Towards Wisdom, Stature, and Favor: Part Four

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature…”

The Greek word translated “stature” refers primarily to a certain length of life or “a particular time of life, as when a person is said to be ‘of age’.” (Vine’s) The meaning of this word used in this context reinforces the view of human development that was integral to the culture of the Jews. At thirteen, a Jewish boy would become a “son of the law” (bar-mitzvah). But the Jews understood that young people developed at different rates; not all were at the same stage of maturity upon their thirteenth year. So, according to Alfred Edersheim in Sketches of Jewish Social Life, being “of age” was anticipated by up to two years in advance of the legal age of thirteen. Clearly, the Jews considered those going through puberty to be “coming of age.” They did not interpose an additional period of life (i.e. “adolescence”) between childhood and adulthood. Within the culture of the people of God, youths were expected to embrace their spiritual responsibilities and privileges during the transition into adulthood (early in their teens) and to become members of the congregation of God’s people (Edersheim). This is the natural progression of God’s design for our physical, emotional, sexual, social, and spiritual development. This is the developmental process displayed in the life of our Lord Jesus.

In American (and much of Western) culture, the young teen has come to be referred to as an “adolescent.” But “adolescence” is not descriptive of how God has designed us; it is an invention of our culture. Historian John Demos of Brandeis University and Virginia Demos in the Program of Human Development at Harvard University asserted, “The concept of adolescence, as generally understood and applied, did not exist before the last two decades of the nineteenth century. One could almost call it an invention of that period” (“Adolescence in Historical Perspective,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1969, 31, pp. 632-638).

Thomas Sowell, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow of The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, writes, “Adolescence is a relatively recent thing in human history – a period of years between the constraints of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. This irresponsible period of adolescence is artificially extended by long years of education, much of it wasted on frivolities” (“Random Thoughts for April 2004,” Capitalism Magazine [on the Internet],, April 30, 2004).

Chris Noxon has written a book titled, Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown Up. Noxon asserts that his two years of research uncovers a movement among young and middle-aged adults to re-experience their “childlikeness.” He reports on skateboarding moms, Disneyland visits without children, watergun tournaments, tag and dodgeball for adults. He informs us that half the people who visit Disneyworld are adults without children, which qualifies the Magic Kingdom et al as the most popular adult vacation spot on the planet, and he says that more 18 to 34-year-olds watch the Cartoon Network than CNN or any other cable news network. So now we are provided a justification for extending adolescence well into middle-age. A “middle-age crisis” is now just an extension of pubescence. Noxon says, “There are definitely people I talked to who admitted that what they were doing was an attempt to stay relevant. When you are surrounded by so much that tells you that youth is what sizzles, when you fall out of that sweet spot, there is a sense that you have to buy in or be forgotten” (information and quote from Jill Sarjeant, “Rejuveniles reinvent meaning of adulthood,” Reuters [online at Yahoo! News], Tuesday, July 25, 2006).

What a sad commentary. But what a great wake up call to guard against the national obsession with the youth culture. What an opportunity to reassess our church youth programs, which by and large focus on what is culturally relevant and popular among youth, with topical studies and gross-out activities rather than providing mature spiritual leadership, meaningful Bible training, and opportunity to serve in and through the Body of Christ as a whole for the glory of the Lord and the furthering of His Kingdom. And what a blessing to examine our own hearts, reflecting on whether we have a Biblical perspective on what it means to be “of age,” centered on the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, or if perhaps we have allowed our culture to shape our understanding of what a young person is to be.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Luke comments on the early childhood of Jesus that, as he grew, “the grace of God was upon him” (2:40). The word charis is most often translated “grace,” and refers to a fundamental reality of the character and activity of God toward us. By charis, grace, we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works (adapted from Ephesians 2:8, 9). The same word, grace, is used again in verse 52, only now it is translated “favor.” According to Lawrence Richards, charis “means a gracious favor or benefit bestowed, and at the same time it means the gratitude appropriate to the grace received…The concept came to include both the gracious action and agreeable human qualities” (Lawrence Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985, p. 317). This latter part of the definition seems to be what is being conveyed about Jesus’ growth as a young man. His “agreeable human qualities” were developing in relationship to God and with men.

Notice that, as a toddler, a general statement is made about the grace of God being upon him. Referring to Jesus perhaps a decade later, this increase in grace or favor is spoken of specifically in relationship to God and to men. These two relationships are the context in which Jesus himself later summarized the entire Scriptures: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37 - 40). Here are the two areas of human experience in which God has focused the thrust of His revealed word, and we are told that Jesus, at the tender age of twelve, was building a maturing strength and rapport in relationship to God the Father and with his fellow men. This is the culmination of a story which emphasizes Jesus’ recognition that he was a man under authority, his identification with the community of faith, his submission to his teachers and his parents, and his desire and effort to learn the things of God.

One of the sad realities in the church today is that many Christian young people think that they can have a growing relationship with God while they resist right relationships with their parents and authorities. Another heart-breaking truth is that much of our effort in youth ministry reinforces young peoples’ relationships primarily with each other, within their own peer group, nearly ignoring their need to serve (and perhaps teach, or at least set an example for) those who are younger and to learn in humility from those who are older. Most churches have bought in to a system of age-segregated, peer group-dominated Christian education without realizing that it has descended from the Darwinism of self-styled educational psychologists like G. Stanley Hall, rather than seeking to follow a model that mirrors the inter-generational nature of the family and the family of God.

Growing “in favor with God and men,” as Albert Barnes comments, “does not imply that he ever lacked the favour of God, but that God regarded him with favour in proportion as he showed an understanding and spirit like his own” (Barnes’ Notes on Luke 2:52). Another way of putting it is perhaps that God granted him favor in his spiritual growth while the young Jesus applied himself diligently to the knowledge of God, something like the way God granted Joseph favor in the eyes of Potiphar and the prison warden as Joseph displayed competence and trustworthiness in serving his masters (Genesis 39).

Growing “in favor with God and men” also suggests a social development that resulted in Jesus gaining favor in the eyes of his fellow men. From this passage, we can see that he behaved in an honorable manner in relationship to his teachers in the Temple which surely resulted in his finding favor in their estimation. In fact, Luke’s recounting of the story reveals that the teachers, recognizing that he was “of age,” apparently sought to bring the young Jesus into the discussion of spiritual matters. (As they certainly would do with any young man). When Jesus then shared his insight, the Scripture tells us, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Our attention is also directed to recognize that Jesus acted honorably and obediently to his parents, which would have met the approval of Mary and Joseph, and certainly should cause us to admire and respect the young Lord Jesus.

In a culture where “you are surrounded by so much that tells you that youth is what sizzles” (Chris Noxon, previously quoted) and where young people expend most of their energies seeking the acceptance and favor, if you will, of their peers, Christian young people need to be different. They need to be like Jesus. Young people who have been regenerated by the grace of God, who have been crucified with Christ, yet not them, but Christ lives in them (adapted from Galatians 2:20), must understand the Body of Christ in a way that reflects growing maturity. They must understand that the Body of Christ is not age-segmented and age-segregated. It is a unified whole, being “built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). The Body of Christ, the Church, is also pictured as the family of God, made up of an intergenerational mixture of related “family” members from very young to very old; from all walks of life; from varying cultures and life experiences; from diverse countries and languages and historical eras; all, one day, to join together around the Throne of the Lamb crying praises to Him in a loud voice (singular, Revelation 7:10), and in unity, to glorify and enjoy Him forever.

With this understanding in a corrupt culture, churches too must be different, and the ministries of our churches that are directed toward our young people must be different as well. We must communicate to our children and young people that they are a part of something bigger than themselves; that their understanding of and participation in the Body of Christ must extend beyond the needs and interests of their age group. We must assist them in developing a long-term view of the purposes of God in their lives and in His Kingdom. This begins with Christian parents bringing their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord, but it must also be reaffirmed in our churches. The “church” of Jesus’ youth as pictured in Luke chapter 2- the community of faith to which He was drawn as a twelve-year-old and which embraced Him as a young man who was “of age” – provided a context which affirmed and challenged very young men and women and called them to an identification with a “people,” not a peer group. How much more should our churches seek to foster a community of faith which lives as it truly is, the family of God!