If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 12. Throughout this chapter the Lord Jesus' character is contrasted with the character of the Pharisees. In each successive event that is recorded, we see what is in Jesus' heart revealed by His words and actions, and conversely, we see what is in the hearts of the Pharisees by their words and actions. And especially the blasphemous response to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we saw earlier. And as if recognizing that His disciples were in need of some encouragement in light of these events, at the very end of this chapter the Lord Jesus hands out a tender and loving expression of encouragement and comfort to all those who are His disciples. And that's what we are going to study together now. Look with me then at Matthew chapter 12 beginning in verse 46 to the end of the chapter. Hear God's holy word.
“While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, 'Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.' But He answered the one who was telling Him and said, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, He is My brother and sister and mother.'”
Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's look to Him again in prayer.
Our Father, this is a glorious passage, and the truth is so simple and simultaneously so profound we praise you for it. It would be easier for us to understand the truth of this passage than it would for this passage to become a reality in our lives. So we ask that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, You would apply this word to us in such a way that it begins to characterize our very character. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord Jesus give us three things in this great passage. First, He gives us an important lesson about using common events for spiritual learning and growth. Second, He gives us a tremendous encouragement concerning the blessing of saving relationship with God through Him. Finally, He gives us a glorious description of who we are in Christ. But even in that description of who we are is hidden, is couched, a great challenge for us. And I’d like to look with you at these three things very briefly this morning.
I. Jesus teaches that even common events have spiritual implications.
The first thing you'll see in verses 46 and 47. There Matthew gives yet another one of those divine interruptions that we have already talked about. We have said that throughout the gospel of Matthew, Jesus, in the midst of His ministry, is frequently interrupted. Sometimes by disciples asking questions. Other times by demon possessed people crying out and confessing Him to be the Son of God. Other times by the Pharisees who are opposing His ministry. And now we see that He is interrupted by His parents. And over and over, we see the Lord Jesus Christ respond to these unexpected interruptions by using them as an opportunity to teach the disciples and the multitudes important spiritual truths. And He does just that in this passage. And He teaches us here in verses 46 and 47 that we as Christians ought to use every circumstance, every event in life as an opportunity for spiritual reflection, and as an opportunity to bear witness to Christ.
Jesus is speaking, and someone inside the house says to Jesus, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, and they desire to speak to You.” Jesus’ family has come to seek Him out. Joseph is not mentioned, and therefore the commentators assume that by this time Joseph, Jesus’ human foster father, had died. And so Mary and Jesus' brothers had come to seek Him out.
And this is the sort of interruption that every speaker dreads. You know, you are in the midst of a rousing point, and the note comes up from the usher to the podium that says, “There is a blue Buick with license plate FTN 574 in the parking lot, and its lights are on.” It sort of crushes the whole spirit of the moment. And so the Lord Jesus is teaching, we're not told exactly what He was teaching, but He's inside the house because we are told that His mother and His brothers were outside of the house. He couldn't see them, and so someone in the house says, “Jesus, Your mother and Your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to You.” And in the midst of that interruption, the Lord Jesus replies with a very provocative sentence. He phrases it in a question. He says, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
Notice how Jesus turns a common event into an opportunity to reflect upon spiritual truth. It's a very standard question. Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are on the outside. They want to speak to you.” He turns that interruption into an opportunity to ask His audience to reflect on the far more important spiritual question, “Who is in the family of God? Who belongs as a child to God the Father? Who is in the family of faith?” He takes a common event to focus us on a very important spiritual lesson. And we ought to do that as well. It is one of the gifts that God has given us as believers to have a spiritual outlook on the world. And if we will not call on people to look at common things with spiritual eyes, who is going to?
I have been blessed over the last twelve weeks to go through a Bible study, a Crown Ministries small group study. And I hope that if you haven't gone through one of those bible studies, you will. It's not only been encouraging, it's been convicting. Because we have, among other things, been called to look at the stewardship of the possessions and moneys that the Lord and given us, and ask the question, “Are we doing a good job of what the Lord is providing us?” And I want to tell you that, looking at compound interest tables and thinking back about how I have spent money in the past 20 years, and thinking if I had just, instead of buying all those CDs when I was 16, put that money in the bank that I could retire on $2,000,000 at age 65. It's been depressing. And it's been depressing to look at what I have spent on credit card payments in the past, and how much I have paid to them, more than the value of the goods that I purchased. But it's been a good, convicting process, because I want to be faithful with my money. I don't want you to say, “Well he can preach, but he is a disaster in handling his family affairs. I'm kind of embarrassed to have association with that guy.” I want to do a good job in that area. But you know what? Even thinking about those earthly financial things, hard facts, “Are you doing a good job of savings, of investment?” Or, “Are you doing a good job of getting out of debt and staying out of debt? Of maintaining control on your household budget?”
The very fact of thinking back on the bad job that I have done there in the past has made me think how much greater my spiritual debt is. I mean, if I wasn't that good with what the Lord had given me 20 years ago financially, how much less opportunity have I taken to use the spiritual benefits that the Lord provided me through teachers in His church, Christians who encouraged me and such. And so the very reflection on my financial debt has over and over, and my financial mistake, has over and over focused me on spiritual matters.
And that's how it ought to be for all of us. We ought to use common events as gateways to think about spiritual issues. And I want you to note again how Jesus seizes this opportunity, this interruption, and He converts it into a cause for ministry. And if we are going to be able to do that with the common events of our lives, we are going to have to do at least four things. If we want to be able to turn common events into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness to Christ, there are at least four things that we have to do.
And the first thing is: we must be bathed in the word of God. You cannot think spiritually about life unless you become bathed with the truth of Scripture. You've got to live it, and breathe it, and know it. And what tremendous opportunities we have here at First Presbyterian Church for that. And I want to say that it is my dream that in my lifetime I will see this congregation take full opportunity for the teaching of the word of God that we have offered here week after week. Do you know there are people who are in other towns who can barely find an evangelical church to attend. And on any given Sunday here, in Sunday School, you may be able to hear Duncan Rankin and Derek Thomas and Andy Hoffecker and John Currid and Ralph Davis on any given Sunday in our Sunday School classes.
For years our congregation has been ministered to by faithful and extraordinary ministers like John Reed miller and Don Patterson and Jim Baird. And if you are in the women's studies, you've had the opportunity to be ministered to by people like Allene Morehead and Jo Lynn Swayze and Nan Kipp. And think of the lay teachers that the Lord has raised up in this congregation. You can hear in Sunday school Bebo Elkin and Bill Harper and Jim Bateman and Jim Moore. And so many other extraordinary teachers like that. We can name dozens in our congregation who have been truly gifted. And yet we take it for granted. We've become accustomed to it. But we have got to seize those opportunities, friends. The Lord has put us in a very green pasture. And we have got to love the word, and to desire more than anything else to know that word, because we'll never be able to think spiritually about life unless we take advantage of every opportunity. Donna Dobbs ought not to have to beg you to come to the events that the Christian Education department sponsors. They are incredible. It's unbelievable the things that we have opportunity to experience here. Let's use those things that our minds might be transformed so that we can think about the common everyday events of life in a spiritual frame. But that's just the first thing.
The second thing that we have to do if we are going to be able to convert common events for opportunities for reflection about spiritual truth and witness to Chris, is that we must have begun to take on the mind of Christ. It's not enough to know truth. It's not enough to be excited about the new things that we are learning. It's not enough to enjoy sitting under fabulous teaching week after week in Sunday School and elsewhere in the congregation. We must be impacted in our whole way of thinking, our whole way of life, by the word of truth. It must become part of us. It must become part and parcel of our being. Those of you who have played sports have perhaps like I have, had a coach say something like this to you in the past, “Duncan, why did you miss that blocking assignment?” “Well coach, I thought–” “Ah! That's the problem, Duncan. You thought. You weren't supposed to think. You were to act instinctively. That's why we practiced that play over and over…”
Until Christian truth becomes instinctive to us, we will not be able to respond to common events with spiritual eyes. It must become part of us. Harry Blamires is a wonderful author. Many of you have read him. He's written books like The Christian Mind and Where Do We Stand? He was a student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford many years ago, and he himself later went on to teach at famous English universities including Oxford. Harry Blamires tells a story about how C.S. Lewis could look at the most common things with spiritual eyes. He and a group of his friends were in a tutorial, studying World War 1 era poetry with C.S. Lewis, and they as young students at Oxford thought that this was brilliant and profound poetry. C.S. Lewis didn't think it was very good poetry and didn't think it was very profound. But in the middle of a conversation they were having about that poetry, Lewis said something to them in nonreligious words and terms that were very Christian and very provocative. And I’d like to share that story with you as an illustration of how we need to think spiritually about common events.
Harry Blamires says, “I was a student at Oxford. One or two of us were discussing some poetry of the First World War with our tutor, C.S. Lewis. He seemed to think we were overestimating the quality of the poetry in question. 'It lacked something which it ought to have,' he said. 'In the whole volume,' Lewis said as nearly as I can remember, 'not one of these poets has thought to observe that the dead would have died anyway, war or no war.' Lewis' words at this point first jolted me with dismay. There seemed to be a hint of callousness in them, just as there seemed to be a flavor of notable compassion. But of course Lewis, who had served at the front in the First World War, was the last man to be callous about battle. His books showed repeatedly how deeply he admired men of courage. And as I got to know Lewis better, I recognized this statement as the kind of conscious jolt that he habitually administered, partly to stimulate his pupils to think about a matter differently and freshly, and to save them from cliché thinking, but also partly because, as a Christian, he could not allow the subject of death to be treated as though the termination of life were in itself the ultimate tragedy, and a kind of aberration or exception from normal human experience. His remark was in no sense a religious remark. There was no mention of God or of the life of hereafter, and yet it stayed in my memory as a specimen of the kind of contribution for the Christian mind will naturally bring to common thinking.” Lewis made them think in light of Christian truth about death, about the poetry that they were reading. He thought spiritually about a common transaction happening in a class.
I remember sitting at an American style restaurant in St. Andrews with two Christian friends. The waitress was a young student who was getting ready to go off to nursing school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had never left Scotland. She had never been more than 15 miles from St. Andrews in her life and St. Andrews has about 5,000 people. And she was fascinated with us because we all had Southern accents. One of us was from Alabama, one of us was from South Carolina, one was from western Kentucky and had been educated in the South. And she kept coming back to the table to check and see if we needed something else because she just wanted to hear us talk. And so we began talking about what she was going to do – leaving to go to Philadelphia – and one of My friends sitting at the table said, “Do you have any friends in Philadelphia?” “No, I really don't know anybody there.” “Do you have family in Philadelphia?” “No, there's just this nursing school that I’m going to go attend there.” “You've never been away from St. Andrews?” “No, I haven't.” “Well, you know one of the most important things you are going to need when you get to Philadelphia is friends, and the best way, the quickest way I know how you can make a circle of caring friends is to attend a church.” And from that point he shared the gospel with her. Now how would one get from funny accents in St. Andrews restaurants to sharing the gospel? Only by thinking spiritually about common things. The Lord Jesus calls us to do that as Christians.
There's a third thing we have to do though. We must cultivate opportunities to share Christ and to reflect about spiritual truth. We have numerous opportunities pass us by every day where we have the chance to speak spiritual truth, or share spiritual truth, or look at things from a spiritual perspective. On Friday I was having lunch at Belhaven College, eating with a couple of student athletes. I had asked them where they attended church, and before they could barely get the words out of their mouth our ruling elder Edmund Johnston was asking them what they were trusting in for their salvation. He wanted to know whether they were trusting on the Lord Jesus Christ, whether their faith was in Him, or whether they were trusting in their own works. They gave good answers, by the way. But he was looking for an opportunity to share spiritual truth. We must be looking for those opportunities. They are there all the time.
Finally, we must be prayerfully dependent on the Lord for both the opportunities to share spiritual truth and for the words to say when they come. All those four things we must do if we are going to be able to think about the common in a spiritual way and witness to the truth of Christ. Well, that's just one thing that we learn in this passage. Jesus has taught us here by example how to think spiritually about common events. But there are two other things in this passage that we need to look at.
II. The privilege we have to be children of God.
In verses 48 and 49, there is a wonderfully encouraging word from the Lord Jesus Christ about the privilege we have to be the adopted children of God. In this passage, the Lord Jesus reminds us that we ought to dwell on, in fact we ought to revel in, the blessings of being in the family of God. Kinship to Christ is the greatest thing that there is. And as Jesus is asked the question, “Your mother and Your brothers are outside. Don't You want to speak to them?” He says this word, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretches out His hands to His disciples and He says, “Behold, My mother and My brothers.”
Jesus replies with a tantalizing question, and that question basically means: who are those who belong to My spiritual family? Who are those who are children of the heavenly Father? He transposes a common question about earthly parents into a spiritual question about the kingdom of God. And He's teaching us there, among other things, that our ties as Christians, our ties as believers, are more important even than family ties. We have a saying that ‘blood is thicker than water,’ and over and over in our culture and community, we find that to be a practical truth. But Jesus is saying here that those for whom He has shed blood have been brought into a family that is even closer than families of blood kin. The Lord Jesus is teaching us that spiritual ties are the most important ties that there are. And then He waves His arms towards His disciples and He says, “These are My mother and My brother.”
What a tremendous word of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here Jesus is showing His marvelous and His self-forgetful love. Yes, those disciples were part of His inner circle, His dear friends. Yes, they had left everything to follow Him. But in Matthew chapter 10 we are told that they were men of little faith, and at the end of the gospel of Matthew, all of them are going to desert the Lord Jesus Christ in His hour of need, and He knows it. And yet He says, “These are My mother and My brothers.” The Lord Jesus Christ thinks more highly of you than you could ever think of yourself as being part of His kingdom. The Lord Jesus loves His people with a tremendous compassion, compassion and love. Notice the words of Hebrews 2:11, they speak to this. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
We cannot even begin to take in the blessing of what it is to be accepted into this family. If you will think for a minute about what you deserve – hell, and what you have received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – heaven, then there is no way to even begin to express what an enormous privilege that we have in union with Christ. Do we stop to contemplate the privileges of adoption enough? I think not. Do we take it in? I think not. Ought we to dwell and meditate on that more? I think so. And my friend, if you have never had your breath taken away at just how much God loves you in Christ, then my guess is you've never realized how much you deserve judgment, and how gracious is the salvation that has been provided in Him. And that may mean that you have never ever tasted grace itself. And only by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, resting on Him, will you taste that overwhelming grace that feels the flood of the love of God. And that's My desire for everyone in this room today. That you would be overwhelmed by the love of God. What kind words Jesus speaks here. To these trembling, stumbling, weakling disciples. You are My family. You are My mother. You are My sisters. You are My brothers. Those are Jesus' words to you, believers. And that's something worth celebrating.
III. Who Christians are.
There's one last thing here that I would like to point Your attention to, and you will see it in verse 50. Jesus' words in verse 50 are not an imperative. They are not a command. He doesn't say, “You're Christians, therefore you must do the will of your Father.” It's not a command. It's not an imperative. It's a description. It's what grammarians and theologians and New Testament scholars call an indicative. He says, “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, He is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus indicates here that all those who belong to His family do the will of the heavenly Father. It's a description of what Christians are. It's a definition.
What's a Christian? A Christian is one who does the will of the heavenly Father. If you are Jesus' disciples, if you're Jesus' brothers and sisters, you do the will of the heavenly Father. It's not a command. And the fact that it is a description reminds us of how essential it is. If you are not this, you are not His. Those who are Jesus' disciples do the will of the heavenly Father. Have we imbibed the spirit of Christ? Do we love to do the will of the heavenly Father? Do you remember Jesus' words in John 4:34? “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” Do you see the delight that the Lord Jesus takes in doing the will of God?
How often do we sort of feel like, “Oh do I have to do that?” “Does God make me do that?” That's not the Lord Jesus Christ’s attitude. It is His meat to do the will of the heavenly Father. He loved – there is nothing like the joy of self-denying duty. There is nothing like the joy of doing the will of the heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why He can say in John 4:32, “I have food about which you do not know.” Because doing the will of God was like meat, it was like food to the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ. Have we imbibed that spirit about the will of God?
Can we be described as those who do the will of the heavenly Father? Do we love it? I want to extend a challenge to the entire congregation today. The Lord has not only blessed us materially, and with regard to families, and society and community, He has not only given so many of us important places of service in the community, He has given us enormous gospel privileges. In light of those privileges I want to ask you a question. Do you plan to use those privileges to increase your own pleasure, or do you plan to use those privileges to foster the will of the heavenly Father, and to build up the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Young people, the enormous financial resources that are in many of your hands. Will you use those to have a pleasant life, feather your own nest? Or will you use them in self-denying service for the sake of the kingdom because you love to do the will of the Father? Jesus is reminding us here that we who are believers will delight to do the will of the heavenly Father. He is calling on us to be who we are. He has made us to be people conformed to His image who love to do the will of the Father just as He loves to do His Father’s will.
So here's my challenge to you First Presbyterian Church. Be who you are. The Lord Jesus says that if you have trusted in Him, you are people who do the will of the heavenly Father. Make that the great desire of your heart. Find in that the joy of bringing pleasure to the Father. At the very end of Douglas Southall Freeman's Pulitzer Prize-winning, four-volume biography of Robert Edward Lee, Lee’s Lieutenants, he begins to describe the character of General Lee. He talks about his kindness. He talks about his spirituality. He talks about his sense of submission to God's will, his desire to do duty. He talks about his humility. And at the very end of that he talks about Lee's self-denial. I want to share those words with you as a challenge.
“Of his humility and submission was born a spirit of self-denial that prepared him for the hardships of war, and still more for the dark destitution that followed it. Through it all his spirit of self-denial met every demand upon it. And even after he went to Washington College, and had an income on which he could live easily, he continued to deny himself as an example to his people. Had his life been epitomized in one sentence of the book that he read so often, it would have been in these words, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’
And if one, if only one of all the myriad incidents of this man's stirring life had to be selected to typify that message who would hesitate in selecting that incident. It occurred in Northern Virginia, probably on his last visit there. A young mother brought her baby to Lee to be blessed. He took the infant in his arms and looked at it, and then at her, and he slowly said to her, “Teach him to deny himself. That is all.”
That is My challenge to you. I am calling you into an army far greater to do the will of the one who holds the world in His hand. Will you join me in that quest, to build His kingdom, and to deny self and thus to find everything. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, our strength is too small for this calling, that You haven't left us to our own devices. You have enabled us as we humbly rely upon divine grace provided by the Holy Spirit. So help us, by the Spirit, to love Your will, to love Your law, and to do the will of the one who sent our Savior, even the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.