Nobody left a deeper or more indelible mark on history than Jesus of Nazareth. In his birth, life, death, and resurrection, he impacted lives, transformed nations, and changed the world. It is for good reason that we measure history with B.C. and A.D., with what came before the birth of Jesus and what came after. He forever stands at the very center of human existence.
Without a doubt, Jesus lived a life of great significance. But I wonder if you have ever considered this: Jesus had no accomplishments before his 30s. We know this from the gospel accounts. After he died, four men wrote detailed biographies of his life: Matthew and John, who were his friends, and Mark and Luke, who were friends of his friends. These men spoke to his family and his followers, they interviewed people who knew him, they collected all the facts. And from all of their research, they mention just one detail about his teens and 20s: He was a carpenter, a normal man working a normal job.
Some early religious enthusiasts found this too hard to believe, so they embellished his story with tales of childhood miracles. The Gospel of Thomas, written more than 100 years after his death, fabricates stories of a young Jesus raising the dead and forming birds from clay to bring them to life. But we know this to be nonsense, an attempt to make sense of his normalcy, to excuse his early lack of accomplishments. In reality, one of the most remarkable facts about Jesus is how unremarkable he seemed in his teens and 20s.
Only Matthew and Luke record the facts surrounding Jesus’ unusual birth, while Mark and John skip his childhood altogether and begin their narratives when he is already past 30. Only Luke records a glimpse of Jesus in his childhood, but then the record goes silent until he says, “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age…” (Luke 3:23). Of all we know about the life and the deeds of Jesus the Messiah, almost everything takes place in a three-year window sometime after his 30th birthday.
This is not to say those silent years were wasted or that they served no purpose. To the contrary, these many years of anonymity were foundational to the few years of notoriety. The Jesus of the three years of public ministry was formed during the 30 years of private obscurity. The 10 percent of his life that was carefully recorded cannot be separated from the 90 percent of his life that was not.
We can see something of these silent years in Luke’s account. He gives us one glimpse of Jesus when he was 12, explaining that he willingly submitted to the care and oversight of his parents. Then he provides a brief summary of what Jesus was up to between 12 and 30: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). In all these silent years, Jesus was advancing—advancing in obedience, wisdom, stature, and in favor with both God and man. In this way, we see that Jesus was actually full of accomplishments in his childhood, teens, and 20s. His accomplishments were accomplishments of character. His silent years laid the foundation of godly character that would enable and sustain him as he changed the world.
Over the course of a number of articles I’m titling “Advance!” I want to consider what Jesus accomplished in these years of silence, and I want to show how they were crucial to who he would become and what he would accomplish. From the life of Jesus, I want to encourage young Christians to make the most of their teens and 20s by advancing first in accomplishments of character. Many young Christians have a noble desire to change the world and to do great things, but in most cases God intends to first change them and to do great things in their hearts and minds.
What follows in this series will not be a call to lazy apathy but to deliberate priority. If you are a younger Christian, I’m going to call to you to be patient, to establish right priorities, and to make your younger years a time of preparation. I’m going to plead with you to use these years not first to focus on outward accomplishments to shape the world, but inward achievements to shape your life. I want to ensure that as you advance in life, you advance first in character. In short, I want to call you to be like Jesus.