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Monday, May 13, 2013

Did God Abandon Jesus?

As with Cousin John [the Baptist], the coming of Jesus was a long-awaited event; however, it was not his parents who were elderly and pleading with God to give them a baby. In fact, they were a young engaged couple; sexual relations prior to the marriage ceremony were strictly forbidden. As with Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph devoutly worshipped God. They were common folk. Joseph worked with his hands like many local craftsmen, a carpenter; rather than filling a priestly role at the Temple like Zechariah.

So, by whom was Jesus long-awaited then? The answer is the entire Jewish nation. The people constantly watched for the Messiah, but as we will see later on they did what many of us do when spiritual things are involved, we have one idea of just how God will do things and God has another.

Six months after Gabriel paid a visit to Zechariah, serving as a priest in the Holy of Holies, God sent Gabriel to bring His message to Mary. The news totally disrupted her life and through a major wrench in the plans she and Joseph had made. In his message, Gabriel gave indication of the reason for the extraordinary way Jesus would be conceived. Here’s what the angel said to Mary:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Wow, that sounded intense to a girl engaged to a carpenter. I mean, she was not a princess and, though Joseph’s family line included King David, Joseph wasn’t a prince; so, how is it that she, Mary, would be birthing anyone of that high-level leadership in their nation? But, no, that’s not what she asked Gabriel. Her question didn’t relate to class or family business. The young woman didn’t ask the angel which of the children she and Joseph would raise should they prepare for the supernaturally appointed position of the Head of State for Israel. Mary already knew that if the angel was meeting with her now, the fulfillment of what Gabriel was speaking had an earlier date. Her immediate concern was for her marriage to Joseph, since she knew the two would never have sex before the wedding. Just Who was it that would provide the male Y-chromosome, if not Joseph? (The implied, unasked, question was something like: And, what about Joseph and me, Gabriel? Don’t you know what this will mean for us?) That was Mary’s immediate concern and question.

Well, Gabriel cleared all that up for Mary, but Joseph wasn’t there when Mary had this angelic visit that would totally change their lives, forever. Sounded like quite a story to everyone else, but Joseph loved Mary and wanted to send her away quietly, not have her stoned for having sex with another man when she was engaged to him. Gabriel made another trip in the region and this is what he told young Joseph:

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

And, that’s exactly what the couple did, including the name they’d been instructed to give their baby boy, Jesus. (If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can click on the links below and read more details.)

By the time the Magi, or wise men, got to Jesus, the little family had taken residence in a house. Jesus was a few months old at that time, perhaps around seven months old. King Herod tried to trick the three men into divulging the whereabouts of Jesus, but they left for home via Route B. Fear had gripped King Herod so he planned to order the death of all children under the age of two years, just to be sure the Magi hadn’t fooled him on the date they saw that Star they followed to Jesus. Before his plan was instituted, however, the angel came to Joseph and told him to go right away to Egypt with his family. Don’t stop and collect things he’d loaned out, or say his good-byes; just get up, wake the wife and boy, and head for Egypt. They did and, again, Herod’s plot to kill the baby Jesus was foiled.

Well, eventually Herod died. The angel returned to Joseph and let him know it was okay to return to Israel. They packed up, again, and moved back; although, this time they went directly to Nazareth, fearing the son of King Herod who was now in power. The others might be dead and gone now, but the son was still there. May as well just go back home to the Galilee. (You can read the whole account for yourself in Matthew Chapter Two.)

We don’t have a lot of info on the childhood of Jesus. This is what we have on that period in his life, found in the Gospel of Luke.

“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” (Luke 2:39-40)

The next time we read of an event from his childhood, Jesus is an early adolescent, not yet a man. At thirteen years of age, boys and girls have a special ceremony, called a Bar-Mitzvah for the boys and a Bat-Mitzvah for the girls. It’s their coming of age ceremony, full of Scripture recitation and prayers, as well as plenty of feasting and fun for everyone invited. Jesus was a year shy of that, so still considered a child. Here’s the story of one of his adventures, as we continue to read in the second chapter of Luke.

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:41-50)

Now, what would you expect an almost-teenager to do at this point? Remind his parents that he had a job to do and it wasn’t to build cabinets. They should just go on home now and leave him to do his Father’s real business there in the Temple, questioning the Pharisees. He might even take an apartment there, since it was obvious that he was acquiring a lot of people interested in listening to him already.

Nope, not Jesus! This is exactly what he did:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52)

There is a verse in the New Testament that is usually interpreted to mean the suffering of Jesus during Passion Week.

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

I submit to you that he didn’t just learn to obey his earthly or Heavenly father in that one week of torment. A kid that always obeys his father and chooses not to do the things that would displease Joseph or Father God, well, he had to stick out from the crowd a bit, don’t you think? The people needed a savior from their sins, so one can assume that there was a lot of pressure on the young teen to succumb to those peer pressures common to all kids his age, in all generations and from every culture.

Why would I think that? Because the Bible tells us that in I. Corinthians 10. It says that there is no temptation but such as is common to man. Jesus walked on this earth as a man, from the same point of earthly origin as all of us—a baby who had to grow into a man—with all of the choices a growing child and teen has before them. Still, Jesus chose to do the right thing, always.

I bet Jesus suffered at the hands of bullies every bit as much as a kid in his position would today. How else would Jesus be able to identify with today’s kids?

I think that Jesus suffered the whole while he was growing up, but that he learned the benefits of obedience as he was working through the hard parts.

In that same portion of Scripture we see why it is that God always listened to the prayers of Jesus; it wasn’t just because Jesus was His Son. He was fervent in his praying, yes, but he was also reverentially submissive.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7 and 8)

Some might say, “Well, if Jesus’ prayers were heard, then why did he die? Doesn’t sound like God heard his prayers to spare his life to me. In fact, it looks like God abandoned Jesus just when He needed his Heavenly Father most.”

Yes, it does look like that, doesn’t it? The next post will deal with that exact point. Where was God when Jesus really needed Him? Jesus had never disobeyed God; Jesus prayed earnestly and submitted to the Father always. Even if Jesus would have preferred to heal everyone, all the time, He didn’t do anything that Father God hadn’t told him to do. So, is this the thanks I can expect from God, if I follow that example of Jesus during my own sojourn on earth?

It is the very question with which my friend’s ill father has been grappling. The reason I interrupted my recounting of my mid-twenties sojourn to consider. I wanted to have answers, too!

Earlier posts, for those unfamiliar with the Birth of Jesus:

****Did God abandon Jesus? (Conclusion)…Next Post

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