The Early Years

As we considered in an earlier study, after Joseph and Mary had fled into Egypt with the babe, they returned back into the land of Israel when they heard of the death of Herod but being warned of God in a dream they came and dwelt in Nazareth in Galilee – Matthew 2: 19-23:

“But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.  And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archalaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Galilee means  “a circle”.   This idea comes up in the word Havilah in the garden of Eden which also means “circular” and when Christ dwells in Mount Zion in the kingdom it will be within a circle of buildings as we see from Ezekiel 43:12:

“This is the law of the house: Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy.  Behold, this is the law of the house.”

How fitting therefore that Christ should be brought that Christ should be brought up in a place with this meaning.

Christ grew up therefore in despised Galilee, despised by those who lived in Judea in the south.  Nathanael said, “Can any good thing come out of Galilee?”  Many of the battles in the course of the history of Israel were fought in this area and as a result many strangers dwelt there.  They had a peculiar uncouth pronunciation in this area “and their distance from the seats of government and civilisation at Jerusalem and Caesarea gave them their character for turbulence or independence, according as it was viewed by their friends or enemies” (“Sinai and Palestine, P.364).  It was described in Isaiah 9:1-2 as “the land of the shadow of death”, but it was in this despised area that Christ grew up and from which he chose the twelve Apostles.  Truly the people that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death saw “a great light”.   Similarly to-day brethren and sisters the truth often prospers in the despised unattractive areas.  Brother Thomas advised brother Roberts to move to unattractive Birmingham and it is in this area that the truth has prospered perhaps more than any other area in the country.

Jesus grew up in the area where in particular the prophet Elijah had his ministry and many of the significant places where the prophet had visited were near to Nazareth.  It is very possible that as a child he could have walked to some of these places.  He was about ten miles from Shunem and could have visited there and thought upon Elijah and the Shunamite woman.  It was close to Nain where Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead.  Nain was also close to Jezreel, which would have brought back memories of Elijah.  It would have also reminded him of Naboth’s vineyard and he would have known that as Naboth was cast out of his vineyard, so he was to suffer a similar fate.  Perhaps on an evening he would have climbed mount Tabor and viewed the land looking forward to the time when he would reign there.  In a twenty-mile walk he could have gone down to Dothan and there he would have thought of Joseph and his brethren and how Joseph’s experiences were typical of his own.  There was so much in this area that would have reminded our Master of the work which lay before him.

Apart from the details of Christ’s birth, there is very little written about the first thirty years of the life of the Son of God.  We read in Luke2: 40:

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him”.

We are not told in the Scriptures that Jesus was given the Holy Spirit before his baptism. So therefore conclude that the word spirit refers to his mind.  The same words were used for John the Baptist in Luke 1:80.  The word ‘wax’ means to ‘increase in vigour; to be strengthened’.  He was also “filed with wisdom.”  The mind of Christ became strong, being filled with wisdom.  If Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit in his early years, where did that wisdom come from?  It must have come from the word of God as we see from Proverbs 2:1-6:

“My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thane ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding:  If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God.  For the Yahweh giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.”

How much more, therefore, would they apply to God’s beloved Son.  The Lord Jesus Christ was a unique child, fearing Yahweh from his very early years as we see from Psalm22: 9:

“But thou art he that took me out of the womb:  thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.”

Although he was son of Mary, he inherited the mind of his Father.  It is not easy for us to conceive the effect this would have upon Jesus.  But imagine a babe possessed with the mind of God, going through these traumatic early years, the birth in a stable, the hatred of Herod, the flight and sojourn in Egypt and then being brought up in despised Nazareth described in Isaiah 9 as “the land of the shadow of death” (Isa. 9; 2).  Would this not have stimulated the Son of God, even when he was upon his mother’s breast, to hope in Yahweh, to cast himself upon Yahweh, recognising that Yahweh was his Ail from his mother’s belly.  This is not inconceivable when we realise that Samuel worshipped Yahweh, possibly from the age of five as we see from1 Sam. 1:28:

“Therefore also I have lent him to Yahweh; as long as he liveth he shall be be lent to Yahweh.  And he worshipped Yahweh there.”

Christ’s call from the womb is also shown in Isaiah 49:1:

“Listen, O Isles unto me; and hearken ye people from far; Yahweh hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”

In considering the life of Christ, we need to keep in mind the words of Psalm 80:17:

“Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself”.

 These words link with verse 15 and the words: “the branch (or son) that thou madest strong for thyself”.  We perhaps cannot fully fathom how this was achieved, but we must remember that Jesus was the Son of God and that he inherited the mind of his Father.  He was the word made flesh.  Brother Roberts comments as follows on this in his book entitled “The Law of Moses”:

“In the man-child born of a woman and circumcised on the eighth day, we have one made of our own identical nature, yet not one born of the will of man, or of the flesh in any sense, but of God, for God was the Father of Christ by his Spirit operating upon his mother, who probably did not know what had occurred within her for a considerable time.  By this means of paternity, Christ escaped the hereditary moral and mental bias of the race, and received such a divine intellectual impress as made him strong in spirit or mind, and of quick understanding in the fear and word of the LORD.  He was therefore enabled to overcome all the promptings and desires of his unclean nature derived from his mother, and maintained his moral perfection without blemish and undefiled” (4th Ed. P.248).

As we have read, “he waxed strong in spirit”.  Although Jesus was “the Son made strong”, we know that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (11 Cor. 12:9), and therefore Christ’s strength could have come through his sufferings as we see from Hebrews 5:7-8:

“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered”.

Although we are not told, my assumption is that Christ as the future king, recognised as such by the Magi at his birth, would have written out for himself a copy of the law in accordance with Deuteronomy 17:18-20.  Again, if this applied to the kings of Israel, how much more would it apply to the Messiah.  Perhaps he used the gold given to him by the Magi to purchase a scroll and then through access to the Synagogue or on his visits to Jerusalem copied it out.  In Jesus’ s early years therefore, he would have studied the law.  He took up the trade of Joseph as a carpenter but surely the words of Psalm 1 would have been true of Christ as we see from Ps.1: 1-3:

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of Yahweh; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper”.

His love for the writings of the law was manifested at his temptation when he answered the tempter repeatedly with the words “it is written”.

Every year Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem at the feast of Passover.  We assume that Jesus accompanied them on these occasions.  Thereby he would have opportunity to speak with the doctors of the law.  The only occasion recorded is when Jesus was twelve years of age.  We read of this in Luke 2:42-49:

“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?”

We know this incident well.  Let us note that Joseph and Mary found Jesus “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions”.  Jesus was sitting in their midst and the doctors of the law were sitting around him.  It would be wonderful to know what took place in the discussion and perhaps one day we shall know.  But Jesus’s answer to Joseph and Mary that it was about  “my Father’s business” must be sufficient for us.  These are the first recorded words of Jesus.  He was speaking of the things of His Father.  Brother Roberts comments on this incident in “Nazareth Revisited”, page 80:

“The boy answered with such a fascinating mixture of innocence, beauty and depth:  “How is it that ye sought me?  Wist ye not that I must be about my father’s business?”  Apparently he did not or could not enter into a distressed parent’s point of view.  Another view, invisible to most men, absorbed his eye, His Father and his Father’s business filled his field of vision.  The circumstances and exigencies of this ephemeral existence, which are all controlling with merely natural men, were of small consequence in his estimation.  Nothing is more prominent in his after life and teaching than this state of sentiment.  It is a sentiment having reason as its basis, and at last more or less affects all true disciples of Christ, with the result of their being mis-appreciated by the people of the present world” (“The Dawn” Book Supply, 1953).

These words would clearly convoy to Joseph and Mary where Jesus’s priorities lay and that the things if his Father were of more importance than their worries of missing him from the company returning from Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, showing Jesus’s respect for them we read:

“And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them”.

Jesus’s words however had a deep effect upon Mary who “kept all these sayings in her heart”.

One assumes that Jesus would have gone to Jerusalem each year up to the age of 30.  The words:

“Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man”

convey that during these years he grew in favour with the Scribes and Pharisees.  No doubt he would use the opportunities of meeting them to prepare himself for his ministry and to be able to answer him when they attacked him verbally or tried to trap him, but at this stage of his life it would seem that they were greatly impressed by his wisdom and his stature.  It may even be possible that they saw that he was the Messiah and plotted the idea that with his help they could deliver themselves from the Roman yoke.  We should look at this further when we consider the temptation.

When Jesus reached the age of 30, the circumstances of his early life would now have prepared him for his ministry.  He had grown up “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form of comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”, but it was the light of the wisdom and beauty of his character which shone out through which he obtained “favour with God and Man”.  His cousin John’s ministry had commenced about 3 ½ years earlier.  Jesus now made his way down to the south of the land to Bethabara where John was baptising (see Map).  John had originated from the hill country of Judea but as know had spent the early part of his life in the wilderness, possibly the Wilderness of Judea near to Bethabara.  It was there that the two cousins met as we read in John 1:25-34:

“John answered them, saying, I baptize you with water:but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;  He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.  These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.  The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.  This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.   And I knew him not: but that he shoud be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.  And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.  And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.  And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God”.

These were very possibly the first recorded words that John spoke of Christ.  The word ‘before’ is significant.  It is the word ‘protos’ which means ‘foremost (in time, place, order or importance)’.  The very opening words record this in John 1:1  & 14:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . .And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth”.

 Therefore Jesus was the lamb of God, that typical lamb first slain in Eden to cover Adam’s sin.  Now the true lamb had appeared.  He was the lamb of GOD, the branch which God made strong FOR HIMSELF, the SON OF GOD.

All four gospel records include the baptism of Christ, but I would like in particular to look at the record in Matthew 3:13-17:

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.  But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?  And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.  Then he suffered him.  And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. 

In his baptism, Jesus fulfilled “all righteousness” and exhorts us to follow his example.  How did Jesus’s baptism fulfil all righteousness?  What does it signify?  It signifies the death of Christ as we see from Romans 6:3:

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death”.

In this act of obedience therefore at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus recognised that in 3!/2 years he had to die.  There is another factor.  John had just said that Jesus was the one, “which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit”.  Yet this one, who was sinless submitted to the baptism of repentance.  Surely, thereby earned the commendation of his loving Heavenly Father “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.

We brethren and sisters have joined him in this act of obedience.  May we be inspired by Jesus’s dedication to the will of his Father, that we might live unto him which died for us and rose again (11Cor.5.15):

“And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

Carlo Barbaresi