Who is my family?

Mark 3:35 – “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Family was a person’s primary allegiance in Jesus’ time. Jesus was establishing a new primary allegiance group: his followers. You and I are members of His family when we prioritize God and do His will.

Who is your family? This is a question that we often find ourselves asking as Seventh Day Baptists, because we have a long and glorious history and have extensive genealogical records to prove it. Here I have to pause for a moment and apologize to all of you who did not grow up as Seventh Day Baptists and are not related by blood to any other Seventh Day Baptist. We apologize for our ill manners that one of the first questions we often ask people is “who are you related to?” We don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that many of us are related to each other. Or at least it feels like we are. We apologize if we have made you uncomfortable and we are trying to get over this. But in our SDB culture, family and connections have always been important. Many others seek for their roots and family connections especially where family records have not been kept. Someone has quipped that “My ancestors are so hard to find, that they must have been in a witness protection program.”  Or after finding out some information about their forbearers ask: “My ancestors did what?” Most of you know that I did not grow up as a Seventh Day Baptist. But I was surprised in looking at Frank’s family tree to find that we have a common ancestor back 14 generations. That sort of made me feel like I really was a part of the Seventh Day Baptist family by blood.

In our Spiritual Life passage for this morning Jesus asks the question “Who are my mother and my brothers?” We’re going to spend some time this morning thinking through what Jesus meant by this question and how it relates to our concept of family and church family.

The setting of this passage is that Jesus is teaching and the crowd is gathered around him. So many people that apparently his mother and brothers could not even get into the house. Why were they there anyway? Apparently they were not traveling with him on his teaching mission. Earlier in Mark 3:20-21 we read that: Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” How many of us know that our family can often be our harshest critics? History shows that God’s servants are often misjudged by their friends and misunderstood by their families. DL Moody was called “Crazy Moody” by many people in Chicago, and even the apostle Paul was called mad. Apparently Jesus’ family did not yet understand who he was, and so thought that his teaching was foolishness. He was crazy, or maybe just overly tired with the demands of ministry and needed a quiet rest at home. They were there to fetch him home.

Then Jesus asks this question. This was an odd, thought-provoking question that went against logic and common sense. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Of course we understand that his mother and his brothers are standing right outside the door. That is the normal, correct, common answer to the question. So what was Jesus up to with this question?

In order to begin to understand where Jesus was going with this question, we need to first talk about the society in which Jesus was living at that time. It was what is now called a “strong group” culture. This means that the group takes precedence over the individual. The individual will often sacrifice their rights for the sake or honor of the group. So the person’s first allegiance is to their “group.” This is what Margot talked about in the children’s message, the kind of culture in which Nilquis grew up. This kind of culture is alive and well in the world today. It is hard for us to understand because we have grown up in a culture where the needs of the individual come first. We are used to our primary motivation being what will make US happy. In a strong group culture, we would be basing our actions on what is best for the group or our family or our community, not what would make us happy as individuals.

In the New Testament world of Jesus, a person’s most important group was his family. And the closest family bond was between siblings.

So when Jesus’ family comes to “take him away” be sure to read into this passage that they were concerned about their family honor, not just that fact that he might have been nuts and needed a rest. They probably were concerned that his behavior was ruining their family reputation.

Jesus’ question asks who his real family is. He is not so much rebuking and rejecting them, as He is launching the concept of the family of God as a new group that one could adopt as their primary allegiance. This was actually the beginning of the church as family with all its terminology that we borrow from family life: family of God, God as our Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ.  He is trying to make the point in this strong group culture that it is necessary as His follower to prioritize God and this Family of God Group as their new primary group.

He illustrates this earlier in the book of Mark when we calls the disciples in Mark 1:16-20: Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

They left their father Zebedee in the boat! In a strong group culture one did not just abandon their family, especially not their father. Their father was the patriarch and he called the shots. He was to be honored. Yet this passage says that the disciples immediately answered Jesus’ call by leaving family and father. Ouch. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus asked them to do and what he asks us to do as well. The disciples were to join his new group as their primary allegiance and follow Him. Let’s take a minute and note that it is always important for us to take a broader view of the context of Scripture. There is a reason why Mark put both of these passages close together in his book. They relate and help us to more deeply understand what Jesus was saying about this new group he was forming than if we read these two passages in isolation. Jesus illustrated in his call of the disciples what he later describes in his teaching about who his real family was.

Jesus was not being rude to His family when He remained in the house and did not try to see them. He knew that their motives were right but their purpose was wrong. If Jesus had yielded to His family, He would have played right into the hands of his opposition. The religious leaders would have said: “See, He agreed with His family—He needs help! Don’t take Jesus of Nazareth seriously.” Instead of giving in, He used this crisis as an opportunity to teach a spiritual lesson: His “family” is made up of all those who do the will of God. Jesus’ half-brothers were not yet believers and Jesus felt closer to the believing tax-collectors and sinners than He did to his half-brothers.

But we have to be careful at this point in our interpretation. Jesus was not suggesting that believers ignore or abandon their families in order to serve God, but only that they put God’s will above everything else in life. Our love for God should be so great that our love for family would seem almost like hate in comparison. Certainly the Bible teaches that it is God’s will that we care for our families and provide for them. But we must not permit even our dearest family relationships to influence us away from the will of God. When you consider the importance of family in the “strong-group” world of Jewish society in Jesus’ day, you can see how radical Jesus’ words must have seemed to his listeners. And it is radical to us as well.

Let’s go back to our original question: “Who is your family?” We see in the last verse of our spiritual life passage the answer that Jesus provides: “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” This is the “new family” that Jesus established, yet these membership requirements seem a little different than we often think here in our church. Jesus says: Membership is based on knowing and loving God and doing His Will.

So we see that there is a connection between knowing and loving God and actually doing his will. First we need to know God, and learn how he thinks and what he values. As we learn these things, our love for him grows. Growing in love for God, will, ulitimately result in our doing God’s Will, or the things that please him. As James tells us, faith without works is dead. We know that our works do not save us, but they are proof that we love God and are sold out enough to do his will.

May the things that are pleasing to you be the things that please me too.

Last week Pastor Nate talked to us about knowing the will of God. This is critically important to this church and the foundation on which God is rebuilding us as His church. We must know and do the will of God if we are to be a part of the Family of God. Pastor Nate asked us to pray the prayer “May the things that are pleasing to you be the things that please me too.” The reason that we are praying that prayer is that our hearts and minds need readjustment. We need God to readjust us because we can’t just do it on our own. We are sinful creatures who want our own way and truthfully, most of us want what we want and we don’t want to change. Folks, we are never going to be pleasing to God unless we get on the same page with him. We need to understand his will for us as individuals and as a church, and to set our course as a church and individuals to do his will.

Are you in or are you out?

I’m going to ask you the same question as I asked the last time I preached: “Are you in or are you out?” We have a choice here in where we place our primary allegiance.  Do you place your primary allegiance with the Lord and with His family of believers? Do you declare along with Joshua: “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” “Are you in or are you out?”

If you are in or think you would like to be in, I invite you to continue to pray Pastor Nate’s prayer this week: “May the things that are pleasing to you be the things that please me too.”

Let’s all let God readjust our minds and hearts so that we can be the strong family of believers that God wants us to be.