8th Sunday After Trinity July 21, 2002
466, 785, 755/387, 464
While He was still talking to the multitudes, Behold! His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
In Christ Jesus who is our brother by faith, dear fellow-redeemed:
Last Tuesday, as you were beginning your afternoon activities it was already 8:00 p.m. in Paris, France. Thirteen Americans made their way to dinner walking several blocks from their hotel to a pre-determined restaurant. As they approached the restaurant they saw another group of people gathered and conversing on the corner. Both groups “sized each other up” wondering if the other group was the one for which they had been waiting. Once identity was established, joyful and friendly greetings abounded and both groups proceeded to the upstairs of the restaurant for 3 ½ hours of dinner and time spent together.
The American group was made up of members of Immanuel and of our sister congregations who were part of the summer Reformation tour to Europe. The French group was made up of members from our sister congregation in Paris. Time was spent getting to know one another. The Paris members told about their plans to open a preaching station in another area of France, and to visit the United States in two years. Conversation and dinner were shared, hymns were sung, and then it was time to say, “good night.”
We had never seen each other before and language was somewhat of a barrier. Still, to people they had never met, the members in Paris said: “We are so glad you have come. This is great encouragement for us.” I can assure you that both groups left encouraged. Such is the nature of the family of God. The family of God is not bound by geography, language, or personality. It is bound through a common faith in Christ.
There are many members within our fellowship who have never seen Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire. There are likewise many who may never visit the subsidized mission congregations in the United States, or our sister congregations in foreign fields; and still the students at Immanuel College and the members in our mission congregations are on our minds and in our hearts. “Sight-unseen” we support them with our prayers and our mission offerings. Such is the nature of the family of God.
It is a wonderful experience and great joy to meet face-to-face with fellow Christians whom you’ve never seen before. However, you will never meet all the Christians in your fellowship, much less others throughout the world. Nevertheless, you know they are there, and being joined to them does not depend on your meeting them. It only depends on their knowledge of Christ. Such is the nature of the family of God.
This morning we use Jesus’ words to be reminded of our true “FAMILY TIES.” I. The brotherhood of Christ is determined spiritually II. The brotherhood of Christ is evident externally.
Jesus had been preaching to a large crowd of people and “while He was still talking to the multitudes, Behold! His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, ‘Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’” [vv.46-47]
In a number of places throughout Scripture we hear about Jesus’ brothers, more specifically, His half-brothers. Jesus was the firstborn son of Mary, but not of Joseph. Jesus is GOD’S Son. Mary and Joseph undoubtedly had several children of their own following the birth of Jesus. These would be Jesus’ half-brothers.
In Mark’s Gospel account, we hear the people of Nazareth wondering if this Jesus (whom they had all seen grow from boyhood to manhood) could possibly be the Messiah. They said, “‘Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ And they were offended at Him” (Mark 6:3). Jesus’ hometown concluded that “No! He couldn’t be the Messiah, he’s just the son of Joseph, an ordinary man from a family we know.” The apostle John also reports that “…even His brothers did not believe in Him…” (John 7:5), at least not right away.
One day, Mary and some of these half-brothers came to Jesus while He was preaching to the crowd. Because they could not reach Jesus, they sent a message to Him saying they would like to see Him. What would we expect Jesus’ response to be? Would Jesus say to the crowd, “Well, I have to go now, my Mom and brothers are waiting for me. I need some family time. See you later I’ll preach again next week on such-and-such a day.”? No. Jesus did not respond that way at all. Instead, Jesus said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” [vv.48-50]
This sounds a little harsh. Did Jesus have no concern or love for His family? It is important to remember that in this place and time Jesus was not addressing love for an earthly family. Rather, He was establishing the truth that as beloved as His family was (We know Jesus’ mother was very dear to Jesus from His taking care of her needs even while dying on the cross, (cf: John 19:25ff) it ought not overtake love for God. As much as Jesus loved His earthly family, there was a higher calling. There was something even more important than blood relationship and that was a relationship through faith in the salvation He was bringing.
Think back to when Jesus was 12 years old. Mary rebuked Jesus. She scolded Him a bit when she said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look! Your father (Joseph) and I have sought You anxiously” (Luke 2:48). Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s (God) business?” (Luke 2:49).
Jesus’ true purpose on earth was the salvation of souls. Yes, there was a tie to His mother and His brothers. Family relationships are important. They are gifts from God on this earth, but in the Kingdom of God those family relationships are not important. No one is going to be part of God’s family because he is your son or your daughter. No one is going to be part of God’s family just because he is your father or she is your mother…or sister or brother. A stranger who shares faith in your Savior is closer to you than a blood relative who denies Christ.
When Jesus identified His disciples as being His brother and sister and mother He also explained why that was true: “BECAUSE whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my true brother, sister, mother.” This may seem rather obvious—naturally, someone is truly a brother of Christ when he believes. However, but there are so many ways in which people forget this truth.
The Pharisees didn’t think they had to worry at all about their spiritual health because they were descendants of Abraham. The Pharisees put their confidence in being a blood relative with the man chosen by God to be the ancestor of God’s people. Jesus told the Pharisees who were relying on their blood relationship, “‘I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham’” (John 8:37-39). The Pharisees relied on blood relationship, but Jesus said, “No, it’s a matter of the heart! Your membership in the family of God is determined spiritually.”
People in our day and age often times speak as if every man, woman, and child on the earth were God’s children. This is not the case. We are members of God’s family, His children, SPIRITUALLY, through faith in Christ. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26,27,29).
We are children of God and can claim that position ONLY through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus our Savior. We are children of God ONLY by being confident and sure that Jesus is the One who redeems us from all our sins by His death on the cross.
Being children of God through faith is ours as a gift from God. John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
We need to exercise great care in understanding what makes someone a child of God. It is not determined by earthly family ties. It is not determined by anything outward at all, not even by church membership. There is tremendous danger in holding onto a visible church for what it is…for the sake of a building…for the sake of that being the congregation where my family has been a member for so many years. DO NOT equate membership in the family of God with membership in any visible organization, congregation, or church body. It is based on faith in Christ!
For this reason, we can rejoice whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached. God promises that wherever His Word goes out it will bear fruit. The fruit is faith and salvation to those who believe. We read in Isaiah, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Where God’s Word goes forth, there it bears fruit. Where it creates faith and makes a “believer,” there is a fellow member in the family of God, whether we know it or not. Our “brotherhood,” our “sisterhood,” our membership in the family of God is determined by faith which we cannot of certainty see nor determine. But GOD KNOWS and through that faith in Christ we are joined together.
This family of God is what we at times call the “Holy Christian Church” or the “Invisible Church.” The members of the Holy Christian Church are the children of God, our brothers in Christ as determined spiritually. They all (of any time and place) who believe in Jesus for the salvation of their souls.
When Jesus told the people what determined His brotherhood, He said that it was those who “do the will of My Father in heaven.” [v.50] In his account, Luke adds that Jesus said, “Whoever hears the Word of God and does it.” (Luke 8:21). The faith which makes us part of God’s family spiritually, also shows itself externally.
When we are members in the family of God, God’s Word becomes our guide. There may be times when members of our earthly family want to pull us a certain way. At times we will want to go so badly with a friend and follow him because “I don’t want to lose that friendship.” We will want to follow some group because “I want to be a part of that. I want to ‘fit in.’” But REMEMBER, its not being part of a group of friends or part of an earthly family that makes you God’s child, it IS following Him.
So when we are faced with the influence of peer groups, or family members, or any other outward “force,” REMEMBER we FOLLOW GOD’S WORD, not family, not church, not government, not friends…but GOD’S TRUTH!! Those who hear God’s Word and do it, who follow it, who keep it, guard it, treasure it…THEY are the family, the Children of God.
In this regard, Martin Luther wrote: “It is and remains a strong, widely current, and common temptation that in order to please a person or a good friend one foregoes doing what one otherwise would no doubt do, one is silent and yields in order to retain favor, honor, and friendship when otherwise one would speak up. Nor can anyone of us, however high he has risen, boast of having overcome the danger of this temptation; for it steals over a person so subtly that it is difficult to detect how much and how often one forebears to preach, plead, admonish, and rebuke in order not to hurt anyone's feelings…” [#1591, What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, Editor, Concordia Publishing House]
Although our membership in the family of God is determined by faith and not by membership in external organizations, God’s desire is that His children gather together in groups for worship, praising God, doing the work of God’s Kingdom, and for mutual encouragement. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
It IS God’s will for us to EXTERNALLY join together. When we find fellow Christians who are also part of the family of God, He wants us to join together and share an external fellowship here on this earth. Sharing in an external fellowship has great blessings. God wants us to join together because this is an awful world in which we live. There are temptations abounding. We need the encouragement, the support, the guidance, and the help from one another. So we form congregations. We worship together, we pray together, we educate our young, we do joint church work, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together—all as sharing faith in our Savior and being fellow members in the family of God.
When it comes to these earthly fellowships and the external showing of our common faith in Christ, God does give direction. For such external sharing of our faith God desires that we united in what we believe and in what we teach. Paul writing to the Corinthians said, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
There are, therefore, fellow Christians with whom (according to God’s Word) we cannot join in worship, or the Lord’s Supper, or in other activities of fellowship. God directs us not to join together in these cases because we are not united in what we believe and teach and in the proclamation with which we identify ourselves.
This separation from other earthly fellowships says nothing of someone else’s membership in the family of God. That is determined only by faith (determined spiritually). We have to determine our external celebration of that faith (fellowship) by the person’s (or congregation’s, or church body’s) confession. When an individual’s confession or that of a congregation or a church body differs from what God’s Word says, then we have to remain separate; but again, this not speaking to their faith or membership in God’s family, only to their confession and the external exercise of Christian fellowship.
The difference between membership in the family of God and the ability to share in an external fellowship with other Christians is a very important distinction to be made. It is a distinction which our confessional document, Concerning Church Fellowship, makes clearly and very well. In that document we read (parenthetical comments are added and not part of the document):
“It is necessary to distinguish between Christian brotherhood (determined spiritually) and Christian fellowship (exercised externally). The Holy Christian Church consists indeed of all believers in Jesus Christ, of all who have been begotten of the Father through the Word of truth and are members of His family. But since that faith is invisible, these brethren are invisible, and we are assured of their existence only by the Word and the promise of God. That is the BROTHERHOOD (determined spiritually). Christian fellowship on the other hand is a fruit of this brotherhood—and an essential one. Since we belong together as brothers in Christ, we show this by joint worship, prayer, and work…
“Now the basis for this fellowship (the joint work) cannot be the same as that for the brotherhood, which is regeneration and true faith. Before we can fellowship, we must recognize the brother and recognition must have as its object something that can be seen. BUT faith cannot be seen…we therefore, believe and teach that Christian fellowship is based only on profession of faith, by word and deed…. Confession is the basis for Christian fellowship, for when a man’s confession is in accord with the “teachings which we have learned” we can recognize him as a brother.”
Are there brothers and sisters in Christ outside our fellowship? ABSOLUTELY! We know this is true because where the Gospel is preached there are believers, there we will have fellow members in the family of God. However, by God’s direction we express that fellowship externally with those who share a common confession with us in the full truth of God’s Word.
Everything on this earth is imperfect. So we have brothers and sisters who are separated from us by distance. There are those who are separated from us because Satan has stirred up contention and false teaching and so the earthly church is no longer united on the truth of God’s Word. However, in the end, the Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). In the end, on the Last Day, we will see people we have never known and people we have known, but didn’t know they were fellow believers. There we will see all of God’s children, all who have put their faith in Christ and have been raised to life everlasting. In the meantime, we share in God-pleasing fellowships on earth to encourage one another and help one another in the trials and challenges that we face.
Know that CHRIST is your BROTHER because He gave Himself for you. God is your FATHER, through that redeeming work of Christ. This spiritual relationship is the most valuable in all the world. It upholds you in the face of trials and it will create a joyful reunion of all of God’s children in heaven where we will see our Lord face-to-face. There we will see our Brother, and our Father, and the Holy Spirit who has brought us and tied us into that family by God’s grace. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.