Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jesus' Teen Years

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Jesus' teen years:

Q: What do we know about Jesus’ child and teen years?

The Bible gives us a detailed account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke. This is probably one of the most familiar portions of scripture for most Christians because of tradition of reading it on Christmas Eve. It is likely that many readers even memorized portions of this chapter of Luke as a part of their childhood participation in Christmas Eve services. The New Testament Gospels also give us generous amounts of information on the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which occurred between His Baptism by John at age 30 and His death, resurrection, and ascension about 3 years later. The time between Jesus’ birth and His thirtieth year, however, does not receive a great deal of attention in the Bible, but it does show us a few memorable events.

As a young child, Jesus’ is visited by three Magi from the East who came to worship Him and to bring Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We often see these wise men portrayed in Christmas decorations and manger scenes as being present at the stable where Jesus was born, at the same time as the shepherds, but the Gospel of Matthew tells us that their visit came somewhat later than the shepherds, while Jesus was a young child. As a result of the attention brought by the Magi, King Herod, became afraid for his throne and sent soldiers to Bethlehem in an attempt to do away with this “new king” which the Magi were seeking, but God rescued Jesus and His family from this threat by warning Joseph in a dream and instructing him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary.

From these events, we know that Jesus spent His infancy in Bethlehem, but His early childhood years would have been lived in Egypt. When King Herod died, Joseph again received a series of dreams which instructed Him to return to Israel, and ultimately to settle in Nazareth, which we typically think of as Jesus’ home town. The Bible also portrays Jesus and His family as faithful worshippers of God who observed the sacrifices, feasts, and festivals specified in the Old Testament and even traveled on pilgrimages to Jerusalem to do so. On one of these trips to Jerusalem for Passover, when Jesus was twelve years old, the family realized while they were returning to Nazareth that Jesus was no longer with them. When they went back and found Him, He was at the temple, discussing theology with the priests and teachers there, who were amazed by His knowledge.

Several books outside of the Bible try to fill in these years of Jesus’ life with other stories, such as one where Jesus strikes a playmate dead, then at the pleading of Joseph, raises him back to life. In another account, Jesus is portrayed as making a bird from clay, then bringing it to life. These other “gospels”, such as the “Gospel of Thomas” are commonly believed to be forgeries, though, because they were written several centuries after Jesus life and by people who were not eyewitnesses to the events.

After Luke tells the story of Jesus at the temple he says that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” The most likely reason that so little is said about Jesus’ childhood years in the Bible is that they were completely normal. He grew physically, learned, and acted like any of the other children. In fact, his early life was so normal that when He returned to Nazareth to preach later in life, the people there were surprised and did not accept His authority because they just saw Him as “Mary’s son.”

There is, however, one exception to the ordinary nature of Jesus’ childhood years. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” While Jesus life as a child and teenager was completely normal, it was lived differently than ours because He kept God’s commands perfectly, while we fail to do so throughout our lives. It is this perfect life that He lived, which makes him an acceptable substitute to be crucified for us, and it is because of this sinless life that death could not hold Him and He rose again on the third day.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

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