There’s a saying “blood’s thicker than water”, meaning that family ties are stronger than any others. Of course, there is always the odd family feud that gives the lie to this proverb. Yet people who are related often feel greater obligations to each other than to friends or others. Indeed, when it comes to the crunch, our relatives can mean more to us than faithfulness to the Lord. Just look at the number who have stayed in what had become false churches during times of reformation and liberation. Our blood ties then can mean more to us than being one with those who are obedient to the will of the Lord.
But the Lord Jesus, when told that His mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak to him, replies,
“Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mark 3:34, 35).
Of course, we need to consider the context. Jesus is busy instituting his New Testament church in Mark 3. He calls 12 disciples who are to become apostles, office bearers who will be sent to preach the Word. And he canvasses for people. He heals the people with unclean spirits (verse 9), making these covenant children free to serve him in his church and they acknowledge Him as God’s Son (verse 11). As the acknowledged Son of God, He wants to bring the covenant children as church members to the apostles as office bearers. It is beautifully stated in Mark 3: The covenant children who came out from under the power of Satan are saved and, as church members, are brought to Him who is the Head of the church, and to the apostles as office bearers. Just see how Christ is busy continuing to gather his church!
But now follow two kinds of reactions, namely a reaction from the side of Israel’s official office bearers in Jerusalem, the Scribes, and a reaction from the side of Jesus’ relatives, from his mother and his brothers.
The scribes say, “See, this man Jesus works satanically, for he casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. This way he wants people to commit themselves to Him, but it is really the work of the devil.” They slander his church gathering work by calling it Satan’s work. Jesus’ response is to warn them against blaspheming the Holy Spirit! Sin against the Holy Spirit is this: that the preaching of salvation and hence the gospel of Christ is stubbornly rejected, deliberately and doggedly.
And now comes the second reaction to Jesus’ church gathering work, namely the reaction of Jesus’ relatives. Mother Mary and the brothers are deeply disturbed by Jesus’ constant work and are really concerned about him. They think: Jesus is overworked; he is constantly on the go and is in danger of having a nervous breakdown. He must have a spell, a break. And united they decide to get him away from there.
No doubt they mean well when they arrive at the door of the house and let Jesus know that they want to speak to him (naturally to take him away). As His relatives they are concerned for His health, His physical wellbeing. You can easily say: Here is the call of blood, the natural love which shows concern for and is worried about the wellbeing of the other.
Christ knows that the scribes act out of envy and hatred, and that his relatives act out of love. Both voices: the voice of love and the voice of hatred, say to Jesus: “Stop this work, this busy campaign! Discontinue that work of Church gathering!” And then the call of relatives, the call of blood, is the most enticing voice. The voice of hatred does not entice, but the voice of love entices like no other voice does. It exerted immense pressure on Jesus and was a real temptation for him to give in.
Jesus was a true human being, a righteous person, without sin. That is why He loved His earthly mother as no child on earth ever loved his mother. He would love to have heeded His mother’s voice? Besides, wouldn’t rest and the love in the parental family attract Him more than the fierce fighting in a church struggle in which you are lied to and slandered? Hear then the call of blood appealing to Jesus’ soul, just as through the ages that voice has spoken to Christ’s servants too!
Yes, this call of blood has often and loudly appealed to Christ’s servants: “Stop this church gathering and church reforming work! Stop this nonsense! You will go out of your minds and force others to take leave of their senses. Stop it and seek the rest and the love in family life! Don’t be too concerned about the church: you will only end up having a nervous breakdown.” Yes, that is how the call of blood has always appealed to Jesus and His servants about the work of the church. And it is a call, which has tremendous appeal. It is a voice which shows concern and which is moving: “Man, stop this campaign for the church and this church struggle! You will only become upset and the families of the church will also become confused and divided. Do you think that all that struggle within the church for what they call truth and righteousness, for the reformed confession and for the reformed church order are really works of love for the Lord?”
And so it has happened often. Ministers of the word have stopped their action after the pleas of wife and relatives. And church members in the days of church reformation have withdrawn themselves from the struggle into the intimate sphere of the family. Yes, the call of blood does appeal to the soul! The most dangerous temptations quite often come from the side of those who are closest to us, who are very dear to us.
But Jesus Christ did not listen to the call of blood relations. Instead, He tested the call of blood on Father’s Word. For as soon as they say to Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are outside and wish to speak to you,” Christ says: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus immediately puts the matter into the framework and the execution of his office. He tests the appeal of the relatives on the will of His Heavenly Father. He realised very well: I am office-bearer, and as such I have a mission to gather and reform the church.
Should he then stop with this work? Should He now withdraw Himself into the private sphere of the family? Does He have to join with the family of His mother and brothers—or should it be the other way around? Should they join Him? That is why, in effect, He loudly asks the question: “Which call must we follow in the church, the call of blood, of relatives, or the call of God?”
Well then, by testing that call based on the will of God, it is easy for Jesus to see that the call of blood wants to lure Him away from His work. And we then hear Jesus speak these words: “Whoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and mother.” Christ begins to gather His true Pentecostal congregation from the apostate church of Israel. He appointed all the apostles to office bearers in that church. He begins a campaign canvassing new members so that now the great question is: which tie is the decisive one, the blood tie or the bond with God?
To be sure, in the church you do have families and generations. Christ does not deny those blood connections. Why should He? The covenant of God moves from Adam along the way of the blood in the generations of the church. That is what the Lord said emphatically to Abraham, the father of all believers: You and your seed, your children and descendants after you in their generations!
But that is not all! Those who are in the lineage of generation and covenant in the church are bound to do God’s will while growing up. This is the second part of the covenant, namely the demand. And a person is truly a church member when doing the will of God. Only then the blood ties and spiritual ties in the church will be combined, as per God’s will.
We must see it properly: Jesus does not bid farewell to His mother and brothers; He does not break with His relatives. Nothing of the kind! But He does say here: “Mother Mary, do you really want to be my mother, mother in the LORD? Then you must do the will of Israel’s God today in the reformation of the church! Brothers, do you really want to be my brothers, brothers in the LORD? Then you must do the will of Israel’s God today in the reformation of the church.”
Jesus Christ wants to show it clearly: we can be together in the church as a family when we do the will of God together. Then we are not only one family, because of the blood, but Family with a capital F because of the Spirit of God, the holy family of Jesus Christ. And all natural ties through blood and family must be subjected to God’s will and so be subservient.
Here the Lord Jesus Christ simultaneously sheds light upon the way the church of God is to be the one holy catholic Christian church. She is such when everybody does the will of God. Let us check it. What binds us here together? What makes us a union? Only the doing of God’s will! Only the obedience to God’s revealed law! Only the listening to God’s Word.
You know that the people in the church often think of all sorts of things to bring more of a bond and unity in the local church. And there could well be some quite useful things among them. Who would deny that we all do too little for each other? But all those things will have little significance if there is no faithful and loving obedience to God’s revealed will. And for that reason: The unity of God’s church is only there where together we submit to the will of God …
God’s will governs everything in the church! In the church you cannot lay claim to natural descent or origin. In daily life sometimes birth and family relations are given preference. In the world, they do indeed consider the relationships. Families of high standing are often spared, or given preferential treatment. Let us prevent all that in the church! Only God’s deeds are dominant and decisive. In the church, blood ties do not give you certain rights, and no privileges either. To do the will of God – that is always what counts.
That is why the Lord Jesus Christ would not let Himself be drawn away from His work in the gathering of the church and church reformation by His pious mother, nor by His unbelieving brothers either. And therein we will follow our Head and our Lord. When natural ties hinder us from doing the will of God and relatives resist or oppose us (and may God graciously forbid it), then we will know it well: God’s will always comes first!
Oh, it is often the sin of our heart that causes us to follow the call of the blood in the reformation of the church, in the choice of a boy or girl, in the choice of school for our children, in political and social organisations, etc. Then we stick to our own will and desire and mind. And then there is often that second sin, namely, that we reason it out so nicely, that we reason our will to be in accordance with God’s will. Thus we try to ease our Christian conscience! It is something we become extremely skilful at. For we don’t want to hurt our own flesh and blood.
A lot would change enormously if, in our personal lives, in the relationships between many a boy and girl, in social and political organisations, in church, we all totally and radically bowed down before the majesty of God’s will in our life; if we would completely let God’s will, revealed in His Word, determine all we do. We would then know much more joy in faith and together experience that joy more intensely. For in doing God’s will there is great joy. Only in this way are we the family of Jesus Christ, his mother and his brothers and his sisters. And then He won’t be ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters and mother.
The Lord Christ stated that there were many people with Him who did God’s will. For He positively said: “Behold my mother and my brothers.” It is good to note well these words spoken by the Saviour. Why? Well because again there are always those, especially in the church, who don’t see anything of that Family of God. You meet them time and again, those who don’t find a true union in the church and no real communion. They have lots of complaints about that.
There are also church members of Christ who prefer to seek unity and communion with people outside the church. They hardly look at their fellow church members, but with the unbelievers outside the church they are on familiar terms. There are those who prefer to read another journal rather than our own reformed journals and consequently know very little of what goes on in the churches.
There are people in the church who argue about that unity of the church apart from all obedience to God’s will and then advocate and promote an unscriptural ecumenism. You find them everywhere. Those who separate the matter of brotherly unity from the obedience and find brothers and sisters everywhere, although then they are their own “little brothers” and not the brothers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But Christ says in our text: “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Here is truly the new and real and warm unity of the church! Here now is truly the obedient multitude that does the will of God.” And when we ourselves have learned and still learn to do God’s will through Christ and through His Spirit, then we see that family of brothers and sisters in the Lord. And then we feel one with them and we also show that unity. We are rich with them in Christ!
For there is a terrific comfort for lonely people in this Family of God. There are couples in the church of Christ who have no children. The Lord has withheld children from them. That is a heavy burden. But look, in the church they receive ample compensation. For the Lord Christ says, in Mark 10:30, that in the church they receive brothers and sisters and children and so much more. There are people in the church who have only a few relatives or none at all; those, for instance, who are on their own as single people and they will be lonely when they get old. But according to the Lord Jesus Christ they receive brothers and sisters and mother, a whole community in the fellowship of the church. Especially in the church, the ties of faith and love draw together as they don’t draw anywhere else.
It happens in days of church struggle and church reformation that brothers and sisters are separated from the family and from the church because of obedience to Christ’s work of church-gathering. It also happens today again that families and relatives are dispersed because of the church gathering work. Then the lively communion will be broken up and lost. But those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, being separated from family and relatives, find ample compensation in the church where brothers and sisters and mothers in the Lord are. And then it will always be experienced that ties, made by the Spirit of God, draw more than the ties of blood, even though it causes a lot of pain to let go of those blood ties.
Naturally the supposition of all that is, that we as church members do the will of God. Otherwise the church will not be a communion of saints anymore and no unity of brothers and sisters. Then feelings of loneliness will overshadow those in the church. Only when we do God’s will towards each other will the unity grow and will the communion with each other flourish.
And now we must apply more and more what we are in Christ. For in practice there is so much lacking in the mutual unity and communion we are called to express as Christians. Therefore we often mean so little to each other and we have for ourselves such little joy in the unity of the church. A truly Christian family is rich in the Lord. In that Christian family-life lies a source of joy, every day again. But the family of God, that is called church, exceeds it in power.
It is a tremendous thing that the Lord Christ is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters. It is surprising that He wants to be our eldest brother. Those who have an eye for that, in faith, will also get a right, that is, scriptural view of the church as the communion of saints. And in that communion he wants to be a true, faithful, loving and obedient brother and sister of Christ. And so he always experiences the richness of the communion with Christ and the mutual unity too. The sentence of our confession: “I believe a holy, catholic, Christian church, the communion of saints,” has a broad and deep meaning. The power thereof increases in width when people from all nations come to confess the name of Christ and gladly submit to His will.
(Gleaned from a Dutch sermon by the late Rev J Francke on Mark 3:31-35)