Jesus' mother and brothers

Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, 'Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.'

'Who are my mother and my brothers?' he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.' (Mar 3:31–5)

In the previous passage we saw that when Jesus' family heard about what was happening to him, they went to take charge of him, thinking he was out of his mind (v20–1). This passage tells us what happened when they arrived at the house where he was staying.

Interpreting prophecy

I find it surprising that Mary had come with her sons to take charge of Jesus after all that had been said about him when he was born. She knew she was a virgin when she conceived and that he was no ordinary child, so you would have thought she would have been expecting something unusual to happen to him.

Let's remind ourselves of some of the events that took place around the time of his birth.

Before she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would have a child and should give him the name Jesus. He would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He would be given the throne of his father David and would reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom would never end (Luk 1:26–33).

After his birth, Magi arrived from the east. They bowed down and worshipped him, giving him gifts of gold, incense and myrrh (Mat 2:1–11).

When they took him to the temple to present him before the Lord, Simeon told Mary that her child was destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and would be a sign that would be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed (Luk 2:25–35).

And Anna, a prophetess, came up to them, gave thanks to God and spoke about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luk 2:36–8).

We don't know how Mary interpreted these things, but we are told that she marvelled at what was said about him and treasured them up in her heart, pondering on them (Luk 2:33,19).

She was present when he performed his first miracle at Cana (Joh 2:1–5) and appears to have had faith in him at that stage in his ministry, but perhaps she felt that what was happening to him now was not in accordance with the prophecies that had been made about him.

If that is true then it highlights one of the difficulties of interpreting prophecy: we know what is going to happen, but we don't often know when it will happen, or what will happen before it.

Opposition

It wasn't as if Jesus had done anything wrong; the Bible tells us that he only did what he saw his Father doing (Joh 5:19). His family, however, didn't see it that way.

And, as Jesus received opposition from those who were closest to him when he walked in obedience to his Father, so we, too, may receive opposition from those who are closest to us when we walk in obedience to him (Mat 10:34–6).

When we commit our lives to Jesus Christ and tell our family and friends about it, the reactions we receive may not be what we would have liked, or expected. Some may be interested in what we say, some may be indifferent, and some may be hostile. But whatever happens, it should not stop us from following him, or obeying him.

Confessing Christ

'Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.' (Mat 10:32–3)

Jesus spoke those words in the context of his followers being put to death for their faith (v28).

The Greek word translated acknowledges means to publicly admit the truth about something. Jesus was saying: 'If you tell people about your relationship with me, I will tell my Father about my relationship with you. But if you tell people that you don't know me, I will tell my Father that I don't know you.'

I don't have to emphasize the importance of those words. Can you imagine the Father saying to Jesus: 'Who is that?' And Jesus saying, 'I don't know; he's nothing to do with me.' That is why many Christians have gone to their deaths rather than deny Christ.

It is true that when Peter denied knowledge of the Lord on the eve of his crucifixion (Mat 26:69–75), he was reinstated and given further opportunity to confess his name (Joh 21:15–7). But if Christians deny the Lord, they may not be treated so leniently.

We have to remember that the disciples had not received the Holy Spirit at that time. The Holy Spirit wasn't given to them until after our Lord's resurrection (Joh 20:19–22), which means that Peter was trying to follow Jesus in his own strength.

From what he said in Luk 12:47–8 it seems that Jesus expects more from those who are indwelt by his Spirit. Indeed, at Pentecost, Peter preached Christ with great boldness and was later crucified for his faith (Joh 21:18–9).

Confession is essential

The Greek word translated acknowledges in Mat 10:32 is also found in Rom 10:9 where it's translated as confess:

That if you confess [admit publicly] with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

That means that in order to be saved, we must not only believe in Jesus, but also tell others about our belief in him, as the next verse confirms:

For [because] it is with your heart that you believe and are justified [declared righteous], and it is with your mouth that you confess [speak publicly about your belief] and are saved. (Rom 10:10)

So, if you've received Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord but have not told anyone about it, tell someone today. Your confession will lead you to salvation.

God's family

When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers had come to see him he seemed strangely unconcerned.

I don't believe for one moment that he had no feelings for them. The fifth commandment tells us to honour our father and mother and Jesus, while he hung on the cross, made sure that his mother would be cared for after his death (Joh 19:25–7). Rather, I believe that in acting that way he was teaching a spiritual truth.

Spiritual things should be more important to us than natural or physical things. Natural and physical things are from the earth and will pass away (Mat 24:35), but spiritual things are from God and will last for eternity.

When we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts by faith, we are born again into a spiritual family that will last for ever. The love we have for the members of that family (God's family) should be greater than the love we have for the members of our natural (biological) family.

Jesus demonstrated this truth when his mother and brothers came to see him. 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' he asked. And then, looking at his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother (v33–5).'

Jesus regarded his spiritual family as his true family—those who had believed in him and were doing God's will. Brother or sister, do you do God's will? We have to do his will to be part of his family.

A happy ending

Despite the opposition he received from his natural family, the story has a happy ending. In Act 1:12–4 we are given a list of some of the believers who gathered together to pray after his ascension. Among them were his mother and brothers.

I don't know about you, but those words bless my heart. No mention is made of Mary's husband or of our Lord's sisters, but at least his mother and brothers, who had opposed his ministry so vigorously, had now come to believe in him. One of his brothers later became an apostle (Gal 1:18–9).

Rom 15:4 tells us that everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The Word of God does encourage us. And if the members of our natural families don't react favourably when we tell them about Jesus, that doesn't mean they won't be saved. In the meantime let's continue to pray for them, love them, honour them and care for them. Our God is full of surprises.

Michael Graham
May 2003
Revised October 2017

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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