I wonder if you’ve heard this one: ‘Jesus was a man, but you know, he never had to struggle like us, did he? He was the Son of God so he must have found it easy to do the right thing. Right?’
I normally have two responses. The first is Hebrews 4.15,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.
And Luke 2.51-52,
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Jesus grew up . . . what a fascinating concept. When I think of the idea of growing up, I can’t help returning to those days when my kids were little . . . really little . . . back in California . . . when our house looked like a trashed Toys R Us . . . It was enough to move my fingers over the keys . . .
We’ve got it all wrong when it comes to making toys for infants. Why are we designing them in bright colors and giving them actual practical and educational value? Why do we buy them plastic trucks and cooking utensils and dolls and blocks? Particularly if your child is under one, they are not looking at the latest miniature food mixer with the realistic raised speed dial – complete with microscopic numbers – and nodding in approval. First, they don’t care how realistic it is; it’s going in the mouth anyway. For them, that’s the test of quality: does it feel good in my mouth because the expensive doll with the human hair may fail dismally on that score. Second, most toys last about five seconds before their many constituent parts disappear magically to all four corners of the house.
And there are so many parts. What is the child really playing with anyway? She’s grabbed the arm of Mr. Potato Head and is banging it against a puzzle piece, a blue block and a dried-banana-covered piece of plastic, whose original purpose is impossible to discern. I don’t know why they don’t just market toys for infants in bits. “100 plastic bits for your child: wrapped in packs of ten. When the first ten have disappeared under chairs, down sinks and behind beds, pull out the next pack. It’s endless fun for mother and baby!”
Surely we should come to terms with the fact that our children aren’t in the slightest bit interested in the toys we give them, be they plastic bits or dolls that sing, dance and play the national anthem. They’re much more interested in real stuff. Just after opening a huge box full of the newest, most cleverly interactive toys money can buy, our 11-month-olds crawl with purpose to the cupboard to pull out the metal bowls. They sit for hours tapping a wooden spoon against a bowl and tinkering with the rice maker, pushing buttons and sucking the electric cord. We’ve paid for mental stimulation that would have made a young Einstein’s head spin but no, it’s the mixing spoon and the ceramic casserole dish that the child really loves. I think there’s a message here. I think we should go with this. Why resist? And why just stop with the bowls and dishes? Why not let Johnny get his hands on the whole lot …….?
“Oh, Jenny, I just love your furry knives!”
“ Not just furry, Sally … put that down, Kevin … take a look at this. Flick that switch and—”
“ –Oh my goodness, a razor sharp knife pops out. That is just fantastic! So Kevin can play with knives after all and you just pop a switch and within seconds, you’re dicing carrots! Can Kevin flick the switch too?”
“Not at his age, it’s been tested for resistance among one-year-olds. 80% couldn’t make it budge. They just recommend you don’t give them to the stronger ones. They’re such a delight, I love them!”
“Er, Jenny … is Katie okay? It looks like she’s eating the dishwasher powder. Are you sure that’s safe?”
“Sherbet, Sally. The plastic pouch on the side of the box is refillable and you can fill it with any food of your choice! Yesterday, she was munching on the Cheerios I’d swept up from the dining room floor. I like to keep an eye on her while she’s eating week old food. So much healthier and safer.”
“Oh yes, I totally agree. Keep ‘em close. I spray eatable glue on my shins and then cover them with snacks. Ben loves picking them off and I know exactly where he is by the slight stinging sensation as they come off in his fingers.”
Hmm, happy days. So where was I? Oh yes, the serious subject of Jesus’ childhood. I think that phrase, Jesus grew up, possibly contains more theological conundrums than almost any other. Isn’t he the one referenced by Paul as the one who sustains the universe? Not just made, sustains – present tense. That guy aged five, who presumably asked his dad ‘So what’s this for?’ before hacking away at a piece of wood with a hammer and chisel, with Joseph looking on nervously.
And then there’s the original question. Wasn’t it just plain easy for him to be good? And doesn’t that mean he wasn’t really ‘just a man.’ He was . . . come on, admit it, a Super-man.
The traditional response draws strongly on Philippians 2.5-8,
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
This section – which is so intensely beautiful, it should move us straight to adoration – refers to what is called the Kenosis, or emptying. Christ emptied himself for us. But let’s stop for a moment and be clear what we’re talking about.
Christ was the God-Man. He possessed both a human and a divine nature. How the two natures interacted with each other is hard to understand at the best of times. If Jesus had been asked, ‘So can you explain the electronic gadgetry on the latest F-16?’ he would have done what any first century carpenter would have done. Looked at you as though you’d arrived from the moon. The suppression, therefore, of divine knowledge – which is all-encompassing – during his time on earth, was necessary in order for him to function as a normal human being.
Ah, but perhaps it was also necessary so that he could grow up. Right now, I have 2 teenagers – girls – and a son who will turn 13 in a couple of months. First, there is no contest between ‘the early years’ and the ‘teenage years.’ The early years are easy-peasy. Oh yes, they are! Change a diaper. Read a book. Endure a tantrum. Rock a baby to sleep. Exhausting often. But liable to completely do your head in!? That’s reserved for the teenage years. (All those with little ones, please feel free to vent . . . er, I mean, comment).
Yet, I do think watching children grow up is simply one of the most life-changing, beautiful, gratifying, soul-destroying, life-enhancing, satisfying, agonizing things that a person can experience.
Growth is good. Always. It often hurts but it’s good.
That Jesus grew up, I find deeply reassuring. We’re told he ‘grew in wisdom.’ He was Wisdom. How did that work? Surely, it can only mean that he acquired knowledge of his world just like any other boy. And that, therefore, must have meant . . . homework! Oh yes, the Teenage Burden, even for Jesus. In the Luke passage, we’re told that he grew up just after we’ve read about his extraordinary mastery of the OT Law, surrounded by rabbis in the temple. No, it didn’t mean he simply downloaded his knowledge of the OT via his divine nature. It means he studied hard. Really hard. (Are you listening, son?) He studied hard. And he reaped the rewards. Great wisdom.
That he limited himself in a human body and in that human body he grew up in a similar fashion to any other Middle Eastern boy of his day, well, we talk about identification a lot. In his suffering, Christ identifies with us. Suffers like us. And in his growing up, he was . . . well, perhaps he was a little like my son. Perhaps Mary called to him to come to dinner, waited for a minute or two, then went into the living room and shouted ‘NOW!’
No one said being a teenager was a sin . . . though no doubt some parents are tempted down that road.
I thank my heavenly father that my Lord was once a teenager, no doubt with smelly shoes and, who knows, maybe even an attitude at times. He knows our world because he has lived in it with a real human body, a human nature and all that goes with that. He knows intimately the intricacies of human family relationships, having grown up in a family.
I despair of myself, sometimes, when in dealing with my children, I’m tempted to reach for those over-used parental words, In my day, we used to . . . How much better simply to remind myself that my Lord knows what my kids go through because he was once their age, as astonishing as that sounds. He knows them, can strengthen them; he loves them and he’s with us as a family, having lived in one himself.
May that be a reassuring and encouraging truth to you, if you’re a parent with teenagers. And if you have little ones, well, all I can say is . . . it just gets better and better!
Our favourite family show of the moment is The Middle. If you’re a parent and you haven’t yet seen this show, you’re missing out. Borrow a box-set. Let me leave you with some wisdom from Rev. Tim-Tom, the friendly guitar-playing pastor:
Jesus was a teenager too,
Beneath the long hair, awkwardness, pimples . . . King of the Jews
A lonely teenage Saviour no one could understand
Awkward on the outside, but inside a wise young man,
Yeah, Jesus was a teenager too.
Hmm, yes he was . . .
© Richard Collins 2014
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