“When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? “And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:53–58, NASB95)
At the end of chapter 13 Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth. Of course, this is not where He was born, but it was the town His family was from and it was where they were raised and still lived. They knew Him as one of Joseph and Mary’s kids. They knew his brothers, and his sisters were still there. He was a hometown boy that had grown up, left for a while, and then returned a man—but had returned to do things that did not match with what they knew of Him before He left.
After a series of parables spoken to the crowds that many did not understand, including His disciples except for the fact that He explained each one to them, Jesus went back to where He was from and He began to do the same things He had been doing elsewhere to the amazement of the crowds and even befuddlement of many. Those others were people who did not know Him, but had heard of the miraculous things He had been doing and things He had been saying. Among them He had gathered quite a following and had even developed quite a few enemies. But returning home and hearing Him teach and watching Him perform miracles the people from His hometown were dumbfounded—astonished. He obviously was not the Jesus they had last seen, the carpenter’s son—oldest of kids in a big family who they all knew.
They could not rectify the two and began to take offense or become indignant toward Him. They did not recognize the authority with which He spoke nor the power with which He acted. They discounted all of this in light of their conception of who they thought He really was. Sure they heard and saw, but they could not bring the pieces together.
In response to their unbelief we read that Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” Luke recorded that Jesus had told them that “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). And John wrote that Jesus had testified that “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44). Some commentators on this passage indicate that this was an ancient proverb with the common meaning of one we might be familiar with: “familiarity breeds contempt.” In other words, they thought they knew Him so well that they could not believe what they saw of Him right before their eyes. And so, Scripture records that Jesus did not do mighty miracles in their presence because of their unbelief. For them there was no reason to demonstrate the power of God because they would not accept the One who was sent—the God-man in their presence.
I can’t imagine how it was for Jesus, but for me I can imagine that this must have been a difficult thing to experience. John wrote just a few chapters later, “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” (John 7:5, NASB95) I think many of us who have trusted Christ for our salvation have probably experienced this rejection in some way. For some of us it has been fairly mild with others just ignoring this fact of our lives, but for others it has resulted in a total rejection of their relationship. In some cases it has even led to death. Even today the name of Jesus evokes strong responses and is accompanied with great disdain for those who are called by His name and who stand in His truth. Jesus is and has been an affront to many.
But this rejection is not the end of the story for some. Whereas John had said at one point that even Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him, we read later in Scripture that this changed. After Jesus had risen and later ascended to heaven, prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, we read that all of the disciples had gathered together in a room where they had been staying and praying. Acts 1:14 gives us the names of some others who were there with them. “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14, NASB95) While we read no mention of his brothers being at the foot of the cross we do find them here praying with their brother’s disciples and their mother who God had blessed to birth, love, and raise the Savior of the world. The brother who they played with and loved had also become their Lord.
But this is not the last mention of some of Jesus’ brothers. Sometimes if can get a bit confusing reading that not only was one of Jesus’ disciples named James (the brother of John) but so was one of Jesus’ brothers. As we move past the gospels and into the book of Acts we find a transition in which James is being referred to. In Acts chapter 1 we find James the disciple who Jesus chose listed with his brother John and the rest of the disciples, and then in Acts 12 we read that Herod killed this same James. This meant that from that point forward any mention of a living James had to be one other than the one who was chosen among the twelve. Later in the same chapter, after Peter had been rescued from the same fate as James the disciple, Peter appeared freed at the door of Mary (John’s mother) knocking. When the door was finally answered he gave them a message to be sent to James and his brothers (obviously another James—the brother of Jesus).
The next mention of this James is when he takes the lead in making a declaration concerning the Gentiles at what is known as the Jerusalem Council, including, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles….” (Acts 15:19, NASB95) In Acts 21 we read of Paul recognizing James having risen to a position of leadership of the believers in Jerusalem when he reported to him what God had been doing among the Gentiles. “And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God….” (Acts 21:18–20, NASB95)
Lastly, it is believed that the author of the book of James (written primarily to the Jews who had been dispersed) is none other than Jesus’ brother. And it is likely that another of His brothers wrote the next small letter—Jude (earlier recorded as Judas). “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James….”
For a long time we have been praying for family members who are not saved, and who do not believe Jesus to be who He really is. Some of these even shake their heads at times over the life of faith we have chosen to live. Sometimes it is easy to grow weary in waiting on their salvation and easy to forget to pray. But as I reflected on how Jesus was received by his own brothers I am encouraged to keep hoping and asking God to do the same in the hearts of those we love. There was a point that Jesus’ brothers saw Him for who He really is, and it is our prayer that others might see Christ in us and also believe. I know in this that I am not alone, and I pray that you also are encouraged as you reflect of how our God even changed the hearts of our Lord’s flesh and blood family so that they became joint heirs of His eternal one.
I’ve often head the phrase, “Seeing is believing.” Well, this is only partially true, because sometimes seeing is not truly seeing. But once our eyes are truly opened it results in understanding leading to belief which opens up all of eternity before us. “And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”” (Luke 8:10, NASB95) Continue praying for sight and understanding.