Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Jesus' Family

Mark 3:20-35

Our text opens with Jesus and his disciples overwhelmed. They are so busy with the needs of the crowds, that they are not taking care of themselves, even to the point of not finding time to eat. I think we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. And maybe it’s comforting to know that Jesus was there, too. He was human, and part of what it means to be human is to suffer those times in our lives when we just feel overwhelmed.

I think the counterbalance to this story is to look at the number of times when Jesus intentionally got away from the crowds. There are something like 30 instances in the Gospels when Jesus left everyone else behind, went up into the hills, and spent time in prayer. Yes, we are going to find ourselves overwhelmed at times, but Jesus gave us the example that if we want to survive those times, we need to be intentional about getting away from the busy-ness of life to renew ourselves and our spirits through time alone with God. One of the things I really cherish about wilderness experiences, like the Algonquin canoe trips that I lead, is that those are the times of renewal and refreshment in my life. You don’t need to go to the Canadian wilderness to find renewal, but you do need to get out of your regular, routine life!

Meanwhile, Jesus’ family has another concern. They think he’s crazy.

Many people think that a person who is committed to God is crazy. I think the conventional wisdom of the world is that it’s okay to believe in God. It’s okay to go to worship and stuff like that. But you’re crazy if you go overboard with the God stuff. If you quit your job, or sell your house, or give away your money because of God, then you’re crazy. And certainly if you talk about your faith, or worse yet, try to encourage others, even strangers, to believe in Jesus, then you are definitely crazy!

Maybe we tend to assume that people in Bible times were much more religious than people are today. But I think this story reminds us that they were not. People really weren’t much different then than now. There were obviously some people who were very religious, but the average person then was not much more religious than the average person today. Jesus’ own family thought he was “crazy” religious!

Now maybe they were concerned about Jesus. And maybe they were more concerned about themselves. The penalty for false teaching, according to Deuteronomy, was death. At this time, the Jewish people could not carry out the death

penalty. Only Rome could do that. But even the accusation of false teaching would discredit Jesus and his whole family.

And by this time, the religious elites had taken notice of Jesus. Since most of Jesus’ early ministry was in Galilee, not Judea, it took some time. But they were on to him by now. And they weren’t happy with him. They had the reins of religious power, and they didn’t want to share them with anyone, much less some wandering nobody preacher from Nazareth!

They said, “He is in league with Satan; that is how he is driving out demons.” They had to admit what he was doing, but they would not acknowledge that it was God at work through him. One of the “normal methods” for exorcism was to call on a higher spiritual power to drive out a lower one. And that’s their explanation for Jesus’ authority over evil spirits. “He’s in league with Satan, and he asks Satan to drive out the spirits.”

Jesus points out how this doesn’t even make sense. Why would Satan drive out his own minions? That would mean he was at war with his own kingdom. And a kingdom divided cannot stand.

In truth, to rob a strong man, you first have to defeat him and bind him up. Jesus defeated and bound Satan in the wilderness temptations. And now he demonstrates his victory by plundering Satan’s household; that is, by casting out evil spirits.

Jesus has a warning for these religious elites: “Any sin can be forgiven except one, blaspheming the Holy Spirit.” What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? It is a steady, deliberate rejection of God’s work, in this case, God’s work through Jesus. It is calling the work of God the work of Satan. It is to oppose the work of Jesus so strongly as to deny the obvious signs of the Spirit at work through him.

Now some people might worry, “Have I committed the unforgivable sin?” I’ll tell you what I have been told by people I think are wiser than I am: “If you’re worrying about it, then you haven’t committed that sin.” A person that opposed to God’s work, a heart that hardened wouldn’t think about repentance.

As this is going on, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive. Now, we don’t know much about Jesus’ family, especially not for the time in between his birth and his ministry.

Joseph is never mentioned again after Luke 2, so we have to assume he has died by this point.

As for Jesus’ brothers, the logical assumption is that they are his younger siblings, Joseph and Mary’s later children. I find no compelling reason to believe the old tradition that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. To do so is to deny the goodness of human sexuality within the covenant of marriage between man and woman. Certainly the Bible has some negative things to say about sexual behavior outside of that covenant, but nothing bad to say about it inside that covenant!

Jesus’ response to the news: “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother, sister, mother.” That was an unusual statement for a first-century Jew to make. Judaism placed a high value on family. Now it was common for people to call their co-religionists “brother and sister,” but actually to elevate faith relationships above blood relationships; that was unusual! With one exception: When a Gentile converted to Judaism, they were to value their fellow Jews above their Gentile family of origin.

But there is truth to Jesus’ words. First, those who are committed to the Kingdom of God are his brothers and sisters. We looked two Sundays ago at John 3, where Jesus talks about being “born from above,” that is born from God. And we talked about how it fulfills the promise of John 1: “To all who receive him, he gives the right to become children of God.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

And even though, as the saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water,” the truth is that our family in Christ is more permanent than our family by birth. Our family in Christ will be our family for all eternity.

Now perhaps there is some hyperbole, exaggeration, in Jesus’ words. But there is also a clear statement of priorities. His brothers want to get him out of sight and shut him up for fear he will damage their reputations. But Jesus prioritizes God and the Kingdom of God over his family. Likewise, we should also value God’s Kingdom over everything else. Only then are we “brothers and sisters of Christ.”

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