Jesus’ Family

While he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him.
And one said unto him, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking to speak to thee.”
But he answered and said unto him that told him, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?”
And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

One can hardly overstate the importance of family, both in the ancient and modern worlds. Family connections provided the only real “safety net” of the day; one’s standing in one’s family often defined one’s career and marriage prospects, let alone religion and ideology. One of the worst fates a person could experience was to be bereft of family, excluded from family, or to be a part of a family whose name was dishonorable in the community.

One’s family tends to share in commonalities: a common bloodline, and therefore common characteristics. We have latent expectations that children turn out a lot like parents; athleticism, intelligence, skills, and temperaments tend to be inherited characteristics. If one person in a family gains prominence, it tends to be easier for other family members to also gain prominence as well.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that family would have a role in Jesus’ life and teachings. During His life, those who knew Him from His youth had challenges accepting His authority since it seemed so inconsistent with His family’s social place (cf. Matthew 13:54-58). A lot of people put some emphasis on Jesus’ earthly family: Mary His mother is prominent in the eyes of some, and there are no lack of conspiracy theories about Jesus possibly having a wife and family and how His descendants would become kings. There is no legitimacy to any such tale, but it goes to show just how much we associate people with their families; it is easy to assume that whatever made Jesus great would be passed on to other family members as well.

At one point during His ministry, Jesus’ mother and (half-)siblings wished to speak with Him (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21). Concerning what specifically we are never told; considering Mark 3:21 and John 7:5, it probably was not for good. Nevertheless, Jesus is in the middle of teaching the people, and He takes the opportunity to teach a most profound lesson. He declares that those who are really His brother, sister, and mother are not those who are somewhat biologically related to Him, but those who “do the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Let us first make it clear what Jesus is not saying. He is not attempting to justify people dishonoring their biological parents; He affirms the commandment to honor one’s father and mother (Matthew 19:19), and puts it into practice by making sure that His mother is provided for after His death (John 19:25-27). We should not assume that He intends any disrespect to His earthly family whatsoever with His declaration, and Jesus is certainly not trying to overthrow the institution of the family.

So why does Jesus make such a strong declaration? He does so in part because of the tendency we noticed above: it would be easy for the people to look to Jesus’ earthly family to provide future leadership and to exalt Jesus’ earthly family in inappropriate ways; this is also seen in Luke 11:27-28. The honor and praise is well-meaning but dangerously wrong-headed.

And its wrong-headedness makes up the bulk of the reason why Jesus says what He does. Families are known for their strong connections and the emphasis on what they share in common; Jesus has come to reveal first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles as well that they should honor their spiritual connection with God as primary in their lives, and thus the common relationship they share as children of their Heavenly Father should be preeminent, far more valuable than any earthly connection (cf. Matthew 6:33). Jesus is not trying to say that anyone can become His spiritual “mother”; He is using the terms on the basis of connecting the physical to the spiritual. Yet all can become spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus through the reconciliation with the Father made possible through His blood (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-17). Had His physical brothers and sisters persisted in unbelief, their genetic relationship to Jesus would not have somehow saved them; while James and Jude will take on prominent roles in the early church, it is not because they are Jesus’ brothers, but Jesus’ servants (James 1:1, Jude 1:1). Nepotism may get you somewhere on earth, but physical nepotism will not get anyone anywhere in heaven!

Jesus’ teaching is powerful: yes, there is great value in the physical family, and those commitments should be honored (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-16), but the earthly family should never be made an idol. Instead, as with all good things that come from God, we should perceive how the physical is a shadow of the real and spiritual: participation in the family of God is of the greatest importance, and that which we share in common in Jesus can overcome anything else that could divide us. No one need be excluded from Jesus’ family; there is not one who cannot become an adopted son/daughter of God and thus brother/sister of Jesus. During His earthly life Jesus did honor His physical family but took every opportunity to more greatly honor His spiritual family, bought by His blood. Let us join together as Jesus’ family and honor our Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honor Father and Mother

Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12).

The fifth commandment brings about a shift in focus. Whereas the first four commandments involved an Israelite’s relationship with his God, the last six involve his relationship with his fellow man. One could say that the first four commandments are the means by which the Israelites would “love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37), and the last six commandments are the means by which they would “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39).

Therefore, as we turn from man’s relationship with his God toward his relationship with his fellow man, what would we emphasize? What would be the first command that we would establish for how people ought to work with one another? In the Ten Commandments, the first command dictating the relationship of man with his fellow man is to honor his father and his mother (Exodus 20:12).

This might seem strange to us– we would more likely than not emphasize the later commandments to not murder, to not commit adultery, to not bear false witness, and to not covet your neighbor’s goods over the need to honor father and mother. Why, then, is the command to honor father and mother at the head of the list?

We can discern part of the reason in the “promise” noted by Paul as he provides the same command to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:2-3): “that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). How is it that one’s days are longer if they honor their parents?

In a few circumstances there is a very good reason for it: the person who curses his parents or strikes his parents is to be put to death (Exodus 21:15, 17). If parents have a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey, they are to bring him before the elders, and if the charge is true, the son is to be stoned with stones (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). It is hard to “live long” in a land when you have been executed for rebellion against your parents!

Yet this is not really what God is envisioning when He makes this promise. While it is entirely possible that God provides a supernatural blessing or benefit on children who honor their parents, we can also understand this promise in completely natural ways. A child who listens to his or her parents has some level of respect for them as authorities. When the child becomes an adult, he or she is more likely to respect other authorities, including God and the government, and are more likely to be law-abiding citizens. If, on the other hand, a child does not honor his parents, it most often is due to stubbornness and rebelliousness. As that child grows up and becomes an adult, that stubbornness and rebelliousness continues against authorities. They are more likely to engage in illegal behaviors and have no respect for divine or human authority. Such people are more likely to die on account of their bad habits or at the hand of the law or men. Therefore, those who honor father and mother will have it go better for them and they will have a better opportunity to live long in the land God gave them. There are other factors in play that might hinder that– war, famine, pestilence, accidents, and the like– and there are also times when people live long lives despite being rebellious and stubborn. Nevertheless, the general premise holds weight, even to this day.

Hopefully we can better understand why God places the command to honor father and mother in the forefront of man’s relationship with other people. All of us first learn about life and how we should live from the home. Sadly there are many times when the home is not a good place in which to learn about life– some parents neglect and/or abuse their children, and this is not at all God’s intentions for the conduct of parents (Ephesians 6:4). Thankfully, a good part of the time, parents want the best for their children– to raise them to be good, productive, law-abiding citizens, if nothing else (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). While some parents may not always have the best understanding of what God expects out of people, and not all parental advice and direction is good, most parents most of the time attempt to direct their children toward what is good and to help them avoid what is evil.

It is in the home where children first learn about authority. They are to understand that their parents have the authority over them to raise them as they see fit, ideally to raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). If a child respects his parents’ authority, he or she will be more likely to respect the authority of God and to be law-abiding citizens. If a man or woman honors father and mother, it will be easier for them to avoid committing murder, committing adultery, bearing false witness, and coveting. If a child does not learn about authority, or disrespects the authority of parents, then the temptation to commit those sins will be greater.

We must note, however, that while this command has applicability to children, God is speaking to the adult Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and throughout their generations (cf. Exodus 19:1-20:2). Respect toward parents is not to end the minute a child is no longer under their authority. The wise man quickly discerns just how important and valuable his parents’ advice and counsel about life can be. Challenges and issues in the world, in the workforce, in marriage, with children– one’s parents have already endured all of these things and have gained experiential knowledge about them. In many instances children end up respecting and appreciating their parents far more as adults than they ever could have when they were younger!

How, then, do we honor father and mother? Honor certainly involves respecting them, appreciating the sacrifices they made for us, and being a source of strength and encouragement for them. But “honoring” father and mother goes much further than this– children are expected to take care of their parents and provide care for them in their older age, as Jesus makes clear regarding this commandment in Mark 7:10-13.

This value is not well understood in our society. Sure, people still understand that parents and grandparents should be honored; if there are reports of parents abusing children or children abusing parents, we understand that such are terrible things and should not be done. Sadly, however, in our push toward individualism and individual fulfillment, far too many children cannot be bothered with the expectation to provide and care for their parents or grandparents. Therefore, far too many parents and grandparents languish in nursing homes and other assisted care facilities, often all but forgotten, seemingly unloved, without comfort or encouragement.

Yes, there are times when the medical needs of a parent or grandparent are too great for their children to provide, and we must be sensitive toward these situations. Nevertheless, we must remember that God has charged children and even more extended family members with the obligation to care for the elderly and widowed within their family (Ephesians 6:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:16). Even if the parents’ medical needs are great, children can still remain involved in their parents’ lives. There is no excuse or justification for parents and grandparents to be physically and emotionally cast off in old age– such is extremely dishonorable!

There may be times when it seems burdensome to care for parents or grandparents; there were times, no doubt, when it was burdensome for them to care for us. God expects His children to honor their earthly father and mother, not just to show them respect, but to take care of them just as their parents had taken care of them. Let us honor God by honoring our parents!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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