The Power of Relationship
While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But He answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’ ” (12:46–50)
Reformation is not salvation, regeneration, or redemption. It may, in fact, work toward the very opposite by entrenching a person in self-satisfaction and blinding him to his need for God’s mercy. In order to have salvation there must be a new and right relationship to God, which comes only as a sinner humbly confesses and turns from his sin and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The arrival of Jesus’ family gave Him the perfect opportunity to give a graphic illustration of the need for personal relationship to Him. While He was still speaking to the multitudes in a house (see 13:1), His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. When Jesus was informed of this, He answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
By this time Joseph had probably been dead for many years, and Jesus’ immediate family consisted of His mother, Mary, his half brothers (James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas), and His half sisters, who are not named (Matt. 13:55–56).
After the resurrection, Jesus’ brothers eventually came to believe in Him, His brother James becoming the head of the Jerusalem church (see Acts 15:13–22) and author of the epistle that bears his name. But during Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry there is no clear evidence that any member of His family other than Mary fully understood who He really was or trusted in Him as Savior. We are told specifically that His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5), and it may be that even His mother-despite the revelations to her before and after Jesus’ birth and her magnificent confession at that time (see Luke 1:26—2:38)-did not yet personally trust in Jesus as her own Lord and Savior.
We are not told (cf. Mark 3:31–32; Luke 8:19–20) why Jesus’ mother and brothers were … seeking to speak to Him, but it seems reasonable to assume that they were greatly concerned about His welfare and perhaps even feared with some of His home town friends that He had “lost His senses” (Mark 3:21). His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees continued to grow in intensity and seriousness, and those leaders, in turn, were accusing Him of doing His work by Satan’s power. Their plan to destroy Jesus (Matt. 12:14) was probably already rumored among the people. Jesus’ mother and brothers were therefore hoping to dissuade Him from continuing His work and perhaps hoped He would flee to a safe place until the religious leaders forgot about Him or lost interest. His family was on a rescue mission to save Him from imminent death.
For most men such an incident would have been embarrassing in the extreme, but Jesus was neither embarrassed nor resentful. He loved and cared for His family, and He understood their concern, misguided as it was. He did not, in fact, respond directly to the request of His family but rather used the occasion to teach an important truth: And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers!”
Jesus was not renouncing His family. He loved them even more than they loved Him. His last request from the cross was for John to care for His mother (John 19:26–27), and through His gracious love His brothers eventually came to believe in Him as their Lord and Savior (Acts 1:14).
The Lord’s purpose in referring to His disciples as His mother and brothers was to teach that He invites the entire world into His intimate and divine family. Anyone can enter His spiritual family by trusting in Him, and the family of God is the only family that ultimately matters.
Even being a member of Jesus’ own earthly family did not merit salvation by virtue of that relationship. Jesus’ invitation therefore extended to His natural mother and half brothers, because they, too, needed to be saved from sin. Apart from personal faith, they were no more spiritually related to Him than any other human being. “All of those, and only those, who believe in Me are spiritually related to Me,” He was saying. For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.
The whoever indicates the universality of the invitation. No one who believes is excluded. And, on the other hand, no one who does not believe will be included. God’s first and most absolute desire and requirement for mankind is belief in His Son. “This is the work of God,” Jesus said, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Until a person believes in Christ, God cannot give him any spiritual help, and that person cannot give God any spiritual service.
At Jesus’ baptism God declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17), and at the transfiguration He spoke the same words to Peter, James, and John, adding, “Listen to Him” (17:5). God’s supreme will for mankind is for them to be well-pleased with the Son, just as He is-and to trust in Him, listen to Him, follow Him, and obey His Word.
After declaring, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11), Jesus told a parable explaining the Father’s great love for mankind and His desire that they be saved. “What do you think?” He asked rhetorically. “If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (vv. 12–14). Many years later the apostles echoed that truth. Paul wrote, “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4), and Peter declared that the Lord does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Being rightly related to Christ, however, requires more than a mere verbal declaration of loyalty. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus warned; “but he who does the will of My Father who is heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ ” (Matt. 7:20–23). Saving relationship to Jesus Christ comes only from submissively believing in Him and receiving the gift of salvation He offers. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
At best, reformation changes only the outside of a person; at worst it becomes a barrier to his being changed on the inside. A right relationship to Christ, however, brings completely new life, both inside and outside. All the rest of Scripture surrounds the central truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners-to transform them, not reform them. Until a person claims that truth, no other can be of any benefit.
The great message of the gospel, and therefore of the church, is not a call to morality but a call to deliverance from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Doing the Father’s will (12:46–50)
Here Matthew basically follows Mark 3:31–35 (cf. Lk 8:19–21; Jn 7:3–5), though he omits the background in Mark 3:20–21. As a result, these verses are not so much a confrontation between Jesus and his family as a statement about what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be totally committed to him. The way for us to be as close to Jesus as his nearest and dearest is to do the will of his Father.
46–47 The obvious implication is that Jesus is inside the house (cf. Mk 3:20, 31). Though v. 47 is omitted in many MSS, probably by homoeoteleuton (words, clauses, or sentences with similar endings being dropped by oversight; both v. 46 and v. 47 end in lalēsai [“to speak”]), it was likely in the original text and clearly helps the sense of the pericope. While the verse might represent assimilation to Mark 3:32, this would not explain tō legonti autō (“to the one who had spoken to him,” omitted from v. 48 in the NIV), which presupposes v. 47.
In Mark’s account, a reason is given as to why Mary and Jesus’ brothers were trying to see him: they were concerned because the press of the crowd was so great that Jesus was not finding time and space even to eat (3:20–21). In that context, Jesus’ insistence that his disciples constitute his true family members might be taken to stem, in part, from Jesus’ insistence that his family did not have the right to interfere with his God-given mission. Because Matthew’s account, typically shorter than that of Mark, does not mention his family’s concern, Jesus’ comment about which people constitute his true family appears even sharper, though the main point is unchanged. Rather remarkably, David Sim (Gospel of Matthew, 191–92) thinks Matthew’s account actually rehabilitates James and the natural family of Jesus by including his disciples “within his natural family” (emphasis added). It is hard to see why he draws this inference. The only argument he advances is that Mary is presented favorably in Matthew’s birth narratives. Even this judgment is misplaced. Compared with Luke’s account, Matthew’s birth narratives are not much interested in Mary.
The most natural way to understand “brothers” is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side. To support the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, a notion foreign to the NT and to the earliest church fathers, Roman Catholic scholars have suggested that “brothers” refers either to Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage or to sons of Mary’s sister, who had the same name (cf. McHugh, Mother of Jesus, 200 ff.). Certainly “brothers” can have a wider meaning than male relatives (Ac 22:1); yet it is very doubtful whether such a meaning is valid here, for it raises insuperable problems. For instance, if “brothers” refers to Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage, not Jesus but Joseph’s firstborn would have been legal heir to David’s throne. The second theory—that “brothers” refers to sons of a sister of Mary also named “Mary”—faces the unlikelihood of two sisters having the same name. All things considered, the attempts to extend the meaning of “brothers” in this pericope, despite McHugh’s best efforts, are nothing less than far-fetched exegesis in support of a dogma that originated much later than the NT (see comments at 1:25; cf. Lk 2:7; see Broadus on 13:55–56).
48–50 Jesus’ searching question (v. 48) and its remarkable answer (vv. 49–50) in no way diminish his mother and brothers but simply give the priority to his Father and doing his will. “For, had [Christ] not entered into earthly kinship solely for the sake of the higher spiritual relationship which He was about to found …? Thus, it was not that Christ set lightly by His Mother, but that He confounded not the means with the end” (Edersheim, Life and Times, 1:577). Henceforth the disciples are the only “family” Jesus recognizes.
The metaphorical nature of v. 49 is shown by the “ands” (v. 50): “my brother and sister [Jesus had physical sisters; cf. 13:56] and mother” instead of “… or … or.” We do not make ourselves Jesus’ close relatives by doing the will of his heavenly Father. Rather, doing the Father’s will identifies us as his mother and sisters and brothers (cf. 7:21). The doing of that will turns on obedience to Jesus and his teaching, according to Matthew, for it was Jesus who preeminently revealed the will of the Father (cf. 11:27). This means that Jesus’ words in this pericope are full of christological implications, but they also establish the basic importance of the community now beginning to form around him, God’s chosen Servant, who, despite rising opposition, will lead justice to victory (vv. 18, 20).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 12:43–46). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 344–345). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.