I don’t know what your experience of family is.
Some people have the most wonderful family life. Others have proved all too painfully that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. In fact, maybe some of you feel that family is overrated.
When you get married, you find you’re part of two families, and that can make for even more fun. Join a church, and you’re in another family.
Jesus had a family as well, and today’s Bible reading tells of the time when they came to see him. That gave him the opportunity to talk about his family. And no matter how good or painful your experiences of family have been, I can assure you that there is nothing better than being in the family of Jesus.
It’s all tied up with how we respond to Jesus. The Bible reading came from the end of Matthew 12. Chapters 11 and 12 have been looking at the different ways people responded to Jesus. And now Matthew’s wrapping things up.
Last time, we looked at the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Their response was the wrong one. They rejected Jesus, asking for more evidence. They were happy to enjoy his miracles, but didn’t want him to be in charge. The trouble with doing that is that the pendulum swings back too far. Once you decide you don’t want Jesus in charge, you react against him. Even the gentle good influence he had gets rejected, and you end up in a worse place than you were before.
That’s the wrong reaction. Today, Matthew shows us the right reaction. It’s the contrast to last time, and the right reaction comes not from his family at all, but from his disciples.
We’re going to do two things this morning. First, we’re going to look at the right response to Jesus. If we want to be in his family, what response do we need to make? Then, second we’re going to look at the result – when we respond rightly to Jesus, where does that leave us?
Response: Follow him
First then, how does Jesus want us to respond to him?
To see that, let’s look at this really simple story. Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see Jesus. He is inside the house with the crowd; they are outside. That’s meant to shock us. Jesus is with his inner circle. And his family – his mother, and his brothers – are outside. They aren’t in the inner circle.
Instead, Jesus indicates who is. Verse 49: “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
There are two phrases in there that tell us what response Jesus is looking for. First, he wants us to be his disciples. An second, he wants us to do the will of his Father in heaven.
Both phrases are loaded by this point in Matthew’s gospel. We’re going to have to look back into earlier chapters to see the response Jesus is describing.
Let’s start with the second one: “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven”. We get this identical phrase in chapter 7, verse 21, so please come with me to chapter 7.
Verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
There have been times and cultures when being a follower of Jesus was the fashionable thing to do. When it’s the decent and proper thing to go to church. But choosing to be called a Christian does not get you into heaven. Baptism is a public statement that someone wishes to be known as a follower of Jesus, to identify with him. Being baptised does not get you into heaven. Some people do great things in the Christian cause – great service in the church, acts of kindness in society. Doing great deeds in the name of Jesus does not get you into heaven.
Only one thing does: Doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven”.
So what is that? Well, let’s read on in Matthew chapter 7. Verse 24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
We need to be those who “hear these words of mine and put them into practice”.
Jesus is the one God sent into the world to be his king, and to make himself known. Jesus is God’s representative on earth. Jesus’ claim here is nothing less than extraordinary. The way to be in God’s good books now involves one thing and one thing only: It’s to build your life on the words of Jesus. To hear what Jesus has to say, and to put it into practice.
To make that point, Jesus told a story. You need to choose carefully where you build your house. His story is extreme – on the foundation of solid rock, or on a sandy beach. But some of you know the problems of subsidence and shift. Someone I know had problems selling their house because it was built without proper foundations. The ground it was on was solid, but the builders hadn’t dug down and connected with the rock.
If your house is going to stay put you need some solid ground, and you need to actually build on that rock. Jesus’ says his teaching is like solid rock. Build your life on something else, and it won’t last. Give his teaching a polite nod, you’re still not anchored. But take the Lord Jesus, and build your whole life on him, and your life is on solid rock. You’ve done the one thing God asks of you. You’ve done the will of Jesus’ Father who is in heaven.
That was one way that Jesus described the response he was looking for in our reading. We need to be those who “do the will of his Father in heaven”.
The other was that we need to be his disciples. Disciples.
That’s also a loaded word by this point in Matthew’s gospel. He’s not saying that we need to be one of the 12 disciples: Peter, James, John and the others. We couldn’t do that if we wanted to. No, he’s referring back to the end of Matthew chapter 11. So please turn with me to Matthew 11, verse 28.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus invites the weary to come to him for rest. If you’re tired. Physically tired. Tired of living in a fallen, broken world. Tired of pain. Tired of sorrow. Tired of your own shortcomings. Tired – then Jesus is for you.
And here’s how we come: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Jesus invites us to come and learn from him. And the word “learn” is almost the same as the word for a “disciple”. A “disciple” is someone who has come to learn the art of living from Jesus.
Jesus didn’t invent the word “disciple”. People other than him had disciples. The nearest modern equivalent is the word “apprentice”. Apprenticeships are coming back into fashion. Spend a few years with someone who has mastered a trade. A master plumber, builder, electrician, washing machine engineer, dentist, nurse, mechanic. Observe them. Learn from them. Walk in their shoes. Follow in their steps.
That’s what a disciple does. Jesus calls us to learn from him. To do an apprenticeship with Jesus. To follow him. To go through life learning from his teaching, from his example, to walk in his footsteps.
There’s the response that Jesus calls for. The Jewish leaders of his day showed us the wrong response: Don’t sit on the sidelines, asking for more evidence. Don’t keep Jesus at arm’s length. His disciples show us the right response: We follow him. We are disciples, learners, basing our lives on the rock that is Jesus and his teaching.
Where does that get us? If the response is to follow him, what is the result? We become family.
Verse 48 of Matthew chapter 12: “‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to see him. We’re never told that Jesus had any sisters. But when Jesus signals to the group at his feet, he adds in “sisters”. The 12 disciples were all men, but the wider group of disciples and followers were clearly a mixed group of men and women. By following Jesus, by being his disciples, by doing the will of his Father in heaven, they become his brothers and sisters. They’ve become Jesus’ family.
Yet again, to understand this, we need to dive back earlier into Matthew’s gospel, to the end of chapter 5 and chapter 6. So come back with me to Matthew chapter 5.
We call Matthew chapters 5 to 7 the “Sermon on the Mount”. It’s where Jesus lays out what he came to do, and what it means to follow him. And within those chapters, those who follow Jesus are consistently told to relate to God as Father. He’s our heavenly Father, our father in heaven.
Let me show you that. It starts at chapter 5, verse 48. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
Then Jesus goes on to talk about our religion. How easily we become people-pleasers. How easily we do things like praying, giving or fasting to make ourselves look good before others. Matthew chapter 6, verse 1: “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus then applies this to giving. Verse 4: “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”. He applies this to fasting in the same way. But it’s prayer that gets the longest treatment. There’s verse 8: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
But most striking of all is verse 9. It’s the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s tragic – we almost miss the opening line. We skip over it because it’s just an introduction. We haven’t tuned in to the fact we’re praying the Lord’s Prayer until we get to line 3 or 4. But just look at how verse 9 starts: “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven”
I often go and see people who don’t know me personally; they just know I’m the vicar. “What should I call you?”, they want to know. “James,” I reply – that’s my name. When you go to see someone who’s actually important, never mind the vicar, you want to know, don’t you? How do I address the Queen. “Majesty”? “Your majesty”? “Ma’am”? Not “Lizzie”, that’s for sure. You go to MP’s surgery. “Hello, Mike!” – it feels wrong.
Then you get to go into God’s throne-room, to talk to the Living God, the maker of heaven and earth. How do you address him?
“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven”
Jesus says that’s the form of address to use. Call him “Father”. We have Jesus’ permission. And if anyone knows who’s entitled to call God “Father”, it’s him. Isn’t that just mind-blowing.
Chapter 6 goes on. Jesus doesn’t stop at prayer. Why is worry out of place for a follower of Jesus? Verse 26: Look at the birds. “Your heavenly Father feeds them.” He’ll look after his children, then, won’t he? And clothes and other daily needs? Verse 32: “The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
There’s a consistent picture in chapter 6. What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus, day to day. It means having the God of heaven and earth as your Father. He’s perfect, and you will start to have the family likeness. You live for his approval, not for that of people around you. You can speak to him as only his child could. You look to him to provide for your needs. You live for his priorities.
God is your Father.
Most of you probably haven’t heard of Tim Keller. He’s pastor of a large church in Manhattan. A couple of years back, he said this on Twitter: “The only person who dares to wake up a king at 3.00 am for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”
That is the privilege we get when we follow Jesus. We become family. God becomes our heavenly Father.
So what does that make Jesus? Well God is his Father, too. In fact, he’s the original Son of God. We have a word for how that relates him to us. It’s the word “brother”. Siblings at their best sees the younger ones look up to the older ones. “When I’m 9, I’m going to do that.” We have the ultimate older brother we can look up to. Jesus is our older brother. And the other Christians we know and worship with – they’re our brothers and sisters.
Welcome to the family! That’s what we just said in the baptism service, wasn’t it: “We are children of the same heavenly Father. We welcome you!”
I told you it doesn’t get better than being in the family of Jesus. But that’s the result for all who take on board his call to follow him. We become family.
In Jesus’ day, people responded to him in all kinds of ways.
It’s the same today.
Matthew’s nicely cued up chapter 13, that we’ll start to look at next week. Why is it that Jesus is so wonderful, but not everyone is queuing through the night to be his followers?
For today: Don’t make the wrong response. Don’t keep Jesus at arm’s length until you get the evidence to sweep you off your feet.
Become a follower of his. A disciple. A learner. Build your life on the rock that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And enjoy the unimaginable privilege of having God as your Father in heaven, and being a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus himself.