Summary: Have you been saved? Great. But that's only the beginning. Jesus had to learn obedience and effective ministry. Are you on the path to becoming a useful disciple for God?
Last week we looked at a touching moment in Jesus’ infancy. His parents brought their infant son to the temple to be dedicated to God. They wanted nothing but God’s best for their special son. And in the temple God brought them across the path of one of his true saints, Simeon, who loved their son, who affirmed the vision that God had given them for his future, and helped them understand the price they would pay for being the parents of the Messiah.
And then that passage ends with a simple summary statement that covers the next 10 years or so. It is Luke 2:40, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”
This morning I want us to think about this simple statement, that Jesus grew. Of course, that is obvious physically. He wasn’t born man size. But he also grew in wisdom and knowledge. I don’t imagine he got his potty training right the first time. When he helped his Dad in the carpenter’s shop it took him time to master each of the tools. The Bible says that he never sinned. His intentions were always right. But that doesn’t mean that could do everything without practice or trial and error. The Bible is clear that he really was human as well as divine.
Sometimes people picture Jesus as some sort of Robocop who could walk in anywhere and handle any problem because he was God. But in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians chapter 2, verse 7, the Bible says that he emptied himself of his divine powers. In John’s gospel he said that he spoke the things he heard from his Father, he didn’t just know everything, he often had to listen to God, like we do. In a few weeks we’ll look at the time he was tempted by Satan. He was really tempted, but he didn’t give in to the temptation. He often prayed all night because the answers didn’t come easily. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he really sweated out having to go to the cross. One part of him didn’t want to do it. But he kept on course. When he was crucified, the nails really hurt.
Jesus didn’t come into this world with bulletproof underwear or a free pass to avoid suffering or a handy dandy manual that gave him all the answers easily. He had to grow. He had to learn. He really struggled and he really suffered. And that should only increase our awe at what he did for us and our love for him that he should empty himself to that extent and go through so much for us.
And it is very important that we understand that spiritual growth will be a process for us, too. You don’t inherit spiritual maturity from your parents. You have to grow it for yourself.
There are some preachers who have done the church a terrible disservice in the way that they talk about being born again. The Bible is clear that we all must find new birth in Christ. That’s the doorway that is the beginning for all the spiritual riches of God. But some preachers try to pack all of the spiritual life into one experience. Get saved and all your problems will be over. And if that works for someone, fine. But my experience and the experience of everyone for whom I’ve gotten close enough to really know has been that being born again is only the beginning. God doesn’t zap us into a new person without any continuity with the old person. He teaches us step by step so that we understand what is happening and can participate in the process at each stage.
Accepting Christ, being confirmed, attending a renewal seminar, reading a spiritual book, all these may be important steps on the way. But none of them are substitutes for the entire process of growing to spiritual wholeness.
All too often I meet people who have moved far enough along the path of growth to have what you could call a child’s faith. They went to Sunday School. They got confirmed. But they stopped growing. They didn’t continue the growth process. And pretty soon they are dealing with adult problems and trying to handle them with a child’s level of maturity. And it doesn’t work. And all too often they blame God for not solving it all for them. All too often they give up. All too often they just can’t handle the challenges of adult life in a Christian way.
And so it is imperative that we all accept this challenge to keep growing. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, always talked about, “Moving on to perfection.” He never claimed that he made it. But he was determined that he was going to aim high for his Lord and challenge his people to do the same.