Updated: May 10
There may be 18 years of silence about Him, but we do know this – Jesus was a carpenter. In fact, He was more than a carpenter, He was known throughout Galilee as the carpenter as it says in Mark 6:3, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary . . .”
The use of the definite article “the” rather than the indefinite article “a” or “an” clearly implies that Jesus was well known and respected for His carpentry work in the region.
The years spent carving out something new for the human race were spent in carpentry. Then that means it fit into what we would call a rather narrow life.
Jesus lived in just about an unknown village called Nazareth in the neglected part of Israel called Galilee. This area was not held in high regard by the leaders in Jerusalem. He was a third world peasant in an unknown village confined to the narrowness of its ideas and its mind and there He was “the carpenter.”
This Jesus is no less than God Himself who became flesh and God taking to Himself our humanity. The Son of God lived as a third world carpenter in an unknown area, living that life as us as well as for us. As I said earlier (Part I), people seldom consider Jesus’ life during this 18-year period. They tend to focus either on His birth or His death or the three years of His life prior to His crucifixion.
There’s no question that those three areas of His life are of great importance. However, it’s also important to understand that His whole life here was as our representative, and as our representative He is carrying us into the new creation and these years, though we know so little about them are vital in our understanding of how we live today.
Now, to state the obvious, in His capacity as “the carpenter” in His village He was the center of activity of the village because everybody needed a carpenter. That means that when God became flesh and lived among us, He wasn’t a hermit. John the Baptist was a hermit. And he was gone in the desert until the 18 years were up and he appeared baptizing, but he was a rugged man from the desert.
Luke 1:80 tells us, “And the child (John) grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” But not Jesus, He’s in the middle of social interaction and life in this village. And also notice that He isn’t a priest in the Temple.
If, when God became flesh, He became a hermit or a priest in the Temple, He would have been considered a holy man. That would certainly have been fitting when God became man and lived among us. But no, He isn’t born of a priestly family but of a royal family. But it was when the royal line had been oppressed almost out of existence by the Roman conquerors. And the royal line of David lives in near poverty in Nazareth as a carpenter.
So, what does that mean? It means there are no servants, no luxury. It means Jesus would have to take His turn with His brothers and sisters and go to the well and haul water back to the house. It means as “the carpenter” He was cutting trees and hauling them down the side of the hills to the shop. It means He would be sharpening tools, shaving wood, and fashioning that wood for what it would
need to be. It means He would be sawing the wood, nailing the wood, taking orders from customers, collecting payment for bills, paying taxes to Rome. He was in the middle of life as you and I know it except probably a lot harder than we know it.
When God became flesh, we need to understand that He took to Himself humanity in a situation where He experienced the totality of our human life. As a hermit never would, as a priest never would. As a king in a royal court never would.
Once God took on our humanity, He immersed Himself in our life. He woke up in the morning and went to work. He worked through the day and had lunch – maybe – and returned home from work exhausted and fell into bed and woke up the next day and did it all over again.
Why is this so important? Why is it that 18 years of our redemption was spent as “the carpenter?” This is vitally important because at the beginning – when Adam and Eve were created. They were ordained to work – it was their destiny to labor.
Sin did not introduce labor or work. We don’t go to work wherever it may be because of Adam’s sin. The work did not come in with sin, the sweat came in with sin. The first mention of sweat in conjunction with labor is found in what the Lord said to Adam after he sinned in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face.” Prior to that time labor was the highest honor bestowed on mankind as he is made in the image of God.
Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Adam was to work in the garden and till the garden and also to keep the garden. These are fascinating words.
The Hebrew word translated work, labor or care or look after or till is pretty obvious and is used to describe just what it sounds like. It means with a hoe or other tool in your hands you work and do something that will affect the plant and you’re a steward of the earth, the plants, the ecology, and the earth’s resources. It’s what we would call going to work.
Interestingly enough that same Hebrew word, shamar is used in the Old Testament to describe what a priest did in the tabernacle. It’s used 284 times in the Old Testament with this meaning.
And so, it not only describes what we would call going to work, it also describes the raising of the hands in praise of God; and the taking of the offering and offering that offering to God and doing everything that was involved in full time ministry as a priest of the tribe of Levi.
Also, it means that you’re to work this piece of geography and that it shall be for the glory of God. This piece of creation tended by one made in the image of God shall indeed be kept for that purpose. The same word was used of the priest who kept the tabernacle and the temple.
The lifting of the hands in praise and song is the same word used in the Old Testament for lifting the bucket, swinging the axe, and carrying out the garbage. Now isn’t that interesting.
So, what does that tell us? It tells us that in God’s eyes there’s no difference between the labor that has to do with the resources of the planet or the labor that has to do with the priestly work of praise and worship and explanation of Scripture. That is one word. Some are called to do the one and some are called to do the other. But the work is the same. It tells us that only a priest of God can carry out the garbage. That only a priest of God can guard this piece of God’s earth and that it shall be an offering to Him.
I hope you get the point here that the priestly work was seen from the beginning to be so infused with our labor, whether it be the labor of the brain or the labor of the tongue or the labor of the hands and feet, whatever that was, it was priestly work the same as what was being done in the tabernacle.
And I might point out that although it isn’t so obvious in our translations, in the New Testament the word for minister in the Greek is liturgy and that word means just what I’ve said. It also means working in a village or town on behalf of the good of the community, rendering service to others. And that would include someone who works anywhere that keeps the economy going.
To God, there is no secular work. He created mankind to be priests as Peter wrote in I Peter 2:9; “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
So as a member of His “royal priesthood” we are to take His creation and offer it back to Him. When He told Adam and Eve that they would be the stewards and caretakers for the earth, it says in Genesis 1:28 that “He blessed them.” He blessed them after He created them. He enabled them to do their work. He enabled them to have dominion over everything. He blessed their labor – their work.
So, when sin came in, what did mankind do? He grabbed hold of this world and said this is mine, independent of God. And Satan said this is where we shall work out the lie that we shall be as God. Of course, that included work, so what happened to work? Work became something difficult, something unpleasant and to be avoided.
Oddly enough, it also became the place where we find our worth. It suddenly means that people will respect us because of the kind of work we do. And we try to find our worth in working 24 hours a day. It means that we try to find in our work the money to have power and influence. And when we have enough money and influence and when we have found our worth, then we won’t have to do the work. And so, while we’re working, we’re always looking for Friday and when it arrives, we give a sigh of relief and say TGIF.
Then throughout the whole time we’re just waiting for our vacation and our retirement. Anything to get out of this work. And with it comes all the complaints, anxiety, discontent, envy, and depression. It’s all linked to work.
Well, what about priestly service – that full-time ministry? We’ve cut that out. This doesn’t belong here. We’ve said secular work doesn’t have anything to do with priestly work. It doesn’t have anything to do with praising God. So, we shove over there this thing we call full-time ministry, and you can go over there and read your Bible and pray and praise the Lord and that’s something else.
Then the Christian comes along and says if I could do something really meaningful with my life, I would be over there reading my Bible, praying, and praising God and serving people in full time ministry. But right now, I'm not in the ministry, I have a full-time job – I have to go to work. We’ve all heard this said at one time or another. We’ve separated it off, cut it away and misunderstood it. And it’s massive, it’s not just a little thing.
I have a news flash for you. When God became flesh and lived among us, He was not in full time ministry as we think of it today. Did you ever think about that? He didn’t go to the Temple to worship and pray and read His Bible day and night for 18 years. He didn’t go and join John in the wilderness, and He didn’t become a priest in the Temple. He immersed Himself in what we call the work-a-day world. He went to work. And He did it much longer than the three years of His life that everybody talks about.
Why? Because it was there that He joined us, and it was there as “the carpenter” in the social life of Nazareth that He carves a path – a new path in which He turns the human race around in Himself. To be what we were always intended to be. That as we do the menial tasks, as we draw the water and cut the wood and take out the garbage that we are there, offering it as an act of worship to God.
That’s what Paul was writing about in I Corinthians 10:31; “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Part III discusses His and our Totality of Life!
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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