It is striking how little we know about most of Jesus’ life on earth. Between the events surrounding his celebrated birth and the beginning of his public ministry when he was “about 30 years of age” (Luke 3:23), very few details have survived.
Given the influence and impact of his life, humanly speaking, we might find it surprising that so little about his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood is available—especially with the interest his followers, who worshiped him as God, took in his life. That is, unless, divinely speaking, this is precisely how God would have it.
After the birth story, the first Gospel tells us about the visit from magi, pagan astrologers from the east (Matt 2.1–12″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 2:1–12), the family’s flight to Egypt for haven (Matt 2.13–18″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 2:13–18) and their eventual return upon the death of Herod (Matt 2.19–23″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 2:19–23). Matthew then jumps immediately to the forerunning ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus as a full-grown adult—with nothing at all about the intervening 30-plus years of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
The third Gospel has more to say, but captures three decades of the most important human life in the history of the world in remarkably simple terms. Luke tells of the high angelic announcement to lowly shepherds (Luke 2.8–21″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Luke 2:8–21) and the young family’s first visit to the temple (Luke 2.22–38″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Luke 2:22–38). He then summarizes Jesus’ first 12 years of life in astonishing modesty:
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)
Then, after recounting the story of a 12-year-old Jesus impressing adults at the temple (Luke 2.41–51″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Luke 2:41–51), Luke reports some two decades—well more than half the God-man’s dwelling among us—in this simple sentence:
Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
How fascinating would it be to know what life was like for the boy Jesus? Did he plainly outpace his peers in learning? Did his sinlessness infuriate fallen siblings? How skilled was he as a worker? Was his carpentry “perfect,” or did it make good sense around town when he transitioned into public ministry?
But it’s easy to digress into speculation and miss the powerful point of these important summary verses in Luke. God has something to teach us here in the precious few details. That he would send his own Son to live and mature and labor in relative obscurity for some three decades, before “going public” and gaining recognition as an influential teacher, has something to say to us about the dignity of ordinary human life and labor—and the sanctity of incremental growth and maturation.