Jesus says many unexpected things throughout His earthly ministry. Without a doubt, if you’ve read through any of the four Gospels you’ve come across something Jesus said which has left you scratching your head; Matthew 12:46-50 is one such section.
Jesus had been speaking to the crowds, teaching them about the Holy Spirit, Himself, and the reality of a heart void of His Spirit. As He’s in the midst of teaching, someone interrupts Him to let Him know His family is there. There doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about this, however, it is Jesus’ response which is quite unexpected. Jesus says, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48 ESV)
As we contemplate Christ’s words, His response rubs against the grain. It comes across as an extremely disrespectful response. Culturally speaking, such a statement would be nigh unbearable! Even one of the ten commandments says, “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12 ESV) For the Jews, this commandment was especially high-ranked. So how could Jesus say this? Perhaps, the more important question is “Why does Jesus say this?”
The people in view are Jesus’ biological family. We know and confess that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” (Apostles Creed). However, what this text (as well as many others) makes clear is that after Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth, Joseph and Mary proceeded to have children. Nothing in Scripture denies this or stands opposed to it; rather as our passage makes plain, Scripture affirms this reality. All three Gospels affirm this.
One of the great leaders of the church was Jesus’ half-brother James, whom Paul references in Galatians 1:19, “I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” This the same James who likely wrote the New Testament epistle which bears his name. Jesus’ other half-brother, Jude, seems to have been gifted in writing as well, for we still bear his epistle in our Bibles.
From what we find in Acts 1, Jesus’ biological family would one day comprise that first assembly to experience Pentecost, but at this stage of Jesus’ earthly ministry as testified by Matthew, Jesus’ biological family were not all believers. Hence Jesus’ response in vv. 49-50, “And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” This is a very rich passage of Scripture with many implications, but let us briefly look at a two.
First, we find that Jesus reveals that our highest loyalty must be to God and His family; every other earthly tie must be secondary. The cultural norms of Jesus’ day were trampled here at Christ’s words. Jesus’ earthly family must come second to His spiritual family. The same is true for us. Regardless of the organization, the fraternity or team, everyone plays second fiddle to God. This is what godly priorities look like. To have our priorities out of place and make God subject to our entertainment, our family, our job, or our leisure is pure madness. We don’t flex our relationship with God to make room for other relationships. We bend and even break relationships in order to make room for God and His desires. Everything must be subject to our first priority which is God.
Second, we find that we are embraced by Christ as a brother or sister, and accepted by God as His beloved children. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah writes, “The Lord your God...will rejoice over you with gladness...He will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) God sings over you. Did you know that?
We need to see ourselves as God sees us in Christ. God does not push us away or hide us. God celebrates us when we come to Him through Christ. We may all come from different families and traditions, but when we assemble under the banner of Christ we are part of the most loving, kind and wonderful family the world will ever know. Our Father embraces us and loves us.
Let’s take a moment and truly thank God for embracing us in Christ and may our lives reflect His love. May we celebrate this glorious adoption into the family of God through Christ, knowing that we “are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:7 ESV).
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