Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Childhood of Jesus


Some have referred to the childhood of Jesus as “the hidden years” or the “years of silence.”  After the events of His birth we are told hardly anything about His life before He was thirty.  Did He travel with His parents to other places besides Egypt?  At what age was He when His family returned to take up residence in Nazareth?  It is true that in the Bible we are not told much about Jesus’ boyhood or adolescence.  Why might this be?  It could be that the Gospel writers wanted our eyes to be focused on the central message of Jesus and on His teaching, which became public when He began His ministry at the age of thirty.  It is interesting that in the Jewish culture at that time, a man had to be thirty years old before he could be considered a wise, well-learned, mature rabbi, worthy of respect.  Even in this, Jesus was culturally sensitive.
Another possible reason for the lack of information about Jesus’ earlier life was that if we were told more details about Him, like what His favourite food or activities were, or what He wore, or the colours He liked best, then we would try to imitate Him in things that are not necessary and it would take attention away from the importance of Jesus’ message upon which we are to focus and upon His character that we are to imitate.
Jesus lived, for the most part, as a normal boy.  There was nothing too unusual about Him, which may be another reason that the Gospel writers had no reason to write about his childhood or adolescence.  With His incarnation, the eternal Son of God willingly set aside the use of His own inherent divine attributes and He submitted Himself wholly to the will of His Father. And as St. Paul says:  "Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-11). 
Not only was Jesus humble in nature, but also in the physical sense He had humble beginnings, being born in a stable, and then after returning from Egypt, following the death of Herod the Great, He lived in the small town of Nazareth, where He grew up in a humble home with hard-working “parents”.  As a boy Jesus would have learned the carpenter trade and He would have helped Joseph in the shop.  A carpenter in those days could have either worked with wood or stones, as a mason.  Jesus was content with His situation; He also was hard working and submissive to elders and authority.  He went regularly to the synagogue to worship with His community and He was a well-liked boy and a friend of many.


Throughout history the question has been asked:  “Did Jesus perform any miracles when he was a child”?  The first recorded miracle of Jesus in the Bible is found in the Gospel of John chapter 2, when He turned the water into wine.  John tells us in verse 11:  “This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee.  He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.”  So, John the beloved friend of the Lord tells us this miracle was Jesus’ first; starting by this way His public ministry.
In the second century there were some books written which contained fables about Jesus performing miracles when he was a boy, such as breathing life into clay birds that He had made, or that He spoke at the time of His birth, or that He could tell what was in the hearts of other children, or that He brought down tables of food from heaven, and numerous other miraculous things.  If these were true Jesus’ fame would have spread long before the miracle in Cana.  Even Nathaniel, from the nearby town of Cana, had not heard of Jesus before.  He exclaimed:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
The townspeople of Nazareth who were Jesus’ relatives, friends and neighbours could hardly believe that it was their very own “Jesus” who was reportedly performing many miracles.  They said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t his mother’s name Mary? … Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:55a, 56b).  We learn that in Nazareth, “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58).
This all shows that Jesus had a normal life prior to starting His public ministry.  However, Jesus was also exceptional as a boy and young man, in that He was sinless.  Everyone in the community liked Jesus, His family loved Him, and God looked upon Him with favour.
The only story in the Bible that we read about Jesus as a boy is found in Luke, chapter two.  Jesus was 12 years old and He and His family were in Jerusalem for their yearly trip for the Feast of the Passover.  On this occasion Jesus left the caravan of friends and relatives who would have been travelling together, and went to the Temple to speak with the priests and teachers of the Law.  We know from this that as a boy, Jesus was a student of God’s Word, the Torah, and He knew the Law well, for the teachers were all amazed by His understanding and knowledge. 
After a whole day of travelling, his parent’s noticed Him missing.  You may think this is a long time, but in that culture, the extended family was very close and Jesus’ mother and Joseph would have assumed that He was with other family members.  From this we can see that Jesus was an independent, mature boy, not a “mama’s boy” by any means.  His mother and “father” had been anxiously searching for Him for three days in Jerusalem.  Jesus was surprised that it took them so long to find Him.  He thought they should have known He had to be in His Father’s house.
After this event, Luke tells us that Jesus returned with His parents to His home in Nazareth where He was obedient and respectful to His parents, as He most certainly had always been.  Jesus took special care of His mother and it is likely that Joseph had died while Jesus was still young.  From the cross, while in much pain and suffering, Jesus was still considering other’s first, and He paid special attention to His mother by entrusting her to the care of John, His beloved friend and disciple. This obviously means that Joseph was not around at the time.
Jesus mother, Mary, had a great role in His life.  She, more than anyone else, knew that Jesus was special, sent to the world from God, and yet for all the years of Jesus’ childhood, Mary remained silent.  She didn’t brag about Him, but rather treated Him as a normal boy.  We are told in Scripture:  “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).  Another translation says that she pondered them in her heart.  Mary knew that Jesus had special miraculous powers and that is why she asked Him to do something at the wedding in Cana when the host ran out of wine.  Why do you think she said nothing to Him about using His powers before this time?  Surely there had been many needs like sickness in the family, but it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time.  Even at the wedding feast, Jesus told her, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4).  It is likely that Mary knew Jesus’ ministry would begin when He turned thirty.  Mary must have been sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit for her to have the boldness to ask Jesus to intervene.  She told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).  Not only was Jesus respectful of His mother, but He was obedient to God.  It was God’s will for Jesus to turn the water into wine, and it resulted with the newly chosen disciples putting their faith in Him.
From the Gospel of Luke we are told, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52).  So, in Jesus’ childhood, we can see that He developed well mentally, physically, socially and spiritually – all in perfect balance.  The lifestyle in those days was very healthy.  Jesus would have eaten a healthy diet and got lots of exercise.  There was no junk food in those days.  Jesus developed from childhood into having a strong body as a man.  It is amazing how much our Lord was able to bear physically at the time of His crucifixion.

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