Yesterday, Sarah and I attended a Catholic Baby baptism. It was a new experience for me, I think it was the first time I’d ever attended any type of Roman Catholic service.
Now there were some very interesting and spiritually uplifting aspects of the Church and the service that I really admired. The priest spoke about how the journey through the baptism service represents our lifelong journey with God and how He is always with us. The priest lit a candle for the baby and gave the candle to the family and encouraged them to keep it and light it on all the child’s special days going forward as a reminder to turn their hearts to God. He made the mark of the cross on the baby’s forehead and invited the parents and godparents to do the same, and in fact to do it every day before the child leaves home so that the child is reminded that God goes with him wherever he goes.
One aspect of the Baptism that I don’t hold to, though, is the Catholic understanding that Baptism is a way into the family of God. In fact, the service culminated in a welcoming applause of the child into the family of God, now that he and his family have undergone this rite.
Tonight, Jesus is going to be teaching us about what it means to be a part of the family of God. There are some lessons – hopefully profound – that we can learn from the text itself, and then we’re going to look at what it means to be a part of God’s family: What that should look like and why you or I should want to be a part of it.
As we’ve been going through the book of Matthew, we’ve encountered a real season of tension in chapter 12. For some time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law have been antagonistic towards Jesus – even began plotting for ways to get rid of Him – but Jesus has been quietly moving on.
Finally Jesus is done letting their stupid, foolish words slide, and turns to thoroughly rebuke them. In fact, never before in his Galilean ministry had Jesus stood out in such open opposition to the scribes and Pharisees. If they had wanted to destroy Him before this confrontation, they will be barely restraining their wrath during Jesus’ open rebuke.
And so it’s probably for fear for Jesus’ life that His mother and brothers come to restrain His speech. ‘Stop it, Jesus! Don’t you know you could get yourself killed!?’
But Jesus is undaunted. He simply points to His disciples and says that His rebuke was in obedience to God, and all who would obey God would be His family too. To be a child of God is not to follow the religious leaders, but to hear and obey God’s instructions.
Interesting to note at this point that Jesus’ mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him, when they should rather have been inside, wanting to hear from him. How often do we miss God’s guidance because we are trying to guide God?
So, as we go on, let’s draw some practical truths from tonight’s passage.
Truth #1: God’s family is growing; you can be in it.
You might skim over this passage, but when you really think about it, what Jesus says in this passage is one of the most profound, most exciting, most singularly startling statements ever made by Him. It is far and away different from statements made by other religious leaders in all history – even those reckoned as ‘divine’. Some religions teach that you can reach a state of bliss – a sort of ‘metaphysical reality’ that isn’t really tangible. Other religions teach that you can become an eternal servant of the deity. But Jesus alone teaches that people can become members of God’s own family – cherished, dearly loved.
How is that possible? Through;
Truth #2: Whoever does God’s will is His family.
I asked Google what it meant to do God’s will and opened an article that began by describing all the ten commandments. Then there are the ceremonial laws. There are the feasts and the fasts and the festivals. The article itself was exhausting.
Then I asked the Bible what it meant to do God’s will and this is what I found:
· John 6:28-29 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
· John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
· John 1:12-13 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
God’s will is not complicated. It’s powerfully simple: Look to the Son and believe on Him. Then you will be God’s family. And Jesus even promises, ‘I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.’ Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that hopeful?
Now let’s enter upon a different discussion that touches on this but goes wider than this. What does it mean to be a part of God’s family? It means that we have the promise of being raised up in the last day, yes, and to then spend eternity with our Father God and Jesus.
But it also means that we have the promise of being raised up…with others of God’s family. Some of us are quite happy to spend eternity with Jesus. Yay! We just don’t want the person in the seat next to us to be there too.
Our Church has a certain reputation for being a family Church, and we often thank God for the unity and love we experience here. But not everyone feels that way, and none of us feel that way all of the time.
So what is the family of God supposed to look like? Let me tell you, the Bible’s description of what the family of God should look like here on earth gives us great hope and excitement about what eternity with God’s family there will look like.
God’s family #1: Meets the needs of those around them.
Acts 2:42-47 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Think for a minute about those members of God’s family around you. --- Is there any with needs that you could meet? Oftentimes I’ve read these verses from Acts 2 and thought about how drastic it seems to call us to be: Sell all you have and give it to others? Uh!
God doesn’t call all of us to sell all we have; but He invites all of us to look around, see the needs of those in our Church family, and meet them in whatever way we specifically are able to.
Maybe there’s a family in the Church that can’t afford their children’s school fees – and you can’t pay their school fees, but maybe you can offer to purchase their school clothes. Maybe there’s a family in the Church that is going through a debilitating health crisis – and you can’t fix their health, but maybe you can offer to visit and listen to their fears and offer to pray for them. Maybe there’s a family in the Church that is struggling with a wayward child – and you can’t reunite the family, but maybe you can write letters of encouragement and hope to the parents that draws them closer to God. And yes, maybe there’s a family in the Church that can’t afford rent – and you can pay their rent, and maybe God prompts you to do that.
Whatever the need is, this is what God’s family does: It meets the needs of those around them. Don’t ignore your brother or sister in need. God has made you family, not strangers, reach out and help!
Not only does God’s family meet the physical or material needs of others, but;
God’s family #2 Meets the emotional needs of those around them.
Colossians 3:12-14 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
How beautiful is this passage? Picture this: A Church where this happens – where we know that when we come together, we are met with compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience. A place where we are met with a genuine smile, a warm hug, a kind word, a rich handshake, and a sincere greeting: How are you?
Friends, the gathering of believers is not meant to be like going to a high school reunion every week where we insincerely ‘check in’ on others and see if they are still coping and doing well for themselves. No – this is the God’s family, and we have the privilege of treating one another as God treats us. God gives us time, God gives us His attention, God gives us kind and gentle words. Paul didn’t write these words to the super-elect-holy First Baptist Church on the corner of Heaven Street and Angel Avenue – it was written to the every member – every child in God’s family.
So, I challenge you this week to take time to ask someone in the Church how they are. And when they give the expected response: ‘I’m fine thanks, and how are you?’ look them sincerely in the eye and ask, ‘How are you really?’ Then take the time to listen. Show compassion. Show forgiveness. Express love. It might take more time than you have here on a Sunday night – so invite them to coffee or dinner in the week and take time then. It is a privilege to love other members of God’s family. And when we do this well, it gives us great excitement about spending eternity together, doing this even more perfectly.
Not only does God’s family meet the physical and emotional needs of those around them, but;
God’s family #3: Meets the spiritual needs of those around them.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Do you know that one of the greatest reasons for our broken relationship with God is a broken relationship with God’s people?
It seems like such a silly thing, but I discovered the depth of this truth as I attended the Journey course many years ago, that I encourage all of you to consider trying. So much of my disconnection from God was rooted in the fear I had of people because of sin, and the consequent hiding in the darkness that marked my life.
As a teenager I lived with a constant fear that my thoughts could be read and my sins exposed. I hid myself from my classmates for fear that I’d be exposed. I hid myself from my Mom and Dad for fear that I’d be exposed. And so, without a doubt I hid myself from God for fear that I’d be exposed. In fact, the chief way I communicated with God was from a place of complete shame and regret over my sin; almost all of my prayers began with ‘God, I know I don’t deserve to be here talking to you…’ Then I’d go on to list all the reasons why I didn’t deserve to be talking to God, and after spending so much time confessing my sins I began my list of desires and felt they were empty words falling on deaf ears.
What I learnt at Journey and I hope to help you to understand here is that the fear that kept me hiding from people also kept me hiding from God and left me spiritually drained and hungry. But because I felt like I couldn’t go to God to be filled, and was too afraid to go to people to tell them who I really was and what I was really doing, I turned to greater and greater sin to drown out the screaming voices of spiritual hunger I felt.
Then God called me to step out of the darkness. Not to confess to Him, which I’d done a thousand times, but to confess to His children, His family – my family. I was terrified. Finally in desperation I did step into the light and I went to a group of godly men and told them all the struggles and shames and guilt I was carrying – I poured it out with crying and fear and desperation. And after pouring out all the things I thought were the worst things of me, I looked up and saw their faces. I was in the light. And they met me and embraced me there. They didn’t reject me or disown me; in fact for the first time I felt loved. For the first time I tasted deep, authentic connection – that which God deeply wants for me and with me. This I found in the family of God, and through them with God.
Don’t mistake me, I didn’t just do this once. I had to keep coming back and keep on confessing and I still do, because I know that when I choose to keep my thoughts and feelings hidden in the dark, it’s not just human connection I’m starving for – it’s God connection.
God never intended for the Christian journey to be walked alone. He created us with an innate need for companionship, for family. And while your needs can be met in part by your physical family, it is meant to be met in full by your spiritual family. Praise God if the two are the same.
Jesus knew the value of family. He knew that His earthly parents and siblings were important, but He also knew that God was in the process of creating a new type of family, in which He would be the firstborn of all creation, and His heavenly Father would be our Father.
Jesus showed us how to enter into that family: Through believing in Him! There is no other way. That is God’s will for us.
Now that family is ours. Ours to enjoy. Ours to celebrate. Ours to delight in. Ours to grow with. Ours to support. Ours to love.
I was speaking to a nurse this past little while and she was saying that her family has stopped going to Church for various reasons. I encouraged her to see that there may be problems in the Church they attended, but there’s great good in being a part of the Church. She seemed unmoved – they don’t want it. But what Jesus was pointing out in this passage is that’s where family is! But is it family? Or is it just a congregation.
I trust that you’ll find this as family. I trust that you’ll reach out to this family. I trust that you’ll find that you can meet the needs of this family, and they can meet yours. And so I encourage you, along with the writer to the Hebrews (10:24-25), to consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The day of Christ’s approaching is now closer than it was then, so let us love His family well, effectively, compassionately, forgivingly, generously, kindly – love His family as He loves us.