Jesus’ Brothers

For even his brethren did not believe on him (John 7:5).

For many of us, the one refuge we can count on in life is family. Even if everyone else is against us and berates us, we like to think that our family members will still accept us and believe in us.

Yet, on the other hand, our family tends to know us all too well. They watched us grow up and many have rather “incriminating” stories about our pasts. Sometimes family members refuse to see any growth or change in us; in their eyes we are still quite young, quite inexperienced, or quite mischievous, even if we have grown up and have learned our lessons.

Jesus had no ordinary beginning, and while we are not given much information about His early years, we have little doubt that they were not very ordinary, either. Contrary to certain religious traditions, it does not seem as if the household comprised only of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We are told that He has brothers and sisters– James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon, and Judas (cf. Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

We do not know much about them. It seems as if they are not terribly much younger than Jesus, since they are old enough to have formed beliefs, and they are known in the community of Nazareth. We can imagine, however, what it might have been like to be the younger brothers of Jesus– the One who always seemed a bit different, One with whom they grew up, but now the One who is making rather grandiose claims about Himself and is engaging in work that is well beyond your average Galilean carpenter!

While there is much we do not know, there is one thing that the Gospels make certain– His brothers do not believe in His claims regarding Himself. In Mark 3:21, Mark informs us that “they who were of” Jesus went to Capernaum to seize Jesus because, in their estimation, He was out of His mind. In John 7:3-5, His brothers are all but taunting Him, challenging Him to go up to Jerusalem and prove to be who He claims to be, for they did not believe in Him. Jesus’ responds in ways likely not much less acerbic, declaring that it is not yet His time, and that while the world cannot hate them, it does hate Him (John 7:6-8). Sibling rivalry indeed!

At first, this might seem incredible to us, and it may lead to some doubt. Jesus suffered temptation, and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15); wouldn’t His brothers have noticed this in His first thirty-four or so years? Did they not understand how their mother had conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, and did they not hear about all of the signs that accompanied His birth (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2)? How could they not believe in Him?

Yet, when we think about it, we can make some sense of it. There is a reason why it is said that familiarity breeds contempt. With the exception of Jesus at the Temple when He was 12, we do not get the impression that Jesus was active in ministration until His baptism and temptation (cf. Matthew 3-4). If you know Jesus as your older brother who lives in Nazareth of Galilee and who works as a carpenter, perhaps even working together with you in that trade, and then all of a sudden He claims to be the Son of God, abandons the trade for at least a portion of the year, gathers twelve fishermen, zealous, tax collectors, and others around Him, and starts proclaiming this message of the impending Kingdom of God, we can see why they would think Him a little crazy. This is Jesus, from the backwaters of Galilee, the carpenter. Who does He think He is? Why is He doing things that very likely will get Him into trouble, and by extension, His mother and brothers? We can see why Jesus spoke as He did in Matthew 13:57/Mark 6:4: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household”!

So Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him. That was probably not a good testimony for Him, but we get no indication that He compelled or coerced them into believing. They had as much of a chance to share with Him in the work of God as everyone else did (cf. Matthew 12:49-50).

Jesus’ brothers were good Jews, however, and they would have been in Jerusalem for the Passover in that fateful year when their elder Brother would be crucified. And then we learn something extraordinary.

[The eleven] with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Wait a second! Here Jesus’ brothers are listed as in prayer with their mother, the other women, and the eleven disciples. Something clearly happened. But what?

The Gospels do not provide direct testimony, but later on, Paul mentions that when Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to over five hundred brethren, and then to James (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). James here is the same James who is listed as Jesus’ brother in Matthew 13:55!

How all of this happened is not detailed precisely. It is entirely possible that Jesus’ brothers came around at some point during His ministry, but there’s no evidence of such. They would have seen Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and we know that at least James, and likely the rest of His brothers, saw Jesus in the resurrection.

And that is the power of the resurrection– unbelievers are often made believers! James will become a prominent elder in the Jerusalem church and the author of the letter bearing his name; according to Josephus, he is martyred at the hands of the Jews (Acts 15:13, 21:18; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9). Judas, otherwise known as Jude, is responsible for the letter bearing his name. Both of them refer to themselves as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1, Jude 1:1). Can you imagine? Those who once did not even believe in the claims of their older Brother, who thought Him crazy, now call Him Lord and are willing to be known as slaves of their elder Brother!

Jesus is Lord, and the proof is in the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was the difference that changed recalcitrant brothers into willing servants. Has Jesus’ resurrection changed your life? Let us trust Him as Lord and do His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Unity

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus’ petition for unity among His followers as part of His “High Priestly prayer” has reverberated throughout the generations. Many who confess the name of Christ seek that unity, even though it has proven to be quite the challenge throughout time.

Normally, when people consider what Jesus is saying regarding unity, they immediately think of matters of doctrine. It is true that God desires for believers to be one in doctrine and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). This unity must be real and substantive unity, for the standard of the unity is the Father and the Son. As far as we are aware, the Father and Son are not one despite significant disagreements about the means of salvation, the nature of the church and its work, or regarding other such matters of doctrine! Real, significant doctrinal unity must exist for fellow believers to work together and be one as Jesus intends for them.

Yet it is important for us to recognize that the unity under discussion involves far more than doctrine. Jesus, after all, did not say, “that they all may believe the same things, as You, Father, and I believe the same things.” Instead, Jesus said, “that they may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:21). Doctrinal unity is certainly included in that, but just because you have a group of people who believe the same things does not mean you have a truly unified group. As those who enjoy happy and successful marriages know, unity involves much more than belief (cf. Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5)!

How, then, are believers to be “one”? We are given the standard: just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:20-22).

The Father and Son are one in nature and substance, and we must recognize that as fellow human beings, we are all of the same nature and substance (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). The Father and Son are one in purpose and will (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, etc.), and believers ought to have the same purpose and will: to do the will of God and to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, Galatians 2:20).

This unity was only possible because of the godly characteristics of the Son: He was willing to humble Himself to do the will of the Father, becoming a man and dying on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). In all things He sought the will of the Father and not His own will (cf. Matthew 26:39). The Son understood His role relative to the Father and did all things for the glory of the Father, because the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). And, lo and behold, the same commandments are given for us so that we may be able to work together. We are to humble ourselves and seek to do good for our fellow man (Philippians 2:1-4). We must be willing to subordinate our own desires and intentions in order to work with others. We must know our role within the group, and be satisfied with it (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). We do all these things because we love God, our fellow man, and especially our fellow believers (Romans 13:8-10, 1 John 4:7-21).

Becoming one as the Father and Son are one, therefore, is a trying task indeed! It does mean that we must all accept God’s truth and be one in our belief. Yet it also requires humility, hard work, seeking the best interest of our fellow Christians, and being content with our place in the whole. If we are able to do those things we will have true unity, and the world will be forced to confess that there is something special and different about those Christians, and realize that there is a greater power at work with them.

Let us work diligently to obtain the unity that God desires– not just in teaching, but also in attitude and conduct– so that the church may be built up, and God be glorified (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Repent!

From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish” (Luke 13:3).

Repent!

This is the message of the New Testament, and as with many such messages, there is some confusion as to what it means. How do we “repent”? Of what do we “repent?” What happens when we “repent”?

The matter of repentance is somewhat complicated by language differences. In English, “to repent” involves expressing great sorrow for doing something. It is true that we are to show great sorrow for all of the sins that we have committed, and mourn for what our sin required– the death of Jesus (cf. Zechariah 12:10). Yet repentance requires much more.

The Greek word meaning “to repent” is metanoeo, and it fundamentally means “to change one’s mind” (Thayer’s). To repent, therefore, is really to change your mind.

This is why repentance is one of the fundamental elements of Christianity. We must indeed believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and be willing to confess that truth (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10). Yet demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! Belief alone cannot save (James 1:22-25, 2:24), for it does not lead to any form of reformation of person or character.

A lot of people want to put the emphasis on changed behaviors. Yes, it is true that Christians are to no longer engage in the works of the flesh, but should instead develop the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). But where do deeds come from? Jesus says that deeds come from the thoughts and intents of the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Solomon indicates that as a man thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:7).

A man cannot truly change until his mind changes. This is why God calls men everywhere to repent– they must change the way they think if they are going to change the way they act (Acts 17:30).

We should not need to justify this mandate to change our minds, for it should be evident that the natural ways of our thinking are flawed. We think we have a good handle on what we should do, yet we really do not (Jeremiah 10:23). When we live in the world and have no hope, we think in worldly ways and justify things that the world justifies (1 John 2:15-17). The end of this way of thinking is death (Romans 6:23)!

When we learn of Jesus Christ, we learn of a better way. We should now strive to have the “mind of Christ,” and try to understand all things spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). Jesus did all things according to the will of His Father (John 7:16-18, 28-29). While we will never be able to plumb the depths of God’s knowledge and insight (Isaiah 55:8-9), we can do the best we can to understand how God in Christ would have us think and act in any given circumstance. What would God think of what we are doing? What would God think about our thoughts? Would God have us do this or that?

Repentance, in short, is learning how to see ourselves, our fellow man, and the world in the way that God sees them. It is not limited to a momentary decision before one is baptized– it is a journey, something we must constantly do as we grow and develop in the faith. Without truly repenting, we will not discover eternal life. Let us repent of our sins, change our minds, and think and act in godly ways!

Ethan R. Longhenry

This Generation

“Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children that sit in the marketplace, and call one to another; who say,
‘We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not weep.’
For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, ‘He hath a demon.’
The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!’
And wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:31-35).

Jesus has sharp words for those in “this generation.” They were never satisfied– they always found some reason for not believing. Many did not approve of John the Baptist because he lived in the desert, eating locusts and honey, and not drinking, and preached righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:4, Luke 3:1-17). Jesus lived among the people, eating bread and drinking wine, and they condemned Him for doing that!

Jesus understands that, in the end, it does not matter what He does or does not do– the unconvinced will find reasons to justify being unconvinced. John’s statement toward the end of Revelation ought not be taken to extremes, but does present reality fairly well:

“He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still” (Revelation 22:11).

In the end, it was only probably a very few people, if any, who were genuine seekers and yet disturbed by Jesus eating and drinking, and that with sinners. Those who were willing to consider who Jesus was and what He did would understand that He was performing His mission of seeking and saving the lost of Israel who could be redeemed (cf. Luke 19:1-8). People had really already made up their minds– they just then searched for whatever reason would work to justify it. The fact that Jesus ate and drank, and that with sinners, was an easy justification. So was the belief that He was born in Nazareth, and thus could not be the Messiah (cf. John 7:41, 52). The Pharisees were willing to ascribe His miracles to the power of Satan in order to “save face,” only to be more fully exposed (cf. Matthew 12:22-37)!

Is our generation that much different than His generation? Many people find reasons for not believing in Jesus. Perhaps you have some reasons that you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. What are those reasons? Are they really legitimate reasons, or are they justifications to make you feel better about the decision you made in advance? Could any amount of evidence be provided to help you understand that Jesus really is all that the Scriptures say He is?

In the end, let us know that wisdom is indeed justified. Bad reasoning gets exposed. Desperate arguments are seen for what they really are. Let us be honest with ourselves: are deep-seated difficulties, for whatever reason, really worth the cost of the soul? Can we see that Jesus was a good man, and that He taught good things to which people should listen? If so, how can we deny that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, without saying that we think that an egomaniacal lunatic is a good teacher?

Anyone can come up with reasons to not accept what Jesus teaches. But are we willing to take another look and really explore not just what we believe, but also why we believe it, and to dispense with that which is false, even if it requires a change in our lives and a dose of humility?

Let us consider what Jesus taught and did and ask ourselves– are we like “this generation,” or will we step out, be a little different, and serve the risen Lord?

Ethan R. Longhenry