God did not merely create human beings to be in relationship with Himself (though that relationship is primary and anterior to all that follows and is secondary). He created us also to be in relationship with other human beings. There are many glorious facets to this. Part of it is because we are designed to need human companionship, touch, love, and intimacy. Part of it is because we are designed to be in and as the image of the living God, and there must be someone else to whom God is to be imaged. Part of it is because God has much for us to do to establish and advance His kingdom, and that cannot be done alone. (That marriage was created in the context of all of these realities should convince us how profoundly important that relationship is; however, the fashionable evangelical idolatry of/colossal overemphasis on marriage and the immediate family is not only extremely American and modern, but is increasingly a direct attack on the whole counsel of God and must be called what it is: sin.)
Because God designed human beings for community with other humans, it should not be surprising that relationships are of great interest to the writers of our Bible, and thus the Lord Himself. In my experience, we have a tendency to either overemphasize human relationships (thus undermining the Lord’s centrality and sufficiency), or, more often in well-taught circles, to underemphasize them (forgetting that Christ mediates His sufficiency through the arms of other people, and thus denigrating His good gifts that He purchased at the price of His blood). We need the mind of our Savior on this issue, desperately.
Moreover, it is a fact of life that most people reading this blog will be married, and most of them will have the joy of conceiving and bearing children. This has profound implications for both them and for single people. How are we to navigate the often messy realities of enfleshed life with other fallen image-bearers? In Mark 3:31-35, our Lord uses an interaction with His family to make a profound and necessary point about human relationships and their infallibly necessary role in the global cause of advancing the glory and reign of Christ.
A. The Family’s Intervention (vv. 31-32)
Our Lord has been busy. This is approximately 1 ½ – 2 years into His earthly ministry. He is popular, insanely so—and the Jewish leadership, what we might call God’s representatives on earth as far as the Jewish people were concerned, hates Him. Jesus is giving Himself entirely to ministry such that He isn’t able to eat or have time to Himself, while the Pharisees and their minions are breathing down His neck with venom and wrath. His family assumes that He must be mentally unstable to be doing all of this, while gathering the ire of the Jewish leaders. Surely Mary is concerned about her Son, but His brothers reject Him and use His passion for His Father’s kingdom as a reason to reject Him. (Later, in Acts 1, they will be awaiting the Spirit with Mary and presumably their wives. We can assume the Lord’s half-sisters came to faith in Him as well.) Now, they all have arrived where He is teaching to lay hold of Him—by some force if necessary.
But the crowd is so packed they cannot get to Him, so they send word through the crowd until it finally reaches the ears of our Lord. The picture is rather telling: They are on the perimeter, outside looking in. That’s a good indicator of what was really going on: Partly due to physical distance, partly due to a constellation of spiritual misunderstanding and barricades, His family has misread and misunderstood His radical service to His Father. They are on the outside, unaware of His purposes and program, so they are willing, on the basis of their unaided, unrenewed human thinking, to intervene and thwart what is in reality the purpose of God! O how desperately even the godliest of us need to see things God’s way!
As we seek to serve the Lord with passion and devotion, we too will be misunderstood by our families. Our human-divine Savior Himself was not exempt from this. We must seek God for the hearts of our family members, while also relying on the Holy Spirit to be doggedly faithful to the Lord during the long journey Home.
B. The Lord’s Instruction (v. 33)
The message gets to the Lord: “Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You” (v. 33a). How does He respond? “Who are My mother and My brothers?” We might be surprised at this answer. Surely the Lord knows who His immediate relatives are! But as Jesus often does, He asks a question for the purpose of making a point and force the listener to ponder His answer. That He even asks the questions implies a certain qualification or condition to the point—”you think they’re My relatives, and they are, to an extent, but not with the importance or priority you’re assuming.” The point is this: Who really is the Lord’s true family?
Jesus, who had a human family He loved dearly, uses this point to make an extremely important and wonderful statement about the theology of the body and kingdom of Christ. The point is not to denigrate His human family. In the resurrection, the Lord’s mother and siblings will still bear their genetic relationship to Him—they will still share His DNA and of course have memories of their life together on this earth. Doubtless they will also have a unique familial relationship. But all of that is because of the deeper, eternal foundation of the salvation He provided and in which they share by His grace alone.
We look now at the balance between the physical and spiritual family in the next section.
C. The Lord’s Interpretation (vv. 34-35)
Having qualified the assumption that physical family ought to be the priority—that He should stop what He is doing for the kingdom and plan of God because His family doesn’t like it—the Lord explains His point. Who are His siblings and mother? He looks around at the people sitting on the floor listening to Him, who have chosen to follow Him as Savior and submit to Him as Lord and learn from Him. These souls are His mother and brothers! They bear a spiritual, eternal bond that goes deeper than the physical—not only that, but they are not attempting to thwart His purposes, but are fulfilling them!
Why are these people more of His family than His own mother and brothers? Because they do “the will of God” (v. 35). Mary is a saved woman, but she is opposing God’s will by attempting to remove her Son from the ministry to which God has called Him. His brothers reject Him in unbelief. They cannot do the will of God. Jesus is saying that His true spiritual family, to whom His is responsible as a greater priority than His own earthly mother (!), is comprised of those men and women who love and obey His Father! He is making a point about the priority of the spiritual relationship over the physical, and also about the nature of those who comprise His true family.
The identifying mark of His true family in their knowing and doing the will of God! Jesus is not afraid, as many of us are, to emphasize obedience as necessary for salvation. In our day, we have so inherited a decisionistic, truncated, and quasi-Arminian view of salvation that we reduce salvation to conversion-justification, and have failed to see final rescue from Hell, acquittal at the judgment, and entrance into heaven—all of which are future, yet-to-be-received realities—as just as part of salvation as justification. Our Lord implies here what is spelled out elsewhere in the NT: Justification is by faith alone, because only faith can unite us to Christ so that His perfect righteousness becomes ours. Anything else is a false gospel. But salvation—a larger reality of which our justification and conversion are only one part—is not by faith alone.
Salvation—rescue from hell, acquittal at the judgment, entrance into the new earth in a glorious resurrected body—will not be achieved apart from perseverance in faith and holiness in this life. We do not merit anything—we cannot, for only the blood and righteousness of Christ are the acceptable ground of our salvation, and these perfect and complete gifts are received at the instant of true faith and are ours forever. But there is a pathway we walk to heaven. We enter the narrow gate, and that narrow gate places us onto a pathway, a pathway we must (and will!) stay on if we will enter heaven. The old Puritans used to distinguish between right and possession. Our right to heaven is received only by faith in the finished work of Christ. Only faith can unite us to Christ so He becomes our perfect imputed righteousness. Our right to heaven is the blood and righteousness of Christ, and nothing else.
At the final judgment of all people, where every person there will be guilty of capital crimes against the Creator God, only some will go free. Who are they? Only those who have been united to the Savior by faith alone, whose perfect blood and righteousness makes them acceptable to the Father. But what will be the evidence they trusted Him in this life and were so united to Him? The obedience they have done to the will of God, however imperfect or short! The verdict of “not guilty” we received at the instant of faith is publicly confirmed at the judgment, evidenced by the obedience that flowed from faith and was done by faith.
The Lord’s true family have nothing to fear at the judgment or anywhere else. Our glorification is conditional—on our faith and obedience—but it is infallibly, perfectly certain. Because we are united to the Savior, we have perfect and complete acquittal before God at the instant of faith. Moreover, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and a new nature so our lives change—demonstrating His saving power and enabling us to persevere—and we have the great blood-bought promise that the Lord God Himself will sustain our faith so that we keep believing and obeying Him. The call to obey the Lord then is not a thing finally to fear, but a wonderful testimony of the Lord’s covenantal, keeping power and conquering love.
Are you a part of the Lord’s family? Look to Him by faith and receive assurance that you will be joyfully welcomed on that final day!