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Brethren of Christ
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, and follow along as I read v10. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
I was doing some research on the Web and I came across a site called “Jordanstown Revisted” [http://www.aoqc42.dsl.pipex.com/jord/royal.shtml], and the particular page described a royal visit to this school in Northern Ireland by Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. This was back in May 1967.
The webmaster of the site, who is a graduate of the school, says, “On the day the entire school was stood around the roundabout at the main entrance.” She adds “The "huge" cars arrived and the visit started.” I suppose the cars were Rolls Royces, though she does not say. To the children of the school, they were just huge. She then says. “The school Cubs, Scout and Guide groups were paraded and inspected by the Royal party.” Then the Princess and Lord Snowden planted some trees. The webmaster says, “Facing the school main doors the tree planted by Princesss Margaret was on the left of the path while that of Lord Snowdon was on the right.” “The princess and her entourage were given a guided tour of the school before being taken again outside where the flowers were presented.” Photographs were taken, and are reproduced on the website--old black and white photos from the sixties.
Now that event took place almost forty years ago, but it is obvious from the website that it was a very big deal. The Princess came to this small school in Northern Ireland, and this was the biggest thing that every happened in Jordanstown. Royalty came to visit.
I confess that I read the whole thing with a disapproving sneer. I am an American. I believe in a republican form of government. In this election year, I should note that is republican with a little “r.” It has nothing to do with the Republican Party. The United States is a republic. We are governed by elected representatives. We do not have kings or dictators or tyrants. We do not have nobles or lords, and the rest of us scum-of-the-earth peasants. We settled all that back in 1776. We have no class distinctions. One person is just as good as another. In the church, we have no class distinctions. As believers, we are all royalty. Our verse today says that we are Brethren of Christ.
This is a resurrection verse. On the Sabbath after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone to the tomb, but there was a great earthquake, and the angel of the Lord descended, and rolled away the stone before the tomb. As you might imagine, the guards and the approaching women were struck dumb with fear and astonishment, but the angel assured the women that they had nothing to fear, saying, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you."” Then Jesus himself appeared to them and again commanded them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee; there they will see me." I am not sure why Jesus had to tell them what the angel had already told them. Probably it was because they had not really understood, in their heart and soul, what the angel said.
Now in order for this to mean anything to us, we must not only know the facts of Easter, we must apply them to our hearts and souls. If we preach only the history of Easter, it is an unprofitable sermon. Indeed, it is the kind of sermon that even Satan could preach, for Satan knows the facts of Easter as well as anyone. Satan knows every aspect of the trial of Jesus, every moment of the crucifixion of Jesus, and all about the resurrection of Jesus, but Satan never applies any of it to himself. Do not misunderstand me. Certainly we should know the facts, we should know what happened, but in order of the facts to have any benefit for me, I must apply them to my life.
Jesus suffered and was resurrected for his family. In MT28:10, Jesus said to the women, “Go tell my brethren.” This is the first resurrection message of Jesus, and the first lesson it teaches us is that Jesus decides who will be his brethren. Here, he calls the apostles “brethren” before they even know about his resurrection, before they have called upon him as resurrected Lord and savior.
It follows then that we cannot speak of any merit by which we deserve anything of Jesus. What did the apostles deserve of Jesus? Peter denied Jesus three times. The other disciples all fled when he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. I have heard it said that a coward is a person who thinks with his legs in an emergency. That pretty much describes how the disciples thought and acted during passion week. What then should Jesus have called them? Chicken-livered jellyfish? Spineless losers? Yellow-hearted deserters? He could have called them that, and the disciples knew it. The disciples knew that they had fled in panic when danger threatened. They knew they deserved a blistering denunciation for deserting their master.
But Jesus does not denounce them. He sends them a word of pure mercy. He does not call up their past sins. He calls them simply, “my brethren.” This shows us what the grace of God is like. On Easter morning, before they met Jesus, the disciples were mired in their sins and self-condemnation. Jesus sent them a message of comfort. He promised that they would see him—that they would physically see him. Certainly that is important. But the most comforting thing about this message is that Jesus addressed them as “my brethren.” We are mired in our sins and our self-condemnation. The message we need to hear comes to us from Jesus. He says to you and me, “my brethren.”
This is the real comfort of scripture, that Jesus receives even desperate villains such as you and me and calls us “brethren.” The Greek word is “adeljos.” It has several meanings. It can mean male children of the same parents. It can also refer to people of the same nationality or people of a common interest or calling. Here it refers to disciples of Christ.
One of the mistakes some feminist writers make in interpreting the Bible is that they look at a verse like this, and they say, “It does not say brothers and sisters, and that proves that the Bible is a sexist book.” Not at all. Sometimes “adeljos” means a biological brother, but it also has the general meaning: brothers and sisters. Here Jesus is certainly not talking about his biological brothers. His immediate concern was the apostles, the twelve, the inner circle of his disciples. His ultimate concern all his disciples, all believers of both sexes and all races and nations and ethnic groups.
Jesus calls us all his brethren: which leads us to ask: if we have Jesus as our brother, what else can we ever need.? Think of it this way: in ordinary families, brothers and sisters have the same parents. It follows then that if Jesus is our brother, we have with Jesus the same parent; it follows that God is our parent. That is why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father who art in heaven.”
In fact, the parenthood of God is the whole basis for prayer. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: We can “draw near to God, with all holy reverence and confidence as children to a father.” In prayer, we come to God as one who is able to help us like a father and ready to help us like a father. That is what it means to have God as a father. But we do not have God as a father unless we have Jesus as a brother.
And if we have Jesus as a brother, we have the same inheritance that Jesus has. It is an inheritance that can never be used up. Ordinary human inheritances decrease by being distributed. If you divide an ordinary inheritance among a thousand people, then each person receives 1/1000 of a share. But it is not so with our spiritual inheritance in Christ. Anyone who has part of that inheritance has it all.
Now among human brothers and sisters, parents sometimes favor one child above another. We see this in the story of Joseph in Genesis. His father, Jacob, favored Joseph above all his brothers, and this was the main reason that the brothers conspired against Joseph and sold him into Egypt.
Later, in chapter 43 of Genesis, there is an incident where Joseph now risen to be the first minister of Pharaoh confronts his brothers. Joseph does not reveal himself to them, but he has them all come to his house and eat a meal with him, and scripture says that when Joseph saw Benjamin, he was so overcome with joy that he went away to a private chamber and wept . He then returned and had the meal served and saw to it that Benjamin received five times as much as any of the other brothers .
We might see Joseph as a shadow of Christ. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into bondage into Egypt. Jesus put himself into bondage for us by coming among us in the flesh, and Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. But one way in which Jesus was not at all like Joseph is that Jesus does not play favorites among his brothers and sisters. As far as Jesus is concerned, we are all Benjamin. Every Christian is Benjamin.
That is why we say that every Christian who has a part in the inheritance of Jesus Chris has all of it—because we are all the favorite brothers and sisters of Jesus. Which leads us to the next question: namely: what is this inheritance that we have in Jesus? It is truth, power, wisdom, and righteousness. Jesus governs everything in heaven and on earth. He rules over every problem and over every success. He has all things in his hand. Now, if we believe on him, we become partakers with him in all of his inheritance. We do not inherit a part or piece of Jesus. We inherit all. We inherit eternal righteousness, eternal wisdom, eternal strength.
This then helps us to understand some puzzling verses that we find scattered here and there in the scripture and especially in the Psalms. For example, PS34:10, “The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” Also PS37:18-19, “The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide forever; they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance.” Now we might debate these verses and say, in days of famine or depression or recession, in bad times, Christians suffer just as much as non-Christians. But these are spiritual promises. Believers do not lack any good thing, because all really good things are spiritual. All material things pass away; the good we receive from them is momentary, but the believer has a heritage that abides forever.
This is the promise we have as brethren of Christ. It is an astonishing promise, that is only perceived by faith. If we look only with our physical eyes, it may not seem believers are any better off than non-believers. A non-Christian may work at the same job as a Christian, may receive about the same pay, may be as healthy as a Christian, and so, looking at things only with a physical eye, someone might say, there is not difference between them. But there is a vast difference because the Christian has an eternal heritage. We claim kinship with the second person of the Trinity.
Thus, the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:15-17, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” We are children of God; we are heirs of God; we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ; therefore, we are glorified with him
Now this idea that we are the brothers and sisters of Christ is one of the great neglected doctrines of scripture. It is neglected because it is so astonishing, so unbelieveable. The Holy Spirit pricks our conscience and teaches us that we are dead in our sins and under the wrath of holy God. Thus we learn contempt for ourselves and fear of God. But through Christ we “receive a spirit of adoption” into the family of God where we learn to address God as “Abba! Father.” and we are overwhelmed. We think something like this: “I am a sinner, under God’s curse. Shall I now be so exalted that God’s Son is my brother? Can that be true? Can I be so exalted that I am part of God’s family. Jesus says yes, you can.
Search for Truth
In John 20:17, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Now again, this is a resurrection message. Jesus has just arisen from the grave, and he said something like this: “Tell my disciples who deserted me in my hour of need, that by my resurrection, my father is their father and my God is their God.”
John 20:17 does not have many words, but those few words contain a tremendous idea. The idea, the doctrine, is that we can have the same kind of confidence in God that Jesus himself had. The doctrine is that God is our refuge to the same extent that God was the refuge of the only-begotten Son. Can we grasp this? Of course not. How can I a poor corrupt sinner call upon God as my Father and My God in the same way that Jesus did. Jesus was God, Can I then have the same relationship with God as God has with God? I do not understand how that can be possible, but we are not supposed to understand it, we are supposed to apply it. We accept it in faith and apply it to our hearts so that it become the truth of our lives.
We are a royal family. God is the king, Jesus is the crown prince, and that makes us princes and princesses. Now I mentioned earlier that in America we no longer officially have royalty, and I sneered at the way Jordanstown in Northern Ireland reacted to a visit by Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, but from the way we Americans fawn upon visiting kings and princes, you would almost think that they were our rulers. In 1990, Prince Charles visited Charleston SC. This was before the messy divorce from Diana. As the prince was about to enter his hotel in Charleston, he paused to shake hands with a bystander, and the reporter who was doing the story talked about how he exhibited “the common touch.” Since then, of course, the Prince has gone through a messy divorce with Diana, and has often been portrayed in the media as an arrogant jerk, but tht is not the point, the thing that amazed me was the awe in the reporter’s voice that the Prince condescended to notice the rest of us peasants. And this has often been the attitude of Americans toward the British royal family. You would almost think we lost the Revolultionary War.
But if we are amazed that human royalty would condescend t notice the rest of us, then how much more amazing is it that Jesus Christ, the king of glory, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, not only notices us, but says to us: You are my brother; you are my sister. You are a royal prince. You are a royal princess. You have an inheritance as high as heaven itself. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/29/04