Are you in the family?

Posted: May 13, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 12:43-50, “Are you in the family?”

You just have to love the timing of God.  On a day in which mothers across the nation are celebrated, we’re reading the one text in the gospels in which it seems like Jesus pushes His mother aside. 🙂  Obviously Jesus isn’t doing anything of the sort – but He does raise the question of who exactly is included in the family of God.  Was it the Pharisees who thought they had the right religion, but wanted nothing to do with Jesus?  Was it the physical family of Jesus – did they have any special in-roads to Him?  Surprisingly, it was neither.  Those who belong to God are those who are indwelled by His Spirit, and who obey His voice.

Need full context:  The Pharisees had blasphemed the Holy Spirit by willfully denying the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of Jesus, and they claimed that Jesus was empowered by the devil instead.  As a result, Jesus affirmed the fact that they would be judged.  In their arrogance, they asked for a sign of Jesus’ authority to proclaim such a thing (although they had ignored all of the other signs Jesus had already given), and it was plain that they would ignore this final sign as well.  Jesus told them that the sign would be that of the prophet Jonah: the resurrection.  Yet it was plain that not even the resurrection would change the mind of the Pharisees because they would be condemned by Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba.  These earlier people had responded to the holiness and wisdom of God with far less than what the Pharisees had been given.  They had seen Jonah & Solomon; the Pharisees had seen the Son of God Himself.  Yet the Pharisees persisted in willful unbelief and denial, and they would be held accountable for it.

After Jesus makes this proclamation, two seemingly random events happen: (1) Jesus gives a teaching about a homeless demon, (2) Jesus seemingly rebuffs His own family.  Random?  No.  Upon closer inspection, we find Jesus drawing a conclusion to everything He had proclaimed to the Pharisees.  He confirms their condemnation, and He takes away their final excuse for their lack of faith.  They had a claim of a relationship with God because they were children of Abraham, but their claim was worthless without any proof of belonging to God.

Matthew 12:43–50 (NKJV)
43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

  1. As Jesus affirms that both the city of Nineveh & the queen of the south would rise up in condemnation of “this generation” (vss. 41-42), Jesus teaches a tiny parable about the very same “wicked generation.”  Technically, the parables in Matthew don’t really begin until Ch 13, but there’s a bit of a foretaste with one here as Jesus shows the extent of the judgment of the generation who rejected Him.  What’s going on?  Take it bit by bit:
    1. An “unclean spirit” leaves a man.  We’re not told whether or not this spirit was actually cast out of the person, but we are told that this demon at one point inhabited a person.  Demon possession is clearly real – Jesus and the apostles encountered it on a regular basis throughout their ministry.  Whatever the case was with this particular demon, for some reason it left its host.
    2. The demon wandered.  It’s a bit of a comic picture with the thought of a demon being homeless, but that’s the picture Jesus is painting.  Some translations say that the demon went through “waterless places” – the idea is that just as people might find themselves suffering and homeless in the desert wilderness surrounding Judea, so too the demons might be homeless.  This particular demon had no rest unless he possessed and tormented a man & he found nothing for a time.
    3. Eventually the demon returns.  The “house” (i.e. the man) was clean & seemingly healthy, but left completely unguarded.  The person was wide open to being repossessed by the demon, though it would seem the person would have had no idea of the case.  His life would have seemed otherwise healthy and at ease, but he was wide open to danger.
    4. Not only did the demon return, he brought 7 of his worst friends with him.  “7” was often thought of as a “completed” number, thus the idea is most likely not a literal number, but a full onslaught of all kinds of demons that completely overrun the man’s life.  His life may have suffered before, but it was nothing compared to what he would now endure.  He would have been better off if the first demon had never left him originally.
    5. Somehow, this is a picture of the current wicked generation to whom Jesus was speaking.  They had left themselves open to being in a worse state than when they had begun.
  2. What makes this parable so interesting is that all of this back & forth between Jesus & the Pharisees began when Jesus had cast out a demon.  He had healed a man who was blind, mute, and demon-possessed, and the Pharisees in their willful spite & rebellion claimed that it was only by the power of Satan that Jesus had the power to cast out other demons.  The Pharisees had been first-hand witnesses to an actual demon exorcism, and they turned away from Christ.  Thus Jesus teaches about a demon exorcism that left someone in a worse state then when they began.
  3. When Jesus originally responded to the Pharisee’s accusation, He pointed out their illogical assertions.  (1) Satan could not work against himself, because he would be tearing down his own kingdom.  (2) Even the Jews claimed to exorcise demons – if Jesus (who did it perfectly) was empowered by the devil, then who was it that empowered the Jews (who did it imperfectly)?  The fact that Jesus cast out demons by the Spirit of God proved that the kingdom of God was among them. (3) Only the stronger can conquer the strong.  A strong man must first be bound & conquered before his house could be plundered.  Jesus had to be stronger than Satan in order to bind the demons & cast them out.   This third point seems to be the crucial difference between what Jesus did in actuality & what He taught in the parable.  Jesus truly cast out the demon in the blind & mute man.  Yet regarding the homeless demon, Jesus says nothing about casting it out; only that the demon left.  The demon does not appear to be bound in any fashion, but rather free to wander.  Thus although the man in the parable surely believed himself to be free of possession, in reality he was wide open to a more dire possession than he had experienced before.  Why?  The demon hadn’t been conquered; he was merely displaced for a time.  The man never experienced true freedom; he just experienced a temporary cease-fire.  That’s a ticking time-bomb.
    1. That’s the difference between Man’s attempts to clean himself up from his demons and Jesus’ true work in exorcism.  Someone might find temporary freedom for a while, but unless their life is occupied by the Holy Spirit (Who enters a person’s life upon conversion to Christ), they leave themselves open to be re-occupied by the demonic.
    2. Only God can provide lasting solutions to spiritual problems.  It’s not about technique, formulas, or methods in “binding” or “loosing” the demons.  It’s not about trying to see what words might have sway or power over the devil.  It’s about conversion, the new birth, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
    3. Keep in mind that a Christian can be afflicted and attacked by demons.  Yet a Christian cannot be possessed by one.  If we belong to God, then we are His.  Our “house” is not left “empty” by any stretch of the imagination.  Our life is indeed occupied…by the Holy Spirit of God.  2 Corinthians 1:21–22, "(21) Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, (22) who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." []
  4. How does this all relate to the context of the Pharisees vs. Jesus?  Let’s think it through in the full context: (1) the Pharisees had witnessed the power of God over the devil.  (2) The Pharisees had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and attributed Jesus’ power to the devil.  (3) The Pharisees showed themselves to have knowledge of God, but no faith. They were in the presence of the Messiah, so for a time they experienced at least part of the blessings of the kingdom of God.  After all, the King of Kings was physically among them, and the kingdom was wherever Jesus was.  Sickness was healed, death had no hold, demons had to flee at the command of Christ, etc.  Yet even through the Pharisees personally experienced all of these blessings, they left themselves open to a greater danger.  They knowingly denied the Messiah, thus they left themselves open to more deception than ever before.  They would not be better off for having been in the presence of Jesus; they would be worse.  Now (more than ever before), ignorance was no longer an excuse for their lack of faith.  They had been deceived, but it was worse than that.  They ended up embracing their deception, even after being shown the truth.  Thus they were truly in a worse state than at the first.  Not only did they deny the Messiah, they had cut themselves off from the possibility of knowing Him as Lord.
  5. Be careful not to do the same thing!  Be careful that you do not inoculate yourself against the gospel.  Just as some people build up a resistance against medication the more they take it, some people build up a resistance against the good news of Jesus Christ.  They’ve heard the truth – they know it is the truth – yet they still deny the loving call of Jesus to be saved.  Pretty soon, they do not hear the call at all.
    1. How do you know if the last time your heart was pricked by the Holy Spirit might be the very last time for it ever to occur?  How do you know whether or not you finally crossed the point of no return & have inoculated yourself against the gospel?  If you know you need to respond, the very last thing you want to do is to deny that conviction.  After all, it may never come again.  You will be left in a far worse state than someone who has never yet heard the gospel for the first time.  TODAY is the day of salvation – don’t waste it!

46 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”

  1. The scene hadn’t really changed – Jesus was among the multitudes already when the Pharisees began arguing with Him.  It was when the multitudes were amazed & wondered about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah that the Pharisees accused Him of being in league with the devil.  This is likely the same period of time; only that Jesus had stopped speaking directly with the Pharisees & started talking to the rest of the multitudes around Him.  As He was talking, His mother & brothers came up & attempted to pull Jesus aside to talk to Him privately.
  2. Please note that Jesus DID have brothers.  He Himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, but there is zero evidence that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  After all, she had been betrothed to Joseph in marriage, and although Scripture tells us that Joseph did not know Mary intimately until after Jesus’ birth, it does not specify that Joseph did not know her intimately at all.  Certainly that fact is unusual and would have been recorded for us in the Scripture!  In addition, we know that they did in fact marry and stay together.  We do not see Joseph in these verses (perhaps he had died?), but Jesus was publicly known among Nazareth as Joseph’s son (Matt 13:55).  Of course, in reality Jesus had been adopted by Joseph, but the rest of the town seemed to know them as just one family.  The doctrine which was adopted by the early church claiming the perpetual virginity of Mary simply has no basis in the Scripture (or even in logic).
  3. What the text clearly points out is that Jesus’ mother & brothers (technically, “half-brothers”) showed up.  The common counter-argument is that the word used for “brothers” could refer to cousins or even friends.  And yes – the word can be used in such a way.  We are commonly referred to in the Scripture as brothers in Christ.  But the interpretation is based entirely upon the context.  Considering these particular men labeled as “brothers” are directly linked with Jesus’ “mother” (about whom there is no debate), there is no doubt that this is a reference to a biological relationship.  To claim otherwise is to rip away the context to support a pre-conceived idea.  There’s simply no other legitimate way to explain it from the text.
  4. That Mary did not perpetually remain a virgin does not take anything at all away from her honor.  It just affirms that she was a human – just like any of us.  To be sure, Mary is to be honored.  She is more blessed than all women, as the angel of God affirmed (Luke 1:28), as did Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:42).  As the physical mother of the incarnate God, Mary is indeed blessed!  (BTW – this is something to rejoice about on Mother’s Day: Jesus was blessed with a mother!)  That said, we can honor Mary without worshipping her, and we can rejoice for Mary without attributing to her what the Bible does not.  She was a human just as much in need of salvation as anyone else.
  5. With all that said about Jesus’ family, it’s interesting that they were trying to pull Him aside to speak with Him.  Obviously Mary had no doubts about Jesus’ identity, yet we cannot say the same about His brothers.  His brothers are explicitly said to have not believed in Him (John 7:5).  When did His brothers come to faith?  We don’t know – we don’t even know if all of them DID come to faith.  At least a few of them did, but perhaps not until after Jesus’ resurrection considering nothing is mentioned of them being present among the disciples until the book of Acts.  What was it then on this day that Mary & Jesus’ brothers wanted to say to Him?  We’ll never know.  What we do know is that there is hope for people who do not yet have faith in Christ.  There is even hope for those who are very resistant to placing their faith in Christ.  After all, who would be quick to believe his/her older sibling is actually God in the flesh?  It would take an immense amount of evidence to prove that sort of claim!  (And yet that’s exactly what happened when Jesus rose from the dead!)  Don’t stop praying for your loved ones.  We do not know who has gone past that point of no return – but while there is still breath in their lungs, there is always hope!

48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”

  1. At first glance, this may seem to be a bit rude.  After all, it’s not like Jesus suffered a bout of amnesia.  He knew exactly to whom He was biologically related!  Was Jesus breaking the 5th Commandment to honor His father & mother?  Of course not.  Jesus lived a perfect life, never breaking any of the commandments.  He is not dishonoring His mother here, but He is making a couple of points:
  2. Point #1: there is no special access to Jesus.  Mary & the brothers are exactly on the same level as everyone else.  Though Jesus had a biological mother & half-brothers, that fact did not entitle them to any sort of special relationship with Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t simply another son of Mary; He is the Son of God, and when it came to His role as the Son of God, His biological family needed to approach Jesus in exactly the same way as anyone else: through faith.  This goes straight to the heart of the practice commonly taught that Christians are to pray to Mary in order to get her to intercede for others unto Christ.  To be perfectly clear: that idea is never taught in the Scriptures; the only Person to whom we pray is God.  We don’t even pray through Mary in order that she might be a mediator.  The Bible never shows her in that role, and is actually very clear on this point: 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus," []  JESUS is our Mediator.  He is the only Person who has the right to mediate between us and God & He is the only Person who can.  Why?  Because only Jesus went to the cross for us as a sacrifice for our sin & rose again from the grave.  The role of mediation is the role of a priest, and Jesus is our perfect and eternal High Priest between us and God.  Thus no one but Jesus serves in that middle role between us and God.  As the God-Man, Jesus is perfectly suited to do exactly that.
    1. Question: “What if we just ask Mary or other saints to pray to Jesus for us, like we ask anyone in the church to pray for us when we have a need?  After all, anyone who is with the Lord in heaven is really alive.”  The thought sounds nice & is actually the teaching of whole wings of the church, but again the thought simply isn’t biblical.  We can ask each other to pray for us because we can see them, talk to them, write them emails, etc…we have ways of actually communicating with them.  We have no way of communicating with those who are with the Lord in heaven.  We are never told in Scripture to pray unto those who have died in the Lord, and we never see it exampled (with the exception of one time between King Saul & the prophet Samuel…and Saul was condemned for doing it!).  We are, however, told explicitly to pray to God.  We’ve been given access to pray directly to God because of Jesus’ work on the cross.  We’ve been indwelled with the Holy Spirit Who prays for us when we don’t know how to pray.  When it comes to the issue of prayer, God equipped us mightily!  By all means, get other people to pray for you – that’s one way we can bear one another’s burdens.  But when we pray, pray to God through the Lord Jesus.  That’s our only Scriptural model.
  3. Point #2: biological relationship doesn’t buy access to the kingdom of God.  That wasn’t only true for Mary & the immediate family; it’s true regarding all familial relationships – most importantly, that of Abraham.  The Pharisees (and indeed all of the Jews) thought that they were guaranteed to have a saving relationship with God simply by virtue of their birth.  After all, they were descended from Abraham, and God had promised him unconditionally that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through him.  God promised that his descendants would number more than the sand on the sea, etc.  Because of their birthright, they believed God was obligated to bless them.  To be sure, they received certain blessings because of their ancestry, but God was not obligated to bless them with salvation or eternal life in the kingdom of God.  Even John the Baptist attempted to point this out: Matthew 3:8–9, "(8) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." []  The random circumstances of their birth did nothing to guarantee them any eternal relationship with God.  If that’s all it took, God could easily raise up nation after nation.  God wants far more than our biology; He wants true servants and children who love and fear His name.
  4. With all of that said, birthright DOES matter when it comes to the kingdom of God.  Not biological; spiritual.  Mary & the half-brothers did not have any special biological privileges – the Jews did not have any special biological birthright – but a birthright was still necessary: the new birth that only comes by the Holy Spirit when someone places their faith in Christ Jesus.  The same idea was referenced earlier in Ch 12 in regards to a tree being “made” good – it had to be born that way…or more properly, reborn that way.  Biological birth is necessary for physical life, but it has no bearing on our eternal life.  Yet a different type of birth is absolutely necessary.  John 3:5–6, "(5) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." []  Notice Jesus is unequivocal here.  There’s no ambiguity about the word “cannot.”  Someone might have come from a Christian home, but unless they are personally born of the Holy Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Someone may have sat in church all of their lives, without the birth of the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God.  You might be physically baptized, but without being born of the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.  You might listen to all of the Christian radio, have a pastor as your best friend, and named your pets after all of the apostles – but without the new birth, entering the kingdom of God simply is not possible.  You must be born again…period.  The Pharisees missed it – they thought their heritage gained them entrance.  The family thought their biological ties gave them access.  Yet what they needed was not a physical birth, but a spiritual birth.
    1. Have you been born of the Holy Spirit?  Have you been born again?  It doesn’t matter what any of your past experience with God has been if you’ve never been born of the Holy Spirit.  Without that new birth, you will perish – you will face the condemnation of God brought on by your sin.  That’s not what God would have for you.  He loves you & He desires for you to be saved.  That’s exactly what Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus in the most famous verse in all the NT: John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." [] How do you receive this new birth?  Once someone knows they need to be born of the Holy Spirit, how do they get it?  By believing in Jesus Christ.  When you turn away from your past & turn to the Lord Jesus, trusting by sincere faith that He truly is God in the flesh who died for your sins on the cross & rose on the third day – when you personally receive Jesus as your Lord, Savior, and King – that’s when the new birth comes.  At the very instant someone places their faith & trust in Christ Jesus as Lord, the Holy Spirit regenerates them (gives them the new birth), and they are promised eternal life in God’s kingdom.  You cannot afford to put this decision off…respond to Christ today!

49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and 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.”

  1. What’s the evidence of our spiritual birth? Our changed lives.  As John the Baptist had said, we bear fruits worthy of repentance – we DO the will of God in heaven.  Want to see the family of Jesus?  Look around.  Those who are the family of Jesus do what His Father tells them to do.  Just like Jesus obeys the will of His Father, so do those who are His brothers and sisters.  According to John 14:21, our proof of our love for Jesus is shown in our keeping God’s commands.  According to 1 John 2:3-4, we know that we know God if we keep His commandments, and whoever says they know God but don’t keep His commandments is a liar.  All throughout the NT, the proof of our relationship with Christ is found by our actions.  If the tree is good, the fruit is going to be good.  If the person belongs to God the Father, then his/her life is going to reveal that he/she belongs to God the Father.  That’s the evidence of our faith.
  2. Yet if that’s truly the case, then some of us might be feeling awfully nervous.  After all, who among us ever perfectly does the will of God the Father in heaven?  No one.  All of us (not one excluded) struggle with sin – the vile nature of our flesh – lusts, temptations, anger, etc.  Christians who have walked consistently with Christ for decades still struggle with these things.  Even Paul struggled with his flesh.  In fact, the older Paul got, the more he realized how vile of a sinner he actually was.  If the proof of our salvation is found in the works that we do, how can any of us be saved?  Simple: only by the grace of God.  We are not saved by our works; but our works evidence our salvation.  In our sin we are lost, but in God’s grace, He sent Jesus to die for us.  By God’s grace, the Spirit called us to repentance and faith in Christ.  By God’s grace, we are indwelt by the Spirit who empowers us to live for Him.  By God’s grace, even when we fall in our sin, we have the intercession of Jesus on our behalf.  By God’s grace, God’s wrath is never poured out on the believer because it has already been poured out upon His Son.  By God’s grace, we are saved.  All of our failed works never take away from the grace of God.  Yet for someone who is truly saved by Jesus, it is inescapable that his/her works DO change.  Not that the Christian ever lives perfectly (far from it!), but the Christian’s life does start changing to doing the will of God.  Now, we pray.  Now, we have compassion.  Now, we love our neighbor as Christ loved us.  Now, we worship God.  Now, in Christ because of His grace, we do all sorts of things we never did before.  Thus as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, we are saved by grace through faith as the workmanship of God that we might walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph 2:8-10).  What the Pharisees & even Jesus’ own family needed was a changed heart – one that was born of the Holy Spirit.  When that happened, obedience unto God would be the proof that it had occurred.
  3. There’s some really wonderful news here: you too can be part of the family of Jesus!  Not one person was left out as Jesus stretched out His hand towards His disciples & claimed them as His mother & brother & sister.  The invitation is open to all…will you respond?

Conclusion:
Are you in the family of God?  Have you been born of the Spirit and indwelled by Him because of your faith in Christ Jesus?  Or maybe you’ve been impressed by Jesus & attempted to clean up your own life without truly surrendering to Him.  Maybe you’ve been relying on all sorts of other things in your life to give you access to God.  Don’t make the same mistake as the Pharisees!  Don’t leave yourself open to further deception, and perhaps being left in a worse state than before.  While your heart is receptive to the call of the Spirit, respond!  Turn to Jesus by faith, asking Him to be your Lord & Savior & asking for the new birth that He promises.

If you’re a born-again Christian listening to these words of Jesus, how do you respond?  After all, this section of Scripture is plainly an appeal for those who are lost to be saved.  Is there a response for someone who has already been walking with Christ?  Yes!

  1. Praise God that you have received the indwelling of the Spirit!  Praise God that you’ve been sealed for the day of redemption, and that the devil cannot have a permanent hold upon you.  What protection we have in Christ Jesus!  What grace we have been given!
  2. Praise God that you’ve been both born into the family of God & adopted by the Heavenly Father as His child!  Think about it: you who were an enemy of God have now been made a co-heir of Jesus & He calls you His own brother or sister.  That’s amazing!  That is grace beyond our wildest imaginations.
  3. Pray that you would continue to bear fruits worthy of repentance & do the will of our Heavenly Father.  We will always struggle against the sinful nature of our past, but we don’t have to give into it.  God’s plain desire for us is to live lives of obedience & He will grant us the power & grace to do exactly that.  When you fail, deal with it.  Repent of the action, confess your sin, receive the forgiveness of Jesus & move on.  Don’t let it stop you from striving to live obediently unto your God.
  4. Bring others to Jesus.  It’s easy to overlook the fact that Mary had faith when Jesus’ brothers did not, and yet Mary still desired to speak to Jesus with her other children.  Although we’re not told what she wanted the conversation to be, it’s quite probable that she wanted her other children to know her firstborn Son in the same way she did: as God.  Bring people to the feet of Jesus.  Obviously you cannot have faith for them & you cannot do any work-around when it comes to their new birth…but you can continually pray for them & draw them to Jesus.
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