What do you think it would be like to grow up with Jesus as your brother?
When I asked this question in worship on Sunday, people gave a range of answers. One was that it would be hard living up to his standards in things like behaviour or achievement at school. Another idea was that it would be great to grow up with him because Jesus would bring a lot of peace and joy to the family. Someone else thought that it would be frustrating because your parents might always be saying, ‘Why can’t you just be more like Jesus?’
I found it pretty hard to find background graphics for Sunday’s worship PowerPoint. I like to use a picture connected to the theme. When I searched for pictures about Jesus as our brother, however, there wasn’t a lot to choose from online. It’s usually easy to find pictures about Jesus as Lord or King or Saviour or other big, impressive titles, but there wasn’t a lot about Jesus being our brother. This surprised me because one of the most important aspects of the good news of the birth of Jesus was that he became human to relate to us as our brother.
Hebrews 2:10-18 puts this vital but sometimes neglected aspect of the Incarnation well when it says that ‘both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family’ (v11a). The writer to the Hebrews is pointing to Jesus as ‘the one who makes people holy.’ Jesus doesn’t just come into the world to be a perfect example of who we should be and what we should do. He isn’t the perfect older brother with whom our heavenly Dad is always comparing us, asking why we can’t be more like him. Jesus was born into the world to make us holy. He unites the holiness of God with humanity in order to give us the holiness of God to humanity as a gift. Jesus, in uniting himself with us, takes everything about us that is unholy, carries it to the cross and puts it to death so we can be holy people. Jesus, the one who makes us holy, gives us the holiness he possesses as God’s eternal Son as a free gift.
This changes who we are. The writer to the Hebrews goes on to talk about ‘those who are made holy.’ These are all the people who live in relationship with God through faith. By being connected with Jesus through faith, he makes us into holy people through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first and most important work of the Holy Spirit in us is to gift us with the holiness of God as the Spirit creates saving faith in Jesus within us. This fundamentally changes our nature. I regularly hear people say to me, ‘But pastor, I’m just a sinner’ when taking about the lives we lead. I understand and believe the doctrine that believers are simul justus et peccator (at the same time sinner and saint). However, we can also use or old nature as an excuse to justify behaviours that aren’t consistent with our new nature in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul lists a range of people who do wrong and will ‘not inherit the Kingdom of God’ (v9) but he then writes, ‘that is what some of you were.’ In other words, our identity as sinful people is in the past tense. It is history because of the redeeming love of Jesus. Paul goes on to state that, ‘you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV). When Paul says that we were ‘sanctified’ he is saying that we were made holy, just as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says. Our new identity is in Christ so while we might fall back into our old, sinful ways, our identity is not defined by them. We are made holy through faith in Jesus by the power of his Spirit. We are now the holy children of God!
That is why ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call (us) brothers and sisters’ (Hebrews 2:11b NIV). One of the more difficult things about family is that our sisters or brothers can often know things about us that we might be ashamed of. Sometimes we can also be ashamed to admit that people are members of our family because of things they’ve done or who they are. Jesus never does that. As the eternal Son of God Jesus knows everything, so he knows everything about us – even those things we are most ashamed of. As a flesh and blood human person, he is also our brother. Jesus is never ashamed of us or of what we have done. Instead, he uncovers our sin and our shame, brings it to the cross, dies with it once and for all so we can be forgiven for our sin and freed from our shame as he calls us ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’
I understand that sometimes our sense of sin and shame can be overwhelming, but Jesus is stronger and better. He died for our sin and covers our shame with his holiness. Even if the voices around us or within us want to make us feel dirty and unholy, the voice of God in the gospel of Jesus tells us that our brother Jesus is not ashamed of us. He makes us holy people so that we can live as God’s holy children in the world. When we find our identity in him and cling to who we are as God’s holy children, no matter what the world or even our own hearts might say about us, we can find such a strong sense of our identity and value that we can live guilt- and shame-free in the world, bringing that same sense of identity and freedom to others who are still struggling to find who they are and where they belong.
I wonder what it would be like to grow up with Jesus as my brother. In some ways, the letter to the Hebrews helps me answer this question. As our brother, Jesus makes us holy, gives us a new identity as God’s holy children, and is never ashamed of us or what we have done. Jesus gives this grace to us all so we can find a strong sense of who we are in him, we can find a place to belong in the family of God, and we can live a holy life to honour and praise our divine brother.