He was 14. Being a 14-year-old boy in 21st Century America is hard. I watched him as he sat in Bible class and stared at the yellow slip of paper before him. That yellow slip was an open invitation to ask any question about God and His ways and world. It was to be anonymous. He was free to ask what was on his heart. The question he asked heads this post.
What he really wondered was: Was 14 as hard for Jesus as it was for him? Did He struggle with parents’ expectations? Did His teachers ever seem clueless, too? Was it hard for Him to be ‘good,’ too, and sometimes get in trouble for nothing? Did He ever feel like an outsider? Did He ever fight with his siblings? Did He ever have days when He just felt like he was a mistake? Does Jesus understand what it’s like to be a 14-year-old boy in 21st Century America?
To him and so many more who wonder the same thing I want to begin by saying, “YES, Jesus understands!” If He hadn’t wanted to understand human childhood, He’d have appeared as a grown man. But Jesus wanted to feel, touch, hear and taste it all. He wanted us to know He understands what it feels like to be helpless, misunderstood, or different, to experience puberty, and, yes, even understand girls.
There are two ways to look at Jesus’ childhood. Some might say it was ideal with two God-fearing parents – a working dad, a loving and wise mother – and always knowing the right thing to do. But there is another way to see into Jesus’ youth. Joseph was his step-dad who died before Jesus left home. His mom was just a teenager when He was born, and she became pregnant with Jesus before she was married. In those days, girls were sometimes killed for pregnancy outside of marriage. Some may have thrown that in His face all his life.
He was God in a human body. That had to be limiting, frustrating and at times even disgusting. As a baby, He would be sick, have His diaper changed, fall down, learn to walk and talk before He could be understood. As a youth, He always did his best, but maybe this made His siblings jealous. Maybe He intimidated other kids. Maybe it wasn’t fun to hang out with boys who weren’t respectful about God (after all, He wasGod). We don’t know when He became fully aware of His deity, but it’s not hard to imagine Him sitting in class, listening to clueless Rabbis teach him about the Old Testament when He had been there and was the One responsible for the writings themselves.
Jesus got in trouble with His parents once, and they were the ones in the wrong. They even chewed Him out in front of the men he was talking Bible with, but He “went with them and submitted to them” just the same. He managed to have a good reputation with most folks, so He figured out how to get along with people, all kinds of people. His secret was His motive. He did everything for God.
Jesus had to grow up, but it wasn’t easy. He had to obey rules that others made up. He had to wait until the grownups thought He was “smart” enough to teach. He had to wait and watch and listen while people taught useless and foolish things about God. But hardest of all was to know that after everything He’d done, NOBODY would stay by His side to the last, except a few women (including His mother) and one friend. And they would be powerless to do anything to help Him. Everyone else, even His siblings, wouldn’t want to be seen with Him. He wasn’t even going to have a funeral.
So, yes, Jesus understands everything every kid goes through, and He wants to be in your head (Bible words) and at your back (God answers prayers) and in your life (the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian). With Him, you’re going to make it. And even though life isn’t easy, life in Christ is full of hope and good.