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The Model Child

Category Articles
Date October 19, 2003

 

We are going to consider the Lord Jesus Christ as a model child. We Christians,who are conservative evangelicals, and that takes in just about all of us, maybe hesitant to do that for two reasons. First, it requires us to consider the realhuman nature of Jesus, and we know that liberals old and new, are not able tosay much more about Jesus than that He was a man. They cannot bring themselvesto acknowledge that He is God. So   wetend, in defence of Him, to emphasize His Deity, sometimes failing to dojustice to His real humanity. It will help us to remember that in the earlycenturies of Christianity, the Church had to state the doctrine of Who Christis by confessing that He is fully God and fully man, for attacks were made onboth sides of this teaching. Lets remind ourselves that anyone less than afully divine and fully human Christ could not save us.

Second, we know that liberals deny both the Deity of our Lord and also Hisdeath as a sacrifice for sins. So they do not know what to make of Him otherthan that He is some sort of example for us to try to imitate. In reactionagainst them we may not want to see Jesus as a model at all. But that, too, isnot right, for in at least one place (John 13) Jesus offers Himself to us as anexample. We must never begin with Jesus as our Example. We begin with the factthat He lived a perfectly righteous life, died a sacrificial death, and rosefrom the dead. The Christian life is lived out of our union with Him in thepower of His saving work. But when we are united to Him by faith, we may lookto Him as a model, whom we will follow, as we live our lives as redeemedsinners.

When the first of our five sons was born, we decided that he would be a modelchild. We would not make the countless mistakes our own parents had made, forto rear a model child we would need to be model parents. Calvin, of course,would not have any weaknesses of personality or behaviour, for we would applythe strict discipline necessary to avoid such things developing. It goes beyondsaying that he would be quite handsome, very smart, and flawlessly mannered.One day the model male would marry the model female with the model parentssmiling. He would go on to success and money, become an elder in the church,and, naturally, produce model children.

By the time we realized it was not going to work, we were well on our way toproducing a neurotic child. As is obvious to you, when Philip and Joel camealong, we had long given up on any attempt to produce model children I want usto consider a Model Child. We must ever remember His absolute uniqueness, butat the same time we can find in His childhood a model to instruct us as parentsand educators. I speak of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I. Exemplary Parenting

The home in which Jesus grew up was not a perfect home. His parents, Mary andJoseph, were sinners as you and I are, and I am sure that they, as sinners,made many mistakes in parenting Jesus and His siblings just as you and I do.Moreover, in rearing the Lord Jesus, they were rearing an extraordinary Child,because, while He was fully human, He was also God. Not only was He differentbecause He had two natures, but also in His humanity, while He possessed thefrail and mortal human nature common to us all after the Fall, He was sinless.The writer of Hebrews succinctly describes His human nature as being like oursin every respect but sin. There is no doubt this was a unique parentingsituation. Yet they brought Him up as a Jewish baby and child and, from that,we can learn.

His parents brought Jesus up within the Old Testament faith. When He was eightdays old, they did what New Testament parents do when they take their babies tochurch and present them for baptism. They had their son circumcised, which Godtold Abraham was the sign of the covenant in which the LORD promised to be theGod of His people and to take them as His people. It is reasonable to assumethat back in Nazareth they, like all pious Jews, went to the synagogue eachSabbath and that Jesus had learned to participate in the synagogue service ofScripture, singing, prayers, and teaching. What we have read about Jesussubmitting to them shows also that they took responsibility to teach Him theway of life He should live as a boy of the covenant and that they expected Himto obey them in such things. They were bringing their Son up in the faith.

But they did not just bring their Son up within the faith. They also observedthe faith themselves. After Jesus was born, they performed everything accordingto the Law of the Lord. When we come to the account of Jesus visit to thetemple at the age of twelve, we find that it was their custom to go up toJerusalem every year for the Feast of Passover. This was one of three times ayear when the males were to appear before the LORD in Jerusalem. Joseph made ithis habit to go, and, though it was not required, he took Mary with him. Thiswas not a matter of jumping in the car and driving an hour or two. Jerusalemwas 80 miles from Nazareth. To go there was at least a three-day journey, byfoot or donkey, and required camping along the way. But it was important toMary and Joseph to observe their faith. They did not just teach Jesus topractice the Old Testament faith. They set before Him the example of their ownkeeping of it.

There is something here for parents. We choose to send our children to aChristian school because we want school to nurture their faith and to teach allsubjects in a manner consistent with their faith. But passing on the faith andnurturing it is not first a school matter. It is first a family and churchmatter. We as parents need to bring up the children in our faith, by teachingthem what to believe and how to live. We must ourselves practice our faithbefore them. And in the practice of our faith we must not neglect the worshipof the church and the whole teaching/discipling ministry of the church. I donot hesitate to say that if you do not teach and live the faith in your home,and if you are not conscientiously consistent about worship attendance andchurch life, you might as well put your money back in your pocket and save thetuition. The school cannot make up for, not was it ever intended to do, whatmust be done in the home and in the church.

But there is something here for educators, too. The first qualification of aChristian educator is to be a Christian and to practice Christianity. Unlessyou live the faith yourself, and unless you are participating in the means ofgrace every Lords Day in a congregation of faithful believers, you are lackingthe credentials of a Christian teacher. Furthermore, as you take responsibilityfor the children, remember that you are not only an extension of the home butalso an extension of the Church. Westminster Christian Academy is a parochialschool – a school established and overseen by a congregation as a ministry ofthe church. Remember that families and churches are entrusting children to youto assist them in the Christian nurture of these little ones.

II. Exemplary Progress

In Jesus life also we find an example of the progress and development of a

child.

Luke calls attention to His physical development. The child grew and becamestrong (he) increased in stature (Luke 2: 40, 52). Just because Jesus was Godand a man without sin does not mean He was exempt from the ordinary laws ofhuman development. He did not come into this world as a full-grown human being.He was conceived in His mother’s womb and born as a baby. He developed in thewomb as an unborn baby, and then developed outside the womb, as do all humanbabies, progressing through babyhood and childhood to adulthood. This isaccording to Gods plan even before sin – except for the first human pair, Adamand Eve, humans are meant to go through a process of development leading tophysical maturity.

It is wise for parents and teachers alike to know and to take into accountthese laws of human development, so that we do not expect too much or toolittle of our children. We cannot expect children to be little adults. They aredeveloping, and this includes the development not only of obvious physicaltraits, like strength and size, but also the development of their brains. Weneed to take into account what the child is able to bear when it comes tothings like the length of a school day or a class or family devotions, or theirattention spans, or their ability to sit still.

At the same time we must remember that they are developing. We should expectmore of them as they become older, bigger, and stronger. Children are not meantto be babied when they are no longer babies. As they grow older, so ourexpectations and demands of them should grow.

Luke also highlights the mental and psychological development of Jesus. He isdescribed as One Who was filled with wisdom (2: 40) and who increased in wisdom(2: 52). Wisdom begins with knowing God in light of His revelation of Himselfin His Word.  It is then is an abilityto live in Gods world, gaining knowledge and understanding from both Gods Wordand Gods creation. It has a practical side in that wisdom is not just gaininginformation but also knowing how to live in a God-pleasing way. Jesus showedthis wisdom when at twelve he visited Jerusalem and met with the teachers. Alot of education of that day took the form of questions and answers. Thestudent asked questions of his teachers and the student answered questionsdirected to him by his teachers. These teachers in the temple listened to Jesusquestions to them and His answers to their questions and were amazed at theinsight He showed into the meaning of the Scriptures.   This, too, is important for the parent and for the educator. Wewant to produce wise children. A number of years ago I heard a dean of aseminary, who had recently gained a Doctor of Education degree, say that thebest thing that had ever happened to American colleges and universities was tothrow preachers off their boards of trustees and to reorient the educationalprocess to produce students who could do something. That is the schools were toproduce students who could go out and make more and better widgets. This was incontrast to the old idea of education that was that it was to produce educatedpeople who could then take their education into the world and use it tounderstand the world, to reflect on it, to make sense of it, and so to contributeto the world as wise men and women. My purpose tonight is not to argueeducational philosophies, but it is to remind us that we want to use teachingin the home and in the school, not to make wage earners, but to make wisestudents who know Gods Word an

Gods world and are able to live godly lives as scholars, professionals,businessmen, labourers, homemakers, and parents, and church members.

Then there is His social development. He increased in favour with God and man(2: 52). Jesus developed and lived in such a way as to have the approval ofboth God and man. Of course, the approval of God is first. Kids will seek allkinds of approval. They want the approval of parents and other adults whom theyrespect, such as teachers, coaches, and principals. As they come into what wecall the teenage years, they come to desire the approval of their peers.Sometimes we adults give them the impression that we think all this approvalfrom others is the main thing. I think Christian mothers sometimes help theirdaughters dress in ways that are primarily oriented to gaining approval ofpeers. We fathers may want sons to be seen primarily as manly men by coachesand peers.  But first and foremost is toteach them that God does not look on us as other people do, that God sees theheart, and that the great thing in life is to have His approval of who you areand how you live.

But there is a place for human approval. When the Scriptures say Jesusincreased in favour with man, it does not mean that He craved acceptance, butthat He was the kind of Child whose character and life gained the respect ofadults who observed Him. They saw His development toward maturity, and theyapproved. I am sure there is something natural and not to be worried about toomuch when teenagers work through issues of non-conformity and questioning ofauthority. But we need not, as parents and educators, stand by as though wewere helpless to guide and to limit it. We need to teach those under ourtutelage that they need and should seek the approval of responsible adults.

All this development of Jesus took place in a home where Jesus was

submissive to His parents (Luke 2: 51). The LordJesus was an obedient Child. If He who was the Son of God and sinless man,could in His childhood submit to the teaching, commands, and training of Hisparents, I do not think it is too much to expect that ordinary children, whoare sinners and desperately in need of guidance, will submit to their parentsand to their parents representatives who are teachers and administrators in theschool. We do our children a great disservice when we allow them not to respector obey us. We need to make sure that our directives are not burdensome andthat our discipline is not onerous. There is no place for the purely arbitraryor mean parent or educator, but submission to human authority is necessary forus all, including our children.

III. Exemplary Priority

In Jesus life we observe also an exemplary priority. When Jesus was twelve Hewent to Jerusalem with His parents for the Passover celebration. Whether thiswas the first time He went or whether He had gone with Joseph and Mary before,Luke does not say. But on this occasion something noteworthy happened. As itturns out, this is the only report we have of an incident in the boyhood lifeof Jesus. From His first two years or so, till His entrance into His publicministry at about the age of thirty, we have nothing except this report.

The entire Passover Feast lasted for eight days. Families travelled in groupsto and from Jerusalem. On this occasion, when they set up camp on the firstnight on the trip back home, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing.It is not as surprising as it might seem to us that they would not find out Hewas missing till after a day of travel. They travelled in groups and thensorted families out when they made camp at night. They did not feel a need tokeep close tabs on this twelve year old, and had no reason not to assume He wastravelling with the group. I once saw something like this happen with a muchyounger child. An elder and his wife with six children went home from church inseparate cars, each with some of the children and each assuming the two yearold was in the other car. When they got home they discovered him missing, and, whenthey got back to the church, they found him quite happy, eating out of thesugar bowl at church.

When Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was not with them, they returned toJerusalem, and, when they found Him, He was in the temple discussing the Scriptureswith the teachers. Mary, with understandable motherly anxiety, was upset andsaid to Him, Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I havebeen searching for you in great distress.

Jesus answer gives us insight into the purpose of His life and the meaning ofall His actions: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must bein my Fathers house? Even at the age of twelve, Jesus had a consciousness ofHis unique relationship with God the Father. He was the Son of the Father whohad come to earth. The temple was His Fathers house, the symbol of Gods placeamong His people and the focal point of His peoples worship of Him. As the Son,He always acts with the interests of the Father in mind. If the temple is theFathers house, then the Son must be in the Fathers house seeing to the Fathersinterests.

Even this early Jesus is showing the zeal for Gods house that would lead Himtwice in His public ministry to enter the temple to cleanse it. Even now He isshowing the zeal for the Fathers house, which as His disciples rightlypredicted, would consume Him. It was His zeal for Gods glory, and Gods worship,and the salvation of Gods people that led inevitably to the cross where Hewould redeem a people who would worship God in Spirit and in truth, who wouldmake up the living stones of the church, and would exist to the praise of Hisglory. It is not only the relationship of Jesus to the Father that is unique,but also the work that He did in the interests of His Father and His Fathershouse. He is the Divine Son and the only Savoir. These things are unique toHim.

Yet we can learn from Him the priority of God, of Gods glory, and of Godschurch. What are the priorities we as parents and educators have for thechildren? Is it that they make good grades and not cause too much trouble? Isit that they be protected from the practical atheism of the public schools? Isit that they be prepared to get into good colleges and obtain good jobs? Isuppose that there is a place for such ambitions. But our priority for ourchildren should be that they should be like Jesus, and, if they are like Jesus,their priority will be His priority. They will put God first. They will seekGods will and Gods glory in all that they do. They will be loyal to Gods churchand faithful in worship. We can do nothing better for them and should have nohigher ambition for them than that they should, like Jesus, be in the Fathershouse, minding the Fathers business.

Let us, as parents and educators, recommit ourselves to God, to the worship ofthe Church, to the ministry of our Christian School, and to the rearing of ourchildren to be like Christ. And beyond all else, let us as parents, church, andschool put before our children always, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God andSavoir of sinners.

WILLIAM SMITH

WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,

HUNTSVILLE

ALABAMA

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