Faith, family & following Jesus
Jesus challenges those following him about the need to make a response to his message. That will depend on how people listen. Christians have two families which can bring conflict, as it did for Jesus.
Jesus challenges those following him about the need to make a response to his message. That will depend on how people listen. Christians have two families which can bring conflict, as it did for Jesus.
Hello and welcome to Series 5, Episode 13, which is entitled ‘Faith, Family and Following Jesus.’ Our main text is Luke 8: 16 - 21, and we'll be referring to parallel texts in Matthew and Mark as well as we go along.
Introduction and Recap
This particular episode follows on immediately after the seven parables about the growth of the Kingdom that Jesus taught his disciples and the large crowd gathered by the lakeside at the Sea of Galilee and these are recorded fully in Matthew 13, which we've been studying for the last few episodes.The parallel account in Luke, here in chapter 8, describes one of those main parables (the Parable of the Sower) but doesn't give us all the other parables in that discourse, or body of teaching so we've focused on Matthew's account. As we go through the Gospels in the life of Jesus, we focus on the Gospel account that gives us the fullest explanation, or the most detail, in any part of Jesus' life - the events of his life or his teaching. We've been in Matthew 13 because it focuses on those parables very closely. Those parables are set in a wider context, which is the second tour of Galilee that Jesus undertook with his disciples. He's got twelve Apostles with him and other disciples - men and women - travelling with him. Luke 8: 1 - 3, tell us a little bit about the female disciples who were assisting as well. In that second tour, there are many miracles; there are many remarkable events and there's also a major confrontation with the Pharisees described in Matthew 12 - which we've referred back to on many occasions - in which Jesus was denounced formally by the Pharisees, probably for the first time, as a false messiah who operated under the power of demonic force rather than under the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
The second tour of Galilee is quite complex, a lot of complex things are happening: Jesus is building his discipleship community, he's very consciously training the Apostles; Series 4 described another formative part of Jesus' work which was the Sermon on the Mount trying to create the right context of the principles of the Kingdom, and of ethics and spiritual life for his disciples. There's a lot at stake at this particular time: Jesus is forming the discipleship community; preaching about the Kingdom; facing significant opposition and facing confused crowds, who are not sure which way to go because their religious leaders are beginning to speak very decisively against Jesus; and yet many of them are very attracted to his ministry for all sorts of obvious reasons: his miracles, his grace, his love, the Gospel of the Kingdom and their hope that he will be the Messiah. It's a complicated period of time and what happens in today's episode are some teachings of Jesus that take place, according to Luke whose chronology we're following, immediately after the parables about the growth of the Kingdom.
Before we get to those, let me remind you that when Jesus is talking about the growth of the Kingdom, some of the things he emphasises are the fact that the Kingdom has arrived now but it's going to be growing steadily towards his Second Coming - his return to the earth - which is a very major theme and comes out clearly in two of those parables: the Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net. He emphasises the power of the message, which he describes as a seed. He emphasises that there is a counter-force in the world today, the force of evil power, spiritual evil, which is going to be resisting the Kingdom and is going to be growing alongside the Kingdom of God. He also emphasises the incredible value of the Kingdom message and the need to give everything we have in order to get into the Kingdom of God (those are the Parables of the Treasure in the field and the Pearl of Great Price). There's some very important themes that he's been talking about and all those are being considered and reflected upon by the disciples and by the crowd. At the beginning of Matthew's account in chapter 13, it tells us that a large crowd was listening in but Jesus is not just aiming at them, he's aiming at his immediate disciples - to try and train them and get them prepared to understand his purposes and the way that the Kingdom was going to grow in subsequent times.
That's the background that we have in mind and, having just listened to these seven parables and tried to work out their meaning and significance, the disciples and the crowds are faced with some very clear teaching by Jesus, in this next passage, concerning their response to everything that they have heard. So much about the Christian message is about our response - how are we going to respond? - and that's the key question that's being addressed here. We're going to read, first of all, Luke 8: 16 - 18, the first part of the reading in this episode:
‘16“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”’Luke 8:16-18, NIV
Jesus' teaching here is likened to a lamp, a lamp that lights a house. This, of course, is a reference to society with no electricity where oil lamps, or something similar, are the way that people see during the hours of darkness and in the night-time.
‘“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed... they put it on a stand, so that (everyone) can see the light.”’Luke 8:16, NIV
That's exactly what Jesus has done - he's, as it were, lit a lamp. He's basically said, “Here's the Kingdom! Here's the message: I'm the Messiah, come!” He's calling people to believe and he's making it clear that the significance of believing is great; our response to Jesus Christ determines everything, and a casual or hostile response is very dangerous. Jesus makes this point time and time again. The light of Jesus' message, like the light of a lamp, exposes darkness and so he goes on to say that some things that are hidden will be disclosed. This is a reference, ultimately, to God's power to judge humanity. God the Father knows everything about us and Jesus is appointed, by God the Father, as the final judge in the end times - ‘at the end of the age to’ use Jesus' own expression - and he knows everything about us. Every single person reading this message is known by God, everything in your life is known by him and he can reveal it on the Day of Judgement and the darkness within us can be exposed. That's why responding to Christ is such an important issue and our response needs to be right now, when we hear the message, perhaps for the first time.
Verse 18 is the critical thing: ‘“Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”’ This is an important message for the modern age. In the modern age, we have a massive amount of communication coming to us digitally and, in our whole lives. We have a huge amount of information available to us as we go from place to place. In any part of the world, there is a great deal of information available about all sorts of different things in life. We are an information-rich society; the more developed societies have a massive amount of information easily accessible, via the Internet, more or less at any time of day or night. We also have messaging, through social media, and we have people trying to communicate with us from all over the world in all sorts of different ways: marketing, advertising, and more sinister things, are available online - a great amount of information about news and stories from all the way around the world. So listening, hearing, receiving information, is something that we do all the time and we do it on an enormous scale - there's just a vast amount of information to digest. In those days, there wasn't so much information to consider; it wasn't so complex in that sense; you only knew a few things. What matters is not how much information was coming your way, but how do you listen? How do you listen to the message of Jesus? This is a more subtle question. It's a question we understand, from our own experience, when we consider interpersonal relationships - not the vast amount of information out there which just goes through our mind, quickly, all the time of the day and night - but how we listen to people in interpersonal, close relationships. That is something that we all know can be very complex and challenging and we can make lots of mistakes. Things can go wrong: relationships can break down; and misunderstanding can develop.
Jesus is encouraging us to learn from our experience of dealing with information coming to us, and to ask a very reflective and important question. How will you listen? How deeply are you thinking about the issues that are being presented to you? If we go back to Matthew 13 and the seven parables that we've been studying in recent episodes, my question to you - assuming that you've studied those episodes with us, or that you're familiar with those texts in Matthew 13 - my question would be: how did you listen? In what way did you listen? Was it as an observer, or was it as a participant? That's the point Jesus is making here. He's essentially saying, “Whether you like it or not, you're a participant in this drama of the Kingdom of God.” Something is coming to you now - a message is coming to you - that demands your response, and if you don't respond you're still a participant in the story. You can't just walk away and say, “Well that's just a religious story of no significance.” No, this is the Kingdom of God coming. Jesus is the King; he's going to return to this earth; he's seeking disciples and followers; he's offering salvation; he's offering forgiveness to people all over the world in every nation, every language, and we have a choice. Are we going to listen and are we going to respond? Are we going to understand the significance of the things that are being said? That applies to those parables in Matthew 13, which is the immediate context of this particular saying but it applies to the whole message of Jesus. Jesus' concern was that, as he travelled around on this second tour of Galilee, some people weren't listening. They had closed their minds; they'd formed a prejudiced view of him; and they were following the religious leaders who'd closed their minds, too, and made a very determined statement (as recorded in Matthew 12: 24) that Jesus was a false messiah, operating by the power of the prince of demons and not by the Spirit of God. How are we listening? We have to be very open. We have to be vulnerable. We have to lay aside our prejudices when we come to the message of Jesus. Jesus is encouraging us to listen carefully, to listen with our hearts, and to be aware that if we reject his message, or just simply choose to ignore it, there will be consequences.
The second part of our passage today is a very short account of something very personal to Jesus. This is about his family. we're going to read Luke 8:19 - 21:
‘19Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.”’Luke 8:19-21, NIV
There's a lot of drama behind these very brief statements. There's a lot of personal family history here that we need to talk about a little. We need to go back in the story in order to understand what's going on here. We know, from the beginning of the story, that Jesus is the firstborn son of Mary - uniquely born by virgin birth. She married Joseph and we know that she had four other sons that are named in the Gospels. Mark 6: 3, names four brothers and describes Jesus as also having sisters - but not giving us their names and not giving us the number of sisters. The four brothers are James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. Those are the brothers who are in mind here in Luke 8: 19, and if they all came, that means Mary came with four sons - four out of her five sons - to find the fifth son. How many sisters did Jesus have? We don't know, but what we do know is that it's quite a large family and we do know that Jesus is the firstborn. What we notice here, also, is there's no reference to Jesus' stepfather, Joseph. He may be at home, of course, but it's interesting that all the way through the Gospel accounts beyond the nativity and Jesus going up to the Temple when he was about 12 or 13 years old, from that time onwards there's no further reference to Joseph, his stepfather. The assumption we might make, reasonably, is that maybe he's died. We can't be sure about that but he doesn't feature in the story, whereas Mary features all the way through and Jesus' brothers feature on a number of occasions. His sisters are mentioned just in passing.
They've had some difficult experiences to go through because the family depended on Jesus, as the oldest son, to take forward the family business in carpentry and building and, quite suddenly (as we discussed in earlier episodes) Jesus left the family home in Nazareth in Galilee, went to the River Jordan much further south, was baptised by John the Baptist, went into the wilderness, came back to Galilee - but did not come back to his home. Effectively, he just left home at that point, at the age of about 30 - a single man leaving home. The next thing they knew, he had set up his own home in someone else's house as part of a new team of followers in the fishing town of Capernaum, some distance away from Nazareth. They knew he'd become astonishingly famous overnight! He was a preacher; he was a healer; he was a teacher; he was travelling round the country; people were flocking - thousands and thousands of people flocking - to see him. How would the family respond to this? They'd lost their son. They'd lost their brother. We know he came back to Nazareth once or twice but he never came back to live there again. He'd left the family home; he'd left the family business; he'd left family responsibilities; and he was conducting his public ministry. We have to think about this story from the point of view of Jesus' mother and brothers. We can assume, from all the available evidence, that his brothers did not believe that he was anyone special at this particular time - did not believe he was the Messiah, the Son of God. We know that Mary did believe that, profoundly, from the very beginning when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and she accepted her role. The family was not united around that conviction and Mary still, as a mother, would be concerned for her son, concerned for his well-being. Not only has Jesus left home - left the family business - he's also chosen not to get married - which is a challenge to the social customs of the day - and he was in his early 30's by this time. Most people by then would have been married for many years. It's a complicated dynamic for the family to negotiate. They're deeply worried for him.
Mark 3: 21 (we're not recounting this event but just drawing it into this context) describes the fact that they thought - his brothers particularly - that he was out of his mind and they wanted to take him home, get him out of the limelight. One of the reasons why they might have thought that is that they would have heard about the denunciation of Jesus by the religious leaders and they'd be really worried and thinking, “Jesus is now really getting into trouble and that's going to get us into trouble and it could risk his life.” There were real concerns there. His brothers were still unbelieving. We have evidence, later on, that his brothers became believers in Jesus but only at the very end of his life and partly in relation to his resurrection from the dead. We'll come to discuss that on another occasion.
Jesus, when he noticed that his family was waiting for him and he was told that, replied, ‘“My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.”’ He makes a very challenging statement here. He's basically saying there are two types of family relationships: there's our biological extended family and immediate family, and there's also our spiritual family. He is saying that he is forming a new family based on his message, which is going to become the Church community in times to come, where people will call each other brothers and sisters in the same way that we describe our biological family as brothers, sisters, mother, father, et cetera. This is very challenging and it almost looks rude to his mother and his brothers that he doesn't make a direct effort to see them and, perhaps, to go home with them or take some time of rest with them. He is using this opportunity to make a very important point about the Kingdom that he is building.
With all these things in mind, these two teachings, I'm now going to spend a moment reflecting and thinking, what can we learn? You may already have picked things up and think that they're relevant to you, that's good. Let's summarise some of our learning points.
Going back to the earlier section - Luke 8: 18, ‘“Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”’ It really is important to listen to the message of Jesus with humility and with openness. This is revelation; this is insight. This is something you couldn't know from your own learning or imagination. We need to have revelation from God about Jesus Christ and that revelation comes primarily to us through the Bible, which describes the life of Jesus in a full, complete and reliable way - no other book does that - and we need to listen to his message and listen to his words openly and humbly. There are two implications for this. Number one, if we are not yet believers in Jesus (not yet born again, not yet his followers) that openness and that humility leads us to repentance and faith and to becoming disciples and followers of Jesus. For some people reading this, you will know that is your situation and that is your choice. Jesus had such people in mind, very clearly, during the teaching of the parables that we have looked at in Matthew 13. If you're in that category and you think, “Yes, that's me,” can I just remind you again that Jesus said in Matthew 13: 44 - 46,
‘44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”’Matthew 13:44-46, NIV
Jesus is saying there, as I explained more fully in the episode earlier, that we have to make a radical decision to take hold of this treasure, or this great pearl of great price. Listening openly and humbly to the message of Jesus will involve some of us in making radical decisions to follow Jesus Christ, to choose to believe, to confess his name and to turn away from a futile life without him - living independently of him. That's one of the implications of listening to Jesus' message openly and humbly. The second one is: if you are a believer, to make discipleship your priority: following Jesus; following through on your faith; and being someone of total commitment. For example, with the Parable of the Sower, being committed to sowing the seed, sharing the faith, in any way that you can meaningfully do so. That's one reflection I want to make on the first part of our passage (Luke 8:16 - 18)
Thinking a little about the second part, Luke 8: 19 - 21 talking about Jesus' mother and his brothers. There are some important reflections here. As I've already said, Christians belong to two families and we all have to work out how those two families relate together: our natural, biological, extended family and our supernatural, spirit-led, Christian, extended family - the Church. We have brothers and sisters in both contexts. We have family members in both contexts but there's a creative tension and, for many people following this, you will know and you'll feel that tension. You'll know the difficulties. You'll know, if you're in a marriage where one person is committed to following Christ and another one isn't, or is lukewarm, or unclear, or has some other priorities or problems in their lives relating to it - then there's a huge amount of tension there. You'll know that tension between parents and children; you'll know that tension over attendance at church and identification with Jesus Christ. One thing that encourages us in this, is that Jesus himself experienced this tension; he was genuinely misunderstood and misrepresented, even by his own biological brothers, at this point in his ministry. We should take encouragement from that. This tension can be very extreme: we'll be disowned by our families - a few people following this talk will identify the fact that they've been disowned. Sometimes that tension is a pressure to conform. Or maybe there's a disapproval or a distance of family members from you because you have adopted the Christian faith. Whatever you experience, whether it's extreme or mild, can I just say to you, take courage from this passage. Take courage from knowing that Jesus experienced that too. Take courage from knowing that you have the Christian family, the church family, who are your brothers and sisters. Take courage from the fact that your first priority is to follow Jesus Christ. He sought to honour his family at all times and so should we; that's what we should do to the best of our ability without compromising our faith in Jesus Christ and you know that takes wisdom, and sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made and you'll need, perhaps, to seek spiritual counsel and advice from Christians or church leaders who you respect in order to know: “How do I make this balance in my life?” Our ultimate priority is to serve Jesus Christ.
Let's conclude by reading from Matthew 12: 48 - 50, where Jesus extends this teaching from the version given in Luke 8. Matthew 12: 48,
‘48He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”’Matthew 12:48-50, NIV
Ultimately, in eternity, the enduring relationships are the relationships in the Church, the body of Christ of believers, and we must invest in those relationships and give them their appropriate priority. Thanks for reading.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- Jesus has been teaching his disciples as he builds the community that will become the church. How do you respond to all that you have heard of his teaching?
- How do you get the correct balance between honouring your spiritual and biological families? How can you honour them both?
- What is the difference between hearing and listening?