When last we left Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, they were in Egypt. They are there because Joseph, following the visit from the wise men, has been warned in a dream by an angel to leave Bethlehem and take his wife and child into Egypt. The fleeing southward has been necessary to prevent Herod the Great from having the baby Jesus killed. Finally, after an unspecified number of years have passed, an angel again appears to Joseph in a dream and instructs him to arise and take Mary and Jesus back into Israel because Herod is now dead. These events are all recorded in Matthew 2:13-20.
In that day, the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem are part of what is known as the region of Judea. Geography dictates that Judea is the first region of Israel the family reaches after traveling north from Egypt. However, God doesn’t want Joseph to resettle the family anywhere in Judea. Why not? It’s because Judea is now being ruled by Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons. When Joseph hears that Archelaus is ruling in his father’s place, fear strikes him about even taking Mary and Jesus through that region (Matthew 2:22). God obviously agrees with the assessment because He once again sends an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to keep traveling north until he and the family reaches Galilee, Israel’s northern region. Most people have to pray when they need guidance from the Lord, but Joseph just went to sleep!
Joseph ends up settling the family in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). This is where the gospel of Luke also chimes back into the storyline (Luke 2:39). Nazareth is familiar turf for Joseph and Mary because it is their hometown (Luke 1:26-27; 2:4-5; 2:39), the place they had left to make the trip to Bethlehem that had started all the travels associated with the birth and early years of Jesus.
Luke 2:40 informs us that the next few years of Jesus’ childhood are marked by Him growing strong in spirit, becoming filled with wisdom, and having God’s grace upon Him. The Bible doesn’t provide us with any other specifics from these years, but we do know that Jesus didn’t “show off” any during them. We know this because, years later, the citizens of Nazareth didn’t think that the adult Jesus could possibly be the Messiah because they hadn’t seen anything special in Him during His childhood years (Luke 4:16-30; Matthew 13:53-58). Therefore, it seems clear that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles or give any profound teachings while He was growing up in Nazareth.
Following these silent years in Nazareth, the Bible’s next snapshot from Jesus’ childhood is found in Luke 2:41-50. That story places Him, Joseph, and Mary in Jerusalem, having traveled here from Nazareth to observe the annual Jewish Feast of Passover. Jesus is now twelve years old.
At the end of the feast, Joseph and Mary join their traveling caravan of friends and family for the trip back to Nazareth. But after a day’s journey they realize that Jesus isn’t with the caravan. (Perhaps the men and women traveled in separate parts of the caravan and each parent thought that Jesus was with the other. Or perhaps the young boys traveled together in a certain part and Joseph and Mary assumed that Jesus was with the other boys.) Joseph and Mary then split off from the caravan and return to Jerusalem to find their missing twelve-year-old.
At the end of three days (probably one day’s journey out of Jerusalem, a second day’s journey to get back to Jerusalem, and a day searching in the city), they find Him. He is in the Jewish temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers of the Jewish law, listening to them and asking questions. He’s even providing answers to their questions! The teachers are astounded at His understanding, but Mary is mad at His behavior. She asks Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously?” Jesus, however, doesn’t apologize for His behavior. Instead, He responds with a question to Mary. He asks her, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This is the Bible’s first evidence of Jesus knowing fully who He was and why He had come to the earth. While Mary spoke of His earthly father Joseph, Jesus spoke of His heavenly Father.
Okay, so it’s at this point that the story of Jesus’ childhood should kick into high gear, right? Now that Jesus has reached an age where He understands not only His divinity but also His need to carry out God the Father’s plan, the Bible will provide us with all kinds of exciting accounts of His teenage years, right? Nope. It’s here that the storyline again fades to black until Jesus is approximately thirty years old and comes to John the Baptist at the Jordan river to be baptized. This baptism is the official beginning of His three-and-a-half-year ministry (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21-23).
The only passage that we get to sum up the years between Jesus at twelve years of age and thirty years of age is Luke 2:51-52. In reference to what happens immediately following Joseph and Mary finding Jesus with those teachers at the temple in Jerusalem, Luke writes:
Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (N.K.J.V.)
Five things are mentioned here about those years of Jesus’ childhood. First, He is subject to His parents. What else would the same God who had commanded, “Honor your father and your mother” be but subject to His parents? Second, He increases in wisdom. The teaching session in the temple with the Jewish teachers had given a glimpse of Jesus’ burgeoning wisdom, but the years that follow see Him become even more wise. Third, He increases in stature. If nothing else, this means that He grows physically in height. Fourth, He grows in favor with God. This means that He lives a life that is pleasing to God the Father. Fifth, He grows in favor with men. This means that His reputation as a fine young man, a worthy addition to the city of Nazareth and the Jewish race, increases among those who know Him.
Of course, the greatest evidence that there is nothing amiss about Jesus during His childhood years is the statement that God the Father utters about Him immediately following Jesus’ baptism. As Jesus is standing there dripping wet from the waters of the Jordan river, He begins to pray, and as He is praying the heavens suddenly open up, the Holy Spirit descends and comes to rest upon Him (this was Jesus’ empowerment to perform miracles), and God the father says from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Do you know what you call that? You call it God the Father’s stamp of approval upon the entirety of Jesus’ childhood. It’s the Father’s way of saying, “Everything that has happened until now has been just as I wanted it to be.”
In closing, let me say that Jesus remaining sinless throughout His childhood is a colossally big deal because it, along with the rest of His sinless life (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), qualifies Him to serve as the substitionary sacrifice for the sins of the human race (2 Corinthians 5:21). One temper tantrum as a child would have disqualified Him from going to the cross. One act of disobedience to Joseph or Mary would have ruled Him ineligible for the job. One selfish deed done against either His parents or His fellow youths would have ruined His spiritual resume. One look of lust as a teenage boy toward a teenage girl would have messed up God the Father’s entire plan of redemption. So, can you see how much was riding upon Jesus remaining sinless during His childhood years? But thankfully for us He did so. Neither you or I could have done it, but He did, and this is just one more reason why we should all to come to know Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord.