46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50 ESV
Like so many other statements made by Jesus, these words concerning His mother and brothers sound a bit surprising and confusing. They have a harsh and uncaring tone about them. But it is important that we keep His words within their context. He has been facing opposition from the Pharisees and other religious leaders. They have accused Him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. And Jesus has labeled them as part of an evil generation who, by rejecting Him as their Messiah, is denying the revealed will of God. These men put high stock in their heritage as Jews. They viewed themselves as God’s chosen people and, because of what they believed to be their strict adherence to the law, they believed they were highly favored by God.
But Jesus has made it clear that they will be held accountable for their rejection of Him. Their status as Jews was not going to keep them from experiencing the coming judgment of God. Unless they are willing to confess Him as Lord and Savior, their Hebrew heritage will be of no benefit to them. And their obsession with the law of Moses was not going to be enough to save them. The apostle Paul, while speaking to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, told them regarding Jesus, “Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God–something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:39 NLT). But the Pharisees and scribes refused to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
And Jesus had warned the Pharisees “on the day of judgment …by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 ESV). The apostle Paul would later explain how anyone, including the Pharisees, could avoid condemnation.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV
But what does all this have to do with the mother and brothers of Jesus? Why did He seem to dismiss them as irrelevant? As Jesus was so often prone to do, He took advantage of the moment to make a point. He was not diminishing the importance of family or denigrating His mother, Mary. He was stressing the importance of the spiritual over the physical. Mary had given birth to Jesus, but that physical relationship would not be enough to provide her with forgiveness of her sins and salvation from death. She would be required to believe in Jesus as her Savior just like everyone else. In fact, that seems to be the whole point behind what Jesus said.
Jesus had come to do the will of His Father. And John records exactly what Jesus believed that will to include.
“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40 NLT
God’s will for Jesus included His eventual death on the cross and His resurrection. But it also required belief on the part of those whom He had given to His Son. They would see and believe. And Luke adds some extremely important words of clarification in his Gospel account.
“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV
Earlier in his gospel, Matthew recorded another statement of Jesus regarding family.
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” – Matthew 10:37 ESV
Again, these words strike us as radical and unexpectedly harsh. But Jesus is attempting to drive home the cost of true discipleship. Belief in Him was going to require people to make difficult decisions. They would be forced to choose faith in Jesus over the familiar and comfortable surroundings of family. And, once again, it is essential that we view His words within their context.
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
‘I have come to set a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Your enemies will be right in your own household!’
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39 NLT
Following Jesus was going to be costly. It would demand that His disciples leave behind all that had once provided their self-identity and sense of significance. Even Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected by His own family. John records an interesting and insightful exchange between Jesus and His brothers.
…and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT
They certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with Jesus becoming famous. After all, they had a celebrity for a brother. But they weren’t quite ready to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. John makes it clear that they didn’t believe in Him. And, therefore, they were failing to do the will of God. At that point, the 12 disciples were actually much closer to Jesus than His own half-brothers. They had left all to follow Him. They had embraced His claim to be the Son of God and were slowly coming to grips with their mistaken expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. Things weren’t going quite as they had expected, but they had not abandoned Jesus. And while they were unaware of all that was going to happen in the days and months ahead, they continued to follow Him faithfully.
In John’s gospel, he records a fascinating exchange between Jesus and a group of Jews who had been part of a huge crowd He had miraculously fed with fives loaves of bread and two fish. The day after this incredible event, these people showed up looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:25-29 ESV
They wanted to know what they were going to have to do to earn eternal life. Like good Jews, their minds were stuck on performance. They were thinking in terms of works. What kind of good deeds would they have to perform in order to merit eternal life? But Jesus clarified His words by stating that the only acceptable “work” would be to believe in Him. That was God’s will. And anyone and everyone who placed their faith in Jesus would be saved and inherit eternal life – including not only those who shared Jesus’ Hebrew heritage but Gentiles as well.
Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,
“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”
“Then, at the place where they were told,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called
‘children of the living God.’” – Romans 9:25-26 NLT
Jesus came to establish a new family – the family of God – made up of people from all walks of life and every nationality. Their belief in Jesus as their Savior would be their common bond. And just as Jesus would do the will of His Father, sacrificing His life on behalf of all those the Father had given Him, those who eventually placed their faith in Him would be fulfilling the will of God as well. They would be doing the one work required to inherit eternal life: Belief in Jesus as Savior.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.