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Now do turn with me to Mark's gospel chapter 3 again in our studies in this gospel, and we've reached verse 31 and we begin our reading there through to the end of the chapter, verse 35. I've entitled my message today "Jesus' True Relations".

We're going to see this morning that it's not so much His friends, but His relatives that are coming to Him and wanting to take Jesus away from the chaos...

Verse 31 of Mark 3: "There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother".

Now if you remember where we have been up to now in Mark's gospel, particularly Mark's gospel chapter 3 and chapter 2 as well, you will know that a frenzied scene has been created for us concerning the daily life of the Servant of the Lord, that is our Lord Jesus. If you cast your mind back, you will remember four men demolishing someone's roof to lower their friend down to meet Jesus and be healed. You will remember that in this chapter in particular, the Lord Jesus was hard pressed and pressurised by demoniacs who were pressing themselves against Him to be delivered, diseased people falling upon Him to be healed. We also saw the Lord spending a whole night in prayer, at least that's inferred in Mark, the night before He chose His twelve apostles - and what a motley crew they were, the Lord had His work cut out with them! Last time we looked at Mark, we found that the Lord was on the receiving end of accusations of demonic possession. The religious establishment were accusing Him of casting out devils by the power of the Prince of devils, Beelzebub, which of course was synonymous with Lucifer himself, Satan.

If it wasn't bad enough that these religious leaders were accusing Him of having a devil, His own friends were accusing Him of being beside Himself, being mad, out of His mind. Now we're going to see this morning that it's not so much His friends, but His relatives that are coming to Him and wanting to take Jesus away from the chaos. I want you to get this picture in your mind, their idea is that they are rescuing the Lord Jesus from Himself. He has created this frenzy by His own mania, by what He thinks He is Himself - perhaps they have even heard of some of His teaching and they're coming to rescue Him, to rescue His reputation as a prophet, as perhaps the potential Messiah - or maybe they are just wanting to rescue Him physically, because they know He has been spending whole nights in prayer and all day serving others.

Now do you know what's amazing to me, before I go on any further: as someone who is so easily discouraged and dissuaded from the work of the Lord, it's amazing to me how none of these things moved Him, none of them. They were powerless to turn Him from His course. His face was set flint-like toward the cross and the crown. We could spend a whole morning thinking about that, couldn't we? How we need to be the same. Now, while Jesus was still speaking to the people, and the crowd were seated around Him, we read here in verse 31 that His mother and His brothers arrived. Let me just say that it is significant that Joseph is not mentioned as living during any of the ministry of our Lord Jesus, since Joseph was in the royal line to be Israel's next king. So, only after Joseph's death could the Lord Jesus have presented Himself as 'King of the Jews'. We just read of Jesus' mother Mary and His brothers, and they stand outside and ask to speak with the Lord, for they are unable to reach Him themselves because of the great multitude that is gathered around Him.

Lest we miss the entire point of this passage, let me spell out very clearly what the point of the Lord Jesus is: it is simply that ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually...

So someone tells the Lord Jesus: 'Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, and want to speak with You'. We read that the Lord's reply was this: 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?'. Now Mark records that the Lord Jesus looked around at those who were sitting round about Him, but Matthew put it like this: that, after doing that we assume, He extended His hand towards His disciples and said, 'Look at my mother and my brothers, my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. Whoever does the will of my Heavenly Father, he is my brother or my sister or my mother'.

Now, lest we miss the entire point of this passage, let me spell out very clearly what the point of the Lord Jesus is: it is simply that ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually. In a nutshell, that's what He is saying. What marks us out as being part of God's family is obedience to God's will, full stop. Not who we are related to, but how we have a relationship with Almighty God. Now of course when a newborn comes on the scene, all the women especially are asking 'Who is he like? Who is she like?' - such a lot of nonsense is talked at such a time! Yet some will say, 'I can see his father in him' - that's what they say about my children! 'I can see his father in him', that's what we're talking about here, the family likeness of the children of God. It is to see the Father in them, or to see Jesus in them. The family likeness of the family of God is obedience, that's what the Lord is saying here: 'My brothers and my mother are those that obey the Father's will'.

So let's take the point of what Jesus is saying and split it into two points for our understanding this morning. The first is this: ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually. Let's tease this one out for a little while: ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually. Now in Mark 6 and verse 3, if you look at it, we have clear proof that the Lord Jesus had brothers and sisters according to the flesh - now of course they could only be half brothers and sisters, as God was Christ's Father. But humanly speaking, we read: 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary', they say, 'the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?'. Now that clearly disapproves the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that Mary was a perpetual virgin. She was a virgin, of course, before the Lord Jesus was born; but after that the Lord Jesus had brothers and sisters. There are many other scriptures that prove that point.

Now if we go back to Mark 3 and verse 21, we saw in our last study that His own people thought that the Lord was mad. Now that may well be His friends, but probably, I think, it included also His relatives - because here this morning in verse 31 we see that it is His brothers and His mother had come to rescue Him. They are concerned for Jesus' safety, or concerned for His reputation, and perhaps because of the frenzied atmosphere that has been created by Jesus' teaching they have assumed - as the New King James Version puts it in verse 21 - that He is out of His mind. Now we know from John 7 and verse 5 that the condition with His brothers and sisters was worse than just thinking He was mad, John tells us that some of His brothers at least did not believe in Him. They didn't believe He was who He said He was, and was going to do what He said He was going to do.

Now what does that teach us? Very simply what the Lord is teaching us through the story today is that ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually. To put it specifically: being a half brother or sister of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the flesh, didn't make any difference to their spiritual condition. Some of them were unbelievers - and they had to believe, they had to believe to be benefited from Christ spiritually, that's very significant. Being a half brother or half-sister of Christ didn't matter in the spiritual realm. But being the mother of Jesus wouldn't make any difference to Mary either. In Luke 2 verse 22 we read that after the birth of the Lord Jesus, 'When the days of Mary's purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord', and later on in verse 24 of Luke 2 we read, 'And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons'. Mary needed to be purified after birth, and she had to give an offering as a sinner - and, of course, you know well her great cry in Luke 1:46-47: 'Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour'. She was a sinner who needed a Saviour.

Being a half brother or sister of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the flesh, didn't make any difference to their spiritual condition...

Mary, of all people, on this occasion should have remembered what the Lord Jesus said to her and Joseph when He got lost on their journey to the Feast, and when He was found with the doctors in the Temple He said: 'How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?'. Now there is another rebuke here to the Roman Catholic Church for their emphasis on Mary-worship, Mariolatry. We see here that Mary was a sinner who needed a Saviour, and in fact the only time we find her mentioned in Mark's gospel is in this negative light of not understanding what the purpose of Christ was at this moment. Whilst she is undoubtedly the greatest of all women - and I do not demean her as many do - she is a sinner saved by grace.

Jesus is basically saying that it was more to Mary's credit to do the will of God than to be His mother. It meant more to do God's will than to be related to Christ in the flesh. So, being a half brother or sister of the Lord Jesus meant nothing spiritually, being the mother of the Lord Jesus meant nothing spiritually. Being a son of Abraham means nothing spiritually. If you were to turn to John 8, we would read these words: 'They answered and said unto the Lord Jesus, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God'. The Lord Jesus was pointing out to them that being related to Abraham by flesh and blood meant nothing spiritually, being a Jew, Jesus was saying, will not save your soul. It will make no difference to you eternally, and we see that in Luke 16 where the rich man is in hell, and he's able to call Abraham his father, and Abraham is able to call the rich man 'son', and they are related in race, but spiritually he is lost and that for all eternity.

Jesus is telling us, lest any of you in this congregation this morning have missed this fundamental spiritual gospel lesson, that ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually! You need to be born again, and that is how you enter into the family of God - John chapter 3, Jesus said: 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again'. It is a salvation that is not related to religion, or to works - in Matthew 7 Jesus made that clear: 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity'. Works mean nothing!

Now you might say: 'Well, is obedience not works?'. Jesus is saying in this passage that, 'Those who are related by blood to Me are not spiritually correct in God's eyes; but those that do the will of My Father in heaven' - are works not obedience? Initially, no. You see, Jesus was asked on one occasion by religious people: 'What must we do that we might do the works of God?', and Jesus answered and said unto them, 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom God has sent'. They wanted to do a work, but Jesus here, I believe, is making the point that you need to be obedient to the gospel, you need to believe on the One who God has sent. That is not a work, that is faith - saved by obeying God's word to believe the gospel. Even Abraham, the father of Judaism, was justified by faith and not by works - Romans 4: 'What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted', accredited, 'unto him for righteousness'. Peter put it well, to get into God's family you need to be 'born again, not of corruptible seed' - that is, not in your first, natural birth - 'but of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever'.

You're not saved eternally because of your relations, and you're not saved eternally because of religious works, you're saved because you're born again, having put faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone...

You're not saved eternally because of your relations, and you're not saved eternally because of religious works, you're saved because you're born again, having put faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone. So who you are related to in the flesh, or how religious or righteous you are in the flesh, is irrelevant: you must obey God through the gospel, that's what Jesus is saying. Now I have a question, and I try to be as honest as I can when I come to the scriptures, and I encourage you to do that - don't douse your questions, but try and answer them biblically - this book can answer any of the questions that you might have. When I was reading this, I thought: 'Well, this makes the Lord Jesus look a bit rude, doesn't it?'. Let's be honest: here's His mother and His brothers coming to see Him, and He doesn't want to go out and speak with them. If that happened to you in your situation, would you not think your son or daughter was being rude? Of course you would! Indeed Renan, the famous sceptic, used these words to accuse Jesus of, I quote: 'Trampling underfoot everything that is human, love and blood' - His family relationship - 'and country'.

There's no doubt that this is one of the hard sayings of Jesus. Let me point out a number of things that will help you if you're asking the same question as I am: was He being rude? First of all, it doesn't say that the Lord Jesus didn't eventually speak to His mother and His brothers, does it? He may well have done so after this event. The second lesson, which is more important, is: Jesus could not have dishonoured His mother, because that would have been a transgression of the fifth commandment. Added to that is the fact, as we often sing, 'There is no love like the love of Jesus' - now that's the case for us as His disciples, but you could never imagine the type of affections that sprang up in Jesus' heart toward His natural mother and His brothers and sisters - they are certainly greater than anything that you have experienced in your own family.

Indeed, we have evidence of this in John 19, that when Jesus was in His most needful hour, He was looking after the needs of His own mother. You remember He saw His mother, and the disciple standing by her whom He loved, and He said unto His mother: 'Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home'. No one can accuse the Lord Jesus of being negligent or dishonouring towards the care of His mother - but here's the point that the Lord is making: He put God's interests above natural ties. That's why we find it so difficult to understand. He's not exhorting, as the cults do today, that we break our ties with friends and loved ones. He's not saying, as many Christians do, that we should be callous, almost, towards our unconverted loved ones and relatives - no, no! But He's saying, rather than showing that the ties of flesh are stronger than the Spirit, we should be showing as believers that the ties of the Spirit are stronger than the ties of flesh and blood.

What He is meaning is that when there is a conflict of interests between the ties of flesh and blood and the ties of the Spirit, we ought to obey God's word. Now there's precedent for this in the Old Testament, if you look at Exodus 32 - you remember that when Moses was receiving the law, the people got together and made a golden calf and worshipped it in a pagan orgy. 'When Moses saw', we read in verse 25 of Exodus 32, 'that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day'. Now that seems cruel to us, but Moses knew that the wicked in the camp had to be slain, lest the whole camp perish under God's judgement and this sinful way of life spread. When we go to Deuteronomy 33:8-9 we find that Moses commends the Levites for their ability to give judgement with loyalty to God, rather than being swayed by family ties.

Rather than showing that the ties of flesh are stronger than the Spirit, we should be showing as believers that the ties of the Spirit are stronger than the ties of flesh and blood...

Now, whilst it's not as harsh for us in the New Testament era of grace, the Lord Jesus still says to us in Luke 14:26, listen to these words: 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple'. Now I wonder do we get the balance right in our lives as Christians? The balance between the ties of the flesh and the ties of the Spirit - this is very hard. Jesus is saying that it is only those who love Christ more than their nearest and dearest that can be my disciples. Now being a disciple is not an issue of whether you're saved or not. You can have eternal life and not be a true disciple of the Lord Jesus, so don't be confused that I'm saying you can't be saved if you don't love Christ more than your nearest and dearest. Jesus is saying that if you want to follow me completely and be a true disciple of mine, you've got to do this. What He's saying is simply this: 'You must put me first, and whatever pain that causes in your family or in your own heart, you must do it'. Now that doesn't mean you deprive your family of love - no, no, in fact it's the opposite, because if our love for God is great enough to love God and Christ greater than our family, surely our love for our family will be even better. But Jesus is saying that our love should be so great for God and Himself that our love for our family looks like hatred in comparison! That's what He means in Luke 14:26.

So how do you fare? It's a hard one, isn't it? In fact, you can imagine the impact of this in Jewish society where the family was so important - this was radical obedience that the Lord Jesus was espousing. Maybe it wasn't only too radical for the Jews of His day, but it's too radical for us in our day, that the ties of flesh and blood mean nothing spiritually.

Let's move on to His second point, or the second half of His main point. He's telling us that the character trait of those who belong to God's family is obedience to the Father's will, not who you're related to or how religious you are. He asks: 'Who is my mother and my brothers?'. He looks around at the circle of people, and He stretches out His hand towards His disciples and says: 'Here is my mother, here are my brothers, those who do the will of God'. That's not to say that there was no honour in being the mother of the Lord Jesus, or being one of His siblings, there was - but His point is: it's of no eternal significance to their souls. Listen to Luke chapter 11: 'It came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it'. It is a blessing to be the mother of Messiah, it is a blessing to be a half-brother or half-sister, but it means nothing spiritually. Jesus is saying: 'I regard My disciples, those who do My words, as My family, My brothers, My sisters, My mother'.

Now some people are bothered by the concept that we should be called the brothers or sisters of Jesus, and their reason is justified: they worry about overfamiliarity. Well, let me point out that the Greek here indicates a figurative sense of 'brother' and 'sister' and 'mother', it's not meant to be taken literally - how we are spiritually related to one another. Here is a principle that I think you should lay down in your own mind to discern what is overfamiliarity and what is biblical, simply this: intimacy is not the same as overfamiliarity. Did you hear that? Intimacy is not the same as overfamiliarity. Sometimes it is portrayed that the two are synonymous, and they are not - neither is intimacy equal to irreverence. Intimacy is not equal to irreverence.

We are seeing here the intimate relationship that we can have with Christ in this spiritual realm when we are obedient to God's word...

So we are seeing here the intimate relationship that we can have with Christ in this spiritual realm when we are obedient to God's word. It's right throughout the Bible, He calls us brothers and sisters - yes! Listen to the Psalms, 22:22 prophetically, 'I will declare thy name', Messiah says, 'unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee'. Matthew 25:40, one of the Lord's parables, 'And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me'. Matthew 28:10, 'Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid', after He had risen again, 'go tell my brothers that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me'. John 20:17, 'Jesus saith unto Mary', after His resurrection, 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God'. Romans 8:29, 'For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren'. Hebrews 2:11-12, 'For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee'.

So you see it is biblical that the Lord should call us brothers and sisters in humanity, yes, but in the Spirit because of obedience to Him. The character trait, the family likeness of God's family, is to obey the Father's will as Jesus did, to have His resemblance. Now here's the reality check: are earthly ties greater to us than ties of the Spirit? Are earthly loyalties greater to us than heavenly loyalties? Let's do the test then: your home, has it become a temple for you? What about your family, and your career, and possessions - are they idols of devotion to you? Do you worship them? Do you covet them? This is elementary stuff, but in a world of increasing materialism, the fact of the matter is: we, even unconsciously, are putting things and people before God, ties of flesh and blood before spiritual.

Let me say to you: the best way that you can provide and protect your family is to love Jesus more than you love them, that's the best way. To put it negatively: a Christian should not use family as an excuse for giving Jesus second place - for the Christian there is no excuse for that! I know it's hard, and I know that there's great cost, and I know that I'm guilty of not doing it - but it is upon us as disciples of our Lord to be obedient, and the recompense for those who even lose relatives and friends because of their faith, the Bible says, is a hundred fold - Mark 10:29: 'And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life'. I always wondered at that verse, but do you know what it means? We are meant to have brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in the church of Jesus Christ, and for those who lose their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and friends because they have followed Jesus, we ought to be greater fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and friends to them by the ties of the Spirit than you could ever have in the ties of the flesh. The question is: are we?

In Luke 8:21, where Luke records this particular instance, we read that Jesus said to them: 'My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it'. Where do you find the will of God? You find it in the word of God: hearing God's word and doing it! I'll tell you, if there is a message for the people of the Iron Hall and evangelicalism in Ulster today, it is this one: people need to not only hear the word of God, they need to do it! There's a great responsibility when we hear God's word, and that responsibility is to do it. James said - and incidentally James, we believe, who wrote the epistle, is a half-brother of the Lord Jesus, who obviously came to faith and was a great leader of the church in Jerusalem. It's interesting also that he never mentions in his book that he is a half-brother of the Jesus, because ties of the flesh don't mean anything in the spiritual realm. So he called himself 'a servant of the Lord', but he says: 'If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was'.

The character trait of the likeness of the family of God is not to hear the word, not to hear the word but to hear and do! That's different! That's hard!

Let's not miss this: you're very good, you evangelical people, at telling folk 'It's not by vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers that you're saved, but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot'. Oh, 'Amens' for that first point, ties of flesh and blood mean nothing in the Spirit - what about the last one? That the character trait of the likeness of the family of God is not to hear the word, not to hear the word but to hear and do! That's different! That's hard! John in his epistle, after James, later on, says - 1 John 2:17 - if we do His word, we will abide in Him. Are you up and down in your Christian life, and wondering why, swings and roundabouts, peaks and troughs, roller coasters? 'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever'. You'll abide, you'll be stable not only in time but for eternity. First John 3:22 says we'll also have answers to prayer: 'Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight'. Is God not hearing, God not answering your prayers? Could it be that you're doing an awful lot of hearing, but very little doing God's will through God's word?

First John 3:23: 'This is his commandment', if you want to obey something, 'That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment'. Now let's be real for a moment: not all flesh and blood families are loving, are they? Quite a lot of them aren't. Not all churches are loving, where there are ties of the Spirit that are meant to mean more than ties of the flesh - but do you know what Jesus is saying, and John is saying, and James is saying, and the whole word of God is saying? If you do God's will in God's word, you will love one another, and you will be bound together by a stronger cord of love and devotion as fellow Christians than you have even with your family of flesh and blood.

How do we fare where that's concerned? I don't mean to be ignorant - I know it can come across like that at times, I'm sorry about that! - but I'd rather be sitting with my family than sitting with you! Is that right? Well, I think part of it's right, but when we have an aversion to come among God people, and be with them, and rub up against them, and help them when it costs us and is inconvenient, when we'd rather just go home and shut the door and let them get on with it - that's the way we feel, I'll tell you that's the way I feel - but it's wrong. We need to be hearers and doers - oh, I wish I could tattoo that word somewhere where you'd see it everyday! Doers!

Let me relay this story to you in closing. During the holiday there - one of my holidays! - I read a book on the persecuted church. It was quite technical in bits, but it's worth getting even for the last chapters of it. It's written by a man called Ron Boyd McMillan, who is the son of Pastor Ron McMillan who was in Templemore Hall for many years - he works with Open Doors. Near the end of the book he says that he once knew a Chinese Christian, an evangelist, to whom was given 5,000 copies of the Word of God to distribute among new converts. The organisation that gave him the Bibles was dismayed because they discovered two years later that very few of the Bibles had been distributed. They began to wonder was this guy selling them on the black market or something. So Ron Boyd McMillan was asked to be a mediator in this difficult situation, and he says that in a tense meeting this was the reason the evangelist gave for not distributing the Bibles at a faster rate. Now listen carefully: 'I have discovered that it is dangerous to learn truth at a rate faster than we can practise it'. I have learned that it is dangerous to learn truth at a rate faster than we can practise it.

We need to be hearers and doers - oh, I wish I could tattoo that word somewhere where you'd see it everyday! Doers!

Now bear with me: this Chinese man began his ministry in the 1980s when Bibles were extremely scarce in China, and he travelled around and there was revival in several of the provinces of China. He found that each week roughly 100 people were professing faith in Christ. Because he was an itinerant, he could not linger to disciple these people, so he kept on moving - as well because of the police that were tracking him. His dilemma was this, and he says, I quote: 'I have no Bibles to give these new converts, but I must leave them something so they can keep on growing into God' - what a privilege we have. He devised a unique method of self-discipleship, this is what he did: out of 100 converts he picked five people at random, and he said: 'You are each going to lead a weekly group of 20 people'. He went down to the stream and he picked out five smooth stones, and on each of those stones he chiselled a verse of Scripture. He gave each a stone, and said: 'Each week give a different member the stone, let them live with this verse on the stone, think about it, pray about it, take it into the field as they farm, put it next to their rice bowl as they eat, put it under their pillow as they sleep, all the time asking God to speak through these words. Then next week, when you all come together, you're to listen to what God has told them about the verse on this stone. As long as the person holds the stone, they cannot be interrupted, after they release it you may extend the discussion to the others. After everyone has spent a week with the stone verse, swap the stone with another group and do the same again'. That's all they had.

He promised to return in six months, though in reality it was often a couple of years, and he frankly expected many of the converts to have fallen away - but he was astonished to discover that nearly everyone was going on in the faith. He felt he had stumbled on a Bible truth about discipleship, and that is why, he was explaining to those mission representatives, he did not give a Bible to a new convert at first but required that for a time they use the five stone method. He said, listen: 'I don't want them to encounter too much truth too fast, otherwise they will get into the bad habit of never using what they know'. I'm convicted - a lesson from the persecuted church: not learning the word of God faster than we can practise it. Let me put that on its head: practising as we learn, that we might wear the family likeness of the children of God, those who hear and do.

We have all got a father or a mother, whether they are deceased or not, or a husband or a wife, or a son or a daughter - this is all religious waffle if it doesn't become real to us. My little girl Lydia, my little boy Noah, I love them to death - do I love Jesus more? Don't say that's taking it too far, that's what Jesus said! Not that you don't love them, or love them less, or look as if you hate them, not that, no, no, no - but do you love Him more? Do you love Him, for He first loved you? I'll tell you, do you see if you go away and say: 'That was interesting, wasn't it', and 'I didn't agree with that point about the brothers there, no, no, no, you shouldn't call the Lord 'brother'' - no, listen, forget about all that: do you love Him first? For when you are standing before the judgement seat of Christ, it will not be whether you are pre-, a-, or post-millennial, whether you dot all the i's and cross all the t's, it will be whether you loved Him first and gave Him all - that's all that will matter. I can't say that.

Lord, get us, we pray, by grace, and slowly lest we stumble, or get frightened, or like some who heard Jesus' hard sayings went away and followed no more, get us there by hook or by crook Lord, get us there. May our fellowship in families, and our fellowship among the family of God here be the better for all of us putting Jesus first, doing the will of our Father in heaven. Amen.

Don't miss part 21 of our Studies In Mark: “A Parable On Parables - Part 1

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
June 2007

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twentieth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Jesus' True Relations" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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