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Foes, Friends, and Family

Category Articles
Date March 4, 2004

Gospel Reading: Mark 3: 7-21

There are three groups of people who can make a great impact on our lives. There are our foes. Not everyone has an enemy, or enemies, but if you do, you know that your enemy is against you. He does not wish you well, but will, if he has the chance, do you harm.

Then there are friends. A friendless person must live a less than whole human life, for God created us as persons who live best with companionship. There are all kinds of friends – false friends who are really enemies, casual friends with whom we share little intimacy, good friends who share their lives with us and allow us to share our lives with them, and the rarest of all friends, the faithful friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And, then there is family. What a mysterious thing the family is. Fathers and mothers, children and siblings, potentially have the most powerful and lasting impact on our lives. Sometimes it is all good; sometimes it is almost all bad; and most of the time it is mixture of good and bad. Who of us cannot look back on our growing up years and see how our parents influenced us by both nature and nurture? Who of us cannot look at our own children with wonder that we have had such a powerful impact on who our children are and what they are becoming?

In the text we have read from Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus in relation to foes, friends, and family.
I. Foes

There are three groups of foes whom Jesus faces here. The first is the Pharisees and the Herodians, who are plotting how to destroy Him. The Pharisees see Him as a religious threat and the Herodians see Him as a political threat. Their common enemy draws together these two groups who had nothing else in common. That is why Jesus withdrew from Capernaum. He was not lacking in courage, nor was He lacking in common sense. He was not going to submit Himself to the timetable of His enemies, for He was the Father’s Son who was acting according to the plan and timing the Father had laid out for Him. Until the time came for Him to lay down His life in Jerusalem for our sins, He would not subject Himself to His enemies. He was the master of the situation.

The second group of foes is the crowds. Though Jesus withdrew from Capernaum, He could not escape the crowds. His fame was spreading very widely in the region. People came from Galilee and Judea, and Jerusalem, the northern and southern regions of Israel and the city that was the political and religious capital. The people from these areas were Jews. But then they came also from Idumea that was south of Judea. It was a region populated by Edomites who had been forced by the Maccabees to convert to Judaism. Then people came from the east bank of the Jordan River, Jewish territory, but always something like old Wild West, never fully connected and assimilated to the mainstream Jewish culture. Then there were people from region of Tyre and Sidon, the Phoenician region to the north of Galilee, which was predominantly Gentile. These crowds show Jesus’ great popularity of Jesus at this point in His ministry. But these crowds are also menacing. They crowd around Jesus, prevent His freedom of movement, and threaten as to crush Him, so that He has to have a boat ready in case He has to retreat onto the lake. And why have they come? Not to hear His teaching, nor in true faith. They have come because they have heard of His miracles of healing. They want to see Him, to touch Him, to seek healing from their sicknesses. They are not really followers of Jesus but people who seek Him because of what He can do for them.

The third group of foes is the demons. Through the persons they possessed, the demons fell down at Jesus’ feet and confessed His true identity. They cry out, “You are the Son of God.”. This is the deepest and most profound truth about Him. Mark tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that it is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. At His baptism (1:11) and His transfiguration (9:7) God the Father declared Him to be His own Son. But in Mark’s Gospel, no human makes this confession until He dies on the cross and one of the centurions says, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (15:39). But here the demons know who He is – nothing less than the very Son of God, who shares the Father’s divine nature and has all the powers and prerogatives of God. Someone might think that Jesus would have welcomed this confession, because people would say, “Even the demons fall down before His authority and say He is God’s Son.” But Jesus strictly ordered them not to make known what they knew. The demons are not Jesus’ followers now. They remain hostile to Him and desire, not to bow down to Him but to destroy Him. It is ultimately the work of Satan and His demons that explains the hostility of humans toward Jesus. What they do and say is defiance not devotion, fear not faith.

It should not surprise us that Jesus had enemies. He is the Son God who brings into the world with Him the kingdom of God. He calls on people to repent and to believe the good news that in Him God is now bringing about His sovereign and saving rule. And, in the end, the masses of people did not welcome Him but rejected Him. It is the same way often today. People will admire the Jesus of their own imagination – the Jesus they want Him to be. But confronted with the Jesus who calls them to abandon all trust in themselves, even in their goodness, and who calls them to repent and enter into the realm where He, not they, is King, people still are the foes of Jesus. And, if people are enemies of Jesus, we should not be surprised if they are our enemies, too. Jesus told us, that if we are His disciples, people will treat us as they treated Him.

II. Friends

The friends of Jesus are the Twelve whom He named apostles. Before we look at the reason Jesus chose them as “special friends” let’s look briefly at who they are. There is Simon whom Jesus renames Peter, “The Rock.” Did Jesus name him Peter because he was rock-like? No. The portrayal of him in the Gospels does not show him to be so steady. He speaks and acts impulsively. On the night Jesus was betrayed he declared he would never deny his Lord and would follow Him even to death. But by morning he had denied the Lord three times. Even after Pentecost Peter could waver between what he knew was right and pleasing others, when, at first He ate with Gentiles at Antioch, but then, under pressure, withdrew from table fellowship with them (Galatians 2: 11-14). Peter is the Rock because Jesus chose to make him the cornerstone of the apostolic witness, not because of anything about Peter. There are the two brothers, James and John whom Jesus named Boanerges, the sons of thunder. These were men who had quick tempers. There were also Matthew the tax collector, a collaborator with Rome, and Simon the Zealot who belonged to a group who resisted the Roman government. Of course, there was Judas, who ultimately betrayed the Lord. The remarkable thing about the rest is that they are seldom or never mentioned again. These are the faceless about whose lives little or nothing is recorded. Perhaps there is some encouragement there for us. For if the Lord could use men with faults like these men, or men who are mostly unknown, then he can use us with all our quirks and weaknesses. Take heart! Jesus can use even you and me. But there is also a warning, for we find, among even The Twelve, Judas the man who never truly followed Jesus and who betrayed Him to His enemies. Let us be careful lest we masquerade as Christ’s followers while we remain His enemy.

These were the men whom Jesus made His inner circle, His friends. Jesus went up on a mountain, and “he called those whom He desired.” The initiative belongs to Jesus. He calls, and those He called were those He desired. That is how they come into this special relationship with Jesus. It is not their character or abilities but Jesus’ call that is determinative. As Jesus would say to them later, “You did not chose me, but I chose you…”(John 15:16). This is the way it still is, whether we are talking about the initial call to follow Jesus in faith, or the call to serve Him in some way. No one becomes a Christian and follows Christ, except that He sovereignly calls. We do not choose Christ, but He chooses us, calling those whom he desires. It is the same way with our service – we do not pick out how we would serve, but He calls us to the service He desires for us to perform.

When He called, they came. With the rabbis, the disciples chose him and placed themselves under his tutelage. But, in the case of Jesus, He calls, and they respond. Their response, too, is not their choosing, but His enablement. He calls them to Him, and they come. His call is irresistible. So it is also with our response to Him. When He calls us to faith, His call is effective so that we will certainly come. When He calls us to service, He calls us not on the basis of what we can offer Him, but His call bestows on us the gifts and the empowerment for our service.

He appointed these men first “to be with him.” We must remember that our Lord was fully a man, and as a man, He needed companionship. We are prone to weaknesses that can leave us without friends. We may, because of some kind of fear, withdraw from people and so isolate ourselves as to be without friends. Or, we may be so needy that we drive others away because we are drawing on them for our needs. In this case we cannot maintain the give and the take of peer friendship. But, God did not create us to live in isolation, nor to drain those around us trying to get our needs met. He made us to draw and to give strength, support, and encouragement with real friends. Jesus needed this as much as anybody – men He could talk and laugh with, share His burdens with, and turn to for support when life got hard. If Jesus needed friends in this way, how much more do we? Don’t refuse to be a friend or to seek a friend.

But for Jesus it was not a one-way street in which He asked of His friends but gave nothing. Jesus gave much more than He ever got. These Twelve were with Him all the time. They heard His public teaching and witnessed His miracles. They had time with Him in private when He taught them things He did not teach the masses. They were able to know, as only intimate friends can know, the character of the man. He was available to them. We can say that he “poured Himself into them,” not in the sense that He infused His divinity into them, but, rather, that He gave the time to them that allowed for Him to infuse His teaching and example into them. A thing they say about preaching is that is it more caught than taught. That is not to demean the teaching, but it is to say that you can learn a lot more about preaching by hearing good preaching and picking the mind of good preachers than you can in a classroom. That is the kind of thing that happened when the Twelve were called into close fellowship with Jesus. Can we still be with Jesus? Yes, we can through His Word and sacraments accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are right now in the company of Jesus, for this is the place and the way of our being with Him today.

Jesus chose, called, and entered into close fellowship with these men, so that “he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast our demons.” This is what Jesus has been doing – preaching the good news and demonstrating His authority over the demons by casting them out. These men are going to be sent out as His representatives to do what He had been doing. What they will preach is not their own thoughts or their experiences but what they have seen and learned from Jesus. It is not their message but His they will proclaim. And, with His authority, not theirs, they will cast out demons. The casting out of demons is a sign that accompanies the message. The message is that God’s kingdom has come. The sign of the presence of the kingdom is the conflict between the demons and Christ, and Christ’s ability and authority to drive them out, for He came to destroy the works of the devil. Today the church’s calling is to preach, not our message or experiences, but the message Jesus gave the disciples and that is recorded and preserved for us in the New Testament. Today we do not perform exorcisms, for this power was unique to Jesus and the Apostles to authenticate the message and to demonstrate the destruction of the devil’s work. However, we do exercise authority over the devil and his demons through the power and authority of the Word we read and preach, and by living and serving together in the unique society we know as the Church, where the life and the power of the kingdom is experienced.

It is not a coincidence that these special men were twelve in number. There were twelve tribes of the nation Israel, descended from Jacob’s sons. These men were the beginning of the Israelite people. They were the foundation on which Israel was built. Jesus has come to establish a new, broader and better Israel. These men are the foundation of the Church that Jesus came to build. This new Israel, the Israel of God, as Paul calls it, will reach not just Jews but Gentiles, and will extend not just to a strip of land in the Middle East but to the whole wide world. Peter tells us that we are now “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that (we) may proclaim the excellencies of him who called (us) out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Rejoice that you are a member of the true Israel of God, the Church redeemed and called into being by our Lord Jesus Christ.

III. Family

We will have occasion shortly to consider Jesus’ relationship with His family at greater length, so we will not take long to look at it now. After He appointed the Apostles, Jesus went back to Capernaum and to the home of Peter and Andrew that had become his home. Again He could not escape the crowds. They so demanded His time that there was not even opportunity for Him and His disciples to eat their meals.

His family heard about what was happening in Capernaum and the region around it. Now his family, by this time consisted of his mother and siblings. After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had children of their own. Since we hear nothing of Joseph during the public ministry of Jesus, we must assume that Joseph had died sometime between when Jesus’ turned twelve and traveled with His parents to Jerusalem and the time He began His public ministry at the age of thirty.

So Jesus’ mother and siblings left Nazareth and traveled to Capernaum. They had heard that He was drawing big crowds that interfered with His getting rest and even finding time to eat. They had received reports of how He had been in, and even provoked, confrontations with the Pharisees and their scribes. They probably knew that there were those who were plotting against Jesus.

They came to the conclusion that he must have “lost it.” You know how we sometimes see the stress and the zeal of a person under pressure, and we fear that he is close to “flipping out” or that he has “flipped out.” Jesus’ family decided that He had gone over the edge. So they did what a family of their day would have done. Today we might get a person admitted to a hospital or at least get him under a doctor’s care. They did not have those options, so they went to Capernaum with the thought that they would take Him under control and take Him back home, where they could watch Him, and where, perhaps with rest, He could come back to His senses.

The reaction of His family reminds us of the options available for understanding Jesus – His personality and His ministry. As has been said many times He was either mad or bad, lunatic or liar, or else He must be who He claimed to be, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

But we should also know that the way that Jesus’ family perceived Him may be the way family or others will perceive us, His followers. When I was a campus minister, students would come to our Bible studies and seek me out for counsel and teaching. They would begin to display a new seriousness about their faith and devotion to serving Christ. Sometimes parents did not understand. They accused their kids of being involved in a cult and of having come under the influence of a cult-like leader. The trouble was that parents could not make sense of the changes in these young adults. I am happy to say that to my knowledge every one of those students who puzzled their parents are still walking with the Lord and demonstrating zeal in their faith and service.

The response of Jesus’ family to Him and of families sometimes to Christians tells us that Jesus Himself was not understood and that if we walk with Him He, not our blood relations, will be our first loyalty and that our devotion to Him may put division between us and our families.

Jesus had relations with foes, friends, and family. They had an impact on Him, but, even more important, He had an impact on them. He presents Himself to us today, and He calls us no longer to be His foes but to be His friends to whom He sticks closer than a brother.

WILLIAM SMITH
Westminster Presbyterian Church,
Huntsville, Alabama

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