Christmas 1, “We Are Family”
Pastor Gary Wong, January 3, 2021
10 Certainly it was fitting for God (the one for whom and through whom everything exists), in leading many sons to glory, to bring the author of their salvation to his goal through sufferings. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified all have one Father. For that reason, he is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says: I will declare your name to my brothers. Within the congregation I will sing your praise. 13 And again: I will trust in him. And again: Here I am and the children God has given me. 14 Therefore, since the children share flesh and blood, he also shared the same flesh and blood, so that through death he could destroy the one who had the power of death (that is, the Devil) 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. 16 For surely he was not concerned with helping angels but with helping Abraham’s offspring. 17 For this reason, he had to become like his brothers in every way, in order that he would be a merciful and faithful high priest in the things pertaining to God, so that he could pay for the sins of the people. 18 Indeed, because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
How big is your family? A couple of generations ago, it wasn’t uncommon for families to have a dozen kids. Nowadays, the typical household has around two children. I grew up with just one older brother. So, in some ways, I felt like an only child. On the other hand, one of my cousins had a big family. With nearly forty cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, her family get-togethers were wall to wall people. Watching my cousin having such a blast with her large family, I thought that if I would ever be blessed with a wife, I’d want lots of kids who would grow up in a big, fun-loving family just like my cousin had. Today’s lesson speaks about a huge family. Through faith in Jesus, our heavenly Father has made us his dearly loved children and members of his household. So, no matter what your family size or situation, remember that you are a member of the greatest family of all: the family of God.
In the beginning, God had a perfect plan for families. Our heavenly Father intended that family members live in perfect harmony with one another, working and playing together, and enjoying each other’s company. A family isn’t just a group of individuals with the same last name who live under the same roof. Rather, a family is a team whose members are united by a common bond. What is that bond? The super glue that holds families together is God’s love. When our thoughts, words, and actions flow out of hearts filled with God’s love, then the saying of the psalmist will come true: “How pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
Unfortunately, God’s perfect plan was ruined even before there were any children in the world. The family harmony that God had intended was wrecked when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command. Rather than love for God and for each other, our relationships were now characterized by selfishness. Instead of brothers and sisters, moms and dads living in unity, it was now brother against brother, sister against sister, father against son, and mother against daughter. Sadly, some of the accounts of families in the Bible more resemble an episode of Family Feud than an episode of Father Knows Best.
For instance, Cain and Abel, the first brothers, set the pattern for sibling rivalry. Cain was Adam and Eve’s firstborn son. As such, Cain had his parents’ undivided love and affection. We don’t know how Cain felt about his baby brother. Was he filled with joy, or did he look upon Abel as a rival? Anyway, it became apparent that Cain had at least one jealous bone in his body when he and his brother brought their offerings to the Lord. The Bible tells us that the Lord looked with favor upon Abel’s offering, but was not pleased with Cain’s. Please understand. What mattered to God was not what the brothers had brought; rather, the Lord cared about the attitude in their hearts. The Lord could see that Cain’s heart wasn’t in the right place. It showed in Cain’s downcast face; worse yet, it showed in his actions when Cain murdered his brother in cold blood.
That pattern of jealousy, envy, and selfishness has been repeated countless times since then. Consider Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. That case of sibling rivalry began even before they were born. These two battling brothers were bumping and banging each other inside their mother’s womb. Even though Esau was the first, Jacob wanted in the worst way to be the number one son. So, Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel to try to get a foot up on his brother. Jacob coveted and then eventually stole his brother’s birthright. But that wasn’t enough. Jacob stole the blessing that his father, Isaac, had intended to bestow on Esau. This account also demonstrates that parents can also be the source of family strife. Rebekah and Isaac should have loved their twin sons equally. Instead, Rebekah favored Jacob, which led her to help him steal the blessing meant for Esau. Rather than trusting in the Lord, Rebekah and Jacob sinned by taking it upon themselves to obtain blessings from God.
Some of you might have noticed that I’ve only pointed out problems between brothers. But ladies—you know that women can be just as jealous and selfish as men. Consider Leah and her younger sister, Rachel. As you probably know, Jacob was in love with Rachel. But because of Laban’s bait and switch tactic, Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah first. Leah knew that Jacob didn’t love her. So, in his mercy, the Lord allowed Leah to give Jacob sons, while Rachel was barren. Rachel, in turn, became jealous of her sister, which led her to give her maidservant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife. When Leah saw what Rachel was doing, she wasn’t about to be outdone by her little sister. So, Leah gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob. This battle of wrangling wives and competing concubines eventually produced 12 sons. But did that mean that there was harmony in Jacob’s house? Not at all. Ten of those sons conspired to kill their brother, Joseph, all because of sinful sibling rivalry.
As you listened to these sad stories of sibling strife, we might have been tempted to shake our heads in disgust and disapproval at what those people had done. But before we start casting stones, let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s law and see if we have exhibited the same attitudes and behaviors. If we’re honest, we have to admit that we have been just as guilty as any of the people I mentioned. At times, we’ve been envious of a sibling or someone else who might have more gifts than we have. As parents, we might have been tempted to boast about a particular child’s accomplishments while we might have ignored or acted as though we were embarrassed about a child who is not as gifted. Folks—we need to remember that it hurts when parents play favorites. And that hurt is only worse when our siblings rub it in with a “Mom likes me best” kind of attitude. It’s hard not to despise someone who says such hateful harmful things. But the worst feeling has to be when those things are said by family members—the very people who are closest to you and should be showing unconditional love. Now, none of us has actually murdered a sibling like Cain did. But because of the hate in our hearts, we were all murderers in God’s eyes. God’s Word teaches that, ”Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15). The Bible also teaches that God’s punishment for any sin, including murder, is death. Because our hearts had been filled with hatred for God, his Word, and our fellow human beings, we deserved to die and to spend eternity in hell, forever separated from God’s love.
How, then, could we avoid God’s just punishment? By ourselves, we couldn’t. So, out of his love for mankind, God provided the solution. God sent his one and only Son to be our Savior. As the writer of this letter points out, Jesus did not come to help angels, but to save fallen man. And since we are made of flesh and blood, Jesus willingly shared our humanity. Folks—this is the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation. Even though Jesus is God Almighty—the maker of heaven and earth—he set aside his divine power and took on human flesh. This mystery is what we celebrated just ten days ago. As true man, Jesus faced every conceivable temptation the devil threw at him. But if you think that it was easy for Jesus to resist those temptations, think again. The holy writer points out that Jesus “suffered when he was tempted.” If you aren’t convinced, think back to Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane where his sweat fell like drops of blood as he prayed. Yet, despite the intensity of that struggle, that was not the end of our Savior’s suffering. Jesus’ suffering reached its climax on the cross where he paid for the sins of the whole world with his holy, precious blood. By his perfect life and innocent death, Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the devil. Because of Jesus, those who believe in him have eternal life.
How awesome is our God! Because of Jesus, God has made us members of his family. Through faith in Christ, we are God’s dearly loved children. Even though we didn’t deserve it, God adopted us and has given us the full rights of sons. And what an inheritance we’ve been given! As children of God, we have a room in heaven with our own name on it. Not only are we God’s sons and daughters, Jesus is our brother. What’s more—Jesus isn’t ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Jesus doesn’t treat us like a sibling whom no one wants to mention. Rather, Jesus is proud to be our brother. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises” (Heb. 2:12). In other words, when it is time for the Lord to take us to heaven, Jesus will put his arm around us and walk side by side into the presence of God and say, “Father, here is your child whom you gave me. Give him the inheritance which you have promised before eternity.”
How, then, do we respond to this indescribable gift? First, we thank the Lord for making us his children. Then we show love—first to God and then to our neighbor. So, how can we put our faith into action? If you think about it, you’ve doing it. On Christmas, you gave gifts to the members of your family. You did it because you love them. How much more, then, should we give gifts of love to the family of God? God gives us countless opportunities (and not just at Christmas) to return a portion of our treasures to help support the work of God’s kingdom. The offerings we give to the unified budget, to MVL, and to the Synod for missions, both at home and around the world, help to share the love of Christ with others and to grow God’s family.
Dear brothers and sisters, through faith in Christ, God has made us dearly loved children. We are his sons and daughters. More than that, Jesus—God’s own Son—is our brother. Jesus has promised that he will provide for our every need and guard us until the day he brings us to heaven. So, no matter what your family size or situation, remember that you are a member of the greatest family of all: the family of God. Amen.
“God of Grace and God of Glory” (CW 523)
Text: Phillip Doddridge, 1702-51; altered by Edward Osler, 1798 – 1863, alt.
God of grace and God of glory,
On your people pour your pow’r;
Crown your ancient Church’s story;
Bring its bud to glorious flow’r.
Grant us wisdom; grant us courage
For the facing of this hour
For the facing of this hour.
Lo, the hosts of evil round us
Scorn the Christ, assail his ways.
From our fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the living of these days
For the living of these days.
Cure your children’s warring madness;
Bend our pride to your control;
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Lest we miss your kingdom’s days
Lest we miss your kingdom’s days.
Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore;
Let the gift of your salvation
Be our glory evermore;
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Serving you whom we adore,
Serving you whom we adore.