Christmas According to Matthew #5

Between His Birth and Baptism: The Silent Years of Jesus

Matthew 2:23, 3:13   |   Sam Taylor   |   5th Sunday of Christmas

Central Idea: The silent years between Jesus’ birth and baptism were years of preparation for His public ministry. Being a spiritual learner comes before being a spiritual leader.

Introduction: There is a very interesting phenomenon in all of the gospels. The stories about the birth of Jesus are abruptly followed by Jesus’s appearance as an adult being baptized by John the Baptist. In other words, the Bible jumps very abruptly from His birth to His baptism. Between those two very important events are approximately 30 years of conspicuous silence.

I.  Let’s look at the silent years of Jesus.

A. The 30-year gap in the Gospel of Matthew.

1. Matthew chapter 2 ends by telling us how after the wise men left, the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take the child and flee to Egypt because Herod was about to search for the child to destroy Him. About one year later, after Herod died, Joseph was told again in a dream to take the child and return to the land of Israel. And then chapter 2 ends in verse 23 with these words:

(Mat 2:23) Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that He will be called a Nazarene.

2. The next time Jesus is mentioned in Matthew He appears as a grown man coming to be baptized.

(Matthew 3:1) In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea . . . (Matthew 3:13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

B. Look at the 30 years of silence in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark doesn’t even include the story of Jesus’ birth. He records nothing at all about the childhood of Jesus. His biography of the life of Jesus begins with the baptism of Jesus.

(Mark 1:9)  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

C. The Gospel of John also has this same long period of silence.

1. John very briefly tells of His incarnation:  

(John 1:14) The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

2. Then, just a few verses later, John has fast-forwarded to His baptism as a full-grown adult:

(John 1:29) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

D. The Silent Years in the Gospel of Luke.

The only place in the Bible that tells us anything at all about the life of Jesus during the period between His birth and His baptism is the Gospel of Luke. And even there, Luke only mentions one event that occurred during those 30 silent years. We will look at that in just a moment.

E. The Silence of those 30 years is striking.

When you think about it, it is remarkable how Scripture records such a plethora of information about the birth of Jesus and then for the next 30 years, it says almost nothing about Him until Jesus appears as a full-grown man beginning His ministry by being baptized.

II. So, what did Jesus do during those 30 silent years?

A. There are certain things we can pretty safely assume: The Bible tells us is that Jesus' earthly father, Joseph was a carpenter. So, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus would have helped Joseph in his shop and learned about carpentry. No doubt He also would have helped his mother, Mary, around their house and tended to the animals. Very likely He would have gone to the synagogue school in Nazareth and learned Scripture from the elders of the village. In other words, we can assume that Jesus’ life as a child was very typical of other children of His time and culture.

B. But, Jesus’ childhood was not entirely typical. John’s gospel implies that Jesus may have done “private” miracles at home as a child, or a young man. Certainly His mother, Mary, seemed to know without any doubt at all that Jesus was able to do miracles. And her confidence strongly suggests that Jesus may have done some miraculous things that were what we might call “private miracles” in the home of Joseph and Mary.

(John 2:1-5)  On the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and (2) Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding as well.  (3)  When the wine ran out, Jesus' mother told Him, "They don't have any wine."  (4)  "What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?" Jesus asked. "My hour has not yet come."  (5)  "Do whatever He tells you," His mother told the servants.

C. As we mentioned already, Luke includes just one story about an event in the life of Jesus that occurred when He was 12 years old.

(Luke 2:41-52)  Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.  (42)  When He was 12 years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival.  (43)  After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it.  (44)  Assuming He was in the traveling party, they went a day's journey. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends.  (45)  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him.  (46)  After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  (47)  And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.  (48)  When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You."  (49)  "Why were you searching for Me?" He asked them. "Didn't you know that I had to be in My Father's house?" (italics added) (50)  But they did not understand what He said to them.  (51)  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart.  (52)  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.

This passage gives us one brief snapshot into the childhood of Jesus. It shows something unusual: a 12-year-old boy absorbed in learning spiritual truth. Jesus was so eager to learn that He had acquired spiritual understanding far beyond other boys His age, enough understanding as to astound the teachers of the Law in the temple!

D. Beyond these very scarce details, the Bible is conspicuously silent about the life of Jesus between His birth and when He began His public ministry at the time of His baptism.

III. So, what lesson can we learn from this long silence?

A. Those silent years teach an important principle about how God prepares us for service. The principle is this:  Being a learner always precedes being a leader. We must humbly and patiently accept our assignment as spiritual learners before we are ready to fill the position of being a spiritual leader.

B. This principle is so essential that even Jesus Himself had a long season of obscurity before His public ministry began. During that time Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and man.

C. Now, if that was true of Jesus, it will be true for the rest of us. The fact that it happened even to Jesus makes this universal—being a learner always precedes being a leader. You cannot bypass this principle. 

D. We are heading for a disaster when we take short-cuts to the future and get in a hurry to become a leader. Bypassing this principle inevitably diminishes our effectiveness for Christ. For example, I had a close friend who was a pastor and a leader of a large para-church ministry. Even when he was just a teenager, my friend was a very talented preacher and was anxious to become a pastor. Because of his extraordinarily strong speaking gifts, and his seemingly inexhaustible energy, he received a lot of praise and encouragement from others. And so, he became a pastor before taking the time to complete his education. In the first years of his ministry it seemed that even without a Bible college or seminary degree there would be no limit to his ministry. My friend was proud of the fact that, at one time he was the youngest senior pastor in the entire state where he served. And so, he enjoyed remarkable success as a young minister. But early success can be deceptive and dangerous, and after a short time, my friend began to struggle with a pattern of interpersonal conflicts. His frustrations and repeated conflicts would drive him from one church position to another and were repeated every place he went. After a while his resume was filled with a string of short tenures that ended in strife and conflict with others. Eventually very few churches would even consider him as a candidate. As he grew older, my friend had difficulty finding a position of leadership in a church. He died of a heart attack when he was just 50 years old, still sending out his resume trying to find a new place of service.

That is why this principle is so important! My friend deeply loved Jesus. He was full of passion for the kingdom. He was exceptionally talented. But his ability to lead was sabotaged because he was in too big of a hurry to deal with character issues. He tried to take a short-cut around his need to grow in wisdom and character and his ministry ended in disaster.

E. Application: Every Christmas season many young people come home for the holidays. And this message is especially for them. Students and young people, before you return back to work or another semester at college, take this as a vital truth—you must first be a learner before you become a leader. Do not get in a hurry about your future. Value your years of study and understand that God has a profound purpose for this season in your life. He is preparing you. Be patient and don’t get into too big of a hurry to be somebody important. If you want to be used by God in a fruitful way, you must first pass through some silent years of preparation. Do not try to propel yourself prematurely into a position of leadership. That ends in disaster. Instead allow God to lay in your heart a strong foundation of godly character, a sound knowledge of His Word, and practical wisdom in life. If you let God do this now, then in due time, He will make you very fruitful.