Session #092 Family First
Scripture Matthew 12:46-50
Summary In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus closes his discourse with a focus on the family: the kingdom family, a family of disciples, a family of faith. Henson provides foundational teaching about the family and what it means to belong to God’s family of faith and the expectations of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in Christ.
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.” Matthew 12:46-50
In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus closes His discourse with a focus on the family: the kingdom family, a family of disciples, a family of faith. This is foundational teaching about the family and what it means to belong to God’s family of faith and the expectations of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Understanding the Family in Biblical Times
Our modern understanding of the family is that of the nucleus family: father, mother and children; the extended family would include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. However, it is much broader in biblical times. The Greek word for family is Oikos and it denotes more generally ‘house’ or ‘household’, a group of people living together for a common purpose and can include servants, slaves etc., under the leadership of the head of the household. In Latin, the word familia (group, community) or domus (house, domestic) is used to refer to the general household. The head of the household is called ‘paterfamiias’ and is usually the father or patriarch of the household. He exercises power over the entire household, including life and death. He institutes the structure and control in a kinship system where everyone has their place and role. The individual is considered first and foremost, part of a lineage. There is an honour within the family and it is important for members of the household to uphold the family honour by behaving according to the family code, to protect the name of the family.
For the Romans, the family was a type of cradle for the entire Roman Empire. The goal of the household was the propagation of the Roman Empire, and household life was often structured for that purpose. Children were seen as a future investment, as assets primarily for the propagation of a person’s societal, personal and cultural goals. Adoption was widely practised, not so much for the welfare of the child but for the perpetuation of the family line and increased economic capacity. This traditional thinking is still found in some Chinese families.
The Jewish family life was centred around faith and the expression of that faith. The ethnic identity of a Jewish family was central to this faith and “to be Jewish was to a follower of Yahweh”. Children were viewed as having a higher spiritual purpose and place and not simply objects of a person’s own quest for continuance and power. To the Jews, lineage is very important as God’s covenant with His people is extended through lineage which is recorded in the Bible through genealogies and families.
Jesus’ Jewish Family
There are two genealogies of Jesus. Matthew 1:1-17 traces Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrews and Jews) and later to David as the Messiah must come from this specific lineage. The Jews were also Abraham’s natural descendants. Jesus acknowledged that but challenged them to live as true descendants of Abraham (John 8:37-40). Instead, Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44). The point Jesus is making is that just claiming someone as your father is not enough. There has to be evidence or fruit that you are really his descendant i.e. doing the will of the Father.
Luke 3:23-38 traces Jesus’ genealogy back to “Adam, the son of God”. In other words, God is the Father of all. All are descendants of Adam i.e., children of God. Sadly, we do not live as true descendants of God, but as fallen descendants, like Adam.
In exploring Jesus’ genealogy, a more accurate picture is that there are two distinct groups of people. One group is God’s covenant people or the circumcised. They are the Israelites and Jews and are called the chosen family. It started through Abraham by faith and they became the chosen/elected ones and they were to be an example of God’s kingdom family. The other group are uncircumcised and they are the Gentiles and whenever anyone believed in the God of Israel, they were accepted into the chosen family but it was few and far between.
Reason for Mary and Jesus’ Brothers’ Request to Speak with Him and Jesus’ Unexpected Response (Matthew 12:46-48)
With the understanding of the family and Jesus’ Jewish family, let’s examine Matthew 12:46-48. Firstly, why did Mary and Jesus’ brothers ask to speak with Him? There is increasing opposition by Pharisees and leaders as Jesus was becoming more and more controversial and the word was getting around and it was not looking good for Jesus and the family (honour). His own people are saying that “He is out of His mind” (Mark 3:21) and “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5). They asked Jesus to move His ministry from Galilee to Judea. Jesus’ mother might be concerned about Him and perhaps wanted to caution Him. She possibly remembered Simeon’s prophecy over Jesus as the Christ and that “a sword will pierce through her own soul also” (Luke 2:35). However, they did not barge in and create an even bigger scene that might bring even more shame to the family.
Upon hearing the request, Jesus answered it with another question, in true rabbinic style. He caught the audience off guard, making them wonder where He might be going with it and what might be the answer. It was a teaching moment about the kingdom family.
Jesus’ Kingdom Family: A Family of Faith as well as a Family of Disciples (Matthew 12:49)
Jesus was trying to teach them about another family that they need to understand, the kingdom family, a family of faith. The 12 disciples represent a new Israel because Israel did not fulfil her kingdom assignment. They presumed covenant privileges but had no faith relationship with God, with outward religiosity but inward emptiness. The family included more than the 12 disciples, both male and female followers of Jesus. He referred to them as disciples: those who believed and followed Jesus as Christ and King.
Jesus’ kingdom family is made up of disciples and they are a family of faith. God’s family has always been a family of faith. Abraham believed and it was accounted to him for righteousness and he was regarded as the father of faith. God’s promise to Abraham to be “the father of many nations (not just Israel)” would be fulfilled through a specific descendant, Jesus (Galatians 3:16). Abraham’s physical descendants were also part of God’s family, not because of the Law, but of faith (Romans 4:14). The law was only a tutor to point all to Christ. It was there to show Israel the place of faith and grace until Jesus came to set them free from the curse of the penalty of the Law. At the right time, Jesus was born under the Law to redeem those under the Law (Galatians 4:4-5). By dying, He rendered the Old Covenant obsolete and established a New Covenant. Through Jesus, God’s invitation to His family is extended to all (not just the Jews but the Gentiles too) who believe as Abraham did. You do not work but You believe by faith in Jesus (the Seed of Abraham), to get into God’s family (Romans 4:16, Galatians 3:29).
How do we become God’s family? To those in the natural family (Jews), it is by birth, dying with Christ to be released from the Law and born again into a spiritual royal lineage, e.g., Nicodemus. For the Gentiles or the slaves or servants in the Jewish household, it is by adoption into the family and they become sons and daughters with full rights and privileges. In Ephesians 2:11-13, those who are strangers, aliens, uncircumcised, are members of God’s household by the blood of Jesus. Whether by birth or adoption, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-6) and by grace through faith. There are no longer two groups of different families/nations anymore but only one spiritual kingdom family in and through Christ and referred to as one new man (Ephesians 2:11-22) and God is the Father of all who believe (Ephesians 3:14-15, 4:6).
Jesus’ Kingdom Family: A Family that Knows and Does the Father’s Will (Matthew 12:50)
Father God has given all authority to the Son, Jesus. Jesus is the big brother in this family who knows and does the Father’s will and an example for us as sons and daughters in the family to follow (Luke 2:49, 51; Matthew 6:10, 7:21, 21:28-32, 26:39). As disciples, we follow and obey our Master, Jesus. As kingdom subjects, we align ourselves with the purposes of our King, Jesus. We learn from Jesus and imitate the Father as dear children, walking circumspectly, understanding the will of the Lord and knowing and fulfilling our kingdom assignments (Ephesians 4:20, 5:1-17).
If we do not do the will of the Father, are we then true members of the family of faith? If we do not align with the ways and purposes of the King and His kingdom, are we true disciples of Jesus’ kingdom family?
Which Family First?
Jesus’ main point is that the kingdom family takes precedence. There are many nations, races, ethnic groups but there is only one chosen race, one royal priesthood, one holy nation. This one holy race is the one new man in Christ. The kingdom family takes priority, not our family heritage, family name or social class. All these are immaterial as we are sons and daughters of God and we belong to Jesus and His kingdom. We serve the King and His kingdom, not humanism, nationalism, patriotism, not about whether we are using iPhone or Huawei, etc. God’s kingdom family supersedes and outlasts every other family and kingdom because finally, every kingdom of this world will become the kingdoms of the Lord and Christ (Revelations 11:15).
What does this mean? When Jesus and His kingdom has priority, it does not mean we throw away our own family but that we love Jesus more (Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:26). As we love Jesus more, we have to learn how to love one another in the kingdom family, as we are brothers and sisters in Christ, submitted to a higher kingdom order and purpose (John 15:12). From various verses in the Bible, it also includes forgiving, being kind to, comforting, bearing with, praying for, serving, confessing our sins to…one another, not complain against, slander, stumble… one another. We are also to provoke one another to love and do good works, be willing to correct, rebuke and discipline…one another. As you do this, remember to look out for one another (Philippians 2:3-4), treat one another with respect and honour (1Timothy 5:1-2), especially those who are not able to fend for themselves e.g., the poor and needy, children, widows and orphans. Paul also has strong words for those who are rebellious, lazy and busybodies, etc., that we do not keep company with them, yet not count them as an enemy but admonish them as brothers or sisters (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). Further, if Jesus comes first, there must be a willingness to leave our family, comfort and security for the sake of Jesus (Matthew 10.29); leaving positively i.e., where family members release you willingly; or leaving negatively i.e., where you are persecuted and kicked out. In the latter, you are ready to lose everything for the sake of Jesus (Matthew 10:21) e.g., family relationships, family inheritance, lives or honour killings.
What does this mean for our family? As far as possible, we do not neglect the family. The family is not neglected but submitted to the higher order of the kingdom. God’s law and commandments uphold the family. In the 5th commandment, we are told to honour our father and mother. There are many instructions for parents and children. Rebellious sons are to be stoned under the Law. The focus is not on the family name, but to love and serve God, for the glory of His name and His kingdom (Joshua 24:15). After Paul declares God’s spiritual kingdom family in Ephesians and how we are to live out the will of the Lord, he gives very practical instructions for our natural families (Ephesians 5:22-33, 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 5:16, Titus 2:4; 1 Timothy 5:8). Therefore, as true disciples of Jesus, we should become better family members.
Whilst we agree and acknowledge that Jesus and His kingdom has priority, it is not as straightforward to simply answer which one comes first or second. Sometimes, kingdom assignments may require sacrificing time with family. Yet, sometimes, kingdom assignments may mean looking after the natural family for the glory of God. We need wisdom and discernment, courage and strength to know how the Lord is leading us to love both the kingdom and natural families. May the Lord help us all as we learn and discern how best to serve Him, one another and our families.