The first verse of Scripture that I learned in church school was Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” Even in the second grade, I remembered thinking, “So what?”
The point, as taught by my wise and pious teacher Mrs. Wheeler, seemed to be that I was supposed to emulate Jesus by getting smarter and taller and doing what pleased God and my parents and teachers. “Stature,” she said meant size. We were to grow up to be “big and tall and strong like Jesus.”
I wondered about that. People obviously came in different heights in the second grade and certainly as adults. I mean, the tallest students in my class were girls. “How tall does Jesus want me to be?” I asked Mrs. Wheeler.
She said, “Don’t smoke cigarettes. They will stunt your growth.” This did not answer my question which I continued to pursue with her. “I don’t think we know how tall Jesus was,” was Mrs. Wheeler’s final, exasperated response.
I had even more questions. By the time one reached that place in Luke, Jesus had already wandered off from Mary and Joseph’s side to do what he said God wanted him to do and this upset them, so it did create some doubt in my mind that pleasing God and pleasing my parents and teachers was the same thing.
That God and my parents and teachers might want different things from me was an important thing to know, I thought, even though it wasn’t what Mrs. Wheeler had in mind for me. It caused me to question authority.
The word “stature” really refers to growing up and becoming mature, I’ve since learned. That makes sense. The baby would leave the swaddling clothes and the manger behind. Childhood was deemed to end at 12 years-of-age in that culture.
How did Jesus acquire the wisdom and maturity that would see him through his ministry? We don’t know from the Bible. It is thought that he was a carpenter like Joseph, on the slim strength of Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter . . . .” The word used in the Greek gospels for “carpenter” (tekton) refers to something more than a wood-worker and craftsman and embraces masonry, design and building of structures.
It is romantic to think of Jesus as a carpenter, carefully learning his craft under the watchful eye of Joseph, but that is unlikely based on Scripture.
There is much more direct support for the proposition that Jesus was a rabbi. That is how his followers referred to him (Mk 9:5-6; Jn 1:48-50; Jn 4:31-34). When Andrew and another disciple first met him, they called him “Rabbi (which translated into Teacher)” (Jn 1:38-39). See also, Mt 23:28; Jn 3:2). The New Testament refers to Jesus as “Teacher” 47 times. He never corrected his followers for calling him that. He referred to himself as Rabbi in Matthew 26:17-19.
The circumstantial evidence points to his vocation as Rabbi. Carpenters don’t have disciples, but Rabbis do. Total strangers don’t show up and ask carpenters to heal the sick, cast out demons and settle disputes. People do ask Rabbis to do such things. He was invited to dinner for theological discussions which is what one does with the newest and most provocative teachers.
It is also said that rabbis learned a trade to help support themselves. Paul, for instance was a tent-maker (Ac 18:3). Jesus may well have learned the building trade in addition to scholarly studies.
A rabbi is taught by another rabbi. Who taught Jesus?
Mary had a grasp of Scripture and prophecy unusual for a woman of that time in a place like Nazareth (Lk 1:26-56). She was obviously a thinking person (Lk 2:19, 51). If Mary was the primary human source of Jesus’ training it would have been hidden from view because it was unthinkable in that culture and religion for a woman to be a rabbi. In every one of Jesus’ interactions with women as an adult man he broke stereotypes and prejudices to heal, forgive them and relieve them of oppression. Jesus treated women and men with equal dignity which gives some credit to the influence of Mary.
We are curious about such things and want accurate details about them in part because, if we know, we can follow the exact steps in the hope of the same result. That is a very good reason about why we know nothing of Jesus’ years between the ages of 12 and 30 when his public ministry began. We aren’t even told much about the nature of his wisdom. Jesus never wrote a book to exactly define his teachings and John wrote that he did many more things than were recorded (Jn 20:30).
Jesus told those who hounded him to show his credentials, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these so that you will be astonished. . . I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. . . You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they which testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . .” (Jn 5:19-20, 30, 39-40).
What stands out in these statements is obedience and the need to wait for the Father’s instruction. There is also a pointer that Scripture contains wisdom but only if it is learned and applied.
Christ’s life on earth began with a rush of dazzling joy. It ended with two and one-half years of amazing action. In between were long, quiet, even secret, years of growth.
What would you learn in such a stretch of time when seemingly nothing was happening. If you were going to see things through to the end, you would learn to wait, and to obey– the kind of obedience that says, “Father, if you are willing, remove the cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” even as you were sweating so hard from distress it was as if your life was bleeding out from every pore (Lk 22:42-44).
Jesus frequently spoke of growing things–wheat, lilies, vines, vineyards, fig trees, fruit trees, mustard plants–and always in the sense that their growth was a unique empowerment of their Creator. The human quality that he spoke of most often in connection with this plant growth was patience. It takes time for the seed to sprout. There is pruning involved for growth that is unfruitful. Sometimes, the roots need to be aired out and fertilizer applied before a barren tree is cut down.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes with his sickle because the harvest has come” (Mk 4:26-29).
No doubt, a good farmer knows the kind of ground that he or she is working, the quality of seed, and the weather conditions. No matter what, the farmer cannot force the plant out of the ground. It rises by an interior power inherent in its creation. If the farmer digs it up to see how its growing, if he handles the roots, and pushes and pulls on the tender stalk, the plant will die. The power of its actual growth is beyond the farmer.
Some of you reading this are entering the new year as nothing more than a milestone on a lonely road in flat, dry country. You may have exchanged hope for resignation some miles/years back.
Some of you may be learning that your pushing and pulling, and man-handling of the tender life in your soul has crushed it.
Some of you may understand that the waiting is necessary, but the darkness is great and the morning is far off.
Some of you, I know, are rejoicing that your patience is being rewarded and there is another side to the desert you’ve been crossing.
None of us, I hope, would conclude that Jesus’ silent years of waiting in Nazareth were wasted. Nor do we think it important that we can’t really pin down Jesus’ occupation during those years nor who his companions were. Because what those years led him to is everything to us–mercy, forgiveness, assurance, joy, eternal life. We have to think that our long, night passage may be leading us to the same place with him.
He gives us this wisdom to guide us. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me the Father will honor. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this hour that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:24-28a).
“Taking up one’s cross” and following Jesus is a well-known teaching of Christian discipleship. Often we mistake the cross for bearing the miseries of our flesh but we don’t have to take up such things, they are already present in our broken, defective souls. No, taking up the cross means willingly taking on that which we would not otherwise bear and we look around, albeit tentatively, with some dread, for what service or obligation might be our cross. How often do we think that our cross may be waiting for God’s silent preparation of our souls for his purpose when we would far rather be out and about doing what we want to do, even want to do for him?
Solomon, with God-given wisdom, wrote that it is the Lord who makes the difference in us, not we who make the difference for the Lord.
- Unless the Lord builds the house,
- those who build it labor in vain.
- Unless the Lord guards the city,
- the guard keeps watch in vain.
- It is in vain that you rise up early
- and go late to rest,
- eating the bread of anxious toil;
- for he gives sleep to his beloved.
- Psalm 127:1-2
There is a most marvelous thing about Solomon’s Temple that was built for and filled with the glory of the Lord. “The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built” (1 Kgs 6:7). The Apostle Paul’s question sounds in our souls: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). What if our waiting is God silently but surely constructing his temple for his glory.
Can you and I sing with the Psalmist, “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple”? (Ps 48:9). It is worth pondering because at the center of all of the waiting is the love of God for us.
Jesus waited for his Father’s timing and it became the day of our salvation. He waited as a man, but he is also God, and we have no idea what it is like for God to wait for us and that is what he was doing, after all. He was waiting for us in those years of Nazareth. We are why the Father sent him. We are who he was being prepared to serve.
Here is a clue of what it was like for Jesus to wait in his own words: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is completed” (Luke 12:49-50). He burned with desire to save us and give us his life. That’s how Jesus thinks about us. That’s why the waiting is worth it.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52, KJV). Mrs. Wheeler has passed away, but these many years later, I remember the Scripture she taught me and I am blessed. I wasn’t her best Bible student. I stubbornly refused to fill out my work book and I asked too many questions. Somehow, though, the seed she planted grew into this message. I accept it as the grace it is.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,