English service on February 17
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
“The Silent Years”
In praying, thinking, and studying in preparation for these messages that I bring here at Open Door, my imagination has been captured recently by the theme of the silences of Jesus. I would like to begin today looking at a number of times in the life of Christ when He was remarkably silent. At several important points in the stories of His life in this world, where we would expect Him to give great words of wisdom, fight for some great cause, or speak up to protect Himself or someone else, He does not. As Christians, one of our great life goals is to come to know Christ more fully, so I pray that our learning together in this message series will lead us into deeper knowledge of Him.
Silence is a part of our lives in various ways, isn’t it. In this Information Age, as a flood of words from the media and all our electronic devices washes over us every day unless we actively choose to set them aside, we may experience silence less and less. In conversations, we may notice ourselves becoming uncomfortable with silence, somehow feeling that we have to fill in any gap of over a few seconds with words, even if we have nothing particular to say. Being comfortable with simply being silent together can be one sign of a healthy relationship. Shusaku Endo’s book, Silence (recently made a Martin Scorsese movie) is a look at the great question of why God sometimes stays silent in the face of great evil and suffering. Silence also is a chance for creativity and beauty. The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, once said, “Producing sometimes is as much the art of subtraction as it is the art of addition.” And Ringo Starr, the group’s drummer, commented one time, “I've always felt that a space is as good as a fill. Gaps can be very emotional.”
Imagine you were Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and sat down with the task of writing a story of the life of Jesus. How would you choose what to put in and leave out? For one thing, you would probably know a lot more than the amount that ended up in the Bible we have. I would probably write a long book because I would feel there were so many important things to say. Also, I think I would try to include events from all the periods He was alive so that my book would have a balanced, thorough feel to it. But the Gospel writers don’t do that. There is a big gap between the descriptions of Jesus’ birth and the time He was probably around 30 years old and began His active, public work and teaching. Luke, for example, probably could have interviewed Mary and Jesus’ brothers and sisters to learn more about what Jesus was like as a child, teenager, and man in His 20s.
But we see very little about those years of His life in the Bible. After the Christmas story of the escape of Jesus’ family from King Herod into Egypt and their return to Nazareth, there is one story in Luke 2:41-51 of the 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem when the family is there celebrating the Passover holiday. Yet beyond that, nearly the only things we read are very general, like today’s reading. “And the child grew and became strong. He was very wise. He was blessed by God's grace.” That really covers a lot, but it isn’t very specific, isn’t it. We trust that the Lord chose to include in His word, the Bible, all the things we truly need to know. Yet it seems difficult to ignore this long silence about our Lord’s life. So let’s look closer and see all we can about what is there.
1. Luke is a doctor, the Bible tells us, so it’s not surprising that He notices Jesus’ physical growth. That is part of the meaning of “And the child grew and became strong.” But the verb translated “became strong” does not just mean physically. The same word appears a few other places in the New Testament, and it is used there to talk more about spiritual strength. For example, Luke has already used the exact same words, adding only the word “spirit” in Luke 1:80 to tell us about John the Baptist, “The child grew up, and his spirit became strong.” (Then Luke continues, “He lived in the desert until he appeared openly to Israel.”) Later we see the same word in I Corinthians 16:13, where the writer tells us, “Be on your guard. Remain strong in the faith. Be brave.” Inner, spiritual strength. In Ephesians 3:16 the writer says, “I pray that he will use his glorious riches to make you strong. May his Holy Spirit give you his power deep down inside you.” God wants to help you and me, like Jesus our Lord, to grow strong in this way.
Over 100 years ago, a man named Percy Ainsworth published in London a short book, The Silences of Jesus. I am finding it very helpful in learning more about the spirit and character of Christ we see in the things He did not say and we don’t find recorded in the Bible. Ainsworth notes that no one put ink to paper to write a history of most of Jesus’ early life, but in another way, this history is written—in His character. Jesus spends these silent years building His character. What He does during this time shows itself in vivid colors through the kind of person He has become at the end of it. Throughout the Gospels, we see His personality, habits, ways of thinking, and patterns of relating with people and God. In all these areas, we receive strong hints of the ways He is already in the habit of spending His time, the goals He has chosen to pursue, and kind of person He has committed Himself to becoming.
As the oldest son in a Jewish family of this time, He very likely learns the trade of His father, Joseph. So he no doubt has the hard hands of a carpenter, but not a hard heart. Joseph and Mary and many others encourage Him in developing a faith to live by. We read in Luke 2:42, “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.” The rhythms of their life in this and other holiday celebrations were deeply related to their faith. Luke 4:16 tells us, “Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as he usually did.” Not just individual but family and community worship made up a basic part of human development for our Lord. And we find the note about Him in Luke 5:16, after He became an adult, “But Jesus often went away to be by himself and pray.” It is not likely that He began this practice after reaching age 30. It no doubt was something He was in the habit of doing throughout His life, including His early, quieter years.
Jesus lives by the faith He was raised in, so by the time He reaches the end of His life journey and His carpenter’s hands are nailed to the cross, He is able to say from His heart about the people who put Him there, “Father, forgive them. . .” (Luke 23:34). He has the power to do miracles, yet He does not choose to use it selfishly to gain money and power over people. He uses His power to heal and create. He becomes a person of deeper love, joy, peace, and all the “fruits of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22) than anyone has ever had.
That type of growth does not happen over night. Jesus no doubt develops His rich inner life over the silent years we don’t read about in the Gospels. In our lives, too, we need a solid spiritual foundation on which to build our lives. Just like the foundation the building where we are today rests on, you don’t see a spiritual foundation. But that doesn’t matter. It’s there. You may even forget about it most days. Yet when the time comes that your life is shaking the way this building was last September when that earthquake came, it will make a great difference whether or not you have a strong foundation for your life or not. Jesus took the time and trouble to grow rich in the life of the spirit during His silent years. He calls us as His people to make that a priority in our lives, too.
2. Luke 2:40 continues by telling us that Jesus grew into a person who “was very wise.” Again, it is remarkable that we read about only perhaps 3 years when Jesus taught a lot, but about 30 years of learning came before that. That is a 10-to-1 ratio. Ten years of learning for every 1 of teaching, 10 years of preparation for 1 of service. If it seems like the hours of study you are spending preparing for your life’s work seem too long and troublesome, please remember that you are in good company. It was that way for Christ, too. And if God used that part of Jesus’ life to prepare Him for His great work, He can use it in your life, as well.
What did Jesus learn as He was growing up? In other words, what kind of “wisdom” did He gain? When Luke tells us in 2:52 that “Jesus became wiser,” what does He mean?
For one thing, Jesus no doubt learned the Old Testament very thoroughly. When as an adult in John 7:15 He began teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders “were amazed. They asked, ‘How did this man learn so much without studying?’” They meant that He had not gone through the formal system of training as teachers typically did. But His teaching showed that He had a deep understanding of God’s written word. Like His habits of prayer, this no doubt began very early in His life and continued throughout it. Studying the Bible was not something He did if He wasn’t too busy with other important things. He knew that, as He told Satan in His temptation in the desert (Luke 4:4), the word of God is as necessary to your life as food is. That tells you and me that we need to give the best time in our daily schedule to God. That means a quiet time which includes listening to Him speak to us through His word, the Bible.
But Jesus did not only sit around studying the Bible every day. Ainsworth writes, “What was He doing all that time? He was learning to live.” These “silent years” of Christ’s life are unrecorded but were probably far from silent. The few stories about this time tell us pretty clearly that He was actively involved in the life of His family, community, and nation. The ways Jesus interacted with people later in His life show that He had already learned how to communicate with ordinary people. He knew how they thought and spoke, what they loved and believed, and what was important to them. He understood how to speak to their needs and dreams. This tells us that He had put down deep roots into His culture and community. We can hardly imagine Him spending His early years wishing He could be in a more interesting place or counting the days until He could go back to His home with His Father in Heaven. He was committed to the life God had given Him in this world, and learning—becoming wise—was a big part of that.
Have you ever opened a new book, become impatient to get to the interesting part, skipped pages (the preface, for example), then realized you didn’t understand why they book was written in the first place? If you have, you may have had to go back to the beginning to start again. If we approach our lives this way and are too impatient to get to “the good stuff,” what happens? We may skip the necessary (though often boring) steps of preparation for the rich, deep kind of life God wants us to have. It is possible for us to satisfy ourselves with shallow, easy, quickly-accessed conveniences, then as a result miss the greater meaning, purpose, and blessings of life. Christ did not do this. He calls us to follow Him in gaining wisdom to prepare for our lives, as He did His.
In His silent years, Jesus was making solid preparation for the ones that would follow. When we fail to do that, we can easily become people who go through our days unprepared. We can become too ready to, for example (a) teach things we haven’t learned well enough for ourselves, (b) try to heal the world’s problems when we haven’t received healing for our own, and (c) try to right the wrongs in society when we haven’t faced up honestly to the wrongs inside us. We need to do what Jesus did and spend plenty of time with our Heavenly Father, learning to find in the closeness of that relationship with Him “the few simple, ever-present, eternal meanings of life” (p. 11).
Some people fail, not because they are lazy or don’t care but because they are so eager to do something that they never stop to learn what they ought to do or how to do it. We fail today because of the steps of growth we skipped yesterday. We make war on the slow, the difficult, the things that are not seen and recognized and praised and rewarded. If a possible job doesn’t lead to a high salary, we may not even give it a thought or take interest. If it involves being in a low position, limited opportunities for advancement, criticism, or any pain and suffering, we avoid it almost without even really considering it. But if we take Christ as our example, the one after whom we pattern our lives as His disciples, we cannot accept these ways of thinking. Christ never did.
He did not try to escape living an obscure life. He left it up to God to give His life the meaning it was designed to have. Jesus committed into His Father’s hands the matter of how many people might like or dislike, praise or shame, own or disown Him. His message to people is not “Be satisfied with living where you are, little and unknown.” Rather, we could say it is “In the real world, no one is little or unknown to God. Our King and Father rules over all and sees and knows each human being deeply and completely.” Ainsworth writes, “Wherever you are, the light of the all-beholding God is falling upon you, and the deep reverences and the high hopes and the eternal meanings of life are all about you” (p. 10). If you think your life is small and unimportant, you are misunderstanding it on a basic level. Because it is of infinite worth, it calls for a strong and unchanging commitment to preparing for it, building it, and guarding it. God teaches you to use it every day in ways that please and honor Him, the One who gave and sustains and protects and guides and fulfills it. Christ did this, even in His unseen, silent years. He teaches His people to do so, as well.
By looking at how Christ spent the quiet years of His life, we may better learn how to handle the quiet seasons of our lives. “We may learn to keep silence that we may have something to say” (p. 13). Jesus’ life in Nazareth shows us the way toward living with great hope, vision, and power, even when it may seem that our lives are small, narrow, obscure, and limited.
3. Finally, Luke writes (v. 40b) that as Jesus was growing up, He was “blessed by God’s grace.” (The old King James Version has it: “And the grace of God was upon Him.”) Luke 2:52b says something very similar: “He also became more and more pleasing to God and to people.” Both these verses use the same Greek word, charis (grace, or favor—from which we get the English word charisma), though it is translated a little differently.
What is that charis? It has various meanings in the ways it is used in the New Testament. In vv. 40 and 52 it is not the grace the Bible uses to talk about “God’s unmerited favor” (that is, God’s kindness to us despite our sin). Jesus was not sinful, the Bible plainly teaches, so the writer does not mean grace in that sense here. Neither is it the grace we talk about in English when we say, for example, “She plays the piano very gracefully” or “They are very graceful runners.” That type of grace has more to do with beauty and skill. The grace Luke is writing about here means “favor, good will, loving-kindness.” He uses the same word when he tells us, for instance, in Luke 1:30 about the announcement Mary received that Christ would be born. “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you.’” As another example, Acts 7:10b looks back at the Old Testament story of Joseph and says, “God made Joseph wise. He helped him to become the friend of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.” The word helped shows the kindness, or favor, of the kind of grace Luke tells us God had toward Jesus.
We’ve already seen Jesus building strong character and receiving knowledge. Here we see Him growing in relationship—first and most with God, but also with other people. An example is in the story coming directly after 2:40, which I mentioned earlier, when the 12-year-old Jesus goes with His family to Jerusalem and His parents are surprised to find Him in the Temple listening and asking questions to the teachers there.
By this time, He has come to the point in His relationship with God that He knows He is the Son of God. He calls the Temple “my Father’s house” (v. 49). We have to wonder how Joseph feels when Jesus calls someone else His Father. That may be tough to hear. Then there is the note about Jesus and his parents at the end of this episode (v. 51): “Then he went back to Nazareth with them, and he obeyed them.” It may not be easy for Jesus, either, to submit Himself to the authority of His parents. After all, He is growing up as history’s first perfect human, and He is coming to see more clearly His parents’ bad points and human weaknesses, including their limited ability to understand Him. So it is remarkable that this family, with their own unique set of parent-teenager struggles, are able with God’s help to do the hard work of making their family life a success.
So in all these ways, we see that the “silent years” of Jesus’ life really have a lot to say to us. God shows us through Christ and His family the types of things He routinely does in the lives of His people. He helps us grow up, keep maturing and developing throughout our lives, even as it may come our turn to raise the children He puts in our care. Through the example His Son’s life provides, God shows us what human formation and development are like. He gives us not only a perfect example of a well-formed life as a human being but also a visible reminder of His presence and power to help us continue our journeys of growth throughout our lives, as well as helping others do the same.
Let’s ask Him again now to help us do these very things.
Father in Heaven, please enable us to follow the pattern of growth as human beings that you have provided for us in the life of your Son. As Jesus grew and became strong, empower us to grow not only physically but build truly strong character through the events and experiences of our lives. As Your Son became very wise, make us able to actively and willingly continue to learn all that you want to teach us throughout our lives. As Christ was blessed by your grace, help us to know, deep in our souls, that your loving hand is on us, as well. Hold us in that grace, and through the power of your love, use our lives for your Kingdom’s work, today and every day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ainsworth, P. C. (1912). The Silences of Jesus and St. Paul’s Hymn to Love. London: C. H. Kelly. Hathitrust Digital Library. Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009972910
Starr, R. (January 15, 2010). “Ringo Starr: The Drums Are Where The Soul Is.” Weekend Edition Sunday. National Public Radio. Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId= 122620250