The Home Life
I enjoyed our recent exploration into what we can learn about how Jesus was raised through the norms of daily family life. What we have of the childhood of Jesus is very small indeed, and we are indebted to God for Matthew and Luke in particular. Luke specifically gives us the only brief glimpse of Jesus as a boy. He’s 12 and in Jerusalem for Passover, having journeyed there from Nazareth, His home base. That’s it. That’s all we have. We leave the 12 year old and skip roughly 18 years, well into the manhood of Jesus. Mark tells us:
One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
I often wonder what was going on in the life of Jesus for those previous 18 years. What can we know from history that at least gives us a peek into the life situation of Jesus before He began His ministry? And, most importantly, what was He doing down in Nazareth during those 18 years that brought His heavenly Father such “great joy?” (Mark 1:11)
We know that Nazareth was a small dusty village with a population of about 500 people, located near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was growing up around fishermen and farmers primarily, with tradesmen scattered among them. They certainly had a synagogue, which was the religious center of the community. We know from the gospels that it was His custom to gather there with other men. We know that of the three religious festivals, Jesus and His family would have attended at least one as required by law. They would have journeyed to Jerusalem at least once a year for particularly the Passover, and while there, Jesus would have witnessed the many religious factions of Judaism during that time. The sects of the Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, and Zealots would have been obvious to Jesus. Most likely, Jesus would have seen a number of crucifixions even as a young man. John the Baptist is there as well, conducting his ministry in the wilderness, and as the cousin of Jesus, he was certainly known to Him.
As Mark just told us, it was at one of those meetings with John that Jesus went forward to be baptized as a commissioning from God of His own ministry. There the Father declares His love for the Son as well as His great pride and joy in Him. Certainly someone with that kind of heavenly validation is worth hearing and following, so the people begin to do so. It is only after a while that we can fill in a significant detail about the younger years of Jesus. This detail comes in the sixth chapter of Mark where he tells us that Jesus, after preaching and performing miracles, returned to His home base of Nazareth:
Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
“Just a carpenter.” It’s statement meant to minimize the status of Jesus, to place a knock on His authority, to invalidate His ministry. But wait, there’s more! They refer to Him as “the son of Mary,” which painted a clear understanding that was held in the community—“Something’s not right with that arrangement.” To refer to Him as “Mary’s son” and not “Joseph’s son” isn’t speaking about the probability that Joseph had already died, but rather, it spoke to the scandal that must have circulated around the family for the whole of Jesus’ life. “He’s Mary’s son…….not sure about the father.”
Even so, what an insight to know that for 18 years, Jesus grew up in the trade of carpentry. We know that around the time of Jesus’ youth, Herod Antipas decreed the restoration of the city of Sepphoris, not quite 4 miles northwest of Nazareth. Some ancient sources say that Mary was born there, and it is highly likely that the regular work offered by the project would have appealed to the tradesmen of Nazareth. Several scholars have suggested that Jesus could have honed His trade as a craftsman alongside His father as they traveled to Sepphoris for work. The specific locations notwithstanding, there is something about the identification of God’s Son with the common working and family man that heightens our delight and worship of God. This demonstration, albeit left to our imaginations almost entirely, draws forth our gratitude and humility.
You say, “Dale that’s all speculation.” Exactly, and I don’t want to press too much on the importance of the possible details other than to say Jesus was certainly doing something that made Him known as a carpenter and highly unlikely as a Jewish Rabbi. My point is this, however: Even as a carpenter, in a family with a story and a backstory, Jesus was most likely an apprenticed tradesman that had Him working all sorts of small and large projects. He went about His days in the sleepy grind of family life and shop life with brothers and sisters and townspeople who didn’t always think the best of Him or His family.
But watch this. Whatever was going on, and however He was being thought of in the community, He handled it in the context of an earthly family that was under the constant observation of His Heavenly Father. And He conducted Himself in the life of that family in such a way that it brought joy and glory to God. Isn’t there a lesson in there for us?
Two observations for you to consider as you undertake your responsibility to glorify God within the dynamics of your own family life:
First, it is a huge mistake to place little importance on daily family life.
Never separate the faithfulness that Jesus delivered in the carpenter’s shop from the faithfulness He demonstrated upon the cross at Calvary. Wherever God has you, it is a place to be tried and tested, disciplined and directed. I can assure you that wherever you are, God is in it and you have a role to play.
Secondly, the simple fidelity of family life is the training ground for simple fidelity everywhere else.
Jesus met the challenges of earthly family life. He honored God from the life situation He was placed in, and He pleased His Heavenly Father as an earthly son, an earthly brother, an earthly friend, and an earthly coworker. All of it started in the simplest, most overlooked of places—the home life and shop life of a dusty village called Nazareth.
Never make the mistake of placing little importance on daily family life. The essential faithfulness that is developed in your home is carried forward into everything else.