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Sermon Message


"The Heavenly Family Circle"

Matthew 12:46-50
Theme: Whoever places their faith in Jesus is a permanent part of His heavenly family.

(Delivered Sunday, September 3, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

There is a story that is told in the Bible of Jesus' childhood, found in the Gospel of Luke. It's the only reliable story from His childhood that we have. It reveals, at a very early point in the Gospel story, what our Lord's fundamental commitment was.

This story tells us of how, when our Lord was only twelve years old, He was taken by Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover. When the days of the feast were completed, Mary and Joseph went with the throng of relatives and acquaintances on their way home—having assumed that Jesus was somewhere among the crowd. But when they searched for Him along the way, they were unable to find Him.

As a parent, have you ever lost sight of one of your children in a large crowd? It's a helpless and frightening feeling. After searching desperately for Jesus, they decided to return to Jerusalem to look for Him there. And after three days, they found Him—sitting in the temple in the midst of the teachers of Israel; listening to them, asking them questions, and astounding them all with His understanding and answers.

I believe that Mary probably had a remarkable motherly mix of emotions at that moment. All at once, she was experiencing relief, anger, pride, amusement, anxiety and—in this particular case—profound amazement at her Son. And I'm sure that our Lord—who was the divine maker of all mothers—knew that very a serious 'lecture' would begin as soon as the hugging and tears came to an end. She said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought you anxiously” (Luke 2:48).

And it was then that He said something surprising—something that Mary and Joseph didn't quite understand; but that revealed where His heart's devotion truly was. He said, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?” (v. 49).

Joseph was our Lord's adopted father on earth. But here, Jesus spoke of a different Father—a Father whose business was in the Temple; and whose business Jesus felt compelled to “be about”. And in those words, Jesus revealed that He had a family circle that transcended that of Mary and Joseph. It was a family circle that was not “physical” or “genealogical”, but “spiritual” in nature. It was a family that is headed by a heavenly Father—and that was distinct from that which was headed by Joseph.

And what is most wonderful of all—as we learn from this morning's passage—is that this is a family circle that the Lord Jesus has made available to you and me, and that we may now enter into and enjoy eternal fellowship in, with Him. Matthew tells us;

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 12:46-5).

* * * * * * * * * *

Consider the context of this morning's passage with me. It is found at the end of an important section of Matthew's Gospel. The unique focus of this Gospel is the presentation of our Lord Jesus as the long-awaited King of the Jewish people; but chapter 12 is a section in which the religious leaders of His day begin to display their growing hostility to and opposition toward their King.

We've been studying this chapter for some time now. It has been, in many ways, a very sad chapter to study. We have seen in it that our Lord was opposed as “Lord of the Sabbath”, because He showed mercy to people and healed them on the Sabbath day (vv. 1-21). We have also seen that He was opposed with respect to His spiritual-authority, because He cast out demons—provoking the accusation that He cast them out by the power of the devil (vv. 22-37). And most recently, we have seen that He received opposition with respect to authenticating signs, because He refused to gratify the demand of the religious leaders that He show them a miraculous sign of His authority—except for the sign of His own resurrection after they would crucify Him (vv. 38-42).

And then comes this morning's passage. At first glance, the event it describes seems out of place. But it is actually a crucial part of this whole story of the opposition He was receiving. For one thing, it has a natural connection—a natural continuity—with the story of the growing opposition against Him; because it begins by saying that it occurred “[w]hile He was still talking to the multitudes . . .” (v. 46).

The “multitudes” were those people who were mentioned back in verse 23—the people who had beheld as He healed a demon-possessed man, and asked in amazement, “Could this be the Son of David?”—which was another way of asking, “Could this be the long-awaited King of our people; the one that God promised would come to us through King David?” It was this very that caused scribes and Pharisees to blaspheme Him and oppose Him.

But this passage also gives us a crucial conclusion to the story of this growing opposition—and I would say a very happy conclusion! In fact, it is what the whole story of the opposition He was receiving was leading up to. Though the religious leaders of His people were opposing Him; and though He had announced to them that their particular generation would suffer condemnation because of their rejection of Him; and though even His own family stood—in some measure—in opposition to His ministry; there nevertheless were some people present that He could call “family”.

You can look at it this way: the story of the opposition He was receiving began with His warning that “no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 10:27)—and then, with the invitation; “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (vv. 28-30). Here, at the end of the story of this mounting opposition He received, were some who had taken Him up on His invitation. And it is them that He calls “family”.

This family circle was not simply constituted those who were members of His physical family. Nor was it composed of those who would have considered themselves “related” to the Messiah simply because they were Jewish. Rather, His “family” was composed of those people who were, even right then, sitting before Him with receptive hearts, and listening to His teaching, and believing on Him.

Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, has a family circle that He considers more important to Him than any other earthly relationship—even more important to Him than His earthly family. And this passage shows us that you and I may be a part of that wonderful heavenly family circle. It shows us that whoever places their faith in Jesus is a permanent part of His heavenly family.

* * * * * * * * * *

Look a little closer with me at this wonderful passage. The first thing we see in it is something sad; that there was . . .


If you have placed your faith in Jesus, have you ever received opposition from your earthly family because of your love for Him and trust in Him? Have family members misunderstood your faith? Have some of your loved ones even accused you of becoming a member of some “cult”? Have they called you a “religious nut”; or a “holy roller”; or an “extremist”? It really hurts when people we love don't understand our new love for Jesus.

Perhaps this passage can be an encouragement to you. Jesus knew how that felt personally. Even the members of His own earthly family didn't understand Him.

The Bible tells us that, after Jesus was born, Mary had other sons and daughters—most probably through Joseph. We even know their names. In the next chapter, we're told that the people from His own hometown Nazareth were amazed at Him, and said of Him, “Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matthew 13:55-56).

And yet, we're told that—in adulthood—His own brothers didn't believe on Him. John, in his Gospel, tells us that at the Feast of Tabernacles, His brothers derisively said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world” (John 7:3-4). And John adds, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him” (v. 5).

Now; I have to add that at least some of His brothers did eventually come to believe on Him. We know of at least two; because it the Lord's half-brother James who later became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19), and who later wrote the New Testament book of James. And it has also been the tradition of the church from its earliest days that the New Testament book of Jude was written by the half-brother of our Lord named Judas—the man who humbly called himself “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” (Jude 1). I like to believe that others of His half-brothers also became His followers. But during the time of His earthly ministry, our Lord's brothers—including even these two great leaders of the early church—did not believe on Him.

Apparently, even His mother Mary struggled with what to think about her Son. There were times when she, it seemed, tried to push Him along further than it was the will of His heavenly Father for Him to go. She was, after all, “highly favored” above all women (Luke 1:28); because she was the mother of the Messiah. Perhaps she felt free to try to 'hurry things along' as she thought best. At the wedding of Cana of Galilee, for example, it was Mary who found out that the wine had ran out—and who then went to her divine Son and said, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). (Personally, I believe she even followed those words up with that kind of look that only mothers know how to give—a look that, in this case, said, “And I'm expecting you to do something about it . . . my Son the Messiah!"). Jesus had to lovingly rebuke her, saying, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour is not yet come” (v. 4).

Again, I hasten to add that whatever struggles Mary may have had with the identity and ministry of Jesus, she did eventually believe on Him with humble, saving faith. We're told that, when the early disciples were gathered together in the upper room after Jesus' resurrection, among them was “Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). But during the time of His earthly ministry, I believe Mary misunderstood Him. I believe she struggled with His identity and with His ministry.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is important piece of background information to our story this morning; and it's found in the third chapter of Mark's Gospel. We're told that great multitudes of people had come together to hear Jesus teach and to be healed by Him—so many people, in fact, that He and His disciples could not even so much as eat bread. And we're told that “when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, 'He is out of His mind'” (Mark 3:21). The King James Version translates it that it was His “friends” who came to lay hold of Him; but the New International Version has it that it was His “family”.1

His brothers and His mother heard about how He cast demons out of people and healed them; and they heard about His claims concerning Himself; and they heard about how mobs and mobs of people were crowding around Him and pressing in on Him; and they heard about how He was developing a following of disciples. And they put it all together and concluded, “He's gone crazy! This is all getting out of hand. We need to go and rescue Him and take Him home.” And so, we read that, “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him” (Matthew 12:46).

Clearly, they wanted to “speak to Him” in order to talk Him into ceasing His work in His heavenly Father's business, and into coming home with them. This was a form of opposition that was more subtle—and perhaps more painful—than any other. Even the members of His own earthly family opposed Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord knows what it's like to have loved ones in our family—the people with whom we have the closest earthly connection—stand in disapproval of our faith in Him, and in opposition our desire to follow Him. He felt disapproval and opposition from His loved ones.

This reminds us of one of His harder words of instruction to us as His followers. When it comes to being one of His faithful disciples, He lets us know in advance how much it may cost us. He said,

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For 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'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household'” (Matthew 10:34-35).

And then, He gave this challenge:

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up His cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (vv. 36-38).

Many a follower of Jesus has found this to be so. Saying 'yes' to the Savior who loves them has meant, for some, saying 'goodbye' to loved ones who hate Him. Many a young man, who felt the call of ministry, has found that it meant following a path that bitterly disappointed the expectations of parents and family members. For some, it has meant being expelled from the family. For others, following Jesus has meant actually being attacked and abused by those that are closest to them. In fact, Jesus warned, “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death” (Matthew 10:21); and many followers of Jesus in many different cultures and parts of the world—even today—have experienced the very things that Jesus warned about.

But Jesus teaches us that our commitment to Him is to be greater than any other commitment on earth. It is even to exceed our natural commitment to our physical, earthly family members. He teaches us that, if our family puts us to the choice and says, “It's either going to be this 'Jesus', or us”; then we must always choose Jesus first. He is to be given first place in our heart's devotion—even above the commitments our family demands of us—or we cannot be His disciple.

* * * * * * * * * *

But Jesus doesn't ask anything of His own followers that He didn't do Himself. Here, we see that He displayed the sort of commitment toward His disciples that He demands from them. He placed his own earthly family behind His commitment to His spiritual family.

And this leads us to the next thing we see about Jesus. In the light of the demands of His earthly family, He expressed . . .


Do you notice that His mother and brothers were not found among those who were sitting among the crowd that was listening to Him? They kept themselves outside. They didn't even go in to the place where He was speaking. Instead, they allowed some bystander to go in and tell Him to stop His talking and come out to them. We're told, “Then one said to Him, 'Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You” (v. 47). They expected Him to stop whatever work of the kingdom it was that He was doing, put them first, and come out to them as soon as He heard that they were waiting for Him—simply because Mary was His earthly mother, and those who were with her were His earthly brothers.

At at this point, let me affirm something about our wonderful Savior. I don't believe that, at any time, He was ever disrespectful to His mother, or that He ever treated His brothers in a hostile or inappropriate way. Our Lord Jesus is the Second Person of the triune Godhead; and it is He who gave us the commandment of His heavenly Father: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

I believe that Jesus never—at any time—ceased to appropriately love the members of His earthly family; and that He always perfectly fulfilled His just obligations to them. He never neglected them or responded to them in a way that violated the spirit of that commandment. Even as He died on the cross, He made sure that His mother was properly cared for. He looked down from the cross on His poor, distraught mother; and then casting an eye upon the apostle John, He said, “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26). And then, He looked upon John; and casting an eye to Mary, He said, “Behold your mother!” John understood what the Lord was commanding; and from that day, he took Mary into his home and cared for her as if she was his own. In fact, I believe that the full expanse of Jesus' love for His family is shown in that Mary and His brothers eventually became His followers and were saved by Him. They are with Him right now—even as we speak—in heavenly glory.

But as much as He loved his earthly family over whom Joseph had been the head, that family took second place to His spiritual family over whom His heavenly Father was head. Matthew tells us, “But He answered and said to the one who had told him, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?'” (v. 48). It wasn't those who were outside—those who didn't believe on Him, or who would not honor His fundamental commitment to the Father's business. Clearly, it was someone else that had that chief place in His heart.

Matthew tells us, “And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples”—that is, to the crowds of people that were, right then, listening to Him as He talked and were believing on Him—“and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers!” (v. 49). Jesus had identified Himself with a family circle that was more precious to Him, closer to Him, of a higher priority to Him, and that received a greater commitment from Him, than even His own earthly mother and sisters and brothers.

The members of that spiritual family are the ones of whom He said, “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that were I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). They are the ones of whom it is said that they have been begotten again to “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away;” and that is “reserved in heaven” for them (1 Peter 1:3-4). He treats them in every way as “family”; and awards them all the rights and privileges that come from being members of His Father's household.

* * * * * * * * * *

And it wasn't just that crowd before Him on that day that constituted His spiritual family. Jesus went on to say, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (v. 50). That is a wonderfully far-reaching word; “whoever”. Whoever meets the qualification is a member of His heavenly family.

This leads us to consider . . .


Jesus said that membership in His “family circle” was true of “whoever does the will” of His Father in heaven. So then; what is His Father's will? We can see from the context that it is—above all else—a matter of believing on Jesus and entering into a relationship with Him by faith.

In another passage, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And then, as if to answer the question of what the will of His Father was, He went on to say, “Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'” (vv. 22-23). So, the will of the Father is not a matter of doing all of those marvelous things 'in Jesus' name'; but rather, a matter of being known by Jesus personally—of being in a relationship with Him by faith.

On another occasion, some of the people who heard Him teach asked Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”; and Jesus answered and said, “This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He sent” (John 6:28-29). So this is the great qualification for being a member of His heavenly family—that we believe on Him and have a relationship with Him by faith.

It's a faith that demonstrates itself in active obedience to His commands. In a parallel account of the same story from the Gospel of Luke, we're told that Jesus said, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Jesus obeys the will of His Father. He is always about His Father's business. And so must those be who are a part of His family.

And it's also a faith that demonstrates itself in an active love for other members of His heavenly family. The apostle John wrote, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Jesus loves all those who believe on Him as members of His own spiritual family circle; and those same members of His family must love one another as well.

Whoever hears the truth about Jesus, and puts their faith in His sacrifice on the cross for them, has entered into a saving relationship with Jesus. They so trust Him and so love Him that they walk in the steps that He commands them to walk. They prove their trust and love by obeying His commandments, by keeping His word, and by loving others of His family as He loves them. Whoever does this is doing the will of the Father. And whoever does the will of His Father is a member of His family—His brother and sister and mother.

And if I am now in Jesus' family by faith, then that means that whoever is Jesus' brother and sister and mother is also my brother and sister and mother! If you have trusted Jesus, then I'm a family member with you; and you are a family member with me.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let me end with a closing thought. Bible records many things that Jesus has said that can only truly be said by Him. But here—in this very last verse of our passage—is an affirmation that Jesus made, that every person who believes on Him, and who loves Him, and who walks with Him, can also make. In Christ, you and I can say—with absolute truthfulness—“Whoever does the will of Jesus' Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

“. . . [A]s many as receive Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe on His name: who were born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). That makes us children of the Father together with Jesus! That makes us members together with Him of a heavenly family.

What a privilege it is to be in Jesus' heavenly “family circle”!

1The preposition para is used here with the definite article; and the meaning of this phrase is “the 'from Him' ones”. This is an idiom that identifies those who came for Him as His kin.

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