His Many RelativesErwin W. Lutzer | December 23, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Adoption can be a difficult subject, but it’s at the core of the Gospel. Jesus came to Earth for a spiritual family, who are adopted through faith in Him.
Jesus is not ashamed to call us His relatives, and a relationship with Him is far more valuable than any physical lineage or association.
I am so glad that you are here, and you are here where we believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. It would be interesting to know how many of you (and I do not expect you to raise your hands) who are listening here at The Moody Church or on the Internet or on the radio have been adopted. It would be interesting to find out, but I don’t ask you to raise your hands because I know that some of you might not want people around you to know that you’ve been adopted. There might be a stigma connected with it or even some shame. Well the intention of this message is to rid you of that stigma and to forever rid you of that shame, once we understand the doctrine of adoption, because we shall discover that adoption lies at the heart of the Christmas story, and adoption lies at the very heart of the gospel.
As you may know, this is a series of messages (the fourth and last, actually), in the family of Jesus. We considered His genealogy because, you see, when Jesus came to earth He had grandparents. When he entered our world He had a family; He had brothers and sisters, as we shall see. He also, in that experience, no doubt had cousins and uncles and aunts, and on and on it goes. So we looked at Jesus Christ’s genealogy. Then in the second message we considered His mother, Mary, and last time we looked at His father, Joseph; and today we are looking at all of His relatives and the wider body of Jesus Christ that are a part of His family.
In order to get into the text, and we will be doing that in just a moment, let’s begin by talking about Jesus Christ, the Son. To rehearse the story that we all know so well that we’ve heard many times, the angel comes to Mary and says, “Mary, you are with child of the Holy Spirit.” Joseph doesn’t understand it and because they are betrothed, and in those days that was almost equivalent to marriage, he was going to divorce her, which would have been necessary under the law. But he has a dream and the dream says, “Marry Mary,” and so he does, and they go to Bethlehem, and when Jesus is born, He’s presented to Joseph.
I can imagine Mary saying, “Joseph, this is your son.” Joseph takes Him in His arms and looks at Him, and knows that as he looks into the eyes of that little baby, he will not be seeing his own image. The curvature of His mouth, His jaw, His eyes will never resemble that of Joseph because Joseph is going to adopt Him. Joseph becomes only His legal father. I say only.
Let me ask you this question: How strong was the bond between Joseph and Jesus? Well, Biblically, it was entirely strong, and as strong as if Jesus had been the earthly son of Joseph. Let me prove that scripturally. Do you remember in Matthew chapter one where you have the genealogy of Jesus? The intention of Matthew is to show that Jesus has the right to rule on the throne of David because his genealogy can be traced back to David, but it’s the genealogy of Joseph, and in Matthew’s mind, if he can prove that Joseph is a descendant of David, then Jesus Himself is a descendant of David and has the right to rule on the throne of David because adoption was such an engrafting experience. It was such a bonding experience, both legally and emotionally and in every other way, but Jesus is today the son ultimately (of course the great-great grandson) of David, because it was true of Joseph and it’s true of Him.
Let’s think for a moment about Jesus Christ’s relationship with Mary. Could you imagine raising Jesus? I mentioned this last time. You have this very precocious child. He’s twelve years old and they leave Him in Jerusalem, not knowing that He was left there. They think that He’s with some relatives as they are coming back from the feast, and there He is. He’s having discussions with the doctors of the law, and they marveled at His knowledge and the questions that He was asking.
Jesus Christ was constantly, however, distancing Himself from Mary. He loved her, but look at the wedding feast. Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine (hint – hint). “Maybe you could do a miracle here and help them,” and He says to her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” It wasn’t disrespectful, but Jesus was saying, “Mary, you can’t connect with me on an inside track. I am here to do the will of my Father, and the will of my Father I will do, and you have no special appeal to me.”
Then we think also of the time that the gospels record that Jesus was teaching, and a man ran from the crowd and shouted at Jesus and said, “Blessed is the woman who bore you. Blessed is the one who nursed you.” And remember that Jesus said, “Oh no, no, you’ve got it wrong. Blessed is the person who does the will of God, who hears it and does it.” Wow.
And then we see it at the cross. “Woman, behold thy son.” What Jesus was saying to Mary was this, that when it comes to these kinds of relationships, you must recognize that I am your earthly son, but I am a heavenly son, and I have an agenda to complete with my heavenly Father, and I love you and I appreciate the fact that I was born of you, but I belong to the Father, and I must do the Father’s will, and remember, Mary, our relationship is earthly, whereas I am committed to the heavenly relationship with my Father.”
Now Jesus, having been adopted by Joseph now later on becomes one who Himself adopts others, and for that I do want you to turn to the third chapter of the book of Mark.
In Mark chapter 3 we have an interesting story. Jesus has begun His ministry and He’s being questioned and probably misrepresented, but He caused a frenzy because of His miracles, because of His teaching, and so even His family (now in context His enemy) said that he was demon possessed. But even his family said it in chapter 3, verse 20 of Mark (and thank you for turning to that–you can also find it in your pew Bible). It says, “Then he went home and the crowd gathered again so that they could not even eat and when his family heard it they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Wow. Not even His family was getting the message of the full import as to who Jesus was.
So, now there’s a crowd gathered and now we pick it up at verse 31: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him, and a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you,’ and he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’” Wow.
I have a couple of comments. First of all, His family probably wanted to get to Him so that they could take Him away and give Him some rest. They maybe thought that because of His exhaustive schedule that some things were happening that they couldn’t explain, and so, you can visualize very easily the crowd that is around Jesus. And His mother and His brothers don’t know how to get to him. They don’t know how to pierce the crowd, and so they give a message to someone and they say, “You know, you can get closer to Jesus. Tell Him that we’re looking for Him.”
Notice, by the way, that Jesus had brothers, and it’s very clear that He had sisters too. I am turning just one page in my Bible to the sixth chapter of Mark. It says in verse three, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?” (Jesus had four brothers and they are all named.) And are not his sisters here with us?” Now His sisters are not named, but He had brothers and sisters.
The idea that these are children from Joseph’s first marriage has come up because of the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, but that’s not taught in the Bible. In fact, in Matthew chapter one it says that Joseph accepted her as his wife but knew her not. You know that that’s a euphemism for a sexual relationship. He knew her not until she gave birth to Jesus, her firstborn son, but here are family members and they are coming and they are saying, “We want to talk with you, and your mother is here,” and Jesus waves them off, and He says very clearly that the relationship of flesh and blood really means nothing in comparison to the spiritual relationship. And He would not allow Mary and His brothers to divert Him from the task that God had given Him. No, he was very concerned that He keep doing the will of God. And He did not respond to their plea. What He was saying even to Mary is, “Mary, you don’t get any first dibs here. Your spiritual relationship with me is more important than the physical, and you must also believe on me,” as becomes very, very clear later on. And so Jesus is saying, “Of course there’s blessing for my family. Of course there’s blessing for Mary and there’s blessing for my brothers, if they do the will of God, but they must do the will of God just like everyone else must do the will of God.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how does this relate to Christmas, how does this relate to us, and why should our lives be different because we’ve heard this message?” By the way, whenever I prepare a message like I did yesterday afternoon I always ask myself, “Why should anyone be changed forever because they’ve heard this?” I hope that God answers my prayer.
First of all–a couple of lessons-spiritual adoption is much more important than physical lineage. The heavenly is more important than the earthly. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely important and necessary if you are to belong to the family of God.
Think of His brothers. You know what the Bible says in John chapter 7, verse 5? Jesus is on His way to the feast, and it says, “Not even his brothers believed on him.” Can you believe that? I mean, they grew up in the same home as Jesus. They saw His perfection. They saw that He did not fall into moral temptation. They recognized that their brother was very unique, but they never even got the full import of His messiahship or mission. They needed to come to grips with their own brother, that he was their savior too. Did they? The answer is yes. In Acts chapter 1, when Jesus asked the 120 to gather in the upper room to receive the Holy Spirit, it says that Mary was there and his brothers. And by the way, in a context like that, the word brothers could mean siblings. It’s possible that His sisters were there too. We trust that they were.
So, Jesus is saying here in very clear terms that “Your relationship with me is paramount. You can be my mother.” I’m not making it up. I just read the text. “You can be my brother. You can be my sister. If you do the will of God I will adopt you into God’s family, but your physical lineage doesn’t give you any advantage.” You can’t say, “Well, you know, my great-grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider in Kentucky,” or “My great-great grandfather was,” and God will say in heaven, “Well, you know you come from a very spiritually inclined family.”
I remember talking to a man about his eternal salvation and he said, “Well, my wife is a Christian, and so that should give me some pull, shouldn’t it?” and the answer at that point is you take off your glasses and you say, “No.”
Billy Sunday, whose funeral was here at The Moody Church, said, “If you think that you can become a Christian by attending church, that is the same as saying that a wheelbarrow will become a car if it is put in a garage.” [laughter] You can’t become a Christian because of your heritage. God has no grandchildren. God doesn’t say, “Well I saved your parents, and so you kind of get factored in because you happen to have such wonderful Christian parents.” No, the relationship is always personal; it is always direct, and the spiritual relationship ultimately is more important.
Now my heart goes out to adopted children because they oftentimes struggle with their past and who their parents were and all that, but if they’ve been adopted into God’s family and become the brothers and the sisters and the mother of all things–of Jesus–that has eternal significance, and it gives you a stature that no family–even a royal family–could ever give you. The primacy here is clearly of the spiritual adoption more than physical lineage.
The second lesson is that spiritual adoption has greater privileges. You know, it is interesting that the apostle Paul nowhere refers to the virgin birth. He nowhere refers to Mary directly. Well, yes he does. He doesn’t call her Mary, but he says in Galatians that Jesus was born of a woman. That’s the closest he comes to Mary and the virgin birth, because what Paul is really interested in is the whole concept of adoption, and if you read the book of Galatians where he says that, he says, “when we give ourselves to God, when we become God’s children, we cry up and we say, ‘Abba Father.’” It’s been translated, and you don’t want to be irreverent here, but it’s been translated, “Daddy.” To be able to say that God is your Father, that you walk with God and that you belong to the spiritual family there’s something within us that cries up by the power of the Holy Spirit and says, “Yes, Abba Father.” And, of course, if Jesus is the Son of God, and we are also now sons of God in a different sense, but a very profound sense, we share the same Father.
That’s why, as I mentioned, in the book of Hebrews chapter 2 it says that Jesus is not ashamed to call you his brother. In fact, if you were to read the Matthew version of the story that I’ve referred to here in the third chapter of Mark, it’s very interesting. It’s telling the very same story, but it adds a detail that Mark left out. It doesn’t mean that the accounts are contradictory. It just means that you have two writers talking about the same event and Matthew adds the detail.
When His mother and brothers wanted to get through to Him, Jesus said, “Who is my brother and my sister?” but the Bible says, “Stretching out his hands to those who were present, he said, ‘Who is my mother and my brothers and my sisters, but the person who does the will of God.’”
Wouldn’t you have liked to have been sitting there, by the way? Those of you in the front seats, you know, God bless you, I have a special relationship with you, and there’s no doubt that “front seat” on earth is “front seat” in heaven, so thank you, which says something about those in the back row. [laughter] But wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in the front row with Jesus speaking, and then to have Jesus go like this and say, “Who is my mother and my brothers, but those who do the will of God–namely you”? “I can adopt you into my family, and furthermore, adoption means that you inherit all the same privileges as the son.”
That’s why the apostle Paul says, “We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” When the title deed of the universe is opened and when the inheritance of Jesus is laid out, you and I share and we are joint heirs. It’s not that we get the crumbs. We get the real deal because of God’s incredible grace. [applause] Yeah, you can clap at that point if you want.
As I was thinking of the matter of adoption it dawned on me that adoption always takes place because of the brokenness of sin. In a real world it would be wonderful, and it would be the case in a real world, where parents would always want their children and love their children and be able to care for them. But that’s not the real world. We have some parents who maybe don’t want their children. Others would like to have them but can’t care for them, and so because of sin all of these relationships get entangled. By the way, I’ve often thought about the pain of a mother giving up her child for adoption. Even though, obviously, I’m not a mother, I’ve thought of the pain that must be in her heart to give up that little one, knowing that she will never see him or her again, but the pain that she goes through is the joy of someone else–another couple that delights in receiving the child. I’ve often thought about that, and you know the reason that God has to adopt us into His family is for the same reason–the brokenness of sin. Our parents can give us physical life. What they cannot give us is spiritual life. Our parents can give us a good home and a good upbringing, but they cannot make us members of the family of God. My parents made me a Lutzer, but they could not make me a child of God, and that’s why I need to be adopted.
So I look at Christmas as Jesus coming to this big place called the earth, and it is an orphanage. It’s an orphanage because of the brokenness of sin, with all of the pain, with all of the misunderstandings, with all of the hurt and the crushed hopes and dreams of a very broken sin-filled world, and Jesus comes to the orphanage, and says, “I choose you as mine. I’m going to make you a member of the heavenly family,” and at that point your lineage is not relevant. Now, of course, it’s relevant in the long term. It’s much better to be brought up in a good home that gives you a sense of security, but in the long term the heavenly relationship and the heavenly family so supersedes the earthly that Jesus is saying at Bethlehem, “I am coming on a rescue effort so that you can be my brothers, my sisters and even my mother.” That is the heart of the gospel.
So, obviously, the privilege of saying that we are spiritually adopted has marvelous privileges.
Third, an adopted family–now here I’m talking about the physical family–is a much better picture of the body of Christ than a family that is biologically whole. I hope that that came out right.
Let me introduce you to an adopted family. At a Bible conference I met Tim and Melissa Glisten. If you want to remember their name it’s like the treetops that glisten. That’s the way they helped me remember their name. Tim and Melissa have no biological children, but they have adopted 15 children. Yes, you heard me correctly–15 children. Because I keep in contact with them (and I’ve had the opportunity of meeting with them and especially with Tim on a number of occasions), I called them yesterday to ask them some questions. By the way, they had just come home from the emergency ward because their little two-year-old had been sliding down a hill with his brothers and sisters on a sled and got some cuts, and so he had some stitches. Welcome to the world of raising children. But I said, “Tim, how many do you have?” and he said, “We have 15, ages 2 to 19 from 7 different mothers, and 11 different fathers.” They have various family backgrounds, various colors, various ways… When I got to know them they had only 11 adopted children–just 11, that’s all–and recently they adopted four children–four brothers and sisters (a family unit) and so now they have fifteen.
He says (and I just love this), “You have no idea what God is planning for all these kids.” By the way, I spoke to Tim at an earlier occasion when we sat down and talked for a couple of hours. He takes a particular interest in each child. He can tell you where each child is spiritually, what it is they are going through, and he tries to meet the needs of each child individually and take care of their needs and to help them to understand that they are loved, and they are having some wonderful breakthroughs spiritually and so forth. He said, “Our goal is that some day when all of their brothers and sisters get together, (if they can locate all of them), we’ll have a celebration of about 50 people with all of their siblings,” and he said, “Who knows what God is about to do?”
By the way, if you want to know more about this couple they have a website. It’s entitled familiesbygod.org (all one word). You can remember that, can’t you, and you can find out what it’s like to have fifteen children that are adopted.
I think of them and I think that’s what the body of Christ should be all about. When Jesus came to Bethlehem the whole deal was that He might redeem people from every tongue and people and nation and color under heaven, and that’s what an adopted family can look like because God says, “We’re all adopted.” Hey, if you’re a believer today, you’re adopted. Aren’t you glad for adoption? [applause]
Well, if you are thinking at all, and I know you are because that’s a requirement to visit Moody Church or to come to Moody Church (we make that one of the requirements), what you are asking is this: “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do you get adopted?” That’s what some children are asking in an orphanage. There are painful stories of parents going through and saying, “I like that one. No, I don’t like that one.” Terrible, terrible! How do you make sure you’re not rejected? How do you get adopted into God’s heavenly family? That should be a number one question.
Notice what Jesus said. I have my finger here on the text. You’ll notice it says in our text in verse 35, “Whoever does the will of God…” That’s our side–whoever does the will of God. The invitation is to everyone. Yes, God elects but the invitation is to everyone because there’s your side of the bargain and that is “whoever does the will of God.”
You say, “Well, I need to know what the will of God is.” Well, I’ll tell you that the will of God begins with these words from the lips of Jesus. “This is the will of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent.” That’s the will of God [applause] and that’s where it begins.
Let me tell you a story that the shepherds on the first Christmas could probably tell, because if you’ve talked to shepherds, you know that what I’m telling you often happens. Let’s visualize that a mother sheep (a ewe) dies and she’s nursing a little lamb. No other mother ewe will accept the lamb. You just can get those ewes to do that. They refuse it, and so the little one has to die unless there’s some means of using a bottle to feed the lamb. If not, it just dies, but what shepherds have discovered is this. If that happens and at the very same time you have a little lamb that dies, say of natural causes or a disease, what they will do is they will take the skin from the dead lamb (they’ll skin it) and put the skin over the living lamb, and then the mother of the dead lamb will accept this one as her own because of the smell and because of the wool. She is convinced that it’s her lamb so she accepts it on the basis of the skin by which the lamb is covered.
God does not adopt everybody. Clearly, God does not adopt everybody. What God does is say, “You accept my son, Jesus, and He will give you a covering. He will give you His righteousness. He will give you His forgiveness, and that covering of His righteousness put on you–that covering–will save you, and I’ll accept you on the basis of His work and His sacrifice as if you were Jesus, and that is the gospel. [applause] When you die you are welcomed into heaven as if you are Jesus. You are a member of the family. He is your brother. You are His mother, His sister. The whole family of God gets together and God says, “You are an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ, and finally–you are a member of a very royal family because you’ve been adopted.
There’s no shame to adoption. Our world is broken. We’re adopted. Thank God for adoption because it is that that makes us children of God forever; and if you will, let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You so much for Jesus, that He came on this great rescue effort. Thank You that He came to the orphanage. Thank You that He walked down the aisles and He chose us and we chose Him. Thank You that the invitation is to whoever does the will of God–whoever believes on him, whoever has a personal relationship with Him. We thank You, and we ask today, Father, for those who feel alienated, for those who feel left out, for those who maybe because of the breakup of their family feel the sense of rootlessness. Help them to know that they’ve been adopted into Your family if they believe in Jesus and trust Him as their Savior. Thank You for the birth of Jesus that made it possible.
And now, before I close this prayer, if God has talked to you, would you talk to God? If you’ve never received Him as Savior, you could do that right now. Say, “Jesus, I receive You as my savior. I receive Your righteousness as my covering for my sin that I might be adopted into Your family.”
Father, we stand amazed at the wonder of Your grace and pray that we all may feel accepted in the beloved one. Thank you for Jesus who came and died so that we might live forever in His presence. Bless all those who are here, those who have made decisions to receive You; and those who have not yet (and they know who they are), overcome their resistance, and drag them to Yourself. In Jesus name, Amen.