Luke2v39to52: JESUS' FIRST 30 YEARS

(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

It is amazing that the first 30 years of Jesus' life are condensed into these thirteen verses of Luke's gospel. That is not the way of modern biographies. Some footballers have their life story written before they are twenty! Only one incident is recorded from Jesus' youth. How we would like to know more! Nevertheless, what Luke, alone of the gospel writers, records so concisely is very informative.

(B) Jesus' boyhood.

A Jewish boy became a man at 12 years of age; he became a 'son of the law' and responsible for keeping the law. (Some commentators, like Leon Morris, say that this happened when a boy was 13!)

There are two things to note about Jesus' boyhood:

(1) Its limitations. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom. v40.

Jesus did not come to earth like an angel - fully formed and with the knowledge of heaven. Jesus started life among us as a single cell and developed gradually as we all do. This means Jesus' knowledge was limited. He did not bring to earth the wisdom of the creator. Jesus had to learn to speak and to read and to count. He also had to learn about people and his own special relationship with God the Father. Jesus experienced the trials and tribulations of boyhood. The passage indicates that his parents could be careless and then blame him for their own shortcomings! Jesus was indeed tempted in all points like we are.

To be limited is itself a trial. We need to remember that Jesus pleased God in spite of his limitations. We shouldn't make our limitations, our lack of wealth, education, talent, opportunity or health, an excuse for not serving God to the best of our ability.

(2) Its attractiveness. And the grace of God was upon him. v40.

It is not certain what Luke means by this expression. God's grace was not in Jesus but upon him. This suggests it was something observable.

Now I believe we can see in the best of boys God's gift to boyhood. Boys can be sturdy, hardy, resourceful, cheerful, bright, alert, curious, enthusiastic, trusting and eager to please.

Jesus was the best of boys. He epitomised all that is good about boyhood. He displayed fully the qualities listed above. It is in this respect that God's grace was upon him.

We should be thankful when we see God's grace upon boys and girls - whenever we see them at their best - before God's gift has been spoiled by selfishness and pride.

(C) A moment of glory.

Mary, herself, may have told Luke the lovely anecdote about the twelve-year-old Jesus. It was part of her treasure - But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. v51. The story of Jesus in the temple questioning the eminent teachers illustrates:

(1) His dependability and prudence.

It is highly likely that Jesus was left to his own devices in Jerusalem. He could be trusted to keep out of trouble. In all probability Mary told Jesus when the caravan was due to leave Jerusalem for Galilee and expected him to be ready at the appropriate time. Usually the women and children set off first as they walked more slowly than the men. So when Jesus was not there Mary doubtless thought that her son, now he was legally a man, was going to travel with his father. Perhaps this had actually been arranged between Mary and Joseph. When Joseph came to leave and Jesus was nowhere to be seen he probably concluded that the boy had gone with his mother after all. The fact that Joseph didn't check indicates how reliable Jesus usually was. When I organised Geography fieldtrips there were some children I always checked to see if they were on the bus!

Jesus showed good sense and prudence by stopping put in Jerusalem when he realised that the caravan had left without him. He realised that it was unsafe to venture out alone. Someone was sure to come back to Jerusalem for him.

Dependable and prudent Christians are invaluable to a church. My small fellowship has people who can be relied upon to carefully do the small tasks necessary to maintain the work. Our caretaker is a jewel - she never forgets to open up the chapel and switch on the heaters. Our treasurer collects the money, banks it and keeps the accounts. Our organist scarcely misses a Sunday and when she does arranges someone to cover for her. Edna prepares the communion, Ron records the services, Roger organises the grass-cutting rota, Margaret leads the ladies meeting and so I could go on.

(2) His resourcefulness.

Jesus managed to survive three days stranded in Jerusalem without family or friends. I wonder how he ate and where he slept. It is possible Jesus joined other boys at one of the schools in the temple. He probably made friends with some of them quickly. I can imagine him going back into the temple and telling his new best friend that he had missed his caravan. I expect that friend said, "You can come home and stay with me. My mum and dad won't mind."

Jesus was a very sociable person. He was friendly and happy in later life to accept kindness from others whether it be a meal or financial support. In this respect Paul was very different from his Master. See exposition on Paul and Lydia We shouldn't be too proud to accept help. It is only as we allow others to help us that we give them space to serve Jesus.

(3) His enthusiasm.

Jesus was so keen to learn that he couldn't keep away from the synagogue school in the temple. He wanted to explore the Scriptures, to hear what others thought about different passages and to give his own opinion.

On the day his party was due to leave Jerusalem, perhaps in the time interval between the women's and the men's departure, Jesus slipped away for one last visit to the temple. He got so engrossed in the discussion taking place that he lost all track of time and missed the caravan home.

The boy Jesus loved to learn - especially about the Scriptures. There are still parts of the world where this is true. My friend Richard Underwood recently visited Malawi. One of the things he found particularly refreshing was that the Christians he addressed hung onto his every word as he expounded passages from the New Testament. It is a pity that there is not the same hunger for the word in British churches.

The teaching method adopted by the scholars in the temple is especially interesting. They proceeded by taking questions and giving answers and also by posing their students questions and assessing their replies. This is evident from Luke's description of what Mary and Joseph witnessed when they finally discovered their son in the temple: They found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Every one who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. v47.

Sadly this method of teaching, although it takes place in our schools, does not occur in many churches. Christians in the tradition to which I belong seem content to listen to a monologue from on Sunday to the next. This is a very inefficient way to learn.

(4) His potential. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. v47.

Jesus showed exceptional promise as a scholar and student of the Scriptures. I was a fairly bright boy but I cannot recall listening to my father's sermons at the age of twelve with much interest or asking him many searching questions. Jesus had the potential to go through the education system and become a great and influential Jewish Rabbi.

However, Jesus never became a professional scholar. His lack of qualifications was one of the things that later told against him in the opinion of the Jewish academics. See exposition on John7v14to24. Jesus never became a religious professional. He could have been but in the wisdom of God he took another route.

It amazes me that so many of the mainstream denominations place such an emphasis on academic qualifications for entry into the ministry when the living head of the church was a glorious amateur. William Booth, Charles H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody and many other notable preachers never had a university education.

(5) His self-knowledge.

When Mary told Jesus off for missing the journey home he replied: Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

It took Joseph and Mary 3 days to find Jesus in Jerusalem from the time that they discovered he was missing. This means they had searched the capital for Jesus for at least a day without finding him. Jesus' response to Mary's rather plaintive rebuke indicates he considered his parents should have known where to look for him. They were certainly astonished to find him discussing Scripture with the experts in the temple courts. It is very sad that Mary and Joseph didn't know Jesus well enough to know where to look for him.

Jesus knew that his relationship with God was special - that God was his father - and his house was the place to be.

There are several points to note:

    (a) It is sad when parents don't know their children.

    (b) It is sad when Christians do not know one another.

    (c) It sad when a man or a woman is uncertain about their relationship with God.

    (d) If God is our father we should love to be in his house and amongst his people.

(D) The years in obscurity

There are four things we know about the 18 years that followed Jesus' visit to the temple:

(1) Jesus was submissive to his parents. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. v51.

We are not told Jesus repeated his visits to the temple on subsequent Passovers. If he had done so then surely he would have gradually built up a reputation as a Bible scholar and been known in Jerusalem. It seems rather that for 18 years Jesus lived in obscurity before bursting on the scene as an unknown provincial teacher from Nazareth. I wonder very much why this was? Maybe during his brief time among the religious experts in Jerusalem he had detected some warning signs and thought better of inviting opposition too early in his life. On the other hand, perhaps Joseph was already beginning to fail. It is interesting that he is not the one to reprove Jesus for getting lost in Jerusalem. Joseph may have been responsible for leaving Jesus behind. If Joseph's health was deteriorating then Jesus was probably co-opted into the struggling carpentry business at a very young age. Jesus may not have been able to afford the yearly visits to the temple at Passover when he became the sole breadwinner for the family.

Whatever the case might have been Jesus showed humility in obeying his parents and learning to be a carpenter in order to support Mary and his younger brothers and sisters. This did not demean Jesus. He did not become any less the Son of God because he was subject to his parents and engaged in manual labour.

There are two lessons here that many Christians in the West find difficult to digest. Our status in the church has nothing to do with the secular work we do. A manual worker is as valuable to God as the most eminent professor. Secondly, no Christian is devalued by accepting the authority of church leaders. The boys and girls who respected my authority in school showed much more sense than those who rebelled against it! They were the ones that I, their teacher, ended up respecting.

(2) Jesus studied in the hard school of life.

Jesus drew innumerable lessons from nature, the home, the work place and human nature during his three-year teaching ministry. All his parables owe something to the lessons he learned in the hard school of life. The illustrations Jesus used are just brilliant - the parables of the Sower, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Unjust Steward and Importunate Widow to name but a few. What keen insights into human nature the last four of those parables show.

I find it very refreshing whenever a preacher illustrates his message with references to his experience. It is lovely when a farmer takes our Harvest Thanksgiving Services and uses his special knowledge to bring out spiritual truths. Dr Paul Brand used his familiarity with the human body very effectively to describe the great diversity of Christian gifts in his book, 'Fearfully and wonderfully made'. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, drew upon his interest in the Greek games to teach some great truths about the Christian life. A headmaster who recounted an incident that occurred in his school gave one of the most powerful illustrations that I ever heard. See exposition on 'Blessed are the peacemakers'.

(3) Jesus was popular with his fellowmen. Jesus grew ... in favour with God and men. v51.

Jesus was well liked in obscurity by all he who knew him. He wasn't austere, stern, unsociable or a killjoy - far from it! He was a friendly, hardworking, helpful, fair-minded minded carpenter and as such popular and respected.

Things changed when Jesus began his ministry. He was accepted and appreciated until he became an active teacher and spoke out against religious hypocrisy, corruption in high places and materialism. His popularity declined drastically after he called for a whole-hearted, total, unconditional commitment to himself as the bread of heaven.

When I taught at Debenham Mrs C and I got on very well together until she was promoted to senior management and head of pastoral care. Mrs C complained that I changed but I did nothing of the sort. Her role changed and this brought her into conflict with me over issues to do with discipline and the treatment of disruptive pupils. While Mrs C was an ordinary classroom teacher we got on famously but as soon as she had authority as head of pastoral care we clashed.

Some Christians are rather passive in the church and because of this rarely get into conflict situations. You don't get shot at if you never put your head above the parapet. Other Christians take on positions of responsibility and authority and they are much more likely to experience opposition and unpleasantness. It is a lot easier to be passive! It is a lot harder to be in a position of responsibility. That is why church leaders need our sympathy and our prayers. (Perhaps the same could be said of Mrs C!)

(4) Jesus pleased God in the daily round and common task.

After 18 unexceptional years in the obscurity of a carpenter's shop God said at Jesus' baptism: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Lk3v22. Jesus pleased God by being a good son, a good brother, a good neighbour and a good carpenter.

My friend you can be a great saint in obscurity. It should be a tremendous encouragement to realise that you can be a great saint in the daily round and common task. God is pleased with many who nobody would rate as anything special and who never receive any earthly honour. It is as important to God that you make a chocolate cake for a lonely old bachelor in your church as preaching the finest sermon before a congregation of thousands. I am inclined to believe that the preacher has his reward on earth but the maker of the chocolate cake still has hers to come.