Mark 3:31-35 “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'”

Families in Jesus’ day and families in the western world of the 21st century have different cultural patterns. Of the nine children of our elders only two of them are living in Aberystwyth. The others are scattered across the British Isles. If we were living in America our children’s homes could be a continent away from us and one another with these siblings occasionally seeing one another at Thanksgiving and funerals and weddings. Our children share with us the activities of their own circle of friends, and we regard that as quite normal. It was very different in Israel. The land had been divided up amongst tribes and families, and fathers handed over their farms to their sons. When King Ahab offered to buy Naboth’s farm there was no way that the old man would sell inherited family land to a stranger, even if he were the monarch.

So, social patterns were very different in Israel. Tom Wright says, “The family bond was tight and long-lasting. As with many non-Western cultures today, it was normal for children to live close to their parents, maybe even in the same house. The family unit would often be a business unit as well, sharing everything in common. What’s more, for Jews the close family bond was part of the God-given fabric of thinking and living. Loyalty to the family was the local and specific outworking of loyalty to Israel as the people of God. Break the link, and you’ve undermined a major pillar in the way Jews in the first century (and in the twentieth, come to that) think and feel about the world and themselves” (Tom Wright, “Mark for Everyone, ” SPCK, London, 2001, p.39).

The Lord Jesus Christ has come to make all things new. He has not come to make a better Temple, and to patch up the Levitical system of sacrifices, and improve the Synagogues, and upgrade the seventh day Sabbath. All these are going to change: all the beggarly elements of that old covenant system are going to be done away with. The food laws, circumcision, an earthly king and priests, a holy city and land are all going to go because their task is done. It will no longer be enough to say, “I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews, of the tribe of Judah.” Take no refuge in that. It will be no mark of salvation to say, “We have Abraham for our father.” All of that is going to go. Can you begin to imagine what a radical break the new covenant was making with the old, and how the realisation almost tore the early church in two? Jesus is making everything new.

We are told by Mark that Jesus’ family again came looking for him. They had come to the conclusion that he was out of his mind (v.21). Even his mother Mary thought he was having a nervous breakdown and they came to take him away (v.21), to lock him up until this religious mania had disappeared. In the absence of his father Joseph his mother brought the rest of her family from Nazareth to Capernaum to find him and prevent his behaving in this outrageous fashion and bringing disgrace on the family. So they arrive at the house where he is teaching. The place is packed with people sitting on the floor, in the passage-way, around the doors and windows craning their ears to listen to what Jesus is speaking. His family can’t get through to him, so they send a message in, and it passes from one person to person, “Tell him that his mother and brothers are outside looking for him” and the message finally reaches Jesus. Outside, waiting for him to join them, were the people to whom he was bound by blood, by upbringing, by shared family experiences of joy and sorrow.


The reply of the Lord Jesus seems radical to our ears. It seems a tinge disrespectful; somewhat of a gesture, and you can imagine Christ also in his reply gesturing with outstretched arms to these disciples of his crowding around him, listening to what he says. He replies characteristically by asking a question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And he answers “‘Here are my mother and my brothers!” He points to the twelve who are sitting there, but there are others elsewhere who also follow him, so he adds, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother'” (v.34). Now if those words seem radical to us they were revolutionary to his hearers. Here are some people who henceforth are identified as being Jesus’ own family. Had not the Lord God written on tablets of stone, “Honour your father and your mother”? To be disrespectful to them brought the severest penalty on your head. You couldn’t exchange your parents if you didn’t get on with them. If they were poor and illiterate and the greatest embarrassment to you – tough! – you were stuck with them. James and John were stuck with Mrs. Zebedee who was to come to Jesus and ask that her boys should be put on two thrones, one on his right and one on his left when he sat in glory. Did the brothers hang their heads in red-faced shame? But they couldn’t swap her for another mother. This mother had conceived and borne them and she was their responsibility in old age.

How crushing for Mary to hear those words from Jesus! Had she ever been so humbled in all her life? Could she believe what her kind and gentle son had just said? Jesus didn’t whisper them in her ear privately. He said them publicly to be passed back from one to another until they were blurted out to her and her sons as they stood there on the street waiting for him to appear and accompany them home. They had come to help him, and that is what they got for their pains.

Now we know that no one loved his mother as the Lord Jesus. He never severed family ties. He did not live the rest of his life ignoring his family. In the final hours of his life as he hung in agony on the cross he thought of his mother and spoke to her from Golgotha’s cross. “Here is your son, mother,” he said, referring to John, and to John he commended his mother. Later his brother James would be the head of the church in Jerusalem, and in the upper room after his ascension his mother and his brothers were there in the prayer meeting waiting for the powerful Spirit to be poured out upon them so that they could be witnesses to him. Christ had to say those words to them at this time for them to know that he couldn’t be their dear older brother or Mary’s little boy any longer. He had to become their Saviour and their God and Lord or they would be lost. There is such a thing as domestic idolatry, the worship of a family, making a family everything, every involvement, every commitment, every engagement measured and judged by the question, ‘How will this benefit my family?’ That can be an immense tragedy. Worship God, not the family!

The Lord is testing them, “Is your relationship to me ‘natural’ or ‘spiritual’? Does it depend on the fact that the same womb gave birth to us, and the same breasts nourished us, or does it depend on the fact that you know who I am, and worship and follow me?” In these words Christ is tearing down the whole old covenant family structure as the grounds for our hope in God. Think of the relevance of these words to a young Muslim in north Africa or the Middle East who has been tuning in to Christian radio broadcasts, or has begun to write letters of inquiry to our brother Keith Hoare in Montpellier, or is beginning to read the gospels and discovering for himself the beauty and power of Jesus Christ. He knows that if he professes faith in Christ he will have to come out from that whole Islamic social and family structure. A young Islamic woman in some countries will know that confessing Christ could mean a horrible death. They read these words of Christ with a special poignancy, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus is encouraging them to follow him even if dying is a consequence. There is no greater privilege than to be called by Jesus his brother or sister or mother. Fellowship and suffering with him now, and glory with him in the world to come is the great honour he gives. Your ties with Jesus and his family are stronger, and more satisfying, and far more demanding than a human family, even though you might have lived with it for thirty years. “I tell you the truth . . . no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mk. 10:29&30). Our Lord Jesus will never be ashamed to own us as his brothers and sisters for all eternity. We take our privileged status from him.

So the Lord is doing the unthinkable: he is starting a new family, a new holy people, and is doing so without regard for precious family bonds. You had in Israel in his day a religious sense of belonging. If you were a descendant of Abraham your religion would be Jewish. If you are Irish you are presumed to be Roman Catholic. If you are Iranian then a Muslim. If you are a good Indian then you are considered to be a Hindu. But the Lord Christ comes and he says that he is closer to his new disciples than to his old family. They are more precious to him than his own flesh and blood. It was a revolutionary pronouncement. He is later to say that if a man does not hate his wife and mother and father and brothers and sisters he cannot be a disciple of Christ. It is hyperbole of course, but it speaks of a fierce priority that the Lord requires in all who profess to follow him. Family ties are of great importance but they do not have priority over our commitment to God’s will and family. When Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” he is saying, “Seek ye first the King”, and that King is Jesus Christ. The Lord is pointing out that natural ties are not the only bonds in the world, and they are not the most lasting ones. Our union with Christ is the most basic and eternal of all bonds. If any earthly loyalty is made central then it become idolatry, and all idolatries end up in destroying their devotees. There is a destructive permissiveness destroying our civilization, but there is also a destructive possessiveness destroying the Middle East and north Africa.

All our evangelism confronts group identities. There are the lads who go off on to the pub every Friday. There is the soccer team, the golf club, the group, the office, the fans, the union, the tribe or whatever group it may be. How strong are these ties, and we don’t want to destroy them in the name of Christ. We want them to be the bridges of God across which Jesus Christ may enter, by his new mother and sister and brother. But how great is the pull between that gang and this new family with their summons to be with Jesus and to sit at his feet and learn the words of eternal life that come from his mouth. See the two groups here? There are those inside the house listening attentively to Christ, and those outside who think they are all slightly loony. Nothing has changed in 2000 years. You are being asked to identify with people who sit at Jesus’ feet, with an unpopular and strict and seemingly fanatical group who put God first in their lives in everything. But I am saying to you that it was not post-modernism that created that polarisation. It existed when Jesus walked on this earth, and it exists yet. He stood up against the despising world, and many came to follow him and if we live as he lived and make the will of God the first thing in our lives then people will be drawn into our family of faith and into the household of God.


Can I ask this? What does God in Christ ask of us in order that we may be intimately related to the Lord Christ? It was not enough to have seen angels: Mary had seen them. It was not enough to have been the beneficiary of the greatest of miracles: Mary was that. It was not enough to have been in Jesus’ presence, seeing and hearing him in all his incarnate perfection for thirty years. His brothers also had that. Great privileges no doubt, but privileges alone cannot save us. There are many in hell in deeper anguish because of wasted privileges.

Who then is Christ’s eternal brother and sister and mother? Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” That is what is required, and it is to that that all the comfort of Christ’s gospel is directed. It is a profoundly searching statement. It is an absolutely devastating definition of our duty and our responsibility, and yet there it is, and if there is no sense in which we do God’s will then there is little comfort in sitting in this church where Christ moves among us, and speaks to us, and offers us himself. The great characteristic of the man who is in the family of Christ is that he does God’s will.

Have you seen the beauty of a trained dog working with its owner? To the amazement and delight of an audience the dog is focused absolutely on its trainer, looking and listening to his instructions conveyed by a gesture or a word. The dog completely obeys his master’s will, without allowing anything to distract or impede it from its devoted performance. You see from the hillside in the Royal Welsh Agriculture Show at its sheep dog trials, the shepherd’s whistle and crook in his hands, and the dog hugging the ground, getting up, walking stealthily, running, stopping, driving the sheep into the pen at the whistle or the raising of the crook of the shepherd. There isn’t a person on the hill watching through their binoculars, seeing the disciplined obedience of the sheepdog, who thinks that dog to be less intelligent and admirable than dogs who roam around the streets and snap and snarl at you as you walk past with your children or who attack postmen. The sheepdog is a marvel precisely because he has thoroughly submitted himself to the higher intelligence of a man.

Let my upgrade that illustration massively. Think of the child despot who says, “No, I won’t – you can’t make me.” How do you deal with such children? It is a frustrating and infuriating experience. Parents in this generation wanted children in order to love them, and to find a purpose in their own lives in being parents, but not to educate their children, and not to give them structures and limits. In other words, they don’t know what it is to be a parent. Modern parents want their children to blossom and be happy, and that’s about it. If a child is not doing well in his education then its parents will decide it needs another school rather than that it is not working in a disciplined way. These parents want to explain everything to their children, but they don’t want to upset them. They can’t bear making them angry. They must avoid conflict by all means, and so they will actually plead with their children to go to bed: “You’re tired, you need sleep, otherwise you’ll be exhausted tomorrow.” How much better to say, “It’s 8 o’clock; you’ve had your story and your milk; now off to bed. I’ll come up to see you in ten minutes.” Here are children without limits, facing so many choices, everything becoming possible, facing an abyss of possibilities. Here are children trying to experience everything, pushing their parents further and further, putting themselves and others at risk. They have no framework; they are lost and anxious children, and they know their rights: “No! I won’t do it! You can’t make me!” How wonderful a child with a servant’s heart, who knows that others have their rights, who is willing to submit to those in authority. Everyone who is in Christ’s family does his will.

So what is Christ asking from us when he speaks like this? Luke puts his comment in these words, “‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Lk. 8:21). In other words, doing God’s will consists of hearing and doing God’s word. Let us break that down in the following three ways:

i] Have We Come to Christ?

The one who has a growing, loving relationship with Jesus Christ is one who does God’s will. Let’s begin at the most humble level: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Have we done that? It is God’s will. It is the first great command. It is the foundation of the whole Christian life, and I’ve got to ask and search myself, have I done that? I am not asking have I agonized? Or have I laboured for months? Or have I been heavy-laden for years? But I am asking, have I come to Jesus Christ?

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come!” (Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871).

Or can I turn it this way? There is a commandment; there is an absolutely unconditional divine imperative that says, “Believe in the Son of God.” Now that commandment is as binding as the seventh commandment, or the ninth commandment. It is God’s unqualified directive to be obeyed. I’m to do it, to believe in his Son. Now so often we’ve got our whole phraseology wrong in this connection. We say, “I’m not converted,” or we say, “I’m not saved.” And we’re putting the whole thing passively, and in a very subtle and provocative way we are shifting the whole burden of responsibility onto God. We have the audacity to say in the depths of our hearts that God hasn’t yet converted me, that he hasn’t yet saved me. That is not the way the New Testament sees things. When the Bible describes the typical non-Christian it portrays him not as saying, “I’m not converted.” He is not saying that. What he is saying is, “I don’t believe.” But he is saying more, “I refuse to believe. I will not do what Christ says.” You remember all the miracles that Pharaoh saw, and how he experienced the words of the men of God and the power of the living God, and yet, after all of that, he snarled, “Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice?”

I am saying that there is a great need for us to change our whole emphasis, and to speak not of ‘unconverted’ people, but to speak of ‘refusers,’ the ‘disobedient’, the ‘defiant’ of the gospel, because it is the Lord’s word. Hear the invitation that is coming from the throne of the universe! Hear his heralds speak with their message from the King of heaven. Hear his command to come and believe on the Son. The people who are related to Christ for ever are marked by this, that they have done what that word says; they have come to Christ for rest. They have put their trust in him. They have yielded to him.

a] They have come to him as their prophet when he says, “Learn of me”; they have really opened their ears and glowed with anticipation that the Creator of the universe is condescending to become their tutor. They have cried, “Yes! You will be our teacher. We are going to become your disciples. From now on our every thought is going to be captive to you. True wisdom is found at your feet. Henceforth we are not going to rely on our own understanding. You will teach us what the good life is. We will learn from you what is man’s chief end. Who is our neighbour? How can I inherit eternal life? Who is God? You are going to teach us, and each of us wants to be top of the form. You’ll never have had more eager students than us!”

b] These people who do God’s will have gone to Christ as their king, and they have said, “We yield our lives to you to control them, and to regulate them, and guide them. Do with us what seems best to you.” So they have put their personal preferences and desires into second place – way behind the will of God. That is utterly non-negotiable for them. When God prescribes a thorn in the flesh then they may ask that it be removed, but if God says, “No, my grace is sufficient for you to live with that thorn,” then they’ll glory in such infirmities, and take pleasure in distresses that are God’s will. If a cup of death and bereavement may not be taken from them, they will say, “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” There was an old gravedigger who had a terrible cough, and someone visiting a grave sympathised with him. He said, gesturing to the graves around him, “There’s plenty here who’s be glad of my cough.” The cough was a sign of life. And there are plenty in hell who would love to be drinking our cup of pain. What could be more attractive than someone actually glorying in necessities and distresses that are from the Lord? What could be more engaging? What could be more interesting than to see a man or woman, boy or girl who is surrendered to the will of God? “He is like Jesus,” we would say. Even the Son of Man did not come to do his own will, to stagger people with his inventive genius and imaginative brilliance, and dazzle them with his novel sayings and deeds. The complete submission of Jesus to his Father’s will was what made him so profoundly beautiful, so astonishingly wise, and so brilliantly independent of the tired rut of fallen man’s claim to be a free spirit.

c] These people who do God’s will have gone to Christ as their priest and they have said, “Our whole confidence is in the sacrifice you’ve made.” There was no sin in him, in his dreams, in his imaginations, in his omissions, in his desires. He was God manifest in the flesh and as sinless as God. Yet he comes sinless to be made sin. He comes that sin may be charged to him, that sin may be laid on him, that he may remove that sin, put an end to sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness. And those who do God’s will see that their sins have been accounted to him. They see him as their Surety and Substitute. It has broken their hearts, that their sins nailed him to the tree.

“Why me, why me, O blessed God, why such a wretch as me?
Who must for ever lie in hell were not salvation free.”

It is an extraordinary thought. Old Henry Haddow was preaching in Croydon on Good Friday in the First World War on the text, “He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin,” and he told the congregation how exercised he had been in the few hours leading up to that sermon thinking about this fact, that every single sin he had ever committed, or yet may commit, had been laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ, charged upon him, imputed to him. “He bore our sins,” says the apostle, “in his own body on the tree.” What a weight – my sin – that is such a weight, but not mine alone, my wife’s sins too, all of them, and my parents’ sin, and my daughters’ sin, and your sin, past and present and future sin, all taken and laid on Christ. But millions and millions more just like us, as many as the sands on the seashores, because all of them have never done one thing wholly free from sin, and here is the Lamb of God having to bear all that load of guilt, taking responsibility for it all and carrying it to the judgment of God – think of it! What did it cost him? We may not know, we cannot tell what pain he had to bear. Amazing pity, grace unknown and love beyond degree. I tell you that if there were one sin I ever committed, or one sin I shall ever live to commit, that was not upon the Lord Jesus Christ, I am a lost man. That is what these people believe who have gone to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. All their hope is in him alone. But let us move on. Doing God’s will means this:

ii] Are Our Lives Marked by a Serious Endeavour to Obey God?

Or can I turn it this way? They do God’s will in this sense, that their lives are marked by serious endeavour to do whatsoever God says. Now, of course, they never perfectly succeed, but they endeavour. That is their desire, and they are guilty when they fall, but they really try all their lives to do the things Christ says. They seek to fulfil the specific directives that God has given to us. Can we say in our hearts, “I delight to do thy will O Lord”?

So they are obeying the invitation to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king, and they are sincerely trying to do the things Christ says. They seek to be poor in spirit, and to mourn over their sins, and be meek, and to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be merciful, and pure in heart and peacemakers and rejoice in persecution. They seek to let the light of that kind of life shine before men. They seek to be reconciled with their brother quickly. They would cut off the right hand if it offends them and also pluck out the right eye. They would love their enemies, and go the second mile, and turn the other cheek. Their yea is yea and their nay is nay. They pray in the secret place, closing the door not to be seen of men, They do not worry about trivia but trust in God. They do not judge harshly or self-righteously. They pluck the plank out of their own eyes before commenting on the speck in their brother’s eye. Think of King Saul, how he was anointed by Samuel, and used by God, with some great victories given him. But he was a man of misplaced zeal. He slew the Gibeonites, and then would have killed his own son Jonathan for taking a bit of honey in the mi dst of the battle. He was strong on other men’s sins and yet so weak and soft on himself. He was quick to see what was wrong in those surrounding him, but slow to see what was bad in himself. But these men see the speck in their own eye first, and so they build their lives on the teaching of Jesus.

So, is there this new obedience in you? Not a perfect obedience, but is your life lived on a different plane? Is there a new purity? Is there a new piety? Is there an elevatedness? Is there a majesty? Is there any reflection of Jesus Christ? The Christian life is not perfect, but the Christian life is new. It is new in comparison to what it once was, and it is new in comparison to the life of the world around us. In Don Cormack’s “Living Fields, Killing Fields” (O.M.F.) we are introduced to an extraordinary Cambodian Christian who has had polio, who now is residing in a prison camp. There he has been given the task of turning the camp excrement into fertilizer. He is a deeply intelligent man, hiding a Bible underneath his bed, but there in that work, in that dark place, he has to be an ambassador for God. He is Christ’s brother there. The Christian is a new creation. He is a new man in Christ. He has new strength. He has drawn on the new resources of Christ’s fulness, and that means that there is newness, a new contentment, and new ambitions, and new priorities, and new capacity for loving God and our neighbours. All that is going to be registered in a freshness, an originality, a differentness, an elevatedness of life and conduct.

The world is watching a war in Iraq. There are thousands of journalists from every part of the world there, covering the action, and the events are brought into our living rooms 24 hours a day. There is talk of Islamic retaliation in major western cities where there are some feelings of insecurity. Certainly we know this, that we are all going to be tried and tested in the future. We are going to meet many great challenges, especially the final one of dying. There will be no escape from this at all, and there is only one security and that is in doing the will of God our Creator. I mean that by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we try every day to apply the words of Jesus Christ to our lives, and conduct, and relationships, and work, and finances, and friends, and enemies, and our entire life – doing the things the Lord Jesus has said. But let us develop this theme of the will of God in one more way:

iii] Is Your Life being Controlled by the Will of God?

What is controlling us, even in our Christian profession? By what standard? By what rule? By what regulations do we live? Are you still going on your own way? Are you making your own decisions? Are you serving yourself, or are you controlled by the will of God? Let me put this in a most concrete way: if today I held a certain conviction, something I had held for a long time, but now I learn that these views have no justification in God’s word, would I discard them? Just because God said it was wrong would I change? Or let me put it like this: if there was a relationship which was beautiful to me, that I felt enriched me and excited and satisfied me, but then I discovered that it was wrong, would I break off that relationship? I am asking this, if your eye offends you, would you pluck it out?

Now all I am asking is how do I really stand in relation to the will of God? I face it myself, the constant peril that my thinking is only the rearranging of my prejudices. I seems to see it in so many churches, a scant regard for God’s will, because that will is very critical of the way things are being done. Professing Christians, but reluctant to revise or even to contemplate the possibility that God’s will for them may be different. And I cannot but confess that I am enormously saddened and anxious. It makes me ask whether evangelical Christians are really controlled by the will of God. You remember Cromwell’s great words to the Church of Scotland General Assembly during the Protectorate. The Assembly was being stubborn. Was this going to result in war? Cromwell sent them this message, “Gentlemen, I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, please consider you may be wrong.”

That is what I am saying this morning: please consider you may be wrong. Are our lives in truth lives of submission? Is my life submissive? That is where I must begin (and I am painfully conscious of the anomaly of preaching to you what I should be preaching to myself, but this is God’s message for each one of us). It is God’s providence that we are considering these words of the Son of God today, and you must accept your providence. That Providence is asking you if your life is one which delights in the will of God, especially when that will clearly contradicts your beliefs and background and traditions, or even your revolt against your background and traditions.

You see the great problem right through this passage is that Christ is telling us that you can live for many years very close to Christ, and have seen his miracles and felt the perfection of his life and the power of his words – because those had been the enormous privileges of his mother and his brothers – and yet not be in the family of God at all. I am asking is your priority a life of happy obedience to your Saviour? Horatius Bonar asks a series of questions about this theme: Are our hearts doing God’s will? Are our intellects doing God’s will? Are our purposes doing God’s will? Is our life doing God’s will? Is our family doing God’s will? Is our business doing God’s will?

Let me put in this way, that maybe you are envious of Jesus’ mother, and the blessings of her experience, but has it ever dawned on you that you may have the one thing needful when she did not? Let’s remember that all the sights and experiences of Jesus which she had had are not worth a particle of the obedience of saving faith. That faith, as fine as a mustard seed, will bring men and women into the household of God while the most intimate visions that Mary had had would leave her a stranger and alien. Don’t envy anyone’s experiences, just make sure that you are doing God’s will, that you have bowed the knee to Christ, and that you have him as your Saviour. That is what matters.

Mary is going to me more famous than you will ever be, and far more envied and exalted, but so what? If Jesus points to you and says, “Here is my mother and my sister” or points to another of you and says, “You are my brother” then what glory! Isn’t it enough for us today that we do the will of God at these great points, that with the heart we believe unto salvation, that we have the faith that trusts, and longs, and seeks, and desires and is desperate for Christ for our soul’s salvation, and so does God’s will?

6th April 2003 GEOFF THOMAS