Alun Ebenezer was my best man, he’s the Headmaster of Fulham Boys School and author of a couple of really helpful books from EP – ‘Revelation‘ and ‘And they crucified Him’. Alun has a great gift for being able to take the complex and profound doctrines of Scripture and make them accessible and fresh. He’s written a piece for Evangelical Magazine on the Childhood of Jesus – “Like us Jesus had to grow up”. The Evangelical Magazine have had to edit it but it’s really worth reading it in full hence me putting it on here……
Like us Jesus had to grow up
Someone who knows
Growing up in today’s world is hard. It’s a time of big changes. Hormones kick in and there’s the strain of having to contend with social media, peer pressure, the need to be cool, exam stress, insecurity and society’s relentless demand to be successful. It can all seem a bit much and young people can feel that no one knows, as Amy McDonald sung, ‘a single thing about the youth of today’.
But there is someone who knows; knows exactly what is to grow up in this fallen, broken world. The Son of God who thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Philippians 2.6), 2000 years ago humbled himself, made himself of no reputation (Philippians 2.7, 8), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14). For 33 years he learned what it is like to be you and me; to be a baby, a toddler, a child and an adolescent.
Even though nearly all of the first 30 years of Jesus’ life are hidden, from what we know of the geography, history, culture and religion of Israel at that time, as well as the glimpses we get from the biblical accounts, we can build a picture of what it would have been like for Jesus growing up.
Your postcode doesn’t matter
He grew up in a place called Nazareth, an isolated town of about 1500 people in Galilee. It was made up of the middle-upper peasant class and a place renowned for its roughness, wildness and wickedness (John 1.46; Luke 4.29).
He was the eldest of at least 7, probably lived near his grandparents and cousins (Mark 6.4) and had friends, neighbours and acquaintances all around. His home life would have been simple and it would appear the family were close and devout (Luke 2.41). He would have spoken Aramaic and probably had a distinctive accent (Matthew 26.73; Acts 2.7). He learnt a trade from his father who was a carpenter and spent his time doing building and repair work around Nazareth.
Maybe you are from a deprived background, have got it tough. Don’t feel ashamed of it or hide it or use it as any kind of excuse. Jesus was a working class boy who grew up in a working class area surrounded by working class people. As a church we need to ensure we are no respecters of persons (Acts 10.34). Christianity isn’t just for the middle classes, university students and professionals.
Obedience and duty
At the age of 12, on his first trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ parents lost him for three days. At such an important festival time there would have been several famous Jewish teachers at the feast, and when his frantic parents eventually found him he was among these teachers who were all amazed at his understanding and answers. Having just shown them and others his brilliance you might think that Jesus would now spend the rest of his education in preparation for his public ministry by studying under the teachers at the Temple in Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish religion and politics. He could have had access to its history, law courts, libraries and the leaders who lived there. But he doesn’t. Despite his parents no longer being able to understand him, he returns submissively to Nazareth with them (Luke 2.50, 51)
Furthermore, the reason he delayed his entry into public life was possibly because his father died when he was young. As the oldest in the family he took over his father’s responsibilities until the next brother, James, was sufficiently mature to take over. Jesus obeyed his parents and did his duty.
He was subject to his parents when they were imperfect and he was perfect (Luke 2.51). We should definitely do the same. In our culture it is almost a given that teenagers rebel. But none of us have the right to break the fifth commandment no matter what our friends or hormones tell us. Independence, thinking for yourself, trying and failing are all part of growing up. However, stubbornness, rebellion and disobedience are not. Honouring our parents is not an option just for those who like mam and dad. We don’t just listen to them when it suits us or when we agree with what they say. Unless parents command what God forbids (Acts 5.29) we should obey them.
This respect for our parents should also extend to older people and those in positions of authority (1 Peter 5.5). In our day and age we seldom think, ‘this person is older and probably has something to teach me’ but rather ‘this person is older and out of date’. We should not think our generation knows it all.
The Bible says he increased in strength and stature (Luke 2.52). Lots of the images of Jesus depict him as weak, pale and anaemic but these are wrong. He must have grown into a strong commanding figure. He was a useful assistant to Joseph in the carpenter’s shop and must have had a lot of energy and resilience that enabled him later on in life to travel on foot for long journeys, and preach for hours, while having no home to retire to at the end of the day for rest and seclusion. He was in constant demand but kept giving of himself (Mark 10.46; John 12.1-2 cf. 12.12). He got up very early to pray and then did a busy day’s work (Mark1.35; Luke 4.42). He endured 40 days in the wilderness with all its strain and stress and had the ability to go without food when his work required (John 4.31). He must have been strong and healthy to endure the sufferings and agonies of his final night and day.
All this points to the fact that he must have had a right attitude to his own body, and that wholesome Biblical attitude must be ours too. As a Christian our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which means he takes up residence in them. While we shouldn’t idolize our bodies, it is important we look after them. We should eat well, keep fit, play sport, get plenty of fresh air and not abuse our bodies with alcohol, nicotine or drugs.
The Lord Jesus didn’t have all the answers as a baby and just waited 30 years before starting his ministry. He developed like any other normal child.
Jesus’ education would have begun with his mother in the home. Through the mezuzah attached to the doorpost, the weekly Sabbath meal and the festivals throughout the Jewish year, he would have learned about the history of his family, his tribe, his people, his nation and his God.
He observed life and saw first-hand the joys, sorrows, wants and sufferings of the busy multitude. He saw sin, iniquity, self-indulgence and hypocrisy and was grieved, shocked and eager to remedy it. It would seem from the vividness of his parables that what he saw and heard and experienced growing up he brought into his teaching – the beauty of the lilies, birds, the work of shepherds, the habit of the fox, marriage customs, playing in the market, funeral rites, tax collectors; maybe the illustration of the lamp brought in to be put under a bed catch a glimpse of his Nazareth home at night.
Studying, being interested and learning about culture and people and the world are important. Instead of spending all our time watching reality TV shows, playing on game consoles, being on social media with ear phones constantly plugged into our heads, we need to have a good knowledge of history and geography; an appreciation of the arts, literature and music; be bi-lingual, numerate and literate; try to understand technology and science and how things work; understand what people believe and why they act in the way they do, be able to question these beliefs critically, including society’s values and culture, and know how to do that in the right way. As well as growing in wisdom and stature, Jesus grew in favour with God and man (Luke 2.52). As we contend and stand up for our faith, we should do so as winsomely as we know how.
Most important of all
Jesus learned to read (Luke 4.16-17) and write (John 8.6) and from the age of 5 would have been taught the Torah at the synagogue as well as from his father. As he sat on the floor with the other boys in the synagogue or school house, the chazzan or officer of the synagogue, taught him the law. He would have started with Leviticus, moved to other parts of the Pentateuch and then onto the prophets. The attendant who handed him the scroll in Luke 4.17 might very well have been the one who had taught him to read. It was as he read the scriptures in Hebrew (Matthew 5.18; Luke 16.17) and grew in knowledge and understanding of them he learned about himself and realised the types and shadows he read about were pointing towards him. As he grew up fully human it also dawned on him more and more that he was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
He had came into this world to do a job; a job only he could do and one that would absorb him completely (Luke 2.49). This perfect child grew up into a perfect man, was nailed to a Roman cross on a rubbish tip just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. He became our substitute, taking upon himself all our guilt and sin, turned away the wrath of a holy God and shed his blood that the vilest offender who trusts him can know forgiveness, peace with God and the hope of Heaven.
As we grow and try to navigate our way through this world, like the Lord Jesus Christ we should learn the scriptures and pray. It will teach us about God, ourselves, sin, the judgement to come, heaven and hell, our need to be saved and through mixing it with faith, come to know and trust the only one who can save us: the perfect boy who grew in wisdom and stature, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we make the Word of God our rule in belief and practice then no matter what we face in life, with all its difficulties and challenges, the favour of God will be upon us, working all things for our good.
Go to him
So far more than just looking to the Lord Jesus as our example, we can go to him for salvation and help. He now represents us before God as our great high priest and does it as one of us. The one who is sat down next to God remembers what it was like when his body changed, when he obeyed his parents in that modest home, had siblings, played on the streets of that rough northern Israeli town. Jesus Christ is in Heaven but as I pray to him from my bedroom or work or in Church or wherever, he remembers exactly what it is like to be me and pleads my cause before God.
Maybe you are in a mess, feel no one understands you and have no one to turn to. Perhaps you have to face and go through things that are overwhelming. There’s a real man in Heaven who was once a baby, a toddler, a boy, an adolescent, a man, who knows you and invites you today to cast all your care upon him because he cares for you. Go to him with your heavy burdens and he will give you rest. Moreover, Jesus Christ lived his life in the power of the Holy Spirit and God has promised to give that same Spirit to all of us who ask him (Luke 11.13). Go to him today and then keep going to him. You will find mercy for past failures and grace to help you (Hebrews 4.16).