What does it mean that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people (Luke 2:52)?
To me, this means that while Jesus was born fully God and fully human, he wasn’t born fully formed. That is to say, even Jesus grew into who he was, and is. He was fully human, but he also had to grow into that humanity. He was born fully God, but he had to grow in his understanding of what it means to be the Son of God. Isn’t this what Hebrews 5:8-9 is talking about? “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (NIV).
It is hard for me to imagine Jesus learning anything. But what else could be the case – as he grew as a boy under Mary & Joseph’s care; as he listened in the synagogue; as he spent time with his Father in the wilderness? Even Jesus’ cry in the Garden before his arrest and crucifixion (“Father, take this cup from me”) is the transparent honesty of a man who is choosing to yield himself, moment-by-moment, to God’s eternal plan.
If Jesus learned obedience through suffering, is it any less true for you and me? Should we expect to grow in wisdom and grace simply by letting life happen? A few verses after we read about Jesus’ obedience, Hebrews 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
The word “mature” in this verse is related to the word “perfect” in Hebrews 5:8, where it is used to describe Jesus. It’s a word that also has the meaning of wholeness. The picture is this: Jesus grew into his calling; he learned what wholeness and perfection meant for him.
If it was true for him, is it any less for us? If Jesus learned through suffering, should we expect to grow and learn if life never gives us a cup that we don’t want to drink? As we approach the new year, the challenge for me — and you, too — is to discipline ourselves to learn from even the most difficult aspects of life. To grow into grace as we face up to the challenges in life. Jesus experienced this on a grand scale, and in so doing, he set an example for us. Maturity, wholeness, what we can call “a grown-up faith,” comes through continually learning what it means to follow Jesus. When things are good, yes; but especially when they are not.