Unbelieving Family

Did you know that Jesus lived with unbelieving family members? We get a glimpse into this part of his life from John 7:1-9.

Jewish authorities wanted to kill Jesus. (John 7:1)

This was a difficult phase in the public ministry of Jesus, requiring him to be careful and wise in where he went and what he did. Why? Because the Jewish authorities were looking for an opportunity to kill him.

If he ventured into Judea, the southern region of Israel, the chances of him encountering hostile people increased dramatically. But in the northern Galilee region, farther away from Jerusalem, he enjoyed greater freedom.

What else do we know about Galilee? It’s where Jesus grew up, and the family homestead was there, in the town of Nazareth. So, while Jesus walked around this region, teaching, he apparently used his mothers’ home as his primary residence.

His brothers tempted him to go away. (John 7:2-5)

By staying at home, Jesus experienced a different kind of pressure. This was not the pressure of angry, scheming religious leaders. It was the pressure of immediate family. Do you know what this pressure is like? You see, the pressure of public rejection is one thing. It is not easy. It hurts. But there is another kind of pressure – private rejection, rejection by your own family. This kind of pressure can be more difficult to handle, because it comes from those whom you love most. And that’s what Jesus experienced on this occasion.

There is another kind of pressure – private rejection, rejection by your own family. This kind of pressure can be more difficult to handle.

Some debate whether Jesus had brothers.

Who questions this? The Catholic Church does. They teach the perpetual virginity of Mary, something that the Bible does not teach. The Bible teaches that Mary was a virgin until Jesus was born (Luke 1:34). But after Mary and Joseph consecrated Jesus in the Temple, according to Jewish law, they began normal husband and wife relations (Matthew 1:25). The result of this was that Jesus became half-brother to some brothers and sisters born after him.

If Jesus had brothers, then Mary did not remain a perpetual virgin. So how does the Catholic Church explain this clear reference to the brothers of Jesus? They translate the word brothers as cousins, a decision which has no basis in the meaning of the word. In addition, some unbelieving scholars identifies these brothers as sons of Joseph by a former marriage. This view has zero biblical basis.

Among other references, Mark 6:3 is the witness that Jesus had siblings:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?

According to these verses, Jesus had at least four brothers (James, Joses, Judah and Simon) and at least two (or more) sisters. So, this was at least a 7-child household.

His brothers pressured him with worldly wisdom.

While Jesus enjoyed the comforts of his parents’ home as the oldest child of his family, he also experienced difficult family pressure. And this is a pressure that many of us experience for ourselves. As he spent time at home with his brothers, they pressured him to follow worldly wisdom. They tried talking him into going down to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, which he declined in order to avoid a premature death. But his brothers failed to understand his reasoning.

Why did they not understand Jesus? Because they did not believe in him. This sad fact reminds me of the prophetic foreshadowing of Psalm 69:8, which says:

I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.

Think about this. Jesus was the oldest of at least seven children, but a half-brother. He lived this way for about 30 years. Furthermore, it was his birth that caused the general public to believe that he had been born out of immorality (John 8:41):

Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, “We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”

Jesus caused his siblings to live with this public misperception of their mother, and perhaps their father, having been immoral. Somewhere along the line, Joseph died, leaving Jesus to care for his mother and siblings. The result of these awkward circumstances was that none of his brothers or sisters believed in him as Messiah. They heard what he said and saw what he did more than anyone else, but they did not believe. How sad.

Nonetheless, they granted Jesus equal access to the family home. That’s what families do. But whenever he joined them, he did not enjoy the kind of deep, personal, spiritual fellowship that Christians share. Instead, he experienced the awkward pressure of misunderstanding, doubt and criticism, like we see in John 7:1-9.

Let me encourage you that rejection and pressure from unbelieving family is not an unusual thing. It is actually normal. After all, Jesus himself – who was perfect in every way – had his very own brothers and sisters reject his message. They did not believe in him.

Jesus himself – who was perfect in every way – had his very own brothers and sisters reject his message.

What can we learn from this shared experience of Jesus? We need to value the approval of God more than the approval of our family. This is very important. Consider what Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:37, which says:

He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Have you heard the common saying from the South, that “blood is thicker than water?” I heard the same thing in Southern Indiana from people with Kentucky roots. This perspective is not compatible with being a disciple of Jesus.

Carefully evaluate your position on this. Do you let family pressures keep you from coming to church? Do they discourage you from obeying clear biblical commands? Do they cause you to commit sins that dishonor Jesus? Do you make critical life choices out of pressure from unsaved relatives and extended family?

What was happening here? Jesus was retreating to Galilee and the family home to avoid a premature death. But his brothers pressured him to do otherwise. They advised him to go into Judea and make his presence known. Their reasoning like this:

  1. Go into Judea and do your miracles for everyone to see.
  2. Common sense says that if you want people to follow you, put yourself out in front of them.
  3. Promote yourself. If you don’t, nothing will happen.

Does this sound familiar? Here are three similar scenarios with which you may identify today:

Dominique, the High School Senior

Dominique is a Christian. He is graduating from high-school and receiving pressure from his guidance counselor, peer group and yes, even some of his family.

  • The pressure is to pick a career that will earn a large salary. But he firmly believes that God wants him to choose a different career path, one that does not promise a large salary and a prestigious role in society.
  • And the pressure is to pick a university or college that is respected by a secular world; but he firmly believes that God wants him to enroll in a Christian university. (Now God does lead some of his children to secular universities and into careers that earn a large salary or offer a prestigious role in society. This does not mean that he leads all of his children in the same way.)
  • Furthermore, the pressure is to choose a degree that receives public funding, through grants and scholarships. But Dominique firmly believes that God wants him to choose a particular degree that will require him to work and pray in order to pay the bills, without the benefit of public funding, because the available funding doesn’t apply to the degree he firmly believes is the will of God.

Do you understand this dilemma?

Melissa, the Communication Major

Melissa is a Christian. She is a junior in college, a communications major and a minor in special education. She is receiving pressure from her peer group, her professors and even her family to be aggressive in her social life. They are pressuring her to accept invitations for dates from male students. Everyone else is doing it.

But she firmly believes that God will introduce her to her future life mate in a better way that doesn’t involve a smorgasbord of miniature romantic encounters. Furthermore, she believes that dating around will divert her time and distract her mental focus from achieving academic and professional excellence to the glory of God. Do you understand this pressure?

Jeremy, the Professional Family Man

Jeremy is a Christian. He is married and enjoys a successful professional career in marketing. But he is receiving pressure from co-workers, peers, supervisors and even close family to be more aggressive in “climbing the corporate ladder.” He maintains a LinkedIn page and builds friendly relationships with his supervisors, but he conscientiously declines to ask for promotions or float his name around the office when vacancies arise. Those who know him find this to be unusual, backward and unwise. But he firmly believes that a Christian should not promote himself, preferring to let the Lord do the promoting in his life. Can you empathize with Jeremy?

These three scenarios that I have described are just three of many scenarios in which believers face pressure from unbelieving relatives, friends and peers. Why? Because the world has a way of doing things that seems – to them – entirely wise. But following Jesus leads you in a different direction.

James 3:13-18 describes two different kinds of wisdom, two different ways of carrying out life. The wisdom of this world is self-assertive, aggressive and opportunistic. But the wisdom of God is the opposite. It is peaceful, patient, humble and content.

  • The world says – promote yourself! Jesus says – humble yourself.
  • The world says – be aggressive! Jesus says – be patient.

So, this is what Jesus experienced when he spent time with family. Does this resemble your experience? Take heart, because Jesus understands your difficulty. He experienced the same thing. And how did he respond?

He patiently followed God’s will. (John 7:6-8)

His brothers pressured him to follow standard, worldly advice, but he did not waver. He remained committed and submitted to the will of God. Do you? Consider what these encouraging verses say.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. (Psalm 27:14)

Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. (Psalm 37:7 NKJV)

He understood his mission. (John 7:6)

He knew what he was here to do. He was here to go to the cross for our sins. He knew what he had to do and when he had to do it. And that’s why he said, “It is not the right time for me to go to Jerusalem.” And he knew that if he went immediately and aggressively promoted himself, as his brothers advised, that he would be blazing his own trail, not doing the will of God.

Are you confident that you are doing the will of God? Have you spent time studying what the Bible teaches about your life and the decision you are facing? Have you genuinely talked with him about it? And if you are a young person, have you genuinely considered the wisdom that you can learn from your parents? If not, then how can anyone be clear that you are doing God’s will? In fact, the chances are high that you are making choices as a result of other pressures, like unsaved relatives, peers and co-workers.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

As Paul instructs all of us, offer your entire life to God. This is more than a nice option; it is the only right thing to do. And don’t follow a default pathway that mimics prevailing approach of the unbelieving world. Instead, let the Word of God transform the way you think and make decisions. And then you will discover the will of God.

Former President Woodrow Wilson said, “All things come to him who waits – provided he knows what he is waiting for.” He was right.

“All things come to him who waits – provided he knows what he is waiting for.” (President Woodrow Wilson)

He said unpopular things. (John 7:7)

Here Jesus says that the world hated him. This means that people in the world increasingly detested him or strongly disliked him. It means “they spit at him in their hearts.”

Are you okay with this? Are you willing to be strongly disliked, as Jesus was?

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

You will experience this in academic institutions. You will experience this on the job. You will experience this in the general public. And you will experience this in your families also.

Like Jesus, do not let this disapproval alter the decisions you make. And do not let it change the words you speak. Say what is true, though certainly in a loving way and at the right time. You need God’s wisdom to do this. But do not be silent. At the right time, in the right way, God will give you the words. And the test for whether you said the right thing or not is not whether people like you or like what you said. You can say the right thing in the right way at the right time, and people will still dislike you.

You can say the right thing in the right way at the right time, and people will still dislike you.

He went to Jerusalem eventually. (v.8)

Notice the key word in this verse – “I am not yet going up to the feast.” Why do I point this out? Because you will notice in later verses that Jesus did go up to the feast, just not yet. He waited a little longer. He waited for the large group of his family to leave first, then he went there afterward more quietly. If he had traveled with his family, to celebrate the feast with them, he would been noticed more easily. But he was not trying to be noticed – in fact, quite the opposite was the case. So, he watched them go on ahead. Then later, he traveled there himself.

The Scotch-American preacher, Peter Marshall, said, “Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.”

“Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.” (Peter Marshall)

Do you agree?

Being a patient, humble disciple of Jesus does not mean that you will float through life like an ascetic monk, letting life happen to you, doing nothing, saying nothing, going nowhere, isolating yourself from society, doing nothing for God. But what it does mean is that you may end up waiting longer for things, suffering a little bit more through things and getting overlooked. You may not become famous, and you may not make it to the top of things. But you will say things. You will do things. And you will go places for God. Wait on God. Then go where he tells you to go and do what he tells you to do – on his timetable, not yours or the world’s.

He waited for the right time.

That’s the key. Jesus waited for the right time.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Andrew Murray provides us with this very helpful perspective about waiting on God for his timing in things: “if any are inclined to despond, because they do not have such patience, let them be of good courage. It is in the course of our feeble and very imperfect waiting that God Himself, by His hidden power, strengthens us and works out in us the patience of the great saints, the patience of Christ Himself.”

And that is what we need, isn’t it? The patience of Christ himself. And the truth about Jesus encourages us that this is possible. Jesus is God. Jesus is our Savior. He stands in our place, and he patiently worked out God’s plan to redeem us from our sins. And if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you can trust in Jesus Christ to give you his patience and a knowledge of his will for your life that you can definitely and resolutely accomplish, in his time. And to do this, you will need to join Jesus in turning away the pressure of brothers and sisters, family and friends who do not believe in Jesus.

Justin Farley, a Christian businessman today, wrote this poem. He calls it PatienceA Poem about Waiting and Trusting in God’s Timing. (You can view the original webapage here).

 

     The agony of waiting, watching the hours

Drains my power and leaves me bitter

Filled with battered pride and endless angst.

But just as it takes a season to cultivate a flower,

I must keep a steadfast heart and wait.

     My deepest failure is relying on my own two hands

To control, conquer, defend, and prevent defeat.

For when I am solely responsible for the success of all life’s plans,

My heart lies anxious constantly, consciously looking

To deter life’s inevitable outcomes with each and every beat.

     It is in waiting, humbly praying, admitting

That you and you alone know the matter of my fate,

That my anxious and impatient heart can rest

Trusting you know what’s best and patiently, pridelessly wait.

 

In conclusion, take a look at the encouraging outcome of Jesus’ consistent testimony of waiting on God and obeying the will of God before his unbelieving brothers and sisters. What do you notice in Acts 1:14, weeks after Jesus died, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven?

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

Did you catch that? After the resurrection of Jesus, sometime after that, the patient testimony of Jesus paid off. His brothers and sisters also believed and joined with the disciples to pray for the Holy Spirit to enable them to be witnesses for Jesus in the world!

In fact, two of his brothers – James and Judas – became notable leaders in the first-century church. One Christian author summarizes their testimonies this way:

James, probably the oldest of Jesus’ brothers, made the decision at the Jerusalem Council that Gentile Christians did not have to obey ancient Jewish laws. He may have lived an ascetic life and was reported to have spent so much time in prayer that his knees “were like those of a camel.” Jewish historian Josephus reported that Jewish leaders stoned James to death. Eusebius said he was thrown from the top of the temple and beaten to death with a club. It is unclear whether this James or another wrote the epistle bearing his name.

Jude’s letter of warning about impostors who had infiltrated the church suggests that he, too, became a respected church leader and perhaps a traveling missionary who saw such problems firsthand.

Let this encourage you. Patiently wait and obediently follow the will of God for your life according to the Word of God. Don’t let unbelieving family pressure affect your decisions.

Also, don’t take personal blame for the unbelief of your relatives. Let your testimony speak for itself. And over time, look forward to the potential for what God can do. Perhaps in your life, or perhaps after your death, they will come to believe on Jesus for themselves and make a difference for God in this world!

 

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