Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What We Don’t Know

There’s a fair bit we know about Christmas.

We know it’s the celebration of the day that the Savior of the world was born. We know he was later to become a great moral teacher. Most of us also know he was later to give up his life at Calvary, to pay the price of our sins and to redeem us to God. And many of us also know he was to be raised again and exalted to God’s right hand, a King to return and reign. This is all open to us, because we have the history of it. And while much remains for us to understand, still, much is revealed about all that. For the rest, we wait in faith.

But at this time of year we tend to think of Jesus Christ in a different way: not as a great moral teacher, nor as the “man of sorrows” suffering for the sins of the world, nor as the resurrected Lord and returning Judge, but rather as a baby.

And that’s a pretty baffling thing, when you think about it.

Hidden Years

The truth is that we don’t actually know very much about Christ as a baby, or as a young man. There is but one famous incident in the temple. Beyond that, there is only the odd comment found in scripture, such as in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Well, what does that mean? Does it mean that he was somehow imperfect or incomplete as a baby, as a child and as a young adult? Does it mean, as some have suggested, that Jesus had to “grow into” his role, and maybe even his self-awareness as Messiah? Does it mean he was subject to a lot of imperfections and mistakes that had to be “worked out” of his character before he could undertake his public ministry? What does it imply?

The problem is that we can’t tell enough from this statement alone. And imagining things from it can easily lead us to speculations that are not merely less reverent than they ought to be, but also — as I’m going to try to show — actually dead wrong. Stay with me, and I’ll show you why.

Little, But Not Nothing

Now, I pointed out at the start that there is very little written in scripture concerning the hidden years of Christ. I said “little” because it would not be true to say there is nothing. We do actually have a couple of very clear revelations of the nature of those years between Christ’s birth and his ministry. And these are especially telling because the testimony of what happened in these years comes directly from Messiah himself.

One incident that gives us a glimpse into the young Christ is the incident in the temple. You probably remember it, and if you don’t, it’s in Luke 2. The Lord was 12 years old at the time, and his parents took him up to Jerusalem for Passover, then lost track of him among all their relatives. It actually took them three days to find him again. (It’s must be pretty bad to realize you’ve not just lost your own child but the Son of God as well.)

So they arrive in a panic, and Mary gives the Lord the usual maternal we’ve-been-sick-with-worry speech. The Lord’s reaction is no less incisive than his later teaching, but marvelously modified with respect and gentleness too: “Did you not know that I had to be [literally] in the things of my Father?”

Let us think for a moment about what this rebuke implies.

Understanding the Implications

Perhaps an analogy will help. Suppose I borrow some money from my brother, and that I agree to repay it a week later. Suppose that he then discovers he is short on cash, and has some bills coming in immediately. So maybe he feels a little anxiety about that; and when I finally come by to pay him, he freaks out a bit. So, to settle him down, I say, “Did you not know that I would repay you?”

Now, think: what would have to be true, in order for my statement to have any effect on him? Suppose that I had been guilty many times of borrowing money and forgetting to pay it back on time: would my words have any meaning for him then? What about if I was good on my debts only 50% of the time? Would he not just say to me, “I was sure this was one of those times you were going to rip me off”? What if it was only once or twice that I had not repaid a debt: could my general reliability be enough to give him certainty, and to wipe out from his memory those few other times when I’d suddenly not come back with the cash?

No, so long as I was only occasionally or only mostly consistent, I could not reasonably expect his trust in this particular instance, could I? Only if I’d been 100% good for every dollar he’d lent me, and always paid on time, could I rightly rebuke him for fearing I’d fail him now. Otherwise, his mistrust of my intentions would be perfectly justified.

The Father Speaks

So here’s what I’m saying. The Lord’s testimony of himself, his own account of the so-called “hidden years” of his youth is given right here. Jesus Christ himself testifies (and we have no comeback from his parents) that at all times, at whatever age he was, he was always doing the will of his Father in heaven.

That’s one incident. Here’s another. It happens at the start of the Lord’s ministry, at his baptism. Do you remember it? It was just after the unknown years of the Lord’s public ministry. It was still long before Calvary, before all the miracles, before all the teaching, and even before the Lord’s testing in the wilderness — so there was a lot yet to come. Yet at this very early point in the Lord’s activities, the Father split the heavens to make this declaration: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Now, notice this is not the One “in whom I WILL BE pleased.” This is the Father saying, “I AM pleased in him already.” His character, even before his baptism and all his public deeds, was the subject of the Father’s attestation: “This is the righteous one. This is the One who pleases me. Already.” And I think that’s a pretty solid testimony, don’t you?

The Eyes of the Crowd

But let’s have a third proof. In John 8, Jesus is standing in front of the people in the temple in Jerusalem. And he asks everyone this question: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?

Now, I don’t know how much you’d like to try that trick, but personally, I don’t think I’ll be pulling that one anytime soon. There was a massive crowd of people who’d been observing him, no doubt including many from his old hometown since this was a major feast day; and Christ again fearlessly proclaimed his spotless record. Nobody had a thing to say.

The Words of the Son

There is more, and it goes even further back. We find it in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You’ll remember that these are the words directly quoted by Christ on the cross. This inextricably binds this psalm to Christ himself. His experience was like no other man’s, and his suffering far greater than any man’s. This cry opens up to us a world of mystery; we hear it, and we cannot understand how it could be said by the Son of God; and yet it was.

But there’s more in that psalm, and I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it. There is a reason why there is such injustice in the Holy One being forsaken by the Father, and by implication, Jesus himself spells it out. He says:
“Yet you are he who brought me forth from the womb; you made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon you I was cast from birth; you have been my God from my mother’s womb.”
How’s that for a stunner? The Lord himself proclaims that he was the perfect servant of his Father from the very moment he first entered the world! There was no period of imperfection, of not quite knowing what he was about, whom to trust, or to whom he owed his allegiance. The spotless record of obedience to the Father, upon which Christ would rely later in life, began at the very moment of his birth.

What We Do Know

So I’m going to put my chips down on this. There was no time of imperfection for the Son of God. At every stage from birth to full adulthood, and on to the present day, the Son of God has been doing the work of his Father with absolute perfection and consistency. I will defy anyone to point to evidence to the contrary, or to anything that would subvert the testimony the Lord has given concerning himself.

Do we know all the details? No. But we can know that whether in the carpenter’s shop or in the marketplace, whether at home or traveling on the road, whether in busy Jerusalem, in the bustling streets of Nazareth and Capernaum, and even in the obscurity of Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus was at all times doing the will of his Father.

That’s what we know. What don’t we know?

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know how a baby could be the Son of God. We don’t know how he could be well-pleasing from the womb. And we don’t have even the faintest idea of what that could mean to the heart of the Father.

Sure, we can imagine Mary and Joseph looking down with affection — we see it depicted in multiple forms on Christmas cards, and rehearsed in Christmas plays — but how can we ever understand the fullness in the Father’s heart as he looked down on his beloved Son, incarnated for perfect obedience and destined for the cross for the redemption of the world? What can we make of that moment?

I’m sorry — we just don’t know that. We will never fully grasp it. The Father loves the Son in ways that all the warmth of Christmas will never, never reveal to us. It will make our minds reel in eternity — let alone now. The most wonderful thing about Christmas is not what we know about it, but what we do not now know, cannot really know, and will never fully know.

But it’s that which we have all of eternity to search out.

So today, let us fill our hearts with Christ.

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