A listener to the podcast, Travis in Turlock, California, writes in with a really good question: “Pastor John, there are Scripture passages like Hebrews 2:11 and Romans 8:29 that speak of Jesus as our brother. There seem to be some options in how we might interpret this. So my question to you is: In what sense is Jesus my brother? And how does the brotherhood of Jesus add weight, wonder, and affection to our worship?”
I love the way that question is framed. “How does the brotherhood of Jesus to us add weight and wonder and affection to our worship?” That is exactly the right question. Oh, that all of our questions were framed that way! I am sure that my thoughts about this are utterly inadequate to the greatness of the Son of God being my brother. That is such a staggering thought, that what I am about to say feels to me inadequate. But he asks: We have a Bible. God doesn’t give us the legitimacy of staying silent. So, I am going to look at maybe two or three texts Travis mentions and see if I can just let these texts do the work.
Travis mentioned Hebrews 2:11. So, let’s read it — maybe verses 10–11 together — because I think the key is in the way verse 11 relates to verse 10. “For it was fitting that he,” — this is God the Father, — “for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder,” — so, it was fitting that he should make the founder, that is Jesus, it is fitting that he should make the founder — “of their salvation perfect through suffering.” So, God thought it fitting, suitable, appropriate, beautiful to complete, to make perfect the beauty of Christ through suffering.
And here comes the ground: “because,” verse 11, “because” — “he who sanctifies” — we know that is Jesus, because of the way Hebrews 13:12 refers to he who sanctifies: Jesus, — “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified” — his emerging sons of God, brothers — “all have one source.” That is difficult to know what that refers to, but it could be “all of one Father” or “all of one human nature” — they are literally “all of one.” “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.”
So, he is not ashamed to call us brothers, because in bringing us to sanctification through Jesus’s death for us, which was fitting in bringing many sons to glory, therefore he is not ashamed to call us brothers. So, the writer is giving a reason for why it was fitting that Christ lead many sons to glory through sufferings. And one great aim of God in salvation is that he have a great, unified family of children with Jesus Christ being both essentially different from, and yet deeply united to, his other human brothers and sisters, both really different and really like. But if all the brothers and sisters in the family have experienced suffering, except one, then the unity is jeopardized. And so, for the sake of a common spirit of unity and sympathy and camaraderie, even in suffering, Christ takes on human nature and he leads many sons to glory and into his brotherhood through suffering and death.
In other words, the reason it is fitting for Christ to suffer to lead many sons to glory and, thus, many brothers into brotherhood and glory is that this suffering expresses his being a good, beautiful comrade-brother. All of this hangs on God’s aim to create a family that is so unified and so deeply interwoven and empathetic that the family would be jeopardized, would be undermined, if the perfect oldest brother does not go through all the pain of the rest of the children.
So, to answer Travis’s question, what adds weight and wonder and affection to our worship of Christ is that it is the combination of the exalted uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God on the one hand, and his utter condescension to share our nature as humans and our suffering as fallen mortals, all so that he could be included and we could be included in the divine family, with Christ as the ever-exalted and superior, unique, divine older brother. That is my best shot at Hebrews 2:11. And it is a glorious picture.
And here is Romans 8:29, which he also mentioned. And I think it is essentially the same argument. He says, “For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Now, there is a double purpose there, isn’t there — a double purpose of God in predestination. One is conformity to the image of the Son of God, so that we can actually be called brothers because of this unity, this conformity, this union with Christ. We are brothers by likeness, not just legally, but by likeness to his image. But the stress also falls on the fact that Jesus is “the firstborn among the brothers.” And that term firstborn should probably have here the complete weight that it had in the Old Testament, like Psalm 89:27, where it says, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” That is not a small word in Paul’s vocabulary.
So, the reason this gives weight and wonder to our worship of the Son is, again, the combination of oneness with us as we are conformed to his image and difference from us in being the firstborn in the fullest sense of the highest of the kings of the earth. Our elder brother is one with us and yet infinitely above us, and it is the conjunction of those two things that is peculiar — I like to say the peculiar glory that we worship.
And if we let ourselves linger in Romans 8 for just a bit, we will remember in verses 16–17 that being a brother of Christ means being a fellow heir with him. So, Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs,” — and then he adds — “fellow heirs with Christ.” That is what brothers are. They are fellow heirs with Christ, “provided we suffer with him.” Now, that is simply breathtaking for us poor, weak, sinful, ignorant humans: fellow heirs with the Son of God because we are in the family by “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15). God’s estate that we inherit with Jesus is the universe. It is everything that exists, except God. And the implications of this is a weight of worship that should make us humble, joyful worshipers on Sunday, and should make us the most free from materialism — we own everything by inheritance! — free from materialism; radical lives of love.
And maybe one last text, because I love this one. I preached a sermon one time called “How to Become the Mother of Jesus” [sermon reference unknown]. And I could have preached on how to be the brother of Jesus, because they are both in the same text: Mark 3:32–35. There was a crowd around Jesus and they said: Hey, your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you. In other words, the people that are closest to you that seem to have the closest human ties, they want to talk to you. Now Jesus’s answer is simply stunning. He says, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
So, to be the mother of Jesus is: obey God and you will be the mother of Jesus. Well, what does that mean: be the mother or sister or brother of Jesus? And doesn’t it mean you will be as close to him as you can get? Your intimacy of relationship will be very, very close. There will be privileges. There will be access. There will be protection. It is wonderful to have a big brother who is strong when you are getting in a fight on the playground. It is wonderful if you are watching your son die to have him care for you and put John in charge of you, because he is a good caregiver to his mother (see John 19:26–27). You want Jesus to be a good caregiver to you? Then become the mother or the brother of Jesus by obeying the will of God.
The weight and wonder, like Travis says, the weight and the wonder of our worship of Jesus is always a mingling of trembling reverence at the unique divine greatness of the One who is, and the unspeakable lowliness that unites him to us in a shared human nature and suffering and amazingly intimate friendship.