The Holy Family

Have any Christmas cards arrived at your house with a picture of the holy family? Jesus talks about a holy family in Matthew 12:46–50, but it’s not limited to those pictured on the card.

Recognize the holy family. Give honor to Mary and to Joseph. It is wrong to worship Mary, but don’t overreact by failing to recognize just how important she is in God’s great plan. Gabriel calls her highly favored by God. She willingly assumed the role she was told she would have—being the mother of the Messiah. Luke tells us of her visit to Elizabeth, with whom she could share this marvelous news. But how many were there in her home town of Nazareth who would have believed her story? And Joseph was a godly man, confronted with news so strange that Matthew’s Gospel tells us that an angel had to explain to him that Mary had not been unfaithful. He assumed the role of the human, adoptive father of Jesus. He protected Mary and the Baby by taking them to Egypt when Herod sought to kill the Christ. The Baby is truly human as well as truly God. The hymn, “Away in a Manger,” doesn’t get it quite right when it says, “no crying he makes.” How else would the infant Jesus have let Mary know he was hungry?

The presence of Jesus made his family holy. When people talk about the holy family, they usually mean Joseph, Mary, and the Baby. But that was just the beginning of the family. Apparently Joseph and Mary had additional children. As Jesus grew, brothers and sisters (actually half-brothers and sisters) were added to the family. Older brothers can be a pain, but Jesus never sinned. Still, it must have been challenging to grow up with a perfect sibling! Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him until after his resurrection. But the family was holy, not just because Mary was a wonderful woman, or that Joseph stepped up and took on the role of human adoptive father, but because the infant, toddler, young boy, teenager in the home was the holy one of God. He was and is truly God as well as truly man. Isaiah, some seven centuries before his birth, spoke of a virgin conceiving and bearing a son. Matthew quotes that in the first chapter of his Gospel. But Jesus one day expanded the idea of being part of his family.

Live as the family of Jesus. Jesus has made you his brothers and sisters and mother. As Jesus is teaching in doors, his mother and brothers come to speak with him. As you read the parallel account in Mark 3, this is not just a social visit, but rather, his family has concluded that he is out of his mind, that he has taken leave of his senses, and they’ve come to collect him. “Your mother and brothers are outside,” is the message by whoever squeezed his way into the house. The response of Jesus, formally a question, sounds strange to us. To Middle Eastern ears, with the strong sense of family loyalty, it is an almost unthinkable response. Remember that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his earthly ministry, John 7:5, though they did after the resurrection. And while Mary did, her understanding of her Son’s role had to grow, see John 2. Jesus’ language is strong, but it is not disrespectful of Mary. After all, Mary is the only mother in history who had a Son who obeyed perfectly the command to honor his father and mother! John’s Gospel tells us that among the final words of Jesus from the cross, shortly before his death, was his entrusting Mary to the care of John, the beloved disciple. But the language is strong because the attempt by Jesus’ family to take him in hand, well-intentioned though it may have been, came between him and the work given him by his Father in heaven. Jesus makes clear that because of who he is there is a relationship that is closer than any familial relationship. Jesus turns to those around him, including the twelve, but most likely a broader group, and said, here are my mother and my brothers. Those who do the will of God are the brothers, sisters, and mother of Jesus. He is including you who believe in him as part of his family. You are closer to Jesus than his biological siblings were! It doesn’t matter what kind of family you come from. As Jesus calls you to himself, he brings you into the family of God!

“It is true that many of us ‘inherited’ the covenant of grace by the teaching of godly fathers, but this did not come through the flesh, but through the promise of the Spirit (Romans 9) – but that is another story.

“As Christians, on the one hand we appreciate and strive for strong, godly families. But too often, we look for salvation there rather than in the seed. We repeat the same error as the Pharisees of old. We are not saved because of our physical descent. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. God calls his people from every family – the traditional one, the untraditional one. Single mothers, single fathers, divorced parents – to show us that he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.

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“Our whole salvation consists of this: we are taken OUT of our families according to the flesh and engrafted into Christ’s ‘family tree’ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3-4) and thus we are children of Abraham.

“This is not to deny the 5th commandment. As children, we heed all their good instruction and correction, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it. And as parents, we are to raise them in the Lord, not according to the flesh. Our boast is not in our family tree, but in Christ alone.” (Sam Powell, “Born of the flesh…” )

Do the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven. Jesus is making the point emphatically that he is not just a family member, but he is the Messiah, the Savior. As you trust him, as you do the will of God, as you enter his kingdom, your position is closer to him than that of his earthly family. Calvin gets it right. “[O]ur Lord teaches a very useful doctrine; for he admits all his disciples and all believers to the same honourable rank, as if they were his nearest relatives, or rather he places them in the room of his mother and brethren. Now this statement is closely connected with the office of Christ; for he tells us that he has been given, not to a small number of individuals, but to all the godly, who are united in one body with him by faith.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels) Jesus is not saying that we, in this life, fulfill perfectly the law of God. Calvin comments further. “When he says that they do the will of his Father, he does not mean that they fulfill, in a perfect manner, the whole righteousness of the law; for in that sense the name brother, which is here given by him to his disciples, would not apply to any man. But his design is, to bestow the highest commendation on faith, which is the source and origin of holy obedience, and at the same time covers the defects and sins of the flesh, that they may not be imputed.” Those who trust in Christ are also those who do his will. Notice that Jesus refers to the Father as his Father. From all eternity he was the Father of the Son. That Father-Son relationship is truly unique. But, because Jesus is the Son who came to do his Father’s will, he has made you the adopted sons and daughters of the Father. You who belong to him, you who are part of his kingdom, are his brother and sister and mother. As important as family relationships are, there is something even more basic—and that is your relationship with the Savior. The covenant community (and the concept of the covenant is biblically vital) is not first of all simply a father leading his family in the Lord’s ways, a mother exemplifying the virtues of Proverbs 31, and children living in cheerful submission to their parents. Those are important, but even more basic is your covenant relationship with God. Recognize that the most basic covenant relationship is being part of God’s family. Enter that relationship, not by earning it through your works, but by an obedient trust in the Redeemer God has sent. Then you can move into being a godly mother, a father who leads in love, a son or daughter who truly honors parents and those in authority. As you live in obedient fellowship, which you can do only as you trust his perfect work in your place, which you can do only through the power of his Spirit that he gives you, Christ acknowledges you as his brother, as his mother. As you rejoice in being part of the holy family of Jesus you have the assurance that no one can snatch you from the Father’s hand. You are secure!

You have something far better than a Christmas card with a drawing of what someone imagines Joseph and Mary looked like as they trudged to Bethlehem or as they fled to Egypt. The gesture of Jesus in that crowded room includes you. He calls you his sister, his brother. Live as part of the holy family that you are!