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The Greatest Story Never Told: part 4 by Ron Habermas
How Jesus’ Human Example Empowers Us to be Fully Human Today
Blog #4 (of 5): "Where Did Jesus Grow and Mature?"
Yesterday’s blog—"When Did Jesus Grow and Mature?"—laid the foundation for Jesus’ development through three broad subjects. Today’s blog builds upon that structure, featuring the Bible’s detailed (albeit concise) look at Jesus’ maturation process. Attention is given to a trio of primary phases within our Lord’s maturity, as each is shaped by a unique base of influential authority.
Today’s topic, from my experience, is virtually absent from every resource that features the combined themes of Jesus’ full humanity and lifelong discipleship. Yet it’s almost impossible to imagine biblical maturity without the benefits of this topic.
Three Phases of Unique Authority Within Jesus’ Maturation
Luke 2 is a one-of-a-kind treasure. This single chapter provides more information about Jesus’ birth, infancy, older childhood, and early adulthood than any other Biblical author’s combined works. When it comes to our Lord’s growth and maturity, we normally focus on two particular verses from Luke 2 (verses 40 and 52), which give helpful insights about our Lord. But another developmental gem emerges elsewhere in Luke’s gospel, as we will later see.
Consider an invaluable sub-topic related to maturity that is best described as a base of influential authority. It is known in developmental theory as "locus (or center) of control." Three important phases of Jesus’ life (each with their own brand of authority) are located in Luke 2, and each play an exceptional role in our Lord’s maturation within the Image of God.
Phase #1 – Authority of God’s Law from His Word
Humanly-speaking, Jesus initially matured because He benefited from newly-married parents who fully obeyed the Law found in God’s Word. Today’s newly-married couples prudently follow the patterns of this same authority. They often want to do God’s Will, yet they have little experience as adults and no experience as a husband or wife. So many commit themselves to trusted rules and traditions of their Christian heritage. Four examples of the Law—and Joseph’s and Mary’s total obedience to them—are visibly posted within four consecutive verses of Luke 2:21-24. They almost leap from the page in their unified support of God’s Word:
1. (v. 21) Jesus’ parents obediently had their Son circumcised on the eighth day (Lev. 12:3; Lk. 1:59);
2. (v. 22) Thirty-three days later, Jesus’ parents complied with historic purification laws (see Lev. 12:2-8);
3. (v. 23) Jesus’ parents consecrated their baby to the Lord God, as the first-born male child (Ex. 13:2, 12); and
4. (v. 24) Jesus’ parents initiate an offering (actually two offerings: a burnt and a sin offering), based upon Lev. 12:6-8.
Each of these four once-in-a-lifetime duties is directly tied to the Law within God’s Word. That’s the first base of authority. Verses 27 and 39 summarize this all-important entry phase of Jesus’ maturity with key phrases. Verse 27 emphasizes the explicit concept of "the custom of the Law." Then verse 39 concludes, "Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law," stressing the comprehensiveness of their obedience to God’s Word.
Phase #2 – Authorities of Law and Parents’ Personal Commitment to the Law
This second authoritative pattern—which our Lord personally benefits from—occurs within the next twelve years of Mary’s and Joseph’s marriage. Luke 2:41-42 identify yet another pattern of faithfulness: "Every year" Jesus’ parents obediently took their family to Jerusalem for the Passover "according to the custom."
This general reference to "the custom" and Jesus’ family’s annual Passover attendance implies two authoritative bases: (1) Participation is still grounded upon "the custom" of the Law, but their obedience also includes (2) "the custom" of the parents. Leon Morris expressly says of Luke 2:41, "It was Joseph and Mary’s custom to go up at the Passover." That is, Jesus’ parents obeyed this Law far more intentionally, as maturing husband and wife. They have now had a dozen years of personal reflection to know why they want to commit themselves to the Law—not merely to decide to what authority they would commit.
Consider this relative comparison: In Phase #1, Jesus’ parents are more indirectly committed to the requirements of the Word, because they are young and inexperienced. But they are more directly committed here in Phase #2. Over these twelve years Joseph and Mary now hold beliefs that emerge from personal "ownership"—a process which makes faith much deeper and stronger.
Noting another contrast, the activities in Phase #1 are once-per-lifetime, whereas the obedience pattern of Passover is a once-per-year family responsibility.
Phase #3 – Authorities of Law, Parents’ Commitment, and Jesus’ Personal Ownership
Christ’s own testimony of ownership begins, at least, by age twelve (see Luke 2:43-51). After Joseph and Mary finally locate Jesus in the temple courts, their son explains why He had to be at that specific location. "In my Father’s house" literally means "about my Father’s interests (or things)." And even though Joseph and Mary did not understand, Jesus still obeys them and returns home. In other words, the Son of God deliberately and concurrently submits to His heavenly Father and to His earthly parents, even though each has very different plans for Jesus. Holding those two perspectives in tension was extremely difficult, so much so that it required deliberate personal commitment or ownership.
Luke 4:14-44 pick up the third phase of Jesus’ maturation process, following Luke’s report of John’s ministry; Jesus’ baptism and genealogy; and the Wilderness temptation (in Luke 3:1-4:13). There is no more provocative Scripture on Jesus’ human development than the one that follows. Every believer interested in Christian maturity would benefit from memorizing and utilizing Luke 4:16: "He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom."
This verse uniquely records (again, from the human perspective) Jesus’ personal ownership of His adult faith routines. In this one sentence, the specific subject of ownership is expressed by "his custom" of Sabbath worship in His own hometown synagogue. Jesus participated in the consistent pattern of Sabbath worship in His hometown several hundred times—as a once-per-week custom—up to age twelve. As an older adult of thirty, however, that childhood pattern has now transformed into "his custom."
Furthermore, respected commentator Joel Green explains that this Luke 4:16 synagogue event, which features Jesus as a special guest speaker, probably was neither the first nor the last time our Lord spoke as a guest in local synagogues. In fact, Green speculates it may have been a personal habit of Jesus (another way of saying "his custom") to also "take the role of one who read and expounded the Scriptures" in this public role.
In sum, these last examples display splendid incidents of Christ’s own ownership, which was necessary to bring Him into full maturity.
Tomorrow’s fifth blog pulls together each of these first four posts, while raising the question: "How Do We Start Emulating Jesus’ Example of Maturity?"
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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.
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