Jesus began his public ministry away from his hometown of Nazareth, but it was not long before he returned and began to teach in the local synagogue. The people’s response might have been disheartening to someone just getting started in a new vocation. “Is not this the carpenter?” they asked (Luke 6:3). Jesus was now 30 years into his life and just setting out into a very public ministry, but his friends and neighbors knew him only as “the carpenter.” They knew him as Mary’s son, as the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon. They thought so little of him, or thought of him so little, that they were offended when he took it upon himself to teach them. They were shocked when they realized he taught with authority.
The people of Nazareth knew Jesus as a carpenter because he had taken up his father’s profession and labored in quiet obscurity. He had probably begun to work with Joseph when he was just a young boy, perhaps sweeping up the wood shavings in the shop or tagging along to a job site for a half-day here and there. As he grew, he was given more responsibility, he began to grow in skill, he began to earn better wages, to be a more consistent provider. Historians believe that Joseph died at a relatively young age, possibly forcing Jesus to take over the family business. He would have been seen walking through town hauling lumber and carrying the tools of the trade. By the time he began his public ministry, people in that area were probably sitting at tables he had made or living in houses he had framed. He was, after all, the town carpenter.
It is no surprise, then, that when Jesus suddenly began to stand up in the synagogues and to teach, people said, “Isn’t this just the carpenter guy?” It is even less of a surprise that when Jesus began to indicate he was something more than merely a man, that he might even be the prophesied Son of Man, that his embarrassed family tried to drag him away and set him straight (Mark 3:21). “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21). If your local handyman started to say, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath,” and refused to contradict those who called him “the Holy One of God,” you might find yourself heading over to Yelp to write an interesting review. “One star. I hired him to fix my sink, and you won’t believe what he said…”
There is so much about the early life of Jesus that leaves me marveling at how God chose to work in this world. I’m amazed by it.
I’m amazed that at the age of 30 his sole accomplishment was carpentry. When he began his public ministry, it seems he had a one-line résumé. And this wasn’t even a posh and respectable white-collar job, but a tough, sweaty, messy trade. The greatest man who ever lived—God on earth—was a laborer. Remarkable!
I’m amazed that Jesus willingly submitted to a father and mother, that he had to learn from them how to live in this world, and that he had to increase in wisdom. We are told “he went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. … and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:50, 52). The God who was active in the creation of this world and who sustains it by the word of his power submitted to two of the little people he had made. He even learned from them. Extraordinary!
I’m amazed that in God’s plan, he would allow so much of Jesus’s life to pass in obscurity. He had merely 33 years on this earth, but spent 90 percent of it out of the public eye. More than 90 percent of his life went unrecorded, though surely it was nothing short of remarkable. We see a few days of his childhood; he reappears for less than a week when he is 12; then suddenly he’s past 30 and all about the work God has called him to. Incredible!
I’m amazed that he could grow up sinlessly, yet still shock his family and community when he made a claim of divinity. Have you ever seen a sinless toddler sinlessly learn the importance of boundaries? A sinless brother sinlessly interact with his siblings? A sinless teenager sinlessly grow into independence? Neither have I! His family and friends did. Yet somehow it never “clicked,” it never tipped them off as to his identity. Unbelievable!
It all goes to show, I suppose, that our ways are not God’s ways. God’s ways are not our ways. God himself says as much: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). We rightly marvel at Jesus’s powerful public ministry, his horrible-beautiful death, and his glorious resurrection. But let’s not rob ourselves of the joy, the wonder, of marveling as well at the days before.