Claiming a radical message of deliverance. Healing sick people. Casting out demons from freaky looking homies. Sitting with traders, lepers, and prostitutes. Large crowds threatening to crush you. Asking grown men to leave their family business and insurrection and follow you. The “Christians” are calling you “a worker of Satan”. And now you just condemned the theologians of the day to Hell if they attribute your work to Satan. Would you be a little weirded out if this was someone in your family?
We saw back in Mark 3:20-21, that Jesus family thought He was insane, literally trying “to seize Him” to bring Him home. That didn’t work, so “MOM” has to come on this trip. It’s like those kids movies where the goofy associates of a cartoon villain can’t ever get the job done, so the villain has to go himself. Here’s MAMA! Open up to Mark 3:31-35:
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Once again, Jesus continues to break our stereotypes. Up until now, we’re like: “Yeh Jesus, you go love on that leper. You go heal those sick people and demon-possessed. You restore the social outcast and welcome the sinner!” But now, Jesus is touching home to a different crowd. Family, and we ask to ourselves, “What the heck are you doing Jesus?”
You see, Christians are passionate about so many different things… and we tend to focus on the things that Jesus has done that we are passionate about (working out justice for the oppressed, preaching the gospel with boldness, etc.), but we leave out the things He does that we aren’t so sure about, or don’t agree with altogether.
This is one of those times. Jesus is taking His Physicians scalpel and cutting right to the heart of 21st century American Christianity: Idolatry of Family!
What is Idolatry?
Idolatry tends to be understood as idolizing bad things that are destructive, unhealthy, forbidden, gross, dangerous, or just socially unacceptable. But idolatry in Scripture has always referred to the worship of anything but God. We get that from the first two of the 10 Commandments:
3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, (Deut. 20:3-4)
Even good things in life that we serve over God is considered as an “other god” or “a carved image, or any likeness of anything” created. God thinks this is such a big deal that He even tells us that He’s jealous for our worship. This makes a lot of people cringe and take a deep gulp, and all of a sudden we start thinking like Oprah: What? God.. jealous? I don’t want to believe in a jealous God? If the God of the Bible is jealous, then I can’t trust Him. Especially if His jealousy is asking me to trade in my family for Him. No way! Huh uh! OHN! But here in these passages, God is jealous for out affections and worship, and anything that comes in-between or is placed above Him, is idolatry.
A Jealous God
First of all, let’s address God’s jealousy before we move on. God’s jealousy, like all of His other attributes, is utterly different than our jealousy. It’s like worship. We would never ask anyone to worship us, but because God is God, He would be unloving to not call us to worship Him. This is the same as His jealousy. God is love, and He alone has the power to heal and redeem our fractured lives and broken creation and He knows that no other solution is out there that can heal His children and cause life. So as a good daddy, He’s jealous for our affections and obedience.
If you don’t have a child, imagine with me for a moment: There’s nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do for my children’s best interest. If I alone held the key to joy, peace, salvation, and contentment for my child, and they in turn, went out, ran from home, pursued other people who hurt them and ultimately robbed from them, I would be jealous for their love and affection of me, because I know I’m the only one who holds their well-being. This is a better picture of God’s jealously than to think of our kind of jealousy. God is utterly different than us, and it’s dangerous to think of God’s jealousy, or God’s love, or God’s justice, the same as ours.
What Jesus Isn’t Saying in Mark 3:31-35
Second, in our Mark passage, it’s important to note that Jesus isn’t saying, “Disown your family and have nothing to do with them.” We know that’s not true because in Jesus’ final hours before He died on the cross, His mother was there and He made provisions for her, as He told John to look over His mother (John 19:26-27). His brother James would later become the Father of the Church in Jerusalem and eventually die a martyr’s death because He believed that Jesus was indeed His salvation. In Mark 7:9-13, when we get there, we’ll see Jesus defend the caring for and honoring of parents, in regards to the sinful way of using Corban, a type of allotment of savings.
What Is Jesus Saying?
Jesus is assumedly saying many things that we can’t claim to know, but we can clearly see some of what He “is” saying.
Jesus is saying: “Sometimes your commitment to Me will bring division within the family and you may be disowned, rejected, mocked, or killed by your own family.” (see Mark 10:28-30).
Jesus is saying: “Your family will put pressure on you to stay in the family system and altogether miss the plans that I have for you.” (Luke 9:59-62).
Jesus is saying: “Your family will think you’re crazy at times, and will try to discourage you from following me, and follow the custom of the day” (Mark 3:20-21; 31-35) (live in a safe neighborhood, don’t go to hostile Muslim countries to share Christ with them… you could die, protect your kids from bad kids, send them to the best schools, don’t sacrifice too much or you might not have a good back-up plan if something goes wrong, etc.) You tracking with me?
Different Worldviews of Family
Jesus is addressing the family system in His day, which was much more familial-centered, than our culture. In fact, Jesus was on one end of the continuum with an understanding of family, and we are on the complete other side. Below is a diagram that shows the continuum of various worldviews of family:
– Individual identity distinct from family vs. Individual identity merges with family
– Individual rights valued vs. Family rights valued
– Sacrifice relationships for individual achievement vs. Sacrifice individual achievement for family
– Non-conformity admired vs. Non-conformity shunned
– Morality based on individual sense of guilt vs. Morality based on shame brought on family
– Focus on task and principles vs. Focus on persons and relationships
– Satisfaction in achieving goals vs. Satisfaction in family involvement
– Seeks friends with similar goals vs. Seeks friends who are family-oriented
– Accepts loneliness for achievement vs. Sacrifices achievement for family cohesion
– Sacrifice for personal achievement vs. Sacrifice to fulfill family expectations
So Jesus’ statement, “Who are my mother and my brothers?… Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”, would have been much more offensive and shocking to people in His day than in ours today. This chart is also the reason why we have pride about our families and the way we do things. We think we’re right, or else we wouldn’t do it that way, and anyone who does it a different way, well, we love them, but they would be better off if they held our view. So family pride runs deep, and it is very easy to have family be what we idolize as the very thing that can give us identity, self-worth, purpose, success, etc. (pressure on kids, spouses, provision for them, etc.)
Again, Jesus is saying: “There is a deeper kinship that runs deeper than blood which is characterized by obedience to Me over family. With Me, you have a new family, and you should pray that all your blood family received this kinship.”
What Does This Mean for the Church Today?
Obedience is the key to experience family with Jesus. Notice I didn’t say, obedience is the way we “become” family. We “become” family by God’s grace freely being offered to us. We “experience” family with Jesus when we act like a child of God’s. Jesus gets this point across to us over and over again throughout the gospels. He talks about it so much, it’s amazing that the church’s biggest problem is obedience to God rather than to culture, or a family system.
Early on in the ministry of Jesus, He says:
– My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34)
– For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38; see also John 5:30; 7:17;
– “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)
If this was so for Christ, how much more for us? Are we indeed children of God, called to be obedient to Jesus first? Later on in the upper room, before Jesus goes to the garden to pray and then get arrested, Jesus says:
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11)
This also means that the church family ought to start acting more like family. Fight, but don’t run and hide. You don’t divorce your family or move to a different neighborhood and get new family every time there’s crap going on in your family that you don’t like or seems fun to you. No! Family stays. Family sticks it out together. Family is patient with one another. Family is honest. Family confesses. Family forgives. Family reconciles when and where it is possible.
What Does This Mean for our Families?
In case you were not aware, but the “nuclear” family (whether that’s only your immediate family, or extended family to you) is under attack, and indeed it’s losing. With divorce rates in the church that seem to be the same as outside the church, and idolizing of children and giving them what they want, and technology that has divided the family and placed guilt in the lives of some parents, it’s no wonder families are dissolving. And our answer is to make family more of the center, then families will get better.
The American trend (whether Christian or non-Christian) is to worship family. Make family “everything”. Everyday is revolved around the family’s needs, the children’s needs, the spouse’s needs, and Jesus is passed by on the side of the road.
We have made family everything, and Jesus has been marginalized. The main question in our families are: “How will that benefit my family?” We’ve got a familial narcissism problem these days. The four walls of our home have become our church, and in it we make altar’s and sacrifices, but not to Jesus.
Many people say my family is my mission. That is good and well, but if it ends there, then you’ve missed Jesus’ mission. Every earthly loyalty, EVERY ONE OF THEM, if it is made ultimate, becomes idolatry; and idols fail you 100% of the time. Many psychologist and family therapists would say that many of our nuclear family problems can be traced to the parents who place too much weight and expectations on children and family performance, living in fear of not being “the All-American family”. Family idolatry cripples everyone and will not give you the “happiness” you are trying to work towards.
Jesus warns children to resist these unhealthy family systems that want you to contribute to the idolatry when He says: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:37). And parents would do well to learn from this passage as well and stop placing on your children a burden to protect and love the family more than you protect and love the Jesus.
In all truth, when a family begins to worship and idolize Jesus and not the family, then they will actually experience more intimate kinship than ever before. Jesus rightfully placed–in our lives, in our families, and in our churches–will always produce more joy, life, freedom, happiness, and satisfaction.
Who is in Jesus’ family?
First of all, when we read the “Here” in verse 35, we learn that not everyone is His brother or sister. Some people teach that everyone is a child of God. Jesus insists here and elsewhere that not everyone is in the family of God.
Second, we see in these texts that Jesus’ nuclear family “tries to control Him” (v. 21). By contrast, His spiritual family consists of people who let Him take charge of them! When Jesus becomes your King, then you become His brother or sister. Whoever does God’s will is Jesus’ brother and sister and mother. This is more than mere obedience, it is giving up the right to be one’s own master.
Third, Jesus’ nuclear family thinks He’s “crazy” (v. 21). His spiritual family is different. They listen to His wisdom, submit to His Word, and they follow Him into the craziness.
Unless we read verses 34 and 35 as deeply shocking, we haven’t got the message. How easy it is to slide back again into a sense of belonging, of group identity, that comes from something other than loyalty to Jesus. We substitute longstanding friendship, membership in the same group, tribe, family, club, party, social class or whatever it may be. But the call to be ‘around’ Jesus, to listen to him, even if ‘those outside’ think us crazy, is what matters. The church in every generation, and in every place, needs to remember this and act on it. Mark has here set up a picture of ‘those inside’ and ‘those outside’ which is going to be very important in the next chapter. The gospel, and allegiance to Jesus, produce a division, often an unexpected and unwelcome one, in every group or society where they make their way. Mark’s call to his readers then and now is to stick with Jesus whatever the cost. Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 40.
Jesus is telling us here that no nuclear family is ultimately necessary, no particular race or culture is ultimately necessary, and that we can know we are loved. If indeed we are family with God Almighty, then our families of origin can be more of a blessing to us because then they are not everything to us, Jesus is. And if we are in Jesus’ family, we learn in Luke 15 that the Father runs to embrace the returning son or daughter who loathed Him, and is patient with the religious hypocrite who thinks they have earned His love. We sit at the Father’s table dressed in Jesus’ clothes, with His ring on our finger, all through Jesus. We must celebrate and live out the fact that we are members of a kingdom family, and it is all at the expense of our big brother, Jesus Christ.