First Sunday after Epiphany January 8, 2023
Worship Supplement 2000 #717 (or TLH #129), 348, 343, 127
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized in His name faithful in their calling as Your children and inheritors with Him of everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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.” (NKJV)
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
We consider it a sad misfortune when someone has no family. We pity the child without parents, without brothers and sisters. Even if such a child is taken in and well cared for, there is something important missing. We feel bad for the elderly who outlive not only their parents but their siblings and sometimes even one or more of their children. The loss of close family members is one of the trials of life.
We rightly value our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren. Yet we also understand that family relationships do not endure. Various things can interfere with family relationships and weaken family ties. And even if those ties remain strong, they are dissolved by death. We can’t hold onto our loved ones; either they must leave us, or we must leave them.
But there is a family relationship that we have which will never be dissolved. That is the relationship that we have to God through His Son Jesus Christ. Through Christ we are God’s children, and He is our Father. Here in our text, Jesus expresses that wonderful relationship in another way by telling us that He regards us as members of His family. He encourages us to think of Him as our brother. Let us consider what it means that JESUS IS OUR TRUE BROTHER.
It is a most marvelous thing for us to claim that God is our Father and that we are His children. We could never be so bold as to claim such a thing if God in His word did not tell us that it is so. “You are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” the apostle Paul tells us (Gal. 3:26). And again, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16).
We ought to rejoice in this Father-son relationship that we are privileged to have with God. But at the same time, we need to confess humbly that this relationship is not something that we have by nature. It is common to hear people say that all people are God’s children. That is true only in the sense that God is the Creator of all people. But no one can claim membership in God’s household and the standing of His children on that basis. The sin of Adam alienated him from God, and all his descendants with him. We are God’s children not because God created us but because He redeemed us by the blood of His Son. Jesus brought reconciliation between us and God by His atoning sacrifice. It is only through faith in Him that we are God’s children. God teaches us this in His word when He tells us that we have become His children not by birth but by adoption: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4,5) We are God’s children together with all who believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus assures us of this again in our text when He says, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
We notice that here in our text that Jesus doesn’t say that whoever believes in Him is His brother, sister, and mother—though that is surely what He means. Here He is telling us that believing in Him means doing the will of the Father. It is God’s will that all people should believe in His Son and trust in Him as their Savior. And those who believe in Jesus will of course want to do the will of God in everything. We who believe in Jesus never do God’s will perfectly and unfailingly because of our sinful weakness. But it is surely our desire to do His will and not the will of the devil or of our own sinful nature. We express that whenever we confess our sins and repent of them, as we do in every Sunday worship service. When we confess our sins and seek assurance of God’s forgiveness, we are saying that we want to put off whatever is contrary to the Father’s will; we don’t want to do anything that grieves Him but want to do what pleases Him. That desire to do the will of God—which the Holy Spirit has given us—shows that we are Jesus’ brothers, for He came to do the Father’s will (John 6:38). Jesus carried out the Father’s will throughout His life. And then to completely fulfill the Father’s will He submitted to the death of the cross. “Not My will, but Yours, be done,” was Jesus’ cry to the Father in Gethsemane on the eve of His passion (Luke 22:42).
We should notice also the occasion on which Jesus says that it is those who do the Father’s will that have kinship with Him. It was when His mother and brothers came to see Him. Jesus was teaching a large group of people when someone came and told Him that His mother and brothers were standing outside the place where He was teaching and that they wanted to speak to Him. We aren’t told what it was that they wanted to say to Him. Jesus’ response to their request seems to imply that the members of His earthly family weren’t always helpful to Him or in sympathy with what He was doing. Mary of course always believed in Him. She had received a visit from the Angel Gabriel and knew that she had conceived and borne Jesus by the Holy Spirit while still in her virginity. We also know that Mary took note of the wonderful events surrounding Jesus’ birth and the things that were said of Him; she “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 33, 51). And we find her standing beneath the cross on Good Friday.
With the brothers of Jesus, it is a different story. John says that they did not believe in Jesus (John 7:5). On one occasion members of Jesus’ family came to take Him by force and take Him home because they believed that He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). So Jesus says here that His true family consists of those who believe in Him as their Savior and seek to do the Father’s will.
Hearing what Jesus says here, we need to be concerned that we are doing the Father’s will. We need to ask ourselves whether we want what God wants. Are we interested in doing the Lord’s work by supporting and actively participating in the spread of the Gospel? Are we ready to submit patiently to what God brings and allows in our life? Is our greatest desire for our children that they are doing God’s will? Are we most concerned about whether our life is pleasing to God rather than whether it is pleasing to our friends, neighbors, and family?
Whoever believes in Jesus and does His Father’s will is His kin, Jesus says. We have a bond with Jesus that cannot be dissolved in the way that the bonds of family relationships are dissolved. The ties that exist between family members cannot endure forever; death takes them from us. But nothing can dissolve our brother relationship to Jesus. He is—and will ever remain—our Brother.
Jesus here assures us that there is no closer relationship than the one that we have with Him by faith. His disciples are His brother, sister, and mother, He says. Not even Mary has a closer relationship to Jesus than His disciples have.
Jesus is the ideal Brother. All of the best things a brother can be—that’s what Jesus is to us. He loves us with a love so great that He laid down His life to save us. He invites us to come to Him with all of our needs, and He never tires of us when we take Him up on His offer. He invites and welcomes us to His table in the Lord’s Supper and gives us His own body and blood to assure us of the forgiveness of sins. He provides for us and sees to it that we don’t lack anything that we truly need. He is patient with us and doesn’t disown us on account of our faults and weaknesses. He has a place prepared for us in the Father’s house where He will welcome us when we leave this world. He will never be ashamed of His poor relatives; on the last day He will acknowledge us as His kin before the angels and before His Father. And we will be with Him forever, all of us together in one great family.
This is a most comforting truth, one that it is good and helpful for us to bear in mind. The child in the manger whose birth was heralded by angels from heaven—He is our Brother who came down from heaven to help us. The man Jesus who received the witness of the Father and the Holy Spirit at His baptism—He is our Brother stepping forward willingly to take on the burden of our sins. When we see Jesus in the gospels healing the sick, commanding the wind and waves, raising the dead, we should remember that this is our Brother whose power and resources are great enough for every need. When we see Him in His passion, we should remember that this is our Brother who laid down His life for us. And when we see Him risen and living forever at the right hand of God, let us remember that this is our Brother who ever lives to intercede for us and who has gone to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house. Amen.
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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.