The Man Who Is God — Part One
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The Man Who Is God — Part One

Luke 2:39–52  (ID: 2066)

Luke’s Gospel does not provide detailed information about Jesus’ childhood. As Alistair Begg explains, however, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was fully human and fully God. As a child, He grew in wisdom as we do, learning from and observing the world around Him. Because He lived a fully human life, experiencing all we have, yet resisting temptation, we are able to place hope in His atonement for our sin.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 1

God with Us Luke 1:1–2:52 Series ID: 14201

Sermon Transcript: Print

Most parents know the experience of misplacing one of their children. In fact, if you haven’t done it yet, you’re about to do it. And it’s only a matter of time before you have that horrible feeling creep up your neck as you realize that the youngster is not where you last saw them or where you thought they were going to be.

And it is that very ordinary kind of incident which Luke records for us here in these concluding verses of this second chapter of his Gospel. He sandwiches this story in between two summary statements: one which comes in verses 39 and 40, concerning the conclusion of the responsibilities of Mary and Joseph in relationship to the law and their return to Nazareth; and the other comes at the very end of the chapter, in verses 51 and 52, concerning the obedience of Christ to his parents and the fact that Mary was treasuring in her heart these unfolding incidents, which, frankly, as we discover here, were quite staggering in their implications.

What we have in this little incident as well is the only recorded material in the Gospels of the life of Jesus as a young boy, as a growing young man. This is it all. And Luke chooses not to include the story of the arrival of the wise men or of the flight into Egypt, material which would be fitted in chronologically as you put the newspaper reports, as it were, of the first-century Gospel writers together. But he has been determined, he says in his opening remarks as he writes to Theophilus, that he would provide “an orderly account”[1] of all of the material that was necessary to know, in order that in the knowing of this material, those who read the Gospels might become absolutely certain.[2]

So, there is a certain knowledge that the Holy Spirit provides for us concerning the growth and development of Jesus as a young man, and it is that that we are about to consider. We should notice that it was not in the holy city of Jerusalem that Jesus was growing up—rather, in this despised, half-heathen place, Galilee, and in a particularly obscure little place by the name of Nazareth. It was, from a human perspective, one of the last places that an individual would ever have gone to look for a Messiah or a king. People in reading the Old Testament record, in looking for somebody, would surely never have shown up on these streets.

And yet it was here that the boy Jesus was growing up. And it was from here that his parents took him up to Jerusalem for this feast. They went on a trip. There would have been a measure of expectation. They would have said, “When are we going to Jerusalem, Mom?” “Well, we’ll be going in a few days.” “And what will we be doing there?” “Well, we’ll be at the feast.” All the normal kind of discourse that takes place within a family.

Now, we’re not told whether Jesus had gone up before. We’re told that Mary and Joseph had gone up annually but not that Jesus had accompanied them. It may be that he had; we don’t know. We do know that he went now, at the age of twelve. And it is in the course of this event that he is misplaced amongst the crowd that is departing. At least, he never even makes it to the crowd that is leaving Jerusalem.

And I think we can understand this. We can identify with it: Mary looking amongst the crowd; perhaps the women and the smaller children together as the pilgrims leave now from Jerusalem, heading to their various homes, going down the roads, and little groups breaking off at various junctions on the way to head to their particular dwelling places—and Mary looking around amongst the group and noticing the fact that Jesus is not there, registering it, and thinking, presumably, in the back of her mind, “Well, probably he’s with his father and coming with the older boys.” ’Cause it may well be that the fathers and the older boys traveled together and the women with the younger children, in which case Jesus, at the age of twelve, would be able to fit into almost either category: he would be one of the older wee ones, and he would be one of the younger big ones. And consequently, Joseph would be looking amongst his group and registering the fact that he didn’t see the face of Jesus but saying to himself, “Well, I’m sure he’s with his mother.”

And then, as they get to the end of a day’s journey, they look at one another, and both of them say the same thing almost simultaneously: “Where is Jesus?” And then they say, “I thought he was with you!” And you remember those conversations. “I thought you were looking after him.” “Oh, no, I was never looking after him. I thought he was in your custody. After all…” And you know how those little discussions go. Well, the fact of the matter is, neither of the two of them had him, and neither of them knew where he was.

And so they made a day’s journey out. They perhaps stay the night and say, “Well, let’s go back in the morning.” They head out in the morning. They make a day’s journey back. Perhaps they arrive under cover of darkness. They say to one another, “I don’t want to push around Jerusalem at the moment, in the middle of the night, looking for him. Let’s get a sleep, and we’ll see in the morning what’s happening.”

And that would, of course, bring us to the third day of verse 46, because it was “after three days” that they found him “in the temple courts.” I don’t think we ought to read that that they had a day’s journey out, a day’s journey back, and then after those two days, they then spent three days in Jerusalem looking for him. After all, he wasn’t found in an obscure place; he was found right in the center of the operation. So it’s hardly likely that they would spend three days and then all of a sudden go, “Oh! He’s in the temple!” So I think the chronology that I described to you is probably the best way to view it.

Now, for those of us who have found our children after a little bit of that heart-stopping time and have said to them, “Now, what do you think you’re doing? Where do you think you’ve been?” we know that there are a number of replies that our children are ingenious in coming up with. We could take time sharing with one another some of the wonderful things our children have been able to create in terms of a response to the question “Where have you been?” or “Why have you treated us like this? Didn’t you know that we were looking for you?” But none of us have ever heard anything to match the response of this twelve-year-old boy as his mother asks him the question, “Hey, your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” And Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me?” Now, that ought to be a self-explanatory thing: “We were looking for you because you’re not where you were supposed to be.” Jesus says, “Why were you looking for me?”

Don’t the miss the juxtaposition between “your father and I” and then the response of Jesus, because he responds with two questions: one, “Why were you looking for me?”; two, “Didn’t you realize that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Or, actually, “Did you not realize that involved in my Father’s affairs it behooved me to be?” That’s a closer translation—literal translation—of the Greek. Hence, I think the King James Version is a better question than this “Father’s house” business. I think it sends us in the wrong direction, partly.

You remember the King James Version. Some of you may have it in front of you: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”[3] It’s one of the great questions of the New Testament. “Didn’t you realize that this is what I am supposed to be doing?”

Jesus was no less God in the temple at twelve than he was on the cross at age thirty-three, or in the manger, or in eternity.

Now, the staggering thing, of course, is that this is all unfolding in the context of a question-and-answer session involving Jesus and the teachers in the temple courts. The methodology of instruction was that the pupil would come and ask questions of the teacher. The teacher would then reply, giving information to the pupil. The pupil would then be interrogated by the teacher to see how much of the reply that he had received had been assimilated.

And that is the only way that you can make sense of the transition between verse 46 and verse 47. Because it says in 46 that he was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking … questions.” And verse 47 says, “[And] everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” “Oh, no,” you say, “he was asking the questions; they were giving the answers.” No, the interaction in terms of the discovery of information was as I have outlined, and so the teachers were marveling that this young lad was able to grasp things so quickly and articulate them so effectively. And into the midst of that his mother and Joseph appear, and the dialogue ensues.

Now, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph, quite frankly, didn’t understand what he was saying to them. Verse 50: “They did not understand what he was saying to them.” And incidentally, I’m not sure that you or I fully understand what he was saying to them. I’ve spent at least a week trying to work out the significance of what he was saying to them. Don’t let’s immediately sit, you know, two inches taller in our seats and say, “Well, I’m frankly very surprised at Mary and Joseph, because I understand perfectly what he was saying to them.” Do you? Do you really think you do? Do you think you understand this incident? Would you like to preach a sermon on these verses? What would you say? It’s too late for me to benefit from your information.

However, their lack of understanding does not engender bewilderment. We are told that the incident was immediately added to Mary’s treasure chest. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” There we are.

So, now what? Where do we go from here? What do we do with this? Now I’m including you in the process. Now it’s late on Monday afternoon, and I have just gone through the little scenario, just as I’ve described it to you, taken my best shot at it, produced what I have just told you. Now I have scribbles on the desk, I have the week in front of me, I have the prospect of standing up here in front of you, and I have now taken my best shot, and that’s all I know, which, frankly, isn’t much more than you.

So, what do we do? Well, you turn around and you see what somebody else said about these verses. And you look around, and you find that they taught from these verses about the intellectual-spiritual-social development of children. And they said, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and favor with man, and this is in here to show us how we’re supposed to grow as well—hence the inclusion in Luke’s Gospel.”

Well, there’s no question that it does give to us the fourfold developmental stages in the life of a young person. But I can’t imagine that that’s the whole reason that we have this record. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this—and I wonder if you can identify with this.

In my knowledge of this story, the predominating thought for me has always been that Jesus was able to dialogue with these teachers of the law in the temple, and it really was quite staggering that a twelve-year-old boy would be able to do such an extraordinary thing. And so I largely came away from the story… And that’s over a period of—if I’ve been cognizant since the age of five, let’s say, we have about forty-one, forty-two years. So, for forty-two years I’ve thought about the story of the temple in terms of the extraordinary nature of Christ. And I have missed for forty-two years the fact that this piece is sandwiched in between two summary statements which are about the ordinariness of Christ—not about how extraordinary he is but actually about how ordinary was his childhood development.

And in thinking it through this week, I said to myself, “What I need to learn here is not to engage in the conjecture and the speculation about the childhood of Jesus, which is the prerogative of pundits who write books that are full of nonsense, but rather, it is to go to these verses and to say, ‘What, then, is it we learn about Christ in relationship to this?’” Because this significant question is the first recorded statement by the incarnate God in the whole Bible, right? If you asked yourself the question, and you closed your Bible after the birth a few verses before, and you said, “Okay, God has become incarnate in Christ,” you closed your Bible and you said, “I wonder what the very first thing that the incarnate God will say, at least as it is recorded in the New Testament? I wonder what it’ll be?” I wonder if any of us would have concluded that it would be this kind of question: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? Why were you anxious concerning me? Didn’t you realize what I came to do? Don’t you realize who I am? And don’t you realize why I came?”

And here in this question, there is the inkling given to us of the self-awareness of this young lad. Because when we think about it for a moment or two, we have to recognize that there were points in the development in the life of Christ where his awareness of his godhood must have come upon him and where the significance of that must have increasingly dawned on him. It is a fiction to imagine that he emerges from the womb fully aware of all these issues. We cannot substantiate that from the pages of the New Testament. Rather, Luke tells us in his summary statements that this child was filled with wisdom—namely, that there was an increasing discovery of wisdom; the grace of God was upon him. He was growing in wisdom, he was growing in stature, he was growing in favor with God, and he was growing in favor with man.

Jesus’ Activity

Now, what then is the business to which he refers? “Didn’t you realize,” he says, “that I must be about my Father’s business?” So I said to myself, “Well, I need to understand this business. What is the activity?”

Now, of course, we have the benefit of the rest of the New Testament; therefore, we don’t have to be involved in conjecture. We know as we compare Scripture with Scripture that the business of the Lord Jesus, if we might put it in that way, was that he was coming to shed his blood and the blood of the new covenant. He was—as the writer says in Hebrews 12:24—he was “the mediator of a new covenant.” He was in the world because of a specific relation with his Father. All right?

Now, in order to understand the relationship between the work of Christ and the will of God, theologians speak in terms of a covenant of redemption. And what we’re doing here is a little bit of Christology, okay? Giving you a little theology here. And in speaking of a covenant of redemption, they are describing a pretemporal (pre-time), pre-incarnational agreement between the Father and the Son, in which the Son agrees to complete the task assigned by the Father. And indeed, his whole incarnation, his whole coming, is directly related to the fact that he understands that he is to be about the Father’s business. In other words, he didn’t come to earth and then make the discovery of what it was he was planning on doing. No, it was determined from eternity that this would be the role that he would fulfill. And in becoming incarnate, he was going to fulfill the expectations of the Father.

That’s why on the cross, incidentally, he is able to say, “It is finished.”[4] If you’ve ever wondered about why he says “It is finished” on the cross, you’ve got to say, “Well, what is finished?” Does he mean “My life’s finished”? Because it wasn’t—only momentarily so. Does he mean “Well, it’s all over now! I thought it was going to be better than this, and look where I am, and it’s over”? No. This one declaration, “Tetélestai,” is directly related to a twelve-year-old boy in the temple in Jerusalem. “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” And then all the way through the journey of his life, it is leading to the point where on the cross he’s going to say, “I’ve finished the business.”

For example, in John 4, when the disciples come back—they had gone off to get him lunch—they come back and find him speaking with a lady. And when they show up with the lunch, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in the lunch. They look at one another, and they say, “Do you think somebody came and brought him food?”[5] And Jesus said, “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”[6]

Now, we understand that. I don’t have difficulty with that when he’s thirty. I don’t actually have much difficulty, with the incarnation, imagining it in terms of infancy. But as I’ve thought it about this week, I do have difficulty with the idea of a twelve-year-old boy who is God incarnate. There’s just something about twelve-year-old boys that make that difficult for me. You know, the baby’s not doing much. Okay, fine, you know, “in the manger”[7]—got it. And then “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin[s] of the world”[8]—got it. But a twelve-year-old boy sitting in the temple, that makes me scratch my head! But he was no less God in the temple at twelve than he was on the cross at age thirty-three, or in the manger at age dot, or in eternity, coequal to the Father and the Spirit.

John chapter 6, Jesus explains the nature of what he has come to do. In a wonderful passage that begins in verse 35, he tells them that he is the very Bread from heaven, using this wonderful picture. And they say to him, “Sir, … from now on give us this bread.” And Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” He’s talking there about spiritual hunger and thirst. “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.”[9] This gives the lie to the idea that if Jesus would come up Euclid Avenue, if he would appear at the Terminal Tower, that everybody would flock out of their offices and say, “I believe in Jesus.” No, they would not. They absolutely would not. He says, “You have seen me and still you do not believe.” They looked at him. They understood him, a measure of him, at least. They heard his words, they saw his miracles, and they still did not believe. His brothers and his sisters lived in the very same house as him, and still they did not believe.

Verse 37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” Sounds like the Father has a group that he plans to give to the Son, doesn’t it? “And whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Sounds like anybody can be in the group, doesn’t it? “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”) “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Now, when you take that and once again compare Scripture with Scripture, you have this wonderful summary statement by Paul when he writes to Timothy in his first letter, 1 Timothy 1:15, and he says in a phrase, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Now, that is tremendously good news. That is wonderful news. It is wonderful news for all who are honest enough to admit that our lives are not the way they ought to be, who are honest enough to admit that we haven’t loved God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, and all our strength, that we haven’t always been truthful, that we haven’t always been faithful, that we haven’t always been kind, and so on. In other words, we’re messed up.

And this Christ Jesus, sitting in the temple, turning to his mother and saying, “Didn’t you realize that I have to be about my Father’s business?” establishes for the very first time the notion which finds its fulfillment in his cross and which is then explained by the work of the apostles in the writing of their letters. And so this should be an emphasis for us, emerging right from here. I say to you this morning: Jesus was about the business of the Father. What was the business of the Father? It was about saving sinners. Therefore, it allows me to say this to you: that every human being, without exception, is entitled to come to Christ and trust him as their Savior. Every human being, without any exception whatsoever, is entitled to come to Christ and trust him as their Savior. Because “he commands all [men] everywhere to repent.”[10] He doesn’t command some people somewhere to repent, but “he commands all people everywhere to repent”—Acts 17, the end of Paul’s sermon.

He offers a universal invitation: “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. And take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”[11] He echoes the great invitations of the Old Testament: “[Look] to me and be saved, all [ye] ends of the earth.”[12] and he promises that if we believe, we will be saved. Isn’t that the message of Paul to the Philippian jailer, who asks the question “What must I do to be saved?”[13] And Paul says, “I’ll tell you straight up: If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be saved; and if you don’t, you won’t.”[14]

“I have to be about my Father’s business.” What is the business? It’s the business of redemption. “What is the part that I play?” It is the part of making atonement for the sins.

You see, evangelism is not about saying to men and women, “Hello, everyone. Good morning. You are saved. Because Jesus died on the cross, you are automatically forgiven, and I just wanted to let you know that this morning. Some of you have not known that, and I thought it might be helpful for you to know.” No, that’s not the message of the New Testament! The message of the New Testament is not “Good morning, everybody. Glad to let you know you’re saved!” No, the message is “Good morning, everybody. I have a salvation to offer to you, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a gift for you, if you will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Every human being, without any exception whatsoever, is entitled to come to Christ and trust him as their Savior.

So, clearly this believing, this receiving, this trusting, is something more than simply a cognitive response to the fact of the existence of a person claiming to be God. And, of course, it is. Christ’s business, if you like, was to make absolutely explicit the free, universal offer of the gospel.

And as I listen to some of you regurgitate to me what you think it is I’m saying, I realize how deficient I’m becoming in my instruction. Because as I listen to some of you talk, you sound as though you’re becoming increasingly fearful in your evangelism, lest somehow or another you may goof it up and find that the wrong people are getting saved, you know.

John Duncan—the late John Duncan of Scotland—reasoned it out in this wonderful way: he said, “Sin is the handle by which I [take] Christ.” “Sin is the handle by which I [take] Christ.” And this is what he wrote: “I don’t read anywhere in God’s Word that Christ came to save John Duncan … but I read this: He came to save sinners and John Duncan is a sinner and that means he came to save John Duncan.”[15]

Now, some of you who are still awake are saying, “How can it be simultaneously true that only the predestined are saved and that God commands all men to believe?” Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know this: that both horns of the dilemma are equally valid—that the offer of the gospel is a universal offer. Perhaps the key is in the great prayer of Augustine: “Lord, give what thou dost command, and command what thou wilt.”[16]

What does God command? He commands faith, and yet he also gives it. And the faith required is my faith, my believing, my trusting, my doing. Nobody believes for me. Nobody believes in a vacuum on my account. I understand the message of the gospel. I face the fact of my sinfulness. I come, as an individual, to trust unreservedly in Christ. That is something that I must do if I am to be saved. That is why I say to you again and again, the issue is not whether you were confirmed or baptized or grew up in the United Church of whatever it was. The issue is this: Have you ever come to Christ and acknowledged that you are a sinner and that it was his business to redeem those who believe? And then you said, “Lord, I believe in you. Now help me with all of my unbelief.”[17] It is there that the transaction takes place. And yet—and here is the mystery: that while it is my faith, and it is my trusting, and it is my doing, yet nevertheless, I do it by the grace of God. Because the faith that he commands he also gives.

Now, go home and stay up all night thinking about those things. But do not allow a perverse approach to an understanding of the doctrine of election to tie your tongue in relationship to making clear to men and women that they may come to Christ and that they may be saved if they will believe in the Lord Jesus. That is our message. That is our proclamation. And anything less than that is less than the proclamation of the gospel and is less than the Father’s business, concerning which this twelve-year-old boy mentions.

Jesus’ Identity

So, I said to myself, “Well, that’s the activity. I’ve done enough about that for the time being. What about his identity? If this is the business, who is it that’s saying this?” “Well,” you say, “well, it’s Jesus who’s saying this.” Yeah, I understand. But what are we saying about this? Especially in relationship to the two summary statements: the child growing and becoming strong and being filled with wisdom and so on.

Many of us are a lot closer to the heresies of the first century than we realize. The first heresy that coursed through the church had to do with the person of Christ, but it did not have to do with the denial of the deity of Christ; it had to do with the denial of the humanity of Christ. And men began to say that the body of Christ wasn’t a real body; it only seemed to be a body—from the verb dokeō, which is the first… Dokeō is “I seem.” And that gave us the word Docetism, D-o-c-e-t-i-s-m, which was the heresy that while God was truly God and had come in the flesh, that he had not inhabited a real body—that it was a phantom body, if you like, and that somehow or another, it was less than normal.

Now, where did they come up with this? Well, it’s very easy. They believed that matter was evil. Spirit could be good, but matter had to be evil. Therefore, physicality could not be something that God embraced, because God is absolutely good, matter is definitely bad, so you cannot combine a good God with bad matter and have anything but something that it shouldn’t be there. And so, in order to preserve the deity of Christ, they denied the humanity of Christ.

Now, in many of our private thoughts, I say to you again, I think we’re closer to that than we realize; that in order for us to uphold the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ—which, of course, is vitality important—we may unwittingly be letting go of a real grasp of a Christology which has a human Christ who is absolutely real. And, of course, when you read the Gospels, you find that they are replete with evidences concerning this. The apostle John, who more than any of the Gospel writers was concerned to establish the credibility of Christ’s deity, is the one who records for us that when the soldier plunged the spear into the side of Christ, that what came out was all the normal material of physicality.[18] And in those references to his hunger, to his thirst, to his tiredness, to all of these different elements, we are gaining a picture—in rebuttal of early-century nonsense—a picture that is of the true humanity of Christ.

Now, you may have thought that out, in which case this is reinforcement, but you may not have been thinking of it, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion you haven’t. The gospel is not simply about ideas. The gospel exists in the realm of physics and biology. And this, you see, we need to say to people in our day, who are into all kinds of New Age things and the concepts and ideas and all these different things which you can’t get your hands around; you can’t make sense of it at all. And they say, “Well, you know, I like the idea of, you know, someone who comes, and a being, or a phantom, or whatever it is.” You say, “Well, I got news for you: Christ was not a phantom. Christ was a real baby, and a real twelve-year-old, and a real teenager.” So when we read about the development of the child in verse 40 and again in verse [52], we need to understand what is being said.

Now, let me just remind you that the doctrine of the incarnation is this: that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate. The Father didn’t become incarnate. The Holy Spirit did not become incarnate. The second person of the Trinity became incarnate. That was within the covenant of redemption. The Son determined that in obedience to the Father’s will, he would be the very fullness of God in human form. And so he “became flesh.”[19] He was enfleshed, if you like, which is really the word incarnation.

What does that mean? It means at least this: that his body had the same biological composition as yours and mine. It had the same anatomy and the same physiology, the same central nervous system and the same sensitivity to pain. It means that his mother, Mary, made the same genetic contribution to his genetic composition as is made by any mother with any child. It means that one-half of his chromosomes were provided by Mary, his earthly mother, and the other half were provided miraculously in the creative act of the virgin conception.

Therefore, we must not think of Jesus as humanity—you know, that “God became humanity.” No, God became man. And like every other child, the humanness of Jesus was specific and peculiar to him. He wasn’t everyman. He wasn’t the composite man. He was a first-century Jewish kid growing up in a backwater province in a stinky little town—the last place in the world that anybody would look for God on earth, for a Messiah, for a king, for the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 9. That’s who he was, and that’s where he was.

He was out doing whatever kids do, and he would say to his friend, “Hey, stand back-to-back with me here. Let me see who’s the tallest.” And eventually, he reached his height. It’s a silly, phantom notion and a blasphemous notion that conceives of Christ being able to dunk every basketball, make every putt, win every race, solve every problem. That is a phantom Christ. No! He could run a hundred yards in as fast as he could run it, and he couldn’t run it any faster. And as he got beyond fifteen and seventeen and nineteen and twenty, he didn’t get faster and faster and faster. He got, like you and me, slower and slower and slower. And he would have said to the younger boys in the village, “I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to chase you up the street again. If you come in my carpenter’s shop and steal that stuff, I’ll get you later on, but I’m not going to chase you up the street.”

But because we’ve got a warped view, many of us have, of Christ, we’ve got this idea that Jesus sprouts wings and goes up the street and gets all of his tools back and knows exactly where they all are. No, no, no, no, no. That’s Docetism. That’s heresy. Jesus snaps his fingers and makes planets; Jesus twinkles around with his hands, and fish jump out of the water—all of that nonsense, which you can find in the mall, emerges from closed Bibles and empty heads and people with fantastic imaginations. And it is an indication of the fact that we wrestle against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places[20] that our friends and our neighbors may turn those books of nonsense into best sellers while at the same time never cracking their Bible to find out what God has said to us about the person of his Son. We shouldn’t be surprised by that.

“Well,” you say, “is that about it?” Yeah, it is about it. But I’ve got one more for you before we stop. If he was really human in terms of his physicality, he was also really human in terms of his psychology. He had a real soul. The Shorter Scottish Catechism, in answering a question concerning the incarnation, makes this point. It’s answer 22, for those of you who want to go and check. But in answering the question about what has happened in the incarnation, part of it says this: in “taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul.” Psuchḗ.

Now, the reason that the church labored so hard with this was because this was the basis of another heresy. And Apollinarius, in the early centuries, taught that Jesus did not have a real soul—that while he may have been okay physically, that when it came to the matter of psychology, that he wasn’t like anybody else. Because you had a human body with a divine soul—the Logos, the eternal Word—and, says Apollinarius, what you have in Christ is the union of divine matter with a human body but no human psyche. And so, in the fourth and fifth century, you find that this notion is repudiated by the church. They insist that Jesus was complete and perfect godhood, and he was complete and perfect manhood; he was complete in terms of his physical nature, and he was complete in terms of his human psychology.

“Well,” you’re sitting there saying to yourself, “I wonder if this really matters a rap.” I want to tell you, it does. Because that’s the mention here of his growing in wisdom, because he had a human mind. Jesus had a human mind. When you think of Jesus’ physical growth, you don’t imagine that taking place miraculously, do you? You don’t think that people came over to the carpenter’s shop, and one day he was, you know, eighteen inches long, and they came back and the next day, he was four foot six? No! He grew incrementally. His bones lengthened according to the genetic composition that was unique to him. He had his own DNA.

In the same way, when we think about the development of the mind of the Lord Jesus, you don’t think somehow or another that this took place in a way that was beyond the ordinary, do you? You don’t think that Jesus emerged from the womb being able to say his alphabet, do you? I think some of you do. You don’t think that he knew his colors because he was Jesus? No! His mother sat with him the same as other mothers sat and said, “Green. This is the grass. The grass is green. The sky is blue.” Said, “Jesus, you got the green and the blue mixed up again, son. It’s green, blue, yellow,” so on. That he would go out and play, and he would come home, and he would ask questions, and his mother would answer his questions, Joseph would answer his questions, and he would grow in his understanding of things. He became wiser. That’s what he’s saying. He “grew in wisdom.” He became better informed. He accumulated an ever-increasing fund of common sense.

Now, you see, it’s because we don’t have a human Jesus that our minds go into [imitates whirring sound] when some of these things are said, because we’re going, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute!” But when you think about this, it makes perfect sense. Jesus was schooled, wasn’t he? And his understanding of things was expressive of his influences as a boy.

James S. Stewart, in a wonderful passage—a Presbyterian minister from Scotland of an earlier era—he says that the boyhood influences of Jesus were the very things that allowed him to grow in wisdom. And he articulates them.[21]

He says, for example, Jesus was a student of nature. He was a student of nature. He went out, and he looked, and he saw the lilies, he saw the birds, he saw the harvest, he saw the shepherd. And as he thinks about these things, he begins to develop in his understanding of them, and that becomes the source of his illustrative material. He says, then, in Matthew 6, “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil or store away in barns, and God looks after lilies.”[22] He says, “It’s time for the harvest.”[23] He says, “I’m the good shepherd. The good shepherd knows his sheep.”[24] He’s a student of nature.

He’s a student of human nature. Student of human nature. He observed people. He watched people as he grew. And he then stands up, and he begins to teach the people, and he says to them, “To what can I compare this generation?” And then he says, “They’re like children sitting in the marketplace.”[25] Where did that come from? It came from his observation! He knew what it was like when children sat in the marketplace, and one said they could play the flute, and the other one said they couldn’t play the flute, and one said, “It’s my turn,” and the other said, “It’s my turn,” and the sulky disgruntlement of the children becomes the focus of his illustrative material.

He understood what it was for a woman to annoy a local magistrate.[26] He’d heard that. He had understood what it was for a country lad to go off to the big city and come home broken and penniless and ashamed, and so it wasn’t difficult for him to turn around and say, “A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ And he divided unto them his living. And after a little while, he buzzed off and went to the city.”[27] Where does Jesus get all this information from? He was a student of human nature. How is he able to say, “And one stood, and he prayed to himself, saying, ‘I thank thee that I’m not like other men’”?[28] Where did he come up with this picture of religiosity? He was a student of human nature. He’d observed it.

He was student of nature. He was a student of human nature. A student of Scripture. Did you ever think of that—that Jesus studied his Bible? That he studied Genesis and Deuteronomy and Isaiah and the Psalms and Jeremiah? Can we honestly say, without any notion of being incorrect, that Mary calls him down for his dinner—she says, “Now, come down for your dinner, and I want you to know, and I want you to tell me at the table if you’ve done your Bible memorization. Because I don’t want to go up to your bar mitzvah with you and find that you are just dribbling down your chin. I want to know that you know the stuff, because when you are bar mitzvahed, I want you to know the stuff, Jesus. I want to know that you know it, and I want you to come and tell me when you’ve done it.” And he grew in his knowledge of the Scriptures. The fact that you find that so difficult to understand is because of what I said at the beginning: we have a phantom Christ in mind.

Without a human Christ, there is no atonement. Without a divine Christ, there is no atonement.

And so, when he is tempted in the wilderness, how does he respond to the temptation? He quotes the Bible.[29] How is he able to quote the Bible? ’Cause he learned the Bible. When did he learn the Bible? When he was growing in wisdom and knowledge.

He was a student of carpentry. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”[30] they said with a sneer. And, of course, he was. It’s a wonderful thought that for the greater part of his existence, he was working with his hands: hammers, nails, chisels, the whole business—whatever they used in those days. I loved the apocryphal idea that his marketing slogan over the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth was “My Yokes Are Easy”—in other words, that he was known in the community as somebody who took such care in the construction of his material that no farmer would ever have the neck of their oxen chafing under one of these yokes that came from Jesus of Nazareth’s workshop. It’s apocryphal, but it’s wonderful to think that he then says to the people, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary, and take my yoke upon you. ’Cause my yokes are easy, and my burdens are light.”[31]

And he was a student of home life. He grew up with brothers and sisters, as you’ll find in Matthew 13 and Mark 6.[32] His father, Joseph, seems to have died early on, so Jesus, as the elder brother, would have been the man around the house. And I think his parables reflect that growing wisdom. He was able to talk about the lady who lost a coin over somewhere down in the corner, and they had to take all the furniture out and sweep the whole place and find it.[33] He’d been there. He was able to talk about the leaven in relationship to the cooking process and the baking process and the quantities of leaven and flour.[34] How do you do that when you’re a thirty-year-old man? Where do you come up with that stuff? He understood the plight of the homeowner who had an empty cupboard and a visitor down at the front door going, “Hey, I’d like to stay the evening.”[35] And all these factors play into the child growing, becoming strong, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God resting upon him.

So in other words, he underwent normal intellectual development. He learned by observing the world, by listening to his mother, and by searching the Scriptures. He wasn’t ignorant of anything he ought to have known, but he was, at the human level, not omniscient.

Some of you are going, “Whoop! Wait a minute!” He knew everything that it was necessary to know. The Father made everything known to him that the church needed to know. But he was not, at the human level, omniscient. If we knew nothing other than his statement in Mark chapter 13 concerning the return of Christ—he says, “Nobody knows the time when the Son will reappear, neither angels, nor even the Son himself,”[36] he said. “I don’t know that.”

Calvin says, “There would be no impropriety … in saying that Christ, who knew all things, … was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man.”[37] Now, that does not mean that the Lord was fallible. He was infallible. But infallibility does not depend upon omniscience.

I think I should stop, don’t you? A number of you have glazed over completely, and I feel very badly for you.

Does this matter? It matters incredibly. For without a real, human Christ, there is no atonement. Without a divine Christ, there is no atonement. The Great High Priest who ever lives to intercede for us[38] was the twelve-year-old boy in the temple saying, “Don’t you understand that I need to be about my Father’s business?” And therefore, we do not have a high priest who is somehow removed from and distanced from our infirmities, but we have one who is tempted in all points like as we are, and yet without sin[39]—so that this morning, when we come into a place like this and we say to ourselves, “You know, I don’t know that anybody really understands my psyche; I don’t know that anybody understands the longing of my soul; I don’t know if there is a person to whom I can go,” I want to tell you, there is one to whom you may go, and I want to offer him to you as your only Savior and friend. And he is real—truly man, truly God. Have you ever truly trusted him?

And tonight, when we come back, we’ll think about the fact that he had human affections and human emotions. And we’ll think about the fact that he was actually incarnated at all and put himself in the middle of it, where people swear and spit and do filthy things. And we’ll ask the question, “If Jesus went where people spit and swear and do filthy things, who was it came up with the bright idea to make the church some kind of anesthetized, clinical environment that is removed from the rigors of everyday life?” And that’ll be tonight. So I’ve got to go home and figure out what that means. Having posed the question, I better have something.

Let us pray together:

O God our Father, who has sent us in your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, very God and very man, our minds are filled with wonder, and our hearts are stirred that “bearing shame and scoffing rude, in [our] place condemned he stood.” This twelve-year-old boy, going down to Nazareth in obedience to the directives of Joseph and Mary, hangs upon the cross in obedience to the Father’s plan and “seal[s] [our] pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!”[40]

And to him, the one who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Luke 1:3 (NIV 1984).

[2] See Luke 1:3–4.

[3] Luke 2:49 (KJV).

[4] John 19:30 (NIV 1984).

[5] John 4:33 (paraphrased).

[6] John 4:34 (NIV 1984).

[7] Luke 2:16 (NIV 1984).

[8] John 1:29 (NIV 1984).

[9] John 6:34–36 (NIV 1984).

[10] Acts 17:30 (NIV 1984).

[11] Matthew 11:28–29 (paraphrased).

[12] Isaiah 45:22 (NIV 1984).

[13] Acts 16:30 (NIV 1984).

[14] Acts 16:31 (paraphrased).

[15] John Duncan, quoted in Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Fearn, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2010), 170.

[16] Augustine, Confessions 10.29.40. Paraphrased.

[17] See Mark 9:24.

[18] See John 19:34.

[19] John 1:14 (NIV 1984).

[20] See Ephesians 6:12.

[21] James S. Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), 26–31.

[22] Matthew 6:28–30 (paraphrased).

[23] John 4:35 (paraphrased).

[24] John 10:14–15 (paraphrased).

[25] Matthew 11:16; Luke 7:31–32 (paraphrased).

[26] See Luke 18:1–8.

[27] Luke 15:11–13 (paraphrased).

[28] Luke 18:11 (paraphrased).

[29] See Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13.

[30] Matthew 13:55 (KJV).

[31] Matthew 11:28–30 (paraphrased).

[32] See Matthew 13:55–56; Mark 6:3.

[33] See Luke 15:8–10.

[34] See Matthew 13:33; 16:6; Mark 8:15.

[35] See Luke 11:5–10.

[36] Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32 (paraphrased).

[37] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), 3:154.

[38] See Hebrews 4:14; 7:25.

[39] See Hebrews 4:15.

[40] Philip P. Bliss, “‘Hallelujah! What a Savior!” (1875).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.