And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:40.
These are strange words when they are applied to Jesus of Nazareth. He grew, of course, he did! He had to learn to walk, crawl, stand on his own, talk, play and help Joseph out in the shop. In his hometown of Nazareth, he was “the carpenter’s son”! I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone call him that. He became strong physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was filled with wisdom. The grace of God rested on him! Let’s look at what is reported of his life after being presented at the temple.
Matthew 2:1-2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
There are several Herods mentioned in the Bible. The Herod that is mentioned here is Herod the Great! He was a powerful ruler who maintained loyalty to whoever was ruling in Rome. He was given the title “Great” because of his many building projects. The most important project that he conducted was to build/rebuild the temple that had been raised from ruin under the governorship of Nehemiah — during the days of Ezra the priest. Herod was the king of Galilee and Judea at the time of Jesus' birth. This man would not allow anyone to threaten his rule. Among those he had killed, because he thought they threatened his rule, was his wife, their two sons, his wife’s brother, his mother-in-law and his wife’s old grandfather! Caesar Augustus is credited with saying that it was safer in Judea to be a pig (who the Jews would not eat) than a threat to Herod.
Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem perhaps two years after the birth of Jesus. The Magi probably came from a kingdom located in what is modern Iran and Iraq. They probably came looking for the infant king of the Jews as representatives of their own government.
Where should you look for the newborn King? In the palace of course! Certainly not in a manger or stable. Well, by the time the Magi arrived this newborn King was no longer in the stable. Their questioning led them to the palace. Let’s look at the biblical account Matthew 2:3-6 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Herod, in the middle of his paranoia, heard of the Magi and was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. I can assure you that anytime Herod was troubled everybody was troubled. If Herod is not happy ain’t nobody happy! This unhappy king knew where to turn to begin the search for his infant rival. He turned to the priests and they quickly told him that Micah the prophet had pointed to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a small place in comparison to Jerusalem for it was the ancestral home of David the King. Leading us to the next step in the story.
Matthew 2:7-8 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
Herod, like all tyrants, operated mostly in secret. He sent the Magi to find the new King of the Jews and come back and report to him. Of course, he had no intention of worshiping his rival.
A side note: we do not know how many of the foreign visitors came seeking the new king. The opinion of most people is shaped by the hymn “We Three Kings”. And the number three is based on the gifts that they brought but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Matthew 2:9-11 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
When they left the king’s palace they saw the star leading them to the place where the child was. Not to a stable but a house. Their movements were no longer in secret. The little town of Bethlehem may have had as many as a thousand residents. A small town about the size of Stamford. Anyone who lives here very long knows there are very few secrets. Bethlehem would have been excitedly gossiping about this caravan of foreigners who came from the palace about 6 miles away. These men from the east fell down and worshiped him. They presented him with gifts that, I am sure, have great significance! We won’t speculate on the symbolism at this time.
Before they returned to the palace, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod! When they left Bethlehem they bypassed Jerusalem and returned to their own country.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. He was told to take the child and Mary to Egypt (now we see a use for the gold) because Herod was going to search for the child and kill him! If you go to Jerusalem today and then to go to the Church of the Nativity you will find there are two churches. The most popular is that built by the Romans around A.D. 300. It is now a Greek Orthodox Church. The other, less well-known, is Roman Catholic. In the Roman Catholic Church, all of the fancy hangings, lamps and candles were swept away by John XXIII. Incorporated into the altar area are small symbolic graves. They represent the infants killed by Herod.
We do not know how many babies died. One retelling of the story claims as many as 14,000 babies were killed. I think that’s highly unlikely since it would be several times the population of Bethlehem. I think a more educated guess would be somewhere between 15 and 30 based on ordinary population statistics. However, the number could be much larger based on Matthew’s account.
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
We don’t know exactly what “and in all that region” means. Nonetheless, it would take a large “region” to produce thousands of babies being massacred.
When Herod died, about four BC, the angel came to Joseph in Egypt. Matthew 2:20-23 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
There are many false “gospels” that were written hundreds of years after the legitimate accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are supposedly childhood stories in them but they are not to be believed.
The next accurate account that we have about Jesus' early years is located only in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was devout and understood his responsibilities at the age of 12. Let’s look at how Luke told the story. Luke 2:41-45 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.
There is a lot to learn in this account. They went every year to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. This proves, to me, that they were upper-middle-class (if there was such a thing) because they could afford to take the time and spend the money to make the trip every year. They were also very convinced that they could trust the boy Jesus. They would have been with a group of their friends and relatives when they set out from Jerusalem to return home. They did not question that Jesus would be with them. At the end of the first day’s travel, they could not find him! Immediately they returned to Jerusalem. Luke 2:46-51 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
When they found him he was in the Temple and he was being questioned by the teachers there. Jesus, at the age of 12, listened to the teachers and he also questioned them. Everyone was amazed at the clarity of his understanding!
Mary, claiming her rights as his mother, asked him why he was there rather than on the road home to Nazareth. Jesus was amazed at her question. He would be amazed many times in the next 21 or so years. His amazement centered on the idea that he was the Son of God. If they thought that he was missing why didn’t they look first at his father’s house — THE TEMPLE!
In spite of all the angel visitations surrounding his birth and early years his parents obviously did not understand anything about who he was. He was attracted to the temple and the religious leaders there because of who he was. He understood immediately that his time had not yet come. So, he went home and for the next 18 years, he was submissive to his parents. During that time he would have been recognized as the oldest child in a fairly large family. Matthew tells us that he had brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas as well as all his sisters. We do not know how many sisters there were. (Matthew 13:55-56a).
I believe the 18 years between Jesus’ appearance at the temple and his coming to John the Baptist to be baptized are likely the hardest years of his life. He certainly knew who he was when he sat in the temple teaching the teachers. However, his time had not yet come to present himself to the people. All the while he knew that he had come to seek and save the lost! I imagine his growing up years were a time of introducing his human nature to his divine nature. During that time he had to have learned the importance of the Father’s will taking precedence. John the apostle began his gospel John 1:9-13, The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Born of God! Has he led you to receive and believe? The most important decision a person will ever make is to answer God’s call to salvation. We are born dead in trespasses and sin. (Ephesians 2:1). God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). Adopting us into his family. Children of God! The greatest blessing anyone could possibly have!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.