A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)
A Prophet is not without honor, except in his own country and his own house.Jesus, Matthew 13:57
The preachers say that Jesus will mend our broken homes and strengthen family ties. Jesus says otherwise. Here is his word:"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:34-38)
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)
"There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my name's sake, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this time ... and in the age to come eternal life." (Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:39-30)
"Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."(Matthew 10:21-22)
"You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake." (Luke 21:16,17)These utterances are simple. It is difficult to misunderstand them, as they do not include exceptions or qualifications and there are no contrary utterances. When one searches the gospels in quest of words that place top priority on the maintenance and healing of family relationships, the quest is vain. One finds instead that family ties are inimical to discipleship. One's closest relatives can be expected to react with hostility to the word. Yes, with severe hostility that may result in the death of the disciple. Jesus foretold this when he said, "Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death." Therefore, all who would become disciples must decide beforehand to deny, and yes, to "hate" (I use Jesus' word), the close relatives. It is a condition of discipleship.
Jesus saw no end to this state of things, even to the end of the world. It was to be so in the experience of his first and immediate disciples (and it was), and it is to be thus in the last days. The world is then not subject to change in this regard. From the beginning to the end, it makes enemies of a disciple's closest relatives.
Jesus understood that one's family is normally one's first love, so he met this competition head on with the assertion that "he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37) Everyone must therefore pay a heavy price to become a disciple, and he reckoned it as such in the following utterances:"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish." Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So, therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:28-33)I have heard some assert that this applies only to the original twelve apostles, but they err. We only need to examine the context to determine that he addressed the above words to "great multitudes," and that he began by saying, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate . . . his own father, . . . he cannot be my disciple."
Are you now going to say that the words, "If anyone . . . , " addressed to "great multitudes," applies only to twelve disciples? Of course it applied to them, but only as the earliest of a continuing succession. See how James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were in their boat mending their nets when Jesus called them. "They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him." (Mark 1:20) Later, when he said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, Peter responded, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?"
Jesus answered,"Truly I say to you, in the new age, when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:28-29)So the twelve, who left everything to follow Jesus, will have a regal reward in the new age. All others who have participated in a similar forsaking also will receive wondrous rewards. We have then a general teaching of universal application allowing no exceptions!
Jesus said that he had come to send – not peace, but a sword, and he immediately applied the sword to the family unit, with the words,
"For I have come to set a man against his father; and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:35,36)The family unit is where it begins, and it begins there for all who follow him in Truth. Anyone who would qualify for discipleship must endure a very difficult situation. Such a person has made enemies of those of his or her household – yet without losing one whit of affection for them. One must reckon with this at the start, while "counting the cost." Otherwise, after having made a good beginning, one may fall away for lack of endurance. Jesus has assured us that what we stand to gain is much greater than anything we might lose. He has promised us "a hundredfold" in this age, and in the age to come, "eternal life." When making such promises, Jesus accepts and caters to our highest self interest. It will cost you – oh how it will cost you – and so you will be wise to reckon the cost beforehand. But consider also the promise of reward – here, in this time, a hundredfold! That is only the beginning, for in the age to come one receives . . . eternal life!
So we have this dual promise: the hundredfold, and eternal life. Jesus cannot accept anyone into discipleship who does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters. Therefore it is correct to conclude that his promises to his disciples are only to those who conform to this utterance. Apart from this there is no promise of salvation and eternal life, or of the hundredfold.
What is the significance of the hundredfold promise? I have asked the question only to answer it with the assertion: "Jesus meant exactly what he said!" The words are simple and require no clarification. Look, for example, at Matthew's version:"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or Father of mother or children or lands, or my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."(Matthew 19:29)Now consider Luke's rendition:"There is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18:29:30)Finally, compare these with Mark's version:"There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." (Mark 10:29,30)Mark includes something the others omitted – that the hundredfold promise comes with persecutions. He also details the promise completely, applying it to every family member forsaken, except two – the spouse and the father. There were very important reasons for these omissions, which I will discuss later in separate chapters devoted to each.
We are, at this point, in need of some enlightenment about how the hundredfold promise is to be realized as a practical matter. This Jesus provides in association with an incident that involves his particular relatives and the definition of his relatives. I will include it in the consideration of his personal example regarding family ties. To this I now turn.
Jesus' unusual conduct and the resulting great uproar among the people troubled Mary. She went to see him, accompanied by his unbelieving brothers. When they found him he was in the midst of a crowd that pressed so tightly they could not get to him. They conveyed a message through the crowd to him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." (Matthew 12:47)
"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"
Then, stretching out his hands toward 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." (Matthew 12:49-50)These words radically redefined his personal family relationships. He did not intend this to be a definition of "spiritual" relatives as distinguished from physical ones. The newly defined relationships displaced the ones that Mary and his siblings represented. The circumstances make his intent clear. Mary is not necessarily his mother, and her sons are not necessarily his brothers. His only family, consisting specifically of brothers, sisters, and mother, was related to him by the single common bond of doing the will of his Father in heaven. He did not affirm carnal relationships. He also taught elsewhere, saying,
"The flesh profits nothing." (John 6:63)
Now we have new insight into his meaning. If the flesh profits nothing, then those relationships arising out of it are nothing!
Please remember now and always that when Jesus spoke, he uttered not his words but the words of God that he heard from his Father in heaven. Therefore this definition of his relatives is of God. It was uttered from the perspective of eternity by him through whose word the world and all things in it have their being. Those relationships that men commonly acknowledge among themselves have no existence before God – except as obstructions to realizing the true and genuine relationships.
He denied that these physical relationships are what we think, yet he acknowledged them as serving the function of reproduction. Speaking elsewhere to the Jews on the subject of fatherhood, he said, "I know that you are Abrahams seed (Greek, sperma)." (John 8:37) Mary gave birth to him, but that did not make her his mother. Neither were her other children his brothers and sisters. His radical redefinition of these terms, given as it is from the perspective of eternity, reveals the Truth as it has been "from the beginning."
It is not difficult to see how our worldly view came about. Men and women are created in the likeness of God. Therefore they have places in the heart of each individual that can be occupied only by interdependent relationships characterized by mutual love and acceptance. This constitutes a need that must be satisfied. Since we are at heart and in essence spiritual beings, these places can be truly satisfied only by spiritual relationships to which the world is blind. Therefore we have sought to satisfy this need by the invention of counterfeit substitutes based on carnal associations. These counterfeit relatives are continually failing us in that they can never satisfy our inner, eternal needs nor can they fill the empty spaces in our hearts. Those spaces have the shape and size of eternity and the temporal things never fit.
Progenitors, siblings, and progeny serve vital functions and are obviously essential, but one commits a great evil by admitting them to the spiritual inner sanctum. Consequently, Jesus totally rejected Mary as his mother, and his siblings as brothers and sisters. She and her other offspring did not by nature belong in those relationships, where they were counterfeit pretenders. He acknowledged only his genuine mother, brothers, and sisters – those related to him by a common inner spiritual disposition. They are the ones who heard the word of God and did it and thus showed that they were his true relatives.
It is not possible to acknowledge both types of relationships and hold them side by side. The nature of things is such that they simply will not fit together in that way. Therefore, if we are ever to realize the genuine we must divest ourselves of the spurious, and so Jesus said:"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters . . . He cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)This incident redefined his true relatives. It also exemplified what he means by hating one's own mother and brothers, for that is what he did that day. Now we can understand what he meant by his "hundredfold" promise. Our genuine relatives are all who hear the Word of God and do it. Therefore whoever forsakes the counterfeit stands to receive a hundredfold of the genuine. Jesus absolutely rejected those relationships commonly associated with the earthly progenitors, and replaced them with other relationships arising from a shared association with the Father in heaven. We establish this by the reception of the words of the Father that Jesus uttered. He gave these relationships the same names as those associated with the earthly relatives. It is his intent to replace the latter with the former in the hearts and minds of his disciples, just as he did for himself. He does not merely amend the old relationships with new ones. His intent is to dispose of the old entirely by displacing them with the new!
Perhaps you are objecting at this point, as many do, and saying, "Surely not! Jesus referred only to special cases where mothers, brothers, and sisters oppose us because we have become his disciples." Consider this position on its merits. It hinges on a certain sequence of events: first, one becomes a disciple, then one's relatives oppose the discipleship. Finally, one has to disavow ones relatives because of their opposition. How does this sequence correspond to the words of Jesus already quoted?"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)A similar scrutiny of this utterance shows the following sequence of events: first, one hates ones' relatives, and then one becomes a disciple. This position contradicts Jesus. Far from being a consequence of discipleship, the hatred of these relationships is a condition of discipleship! No amount of equivocation can make the Word mean other than it unequivocally does: the hatred comes first, as a qualification. Later, having qualified, comes the discipleship!
Surely there are many exceptions? No, there are none. Look at his words:"If anyone comes to me ... ."Is any term more comprehensive than "anyone?" Where is the basis for an exception – for even a single one? Jesus definitely included himself, and now he commands all would-be disciples:"Follow me." (Matthew 16:24)Was Jesus' personal example consistent with the application of this doctrine? Yes! There is a limited amount of relevant material in the gospels, but it is sufficient. If the significance of his teaching is as I have said, then to be consistent he must never have addressed Mary as "Mother." Did he?
"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man's foes will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:35,36)
Jesus addressed Mary directly only three times in the Gospels. The first is the temple incident already discussed in another context, in which he responded to her with the words:"How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)We see immediately that he was consistent in not calling Joseph his father, and he used no special term to designate Mary. The wedding at Cana is the setting for the second incident. When Mary said to him, "They have no wine." He responded:"O, woman, what have you to do with me?" (John 2:4)He did not say "Mother." Instead he used the same term as when addressing the woman encountered at Jacob's Well, the Canaanite woman, Mary Magdalene, and the woman taken in adultery. "Woman" was appropriate for addressing strangers, adulteresses . . . and the one who bore him.
The quotation concludes with " . . . what have you to do with me?" This suggests rejection, even hostility. It is illuminating to examine other biblical incidents using these or similar words. First, there is the example of Elijah and Zarephath. The prophet was lodging with Zarephath when her son became ill and either died or was at the point of death. Knowing that Elijah was a man of God with unusual powers, she assumed that God was using him to punish her for her sins. She said to him, "What have I to do with you, O thou man of God? Have you come to me to call my sin to remembrance and to slay my son?" Then Elijah took the son, prayed for him, and he revived (I Kings 17:9-24).
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, there was a man with an unclean spirit who cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the holy one of God." Then Jesus rebuked him and cast out the evil spirit. (Mark 1:24)
Another time, in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus encountered a demoniac who, on seeing Jesus, cried out, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the most high God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." Then Jesus cast a legion of out of him and into a herd of swine (Mark 5:7).
The similarities in these cases, including the wedding at Cana, are too much for mere coincidence. The speaker in each case recognized the other party as an adversary. In each case the godly party proceeded to work a miracle for the other, as did Jesus at Cana, though his oral response was tantamount to rejection.
Lastly, when Jesus was hanging from the cross he saw Mary standing near "the disciple whom he loved," and he called out to her:"Woman, behold your son."Then, addressing the disciple, he said,"Behold your mother."From that hour, the disciple took her into his home. Making this provision of a home for Mary was next to the last thing he did, but he did not call her "Mother." Instead, he used again that distant, impersonal word for strangers, and then called her someone else's mother (John 19:25-27).
Since Jesus had said, "A man's foes shall be they of his own household," it is reasonable to infer that his personal experience was consistent with this statement. Of all the accounts of Jesus' transactions with members of his immediate family, and with the people of Nazareth, not one fails to be accompanied by stress, anxiety, hostility, conflict, or grief. There was Joseph's troubled state of mind on learning of Mary's pregnancy. There were the difficult circumstances of Jesus' birth, far from home and with poor accomodations. There was the fearful flight to Egypt. There was the parental anxiety before finding him in the temple. There was the murderous riot following his speech at the home synagogue. There was the hostile crowd that assenbled at Nazareth when his friends sought to seize him in the conviction that he was out of his mind. There was the rejection of Mary and her sons when they sought to reach him in the crowd only to hear him cry out to all:"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (Matthew 12:48)Then there was the time his brothers urged him to go to Jerusalem where they knew the Jews were seeking to kill him (John 7:5). Finally, there was Mary's ultimate grief as she witnessed his horrible execution as a rebel outlaw and a a scandal to the world (John 19:25).
On the other hand, when we search the record for incidents suggesting a close relationship, such as moments of family pride in their son and brother, joyful reunions, or pleasant hours together . . . we search in vain. There is not one such event in all the New Testament record!
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