Before I make a single point please acknowledge that I love my family and am thankful that God’s providence placed me in the love and care of a Mr. and Mrs. Ham. I am thankful for the privilege of living in a home where the bible was taught and the gospel proclaimed. Many people will never know such a privilege and I don’t take it lightly.
I highly esteem my surname and I have gone to great lengths in the past to protect its reputation. And here in lies the problem. At what point do we wrongly prioritize the esteem of our physical family name and heritage (even with godly parents)? Is it possible to think too much of our physical families? If you asked a Jew in the first century, the answer may have been, “no.”
Through Abraham, Isaac and then Jacob came twelve names that defined a nation called Israel. Israel camped around the tabernacle in those family groups. Israel had laws that favored the Israelite family and made them distinct to ‘foreigners’ among them. The physical sign of circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant promise to this family name. To an Israelite in the first century, heritage was everything. The covenant God made with Israel was identifiable in the physical families of the nation.
Perhaps this is what makes Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus so shocking. In this very famous exchange of John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the only eternally enduring family. It is not the family by physical birth but the family by spiritual birth. If you are going to be part of the Kingdom of God, forget your surname, you need to be born into a new name, Jesus.
Where the Old Covenant was broken by the families of Israel, Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father and through his blood brought in a New Covenant for all who would be born, not of the flesh, but of the spirit. By spiritual birth into a spiritual family we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The fact that the church is a spiritual family causes some of us to relegate it to second place. We find it easy to view our physical family as our real family and the church as the spiritual family that is less literal and tangible. If we read the New Testament carefully, we see the opposite argument. Our first and most tangible family is the one given eternal life and staying together beyond this temporary world. The spiritual IS literal. That is why Jesus told us that his true mothers and sisters and brothers were those who follow him. That is also why Jesus said that we must be prepared for our own physical families to hate us on his account. The Jews rejected Jesus and placed their own family heritage and reputations above their need for a new birth in him. The Jews rejected the spiritual family for their physical name.
Question: When does our family name get in the way? Answer: When we prioritize our physical family or family name over the name and family of Jesus Christ. In other words, when you love the temporary family of the world more than the eternal family of Christ. The heritage of our physical family name makes zero difference in eternity. The only heritage that is a lasting one is the heritage found in our spiritual children who come to eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. The family that matters most to Jesus is the one he called out of death into life. Which family do you love the most? I hope it is the one given birth in one name, Jesus. It is the family of God.
Sometimes its called the Church.