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🎙 The Sermon was first Preached at Sutton Vineyard Church on the 07th of April, 2024.
⚠️ The Main Idea: Jesus did not arrive on Earth fully formed with everything he required. He was vulnerable as a baby, had to grow as a child and mature as an adult. We often stop growing when we leave school, but why? Let’s discover what it means to be intentional about being a continual learner and a disciple.
🔑 The Key Point: Jesus grew, and we must, too.
📖 Scriptures: Luke 4:14-20, Luke 2:39-52, 1 Corinthians 3:6

#Intentional #SelfLeadership #wisdom


I love the Easter or the Pascal (aka Passover) Season as it’s sometimes known. We are in this wonderful stretch between Easter Sunday and Pentecost right now, which lasts for 50 days, so it works well to have it align with spring as far as celebrating Jesus within the Christian faith is concerned. I’ll not wax lyrical too much about how many of our Christian holidays were established in place of Pagan festivals. Still, Spring is as good a time as any to appropriately celebrate the life found in sharing in the resurrection of the risen Christ, regardless of how the holiday was established.

So, Spring is here.

Sort of.

Some days feel more like Autumn, but here we are.

Spring represents a new beginning as things come alive and are raring to grow. Gardens are coming alive, and people are keen to have the first BBQ of the year.

By no means can I call myself a master gardener. I’m more like a disaster gardener.

I have to AI and Google every bit of knowledge to keep the grass alive, let alone grow anything. Yet, as I take aim at the weeds and seek to make my lawn as neat as a cricket pitch, I am learning much about life and spirituality through the process —I’m growing, if you will.

My wife, Libby, does better at tending to the garden than me. She has strawberries potted and daffodils growing; she is ready with peas, chillis, peppers and tomatoes. Most of our garden experiments have even survived being overturned by Gail-force winds in our affordable, fragile discount store greenhouse.

Many of you may already know some of my tales of Lord of the Rings-style battles with squirrels and other nefarious enemies seeking to destroy my garden. A few weeks ago, I almost gave Libby and one of our ministers cause for concern as I maniacally chased away squirrels while we had a work meeting at my house. I am impassioned about protecting my garden from would-be seed stealers!

Despite how unhinged or obscure my methods appear to friends, family and neighbours, I’m convinced by the wisdom of the Internet, by people who claim to be professionals, that the methods will pay off.

You are all brilliant as a congregation, so you will all know this already, but my job as a Pastor is not to grow your faith. I’d even go as far as to say it’s not to grow the church. That’s God’s job, and He’s way better at it than I am. It’s my job to create an environment where things can grow and thrive. A gardener does not grow anything; they create the conditions for things to grow.

I have enough of a challenge ensuring my heart is right before God; I can’t take responsibility for yours as well. Too often, we look to someone else to grow our faith, grow our hearts, give us a sense of purpose, and we abdicate personal responsibility for walking humbly before the Lord.

It’s not mine and Libby’s church; it’s the Lord’s, and our job is to steward His garden by faithfully tending to its needs, pulling up the weeds, feeding the seed, and chasing off the pigeons and squirrels. Just as these actions enable my garden at home to thrive, they are the same principles that give space for the growing work of God’s restoration within your lives and within our community.

Bearing in mind that we are each responsible for the condition of our spiritual temperament towards our faith, I urge you to pursue God in prayer and tend to matters of your heart. When we fail to cultivate our hearts before God as open space for His Holy Spirit to minister, that’s when the thorns and thistles of bitterness and cynicism grow around us and choke the life that comes from our faith in Jesus. When we take ownership of our walk with the Lord and our walk with others, we tend to the overgrown garden of weariness, and we find life in our Heavenly Father’s presence.

Can I urge you to own your Christianity and your faith? Submit your heart to God and, by all means, be inspired by others, ride the rapids of what God is doing in our church and through us, but ultimately, you have to bring yourself before the Lord with a sense of intentionality. You have to do the work in aligning yourself, not with me or any other spiritual leader, but with Jesus.

What does the Apostle Paul, one of the church’s founding Fathers and author of nearly half the New Testament, say?

1 Corinthians 3:6

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

So I’m learning to garden, practically and spiritually. Sometimes, I stuff it up, but mostly, I get the conditions right, and as Libby and I grow food, the Lord seems to be talking to us through all the cliches of gardening.

At the start of the year, the Lord gave me the word ‘Health’—healthy Church, healthy Heart, healthy home. Healthy things grow. We don’t grow anything; we create healthy spaces, and God makes things grow.

I clear the weeds, remove the pests, water and fertilise the seed, and, low and behold, in summer, I’ll be eating fresh fruit and vegetables, pesticide-free! Hip, hip, hooray.

Well, what is the Lord doing in your life? What is he growing within you? What do you need to clear out of the way to allow your faith to thrive?

Are you allowing the weeds and thorns of cynicism, bitterness, and unbelief to choke your love for Jesus?

Are you placing too much of your hopes and dreams in me, your small group leader, the TikTok Influence preacher, or any other person rather than owning your faith before the Lord?

Now, things can grow, even if the environment isn’t great. You can go to Wakehurst, and one of the things I love about that National Trust property in the UK is that they have acres and acres of incredible things that grow. There are ancient trees, meadows of wildflowers and an incredible valley filled with things that thrive unattended. However, the most fruitful and productive things that grow have had someone intentionally create space to give them the best chance of thriving.

STUMBLING FORWARD, GROWING UP

When you meet any person in adult life who carries themselves in a certain way or finds themselves in a unique position, there is likely a model and some intentionality that led them there. Equally, when you meet someone who might not function in the way one would hope, there too is someone who had circumstances dictate the course of their life. For some, their upbringing was purposeful and filled with many positive role models to consciously and unconsciously show them how to be in the world. For others, their models were most unhelpful —true for all of us to a certain extent.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell ( which you can listen to on Audible here) argues that some small moments of intentionality have shaped the biggest names in sports, entertainment, and many other affluent and skilfully successful people in varying industries.
He reflects on an extensive study by Annette Lareau about how someone who has learned the rules, been shown the models, and had the skills of social conduct passed down to them has a head start over many from impoverished backgrounds.
She found that kids like myself who grew up below the breadline often lacked the know-how when it comes to advocating for themselves, being familiar with delaying gratification, managing a household, making eye contact, engaging in meaningful friendships and healthy relationships, and embracing self-worth, to name a few.

These seemingly small subtleties play out in the same way that flying a plane or charting a ship a few degrees off course would result in drastically different directions over time.

Intentionality is course correction.

Sometimes, you stumble forward, not knowing where to go, how to develop, or what to look to as a healthy model; you drift and let life happen to you like Baloo, the bear from The Jungle Book, floating down a river.

However, our Heavenly Father’s intention for you is not to drift but to drive concerning the direction and development of your life.

We must learn the Lord’s ways and rhythms and allow His Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and lives. We need to loosen up, not lock up, and begin to walk in step with Him.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably recognise that we occasionally have abdicated responsibility for our growth and our faith.

We may have played dumb to our compromises at times, saying, ‘Oh, I messed up. God, would you fix this for me?’ hoping that the nowness of God will rescue our mishaps. Spotting a perceived issue, we comment, ‘Oh, there’s a problem the church should fix’, ignoring that we who follow Christ are the church ⎯, and it’s our problem. We say, ‘Oh, you’re struggling. I’ll pray you get what you need’, all the while neglecting the opportunity to be generous and meet the need.

Because we are people of faith, we believe so much in the now-ness and transformational work of the Holy Spirit that sees God move instantly. Rightly so, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we still need to apply ourselves, and sometimes, the Lord is moving us towards growing up steadily and diligently. It’s both God’s now-ness in action and our obedience to be the method by which He works to see things shift in our pocket of the world.

You must still train if God has spoken to you about your future. You must be diligent if you’re struggling to know what’s next. If you aren’t happy with where you are, you must keep your spirit sweet. Those are things we ought to tend to.

God’s always working, but we have to work with Him. And there is no better model for this level of intentionality, this level of growing up on purpose that we are talking about this morning, than to model ourselves on Jesus. To be like Jesus, you ought to do Jesus things.

Jesus grew, and we must, too.

We will examine Jesus’ childhood, but to help us set the scene, let’s pick up a key passage from Luke 4:14-20.

This passage comes after Jesus has just been filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to enact God’s Kingdom. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer. At the end of that time, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times and prevailed.

And then, mostly likely hungry and shattered from an incredibly disciplined period of devotion and worship, he heads home to Galilee, back to the place where he was raised.

Hold the background of those events in your mind because that will help us relate to Jesus shortly.

We read in Luke 4:14-20 that Jesus found a particular place in the scroll of Isaih and began reading from it. Verse 17 says: the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written.
How did Jesus know where to find his place in the scroll of Isaiah?

At least, in this scholar’s opinion, the simple and accurate answer is that Jesus knew where to look to find his reading. How did he know where to look? He had done the work in memorising scripture.

He. Found. The. Place.

Finding a place in a book can be tricky, especially when you’ve dropped the book and the Shine Jesus Shine bookmark falls out, causing you to lose your place. Finding it in a scroll can be a pain in the arm, given how much you need to unwind it to find the place when your reading is towards the back.

The Isaiah scroll could have been 5-10 meters long. Scrolls were usually enormous and very old revered documents held in prestige by religious communities ⎯very different from a modern paperback book. Scrolling through a scroll takes time; you need to know the text intimately to find what you seek. Remember that the text has no headings, chapter numbers and few breaks. In our Bibles, we have what’s called a pointing system that gives us chapter verses and theme titles for the scriptures. They are all helpful tools added in recent history to help us navigate the Bible, but none of those things exist in the original text of the scriptures.

So, to find the place where something is written, you have to know the scroll extremely well. Luke 4 infers that Jesus has memorised the scroll. He is familiar with it, so much so that he knows exactly how far to unravel it and where in the text his passage will appear.

In the Gospels, we frequently see Jesus repeatedly say the phrase, ‘It is written,’ and then recite passages from memory. So we know he poured himself into the available scriptures of his day, which we now know as the Old Testament.

We might say, ‘But that’s okay for Jesus. He’s the son of God.’ He has what Malcolm Gladwell would call a privileged head start.

I don’t think Jesus had an advantage. Later in the New Testament, Paul tells us that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, even though he was, in very nature, God. Instead, he poured himself into Humanity. We call it the incarnation; Jesus is divine and human. Make no mistake: He had to wrestle through His humanity; therefore, He had to learn like everyone else.

Please don’t take my word for it; let’s take a Gospel writer’s word for it.

Let us read Luke 2:39-52 and discover exactly what Jesus was doing between childhood and adulthood.

One verse in particular grants us insight into the hidden years of Jesus’ life. It was first pointed out to me by Dr John Andres, and it is Luke 2:52 which says: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Dr John wrote a whole book on it, which you can find on Amazon by tapping here. 

This one verse, Luke 2:52, sums up 18 years of Jesus’ life between childhood and entering the ministry in his 30s.

You would enter Judaic adulthood as a Jewish child through your Bah mitzvah at age 12. Jesus, like all Jewish children, would need to have proven himself ready by learning Jewish Law, which is the Torah—the first five books of the Bible. Jesus also became a Rabbie, which meant that he also had to engage with Talmund Torah, which involved, in ancient times, committing the entire first five books of the Hebrew Testament to memory! Jesus would also likely have had to have learned the Psalms and, perhaps, the book of Proverbs. He would have been tested at random and proven to be successful, thus becoming an adult and becoming eligible as a Rabbi later in life.

When you know the history of how Jesus had to study, the story about Jesus debating in the temple in Luke 2 is all the more amazing. It further demonstrates Jesus’ ability to learn, grow, grasp and interpret scriptures within the confines of his humanity.

It’s also worth noting that 30 is the age of adult wisdom in ancient Jewish culture. It’s like the final stage of adulthood, where a person is ready to enter full maturity and fully embody life’s responsibilities. It’s interesting that Jesus is thought to have begun his three-something years of ministry at the age of 30.

As an aside, It’s intriguing how our brain’s peak efficiency in thinking is linked to myelination, a growth process typically finished by age 30. It essentially means you can think as fast as you feel, and you’re more cognitively aware than in childhood, teen years or through your twenty-somethings.

So, in one verse (Luke 2:52), we have the very answer to what Jesus was doing in those silent years of his life ⎯growing up. And, to be like Jesus, we ought to do Jesus’ things.

Jesus grew, and we must, too.

So, it’s time to grow up. Grow up like Jesus.

How did Jesus grow up? He grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with both God and humanity.

The word for a man, often seen in the translation of Luke 2:52, is better translated as ‘all people’ (ἀνθρώποις). It’s the Greek base word for our English word ‘anthropology’, meaning people generically.

Let’s take a look at the original text of Luke 2:52 in Classical Greek to help us better understand the full sentiment of this verse.

Here is the verse as seen in an interlinear bible, a side-by-side translation of the Greek to English NT you can buy from Amazon by tapping here.

 

Luke 2:52

Καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν ⸂σοφίᾳ καὶ ἡλικίᾳ⸃ καὶ χάριτι παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις.

And Jesus was increasing in – wisdom and stature and in favour with God and people.

 

Jesus grew on purpose. The word grow is perhaps better understood as intentionality.

GROW – προκόπτω (prokóptōto), which means to hammer forward

  • to lengthen out by hammering (as a smith forges metals)
  • metaphorically to promote, forward, and further

The big idea of this word conjures up a sense of purposeful movement forward in developing and growing, of carving out a path as one who is purposefully building a road.

The first area mentioned in Jesus’ growth is wisdom.

WISDOM – σοφίᾳ (sophíā)

Wisdom can be defined as the ability to discern what is true, right, or lasting and to apply knowledge, experience, understanding, and insight to make sound judgments and decisions. It involves a deep understanding of human nature and life experiences and the ability to navigate complex situations with prudence, foresight, and ethical consideration.

σοφίᾳ (sophíā), in the sense of its use in Luke 2:52 is a mixture of divine and human wisdom. It’s spiritual wisdom synthesised with an earthly application of knowledge.

The renowned journalist Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad”.

In Proverbs 4:7, we are told that the beginning of wisdom is to go and get it. Wisdom is the consequence of good judgment in applying knowledge. Spiritually, we see it as the Holy Spirit nudging us towards the best course of action.

When I was a teenager, I looked like I’d fallen backwards through a 90s teen fashion shop. I had the best drip of my age. Things have changed…

There comes a day when a 30-something should not be shopping at Top Man. Wisdom prompts me to switch it up and wear clothes that reflect my growth in life. You can disagree. I’m talking about my personal comfort here, so you don’t have to buy into this analogy if you’re brave in your clothing choices. The point is that wisdom tips us in the right direction, but we must pursue it. Some practical advice that has helped me in gleaning wisdom is to do the following:

  • Read. Read things you agree with and disagree with.
  • Hold your tongue with brash opinions and listen twice before formulating your opinion.
  • Learn to ask good questions.

 

The next thing mentioned in Luke 2:52 is favour.

FAVOUR – χάριτι (chariti)

Favour can signify receiving special treatment, privilege, or advantage, often due to someone’s influence or goodwill. For example, if someone receives a promotion due to the boss’s favour, it means they were given the promotion because the boss likes or supports them.

χάριτι (chariti) – where we derive our word charisma. Pleasure, delight, warmness, and charm are the sentiments. It’s usually translated as grace. The context of the passage is more about preference for a person rather than unmerited forgiveness in the way we understand God’s grace.

Dale Carnegie wrote a wonderful book called ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, which you can listen to on Audible at Amazon here. The core idea is, essentially, to take a genuine interest in others and be enthusiastic about who they are. Show them some warmth and sincere interest.

People are starved for attention. If you don’t believe me, look at Snap, Insta, and Tick-Tock’s growth rates.

  • What if you could delight in being seriously and sincerely present with someone, showing them some favour? You would grow in favour.
  • Don’t peer over someone’s head. Don’t allow yourself to become a clique. Be present in the moment.

 

Finally, Luke 2:52 talks about Jesus growing in stature.

STATURE – ἡλικίᾳ (hēlikia)

Stature, in a more metaphorical sense, can also refer to an individual’s level of respect, influence, or prestige. For example, a person with a high stature in their profession might be widely respected and admired for their achievements and contributions.

ἡλικίᾳ (hēlikia) – is a word for maturity and being fit for purpose.

Stature learns to lean into a moment, be fully present, and occupy the space without shrinking away. It’s not about diminishing others; it’s more akin to embracing your right to exist and doing so confidently while not apologising.

Stature looks like personal confidence and assurance. Gaining stature is about being comfortable in your skin and refusing to hide away.

The kind of assurance Jesus had was found in the presence of God and being secure in who he was. It was never a problem to face the Pharisees because he had developed stature. He had learned the scriptures. He knew his stuff. He could be confident in his ability to speak the truth. It helped that he was the truth revealed, but as we get a revelation of that same truth, it should cause us to walk confidently and boldly.

There is something to be said for quiet confidence that comes from the hidden place. And when I say hidden place, I mean those times when we quietly reflect and pray, having spent quality time in worship as a way of drawing strength from our faith in God.

OUT OF COMFORT

Jesus grew, and we must, too.
Nobody grows in their comfort zone. It’s nice in the comfort zone. It’s warm in the comfort zone. For growth, there has to be struggle and success. Doing something difficult and mastering it. A resistance that builds you. Not so much that you break, but enough for you to grow.

For Jesus, It was intentional. Jesus had to do humanity the painful way. The work on the cross is diminished if it uses divinity as a shortcut through humanity. The Bible does not lend us to the idea of Jesus coasting on divine ability but human diligence in cooperation with God’s provision.

He had to cry. He had to fast and feel hunger. He had to feel love and loss. Grief and sorrow. Joy and victory. Surprise and hope. Temptation and overcoming.

You are in the most privileged position of most generations.

Most of us live without immediate conflict restricting our national resources, although that is no guarantee in the future.

Most of us have more information available than ever before, although that is no guarantee in the future.

If you are in this church, let me tell you ⎯you are surrounded by brilliant people who can support you as you grow.

So let us be intentional about our faith, confident in our calling to serve Jesus and diligent in growing up in life and in our walk with the Lord.

I’m not saying do it without support, I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m not saying abandon help, but I’m saying don’t stop growing. If you are learning nothing, get intentional about your growth. Learn from good examples, learn from bad examples, and choose to grow.

The word used for Jesus was προκόπτω (prokóptōto), which means to increase and grow. So come on, increase and grow.

Jesus grew, so I must too.

Grow.

Grow in wisdom.
Grow in stature
Grow in favour.

Now is no time to shrink, no time to play it safe. Come on now, it’s time to stand tall. Get out of your comfort zone. Let God stretch you. Let others stretch you. Feel some growing pain.

Stop playing it safe and get out of your comfort zone.

Go on, grow! I dare you.


Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

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