The Brothers of Jesus and Our Relations

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Devotional Word for Wednesday, May 27, 2020

During the 10 days between Jesus’ Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we know the disciples and followers of Jesus continued to meet. They stayed in Jerusalem and waited for what Jesus had promised. Acts 1:13-14 gives a very concise description of that group and describes what they were doing.

When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

We know about the 12 disciples, we know about Jesus’ mother Mary, but often overlooked in that group is the specific mention of Jesus’ brothers. They do figure into Jesus’ ministry, and they do figure into the life of the apostolic church. It will be worth our while to investigate a bit more about them.

They are first mentioned in John 2:12. It’s just after Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The text says, After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. So, they were present at the working of Jesus’ first miracle. 

The family of Jesus was very close. His brothers most often are mentioned in connection with Mary, their mother. After 30 years of living in the same household, when Jesus begins His ministry it is a significant departure from normality. Large crowds, demons being cast out, authoritative teachings being given. Has Jesus gone off the deep end? His family takes action. Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word and called Him. [Mark 3:31] The implication is His brothers and mother are seeking to bring Jesus back to normality. They are concerned He’s lost it, that He’s in over His head. 

By the time John chapter 7 rolls around, His brothers have taken another view. One of the annual huge feasts is due to take place in Jerusalem. They challenge Jesus: His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If you do these things, show Yourself to the world.” It’s one thing to make a scene in Galilee, they seem to say, but we dare you to go to the big stage, Jerusalem, and try to do the same stuff there. John adds this clarifying explanation: For not even His brothers were believing in Him. [John 7:3-5]

We know the names of His brothers; both Matthew and Mark list them. The scene is Nazareth, and folk are offended by Jesus. Here’s what they say: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? [Mark 6:3] They disappear from the Scriptural record after John 7, until this mention in Acts 1:14. Something happened between the unbelief in John 7 and the staying and waiting in Jerusalem in Acts 1. Somehow, they have gone from skeptical unbelief to patient, expectant belief. Jesus’ brothers become believers.

Not only do they believe, they become leaders in the apostolic church. Paul mentions them in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? The brothers of  Jesus are among the leaders who take wives along with them on their apostolic journeys.

Included in Paul’s list of those to whom Jesus appeared in person after His resurrection is James, Jesus’ brother. Paul also mentions James when he writes to the Galatians explaining his actions after he left Damascus: Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. [Gal. 1:18-19] This is the James who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He is the author of the NT book of James. His brother (also the brother of Jesus) Jude, wrote the NT book of Jude. 

Why mention all this today? Because we can be discouraged by relatives who don’t believe. We may be discouraged because they don’t believe. Or, we may be discouraged by words they say to us, much like Jesus’ brothers did in John 7. We need to do like Jesus and press on in the faith. Their unbelief should not stop our belief. We thank God that He can turn unbelievers into believers. Let’s remember Jesus’ brothers, and pray for our family members to experience the same transforming work of the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ brothers.

Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, we worship You. We honor You. We, too, have been in the lost world of unbelief. Thank You for bringing us to a place of true faith. We ask You to do the same gracious work in the lives of our unconverted family members. Help us be  faithful, patient witnesses without harassing them. We know we can’t convert them, but we know You can. Send Your Holy Spirit to work Your good work in each them. We ask this that Your name may be praised ever more fully in our families. Amen.