Christ as a boy
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
Last week, I talked about the Apostle Paul and how the Bible gives us some intriguing clues about his background before his conversion. This week I’m going to look at Christ’s background before he began his ministry. Apart from the accounts of his birth and the visit of the wise men, there is really only one time when we encounter Christ as a child – when he visits Jerusalem with his parents at the age of 12. It’s one of those stories that most of us learned in Sunday School, and sometimes because we are so familiar with it we don’t fully understand its impact. The story is in Luke chapter 2, verses 40 to 52:
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Now the simple message here, the one that we all know, is that Christ was a godly child as well as a godly man. He was wise, and those around him had respect for him, as did God.
There is a much more profound message here, which maybe we lose too easily because we are so familiar with this story. From an early age, probably from his childhood, Christ knew the nature of his mission, and how he was going to die on the cross. Doesn’t that put a whole new meaning onto “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
I wonder what questions the twelve year old boy asked the doctors? What passages did he discuss? He must really have been asking profound, difficult, questions, otherwise they wouldn’t have been listening to him. The modern equivalent would be a twelve year old boy questioning the faculty at a leading university . It would have to be a remarkable child to do that, a child with a great understanding of the subject.
Now, I’m not going to speculate as to what Christ said, but I am going to go through a couple of passages in Isaiah that are prophetic of Christ, and I want us to think about what it must have been like for a twelve year old boy to understand those passages, to understand them better than we do today, and to understand that they referred to him. Please turn to Isaiah chapter 53, and as I read, I want you to think what it must have been like for Christ to know that these words were talking about him.
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
How many of us would be happy to know that “you will have no form nor comeliness; and when they shall see you, there is no beauty that they should desire him. You will be despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:”
How many of us would be able to cope with the knowledge that we would not look remotely attractive, physically or emotionally, to anybody else. How would we cope with being told that we would be completely rejected by men?
“But you will be wounded for their transgressions, you will be bruised for their iniquities: the chastisement of their peace will be upon you; and with your stripes they are healed. All they like sheep have gone astray; they have turned every one to their own way; and the LORD will lay on you the iniquity of them all. You will be oppressed, and you will be afflicted, yet you will not open not your mouth: you will be brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so you will open not your mouth. You will be taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare your generation? for you will be cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people will you be stricken. And you will make your grave with the wicked, and with the rich in your death; because you will do no violence, neither will there be any deceit in your mouth.”
How many of us could cope with those words about ourselves? How many of us could cope with the knowledge that, if we lived as we should then those words would apply to us? I know I couldn’t.
Yet Christ did. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This wasn’t just a casual laying down of life. It wasn’t a moments heroism, saving someone from danger on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t just running out into the road to save a friend from being knocked down by a bus, and getting run over yourself in the process. Christ knew what lay ahead of him. And it wasn’t just in the Garden of Gethsemane. It wasn’t just pre-Crucifixion stage fright. Christ knew the nature of the sufferings he was going to endure from an early age.
And he was still prepared to go ahead with his ministry, even knowing the great tribulation he would endure. That is a very great love.
It’s important to remind ourselves that Isaiah 53 isn’t just pain and suffering. There is great promise here as well. Think of how the end of that chapter would have sounded to Christ:
“By your knowledge shall you, my righteous servant, justify many; for you shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide you a portion with the great, and you shall divide the spoil with the strong; because you will pour out your soul unto death: and you will be numbered with the transgressors; and you will bare the sin of many, and make intercession for the transgressors.”
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ knew that by laying down his life he was giving his friends something very great indeed. It wasn’t just knocking someone out of the way of an oncoming bus, which only saves them until they next wander into the traffic. It was bearing the sin of many, making intercession for transgressors. It was the justification of many. It was a great act of self sacrifice that delivered something great to those who were his friends.
Christ didn’t just know about the difficult things he was going to endure. He also knew about the great benefits that his endurance was going to bring.
Think about how Christ would have felt the first time he read and understood Isaiah 11 verses 1 to 9:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The promise of the Kingdom is one that gives us all hope and strength. The knowledge that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea gives us all courage, knowing that the world will one day be the way it truly should be.
Think of the hope and strength that must have given Christ, as a boy and as a man, in Joseph’s workshop, on the streets of Jerusalem, in the temple, and on the cross.
The story about Christ in the temple as a boy reminds us that all his life he was a boy and man of God. All his life he knew of the suffering that he had to endure. All his life he knew of the glory that that suffering would bring.
I’m going to conclude with a short reading, which you don’t need to look up. John15, verses 12 to 14:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.