By Randy Limbird
Christmas is a when many of us re-read the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, with their detailed accounts of Jesus’ birth. But there are very few details about the 30 years between Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his public ministry. We have the story in Luke 2 about Jesus’ tarrying in the temple courts with the religious teachers while his family was visiting Jerusalem, but that’s it.
Jewish tradition fills in some of the missing details. A Jewish child starting learning Scripture at age 5 or 6, which meant memorization. Not just memorizing a few verses here or there, but massive memorization of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Boys could keep advancing in their studies if successful, and as teenagers would be learning (memorizing) the rest of what we now call the Old Testament and begin studies under a recognized teacher to master interpretations of Scripture. At the same time they also would be learning and practicing their father’s trade. Age 30 was the recognized milestone for a top student to become a teacher in his own right.
So at age 30, Jesus was not an unknown tradesman suddenly bursting onto the scene as a revolutionary religious leader. He would have been known as a top young Bible scholar and expected by that age to begin drawing disciples to himself.
What was surprising about Jesus’ emergence as a teacher, however, was that instead of merely carrying on the traditions of those he had studied under, Jesus interpreted Scripture in a way people had not heard before. Furthermore, his teaching was accompanied by signs and wonders that made this new teacher a sudden superstar.
As hard as it is for us to comprehend in this secular, modern age, teachers in early 1st century Palestine were the equivalent of today’s rock stars. The leading teachers would travel from town to town drawing crowd and disciples everywhere they went. Although they could not charge for their teaching under Jewish tradition, their food, lodging and other needs were covered by their admirers and followers.
The apostles, by the way, probably looked very different from the Sunday School illustrations some of us carry in our heads. Most of them were probably in their late teens when they began following Jesus (Peter was married, but still might have been only 19 or 20). They, too, had been raised learning the Scriptures but somewhere along the line they missed the cut for advanced studies and dedicated themselves fully to their fishing and other jobs. To be called to be a disciple by a teacher like Jesus would have been considered an honor and privilege.
They probably had no idea that this charismatic teacher quickly would become Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the religious establishment. What’s amazing is not so much that they followed Jesus in the first place, but that they stuck with him. Some did not; in John 6:66, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
But for Peter and the remaining disciples who stayed with Jesus, following him was no longer about his popularity, but his authenticity. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Randy Limbird is editor of
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