THE FIRST THIRTY YEARS
"And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him." Luke 2:40
With regard to the thirty years, it will be best first to gather the statements of Scripture concerning them, thus coming into possession of the facts, and then to consider the characteristics of those years, as therein revealed.
The facts chronicled concern the infancy, the childhood, the youth, and the manhood of Jesus.
Concerning the infancy, the following facts are recorded.
“And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcising Him, His name was called JESUS, which was so called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb."(Luke 2:21)
"And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought Him up to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord." (Luke 2:22)
"Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him. And he arose and took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. Saying, Out of Egypt did I call My Son." (Matt. 2:13-15)
"But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead that sought the young child's life. And he arose and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God in a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee, and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that He should be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:19-23)
In exact fulfillment of the requirements of the Hebrew Law Jesus was circumcised at the age of eight days. He was thus brought into the outward and visible manifestation of His relationship to the covenant of God with Israel.
The second fact is that of His presentation in the temple, and dedication as the firstborn child of His mother, to the purpose and service of God.
The third fact chronicles the flight into Egypt, and the fourth the return from there to His own land and people.
Thus in connection with the infancy there is a record of suggestive facts, the identification of Jesus with the covenant people of God, by the symbol of separation and purity, His dedication to special and specific work by His presentation in the temple, the carrying into Egypt, as part of a Divine program of protection for One set apart to Himself, and the return to Nazareth for the entry upon that life of obscurity, in which the human is to make its progress from innocence to holiness, in the place of such ordinary testing as comes to man, and which is necessary for His development.
Concerning the childhood of Jesus, all the recorded facts are in the Gospel of Luke, and are as follows:
"And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him." (Luke 2:40)
"And His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast; and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and His parents knew it not; but supposing Him to be in the company, they went a day's journey; and they sought for Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance: and when they found Him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for Him. And it came to pass, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I sought Thee sorrowing. And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me? Knew ye not that I must be in My Father's house? And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He was subject unto them: and His mother kept all these sayings in her heart." (Luke 2:41-51)
The whole story of the childhood of Jesus from infancy to His religious coming of age, is contained in one verse The main statement of the verse is, “the child grew." Then follows an explanation of the statement, in what may be spoken of as an analysis of the lines of His growth. The whole fact of His human nature, physical, mental, and spiritual is recognized; the PHYSICAL development in the words, He “waxed strong”; the MENTAL development in the words, “becoming full of wisdom” (see margin); the SPIRITUAL development in the words, “the grace of God was upon Him." Thus the development of Jesus was not one-sided. Under the careful training of His mother, the advancement was a perfect harmony of progress in the whole fact of His life.
The other fact of His childhood recorded, is that of His religious coming of age. It is altogether to miss the importance of this story to think of it as accidental. The purpose of the coming to Jerusalem on the part of Mary, was undoubtedly primarily that of fulfilling the requirements of the law, the bringing of Jesus to His confirmation. At this point the boy was supposed to enter upon that period of life when He should have immediate dealings with the law, receiving it no longer through the instruction of His parents; but having been brought by them into a knowledge of its requirements, He would now take upon Himself the responsibility. The rite which is still in existence, consists in the preparation by the candidate of certain passages of the law, which are to be recited, and his presentation to the rulers and doctors, that in conversation with him, they may ask him questions, testing his knowledge, and he may submit to them questions arising out of his training. It was to this ceremony of confirmation that Jesus was brought at the age of twelve.
The picture of Christ here is very full of beauty, although too often the natural fact is obscured, by false ideas concerning the attitude of Jesus towards the teachers. A very popular conception of His action here is that of a boy delighting to ask questions that will show His own wisdom, and puzzle the doctors. This would seem to be utterly contrary to the facts. Jesus, a pure, beautiful boy, physically strong, mentally alert, spiritually full of grace, moving into new and larger experiences of His life, answered the questions of the doctors with a lucidity that astonished them, and submitted problems to them which showed how remarkable was the caliber of His mind, and how intense the fact of His spiritual nature, so great an opportunity was this to Him that He waited behind, still talking with these men.
Supposing Him to have been with the company, His parents had started on the homeward journey, and missing Him, returned. Here again violence has been done to the character of Christ by the tone in which His question has been repeated. There was no touch of rebuke in what He said to His mother. It is far more probable that there was a tender expression of surprise that she from whom He had received His training, and under whose direction His mind had developed, and His spiritual nature been nurtured, should not know how “the things of His Father" were to Him the chief things.
So far of course Jesus is seen in the development of His human nature along the ordinary lines. The difficulty suggested in a previous article, how there could be growth and advancement, or why training was necessary if He was indeed God, admits of no explanation except that of repeating the fact that while He was very God, He was actual Man. His human life was lived wholly within the realm of humanity. The Son of God in His Deity refrained from giving to the human fact in its testing and development, any assistance other than was originally at the disposal of unfallen man. It cannot be over-emphasized or too often repeated, that this is a mystery defying explanation. Yet to deny it is to create a new mystery on either of the sides of the Personality of Jesus, involving the rout of the reason, in that there is discovered a marvelous effect, of which the only possible cause is denied.
The conclusion of the story of the confirmation is that He went down with His parents, and was subject unto them.
Concerning the youth of Jesus, that is, the period from His confirmation to His young manhood, there is one statement.
“And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:52)
Here again there is no detail, but the bare declaration of His advancement, and that advancement is revealed as being balanced, and including the whole of His nature, "in wisdom, in stature, in favor with God and men." The application of this statement, very often lost sight of, is that He grew in favor not only with God, but with men. It is not a sign of being in the grace of God when one is out of favor with men. It was not the Personality and character of Jesus that alienated the crowds from Him, but the teaching which rebuked their sin, and called them to repentance. It is very stunning to read that in those long years at Nazareth Jesus was a favorite. No details are given, and yet it is quite possible to sit down in front of the statement, and imagine various facts included within it. One could almost picture the children going to Him, taking perhaps their toys for Him to mend; and the young men, visiting Him to talk out some of the problems that were vexing their hearts. And the old people, bent with sorrow, and loving to hear the tones of some strong and yet tender voice, sitting while He talked to them. Let this never be forgotten “He grew in favor with God and men." Jesus was a favorite in His own village until the days came when, in fulfillment of His Father's will, He had to speak such words as alienated them from friendship, and made the very men of Nazareth attempt His murder, long before it was accomplished by the priests of the nation.
There yet remains one fact recorded concerning the years, that namely, of the occupation of His Manhood.
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended in Him." (Mark 6:3)
The question was asked in the days when the enmity of the men of Nazareth was stirred against Him, because of His superior wisdom, and authoritative teaching. And yet it lights up facts of those past years. He was the village carpenter. The Greek word tektwv, here translated carpenter, etymologically means a producer, but specifically, and in its use in that country, it indicated a craftsman in wood. The declaration reveals Him to us as One Who learned a trade, becoming Master of the tools of His craft. All this is to be dealt with more fully in the next articles.
These facts, brief as is the account of them, reveal the characteristics of the life of Jesus. Through the process of training, He lived in dependence upon the guidance of other human wills. He trod the path of a daily duty. Toil was not to Him merely the taking up of work for the sake of amusement. It was His response to stern necessity. He labored for the bread which was to sustain physical life. Through all the years, His life was conditioned within human limitations. These limitations were of course, such as were part of an original Divine plan. There was a difference throughout between the experience of the Man Jesus, and the experience of fallen men. Their intelligence is darkened. His shone clearly, and yet in ever increasing capacity. Their emotion is prostituted. His was ever set upon highest things, and responsive to the most perfect. Their will is degraded, because under the dominion of a false governing principle. His was exercised within the true realm of submission to the highest of all. The thirty years were the years of the long silence, in which the Son of God is seen stripped and emptied of all royalty, except that of a victorious manhood.