My husband and I have two young boys; brothers who act every bit of it.
As I’m writing this, they are tucked into bed and supposed to be sleeping. Instead, they are crafting a lively story back and forth about pirates and a great battle at sea.
“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…..SPLASHHHHH!” (What I assume was a cannonball)
“I drew a map to the treasure!”
“Let’s make 100 million oars that are HUGE!”
“Don’t let the dragon bite me!”
It’s turning into an epic to rival The Odyssey.
As I listen to them, talking much louder than they should, strengthening those bonds of brotherhood as they imagine together, I pray for them. That they would be friends for life. That they would love the Lord. That their roots would grow deep into him as they pray and study the Word.
There are many examples of brothers in the Bible…few that I would want my own sons to imitate. But even in their flaws, all of these brothers point us to the better brother that is Christ.
Cain and Abel
The first and most infamous set of brothers is Cain and Abel. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven out of the garden and into the wilderness with a curse and a promise.
The Curse: The task they were given of filling the earth and subduing it would no longer be easy. Because of the fractures caused by sin and death, nature would work against them. The earth would produce thorns and childbirth would be painful.
The Promise: This was not forever. The woman would bring forth an offspring, and he would crush the head of the serpent. Sin and Death would be defeated.
When Eve brings forth Cain she says “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord!” (Genesis 4:1) and it seems like maybe this will be that offspring.
But instead of crushing sin, he is crushed under it and crushes his brother because of it.
Abel offers up the better sacrifice and his work is accepted by the LORD, whereas Cain’s sacrifice of fruit is not enough and the LORD does not accept it. Cain is filled with bitter jealousy and anger.
God warns Cain,
“…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
But he doesn’t rule over it. He falls to it. He calls his trusting brother to a field and murders him.
When God asks “Where is your brother?”, Cain’s response rings in our ears today:
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”Genesis 4:9 ESV
If he was…he wasn’t a very good one.
Jacob and Esau
Another set of brothers with a rough relationship is Jacob and Esau. Even before birth, they fought.
God told their mother…
“The two people within you will be divided, the one shall be stronger than the other and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV)
I don’t know about you, but as a mother, that’s not exactly the kind of thing I would be happy to hear about my sons. And it proved true, as the Word of God does.
Esau, the eldest, was meant to receive a birthright and a blessing. Jacob took both.
The birthright, Jacob took by convincing his hungry brother to give it up for the price of a meal (and really Esau, shouldn’t you have valued it more than that?).
The blessing, Jacob stole through deception, dressing up like Esau so their blind father would give it to him instead.
Esau was furious and Jacob fled for his life, rightfully fearing his brother would kill him.
The Elder Brother and the Prodigal Son
In Luke 15, Jesus tells us a parable of another set of brothers: The Elder Brother and the Prodigal Son.
One follows all the rules and outwardly does everything right. The other requests his inheritance early, goes and squanders the money away on parties.
The Prodigal Son finds himself living among the pigs (imagine this from the Jewish perspective) and thinking of ways to return to his father. He finally decides that he would go back and plead with his father for a job. Not a place as his son, but just a place to live and work.
He returns and as soon as the father sees him, he runs to him and welcomes him back. The Prodigal is a son once more. The father orders a celebration for the whole house!
“‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-23 ESV)
But there was someone missing; a figure that should have been there that remained absent: the Elder Brother.
“he was angry and refused to go in.” (Luke 15:28 ESV)
Instead of celebrating his younger brother’s return, he resented it. Instead of feasting with his family, he remained outside. Instead of being joyful, he was jealous. A bitter brother.
But where each of these sets of brothers fall, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, The Elder and the Prodigal…Christ stands. All their sins and all of our own as siblings as well, stir up in us a yearning for this Better Brother.
The Better Brother
Where the elder brother remains at home while his younger brother wanders and falls, Christ leaves his holy, heavenly home to offer his own pierced hand and pull us up from the dirt.
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privilege; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT)
Where the elder brother stands sullenly outside the doors of the homecoming feast, Christ hosts the party as the bridegroom himself.
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7 ESV)
Where Jacob is named the deceiver and lives up to it, Christ is called the Truth.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)
Where Jacob and Esau divide their family, Christ unites his.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28 ESV)
Where Jacob takes his brother’s inheritance, Christ gives us his.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
Where Cain offers up a subpar sacrifice, Christ offers the ultimate one.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5 ESV)
Where Cain fell to the sin that tempted him, Christ defeated it.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)
Where Cain gives death, Christ gives life.
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 ESV)
Where Cain murdered his own sibling out of jealousy, Christ died for his siblings out of love.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV)
And my favorite part… the piece of this I have been turning over in my thoughts for weeks…this theme written of by Jesus’ own literal half brother Jude, the son of Mary and Joseph…
Where Cain asks resentfully “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Christ, our brother, keeps us.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25 ESV)
The Brother Who Keeps
As I’m finishing writing this, my sons have fallen asleep. Their pillows used as cannonballs are strewn across the room, their stuffed animals made to walk the plank are littering the floor and their hearts are filled with the fruit of their fellowship.
And I’m praying for them.
That they would sleep well. That they would remain healthy. That our home would be a place of love and joy for them all their lives.
But most of all…
That they would choose a life of faith in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That they would say “Yes” to the One who keeps them. That they would call Him their God, their Creator, their Savior, their Lord, their King…
Theology Note: The Uncreated Brother
Something important to remember for this biblical theme is that when I talk about Jesus as our brother, I do not mean in the literal sense.
Latter Day Saints, for example, believe that we are all literal spirit children of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, whom they believe is the Father’s wife. That would include Jesus and Lucifer as well. When they speak of Jesus as a brother, they mean it literally.
But that is not what the Bible teaches.
The Son was before all things. There has never been a time when the Son did not exist as God almighty. He is uncreated alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit as the three persons of the Triune God and He created all other things out of nothing.
John 1 details this while also pointing to Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 ESV)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 ESV)
There are two categories: created and uncreated. “All things” in the created category were made through the Son. Therefore, he must prexist all things that have been created in both heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1) and not be in the category of created. The Son is uncreated.
We, on the other hand, are created. Unlike our uncreated Creator, we have a beginning.
And we do not begin as children of God. We become children of God by faith in the Son.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV)
When we accept Christ in faith, we become children of the Father and we become brothers and sisters of the Son who made the adoption possible in the first place.
“For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35 ESV)
“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)
Christ: Our God, our Creator, our Savior, our Lord, our King…our Brother.