Learning From Jesus’ Human Family
WHAT do you know about Jesus’ immediate family, those with whom he lived until his baptism, for the first 30 years of his life on earth? What do the Gospel accounts tell us? What can we learn from examining his family? You can benefit from the answers.
Was Jesus born, as it were, with a silver spoon in his mouth? Joseph, his adoptive father, was a carpenter by trade. That called for strenuous physical work, which often involved cutting down trees for timber. When Jesus’ human parents went to Jerusalem some 40 days after his birth, they presented a sacrificial offering prescribed by the Law. Did they offer a ram along with a turtledove or a pigeon, as stipulated by the Law? No. It appears that they could not afford such offerings. Yet, the Law had a provision for the poor. In line with that, Joseph and Mary offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” The choice of the less expensive animals showed that they were a family of limited means.
You can see that Jesus Christ, the future Ruler of all mankind, was born among the humble, among those who had to work hard to make ends meet. He grew up to be a carpenter, just like his adoptive father. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) “Though [Jesus] was rich” as a powerful spirit creature in heaven, the Bible says that he “became poor” for our sakes. He took a lower position as a human and grew up in a family of common people. (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-9; Hebrews 2:9) Jesus was not born into a well-to-do family, and this may have helped some people to identify with him. They were not distracted by his status or position. They could appreciate him for his teachings, for his appealing qualities, and for his wonderful works. (Matthew 7:28, 29; 9:19-33; 11:28, 29) We can see Jehovah God’s wisdom in letting Jesus be born into an ordinary family.
Now let us consider members of Jesus’ family and see what we can learn from them.
When Joseph found out that his fiancée was pregnant “before they were united,” he must have been torn between his love for Mary and his aversion to even the appearance of immorality. The whole situation seemed to be an infringement upon his right as her future husband. In his day, an engaged woman was considered as good as the man’s wife. After considerable thought, Joseph decided to divorce Mary secretly so that she would be spared being stoned as an adulteress.
Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife home, for that which has been begotten in her is by holy spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you must call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Upon receiving that divine direction, Joseph acted accordingly and took Mary home.
With this decision, that righteous and faithful man became involved in the fulfillment of what Jehovah had spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Joseph was surely a spiritual man who appreciated the privilege of becoming the adoptive father of the Messiah, despite the fact that Mary’s firstborn son would not be his own.
Joseph refrained from having intercourse with Mary until after she had given birth to her son. (Matthew 1:25) For the now newlywed couple, abstinence might have been a challenge, but they apparently did not want any misunderstanding as to who the Father of the baby was. What a wonderful example of self-control! Joseph put spiritual values ahead of his natural desires.
On four occasions, Joseph received angelic direction about raising his adoptive son. Three of these were regarding where to raise the boy. Prompt obedience was vital for the survival of the child. In all instances, Joseph immediately acted, taking the young child first to Egypt and then back to Israel. This protected young Jesus from Herod’s massacre of babes. Also, Joseph’s obedience resulted in the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Messiah.
Joseph taught Jesus a trade so that he could care for himself. Thus, Jesus was known not only as “the carpenter’s son” but also as “the carpenter.” (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) The apostle Paul wrote that Jesus was “tested in all respects like ourselves.” This naturally would have included working hard to help support the family.
Finally, we see evidence of Joseph’s devotion to true worship in the last episode in which he appears in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Joseph took his family to Jerusalem for the Passover. Only males were required to attend, but Joseph made it a custom to take his family to Jerusalem “from year to year.” He made great sacrifices, for they had to walk some 65 miles [100 km] from Nazareth to Jerusalem. On the occasion reported on in the Scriptures, though, Jesus got separated from the group. He was found at the temple, listening to and questioning the teachers of the Law. Though but 12 years old, Jesus manifested great wisdom and knowledge of God’s Word. From this incident, we see that Jesus’ parents must have taught him well, bringing him up to be a spiritually-minded boy. (Luke 2:41-50) Joseph apparently died some time after this, since there is no mention of him in later Scriptural accounts.
Yes, Joseph was a righteous man who cared well for his family, both spiritually and physically. Do you, like Joseph, put spiritual interests first in your life when you discern what God’s will is for us today? (1 Timothy 2:4, 5) Do you willingly obey God’s voice as expressed in the Word of God, thereby showing Josephlike submission? Do you teach your children so that they can carry on spiritually meaningful conversations with others?
Mary, Jesus’ mother, was an excellent servant of God. When the angel Gabriel announced that she was to give birth, she manifested surprise. Being a virgin, she had not had “intercourse with a man.” On learning that the birth was to be by means of holy spirit, she humbly accepted the message, saying: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.” (Luke 1:30-38) She valued the spiritual privilege so much that she was willing to bear any hardship that her decision might entail.
Indeed, accepting the commission changed her entire life as a woman. When she went to Jerusalem for her purification, a reverent older man named Simeon told her: “A long sword will be run through the soul of you yourself.” (Luke 2:25-35) Evidently, he was referring to how Mary would feel upon seeing Jesus rejected by many and finally nailed to a torture stake.
As Jesus grew up, Mary kept a mental note of what took place in his life, “drawing conclusions in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, 51) Like Joseph, she was a spiritual person and treasured up the events and sayings that fulfilled prophecies. What the angel Gabriel said to her must have stuck in her mind: “This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Yes, she took seriously the privilege of being the human mother of the Messiah.
Mary’s spirituality again became evident when she met Elizabeth, her relative who also had become pregnant miraculously. Upon seeing her, Mary lauded Jehovah and revealed her love for the Word of God. She alluded to Hannah’s prayer recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 2 and included thoughts from other books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Such knowledge of the Scriptures showed that she was qualified to become a devoted and God-fearing mother. She would cooperate with Joseph in spiritually nurturing her son.
Mary had strong faith in her son as the Messiah, and that did not wane even after Jesus’ death. Soon after his resurrection, she was among the faithful disciples who met for prayer along with the apostles. (Acts 1:13, 14) She maintained her faithfulness, despite having to go through the agony of seeing her dear son die on a torture stake.
How can you benefit from learning about Mary’s life? Do you accept the privilege of serving God regardless of the sacrifices involved? Are you concerned with the seriousness of this privilege today? Do you keep in mind what Jesus foretold and compare that with what is happening today, ‘drawing conclusions in your heart’? (Matthew, chapters 24 and 25; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21) Do you imitate Mary in becoming well-versed in the Word of God, using it freely in your conversation? Would you maintain your faith in Jesus despite mental anguish that you might have to go through because of being his follower?
It seems that Jesus’ brothers did not exercise faith in Jesus until after his death. It likely was no coincidence that they were not present when he died on the torture stake and that he had to entrust his mother to the apostle John. Jesus’ relatives showed that they did not appreciate him, even saying on one occasion that Jesus was “out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21) Since Jesus had family members who were unbelievers, those who today have unbelievers in their household can rest assured that Jesus understands how they feel when relatives mock them for their faith.
After Jesus’ resurrection, however, his brothers apparently began to exercise faith in him. They were in the group who met in Jerusalem before Pentecost of 33 C.E. and fervently prayed together with the apostles. (Acts 1:14) Obviously, their half brother’s resurrection moved them to a change of heart, to the point of becoming his disciples. We should never give up on relatives who do not share our faith.
James, Jesus’ half brother to whom He appeared personally, is presented in the Scriptures as having an outstanding role in the Christian congregation. He wrote a divinely inspired letter to his fellow Christians, admonishing them to maintain their faith. (Acts 15:6-29; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:18, 19; 2:9; James 1:1) Another half brother, Jude, wrote an inspired letter to encourage fellow believers to put up a hard fight for the faith. (Jude 1) It is noteworthy that neither James nor Jude appealed in their letters to their fleshly tie with Jesus so as to convince fellow Christians. What a wonderful lesson of modesty we can learn from them!
So, what are some things that we learn from Jesus’ family? Certainly, lessons in devotion that can be manifested in such ways as these: (1) Faithfully submit to the expressed will of God and face all the trials that doing so implies. (2) Put spiritual values first, even when that means making sacrifices. (3) Train your children in harmony with the Scriptures. (4) Do not give up on family members who do not share your faith. (5) Do not boast about any connection you may have with ones prominent in the Christian congregation. Yes, learning about Jesus’ human family draws us closer to him and enhances our appreciation for Jehovah’s choosing an ordinary family to nurture Jesus during his childhood.
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Joseph took Mary as his wife and became involved in the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies
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Joseph and Mary taught their children spiritual values and the role of work
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Although raised in a spiritual household, Jesus’ brothers did not put faith in him until after his death
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Jesus’ half brothers James and Jude encouraged fellow Christians