Stories From The New Testament: Chapter 3 - Christ's Early Years
Shirley King Johnson
Seized with fear that a new rival might take his throne, King Herod anxiously awaited word from the foreign travelers. Days passed and there was no news. Eventually he learned that the dignitaries had given gifts to a baby King and had left Bethlehem without reporting back to him as he had asked. Acting in ruthless rage, King Herod ordered all children in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger to be slain (Matt. 2:16).
Flight to Egypt
But an angel of God spoke to Joseph in a dream. "Jesus' life is in danger!" warned the angel. "Take Him to Egypt and stay there until I let you know it's safe to return" (verse 13). Joseph awakened from the dream with his heart thudding in his chest. It was still night, but he knew every moment counted. He woke Mary and they hurriedly packed provisions on their two donkeys, and before sunrise they were on their way out of Bethlehem. The sojourn in Egypt must have seemed long to the little family. But at last the angel reappeared to Joseph with the news that the king who had wanted to kill Jesus was dead himself (verse 20). As they began the trip home, Joseph and Mary looked forward to seeing the familiar Judean hills again. But the angel of God returned to give Joseph further instructions in another dream, and Joseph headed the donkeys toward the region of Galilee. The little family returned home to Nazareth.
Growing up in Nazareth
Jesus spent His boyhood and adolescent years in the region of Galilee. Reared in a home where the atmosphere was one of love for God and neighbor, He heard much about the books of the law during daily family activities, and the family attended the synagogue in Nazareth every Sabbath. Jesus was tutored in languages as well as in all the Hebrew books of the Old Testament that were available. Aramaic was the language of the common people at that time. From His first toddling steps, Jesus was subject to His parents. His mind was never hostile to them, and He was totally obedient to His heavenly Father's laws (Luke 2:52). Joseph and Mary undoubtedly told Jesus that He was born by a divine miracle, that His Father was the great God of the universe and that an angel had appeared to them before He was born. Jesus heard the account of the shepherds who came to worship Him in the stable the night He was born, and He learned of the appearance of the foreign- travelers who came from the East to worship Him while He was still in Bethlehem. There were four brothers and at least two sisters born into the family after Jesus' birth (Mark 6:3). The half-brothers were named James, Joses, Juda (Jude) and Simon (James and Jude became Christ's disciples after His death and resurrection). As Jesus grew older, He began, to help Joseph in his work as a carpenter and contractor. Passing years brought to Jesus a deepening awareness of His relationship to His heavenly Father. By the time He was 12 years old, He spent much time praying, meditating and studying the books of the law, the prophets and writings at the synagogue. He understood little by little about the glory He had once shared with the eternal God of the universe (Luke 2:40, John 1:1-3). About six months after His 12th birthday, Jesus went down to Jerusalem with His parents and other relatives for the Passover season (Luke 1:41). Feeling very much at ease with the Temple scribes and priests, Jesus listened, asked questions and made comments of His own. Those who heard Him were astonished at His wisdom (verse 47). So absorbed was Jesus, and so interested in discussing Old Testament scriptures, He remained in the Temple after His family departed for home. Joseph and Mary eventually turned back to Jerusalem to search the city for Him. Joseph and Mary grew more anxious with each passing hour, and when they found Him in the Temple, Mary blurted out in exasperation: "Why have you been so thoughtless? We've been terribly worried!" "I'm sorry, Mother," replied Jesus. "I thought you'd know that I was safe here in my Father's house." Jesus went home with them and grew up as other normal boys of Nazareth, working and playing, and there was not a time that He was not perfectly obedient to His parents (Luke 2:52).
John the Baptist begins his ministry
Meanwhile, John the Baptist was reared in the Judean hills with his parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. When he was 30 years old he began his ministry and went to preach in the Judean wilderness and in the Jordan valley (Matt. 3:1). His message was not a popular one. Calling upon all persons to repent of their sins and be baptized, John warned the public that they would not enter the Kingdom of God automatically just because they were descendants of Abraham. One day while hundreds of the common people came to John at the Jordan River to be baptized, Jesus arrived on the scene. He waited for John to finish baptizing those who requested it, and then as the group began to disperse, He spoke to His cousin. "Hello, John. I've come to ask you to baptize me. Will you have time to do it this afternoon?" John was aghast. "You are the Lamb of God! You don't need to be baptized! You have no sins of which to repent," he sputtered. "I can't baptize you. I'm not worthy to carry your shoes." Jesus laid a hand on His cousin's arm. "Please do it for me. It's important." John submitted to Jesus' wish. He led the
Satan... had come to tempt Christ to sin. If Christ were to commit just one sin, that alone would prevent Him from qualifying to take Satan's place as ruler of this earth.
way down the steep slope to the water's edge, and they removed their outer robes and laid them on the bank. John splashed into the cold water and Jesus followed. This area where he had been baptizing all day was at a bend in the river, which circled into a little cove of calm water. When the water was at their waists, they stopped. Calling on the Eternal to witness the baptism, John plunged Jesus beneath the river's surface. As Jesus came up out of the water, an unusual light began to shine upon Him. The light seemed to become dovelike in shape, and it beamed down directly upon Jesus' head. A voice spoke out of the sky, startling them both and saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (verses 16-17). John and Jesus stood in the river without moving, scarcely breathing, waiting as the light gradually faded. Then they waded back to shore.
A titanic battle with Satan
Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit of God to go into the wilderness area south of Judea (Matt. 4:1, Luke 4:1). In that rocky desert waste there was no food or water, but that did not concern Him. He wanted to fast and pray and prepare Himself for His ministry. For 40 days Jesus prayed and meditated as He fasted. The more weak He became physically, the greater was His strength spiritually. As He arose early on the 40th day, a shadow fell across the ground. Satan himself stood before Him. He had come to tempt Christ to sin. If Christ were to commit just one sin, that alone would prevent Him from qualifying to take, Satan's place as ruler of this earth. Satan used three temptations that are common to all men. First he tried to get Jesus to obey him by satisfying a physical desire for food. Jesus by this time was hungrier than any of us today have ever been. "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread," Satan suggested. Jesus replied, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God'" (Matt. 4:4). The devil then swept Him away to a high tower of the Temple in Jerusalem. "If you are the Son of God," Satan chided, "throw yourself over the edge of the tower. You'll not be hurt. The Scriptures say that God will give His angels charge over you, and they'll catch you as you fall." Jesus drew back from the edge of the tower. "The Scriptures also say that we must not tempt the eternal God," He said. "It is not for man to try to force my Father or His angels to act in his behalf' (verse 7). A moment later Jesus was standing with Satan on a high mountain from which they could see a long way in every direction. "I'll make you ruler of all the kingdoms on earth," promised the enemy, "if you'll bow down before me." Given rulership over the earth when he was the archangel Lucifer, Satan knew that Jesus was here to displace him and become the future Ruler of the earth. But Jesus kept His, Father's great purpose and plan uppermost in mind. "Be off! It is also written, 'You shall worship the Eternal and serve only Him!'" (verse 10). With a cry of rage at his defeat, Satan left Jesus alone. Exhausted, Jesus slumped to the ground. Angels came to Him. Ministering to Him with food and water, they stayed until He regained His strength. It had been a terrible battle, but Jesus qualified to rule this earth in the Kingdom of God.