Do you have a warm, loving family? Or would you say yours is cold? More likely it is a mixed bag with varying levels of relationship from person to person in the family. Maybe there is a family member or two that you have a close relationship with, and perhaps there are one or two that are not so close. I suspect most families are like that.
Jesus’ family was like that too. Imagine with me for a moment what it must have been like to be in his family. For years family life is normal. Jesus is the older brother, working with his dad, Joseph, learning how to be a carpenter. As the years go by other brothers and sisters are born and grow up. At some point, Joseph passes away, we think, as there is no mention of him during Jesus’ adult years. Jesus, as eldest, could have taken on some authority, some responsibility for the family. Maybe a few of his younger siblings look up to him, and as with other families, maybe some didn’t. There was likely sibling rivalry just like my family and yours.
But somewhere in Jesus’ 30th year, news of a prophet reaches Nazareth, and in a few months everyone is talking about him. This prophetic guy, John the Baptizer, is acting and speaking a lot like the famous prophet of old, Elijah. What’s more, they’ve figured out through the family grapevine that John is their cousin. And so Jesus, the oldest brother of Mary’s clan, goes to check him out.
That’s when it all starts. Word gets back to Nazareth that not only does John baptize Jesus, like he does the hundreds of other people in the crowd, but John also says some crazy stuff about Jesus. That Jesus is the one John has been waiting for, that the whole nation has been waiting for. As if John’s ministry was always somehow focused on finding the One, and Jesus is the One. Imagine how Mary and the rest of her kids felt hearing that.
Old memories that Mary has stored deep in her heart start to surface. Memories of angels and shepherds and a miraculous pregnancy and birth and a manger in Bethlehem. Memories of ancient Simeon and Anna at the temple in Jerusalem. All proclaiming big news over this baby. Wealthy visitors from the east bearing gifts, saying they have followed a star guiding them to meet the new baby king. And then the fearful, hurried move to Egypt because a crazy adult king named Herod heard about this amazing news too, of the birth of a possible contender to the throne, and his way of dealing with it was to kill all the babies in the surrounding area. So Joseph and Mary grabbed Jesus and rushed to Egypt till they got the all clear that Herod was dead and gone. Those were heady, wild days. Days filled with emotion and drama and miracles.
Within a few years, the family moves back to their home in Nazareth. Life went back to normal, except for that one time when he was 12 and they lost him on the trip to Jerusalem. But that was almost 20 years before. So much time, so much normal time had gone by. Lots of regular life. All those wild events have faded into the distant background of normalcy.
Now this John has been baptizing, and a change comes over Jesus. He leaves, gets baptized. And then Jesus disappears for 40 days. Gone. No letters home, no word of his whereabouts. Imagine what is going through Mary’s heart and mind. The questions, the emotions, the stories from Bethlehem come flooding back.
A shift is happening.
Finally they hear that Jesus is alive and well. Imagine the huge relief within Mary as she hears this. Sadly news also tells of John thrown in prison. If you’re Mary that gets you teary as you remember your beloved cousin Elizabeth. If she were still alive, you think how she would feel, how scared. That Herod who put John in prison is just like his earlier relative from 30 years earlier, crazy, and more than willing to do shameful things. You think you should visit John.
But you are torn. John is in prison, which is sad, but news about your son is so heartening! And a bit startling. They say Jesus has started preaching and teaching which is strange enough, but he is also…get this…doing miracles. Miracles? Yes! Healing people of sickness and deformity. What? Yes, and more than that, he is reportedly casting out demons!
Imagine being Mary hearing this. Imagine the emotions.
Now imagine being the brothers and sisters. Where Mary’s eyes are wide and her heart is big, it would be very easy for the siblings to have eyes that are questioning, hearts doubting. Did they suspect anything like this? Were any of his behaviors, his tendencies, his habits at home in Nazareth pointing to this? Did they have any inkling? Or were they doubting? Their brother? A big name preacher?
As if in answer to the questions, the stream of news does not stop. In fact, it is sounding like Jesus has made his way back north, and is coming home to Nazareth. He does just that, but the homecoming is testy to say the least. Things are fine at their family home; maybe he even does a little carpentry, maybe helps the younger siblings learn some woodworking so they can take over. He’ll be gone for a while and someone needs to keep the business going. But when they go to the synagogue for worship on Sabbath, all hell breaks loose. It starts off well enough as Jesus, former woodworker, now traveling preaching, is asked to read to the scroll. It’s the Isaiah scroll, a passage describing the Messiah, the chosen one, the One God promised he would send to deliver the nation…and Jesus says this is fulfilled now. People start looking at each other. Eyebrows raised. Jesus? The carpenter? It sounds great. They all wanted the Messiah to come, but Jesus? Is he for real? Is the boy who grew up down the road saying he is the Messiah?
Jesus, sensing their doubt, lays into them a bit talking about God and his heart for the whole world and referring to some stories from the OT which proved his point. Those hometown people who were iffy, doubting, wondering how the local carpenter can all of a sudden become a preacher, are now angry at his insinuation of their disbelief. They, like pretty much all Jews, thought they were God’s chosen people, and the rest of world are pagans. For this supposed disrespect, Jesus’ neighbors get hot fast, and they round up a posse with aims to throw him off a cliff.
Imagine Mary now. Imagine the siblings. How did they feel now? In their family this would have been deeply topsy-turvey stuff. Stomach-churning. Do they fight against their own townspeople to defend their son/brother? They might agree with the townspeople. It sure seemed like he was being disrespectful to God’s chosen people. This is really odd behavior from Jesus. If someone else’s kid was doing what Jesus did, Mary and her other kids would probably agree with what the rest of the town was doing. But this was her son, their brother. What should they do?
Strangely, in the middle of the posse, on the edge of the cliff, Jesus walks away. The rowdy Nazarites calm down. No one was really sure why or how. He just walked away. Did he say goodbye to Mary? Give her a kiss? Hug his siblings?
Once again, he is gone. In the coming weeks and months, word continues to come back to Nazareth, to Mary, to his siblings, that he is doing miracles. The size of the crowds following him are growing. They’re saying they’ve never heard a teacher like him. The authority. The creativity. The parables. It is a message of grace and hope. His style, his message is not at all like they are used to hearing from the religious leaders, and from the Pharisees. And speaking of the Pharisees, the establishment guys from Jerusalem have taken notice. People tell Mary that the Pharisees are on to Jesus, following him everywhere, questioning him, confronting him. This is amazing and somewhat foreboding. Does Mary try to tell the rest of the siblings about the birth stories, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men? Would they even believe her?
Then to top it all off, they hear that Jesus rose a person from the dead! That is too much. Who could believe that?
How would you feel if you were Mary, if you were his brother or sister? Probably how anyone would feel. They would want to go see this with their very own eyes. They won’t believe it till they see it.
You need to go see him. You can’t just stay at home, hearing these stories constantly. Not with the way things were left last time you saw him. You have to go to him.
And so you go. It’s not a long trip. Just a neighboring town, accessible in a day’s walk. You pack for the day, get everyone set, and off you go across the dusty roads of Galilee.
As you arrive in the town, the place is simply buzzing. You’re amazed. Though you’ve heard the stories of the crowds, you were not prepared for this. The crowd is massive. This many people have come to hear your son? You have a mixture of pride and excitement and doubt and anticipation. The only time you’ve seen a crowd like this is for a festival in Jerusalem. More than the crowd, you can’t wait to see him, your son.
The whisper down the lane from the front is that he is in a house, telling stories. Something about a farmer throwing seeds. And people are a bit confused about why that is so important. You think about the farm near your house in Nazareth that Jesus did some carpentry work for.
You move forward, but you start to get frustrated because as you and your kids are worming your way through the crowd, slowly to the front, the bodies get tighter. People are less willing to let you through.
You just want to see him, hear him, give him a hug. But the crowd is totally jammed up now. There is no more moving forward. The people in front of you are starting to get upset that you’re trying to get closer. You’re not too far outside the house now, so that if the tall people in the crowd in front of you move just right you can catch a glimpse of him, and you can hear his voice. You catch a few words, and he is talking about lighting a lamp. And you think about the lamps you would light in your home.
You’re so excited that you tap on the shoulder of the person in front you. At first they say, “Knock if off lady” but you say “I am his mother, and these are his siblings.” A light comes over the man’s face, and he says to the person in front of him “his mother and brothers are here…” and now the whisper down the lane goes the other direction. Word quickly reaches him.
Silence. He stops talking.
He looks toward the door, the windows.
What he says next is shocking. You’re hoping for “Well, let them in!”
Or “What? Where are they? Let me through! I want to see them!”
Or “My mom’s here!”
But no. None of that. Instead he turns to the crowd and says words that pierce your heart: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.”
The pain feels icy cold.
He just turned you into a teaching moment.
If you’re Mary, did your heart just drop to your feet?
If you were his brothers and sisters, did you just get angry?
What would you feel? Join us tomorrow at Faith Church to hear more!