The First 30 Years of Jesus' Ministry

If Jesus came to be the savior of the world, why did he spend the first 30 years of his life doing nothing? There were people to heal! Scriptures to teach! Miracles to perform!

Imagine all the people who probably died, right there in the region of Galilee, during those 30 years, without ever hearing the Gospel! Without ever knowing that the Savior of the world was there, living just a few miles away! Why would Jesus “waste” 30 years of His life when so much ministry could have been done?

All of us who are called to preach, teach, and serve others feel the same way from time to time. “I can’t wait another five years! I have so much to teach! So many ideas! There are so many people all around me who need to hear the Gospel. I’ve got books to write, minds to change, people to serve! If I don’t do it now, I never will!”

For some people, that may be true. Maybe God does want you to get out there and get to work right away. But I think that for most of us, including Jesus (and Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, etc), there is something God does in our lives during the “back burner” years that cannot be accomplished any other way.

I love how William Barclay explains all this (Luke 1975:39f). The quote is long, but it’s worth reading (Let me tell you…it hit me HARD today).

This passage begins with the most suggestive statement. It tells us that when Jesus began his ministry he was not less than about thirty years of age. Why did he spend thirty years in Nazareth when he had come to be the savior of the world? It is commonly said that Joseph died fairly young and that Jesus had to take upon himself the support of Mary and of his younger brothers and sisters, and that not until they were old enough to take the business on their own shoulders, did he feel free to leave Nazareth and go into the wider world. Whether that be so or not, three things are true.

(1) It was essential that Jesus should carry out with the utmost fidelity the more limited tasks of family duty before he could take up the universal task of saving the world. It was by his conscientiousness in the performance of the narrow duties of home that Jesus fitted himself for the great task he had to do. …It was because Jesus faithfully performed the smallest duties that the greatest task in all the world was given him.

(2) It gave him the opportunity to live out his own teaching. Had he always been a homeless, wandering teacher with no human ties or obligations, men might have said to him, “What right have you to talk about human duties and human relationships, you, who never fulfilled them?” But Jesus was able to say, not, “Do as I say,” but, “Do as I have done.”

Tolstoi was a man who always talked about living the way of love; but his wife wrote poignantly of him, “There is so little genuine warmth about him; his kindness does not come from the heart, but merely from his principles. His biographies will tell of how he helped the laborers to carry buckets of water, but no one will ever know that he never gave his wife a rest and never—in all these thirty-two years—gave his child a drink of water or spent five minutes by his bedside to give me a chance to rest a little from all my labors.” No one could ever speak like that of Jesus. He lived at home what he preached abroad.

(3) If Jesus was to help men he had to know how men lived. And because he spent these thirty years in Nazareth, he knew the problems of making a living, the haunting insecurity of the life of the working man, the ill-natured customer, the man who would not pay his debts. It is the glory of the incarnation that we face no problem of life and living which Jesus did not also face.

This post is based on the Grace Commentary for Luke 3:23-38.

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