes is complicated; it’s hard. It can be stressful; it can be messy. And so it’s immensely helpful to see something of the messy reality of Jesus’ earthly family and what that was like so that we, when we turn to Him, know we have One who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. The mess of Jesus’ natural family.

And then secondly, I want us to think about the marks of Jesus’ spiritual family. The marks of His spiritual family. You see for Jesus, family is not limited to the bonds of biological affinity; it’s much deeper than that. And we, I think need to realize – I certainly do – we need to realize the wonder and the obligation of the bonds of spiritual family that join us to Him and in Him join us to one another. Okay? So the mess of Jesus’ natural family and the marks of His spiritual family. Now before we read the passage and consider those themes, let’s bow our heads as we pray.

O Lord, many are the words of men that we’ve heard in the week now behind us. Before us now is the living and inerrant Word of Almighty God. And so we pray that You would give to us Your Spirit that Your words may command our loyalty and have our attention and grip our hearts and nourish our souls and lead us to repentance and faith as we walk with our Savior. For we ask it in His name, amen.

Mark chapter 3 at the twentieth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

Then verse 31:


“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken in His holy Word.

Last Sunday we spent our time thinking about the arguments that unbelief makes when confronted with the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we noticed that there really are only three possible alternatives that have any kind of credibility to them. The first is to accept the claims Jesus makes of Himself to be true and submit to Him as Savior and Lord. He is God made flesh for us and for our salvation. That is what Mark has been showing us. The evidence has been indicating Christ is who He claimed to be. And then, in Jesus’ family and in the words of the scribes who came down from Jerusalem, we have two other options. So either He's God, or like His family we conclude He's mad, or like the scribes, we conclude that He is bad. He's either a lunatic, liar or Lord. Right? Those are the options. That's what we considered last time. 

The Mess of Jesus’ Natural Family

And after the service, several of you – interestingly, all of you mothers and grandmothers, several of you came at me and said, “How can Jesus’ family, Mary especially, how can they question Him and doubt Him and accuse Him of insanity in the way that they are doing?” Verse 31 tells us she was there along with Jesus’ brothers to put a stop to all this Messiah rubbish and bring Jesus back with them as soon as possible. “So how could Mary of all people conclude that Jesus was out of His mind like this?” That’s a good question. Isn’t it? And I think if we wrestle with it together for a few moments it will help us see some important truths. It highlights for us just how messy Jesus’ family life really was. The mess of Jesus’ natural family.

Now, we need to admit right away that the Church over the ages has often been guilty of sanitizing Jesus’ earthly family. Early on, as the thoroughly unbiblical practice of venerating Mary began to grow in some parts of the Church, in order to defend their view of Mary as a perpetual virgin, the view developed that every reference in the gospels to Jesus’ brothers or sisters is really only a reference to His cousins. But at the Reformation, the simple statements of the gospels that tell us plainly that Jesus had brothers and sisters, was once again taken at face value. So for example, we know from Mark chapter 6 verse 3 that Jesus had four brothers – James and Joses, Judas and Simon. And He had some sisters as well. Interestingly, in the parallel passage in Matthew 13:56, Matthew talks about all of Jesus’ sisters, not both of His sisters. So the implication is there’s more than two. There’s at least three sisters. Which means that Jesus grew up in a home as one of at least eight siblings – five boys, including Jesus, and at least three sisters. We know from John 7 at verse 5 that, “not even His brothers believed in Him.” And it seems at this point in Mark’s gospel at least that Mary is tracking right along with them. They were all saying, “He is out of His mind.”

Death of Joseph

And you notice, if you pay attention to the lists of Jesus’ family members in the Gospel records, there’s one name that is missing once you get outside of the infancy narratives. It is, of course, the name of Joseph. Which seems to indicate that at some point, Joseph died rather early in Jesus’ life. So for at least a portion of their home lives, Jesus and His brothers and sisters grew up without a dad. Now whatever we make of all of that, it’s pretty clear isn’t it that the Gospel records really won’t let us sanitize Jesus’ family life. And for that, we ought to be profoundly grateful. We are not Docetists. The Docetists were an ancient heretical group that said that Jesus only appeared to be human, but He wasn’t really human at all. No, no, the Jesus we proclaim is a Savior who has real brothers and sisters, who was born and raised in a normal human family. He is a man with a true body and a reasonable soul. And so when the writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus, “He is not unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses but has been tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin,” part of what makes that statement possible is the home life within which He was nurtured. He had brothers and sisters who didn’t believe in Him. He had no dad, no earthly dad. He had a mom whose faith in Him was severely shaken. And here they are now, outside the house in Capernaum, publicly expressing their unhappiness with Jesus’ behavior, trying to seize Him, Mark says, and bring Him home.

Look, here’s the point. You have a Savior who totally gets it when family life gets complicated. When moms or dads push your buttons. When siblings are rivals and opponents instead of friends who champion your cause. When it’s clear you’re a disappointment to them. Their expectations for you are not met and they just don’t understand your choices. You have a Savior who has been touched with the feeling of your infirmities, not unable to sympathize with us. Christ, you see, is a refuge for everyone whose home, instead of being a refuge, is a place of tension and regret and pain and division. He’s a refuge for you. He knows, and so you can go to Him. Maybe there’s no one else you can go to who really understands; you feel safe with no one else. You can go to Him, confident He has plumbed those depths and has grace for you in them all.

The Eclipse of Faith

There’s another point I think that we need to face here as we think about the messiness of Jesus’ family life. While it’s clear, we know after the resurrection for example that at least one of Jesus’ brothers, James, comes to a robust and remarkable faith in Christ – he is the leader of the church in Jerusalem for a while – so we know that though they’re far from that place here, eventually they get there. We know that they have a long journey ahead of them but Mary, Mary believed, didn’t she, right at the very beginning. You remember the angel, Gabriel, had announced to her the identity and the mission of her child who was miraculously virginally conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and she, in submission, said, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Your Word.” Here’s faith. We saw it so clearly in the days when her pregnancy with the Lord Jesus was announced. And yet now we find her, in Mark chapter 3, standing outside the house where Jesus is ministering to the crowds and she is asking Him to, “Pack it in and come home this instant!”

However bright and strong her faith was while the infant Jesus slept in her arms, somehow the course of her journey between then and this moment has led her to a place of deep alarm about the kind of things her boy Jesus was doing and saying. Her faith has been shaken. Perhaps the bumpy road she’d had to travel has shaken it. Eight children, no husband in the home to help – that’s a bumpy road. Whatever the reason, her faith has been eclipsed. Now we know, again, when Jesus was crucified everyone else was scattered but Mary was there, wasn’t she – right to the end. And the Lord Jesus spoke to her from the cross with extraordinary tenderness and care, entrusting her into the keeping of His beloved disciple, the apostle John. So she seems to have come back to a place of trust in the Lord Jesus, but at this point in her story at least her faith has suffered eclipse.

Yesterday’s Faith

You see, yesterday’s faith, yesterday’s faith is not good enough for today’s trials. Isn’t that the lesson of Mary outside Jesus’ house at Capernaum? She had no business being there, not if she still trusted the message of the angel Gabriel to her all those years before; not if she believed her son’s words and works. But a bright profession of faith in Christ in the past just won’t do. What matters is how you respond to Jesus today. Don’t tell me about spiritual mountaintop experiences in your younger days. Don’t tell me about Christian camp our youth group where you made a decision for Jesus. Don’t talk to me about yesterday’s faith if today you’re living as though Christ were not Lord. Yesterday’s faith is no insurance against the wrath of God if today you are rejecting His reign in your life! Yesterday’s faith just will not do. Are you trusting in Christ today? Today? That’s the only question that matters. The mess of Jesus’ natural family.

The Marks of Jesus’ Spiritual Family

Then secondly, notice the marks of Jesus' spiritual family. Look at verses 31 through 35, please. So word is passed, relayed presumably, from person to person through the crowd because Jesus’ mother and brothers couldn’t get it. So they pass word through the crowd when they arrive at Jesus’ home in Capernaum – “Your mom and brothers are outside and they’re calling for You.” And look how Jesus responds in verse 33. This must have stung Mary and Jesus’ brothers when they heard it. Don’t you think? “Who are my mothers and my brothers?” Don’t misunderstand, however. Jesus is not giving as good as He got here. This isn’t an angry retort from a frustrated son hitting back after being embarrassed by mom in front of His friends. That’s not what this is. Neither is Jesus dissolving the bonds of filial affection that tied Him to His earthly relatives. You remember even on the cross He spoke with love and honor to His mother, Mary. That’s not what’s going on.

The Claims of the Father

What’s happening is that Jesus is acknowledging that whatever claims of love and honor His natural family had upon Him, God His Father had a higher claim still. He was not prepared to abandon the work entrusted to Him because of pressure from His family brought to bear upon Him. He would not make obedience to the fifth commandment an excuse for disobeying the first commandment. He will not use honoring His father and His mother, He will not make family life into such an idol that obedience to the call and claims of His God might be set aside to pursue it. See, Jesus is going to call us to that same kind of radical obedience in just a few short verses, but He will not call us to that type of radical obedience without Himself engaging in it. He will not call us to bear any cost that He does not Himself also first bear. Here is Jesus facing the costly implications of putting the call and claims of God first in His life.

Later on in chapter 10, you will remember that moment when Jesus has an interview with the rich young ruler. And He tells him that if he wants to follow Jesus, he must go and sell all that he has. Effectively, he is to shatter the idols of materialism that had gotten such a grip on this rich young man's life and then he was to follow Jesus. And the disciples are all amazed at this. And Peter comes to Jesus afterwards and says, "See, we have left everything and followed You!" And in reply, Christ said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for My sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."

Personal Cost

Now, do you see the parallel with the teaching of our text? Jesus is aware, isn't He, that to follow Him, to trust in the Gospel and to put Him first in our daily lives, in our daily priorities, will involve a personal cost. Division in families, perhaps a loss of income, the closure of opportunities for advancement, social exclusion. And yet, as Jesus calls us to that kind of radical, costly obedience, it is the very obedience He Himself models as He puts the call of the Lord His God ahead even of the call and claims of His family. We are, I think, to hear the sober challenge in all of that and take it seriously. Because don't we live at a time when the idolatry of the family has a powerful pull for so many of us? Where in order to love and serve and make much of our families, the Lord who ought to have first claim on our hearts is punted to the margins and to the spare dregs of time we have here and there.

Well not so with the Lord Jesus, and He calls us to imitate Him. He calls us to do the will of God. “Those who do the will of God, they are My brothers and sisters and mother.” Bearing the reproach of the world, you see, enduring the cost of discipleship, does have marvelous compensations. He’s saying, “When the law and will of God is first, when trusting Me you’re willing to follow Me and obey Me, we become family. We become family. You become My brothers and sisters and mother.” It’s not all cost. There are glorious compensations. Following Jesus is great gain. And when you begin to follow Him, your obedience displays the marks of the family to which you’ve come to belong.

You’ve been in that situation, haven’t you, when you’re talking to someone, perhaps you’ve never met them before but you know the family well. And even before they’ve really introduced themselves you’re looking at the hair and the set of the jaw and the color of the eyes, the mannerisms, the way they carry themselves, their expressions, and you know they are a Jones or a Patterson or a Smith. You can see the family resemblance. What Jesus is saying as He looks around the room and says, “Those who do the will of God, they are My brothers and sister and mother,” He’s saying, “Those who trust Me and obey Me bear the marks of the family.” Would someone looking at your life see the family characteristics, the likeness of your Savior? Would someone scrutinizing your life see the marks of the family to which you belong?

Call to Obedience

There is, I think, a real challenge there that we need to face. There is a call to obedience that we mustn’t soft pedal. Look, we believe in the great Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That a sinner like me, wretched and guilty and hell-deserving, when I trust in Jesus, am accepted freely in the sight of God not because I am righteous but because of the righteousness of Christ reckoned to my account. And in the sight of God, I am pardoned and robed with His righteousness and I’m accepted in the Beloved. What a glorious and precious Gospel truth, but how easily we begin to use it to let us off the hook, to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I do because I’m accepted and God loves me and I'm righteous in the sight of God!" And we soft-pedal the call to obedience. But Jesus is saying, "Those who've become members of My family by faith alone, they start to bear the family resemblance." 

Second Peter 1 at verse 5, “We are to make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control and self-control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to start to show the family characteristics, the resemblance of the Savior in your life. There’s a challenge, for sure. There’s also marvelous encouragement, marvelous encouragement from knowing that those who give up houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mothers or lands for Christ’s sake or the Gospel’s, there’s great compensations, great compensations, a hundredfold in this life – houses and mothers and fathers and brothers, with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life. That’s what the Church is. Take a look around. You have lots of big brothers and big sisters and mothers and fathers because we are one family in Jesus Christ.

I had a clear illustration of that principle recently at a wedding here when the groom, who came from out of time, confided in me that he had received not a few threats of grievous bodily harm from many of the men, and not a few of the ladies of our church I might add, were he ever to hurt the bride who is much loved in our congregation. You see, this young lady has hundreds of dads and big brothers and mothers and big sisters caring for her, standing with her. To follow Jesus on the costly path of obedience isn’t all loss; it is great gain. We become family with Christ our Elder Brother and the Lord our God, our Father.

So, won't you take comfort as you see the mess of Jesus' earthly family, His natural family when you look at your own messy home life. Be comforted and encouraged. You can go to Him with the crisis of it all. And when no one else really understands, you feel judged or misunderstood by everyone else, He gets it completely. He understands. He's able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, touched with the feeling of our infirmities; He understands. So won’t you go to Him? Won’t you go to Him? Please don’t rest on yesterday’s faith. No, today cling to Him and trust in Him.

And then let's examine ourselves. Let's examine ourselves for the marks of Jesus' true family. Do I bear the family resemblance? Do you? If you will come and follow Jesus, the price of obedience to be sure, it will be costly, it will be costly, but Christ, in Christ and in His Church, there is great gain; there is. "To as many as received Him," Jesus said, "to them, He gave the right to become children of God. Children born not of the will of man nor of the will of flesh, but born of God, a child of God, an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ." Present in the great family, spanning the globe on earth and in heaven, one in Jesus and one with each other. To know Him and follow Him is great gain.

Let’s pray together.

Lord, when we look at ourselves, our home lives, in the mirror of holy Scripture, we see not just conflict and confusion, stress and poor communication, we see sin. We know that in Jesus’ heart there was no sin, yet how grateful we are that in His family life there were still strained relationships as His brothers and mother didn’t believe in Him, didn’t trust Him, didn’t want Him to continue in His ministry. We are so grateful that when we cry out in our confusion and need, wondering what to do next – how to care for our troubled teenagers, what to do with our children, how to love and pray for an unbelieving spouse – we have One who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, who hears our cries and has been touched with the feeling of our infirmities. So please would You help each of us today to stop banking on yesterday’s faith, on past experiences, on spiritual highs fondly remembered from years ago, but instead to go to our Savior now, today. And as we do, we pray that You would cause the family resemblance to begin to shine from us, likeness to our Savior, and grant to us the great joy of finding in one another true family. For we ask it all in our Savior’s name, amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.

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