The week that so joyfully defines the reason for Christian hope has been eerily replaced with empty baskets, vacant pews, and untasted communion. Even so, we continue celebrating the events that happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago as the only hope sinful men have to be reconciled to a holy God.
But we do so more quietly this year. Not in large gatherings, sunrise services, and loud choruses of corporate worship. Christians around the world this year will celebrate in our homes, meagerly offering unpretentious and humble praise. Perhaps while we contemplate and celebrate the victory of the resurrection, we should do so with 20-year-old Jesus in mind.
What was Jesus like as a 20-year-old?
We have thorough accounts of Jesus’s distinctive entrance and dramatic exit from the world, but Scripture does not provide us with many details about his early adulthood. We know a smattering of facts about Jesus as a boy, most notably that at age 12 his parents accidentally left him in Jerusalem after a Passover trip, only to find him in the synagogue three days later, tending to his Father’s business. But the Gospels don’t record much else for the next 18 years until his famous encounter with John the Baptist. So what was he doing as a young adult?
Obedience of the Incarnate Word
Scripture speaks loudly about this crucial age of Jesus’s development in a small detail found in the Gospels. Jesus had already healed the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, silenced a storm, and raised a girl from the dead when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath he began teaching in the local synagogue, likely the one where he studied as a boy. Those present were surprised at the power and wisdom with which he exposited the Scriptures. They asked, “Is this not the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3). The incarnate Son of God’s reputation in his own hometown was not as an insightful spiritual leader or eloquent teacher. He was known around town simply and most notably for his skilled labor. The One who created all things by the power of words was known primarily for making things with his hands.
For years, Jesus took up Joseph’s occupation as a carpenter, learning the trade from his earthly father as he was made ready for the work of his heavenly Father. Scripture’s silence on these 18 years speaks loudly—Jesus worked six-times longer doing manual labor than doing public ministry! Yet these hidden, tedious years at a workman’s bench were not in vain. For while he was crafting pieces of wood into useful items for others, he was being made ready to hang on a beam of wood himself.
One relevant hint is found in Hebrews 5:8: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Although mysterious, this passage must be speaking to the humanity of Christ, for the emphasis is on learning. The divine, all-knowing Son did not have to learn anything. But as the man Jesus learned to obey and trust his Father, and as he was tempted without succumbing to sin, he became the perfect (also translated “complete”) sinless man. And as the sinless man, he became our only suitable substitute, the source of eternal salvation. The passage suggests the incarnate Word of God learned obedience throughout the entirety of his earthly life, not simply in a singular act of suffering.
Learning Through Suffering
With each instance of suffering in his life, with each temptation, he learned to obey the Father. Each small moment of trusting his Father in adversity prepared him for the next and bigger one until, ultimately, he was able to obey the Father’s will unto death.
Bruce Ware helps us understand this profound reality:
As the Son learned to obey the Father in earlier times of “lighter” divine demands upon him and consequent “lighter” suffering—lighter, that is, in comparison both to the divine demands and the suffering he would encounter in the end, as he obeyed the Father in going to the cross—these earlier experiences of faith in the Father’s provision, protection, and direction prepared him for the greater acts of obedience he would need to render as he got nearer to the time of the cross.
What “lighter” suffering did Jesus experience in his life that equipped him for the cross? Ware refers to “the training program necessary to prepare Jesus for the later and much harder obediences that were to come.” We can only speculate what afflictions he experienced in those 18 years.
It seems reasonable to assume his daily suffering was not less than ours. Life wasn’t easy in first-century Palestine, and Jesus had an unimaginably difficult task to accomplish in the end. Years of manual labor also surely helped prepare his body for the physical challenges of his public ministry. For the three years detailed in the Gospels, he spent most of his time in active ministry—preaching, teaching, healing, and so on. He was with people and traveling for the majority of those years. Calculating only his recorded journeys, he walked more than 2,500 miles (4,000 km.) on foot during that time. He needed a strong physical constitution, and 18 years of manual labor prepared him for it.
Training in Small Things for Bigger Things
Never undervalue the training in which God may currently have you, whether you’re staying home or on the front lines of fighting a global pandemic. Does the position God has called you to feel small and insignificant? Does this lockdown season feel like an inconvenient pause to your plans?
In your temptation to think life is on hold or going nowhere, remember: your faithfulness in the “small” things God has called you to may be preparing you for faithfulness in “bigger” things. God may be strengthening your muscles of obedience and faithfulness now in preparation for something that will require greater stamina and fitness.
Just as God didn’t waste any of the Savior’s suffering, he’s not wasting your days this Easter week either. In his hands, even the smallest and seemingly most “foolish” obediences can be used for ends more glorious than you can possibly imagine.
This article originally appear at The Gospel Coalition on April 10, 2020.
Jenny Manley lives on the Arabian Peninsula, where she serves in an international evangelical church with her pastor husband, Josh, and their five children. Previously, she served as chief of staff in the U.S. Senate. Helping women from all over the world study Scripture in a Christ-exalting way is one of her greatest joys. She is the author of the new book The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Christ for Every Woman (Christian Focus, 2020).