Our text for this message (really, it connects that to verses 19-21, where they went into a house, the multitude thronged Him, and His friends come to lay hold on Him because they think He is beside Himself) is Mark 3:31-35:
There came then his brethren and his mother and standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
“There came then his brethren and his mother and standing without, sent unto him, calling him.” There is tension here. There is tension, family tension. And it is not just a tension that is the difference of the opinion on something important or unimportant. Nor is it simply this, that Jesus is going in a different direction than His family wanted for Him. But this tension is spiritual opposition from His family. This is persecution, real persecution of Jesus. If ever you have had to experience opposition from your family on account of your faith, then you understand a bit this tension. It is much more difficult than opposition from an unbelieving world. That is what we see here. That is what is going on. In Psalm 69:8 we read this prophetically of the suffering Savior: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.” This is Jesus here: strangers to His brothers.
Verse 20 tells us that there was a multitude, throngs of people: “the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.” We know this multitude as well. They have come together to see the great miracle-worker. They want to see signs, they want to see miracles. This is the cause of the fame of Jesus now. And this same makes it impossible for Jesus even to live a simple, ordinary life—to eat.
So, verse 21: “when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” Now, “friends,” here, does not refer to His disciples but it refers actually to a more intimate relationship. Relatives is the idea, “the people who were of Him,” is the literal phrase here.
“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.” His mother and His brothers (v. 32). We can assume from that that by this time Mary is a widow and she is here with His brothers. Jesus had, according to chapter 6:3 4, at least six siblings. Now, concerning these brothers of Jesus that come here, we know from the Gospel of John, chapter 7:4, 5, that they “believed not.” That means they did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. And this is true of the entire ministry of Jesus. His brothers believed not.
His mother and His brethren. His mother, Mary, is with them. Here, obviously, she is under the influence of her grown sons as they tried to stage a family intervention. Verse 21: “He is beside himself.” The idea is that He is acting so irrationally that He is going to end up hurting Himself. He has gone mad. He is crazy. We need to intervene. So, verse 21 says that those who were of Him, probably His relatives, perhaps some of His own family members, “they went out to lay hold on him,” and the idea is that they wanted to take Him by force, they wanted to arrest Him, they wanted to put a stop to His public ministry. And those in verse 21 who came to take Him, had failed in that, so somehow His immediate family, His mother and His brothers, are called in.
Mark paints a picture for us in verses 31ff. Jesus is in the house (v. 32), the multitude sits around Him, so He is in the middle of them. They are sitting. The people have come in, the house is packed. Jesus is teaching. And Luke tells us in the parallel passage that when His mother and brothers come, they stand outside, not because they do not want to interrupt His teaching but because they cannot get in because of the press of the people. They cannot get any closer. So, they pass forward a word, a message to Jesus. You see them whispering through the rows to get the message forward to Jesus. One person passes it forward to the next till, finally, someone gets up and says to Jesus (v. 32), “Behold, your mother and your brothers are outside. They are here to see you. And they want to speak with you.”
Jesus knows why they have come. He knows what they want to do (v. 21), “take him by force.”
At this point in the story, the preaching of Jesus has stopped, and everyone expects Him to break off His sermon and go and talk to His family, especially because in this Hebrew culture, the family is a sacred institution. The bonds are very intimate. You would never refuse a request from the older generation. You would never refuse a request to speak to your mother. But Jesus does not do that, He does not go and talk to His family. Instead, He does something quite shocking. Here He is, not Mary’s son and Joseph’s son, but God’s Son. God has sent Him to preach, and Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach by posing a question, a shocking question: “Who,” He asks, “Who are my mother and my brethren?” And with that question, He challenges their assumptions about the intimate relationship of family. The assumption is that the family always takes precedence. That is the assumption of those who sent for His family after their attempt to arrest Him failed. That is the assumption of the family who stands now at the edge of the crowd. That is the assumption of those who pass the message forward to Jesus. His family is here. He is not listening to anyone else; He will listen to His family.
You can imagine the surprise and the shock when these words of Jesus come out and are passed back to His family: “Who are my mother and my brethren?” What did He just say? Did He just disown His family?
Verse 34 tells us that at this moment, Jesus “looked round about on them which sat about him.” Now, this phrase is identical to what we read in verse 5: “When he had looked round about on them with anger.” There is a pause. The idea of Jesus looking round about is that He looked at everybody. He turned three hundred sixty degrees. He did this with a questioning look. In verse 5 it says that He did it with “anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” Now, He looks at them with the same kind of intensity, not with anger, but love at His audience. He looks at them. Matthew adds to this, that He extends His hand, He stretches out His hand towards them as He turns and gestures to those sitting about Him. “Who are my mother, or my brethren?” And then He looks and He waves His hands. You catch the power of the moment, do you not?
Then, an imperative command. He says, “Behold!” Behold, look! Do not crane your neck to see who is outside, the family of this famous Rabbi teacher. Do not crane your neck to see my mother, my brothers. Look here. “Behold,” He says, “Look here: my mother and my brethren!”
Then He adds: “Those who do the will of God, those are my mother and my sister and my brethren.” A murmur of amazement must have swept through the multitude. Even though we have the advantage of the biblical perspective looking back on this, we understand how difficult these words must have been for Mary. She had nursed Him, fed Him, dressed Him, and loved Him all the way to manhood. What crushing words! His brothers! Imagine their anger. You just said what about your mother and us? We care! This is one of the hard sayings of Jesus. Jesus does not mean by this that blood family does not matter at all. Or that becoming a Christian means that we have to forsake all blood relatives. No. The Scriptures themselves tell us that one who does not care for those of his own family, household, blood relatives is worse than an infidel, that is, an unbeliever. And we know that Jesus Himself keeps His family ties alive. From the cross He makes arrangements for His mother’s care. After His resurrection, He appears to His brother James, who later becomes the bishop of the church at Jerusalem.
And Jesus certainly is not telling us here that when we are unhappy in our family relationships, we can forsake those responsibilities, just retreat from them into some kind of peaceful isolation and find our solace there. The point that Jesus is making here is that there is a deeper relationship, a deeper kinship than flesh and blood. That being a member of the family of God should supersede all human relationships. That He has come to gather a new and a spiritual family, the ties of which are stronger and far more satisfying than earthly ties. He is saying that the earthly family is temporal, but this family, the family of God, is eternal. That belonging to this family will sometimes bring division with your earthly families, especially when you put God’s will first in your life.
You see, that is where this has come to in Jesus’ relationship with His family. What were they trying to do? They were going against the will of God for Jesus. They wanted to stop His work. Already at age twelve, Jesus made this point to Joseph and Mary: “I must be about my Father’s business.” He meant the work and the will of the Father for Him. And now they want to stop that, to stand in the way of God’s will. That is why He characterizes His true family as those who do the will of God. As Luke has it: They hear the Word of God and do it.
He does not mean by this that doing the will of God, obedience, originates our place in the family of God, that this is how you become a part of the family of God, by your obedience to the will of God, but that we come into the family of God through being born again, regenerated. We come into the family of God by faith. To as many as believe on Him gave He the privilege to be called the sons of God. We come on account of God’s great work in adoption and God’s eternal counsel in election. Those are the foundation and the entrance into the family of God.
But Jesus here calls attention to a mark or an evidence in the believer that he is a part of this family. “Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” He is giving to those who sit around Him, and especially now His family as this message gets back to them, something to think about, to consider, to examine themselves. He is saying, This is what my family members look like, this is what you look like, as part of the family of God. Not perfect. But, what is the difference between the people sitting around Jesus and His family at this point? They hear the Word, they love the Word, they want with all their heart not only to believe the Word but also to do the Word. That is the direction of their life. That is because they love the Savior. And they love God who has sent the Savior.
Does that describe you? Does that describe us as a church, that we are the family of God? So there is a striking and a searching question and response of Jesus here directed not only to His family and to His audience, but to all of us.
So, what is the significance of all of this? I want to close with three points of application.
The first is this, that as important as family is, you can make an idol of it. Family is important. We say that, not only because experience tells us that family is important, but because Scripture puts a premium on family. In the beginning, God brought Adam and Eve together as the first family. He gave them a family-mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to bring forth children. The Scriptures from the beginning to the end emphasize God’s creation of and God’s order for the family. They emphasize responsibility of family members, the incredible importance of family members from a spiritual point of view. The great blessing on those who fear the Lord in their family and in their home. And God’s promise through Scripture is to gather His church in families, in generations. The promise is to you and to your children together, to believers and to their seed. And all of this because God Himself in the Trinity, Father and Son, is a family God.
But now, as important as family is, you can make an idol of family. You can do that by making your family everything—the be-all and the end-all, so that the four walls of your home become like the walls of the temple and everything gets sacrificed for the sake of your family, so that every involvement and every commitment and every engagement in your life is, how will it benefit them? How will this benefit us? And there can develop (as one of the commentators calls it) familial narcissism, which in the end is destructive.
We can make idols of good things. But in the end, idols always destroy their worshipers. So, how do we make an idol of the family? We do that with idealism—this is how my family is going to be. We do this with permissiveness—giving our children everything that they want. We do this with materialism, pursuing goals that are completely material or pleasure-focused with our children.
Jesus warns against this when He says, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” You see, the Scriptures do not call us simply to have close, intact, nuclear families, but to have families in which the will of God is first. For example, none of us can love our spouse perfectly. Only Christ can do that. But we love, and we love our spouse, in a way that honors God because we are first loved and because we first love Christ. That is true when it comes to loving our children, too. We must first love God and we must obey His will with regard to our children. And out of that love for God, we love our children—not spoil them, indulge them, but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition, that is, instruction and correction, of the Word of God.
That is true the other way, too. Children must love their parents, but that love for their parents is first a love for God. Because you love God, boys and girls, you obey your parents. The true relationship, the true fellowship that we have with our children is not simply this, that they do what we want them to do, but in this, that their believing and their obeying is motivated by a love for God. Then there is fellowship with them. Then there is a relationship that transcends the earthly ties.
That brings us to the second point of application here. It is this, that discipleship always comes at a cost. And sometimes the cost is your own family and relationships with parents, brothers and sisters, and children. Now, it is important that we live with wisdom, that we live as peacemakers. We should not unnecessarily alienate family members by our obnoxious or proud behavior. We must love and show love. We must pray for them. We must let them know and show to them that joy and hope that we have as Christians. And, certainly, we should not blame all our tension in family relationships in the fact that we are Christians. But, nevertheless, we see here that being a believer will oftentimes cost us in regard to our family relationships.
That is what we see right here with Jesus. His ministry was costing His family. “I am become a stranger to my brethren and an alien to my mother’s children” (Ps. 69). Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospels that this is a part of taking up a cross and following Him. There is a very striking or stronger passage in Matthew 10: “Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” And then this: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”
Are you ready to make that kind of sacrifice as a disciple of Christ? Some of you know exactly what that looks like, and you feel the pain of that. There is a spiritual divide that makes it impossible sometimes even to talk to family and that, apart from the intervention of God’s grace, is going to result in an eternal separation from loved ones.
We should be encouraged here, first of all, because we should not be surprised by this. If you are a faithful follower of Christ, Jesus says, they may even hate you. Do not be surprised if people and family will think you are crazy, radical, too much into your religion. But the encouragement is this, that Jesus had to go through this Himself. The cross that we are called by Christ to bear is one that He carried Himself. As dear as His mother was to Him, He would not allow her to stand between Him and His obedience to the Father in going to the cross. That becomes very clear at the end of His life when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Mark 14:33, Mark says “He was troubled.” And that word “troubled” has as its root meaning to be away from home, to be orphaned. On the cross, Jesus bore the weight of (as one commentator says) an eternal homesickness, an eternal forsaking, even of His heavenly Father. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
But let us not miss something here in the text, and that is the wonder of the words of Jesus, that gracious wonder of grace in the words of Jesus. The wonder of being part of the family of God. As we said, there was probably some shock at what Jesus said here. But there must have been also an amazing peace and comfort and even surprise at the realization of what Jesus’ words meant. Some of us do not have much family. Some of us have much sadness in our family. Some of us feel immense pressure because our home is Christian and family just does not get it. Jesus must have had here in His audience this day people who faced all the same struggles, the same alienation, the same loneliness, the same sacrifice. And what a beautiful thing when He paused for a moment and looked round about upon them, turned, gestured at them, and said, “Look here. This is my family. You are my family.”
That is what He says to us as believers today in the gospel that is the good news. John 1:12: “To as many as believed on him, to them gave he the power [that is, the privilege] to become the sons of God.” Do you catch the importance of the words of Jesus? Do you understand that this moment is so, I’ll say, dramatically drawn out by Jesus? Praise God, His own family learned from it. For they, too, in time, by God’s grace, came to believe. Amen.