The times they are a-changin’

By David A. Liapis

The first Sunday of this month also happened to be New Year’s Day, and the pastor selected Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 as one of the passages of Scripture to be read. It was a great reminder of the different times and seasons in which we find ourselves and how our focus, goals and priorities change with them. It was no different for Jesus Christ. For him there was a time to work and a time to rest; at time to be an obscure carpenter and a time to be revealed as the Messiah; a time be humiliated and a time to be glorified; at time to live and a time to die … and a time to be raised to life. 

In Matthew 12:46-50 it was a time to work. Jesus’ family was attempting to speak with him, but were unable to reach him because of the massive crowds that were gathered around his home seeking wisdom and healing. When told of his family’s request, Jesus asked, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” and then declared that all those who do the “will of my Father in heaven” are his “brother, sister and mother.” This response isn’t quite what I would have come up with when asking “What Would Jesus Do?” Rather, Jesus’ response seems indifferent and dismissive to his family – including the mother of our Lord, Mary, who will be blessed by “all generations.” Why is this?

Reading the parallel passage and surrounding verses in the Gospel of Mark is helpful in understanding what has been going on in this early part of Jesus’ booming ministry. In the short time (a few months to a year) since Jesus began his public ministry, he had been baptized by John, tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, traveled the region healing many diseases and casting out many demons, called and commissioned disciples, had his roof torn apart by men desperate for their friend to be healed, been nearly crushed by huge crowds seeking healing, enraged the religious elite by healing on the Sabbath, and chose serving over sleeping, eating and visiting with his blood relatives. In fact, in Mark 3:21, it says that his family was saying, “He is out of his mind” because of all that he was doing and enduring. Jesus, out of his mind? Could God incarnate ever be out of his mind? His family had clearly not yet fully grasped who Jesus was and what his ultimate purpose was for being on Earth.  

Jesus had his priorities, the first of which, of course, was to “do the will of the Father,” whatever that looked like and at whatever cost necessary, up to and including being obedient “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus’ public ministry was only about three years long, and he had much to do in that time. So, why the urgency from his family to interrupt his ministry? Was it because they were genuinely concerned about him and wanted to try to get him some food and rest? Was it to protect him (and them?) from him saying and doing more to incur the wrath of the Jewish leaders? It would be unfair and unwise to speculate too much as to why his family was so intent on gaining an audience with him (though we do know at that time his brothers were at best skeptics, and at worst antagonistic towards him and his new line of work). 

Jesus revealed two things in this interaction: 1. Doing the will of the Father is more important than anything, even our lives (see Mark 8:34-37). 2. The family of God is superior even to blood relations (see Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 10:29-31 and Galatians 6:10). What are the takeaways for us? Jesus gives us the answer when he says we must love him more than mother, father, son or daughter; and that we must die to ourselves, or in other words we must submit our will to that of the Father no matter the cost. Loving and obeying God must be our first priority, no matter what time or season we’re in, and that will undoubtably look different as the times and seasons change. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom to know what God’s will is for us in every season of our lives, as well as to discern when the times change. We need God’s wisdom, for example, to know when to be silent and when to speak when it comes to engaging cultural and political issues – when to be a Daniel, and when to be a John the Baptist. 

There is a time for everything, and that might mean, like Job, a time of plenty, comfort and ease, but then also a time of loss, grief and pain. It might mean a time to be humiliated or even persecuted, or a time of abundance or a time of privation – and those times may be days, months, years or a lifetime. However, we can endure all things because we know that at the end time itself there is the promise of being in the presence of the Father, Son and whole family of God forever. Jesus knew this, and the writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” If that joy was enough to motive Jesus to endure the suffering of the cross – the climax of which was God pouring out his wrath upon him and forsaking him – then that joy should be more than sufficient to enable us to endure whatever time we are in, and also to be willing to forsake whatever earthly relationships and pleasures necessary in order for us to accomplish the Father’s will. 

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