Turning to Jesus as a first-born in an Asian family
Asian cultures place great emphasis on the family. There is often much excitement whenever there is a firstborn for the family, particularly if it is a boy who carries on the family name to the next generation. We see from the Old Testament that God also placed certain expectations and responsibilities on the firstborns in Israel towards their family. They were described as “the firstfruits of all their (parents’) strength.”
Psalm 105:36 ESV … all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their strength.
The biblical significance of the firstborn
In the Bible, we see that the firstborn male was slated to:
- be set apart for God | Exodus 13:2 ESV “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
- be assigned a double portion of the household estate, in comparison with other siblings | Deuteronomy 21:17 ESV but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
- customarily take on the leadership of the family in the father’s absence and care for one’s mother and unmarried sisters in the event of the father’s death or incapacitation
- be given to God to do His work | Exodus 22:29 ESV “You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.
In the case of the prophet Samuel, we see that his mother, Hannah, brought him to serve God at the Tabernacle for the rest of his life. When God first set up His Tabernacle, all the Levitical priests were assigned to represent all the firstborns in Israel in doing God’s work. One Levite would represent one firstborn son from Israel in God’s service.
1 Samuel 1:27-28 ESV For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
Numbers 3:12 ESV “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine,
Jesus, the firstborn among many believers
Jesus occupies the position of the firstborn too. He was the first of Mary’s and Joseph’s children, except that Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, not of Joseph.
Jesus’ position as firstborn, however, is not merely in human terms but in terms of all eternity. He is the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything, Jesus reigns supreme.
Colossians 1:14-18 ESV … He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Jesus is also the firstborn of all who are born again in His name and who receive His Holy Spirit through repentance and baptism.
Romans 8:28-30 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
As followers of Jesus Christ, we share in His firstborn inheritance and duties. God is indeed gracious and generous! We are entitled to such privileges because of what Jesus has done for us, it is not anything we can achieve or qualify for on our own merit.
The Bible shows us that we are:
- counted as fellow heirs with Him, as long as we are willing to suffer for righteousness as He suffered | Romans 8:17 ESV 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.
- destined to inherit the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit | Romans 8:23 ESV And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
- to care for those without husbands and fathers | James 1:27 ESV Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
- to be made into a kingdom of priests to God, the Father | Revelation 1:5-6 ESV … and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
A contrast with firstborns within Asian cultures
When we look at the customs and the expectations of firstborns within Asian cultures, we notice some similarities and contrasts.
Typically, the firstborn (usually male) is slated to take up the leadership of the family and to represent the family name. It is the firstborn who has the heaviest responsibility to perform rituals such as grave sweeping and ancestor worship. They are expected to take care of their siblings and to take over the family business, if anything happens to their parents. Sometimes, this means that the firstborn doesn’t get the opportunities or choices that they want.
The biggest contrast is that traditionally, Asian firstborns are dedicated to idols. For instance, they are often presented before their deceased ancestors after their first 30 days. In some places, this is known as the full moon of the baby’s birth, where certain rituals are performed, words are spoken, and gifts are exchanged. Sacrifices will be offered to the family idols to appeal to these spirits to protect the firstborn. Sometimes, a fortune teller will be sought to speak over the baby’s life and name.
This is in stark contrast to the example of Joseph and Mary, who brought Jesus as a baby to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented before the Lord. They made sacrifices to the Lord. We also see that the Holy Spirit brought led Simeon to speak over Jesus. Simeon declared that Jesus was the “salvation that God had prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to His people Israel.”
Luke 2:22-24 ESV And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Leviticus 12:6-7 ESV “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. “‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl.
Luke 2:25-32 ESV Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Following Jesus as an Asian firstborn
Being the firstborn in an Asian family can bring on its own set of challenges for believers. It can feel as if we have not only let our parents down, but also the extended family clan and family name, since the onus has been on us to set a good example for those in our generation and bring glory to our dead ancestors.
It seems Jesus’ warning in Luke 14 applies directly to us because we look as if we must hate or scorn our parents and relatives.
Luke 14:25-27 ESV Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Our parents may feel dishonoured, betrayed, and embarrassed that we will no longer follow their ways and honour the family traditions, idols, and the spirits of our ancestors. They may worry that no one will remember them after they are gone or take care of their graves and burn afterlife offerings to them.
We can genuinely feel very conflicted. How do we convince our parents that we still love them but we can no longer follow their ways? This can be a great test of our faith. It is certainly not an easy one for those of us who are just starting out in our walk with God.
1. Family relations are not eternal
Our family relationships are important but they are not eternal. There are no marriage or family structures in eternity.
Mark 12:25 ESV For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
The only One we will relate to eternally is God, who is immortal and invisible. We may not be able to see God the Father with our eyes, but we can relate to Him through the Holy Spirit who joins with our spirit to show us and teach us God’s will for our lives. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after we turn to God, repent of our sins, and are baptised in water in Jesus’ name.
1 Timothy 1:17 NIV Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Romans 8:16 NLT For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When we turn to God as our Heavenly Father, He will naturally take a higher position than our earthly parents. It is only when we renounce the importance we place on every connection we have to this world that we can start anew and begin to be truly born again as Jesus’ disciple.
Luke 14:33 ESV So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:28-29 ESV For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
But if we continue to obey our family over and above God’s commandments, we commit the sin of idolatry and show that maybe we haven’t turned to God with all our hearts yet.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters … will inherit the kingdom of God.
2. Our family has a common enemy
The world as we know it now lives in the power of Satan, whom the Bible calls the evil one. This world is temporary and will not last, but those who live to please God and follow Him will live eternally with Him. God knows the path to eternity is riddled with obstacles and He will personally lead us safely back to Him.
1 John 5:19-20 ESV We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
If we are amongst the first in our household to turn to Jesus, however, we can be sure that the evil one will try everything he can to pull us away from following God wholeheartedly so that we can remain “children of the devil”.
1 John 3:9-10 ESV No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
Satan knows that his hold over our family will be threatened once we are filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s truth, and can be used by God to bring deliverance to our families. Therefore, he will work to sow doubt, discourage, discredit, and attack us, even if it means pitting our own family members aggressively against us.
The Bible tell us is that our real battles are not against people but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Let us keep in mind that our family are not our opponents, Satan is the true enemy. We and our family members have a common enemy, except that they may not be aware of the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
3. Recognise Satan’s footholds in our family
The Bible shows us that the sacrifices and offerings our family makes are not to gods or to our ancestors, but to demons. Many families have been deceived into giving their allegiances to Satan without even realising it, because no one questions the pagan traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Each has been blinded into worshipping Satan, the god of this world, and kept from seeing the true light of the good news of Jesus’ salvation in the past.
1 Corinthians 10:20 ESV No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
This would also have applied to us in the past. To break off any stronghold that Satan has in our lives, we will need to confess and repent of our family’s idol worship as well as the pagan rituals performed on us as the firstborn in the family. Also, see Breaking generational curses and Names can bless or curse.
Exodus 20:4-5 ESV “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
Joshua 24:14 ESV “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
4. We are called to be God’s light in our household
Let us be careful not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. As Christ followers, we have an opportunity to powerfully represent Jesus’ light in our household. No matter how much we are persecuted, we are called to respond gently, respectfully, and with love.
Romans 12:21 ESV Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Matthew 5:14-16 ESV “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to work this way through us, our family members will begin to see God at work in us. As we are transformed by God’s Spirit and truths in our attitudes, desires, and actions, our family will eventually have to acknowledge His saving power. Just as it may have taken years for us to come to faith in Jesus, this can also take them years or even decades and we will have to be patient. The rewards that come from persevering and following God are always worth that endurance and faith. After all, the greatest testimonies of Jesus’ love come when His followers respond to the greatest persecution and hostility with love.
5. Don’t deny Jesus in front of our family
We all desire for our family members to turn to Jesus and be saved. Confusion can come in, however, when we feel that we have to be nice to them in all circumstances in order to win them over. Unfortunately, bowing down to their will and denying Jesus over and over again only works against us.
Matthew 10:32-33 ESV So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, He makes us His holy temple and lives in us. We should not subject the Holy Spirit to those who worship idols. It is an insult to God and we will quench the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
6. Ask God for wisdom
Thank God that we can consult Him for His guidance in all our family matters, especially in areas of potential conflict and misunderstanding.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
For example, we can pray for:
- Wisdom and grace to honour and respond to our parents without sinning against God | Matthew 19:19 ESV Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Wisdom to defend our stand for Christ gently and respectfully | 1 Peter 3:15 ESV But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
- A way out of taking part in pagan rituals | 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
- Our family’s salvation and to thank God for them | 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 ESV See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
In the interim, we may continue to face opposition from family members and relatives in our desire to follow Jesus Christ, but we can trust that God will make a way for all of us when we seek Him with all our hearts.
Our position as firstborn is significant not only to our family but also to God. We have the opportunity to be the firstborn of many believers in our family. Let us not squander that opportunity but seek God for His wisdom and will for our families. He is the One who fights the battle for their souls, not us. We simply need to follow His leadership and trust His will for our families and watch His amazing unimaginable plan unfold.
Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’
1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
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