Loving Unbelieving Relatives: or how to handle unbelief in the family (John 7:1-13)

Loving Unbelieving Relatives (John 7:1-13)

It’s Sunday morning. You’re eating breakfast, alone, peacefully. Then the door opens, and in comes… you know who, looking slightly dishevelled and half asleep.  They look at you inquisitively. They look at the clock. They look back at you, sitting there in your Sunday best. There’s a long pause.  And then it begins.  Round 1: Scepticism. “Where are you off to then? All dressed up at this hour of the morning? “I’m going to church. It’s Sunday…”  You want to add something else but you resist the temptation. Silence.  Round 2: Cynicism. “Off to your little holy huddle then. They’re just a bunch of hypocrites,” with an emphasis on the ‘your’ holy huddle. “Well, one more won’t make a difference” you reply, regretting saying it. Silence. Round 3: Sarcasm. “You think you’re better than the rest of us, don’t you?”  “No, I just know I need God’s help to make it through the day” and you feel like adding, “and find the strength to keep loving you.”  Silence. Sound familiar?  Don’t tell me that conversation has never happened to you.

For some of you, coming to church on a Sunday morning is a real sacrifice.  It’s a war zone at home and you tread so carefully to avoid the minefield of unbelief.  Family members can make you feel really guilty being here, and not with them. It only takes one member of the family, a father, a mother, a partner or sibling, ever so sweetly and not so innocently to wind you up and ruin your day even before you get here. And I know it’s even more embarrassing if “you know who” is reluctantly sitting next to you right now. Just don’t look at them…

It’s tempting to wish, if only we had been in Jesus’ family. Listening to his pearls of wisdom at every meal. I can’t imagine his mother or brothers or sisters ever went hungry, ever told him to shut up and go to his room, ever got ill, at least not for long. Headache dear? Period pain? Toothache? Arthritis? Surely no problem living with the Son of God? And mothers, I bet Jesus always put the seat down, washed his hands, brushed his teeth and went to bed when he was told. And he certainly never left his dirty clothes on the floor.  Surely the family of Jesus were the happiest people on earth. But the Scriptures reveal the reality was actually very different.  Surprisingly, Jesus was given a really hard time by his close family. On one occasion :

“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”… Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35)

You have probably already figured out that the home is one of the hardest places on earth to be a Christian. The very people who know you so well find it hard to believe you are any different because of Jesus. And that can be very discouraging. You long for them to share your love for Jesus. You feel a failure in your witness. How can I be a good Christian if my own family don’t believe?  Realise Jesus had a hard time at home too.  In John 7, we read of another occasion just before the Feast of Tabernacles. There were three times, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, when every Jew was expected to be in Jerusalem to celebrate. On this occasion Jesus gets into a heated conversation with his brothers.  Our objective today is: To learn from Jesus how to handle disbelief within our own family.   I want us to notice:

1. The Hatred of the Leaders (Mark 7:1)
2. The Disbelief of his Brothers (Mark 7:2-5)
3. The Confusion among the People (Mark 7:11-13)

1. The Hatred of the Leaders

“After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.” (John 7:1)

“After this.” After what? After, “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 7:66). After he challenged the Twelve “You do not want to leave to, do you?” (John 6:67). After he revealed that one of his twelve hand-picked disciples, “is a devil” who would “betray him” (John 6:70-71). On top of all that, the Jewish leaders had put a price on his head. They wanted him dead. He was a threat to their control over the people, their revenue, their status, their special relationship with the Roman rulers. This was why Jesus was reluctant to go openly to Jerusalem. Tensions were rising.  The hatred of the leaders.

2. The Disbelief of his Brothers

“But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-5)

2.1 His Brothers are Sceptical

“Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.” They must have seen his ‘works’. They refer to them, and yet do not believe.  “Go and do them somewhere else.” Perhaps Nazareth was becoming a pilgrimage destination – the sick and the needy were giving the place the wrong kind of image. The fact is miracles alone will not convince or convert. Later John tells us “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37). They are sceptical.

2.2 His Brothers are Sarcastic

“No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.” Did they really misunderstand his motives? Did they think Jesus wanted to be a celebrity, a politician, or public figure? Perhaps they were tired of journalists asking them for interviews. “What’s it like being related to the Messiah?” “You mean he is your brother? Wow… Must be wonderful living with Jesus.” They are sceptical. They are sarcastic,

2.3 His Brothers are Cruel

“Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world. “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” The Living Bible paraphrases them as mocking Jesus: “Go where more people will see your miracles. You can’t be famous hiding like this. If you are so great, prove it to the world.” (John 7:3-4 Living Bible)

The parallels with the temptations of Satan at the beginning of his ministry are strong. Luke 4 tells us after the wilderness encounter. “the Devil left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13). This was it. And this is also a foretaste of the mocking soldiers at his crucifixion. “If you are the Son of God, save yourself,” (Luke 23:36). Even his own brothers were sceptical, sarcastic and cruel, because they were blind. Only God can open blind eyes – even the eyes of the brothers of Jesus.

As John summarised in chapter 1, “He came to his own and his own received him not” (John 1:11). So don’t be discouraged if members of your own family do not yet believe in Jesus. They may say things that are cruel and hurtful, whether in ignorance or intentionally. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. … I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).  Do not be surprised. Do not take it personally. Do not give up hope. Keep praying for them.  The hatred of the leaders, the disbelief of his brothers.

3. The Confusion among the People (Mark 7:11-13)

“Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?” Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.” (John 7:11-13)

Jesus aroused controversy. The people were divided. They did not know what to make of him. Notice on the one hand some people insisted “He is a good man” – they were impressed by his character. Others said “He deceives the people” – they questioned his claims. Faith comes when we put the two together. Jesus words and actions, his claims and character.  That is what seekers and unbelievers are doing all the time. Don’t people do that to you? I saw a greeting card last week. It said ‘You don’t need to talk about yourself. We’ll do that when you’ve gone.”  When you claim to be a Christ-follower, people will test your character, will question your credibility to see if your claims are true. Witness is not about winning an intellectual argument. Witness is about being a  visible as well as verbal witness.  The integrity of the messenger will often determine the response to the message.

1. The Hatred of the Leaders (Mark 7:1)
2. The Disbelief of his Brothers (Mark 7:2-5)
3. The Confusion among the People (Mark 7:11-13)

4. The Response of Jesus

“Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.” (John 7:6-10)

4.1 Jesus submits to God’s timing

“My time has not yet come”. This is Kairos time not chronos. Jesus is not merely talking about time, but God’s timing.  God’s plan, fulfilled at the right time in the right way for the right reasons. On a later occasion, as he is about to ascend to heaven, the disciples ask Jesus about his return. He replies, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7). God the Father had appointed the time and path for Jesus and he was determined to obey his Father. Jesus submits to God’s timing.

4.2 Jesus speaks with deep conviction

Jesus is not swayed by their logic. He is not pressured by their arguments. He seeks neither their approval or agreement.“My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.” Jesus simply speaks the truth and leaves them to figure out the consequences.  Jesus submits to God’s timing and speaks with deep conviction.

4.3 Jesus acts with complete discretion

After his brothers had joined the caravan to Jerusalem from Galilee, Jesus eventually goes to the Feast, but in secret. Not as a pilgrim like them but as a prophet (as we will see next week). He was not afraid to die but he must wait till the right time. In six months’ he will indeed make that public triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a week before Passover and make atonement not for himself but for his unbelieving brothers, indeed for the whole world. And the consequence?  After his death and resurrection, his mother and brothers recognise him as their Saviour and Lord. As they waited for Pentecost, Luke writes,

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14; Acts 21:17-18; Matthew 13:55; James 1:1; Jude 1).


So what principles do we learn from the way Jesus handled disbelief among his own family?

1. Submit to God’s Will

Do you know what time it is? God’s will for your life this year?  God has a wonderful plan for your life. You are not here by accident. He has placed you in this church, at this time, for a purpose. Recognise God’s time. Submit to God’s will.

2. Develop Biblical Convictions

There is no substitute for reading God’s word daily or studying God’s word weekly in a small group with like-minded believers – whether its CBSI on a Tuesday and Friday, the men’s bible study on a Saturday morning or one of our mid-week home groups meeting on a Tuesday or Wednesday evenings.  Christians who develop strong biblical convictions are having a profound and lasting impact in our community and on our country.

This month, the Evangelical Alliance publish the findings of a survey of the views of 17,000 evangelicals in the UK.  It is the most extensive piece of research of its kind ever conducted. Here are some of the initial findings:

JESUS: 91% strongly agree that Jesus is the only way to God.
CHURCH: 97% attend a church service at least once a week.
BIBLE: 93% strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
PRAYER: 76% pray daily, 95% do so at least a few times a week.
GIVING: 96% have given money to their church in the past year.
MIRACLES: 83% strongly agree miracles did not end in the 1st century.
FAITH: 88% strongly agree their faith is the most important thing in their life.
ENVIRONMENT: 94% believe we have a duty to care for the environment.
ENGAGEMENT: 76% watch, listen or read the news every day. VOTING: 85% voted in the last General Election.
VOLUNTEERING: 81% do voluntary week every month.
VOICE: 93% believe evangelicals should have a voice in the media and engage with government.

The results shows that far from being in decline or irrelevant – evangelicals are setting the agenda for the Church and nation. Submit to God’s will. Develop biblical convictions.

3. Act with Discretion

Act with discretion because your family, your neighbours and your friends are watching. Watching to see if you are for real. Will you be their friend no matter what. They may make your life uncomfortable, unbearable. They may ask awkward questions. They may even offer unhelpful advice, but love them any way and pray that God will open their blind eyes. He can can’t he? After all he did for you and me, didn’t he?

We have just celebrated the fact that Jesus came a long way to do it. He came from Heaven to Earth to show the way. From the Earth to the Cross my sins to pay. From the Cross to the Grave. From the Grave to the Sky.  Lord I lift your name on high. Lets pray.