Some years ago, in the Concordia Self-Study Bible that my mom and dad got for me for my confirmation, I decided to mark it up in a particular way.
I had an orange colored pencil, and so reading through the Gospels again, I highlighted any passage that spoke about the compassion and concern that Jesus showed for those around Him….
One of those passages that I highlighted comes from our text this morning: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
In some ways, you might think, it was an odd passage to highlight.
Usually the stuff I was highlighting orange described an attitude or action of Jesus when He was engaged in His work…
For example, when describing Jesus, the Gospels often use forms of the Greek word splagchnizomai, which means “to be moved in the inward parts, the guts, i.e. to feel compassion.”
That is the feeling you get in your gut when you see something that moves you. And it moves you to the point of acting upon that feeling… compelling you to be involved if you want too or not.
That Jesus felt so strongly about those He called lost sheep definitely makes an impression – and so no surprise that those were highlighted!
Still, why this passage?
After all, it was about something completely different, right? It described Jesus’ disciples, in desperation, crying out to Him as they endured a sudden, life-threatening storm. How could be sleeping now?
No, this passage highlighted not something coming from Jesus’ guts, but from the disciple’s own guts, so to speak: Fear, a cry of doubt… and even impatient and irreverent questioning[i]:
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
The Son of God, of course, calmly wakes from His slumber and firmly addresses the chaos of the waves. “Quiet! (or: Silence! Be muzzled!) Be still”.
We can then imagine that he looks at His Disciples, looks deep into their hearts in fact, and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
This story occurs in the other “Synoptic Gospels,” Matthew and Luke, as well. And yet only Mark’s account of the event highlights the fact that the Disciples say “Teacher, don’t you care…”
So I highlighted the remark with my pencil.
After all, the answer was deafening.
Yes, Jesus cared.
He really cared, and in more ways than one….
Let’s look at the most obvious way Jesus cared and cares first.
Regarding this kind of question: “Who cares about me?” Or, “Who really cares about me?”
…I am sure I am not alone in having thought it!
…is it not one of the most human, the most universal, of all questions?
We all, to be sure, need love. When we have love, so many of the other things we often think we need we are in fact able to let slide…
We can “calm and quiet” our souls, as the Psalmist says!
Blessed is the man who can say, as the Psalmist did “I have calmed and quieted my soul like a nursing child with its mother”!
What could be a more comforting, sweeter, picture?[ii]
It is natural – at least it should be – for a newborn baby to continue to grow closer to his parents, particularly to his mother, as she meets his needs through the act of nursing, for example.
Babies, of course, trust. They can’t not, really. They don’t have much of a choice.
And, of course, “well-loved infants” are likely to grow up to be those who are willing and able to meet the needs of others – starting with the own family who raised them – and then moving out in love and confidence as well, starting their own families and moving beyond even that group to serve others!
It is also in this context that God would have us learn to better understand Him.
As the word of God reminds us, pictures of good parenting and God should really go hand in hand.
Psalm 22:9 even goes so far as to say that
“…you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.”
Reflect on that next time your Baptist friend tells you that babies should not be baptized into God’s family because they can’t have faith in God![iii]
And not only this, but Isaiah 49:15 rhetorically asks: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?”
…even as Isaiah immediately goes on to exclaim the stark realities of a fallen world while simultaneously pointing us to how God is different from it: “…Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
And moving beyond the parenting images, the book of Zephaniah blesses us with a particularly arresting picture. I remember when a college friend revealed to me that it was this passage from Zephaniah
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
…that really took her breath away. Even though she was a Baptist, she had a strong faith in the Lord [smile : ) ].
As regards our joyful trust in the God who loves us, it, of course, is not always like this….
Our fellow human beings, even our own flesh and blood(!), will let us down – sometimes in horrible ways beyond what many of us could never dare to imagine! – and yet, nevertheless…
…we will, looking for somewhere to go, still look to other human beings, like they are our modern-day princes and chariots that can save us, as our faith in God falters…
After all, the loved ones in our lives, the family and friends in our lives, might forget our birthday, but at least we can see them in the flesh… unlike our Lord of whom the Bible reminds us is a “hope and assurance we do not see,” whom we must look to in faith… (see Hebrews 11).
And while all kinds of people who are not Christians might indeed gain hope by thinking that there is a God, and that this God cares for people, we are also here reminded of the theologian that said that the human mind is an “idol factory”.
Again, as I often point out, we are now all dealing with the fact that, in one way or another, we increasingly live in the kind of culture that says it has a hard time believing in the God of the Bible, and so who is, in fact, increasingly posing questions that few before them have thought sensible to ask….
Is marriage really only supposed to be one man and one woman? And for life?
Is it really important for children to have both a mother and a father? Why not two mothers? Why not two fathers? Is not love love?
Why is it significant that God created us as male and female? Why should we obsess over these categories? Can’t women do everything a man can do? And maybe vice-versa?
If adoption is a good thing, why is it a problem if we create more and more circumstances where adoption is needed, especially if the mother doesn’t want to do the sensible thing and abort her kid?
And don’t people who confidently answer good questions like these, being wholly insensitive to the lived experiences and feelings of others, show they don’t really care?
Even as everyone puts on a smiling face as they talk about freedom and full equality, in all honesty, has the world ever seemed more broken?
And of course, even we who know the Lord Jesus – and who can weather storms of questions like these that question God’s incredible blessings – we still have our own doubts…
God, don’t you care that people are laughing at us on account of you?
Don’t you care that what you have in your Bible sometimes seems so “out-of-step” when it comes to what this world believes is right?
God, don’t you understand that it’s important for me to have some status, to seek not just my health but some real wealth, and to show the people around me that I am worth something?
Or, maybe much more personally:
God, don’t you care that the employers of some of my family members are basically treating them like crap?
Don’t you care that the doctors and nurses taking care of my father don’t seem too driven to do what they can to give him the best care?
Don’t you care about the relative or friend that actually really cared about me that you took from me?
The fact of the matter, of course, is that He does care about all the intimate details of our lives[iv], that He knows all of our weaknesses, and that He comes to us and meets us wherever we are in our questions with both real compassion and seriousness.
He can be depended on, and sometimes we need to realize that if we don’t get the deliverance we desire in this life – or our questions answered in this life – there is still “the life to come”.
And, in truth, it is we who cannot be depended on….
One of the questions asked of students in the class I teach at Concordia University Saint Paul is this:
“Note the different reactions of the disciples throughout [the events following the Lord’s Supper leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion…”] Describe what you might have done if you had been one of the disciples….”
Here, another image from Jesus about parenting comes to mind. Though this time it is one that gives us a bit of a foreboding picture, as Jesus thinks about how He – not as the invisible God but as God in the very flesh – will be rejected by His people…. He says:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
I highlighted that passage in orange too, by the way…
I said earlier that Jesus really cared, and in more ways than one….
We looked at the first and most obvious way: He came precisely because He cared, and He cared deeply about His Disciples on that boat. Just like He cares for us.
He also cared though about the wider mission that He had called them to – and that demanded firm and strong faith in Him…[v]
He still cares.
One of the greatest men of faith in the Bible is Job, whom we heard about this morning.
In the first few chapters of this book, we even hear about God bragging to Satan over how faithful and blameless Job is.
God can depend on him. Job really cares.
And yet, what is God saying to Job near the end of the book, in our reading for today:
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
Job had faith. And Job, more than perhaps any person in the whole of the Bible – was a standout – God knew Job was a man that was determined to praise God, give Him the glory for all things, and to be loyal through whatever challenges God might have entrusted Him with…
And yet, Job too, like all members of the human race, was not perfect in His fear, love, and trust in God.
Though Job cared, he also realized, through God’s help, that he needed a lot of work….
I think Job, reliable soldier that he was, would have absolutely said “Amen” to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3, which, quoting many punchy Old Testament passages in the process, pretty thoroughly lays out all the way humanity doesn’t care. Paul writes:
“….we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”[b] 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”[c] “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d] 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e] 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f] 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the
Paul then goes on to explain:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin….”
What does this mean?
Well, here is another odd one to highlight, which I think lays out nicely what the Lord is doing here through His blameless Apostle, Paul:
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses…”
What to say…
We know that the Bible reveals to us that God makes friends out of His enemies!
And Romans 3 lays out part of the process here, as it speaks of how God’s law always leaves us, wherever we might be in our “walk with God,” “without excuse”.
And, interestingly, I recently came across a Romans 3-like passage in the sermon of another pastor on the internet, addressing how we still like to make a lot of excuses, in effect revealing our lack of care for the things that matter most…
“We like to make excuses… For example, we make tons of excuses in America for why we don’t go to church and fail at our piety. Sure there are legitimate excuses and very reasonable explanations for why we don’t go to church and fail at our piety from time to time. However, if we are really honest as Americans, the majority of the time when we neglect the Lord’s Church and Sacraments is because we desire other things more than God. That may be uncomfortable to hear and uncomfortable for me to say, but it is true. We Americans simply do not have the courage, to be honest, that we have a greater appetite for sleeping in than for the Word and Sacraments. We don’t like to admit that we have a greater desire to sit in a movie theater or basketball gym for three hours than to sit in padded pews for an hour. Ouch. That hurts. It hurts because it is true.
Frankly, we Americans come up with all sorts of excuses why we don’t go to church and neglect our piety – the sermons are not relevant, the music is boring, the people are mean, yadda, yadda, yadda. But frankly, all of these excuses are simply a smokescreen. We Americans want to be entertained. We want to appease our appetites. And the church? It doesn’t feed the appetite of our guts, so we don’t go.”[vi]
“Sinner, where are you…”, right?
Don’t you care?
This is definitely a message that will make us say “ouch” – I think even if we are worshipping God regularly!
But we need to hear words like this, attend to them…
And we need to heed them.
And flee to the Lord….
Because, we know better than any person who does not know God’s love for man shown at the cross, that “wounds from a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses”….
We need to hear this message:
You have not cared but God has cared.
He healed the sick!
Raised the dead!
Cast out the demons!
Calmed the storms!
Enacted all His prophecy-fulfilling, Messiah-revealing, miracles….
And all because of His love for us – and each one of you personally.
Because He cared and cares still.
I Peter 5:7 calls out to us again today:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
What more could He have done?
He has sent His very own Son, who cared for us like no other, and who suffered on our behalf for all our sins!
And He has also sent us His Apostles and Evangelists who cared, and suffered on our behalf that we might hear this message!
So receive the love that they share, receive this Gospel that they pass on to you as well, and take the peace and joy, the eternal peace and joy, that they bring!
Again, He cares. And He forgives you and places His hand upon your head, and says:
Go in peace.
[i] Pulpit commentary: Master, carest thou not that we perish? This question savours of impatience, if not of irreverence. Who so likely to have put it as St. Peter? Nor would he be likely afterwards to forget that he had put it. Hence, probably, its appearance in St. Mark’s Gospel. Mark 4:38
Cambridge: “Master] The double “Master,” “Master” of St Luke (Luke 8:24) gives vividness to their haste and terror. The exclamation recorded by St Mark sounds more like rebuke, as though He was unmindful of their safety.”
Gill’s: “And they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? The disciples came to him and jogged him, and awoke him out of sleep; saying, Master, arise, and save us, or we are lost: hast thou no concern for us? how canst thou lie sleeping here, when we are in such danger? are our lives of no account with thee? is it a matter of no moment with thee, whether we are saved or lost? They seem to say this, not so much praying and interrogating, as complaining and reproving.”
“….and they awake him, and say unto him, Master—or “Teacher.” In Luke (Lu 8:24) this is doubled—in token of their life-and-death earnestness—”Master, Master.”
carest thou not that we perish?—Unbelief and fear made them sadly forget their place, to speak so. Matthew (Mt 8:25) has it, “Lord, save us, we perish.” When those accustomed to fish upon that deep thus spake, the danger must have been imminent. They say nothing of what would become of Him, if they perished; nor think, whether, if He could not perish, it was likely He would let this happen to them; but they hardly knew what they said.”
4:35-41 Christ was asleep in the storm, to try the faith of his disciples, and to stir them up to pray. Their faith appeared weak, and their prayers strong. When our wicked hearts are like the troubled sea which cannot rest, when our passions are unruly, let us think we hear the law of Christ, saying, Be silent, be dumb. When without are fightings, and within are fears, and the spirits are in a tumult, if he say, Peace, be still, there is a great calm at once. Why are ye so fearful? Though there may be cause for some fear, yet not for such fear as this. Those may suspect their faith, who can have such a thought as that Jesus careth not though his people perish. How imperfect are the best of saints! Faith and fear take their turns while we are in this world; but ere long, fear will be overcome, and faith will be lost in sight.
[ii] Tell me again though how some think only men are created in the image of God. I wouldn’t bother trying to convince them they’re wrong.
[iii] The idea of “stunted [Christian] growth” come to mind.
[iv] Another event in the Bible where someone questions how much Jesus really cares:
“38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but few things are needed—or indeed only one. f Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
[v] Here, the disciples’ faith often seems to be lacking, and they in fact often exhibit real cluelessness. Lange: The disciples weakness in knowledge and faith is made more prominent by Mark than by the other Synoptics; compare ch. 6:52; 7: 18; 8:17, 18, 33; 9:6, 19, 32, 34; 10: 24, 32, 35; 14:40.
Franzman: “Jesus deepens His communion with the disciples by using His power in the service of compassion for them and by using the event to build up their faith…” (48)
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Is anything or anybody ever to be preferred before our duty to God and His Kingdom?[i]
Not even those who are closest to us, our own flesh and blood.
In today’s Gospel text we see a very striking picture.
The crowd who is sitting around Jesus in rapt attention are the ones who accept Jesus as the One in whom God’s will is at work (Guelich, 183). They include His twelve disciples and many others…
Elsewhere, the ones who are rejecting Him are not only saying He is “out of His mind” but some are even attributing His words and works to the devil (which, by the way, is precisely the eternally fatal sin against the Holy Spirit mentioned in the text…)
I don’t think things have changed a whole lot since that time!
In any case, what makes the picture this morning even more striking is that some of the people who are participating in this effort to neutralize Jesus’ mission and get Him under their control are His own family!
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[iii] heard about this, they went to take charge of him[iv], for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
And from the rest of the context of this morning’s reading it seems that Jesus’ mother herself, Mary, is even less than helpful here.
At the very least, she gets swept up in the moment and in effect attempts to sabotage Jesus’ ministry…[v]
And, before you know it, with the open door provided by his family’s efforts, the scribes from out of town (Jerusalem) are off to the races, taking the hysteria to the next level!:
“He casts out devils with the power of the devil…”
We note that the charges of insanity and demon possession often go together: in John 10:20 people say of Jesus that He has a demon and is insane…
Now, what to think about all of this?
Well, one might not be surprised by this kind of activity from the scribes, but Jesus’ own family?
One thinks of His words from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
There is a real irony here, is there not?:
His own family implies Jesus is on the “outside,” in the sense that Jesus is not in line with normalcy, what is normal, what is socially acceptable and respectable…
… but Jesus essentially says that they are on the outside… (Marcus, 285). Even if not maliciously so…
Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him…. “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
So, even if they are well-meaning here, Jesus tells His family, His own flesh and blood…
Still, some of us might be asking, what in the world is Jesus doing here? Couldn’t He at least have been less rude and more civil? Invited them in?[vii]
Sometimes Jesus confuses us a lot doesn’t He?
I mean, elsewhere in the Bible, are we not given every impression that honoring our family, especially our parents, is extremely important to God?
Indeed, we are!
One thinks about how, in the book of Luke, the priest Zechariah hears a prophecy from an angel in the Temple of the Lord, who says of his coming son, John the Baptist…:
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
And this is just echoing Malachi 4:6, where we learn that God “will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents”
…the opposite of this happening, we are told in this book, leads to destruction!
And of course we all recall how later on in the book of Luke, he reports that the 12 year old Jesus – after some major miscommunication that resulted in his parents not being able to find him for 3 days – fulfills this prophecy in His own person, as He “was submissive to [Mary and Joseph]… and his mother “treasured all these things in her heart.”[viii]
One could talk about several passages from the Scripture indicating the importance of honoring and one’s family, but one of the more arresting passages in the Gospels is when Jesus attacks his opponents, the Pharisees, for causing people to dishonor their parents and break God’s commandment by giving money to them for their purposes….
…instead of those, father and mother, who rightly deserved their money for their care (see Mark chapter 7 for more….)[ix]
No, whatever else one might want to say about the place of the natural family in the Scriptures, no one can say that God does not insist on devotion to one’s father and mother… to one’s lineage, inheritance, heritage…
So Jesus is not in any sense degrading the natural family here.
What He is doing is simply making clear that what any properly-functioning natural family will realize is that one’s highest loyalty must be to God.
That is what they will teach their children.
Again: because they are committed to God above all else – because He, when they are forced to choose, is their only loyalty – we realize that He also demands they fulfill their duties to their flesh and blood as well.
When our Lord, through the Apostle Paul, talks about those Christians not taking care of their own family as being worse than pagans (I Tim. 5:8), he is simply re-iterating to his listeners what they all already knew in their hearts: even those who do not worship the true God understands here what is required of them.
When it comes to our fellow human beings, one must have priorities: family first.
Take care of your mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins! Regard those before you who gave you life and breath! And as a matter of fact, I’d take things further….
Loyalty to family naturally flows into loyalty to tribe which naturally flows into loyalty to one’s nation (from the Greek “ethnos”!)
And this is precisely why someone like the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said that the fourth commandment, honor thy father and mother, was the natural fountainhead which should lead to an honoring of all earthly government…
It does us well to recognize that the Bible talks about how the book of Revelation speaks about the great multitude worshipping together in the presence of the Lamb…
I don’t know if “God sees color” or not, but it does seem like He sees tongues, tribes, and nations!
As a matter of fact, while the world seems very keen to more or less eliminate things like the natural family, tribes, and nations – as it tries to make us all into cosmopolitans in a kind of global community (which sounds a bit too much like Utopia to many of us) — God seems to really hold up and appreciate these things.
Hence, again, we hear through His Apostle Paul, for example, in Acts 17, that even as He has created many nations, and determined their bounds, He also is keen to emphasize that all these are, of course, “One blood…”
You see? Diversity and unity together!
Scripture says that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” but when these words are written, it is not, for example, saying that we will cease being male or female – or that we cease being Jew or Gentile – but that each and every one of us, whatever our earthly station, become His true children in the same way!
We are all justified before God through the blood of Jesus Christ!
We who are all “one blood” have been brought by the blood of the Lamb – and I am confident that the life to come is going to include particulars like knowing the relatives we have been blessed to know on this earth!
We will laugh with joy because of what is coming (Luke 6:21), and I have no doubts that our more immediate “flesh and blood” relations will be a big part of that…
But not all will know that joy… for from the beginning, things have ever been the same…
All human beings are God’s offspring, as, again, the Apostle Paul tells us in Acts 17, but the “brotherhood of man” has been looking to frustrate their Father’s work for a very long time…
And He keeps telling them:
One of the more interesting ways God’s plans are being frustrated today has to do with the way many of His children who are loyal to their families, tribes, or nations are, amazingly, being accused of idolatry…[x]
This, however, should hardly be surprising, because as we well know – or as we should know, at least – many today believe that one is culturally and politically liberated if they are freed from the bonds of natural family…..
For example, some today, following in the footsteps of men like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, bristle at this natural family…
…And so they seek to undermine what cultures around the world have always – up until about 10 minutes ago – recognized as the natural family, initiated and nurtured by the Divine…
And – seemingly like our Lord, and aping Him poorly – “…regimes place love for the… Party above love for even one’s own parents, spouse, or children, encouraging people to struggle against their own kin…”
After all, in the end, natural families created by natural marriage seem like they might be contrary to the party’s stated goals of equity for all[xi], and so should be understood as a form of private ownership to be chipped away at… even abolished!
Matters of property and inheritance need not be so closely tied with this outdated and, in the end, oppressive institution![xii]
So, destroy, erode, undermine!
Marriage need not be one man and one woman for life!
Sexual relations outside of it need not be constrained![xiii]
There need not be any illegitimate children and children – and aunts, uncles, and cousins – should be few!
The notions of hierarchy, honor, and respect, passively received and understood in the context of the natural family…
…are better understood as “forms of ideological control,” which, to say the least, we are better off without![xiv]
Divorce and abortion need not be difficult to obtain!
And home and religious education must go!
The village, the party, will do a much better job raising your children, thank you…[xv]
What a disaster. As one sagely puts it:
“If the desire for community cannot be filled in church, in family, in neighborhood, or in locality, then it will be filled instead by the central State.”
Now, some might object here:
The threat of communism? Aren’t we getting far afield from the text?
And, aren’t you now falling off the other side of the horse?!
Aren’t you now just trying to ignore Jesus’ key point here?
Jesus is against tribalism and ethnic loyalties, don’t you see!?[xvi]
Jesus loves the whole world, and brings disparate people together into one body!
He is about unity!
He is creating one tribe, His new tribe!
And He is the Chieftain and demands your all!
Well, I agree with those last four points…
One might also think of the Apostle Peter who speaks up in Mark 10 for the disciples: “We have left everything to follow you!”
And what does Jesus say to Peter here? It seems to me that He comforts him…
“Truly I tell you… no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”…
At the same time, we also know that even as Jesus unites people through Him into His family, tribe, nation, kingdom, He brings division as well…
There are other passages where, when talking about family, Jesus takes on a decidedly different note!
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Or what about Luke 14:26?
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Again, Jesus certainly has a way of putting things, doesn’t He?
No one can wake you up and demand your attention like He can!
So what is being said here, really?
Your other loyalties may exist – in some cases, even must exist – insofar as they do not oppose Him, but even then… they must never encroach on His overriding authority![xvii]
St. Augustine comments that our Lord’s own mother, Mary was more blessed in receiving the faith, or teaching, of Christ, then she was to even bear the flesh of Christ. He goes on to say:
“…her nearness as a mother would have been little help for her salvation if she had not borne Christ in her heart in a more blessed manner than in the flesh… she keeps the very Word of God through which she was made and which was made flesh in her.” (ACCS, 46).
That’s the main idea.
This is precisely why Jesus, in a way designed to get his family’s attention, to be sure, says “Who are my mother and my brothers?”[xviii]
We used to understand better that to be true meant to be loyal. Your relationships to family are to be true, but this relationship with Jesus Christ is to be truer, as the Gospel transforms all of our earthly relationships.[xix]
As the commentator Wicke puts it:
“In saying [‘here are my mother and brothers’] he was not rejecting his own flesh and blood but pointing out that in the kingdom of God, the church, there is something more important than human relationships…” (59)
Yes, and all – from every tongue, tribe, and nation – who trust in Him, who repent and believe the Gospel, will become a part of His family.
There is more we should talk about. Very often, the Bible does not track with what even we Christians think today.
“First for the Jew and also to the Greek.”
When we reflect on this, many of us probably won’t like, appreciate, it.
Why the preference? Why the privilege? Why, now that the Messiah has come, not all at the same time and equally?
Why shouldn’t we say, as a highly intelligent man I follow on Twitter did “A central theme of Jesus is the rejection of genetic allegiance & embrace of what it means to truly be family. Matthew 12:46-50 #resistmolech”
I humbly submit that that is not kind of the nuance we need…
Everything we have been talking about this morning has to do with precisely why the Apostle Paul speaks about doing good to all people, especially the family of believers….
Especially the family of believers.
…because, again, this is precisely the kind of language that all men – even the pagan world – still, to this day, in our “modern world,” identifies with and understands!
Must identify with and understand!
And, so, building on this natural wisdom (see John 3:11 and I Cor. 15:44-46), they can also begin to grasp that one’s spiritual family, rooted in the unseen God who calls us out from this temporal world, is indeed the main thing.
Another important thing to note and address here is that in the New Testament, not only are our flesh and blood relationships transformed in light of Him, but they will also be transformed in that each one of us, in one way or another, will be transformed into something a bit different as well….
Luke 20:35-36 says that
“…those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, (36) for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
So what will be the full extent of this transformation? Will we even still recognize ourselves? If we cannot marry and will be “equal to angels,” will we still even be male and female, for instance?
Will we still be Americans when we sing before the throne of the Lamb? : )
Well, think on this: when Jesus was transfigured, His disciples were still able to recognize Him – as well as Elijah and Moses who came from Heaven to speak with Him….
The real point for this morning, however, is this:
Flesh and blood…
…good, right, and proper love and loyalty…
Even in the life to come, where there will be a new heavens and a new earth as well!
Who we are on earth is important, and will remain important, in heaven.
The role of flesh and blood in God’s plan always remains!
God the Son became man and never stopped being Man after all!
And again, we note the critical point that in the very conflict that this God-Man brings – people divide into two groups in His presence… and there is conflict.
In families[xx], in tribes, in nations, in kingdoms!
Yes, we can also talk about how the Bible also speaks of kingdoms and empires and how today we speak of the “modern state,” with its “monopoly on force”…
Nevertheless, we can’t go on here talking merely about “social constructions,” as if flesh and blood, family lineage, have little to do with the situation!
There is a real reason natural fathers protect a couple’s children more than a live-in boyfriend would, for example.
But I don’t think, for most of us, we should these kinds of things to be “idols” because, largely, I don’t think that we love them enough for that to be the case!
As a whole, we in America do not love our families, our extended families, our communities and our nation enough! Actually, today, the increasing trend in America is to use the Bible or anything else to help us avoid commitments… to move away from our family, tribe, and nation…
Carelessly calling people who are loyal to their family or their nation idolaters is a convenient way to avoid owning up to the fact that one doesn’t even begin to love or appreciate these things like one should….
Again, Christians and Christian families realize that “family first” means those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ…
His Gospel is our highest principle
It seems to me that even the worldly poets of ages past understood this kind of thinking more than even many Christians today. The 17th century poet Richard Lovelace, for example, said this:
And therefore, we can echo the commentator Strauss, who says:
“In the changing relationships of the kingdom of God, the insiders (the religious leaders and the physical heirs of Abraham’s promise) become outsiders, and outsiders (sinners, tax collectors, Gentiles, etc.) will become insiders and the recipients of God’s salvation” (171).
Amen, amen, and amen!
….but none of this means that natural loves and loyalties must or even should be lessened and made weaker…
They just need to be put in the correct context, and rightly channeled as Christ’s blood purifies the sin within them…
Older generations of believers understood this while we do not. The tension between doing God’s will and family ties “was often expressed in ancient texts…”
On the one hand, close relations could lead you astray and on the other, those who shared devotion to God were one’s true kin…
Both themes, for instance, were expressed by the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived shortly before Jesus, in his discussion of Deut 13:1-11…[xxiv]
Our family, our own flesh and blood, are so valuable to us!
And rightly so!
So, for example, when King David’s infant son died, he declared, “I will go to him” (2 Samuel 12:23).[xxv]
The key is not to abandon any love that family ties produce – or to insist that David should feel no more strongly for his lost son than any other infant[xxvi]– but to simply recognize that, though separated by distance both familial and geographical, we all really are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
We really all are “the brotherhood of man.”
We were “one blood” then, and we are “one blood” now!
Family matters – even very, very extended family! — matters….
One’s “natural inheritance” matters.
God thinks so too….
And so, let us never forget about this unity we know of from the first chapters of Genesis… until the devil divided them…
A quick recap of this morning’s O.T. lesson… that story that is in fact all of our story!
Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And they realized they were naked… sinful.
Then though, what do we hear? These words against the one who divided us…:
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
This, of course, is a prophecy of Christ’s victory over Satan at the cross.
And the second century church father Irenaeus, summed this story up by saying: “Satan had willfully led humanity by deceit into bondage of the will.” (ACCS)
We are the goods that had been held in bondage, and so, the God-Man, for our sakes, bound up the will of the strong man…
Therefore, He says to you, of you – proclaiming it even to any of your family members who might not stand by your side:
“Behold my mother and my brothers and my sisters”….
“Though outwardly [they] are wasting away,” through my Son’s blood on the cross – through My Son’s crushing the head of the Serpent at Golgotha – they are by grace through faith “inwardly… being renewed day by day.”
And “[their] light and momentary troubles are achieving for [them] an eternal glory that far outweighs [all the troubles of this world…]”
Yes, again, in one sense you belong to your earthly family, tribe, and nation.
And the duties and loyalties demanded of you here are strong – and rightly so…
And, yet, at the same time, in our Gospel reading for today Jesus speaks of routing the Prince of this world and takes possession of a people wholly for Himself…
And here, we are most proud to be a part of the Family of God,
… because God is our True Father, Jesus Christ our True Brother, and He binds all of us together in Him.
We are all one blood by our creation, and through His blood, He re-unites us again in our redemption.
[i] Geneva Study Bible: Without exception, nothing is to be preferred before our duty to God.
[ii] And regarding the “out of His mind” thing, I also think about this: How much does this kind of thing happen today?
For instance, how do many today decide to get rid of a pastors that they don’t like? That, maybe, don’t strike them as “respectable” or “cooperative”?
Well, they probably will not say that he is possessed – that would be going a bit too far – but they might, on the other hand, express concern about his mental stability… (sadly, this is something we see happen quite a bit here and there, and it occurs elsewhere in the Bible too: Matthew Poole’s commentary on Bible Hub: “The young prophet sent by Elisha was counted a mad fellow by Jehu’s comrades, 2 Kings 9:11; so was Paul by Festus, Acts 26:24, or by the Corinthians, or some crept in amongst them, 2 Corinthians 5:13….”)
“Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
[iv] The verb “krateo” indicates their “attempt to forcibly remove him for his own good” … from his “stress and overwork” (Strauss, 168).
Jesus grew up in what we might call an honor and shame culture as well, and so the family avoiding embarrassment is also likely at issue here (Strauss). Collins seems to disagree, starting that the tension between doing God’s will and family ties “was often expressed in ancient texts…” On the one hand, close relations could lead you astray and on the other, those who shared devotion to God were one’s true kin. “Both themes are expressed in Philo’s discussion of Deut 13:1-11…” The former were to even be publicly punished. (235)
[v] Just because He and the disciples couldn’t find time to eat… Mary might well have been leading this effort – supporting the impression that Jesus was “out of His mind!” Implying this might have also had broader, more serious, implications (in the ancient world, insanity and demon-possession were often linked, at they are today, Strauss, 168, see Guelich, 173, on “out of His mind,” a severe charge)
Not having time to eat shows the “popular success of Jesus’ ministry” and this also “sets the reaction of Jesu’ family and the scribes from Jerusalem in bold contrast” (Guelich, 172).
Acts 1:14 reports that Jesus’ brothers mentioned here later came to faith in Him.
Beliefnet: “The Jews looked forward to being with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets.”
Mary and Jesus’ brothers were asserting a responsibility they did not have, even as their intentions were good (Wicke)
The fact that Jesus’ family, who became active members in the church, are shown in a less than stellar light here speaks to the story’s authenticity (Strauss)
This wasn’t the first time that his family showed unbelief or, at the very least, lack of understanding” (see Luke 2:48, John 2:3-4, John 7:3-5) (Guelich, 173)
“The response of his natural family who sought to take him into their custody reflected their rejection of his ministry regardless of their motivation, which in Mark is given as concern for his mental stability…” (182)
They were concerned about Jesus (Wessel), but Jesus doesn’t need their concern! : )
Boring: “That ‘father’ is missing from this metaphor is not merely a matter of the absence of Joseph from the Markan narrative but part of the theological imagery: the family of God to which both Jesus and the disciples belong can have many mothers, brothers and sisters, but only one father (cf. 8:38, 11:25, 13:32; 14:36) (110)]
Alternatively, the commentator Collins argues that fathers are not talked about here because “[no one wished at this time] to make explicit the possibility that a father would oppose what was best for his son or daughter or seem to encourage rebellion against one’s father.” (236)
[vii] “Mark’s brief tableau presents Jesus as brusque to the point of rudeness, not only in what he says but in his not even welcoming his mother and brothers into the house after their journey. Even granted that their purpose in coming was not a friendly one, and their aim was [“to take charge of him”] a little more civility might have been expected…” (France, 178).
[viii] And then, it goes on to say, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
It seems pretty clear that part of Jesus growing in favor with and man would have to do with Him fulfilling passages of the Old Testament likeLeviticus 19:3:
“Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
Or Deuteronomy 5:16:
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
Or Proverbs 23:22:
“Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.”
[ix]5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe c your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ d and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ e11But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
[x] Fraanzmann, on Matt. 12:43-50: “Man is never so open to the power of Satan as when has been touched by the Christ but has not been filled by Him”
[xi] “Socialism requires collective control of resources, and humans are the ultimate resource. This is why the traditional nuclear family, which places authority in the hands of parents rather than the community, is an affront to so many socialists.”
[xii] “Eventually the Bourgeois started to look for ways to pass on their wealth to the next generation, rather than having it shared out amongst the masses, and this is where the monogamous nuclear family comes from. It is the best way of guaranteeing that you are passing on your property to your son, because in a monogamous relationship you have a clear idea of who your own children are….”
[xiii] “Friedrich Engels ultimately hoped for widespread ‘unconstrained sexual intercourse,’ with the aim of dissolving traditional marriage and ultimately eliminating the family institution….”
[xiv] “…interests rarely boils over into revolution because institutions such as the family perform the function of ‘ideological control’, or convincing the masses that the present unequal system is inevitable, natural and good.”
[xv] “[In “The Origin of the Family” written by Engels and putting forth both his and Marx’s view], and elsewhere, we see, among other things, a fanatical push to abolish all right of inheritance, to end home and religious education, to dissolve monogamy in marriage, to pursue pre- and extra-marital sex, to foster and “tolerate” (as Engels put it) the “gradual growth of unconstrained sexual intercourse” by unmarried women, to nationalize all housework, to shift mothers into factories, to move children into daycare nurseries, to separate children into community collectives apart from their natural parents, and, most of all, for society and the state to rear and educate children.”
Another writer states “Before Capitalism, traditional, tribal societies were classless and they practised a form of ‘primitive communism’ in which there was no private property. In such societies, property was collectively owned, and the family structure reflected this – there were no families as such, but tribal groups existed in a kind of ‘promiscuous horde’ in which there were no restrictions on sexual relationships.”
And yet, of this “origin,” one feminist writers opines “Gender inequality clearly preceded Capitalism….. The vast majority of tribes in Africa and Asia are patriarchal, with women being barred from owning property, having no political power, and having to do most of the child care and hard physical labour….”
[xvi] Strauss: “In the kingdom age, true family relationships are based on obedience to God and faithfulness to his Word rather than on national and ethnic identity.” (172)
Luke 14:26. [Εἴ τις, if any man) Wherever the greatest multitude of men flocked together, there at times Jesus used especial sternness of language.—V. g.]—οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ, doth not hate his father) viz. hate his father, etc., in that respect, in which he is bound to hate himself (τὴν εἁυτοῦ ψυχήν), namely, whereinsoever father, etc., or self are inconsistent with love to Christ [are averse from Christ]. This text applies to that time especially, in which few were really following Christ: many hated, who deserved to be hated themselves. This hatred must be understood not merely in the comparative [hate, i.e. love less] or conditional and qualified sense, but even absolutely: For whoever hath derived from Christ a ripened knowledge, taste, and appetite for God and heavenly good things (Luke 14:16, the viands of the “great supper”), has also a contempt and hatred of self and of the whole creature that [of the whole creation, so far as it] is subject to vanity, a hatred that is at once high-spirited and yet at the same time removed from all bitterness of feeling. Comp. note, John 12:25.—ἀδελφοὺς, brethren) Comp. Luke 14:12.—ἔτι δὲ, yea besides his own life) What is dearest to man, himself. Often he who has seemed to attain to a lower degree of this holy hatred, proves wanting in a higher degree of it.—τὴν εἁυτοῦ ψυχὴν, his own soul or life) i.e. himself.—μαθητὴς εἶναι, my disciple he cannot be) The order is reversed in the following verse, εἶναι μαθητὴς, be my disciple. In both passages the accent in pronunciation falls upon the word which stands first.
26. and hate not his father and mother] It is not so much the true explanation to say that hate here means love less (Genesis 29:31), as to say that when our nearest and dearest relationships prove to be positive obstacles in coming to Christ, then all natural affections must be flung aside; comp. Deuteronomy 13:6-9; Deu 21:19-21; Deu 33:8-9. A reference to Matthew 10:37 will shew that ‘hate’ means hate by comparison. Our Lord purposely stated great principles in their boldest and even most paradoxical form by which He alone has succeeded in impressing them for ever as principles on the hearts of His disciples
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“…yea, these are to be neglected and forsaken, and turned from with indignation and resentment, when they stand in the way of the honour and interest of Christ, and dissuade from his service: such who would be accounted the disciples of Christ, should be ready to part with their dearest relations and friends, with the greatest enjoyment of life, and with life itself, when Christ calls for it; or otherwise they are not worthy to be called his disciples….”
[xviii] As one old commentator put it, “Christ must be loved supremely, or he is not loved at all,” and as another said: “The Master is peremptory; absolutely demands preference of His cause to all claims of earthly relations….”
“The connection is this: there will be divisions in families; My disciples must not hesitate to side with Me rather than with father or mother, or son or daughter. The new life changes the old relationships: everything is viewed now in reference to Christ, to whom His followers are related as mother and sisters and brethren….”
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
[xxi] See, e.g., 1 Timothy 5:9 and Romans 9:1–5. While uniting all persons in Christ, Christianity also counters the extreme cultural and political left, which would downplay the natural family and things like male headship, for example. These texts also leave us with a very positive picture of what we call ethnicity—a term that has both culture and family ties in mind. The fact that mothers have a natural inclination—and equipment—to nurture their young, that we might speak of our “fatherland,” and that “Nature produces a special love of offspring” (Cicero)—these are all good things. Men like Karl Marx, on the other hand, saw the natural family—and hence nations—as something to be overcome. I think that Marxism seeks to do these things to the family for the same reason it seeks to eliminate natural marriage: these are living icons of the church.
[xxii] “When people deliberately identify Christ with Satan and speak of his work as satanic, the Holy Spirit can no longer do his work in their hearts…” – Wicke
Jesus uses parables, but he also uses simple logic as well:
How can Satan drive out Satan?
Sometimes the answers are right in front of our face but we just don’t properly understand the premises that the logic follows from….
What do I mean?
Well, for example, if you assume that family is basically a nothing… and don’t make the natural connection between family -> tribe -> nation, and hence become pretty eager to condemn all forms of “Christian nationalism”…
You, like the scribes from Jerusalem, are going to make accusations like this that really, at bottom, are absurd and illogical.
Nevertheless, the “Spirit of the Age” is such that many feel like they can get away with this kind of thing, and they are often right… for a while, at least.
[xxiii] “Va, je t’aimais trop pour ne pas te hair.”
[xxiv] The former were to even be publicly punished. (Collins, 235)
Strauss seems to disagree, starting that: “Jesus’ words about his family would be shocking in the group-oriented culture of the Middle East, where loyalty to one’s own family, clan, and nation was among the highest of cultural values…” (172)…
[xxv] I think we should have no doubt that in heaven your mother will recognize you, and you will recognize her—even if you never knew each other on earth.
[xxvi] One online interlocutor said to me, in a way that seems to me to make this overly logical: “We’re called to unconditionally love all but since we’ve limited resources our calling is to particular close people in our lives. Still for those on the way of Jesus, a 15 year old kid in Cambodia is also your family…”