The 30 silent years of Jesus

April 21, 2011

It’s Passion Week and I haven’t written here in a while, so I figured I’d give you a little bit of what the Lord has been speaking to me. Since the beginning of this year I’ve been intensely focused in studying the gospels and the life of Jesus. Through my study, I’ve realized that the gospels cannot simply be another item on my Christian checklist. If Christianity is biblically defined as conformity of my life to Jesus' life, than the story of His life can never be exhausted of its relevance for growing in intimacy with Him and becoming like Him. The story of His life is important to me because He is important to me.

I’ve written a bit in this post, this post, this post, and this post on how the substance of our intimacy with Jesus must have a foundation based the inspired account of His life. The four gospels give us the greatest look of the life of Jesus above any other biblical or extra-biblical source. These stories are the ones that filled His disciples with wonder, caused them to see His surpassing worth, and transformed them to live for His glory. We must come to the stories of His life with the same eager expectation of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in us. Through prayerful dialog with Him about His life, we must earnestly petition Him to open our eyes and ears that our hearts might burn within us (Luke 24:32), that we may be overcome with great amazement (Mark 5:42), and that we may marvel at the gracious words with which He spoke (Luke 4:22). It’s only in actually knowing His life that we can hope to grow in genuine, substantial intimacy with Him.

Most modern believers can quickly recount details from the gospels about Jesus’ life because of Sunday school stories. Theologians go deeper and often write about Jesus’ words and the significance of His miracles or actions during His ministry. But I’ve recently come across a gold mine that even fewer have given attention to (at least from what I can tell) – Jesus’ early years prior to His ministry.

While all four gospels give detailed accounts of Jesus' ministry, only two of the four (Matthew and Luke) record some details of Jesus’ birth and first few weeks of His life. We see Him in the manger then as a tiny babe being dedicated to the LORD in the Temple. Luke then gives us only one verse to sum up the first twelve years of His life before we see Him again in the Temple for His first Passover feast:

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
(Luke 2:40 NKJV)

What a glorious sentence. When Jesus is seen as more than just a sinless Child but as God in the flesh, this verse drips with the oil of God’s humility.

Luke goes on to describe the 12-year old Boy’s interaction with the teachers in the Temple and His subsequent submission to His parents when they found Him there after three days. Luke gives us yet another stunning verse, summing up His life following the Temple visit:

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
(Luke 2:52 NKJV)

The next time any of the gospel writers have anything to say about Jesus is when He is baptized by John in Bethabara, about 18 years later after His appearance in the Temple.

This begs the question: What did He do during these 18 years, and why are there no records of the majority of His life in the inspired account of scripture?

I’m learning that I am in gross error to assume that these silent years lack any significance whatsoever. The silent years of Jesus have immense significance, and must be examined. The “holy hush” that scripture gives to these first 30 years of the God-Man’s life must be carefully examined, however, as to not disrupt the resplendent beauty of them. Though there are very few recorded details about Jesus’ first 30 years in the gospels, the silence speaks volumes for those who have ears to hear. Frederic Farrar gives phenomenal perspective in his work, “The Life of Christ”:

That Christ should have passed thirty years of His brief life in the deep obscurity of a provincial village; that He should have been brought up not only in a conquered land, but in its most despised province; not only in a despised province, but in its most disregarded valley; that during all those thirty years the ineffable brightness of His divine nature should have tabernacled among us, “in a tent like ours, and of the same material,” unnoticed and unknown; that during those long years there should have been no flash of splendid circumstance, no outburst of amazing miracle, no “sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies” to announce, and reveal, and glorify the coming King—this is not what we should have expected—not what any one would have been likely to imagine or to invent.

Jesus would play, learn, help His family with their daily needs, and visit the synagogue on the Sabbath. Not only that, but He had a “first word” and a “first step” like any other growing human. He had friends He played with growing up in Nazareth. He would travel to Jerusalem year after year with His family after He reached the age of 12. Night after night, Jesus would sleep underneath the stars that He Himself created. He would breathe our air and subject Himself to Nazareth’s summer heat. The ordinary life of a young man would be the way that Jesus was perceived by everyone surrounding Him, and no one would have any reason to expect anything differently (Luke 4:22, John 1:46) . He did not walk in such depths of obscurity for only a week or two, but for thirty years! It was in utter stillness, prayerfulness, and quietness in obscurity that Jesus prepared Himself for His ministry and His cross.

Have you pondered these years of His life for more than a few minutes? There is a gold mine waiting to be unearthed here. God chose to grow up in a despised town in Israel, laboring daily with His hands with not a single ounce of self-exertion. Though the world was made through Him, the world did not know Him (John 1:10). The One we worship and pray to came to the earth and lived completely unrecognized for thirty years. Oh, what humility!

In my next post, I’ll write a little about what His silent years mean for our own lives. As you meditate on these years (I'd especially encourage you to do so during this week), may His meekness leave you breathless.

Be sure to check out Opening Up the Gospels, a weekly video podcast to help you grow in friendship with Jesus.

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About the author

Joshua Hawkins is a pastor, Bible teacher, and content creator for disciples of Jesus from College Station, Texas. He co-hosts The Apocalyptic Gospel Podcast, a weekly audio show exploring how a first century Jew would have understood the Gospel. He's also an all-around tech nerd and enjoys road cycling.

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