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CHAPTER 3:31-35

THE FRIENDS OF JESUS

WE have lately read that the relatives of Jesus, hearing of His self-sacrificing devotion, sought to lay hold on Him, because they said, He is beside Himself. Their concern would not be lightened upon hearing of His rupture with the chiefs of their religion and their nation. And so it was, that while a multitude hung upon His lips, some unsympathizing critic, or perhaps some hostile scribe, interrupted Him with their message. They desired to speak with Him, possibly with rude intentions, while in any case, to grant their wish might easily have led to a painful altercation, offending weak disciples, and furnishing a scandal to His eager foes.

Their interference must have caused the Lord a bitter pang. It was sad that they were not among His hearers, but worse that they should seek to mar His work. To Jesus, endowed with every innocent human instinct, worn with labor and aware of gathering perils, they were an offense of the same kind as Peter made himself when he became the mouthpiece of the tempter. For their own sakes, whose faith He was yet to win, it was needful to be very firm. Moreover, He was soon to make it a law of the kingdom that men should be ready for His sake to leave brethren, or sisters, or mother, and in so doing should receive back all these a hundredfold in the present time (10:29, 30). To this law it was now His own duty to conform. Yet it was impossible for Jesus to be harsh and stern to a group of relatives with His mother in the midst of them; and it would be a hard problem for the finest dramatic genius to reconcile the conflicting claims of the emergency, fidelity to God and the cause, a striking rebuke to the officious interference of His kinsfolk, and a full and affectionate recognition of the relationship which could not make Him swerve. How shall He “leave” His mother and His brethren, and yet not deny His heart? How shall He be strong without being harsh?

Jesus reconciles all the conditions of the problem, as pointing to His attentive hearers, He pronounces these to be His true relatives, but yet finds no warmer term to express what He feels for them than the dear names of mother, sisters, brethren.

Observers whose souls were not warmed as He spoke, may have supposed that it was cold indifference to the calls of nature which allowed His mother and brethren to stand without. In truth, it was not that He denied the claims of the flesh, but that He was sensitive to other, subtler, profounder claims of the spirit and spiritual kinship. He would not carelessly wound a mother's or a brother's heart, but the life Divine had also its fellowships and its affinities, and still less could He throw these aside. No cold sense of duty detains Him with His congregation while affection seeks Him in the vestibule; no, it is a burning love, the love of a brother or even of a son, binds Him to His people.

Happy are they who are in such a case. And Jesus gives us a ready means of knowing whether we are among those whom He so wonderfully condescends to love. “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven.” Feelings may ebb, and self-confidence may be shaken, but obedience depends not upon excitement, and may be rendered by a breaking heart.

It is important to observe that this saying declares that obedience does not earn kinship; but only proves it, as the fruit proves the tree. Kinship must go before acceptable service; none can do the will of the Father who is not already the kinsman of Jesus, for He says, Whosoever shall (hereafter) do the will of My Father, the same is (already) My brother and sister and mother. There are men who would fain reverse the process, and do God's will in order to merit the brotherhood of Jesus. They would drill themselves and win battles for Him, in order to be enrolled among His soldiers. They would accept the gospel invitation as soon as they refute the gospel warnings that without Him they can do nothing, and that they need the creation of a new heart and the renewal of a right spirit within them. But when homage was offered to Jesus as a Divine teacher and no more, He rejoined, Teaching is not what is required: holiness does not result from mere enlightenment: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Because the new birth is the condition of all spiritual power and energy, it follows that if any man shall henceforth do God's will, he must already be of the family of Christ.

Men may avoid evil through self-respect, from early training and restraints of conscience, from temporal prudence or dread of the future. And this is virtuous only as the paying of a fire-insurance is so. But secondary motives will never lift any man so high as to satisfy this sublime standard, the doing of the will of the Father. That can only be attained, like all true and glorious service in every cause, by the heart, by enthusiasm, by love. And Jesus was bound to all who loved His Father by as strong a cord as united His perfect heart with brother and sister and mother.

But as there is no true obedience without relationship, so is there no true relationship unfollowed by obedience. Christ was not content to say, Whoso doeth God's will is My kinsman: He asked, Who is My kinsman? and gave this as an exhaustive reply. He has none other. Every sheep in His fold hears His voice and follows Him. We may feel keen emotions as we listen to passionate declamations, or kneel in an excited prayer-meeting, or bear our part in an imposing ritual; we may be moved to tears by thinking of the dupes of whatever heterodoxy we most condemn; tender and soft emotions may be stirred in our bosom by the story of the perfect life and Divine death of Jesus; and yet we may be as far from a renewed heart as was that ancient tyrant from genuine compassion, who wept over the brevity of the lives of the soldiers whom he sent into a wanton war.

Mere feeling is not life. It moves truly; but only as a balloon moves, rising by virtue of its emptiness, driven about by every blast that veers, and sinking when its inflation is at an end. But mark the living creature poised on widespread wings; it has a will, an intention, and an initiative, and as long as its life is healthy and unenslaved, it moves at its own good pleasure. How shall I know whether or not I am a true kinsman of the Lord? By seeing whether I advance, whether I work, whether I have real and practical zeal and love, or whether I have grown cold, and make more allowance for the flesh than I used to do, and expect less from the spirit. Obedience does not produce grace. But it proves it, for we can no more bear fruit except we abide in Christ, than the branch that does not abide in the vine.

Lastly, we observe the individual love, the personal affection of Christ for each of His people. There is a love for masses of men and philanthropic causes, which does not much observe the men who compose the masses, and upon whom the causes depend. Thus, one may love his country, and rejoice when her flag advances, without much care for any soldier who has been shot down, or has won promotion. And so we think of Africa or India, without really feeling much about the individual Egyptian or Hindu. Who can discriminate and feel for each one of the multitudes included in such a word as Want, or Sickness, or Heathenism? And judging by our own frailty, we are led to think that Christ's love can mean but little beyond this. As a statesman who loves the nation may be said, in some vague way, to love and care for me, so people think of Christ as loving and pitying us because we are items in the race He loves. But He has eyes and a heart, not only for all, but for each one. Looking down the shadowy vista of the generations, every sigh, every broken heart, every blasphemy, is a separate pang to His all-embracing heart. “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee,” lonely, unconscious, undistinguished drop in the tide of life, one leaf among the myriads which rustle and fall in the vast forest of existence. St. Paul speaks truly of Christ “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” He shall bring every secret sin to judgment, and shall we so far wrong Him as to think His justice more searching, more penetrating, more individualizing than his love, His memory than His heart? It is not so. The love He offers adapts itself to every age and sex: it distinguishes brother from sister, and sister again from mother. It is mindful of “the least of these My brethren.” But it names no Father except One.

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