Jesus’ childhood was marked by extraordinary wisdom, and He became strong in both spirit and body. The only story recorded from His early years took place when He was twelve years old. His parents took Him to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. As was the custom, crowds of people made the pilgrimage for this feast. When the time came for returning to their homes, Jesus’ parents naturally assumed He was in the company of all the youth. After a long day’s travel, they looked for Jesus and discovered the fact that He was not among the travelers. So they returned to Jerusalem to find Him.
Meanwhile, Jesus had been occupied with the teachers in the temple. He participated in their discussions, listening and asking questions. These religious leaders were quite astonished at how informed and insightful Jesus was.
When Joseph and Mary finally located Jesus, they were amazed at what He had been doing. Mary, who was quite overcome with worry, chided Him for causing them this distress. Jesus’ reply (which they didn’t understand at the time) was that they ought to have expected Him to be “doing My Father’s business.” Jesus returned with them to Nazareth, submitting Himself to them. God’s blessing was upon Him and He was loved and respected by all who knew Him.
Mary treasured all this in her heart.
It wasn’t until Jesus was about thirty years old that the details of His life were more fully recorded. The historical context was Tiberius Caesar’s fifteenth year as Emperor. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor in Judea; Herod, Philip, and Lysanias were Jewish tetrarchs over different regions of Israel; the Jewish High Priests at the time were Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas.
It was at this time that John the Baptizer began his public ministry, calling the nation to repent and be baptized and saying that “the kingdom of heaven had arrived on earth.” Dressed in an unusual outfit of a camel’s hair tunic and leather belt, and known for a strange diet of locusts and wild honey, he was remarkably effective in attracting large numbers of people from miles around. They came to the Jordan River to confess their sins and to be baptized by him.
It’s worth noting that several prophets had predicted John’s ministry centuries earlier. They said of him, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way for You;” and, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
John attracted large crowds, but it wasn’t because his message made them feel good. He confronted their hypocrisy and nationalistic ego when he said, “You brood of poisonous snakes, who warned you that you were headed for God’s wrath? If you’re serious about repentance, it has to change the way you live. No hiding behind this empty claim of being “Abraham’s descendants” as if your bloodline is all that matters. Good grief, if God wanted to, He could start a whole new set of Abraham’s children out of these rocks. Every tree that fails to bear good fruit gets chopped down and thrown into the fire. I’m telling you, the axe is about to strike the root of the tree! You’d better make sure that your repentance isn’t just words but that it produces the fruit of real changed character!”
The people were shaken by this and asked, “What do we need to do?”
“For example,” John said, “if you’ve got two coats, give one to someone who needs it. The same goes with your food. Look out for others’ needs, not just your own.”
A few of the tax collectors in the crowd asked what they should do. John replied, “Only collect what you’re required to. Stop padding the bill and siphoning off excess for your own pockets.”
Then some soldiers wanted to know what “fruits of repentance” meant for them. “Stop intimidating and taking advantage of others. And stop complaining about your wages,” was John’s response.
John’s message and methods caused the people to wonder if perhaps he was the promised Messiah for whom they had been waiting. He silenced that rumor when he declared, “There is One coming who is so much greater than I am that I’m not worthy even to unfasten His sandals. Yes, I’ve been baptizing you with water, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Not only that, He also comes ready to separate wheat from chaff, gathering the wheat into His barn, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
It wasn’t long before Jesus went from His hometown of Nazareth in Galilee down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. John was incredulous. “You should be baptizing me! Surely You don’t need to be baptized.”
Jesus simply explained that this was part of God’s process of making all things right. In identifying with those being baptized, Jesus was affirming both His humanness as well as the call to a Kingdom way of life. So Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. As He came up out of the water, the skies opened: God the Spirit came out of the clouds in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus. Then, coming out of heaven in a voice all could hear, were these words: “You are My precious Son; I’m so proud of You. You are the joy of My life.”