The Greatest Story Never Told, pt. 3: by Ron Habermas
How Jesus’ Human Example Empowers Us to be Fully Human Today
Blog #3 (of 5): "When Did Jesus Grow and Mature?"
I have differentiated between the words grow and mature in this Blog series. Adult "growth" depicts more natural—what’s also been called "unfolding"—aspects of development, such as physical height and strength, normal progression of mental capacities, and so forth. "Maturity," however, portrays choices that move us toward responsible human completeness. Growth is relatively passive; maturity is more active. Both are Providentially-directed.
The main reason for this distinction is to help us identify one healthy category of what our Christian objective looks like. This distinction enables us to discern elderly adults from mature ones. As someone said, "Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional." Until such differentiations are made, the Church will continue its hit-or-miss record of Christlikeness, because our vocabulary (which describes our objective) is not precise enough.
These introductory guidelines complement two key concepts from Blogs #1 and #2: First, maturity is one of Jesus’ own life objectives, based upon His voluntary sacrifices explained in the kenosis doctrine. When Hebrews 5:7-10 are read carefully, we see Christ had to initially become "perfect" (meaning complete or mature in His humanity) before He "became the source of eternal salvation." This maturing sequence is crucial within the total message of Hebrews.
Second, this particular understanding of maturity—especially Jesus’ progress towards it—is exactly what we Christ-followers must know and apply, if we want to become Christlike (or fully mature in God’s Image).
Three broad subjects lay the foundation for understanding how Jesus became mature.
The Holy Spirit supernaturally guides physician Luke to write about Jesus’ growth and maturity. Luke 2:40 first describes the comprehensive development of the infant Jesus, who is about one month old: "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."
Luke further details the progression of Jesus’ life at age twelve (Jewish boys became adults at age thirteen in that culture), as Luke 2:51 announces: "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."
So, this Spirit-led physician-author provides a brief, yet exceptional, display of Jesus’ development, by merging two priceless categories: (1) His life stages (childhood and adulthood) with (2) the full complement of His human domains. Within this useful framework, all major aspects of growth and maturity are contained—for Jesus and for us.
Spiritual disciplines are routines that prepare saints to better live the Christian life, as it pertains to responsible human completeness. Disciplines can be compared to the athlete’s routines, which better prepare him for his game. Many resources in the past three decades have shown how Jesus participated in several classic disciplines—most notably giving, praying, serving, fasting, and the like. Certainly these benefited His total human development.
However, this blog features four lesser known disciplines below, which also prompted Christ’s maturity. These four are selected: (1) to value a more comprehensive view of Jesus’ humanity, while avoiding ruts which may come from studying only traditional disciplines; and (2) to emulate a fuller range of Jesus’ habits, leading to a more complete maturity.
1. Waiting Upon God’s Direction—Luke 6:12 notes Jesus spent the entire night praying on a mountainside. The Father then provides the Son with all the necessary information He needs to make some important decisions. Verse thirteen concludes that the next morning our Lord chose twelve apostles from among His many disciples. It took roughly twelve hours to decide twelve positions, a statement that supports Jesus’ humanity.
2. Depending Upon God’s Power—We know God deliberately watches out for the sparrows (Matthew 6:26 and Luke 12:6-7). But Matthew 10:29 shifts this comforting concept into overdrive: "Not one of them [sparrows] will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father." Yes, God is very concerned about all birds—but this verse promises none will die without a convergence of His knowledge and His Will! Have you ever heard a sermon on God’s Will for birds? At the other extreme of creation, Jesus unequivocally rebukes Pilate (who claimed he had power to free or to crucify Christ) that the only power he really had was "given to you from above" (John 19:11). Each of us needs to consider new ways to practice this practical discipline of divine dependence and care.
3. Praising God’s Character—We often forget that Jesus and the disciples sang hymns in their gatherings (Matthew 26:30). This activity seems part of some larger routines (see Luke 21:37-38 and 22:39). The Apostle Paul later states how much this underrated discipline means to each believer and to the entire Body today: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).
4. Persevering in God’s Plan—Multiple passages address the need for believers to persevere to the end, but few of us recall that Jesus used Himself as a human Example of perseverance: "…just as I overcame" (Revelation 3:21b).
In sum, these four unfamiliar disciplines—waiting, depending, praising, and persevering—matured our Lord as He respectively trusted in the Father’s Omniscience, Sovereignty, Praiseworthiness, and Plan for His life.
A Broad Range of Lifelong Learning
Four diverse sources of learning are employed by Jesus throughout His life. This foursome offers solid reference points from which lifelong learning can occur for every believer.
• Personal source – Jesus memorized and studied the Scriptures by himself, which He used at critical times (Mt. 4:1-11); He also determined, then offered rational explanations of His figurative parables (Mk. 4:34); He created plans, then executed them (Jn. 6:6; Lk. 9:51); He challenged hearers to use reason in their decisions about discipleship (Lk. 14:25-33); and He committed himself to model a wide range of logic (Mt. 6:26; 12:24-26; 23:13-36).
• Interpersonal source – Jesus learned from many conversations, including those where He learned: firsthand about His brothers’ opposition for Him (Jn. 7:1-5); what His religious opponents had to say (Jn. 8:41); the limits of His disciples as students (Mk. 4:33); and the invaluable fellowship He received from His disciples (Lk. 22:14-16).
• Cultural source – Jesus displayed knowledge from His observations (Mk. 12:41-44) and by listening to local news’ stories (Lk. 13:1); He learned from "the people of this world" and challenged His disciples to do the same (Lk. 16:1-8). He knew what doctrines His audience had been wrongly taught (Mt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43); and He understood the relevant folklore of His day (Mt. 16:1-4).
• Supernatural source – Jesus leaned upon the Truth of God’s Word (Jn. 17:17), which He cited directly (Mt. 19:1-8). He advocated the fulfillment of Scripture’s prophecies (Mt. 26:52-56). Jesus also relied upon the direction and power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 4:1, 14, 18), while encouraging His followers to trust in the Spirit, too (Mt. 10:19-20). Finally, the Son was empowered by the Father: to know what others thought (Mt. 9:4); to obtain special knowledge (Jn. 7:15-16); and to be aware of God’s plan for His life (Jn. 2:4; 7:8; 8:20; and 12:23).
In addition to these broad subjects of Jesus’ holistic growth and maturity, unfamiliar disciplines, and a range of lifelong learning, another significant topic demands our attention: the Bible’s examination of our Lord’s maturing processes. Without these useful details weaving themselves throughout Jesus’ Example, it is very difficult to provide specific advice to those who confront the challenge of Christlikeness today.
Tomorrow’s post attends to this important contribution.
Dr. Ronald Habermas is professor of biblical studies and Christian formation at John Brown University and a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He holds degrees from William Tyndale College, North American Baptist Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, and Michigan State University. Dr. Habermas is the author of many journal articles and several books including The Complete Disciple and Introduction to Christian Education and Formation. He and his family live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
For more information visit www.Zondervan.com/icef or see chapter 6-10 of Introduction to Christian Eductation and Formation.
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