Jesus gives many wonderful promises to his people. One often-overlooked gem is found in Mark chapter 10. It is a promise which flows out of an interaction between Jesus and Peter.
Peter reminds Jesus just how much the disciples have given up in order to follow him: “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10 v 28). That was true in many ways. Peter had given up his fishing business, which at a human level provided him with financial security. Each one of the disciples had to leave their families, livelihoods, and all that was familiar as they ventured out in faith to follow Jesus.
It is the same for all Christians. Those who put their trust in Jesus and become his disciples must lose certain things. In many countries the price is high, with converts being rejected by family and friends. Some will lose their jobs, or be overlooked for promotion. All followers of Jesus receive a measure of persecution, whether in the form of mockery or violence. To enter the Kingdom of God we must go through many hardships (Acts 12 v22) and experience trouble (John 16 v33), while persecution is not just for a select few, but is a certainty for those who live in a godly way (2 Timothy 3 v12).
Peter is concerned about what we must leave behind. Jesus responds by reminding him of what we gain, and does so in highly vivid terms- we will gain 100 times more than that which we have given up (Mark 10 v 30). That’s quite a promise! Just what exactly does Jesus mean by this 100-fold gain? I think it’s easy to spiritualise it, by thinking of present blessings such as forgiveness from God or peace with God. Or we might think of future gains- our inheritance in Heaven. These are indeed wonderful blessings, but are they what Jesus is speaking about here?
A closer look at Mark 10 makes clear that Jesus is speaking about blessings Christians will receive in the here and now. Moreover, Jesus specifies exactly what this 100-fold gain entails: “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields”.
29 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.
What does Jesus mean when he says all Christians gain new family members and new homes? He’s speaking about the Christian family we join when we become Christians. This is not a family based on blood ties; it’s a family based on union with Jesus Christ. When we some to trust in Jesus, God becomes our heavenly Father, and this means other Christians become our brothers and sisters. To say this is a large family is an understatement- it is a world-wide family.
J C Ryle describes becoming part of the church (the body of Christ) in this way: “They shall find in the communion of saints, new friends, new relations, new companions, more loving, faithful and valuable than any they had before their conversion. Their introduction into the family of God shall be an abundant recompense for exclusion from the society of this world. This may sound startling and incredible to many ears. But thousands have found by experience that it is true.”
As I reflect on the last few months, one of the things I am most thankful for is the Christian hospitality, friendship and love which I have received. I think of Christians in Cyprus, who opened up their hearts and their homes to me, even though we had just met. And I think of the warm hospitality I have enjoyed in so many parts of Scotland.
The blessing of having a large Christian family is something I can trace back over many years. I think of the kindness and support I received as a student and then youth worker in Aberdeen. I think of the Slovakian church who treated me so warmly when I turned up as a tourist. I think of the often-hidden ways people have treated me as a brother in Christ, and it has meant so much to me.
Closer to home, I think of my Christian brothers and sisters in Fife whom I know I can rely on. Adoption into God’s world-wide family is a phenomenal blessing.
However, there is also a challenge. Entering into this family brings responsibilities as well as privileges. Jesus says it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. As well as receiving hospitality, love and support, we are called to give it to others. Do I use my home, my time, and my love to be a blessing to others? Will I look out for the lonely? Will I treat all Christians, whether in my own church, my own town, or from the other side of the world as my family? Will I actively seek their good? That’s what our churches ought to look like. What a marvellous thing the church family is. May God help us to be the family he has called us to be. How large is your family?