An Advent Meditation in Four Parts: Jesus, the Perfect Learner

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Transformative Learning In Jesus

I messed up this week. I used too many words with my 18-year-old, seeking to change her mind, prick her heart, coerce certain action. I trampled her agency as a budding adult in my anxiety to influence her maturity. Basically: I barged into a place that increasingly must belong to the Spirit as she grows up into Christ. It begs the question:

How do we, as Christian parents, hold in tension our role in our children’s lives with the role our Triune God rightly and increasingly claims in their lives? And how might we increase in our understanding of the learning process each of us undergoes in our humanity through a look at Jesus’ humanity?

Advent season provides a natural moment to repent of my human frailty as I meditate on Jesus’ incarnation: His entering into human history and perfect life on our behalf—our hope of His return. Today, I want to highlight a passage rich with meaning to me as a parent and educator, the Lord’s “coming of age” story:

“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.

 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem…After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished.

And His mother said to Him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:40-52)

 

When I contemplate Jesus’ actions, like Joseph and Mary I am astonished, humbled, challenged. I find myself reflecting on my parenting and its purpose: It is not to reflect on me or build my glory, nor to inoculate my children from suffering, nor to create “perfect” or responsible people. No: Discipleship means teaching my children to follow me as I follow Christ, and knowing when to step aside to allow their continued maturing. That means relinquishing. It means dying to my frantic efforts to control everything the girls see, read, listen to, experience…It means me becoming less in their lives as He becomes more.

We see in the passage above that Jesus knew this and gently, submissively pushed back against His earthly parents’ expectations as they learned to parent their firstborn! He paved the way for us, perfectly filling the role of Son, student, and disciple before He came into His teaching ministry. Jesus grew, became strong, increased in wisdom and stature. He was the perfect learner on our behalf, showing us how to learn. Luke repeats the line, impressing on us that Jesus grew up. Because He humbled himself to life in the limits of human flesh, He matured mentally, emotionally, and physically—affirming the learning process in our lives.

The next three posts below explore the “head, heart, hands,” whole-person growth Jesus, our Great High Priest, experienced on our behalf.  I previously introduced whole-person, transformative learning here. Today, may I encourage you from Hebrews 12 as you run the race before you:

Look[] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…Consider Him…that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…we have had earthly fathers who…disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness…it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Parents, teachers, mentors of children: We have a good, good Father who loves us and our children better than we can imagine. May we engage with them with a peaceful (rather than frantic) mind, entrusting them ever more fully into His hands.

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“He Grew in Strength and Stature”

This second installment on “Incarnational Learning” focuses on Jesus’ physical growth and maturity. John 1 reminds us the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! It feels incongruous to use words to describe what we can try to fully comprehend with only our senses. May I encourage you to sit down and employ your imagination and encourage your children’s imagination to “behold” Christ Incarnate?

For those who embrace the theology of the incarnation, it logically follows that Jesus’ body developed from baby to toddler to child to adolescent to man, though it still causes wonder. We ask with Mary “How can it be?” The passage from Luke 2 which I quoted last week emphasizes that Jesus grew in strength and stature. The Eternal Son of God submitted Himself to the fragility and utter dependence of infancy. He needed His mother’s milk. He needed His earthly parents to clean Him, clothe Him, care for Him.

By the Ancient of Days, all things received movement, yet He learned to crawl, stand, walk, dance, run. The Logos practiced the fine motions of human mouth and tongue to articulate words and fingers to operate with skill. He apprenticed in carpentry under Joseph. Jesus did not begin His earthly ministry until He reached age 30. Before then, He made His living with His by-then-calloused hands.

We gain much through meditating on these mysteries: By His very life in the body, He affirmed our physical growth process as “very good.” We can, therefore, affirm the child across from us in their process of physical growth: This is right and good.

Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things…” Jesus became “embodied,” wrapped our flesh around Himself that we might in turn clothe ourselves in Him. Jesus: The perfect Son of Heaven became “Perfect Learner” experiencing every dimension of human experience, even growth yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Advent and Christmas hymns help us wonder at this “Word made flesh.” He entered our world as a little child in order to restore us to the Father. Jesus’ incarnation commenced the action needed for our salvation.

His life in the body also provided what we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:13)—for sanctification. (Hebrews 10:10) In Luke 4, the historian recounts the Lord’s temptation in the wilderness—a place devoid of material comfort or supply. Jesus fasted for an inordinate amount of time, pushed to His physical limits and (according to the text) tempted all the while—can you imagine? Christ endured on our behalf. In the last moments of this heavy trial, He remained faithful, learning obedience (Hebrews 5:8) through physical suffering—giving that record to us, too!

How do we, then, respond to the riches we observe in Jesus’ life as a physical human? As an answer, Hebrews 10:19-22 provides us with this exhortation: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Our Great High Priest perfectly represented us to the Father in His physical life. Now, He calls us “a royal priesthood” and commands, “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) This confused and darkened world desperately needs hope and light. As we contemplate the Incarnate Lord, may we seek to act as His hands and feet to others: learning after Him to serve incarnationally.

How might you incarnationally connect and serve your neighbor this season, acting as lights in the darkness? Welcome your children into service alongside you. He has gone before us in this, laying down His life, pouring Himself out that we, too, might be equipped to lay down and pour out. Let us lean into the equipment He provides to tangibly bring the gospel to others with our children for His glory as we rejoice in His advent.

He increased in favor”

Many wise observers of Western culture and society have labelled this “The Therapeutic Age.” As believers, we might be inclined to swerve away, overcorrect, and “cancel” voices from those who urge us to focus on how our emotions, struggles, trauma inform our understanding of life. And there is wisdom to the corrective voices.

As usual, I want to ask, “What can we affirm?” even while we engage in critique and challenge. Running back to scripture, and for the consummation of this Advent series, we see how Jesus’ perfect life affirmed and completed human emotion. He learned through what He felt:

“In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Christ Incarnate submitted Himself on our behalf to human development in the affective dimension: the realm of belief, attitudes, values, and affections. Going before us to model emotional health and intelligence and godly affections, our Savior matured in the vessel we call the “heart.” In the gospels, we observe:

  1. Jesus commands godly emotion (to weep, to not be anxious, to rejoice).
  2. Jesus receives emotion (the pleasure of the Father, the tears of Mary, the frustration of the disciples).
  3. Jesus experiences emotion (weeping over the death of a friend, crying anxious, sorrowful tears when taking on sin and facing death—bleeding drops of sweat in anguish, growing angry at injustice, feeling compassion towards the poor, needy, sick, oppressed).
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In an age that has often distorted and idolized human emotions, what encouragement it is to have a plumbline in Jesus! He fully embodies the teaching of Deuteronomy 6 and affirms it on the lips of the rich young ruler who answers Him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

God the Father looked at His Son with increasing favor as Jesus grew. As you consider parenthood and mentoring, where can you affirm the emotions of your kids and students, for the sake of their growth and maturity? Our children’s emotions serve as a window into what they believe and think, allowing us to minister to them gently, encourage them in truth, and affirm them in Christ who went before us. I pray that as you embrace your children over the holiday season, you would feel the favor of the Father! May we with hopeful expectation of growth in the New Year rest in contemplation of His favor, which is ours in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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He grew in wisdom”

In the previous installment, I wrote on Jesus’ perfect learning and growth in the body. He learned perfect obedience to the Father while maturing physically, even in submitting His body to torture and death.

The concept of His physical growth/learning presents less of a challenge, perhaps, compared to the idea that He grew in wisdom. This perplexes us as we consider His divine attribute of omniscience. And yet, Luke uses those words explicitly in chapter 2 verse 52 of his gospel.

Consider: Though Jesus, the perfect Son of God, already perfectly obeyed the Father, He nevertheless submitted Himself to a human process to complete it on our behalf. He learned what it meant to learn things from a human perspective.

Succinctly: This mystery of very God and very man means that in His humanity, He submitted to experiencing growth even in the “grey matter,” the neurons, the cognitive processes. Each of these the Prince of Peace informed and completed (peace or shalom means “harmony, wholeness, completeness”). It is a part of the gift that He gives us in Himself: As substitute, sacrifice, and intercessor, Jesus grew in wisdom and discernment in our stead, to bring us peace in our human process.

Scripture helps us interpret and expand our understanding of other scripture. A look at Philippians 2:5-7 shows us that we now have a mind like Christ—a mentality of obedience—because He became like us: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus emptied Himself to grow in wisdom!? With the hymn writer we wonder, “And can it be?”

So, what does this mean to us as we think about discipleship and engaging the world around us with our kids and students? The major takeaway that I hope to convey relates to the confidence and even delight we may have in learning. Because Jesus has gone before us, the pathway for growth in wisdom and discernment is clear: He has paved the way.

As you look at the stories of the day and seek to wrap your mind around all the happenings in this world—as you even struggle with the shock or cognitive dissonance—lean into Christ. For, “now [we] know in part; then [we] shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) May we continue this Advent season to worship in awe the great gift and mystery of Christ Incarnate who gives us His fullness and peace.

 

Is any of this material new  to you? How does it challenge, encourage, or inform the way you engage with your kids and students about the world in which we live? I’m always excited to hear from you! Email me at: kreed@wng.orgI’m listening!

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed

News Coach

Equipping for Cultural Engagement

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