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Lessons Learned from Jesus’ Missing 18 Years

The Gospels record three time periods in Jesus’ life: his birth narrative until age two; his confounding the religious leaders in Jerusalem at age 12; and his public ministry from age thirty until his death.

Obviously between the ages of two and twelve Jesus is a boy, so not surprisingly nothing is recorded. But since his discussion with the religious leaders when he was twelve, you would think there would be much information from that point on. But there is nothing until his public ministry begins with his cousin John baptizing Him. So we have eighteen years of silence. Yet I believe the silence can actually teach us something, especially when we see what goes on with Jesus and the religious leaders when he was twelve.

This story is found in Luke 2:41-52. His parents had gone from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. When the festival is over, his parents leave but Jesus stays behind, unbeknown to them. They don’t miss him at first assuming he was with friends among the travelers. Obviously this was a big group that had caravanned to Jerusalem. That evening when they couldn’t find Jesus, his parents returned to Jerusalem to look for him. It took them three days, but eventually they found him in the Temple discussing deep theological issues with the religious leaders.

Jesus’ parents confront him saying that they were worried about his whereabouts. Jesus’ reply in verse 49 is telling: “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.”

From this one instance of seeming disobedience by not letting his parents know where he was, verse 51 says that “he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Essentially he never did this going on his own again. Then we have a summary verse (52) that declares “So Jesus grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew Him.” And then nothing for eighteen years!

So here are a couple of lessons learned from this story of the subsequent years of public obscurity. First, God never is in a hurry to do something. If Jesus was in America and he was a theological superstar at age twelve, we would immediately get him on Christian television and proclaim him as some amazing miracle of God. We would rush him into public view and begin to promote him. Yet here he is returning with his parents and submitting for many years.

This lesson we see violated all the time. Some famous non-believer gets saved and right away we want to have him/her speak to our churches in the pulpit or go on Christian television for an extensive interview. As I read Scripture it is important to not let new believers be in a position of leadership or major influence too quickly. But we American Christians love our rushing things as fast as we can. We forget that God takes time to develop and mature us, but we fall prey to our culture and want to hurry up the process.

A second lesson: God is always doing things even when there is seeming inactivity. In fact he does some of his deepest molding in people while in obscurity.

There are numerous examples of this from Scripture. My favorite Old Testament story is about Joseph, in the book of Genesis. Joseph has dreams when he is seventeen that he will eventually rule over his family. His half brothers, out of jealousy, sell Joseph into slavery. An Egyptian by the name of Potipher buys Joseph and while in Potipher’s home, his wife wants to have sexual relations with Joseph. He refuses but eventually upon spurning her advances she falsely accuses him of attacking her. Joseph is then thrown into prison.

While languishing there after many years, two of Pharaoh’s officials also get put into the same prison. They have dreams where Joseph interprets a favorable outcome for the cupbearer. Joseph pleads with him that when Pharaoh restores him to remember his plight since he is innocent. Pharaoh then restores the cupbearer and he forgets all about Joseph. The Scriptures record that two full years pass. For Joseph, silence!

But two years later Pharaoh has dreams that no one can interpret and suddenly the cupbearer remembers Joseph. Pharaoh calls for him, Joseph interprets the dreams and Pharaoh makes him second in charge in all of Egypt. Eventually Joseph dreams come true when years later the brothers come down to Egypt looking to buy food because of a severe famine. The point in all this is God was working behind the scenes the whole time even though Joseph couldn’t see any of it.

When Jesus comes on the public stage at age thirty, he accomplishes so much in the subsequent three plus years that John writes that all the books couldn’t contain everything Jesus did (21:25). This is the result of faithfully staying the course of day to day obedience, especially when nothing seems to be happening.

So don’t let obscurity or the seeming inactivity on God’s part bother you. Keep doing what you should be doing faithfully. Let God raise you up at His appointed time and what comes forth will be greater than anything you could have planned on your own.

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