And the Child Grew
Luke writes the only Gospel that provides us with a glimpse into the childhood of our Lord, and that glimpse is brief, indeed. We must remember that the Gospels were not written to satisfy our curiosity but to show us the way of salvation; we are given what God thought needful for that. Nevertheless, we are blessed to have this much and as with all of Scripture, it is given for our edification.
We must first understand that after spending about a year and one-half to two years in Bethlehem, and then a short time in Egypt, the holy family returned to that town in Galilee where they lived when the angel first visited them. In Nazareth our Lord grew up among other boys, attended synagogue on the Sabbath, and learned from his father the trade of a carpenter. As we do not hear of Joseph during our Lord’s ministry, we assume he passed while Jesus was a youth or young man. We know he had younger brothers and sisters and so probably did not begin his ministry until thirty so that he could support the family as the eldest son (Mark 6:3; Luke 3:23). This is all to say that Jesus lived in relative obscurity and was perceived by everyone in his village as a normal if unremarkable young man—which is the way God wanted it. I spoke yesterday of recapitulation. Our Lord was about recapitulating (i.e., redeeming) every stage of human life by living it without sin, including childhood, youth, and young adulthood. So these were very crucial years. This brief and very human vignette from our Lord’s life also affirms the ordinary warp and woof of family life.
But they were also crucial for our Lord’s maturation. Yes, the Scripture says that our Lord “grew and became strong.” It also says that he “increased in wisdom and in stature.” We may also assume that he increased in knowledge; that is, he learned how to talk and how to walk and how to be a carpenter. He would have even learned in the synagogue about the Scriptures and himself. Now, no doubt, he was a quick learner and knew something of who he was even at the tender age of twelve. (I love this story; what parent hasn’t lost their kid for a few minutes at the store or park and felt their heart begin to pound. And this was more than three days! So even the holy family had their moments.) Still Jesus would have been the sinless boy, youth, and young man—and who submitted to his parents.
Some might ask, “Well, if he was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, how could he not know everything at any age? How could he grow or mature?” This is a good question as the doctrine of how our Lord could be one person but have two natures (divine and human), and how those natures interacted in the one person, is the basis of the inquiry. Some have attempted an answer which I believe to be sound: The Son of God did assume the humanity and body prepared by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary (Luke 2:35), BUT this was all the Second Person of the Triune God did. All of the rest of the acts of our Lord while in the body on earth were done through the Holy Spirit filling to the fullest that body and soul of our Lord. This is why we read in so many places that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus and indeed filled him without measure (Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:14,18; 5:17; John 3:34 and too many others to list). This answers why Jesus was able to grow in knowledge and wisdom: he was fully human and so must experience such growth as any other human being. But while being fully God as the Son of God from heaven (the Second Person of the Triune God) assumed that human nature, he was the Holy Spirit (Third Person of the Triune God) who acted through that human nature of Jesus after that assumption, not the Son (Second Person). Else why do we read of the Holy Spirit filling him, descending upon him, being with him, etc., if the Second Person is that member of the Godhead working through him? Such would be superfluous.
So the Son assumed the human nature in the original conception (which conception itself was made possible by the Holy Spirit working in Mary’s womb), after which the Holy Spirit animated and worked through Jesus during his earthly ministry, thereby securing his humanity that he may grow and mature as any other human being, but also protecting his humanity from sin. This theory (and it is just that, a theory) is sometimes called “Spirit Christology.” I learned it from seventeenth-century English Puritan and theologian, John Owen (Pneumatologia, WJO 3:159-67).