Why was Jesus born into the world as a baby instead of arriving as a fully-grown man? Did he really have to endure infancy with its helplessness, childhood with its ignorance, those teenage years with their awkwardness? Why didn’t he just arrive at 30, bang out his mission in three short years, and then make a quick escape from this sin-stained world?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews answers our questions: “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” (Hebrews 5:8-9). To complete his mission, the Son of God had to live a complete life as a man. He had to be a baby, he had to be a toddler, he had to be a child, a tween, a teen, a young adult, and a grown man. He had to face and endure the temptations that come with every one of life’s stages. He had to be tempted as a toddler to defy his parents, as a teen to retaliate against sinful brothers and sisters, as an adult to be quick-tempered and sharp-tongued. He was tempted in every way we are, yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
But he did not only need to avoid temptation; he also needed to express perfect obedience. He had to perfectly avoid the sins of each of the 10 commandments and also model complete adherence to them. He had to avoid worship of all other gods, and he also had to worship the true and living God. He had to avoid taking God’s name in vain, and he also had to always speak well of the Father. He had to refrain from murdering anyone, and he also had to express love to every person all of the time. God’s commandments are not just sins to avoid but also righteousness to obey. In all of history, only Christ has perfectly avoided all sin and perfectly achieved all righteousness, and this is why he can be our Savior.
As we consider these 10 commandments, there is one that stands out as especially unusual for this God-man to obey: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). For Jesus to live a perfect life and to perfectly obey God’s law, he would have to honor parents. He who had existed from eternity would have to obey mortal beings. He who had created all things would have to honor those he had brought into existence. He, the perfect Son of God, would have to submit to an imperfect mother and father. To be a suitable Savior, he would need to willingly subject himself to Mary and Joseph.
As we continue our look at the silent years between Jesus’ childhood and public ministry, we first encounter his submission. Luke comments on these 18 years when he says, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51). Jesus used his teens and 20s to advance in submission. As we will see, this obedient submission was essential to the other advances Luke highlights—advances in wisdom, stature, and favor. From Jesus we learn that young Christians who wish to advance in those other noble qualities must first advance in submission.
He Was Submissive To Them
Children are naturally rebellious. Even as tiny infants they begin to express discontentment with their parents, and already as toddlers they begin to defy every form of authority. Mary and Joseph eventually had a large family, and they would have done their utmost to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. They would have told their children to honor their mother and father, they would have disciplined them for their defiance, they would have pleaded with them for obedience. All of them but one, that is. Each of Mary’s other children were daughters or sons of Joseph, but Jesus was the Son of God. Because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he had no sin and no sinful desire to defy his parents.
Jesus spent his childhood, his teens, and his 20s in submission to his parents. Never once did he sinfully defy them. Never once did he rebel against their authority. Never once did he talk back in spite. To the contrary, he only ever joyfully and voluntarily submitted to them. He willingly put himself under their leadership, under their direction, and under their authority.
His submission was the kind of submission God calls for in the fifth commandment. This is a submission that takes the form of obedience and honor. Jesus submitted by obeying his parents and honoring his parents.
The Bible has much to say about the relationship of children to their parents, but we can distill it to something like this: All children are to honor their parents; young children are to obey their parents. Childhood obedience is the training ground for mature honor. This why the commandment given to Moses is more broad: “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12). But when Paul addresses young children, he says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). All children owe their parents lifelong honor, while young children also owe their parents joyful obedience.
Young children are to obey their parents because children need to be trained. Children enter the world rebellious and in need of moral guidance, unknowledgeable and in need of intellectual guidance, graceless and in need of social guidance. Parents are right to expect and demand obedience of their young children as they teach and train them in virtue.
Because Jesus was fully human, he was dependent upon his parents like any other child. His parents had wisdom and knowledge from the world that he did not have, so it was their responsibility to train him, and it was his responsibility to obey them. So we can imagine that Jesus listened carefully and obeyed them as they told him to sit still at the table, to make eye contact with grown ups, to behave respectfully in the temple. He would have obeyed them when they told him to run an errand, to scrub the dishes, to sweep the wood shop. He obeyed them by always “doing it now, doing it right, and doing it with a happy heart.” For as long as Jesus was under the authority of his parents, he obeyed his parents.
You, too, must obey your parents as long as you remain under their authority. If Jesus could admit his lack of wisdom and knowledge and learn from his mother and father, so can you. If the perfect Son of God needed the guidance of imperfect parents, so do you. If he joyfully obeyed them, you can joyfully obey your parents. The only time you can rightly disobey them is when they require something of you that God forbids. Otherwise, you need to advance in character by advancing in obedience. You need to acknowledge that submission to God is displayed first in submission to your parents.
Jesus obeyed his parents, and he also honored them. As he aged and gained greater independence, his childhood obedience gave way to mature honor. His obedience to his parents developed his character to the point where he no longer needed as much direct guidance. It was no longer necessary or even fitting for him to obey. This was a good and natural progression. But until his dying day, it would remain necessary and fitting for him to show honor.
The word we translate as “honor” refers to weight or significance and indicates that we are to assign great worth to our parents and great importance to our relationship with them. We are to speak well of them, to express gratitude to them, and to treat them with kindness and dignity. Honor is an inward attitude that is displayed in outward actions. As our parents age, we are to honor them by caring for them and even providing for them. We see Jesus doing this very thing as he was nailed to the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27). In his last hours, Jesus expressed honor to his mother by ensuring she would be cared for into her old age.
Once again, if Jesus had to show honor to his parents, so do you. And if Jesus could show honor to his parents, so can you. Your parents are imperfect and at times unjust. Your parents may have unrealistic expectations or make unfair demands. Yet you owe them a lifelong debt of honor and, like Jesus, need to advance in character by advancing in honor.
The Submissive Savior
For nearly 18 years, Jesus was lost to history. Yet in these 18 years, he made the advances that would shape his character and prepare him for his mission. Years that may look wasted were actually put to the most important use. Jesus committed these years to submitting to his parents, to advancing in obedience and honor.
This submission was crucial to the other advances he made. Had Jesus spent these years in rebellion against his parents, he could not have advanced in wisdom, in stature, or in favor with God and man. It was within the context of a family—this family—that God would shape him. It was by submitting to parents—these parents—that God would fit him to ministry. The God who had planned the events of his later life had equally planned the context for his childhood, his teens, and his 20s. By submitting to his parents, he was preparing to submit to the will of God to such an extent that he even “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Young Christian, you are also commanded to heed the fifth commandment. How can you expect to obey God through great accomplishments later in life if you will not obey God in this simple command now? While you remain under the authority of your parents, you owe them obedience. When you have grown beyond their authority, you owe them honor. As you honor and obey your parents, you are honoring and obeying God. It is in this context of joyful submission to God’s will that you can expect to advance in the other qualities that marked the life of young Jesus—wisdom, stature, and favor before God and man. As Jesus advanced in submission to his earthly parents and heavenly Father, he was preparing himself for the life God had for him. By advancing in submission to your earthly parents and your heavenly Father, you, too, are preparing yourself for all God wants to complete in you and through you.
For a whole lot more on the fifth commandment, check out my series The Commandment We Forgot.