Towards Wisdom, Stature, and Favor: Part Three

Verse 52 of Luke chapter 2 is one of the most familiar in the Bible. It reads, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” This is the conclusion of the account of Jesus’ visit to the Temple as a twelve-year-old boy where, when separated from his earthly parents for several days, he was found “in the Temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.” Here is recorded Jesus’ famous and often misunderstood response when his mother expressed his parents’ concern over him during their search for him: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke tells us that his parents did not understand what he was saying to them (verse 50).

A Man Under Authority

The next thing we learn in the passage is that Jesus “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them (his parents).” This is a critical part of understanding what is going on in this passage and in the character of the young Jesus. The Greek word translated “obedient” is from a root word which was a term primarily used of the military, meaning “to rank under.” It is sometimes translated “submit” and is used in Scripture to mean “to put in subjection, to subject” and “to subject one’s self, to obey or be subject to.” This is the God/man, Jesus the Christ, Creator and future Judge of all things, responding to his earthly parents as one who “ranked under” them. Simply put, Jesus understood even then that he was a man under authority.

The entire passage reinforces this truth. In saying that he had to be “about (his) Father’s business,” Jesus was not expressing some form of pre-teen rebellion or even simply a burgeoning independence from his earthly parents. What he was expressing was his maturing understanding of what his spiritual priorities were. His subjection to his heavenly Father came first. As the passage continues, and we read that Jesus was responding in obedience or submission to his parents, we can see that his priorities were in the correct order. He is not stretching the boundaries of his independence in an inappropriate manner. He rightly recognized the order of familial authority and responsibility established by God in both the earthly family and the family of God. In addition, this same sense of being one under authority is revealed in Jesus’ choices as a boy alone in Jerusalem for three days and in his response to the spiritual leadership in the Temple. He chose to be “in the Temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

This submission is a key, perhaps the key theme, of Jesus’ life and character. It is seen clearly here at the beginning of his life as a man, and at the end of his life as a man (on earth), it is revealed in his last expressions during the week of his passion. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is struggling with a conflict within himself which we cannot hope to begin to comprehend. Nevertheless, that conflict of his will as a man and his will as God is expressed when he prays to the heavenly Father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” The Scripture reveals that he prays this same prayer three times (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). This subjection of the Son to the authority of the Father is reflected again as Luke records Jesus’ final words from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). After his resurrection and just as he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells his disciples that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to (him)” (Matthew 28:18). But from twelve-years-old to his dying breath, Jesus understood that he was a man under authority and lived in submission to that authority, both earthly and Divine.

“And Jesus grew…”

Jesus’ character of yieldedness to his parents, to his spiritual authorities, and to his heavenly Father leads wonderfully to verse 52, the culmination of this account of his development as a youth growing into manhood. The word translated “grew” is a word that means “advanced” or “increased” which implies the furthering of what is already present. John Calvin makes an interesting and obvious observation about this word. He writes, “…we infer that this progress, or advancement, relates to his human nature: for the Divine nature could receive no increase.” This simply reminds us and reinforces that Jesus development as a human being followed a usual and predictable pattern, as it does with all of us.

This (Luke 2:52) is also not the first time that this has been said of Jesus. Earlier, in Luke 2:40, after Jesus had been presented in the Temple as an eight-day-old infant, we learn that Mary and Joseph return with Jesus to Nazareth “…and the child grew and became strong…” This phrase translated literally is “was growing and becoming stronger” and speaks of normal physical development. It also says of the paidion (“little child”) that “…he was filled with wisdom…” Literally, “being filled with wisdom.” The grammatical construction here implies that this filling of the toddler with wisdom came from outside of himself. Of course, it came from God the Father. These impressions are further strengthened by the words, “…and the grace of God was upon him.”

“And Jesus grew in wisdom…”

Later in the chapter, Jesus is referred to as “the boy Jesus” (verse 43). The word here is pais (“child”), because he is no longer a toddler but a twelve-year-old boy. Interestingly, Luke uses similar but not identical language to describe Jesus’ development. As a toddler it is said of him that he “was growing and becoming stronger”, a general developmental growth. It also says that he was “being filled with wisdom”, which we understand to mean a process which was prompted mainly by the developmental and purposeful design of God. (“As an infant he possessed the knowledge proper to an infant; as a boy, that proper to a boy; as a man, that proper to a man; as the anointed Messiah, that proper to one commissioned to establish the Kingdom of God on earth; and as the ascended and glorified Redeemer, that proper to one who, as man, and not simply God, rules the entire universe.” (The One-Volume Bible Commentary, edited by J. R. Dummelow, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1952.) Here as a young boy, it says of Jesus that he grew specifically “in wisdom.” This growth is certainly also governed by the design of God in normal human development. But it cannot be ignored that this immediately follows the exhibition of Jesus’ deliberate pursuit of learning from the spiritual authorities in the Temple and his submission to his earthly parents. It seems evident that this growth in wisdom resulted also from Jesus’ own desire for spiritual insight and his appropriate response to the spiritual leadership in his life.

The word for wisdom is sophia, meaning “insight into the true nature of things,” according to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This represents much more than learning. This is understanding of profound truths. This certainly means theological knowledge. Jesus was at that time period in life where he was moving out of childhood into maturity, a time when he was not only experiencing physiological change but also intellectual transformation. Even as young as he was at the time, he was purposefully seeking to develop his understanding of the Word of God and the ways of God. He pursued those who could contribute to his learning, and he submitted himself respectfully to their tutelage and authority. Like the writer of Proverbs 2 advised his son, Jesus turned his ear to wisdom, applied his heart to understanding, called out for insight, searched for it as for hidden treasure, and the result was that he understood “the fear of the Lord and (found) the knowledge of God” (from Proverbs 2:1 – 5); Jesus “grew in wisdom.”

As we Christian parents seek to raise our children in the training and instruction of the Lord, we really must purposefully disciple them in following the example of the Lord. When they begin to reach that age of growth known as puberty, we would do well to keep them mindful of Jesus’ own desire and effort to attain wisdom and discipline; to understand words of insight; to acquire a disciplined and prudent life; to do what is right and just and fair; to receive prudence, knowledge, and discretion as a young person (from Proverbs 1:2 – 4). We need to expect that, just as God made the Lord Jesus capable of the development of Godly wisdom at a young age, they too have that capacity. And if they are regenerate, if they have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in their hearts, they also have the power of God at work in their lives even beyond their natural human development. We must provide for them, in our homes and in our churches, an environment in which they are encouraged to seek the wisdom of God beyond themselves in the larger, intergenerational Body of Christ, not simply to advance at the rate of the rough mean of their peer group. Their experience of Christian community must not be limited to the homogeneity of youth culture. They must not be motivated by what is merely fun and culturally relevant, but by “the fear of the Lord” which is “the beginning of wisdom”, because Scripture warns that “fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7).

The study of this passage will continue in the next e-pistle entry.