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First Thoughts Blog

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Day 1



John Everett Millais. Christ in the House of His Parents. 1849-50, Tate Gallery, London.

We’re given very little specific information about Jesus’ first thirty years, but those decades formed what Jesus would become in his ministry. We know he was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit. His family fled to Egypt shortly after his birth because jealous King Herod sought his life. His stepfather Joseph worked as a carpenter. Like any good Jewish boy, Jesus would have learned his father’s trade. Jesus learned to relate to his family and neighbors. He studied the Scriptures. He internalized the Jewish forms of worship. He noticed seasons, trees, and animals. Jesus increased in awareness of his heavenly Father and their unique relationship. All this prepared him to burst onto the public scene at his baptism. 
Preparing for this week, we can spend a few moments with John Everett Millais’ 1850 painting With Christ in the House of His Parents. This intimate domestic scene is rich with signs of what is to come. The young Jesus has pierced his hand on a protruding nail in Joseph’s workshop. Mary comforts him even as Joseph tenderly examines the wound. We cannot help but think of the coming cross, especially as we note the larger nail in Joseph’s hand. His cousin John brings a bowl of water foreshadowing his role as the baptizer. Even more symbolism can be discovered in articles about this painting.
The Child Jesus Asks, “Who Am I?”
Imagine standing with Jesus, right next to him, in prayer to his Father. Read this passage of praise aloud. As you do so, consider that you are praying along with Jesus, your two voices becoming one as you bless God.  
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity
   who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
Psalm 139:1-2, 13-18  
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar. . . .
For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
   my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
   when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
     the days that were formed for me,
     when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
   I awake, and I am still with you.
What Is This Psalm About?
In this psalm, David contemplates the wonder that the LORD of all knows him personally and intimately. God perceives his past and his future. God beholds him inside and out. In the LORD’s awareness, there can be no gap between what David presents and who he really is. God beholds him entirely. He knows him completely.
The heart of this song can be expressed in a simple but profound statement: “I am thought, therefore I am.” Why do I exist? Because God thought of me! And he keeps thinking of me. By his very regard for me, I stay alive. The one whose name is “I Am,” the Triune God who is pure, uncreated being imagined me. Then he created me. He gave me a real existence. So I can joyfully say, “I am! I am me! I live!” But not because I could ever have made myself. Thinking, choosing and doing are all gifts from God. 
This psalm shows me that the more I acknowledge the Creator, the more I appreciate the mystery of being alive. My praise of the Maker opens me to joyful gratitude. I rejoice, without pride, in my very life. For all glory goes to the One who conceived me in eternity and then enabled my mother to bring me into this world. I am thought—by God. Therefore, I exist as the particular person I am. Even now, as I draw the next breath, I realize that God maintains my life by his constant thought and care.
What Might This Psalm Have Meant to Jesus?
We know very little of Jesus’ life before his ministry began, and what information we have is precious. We know that in Nazareth “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). We can well imagine that Psalm 139 was as significant for Jesus as it has ever been for young people.
Jesus did not come out of Mary’s womb as a fully formed little man the way some art shows! Jesus grew up the way we do. That means he had to learn. Like every baby, Jesus learned to distinguish people. He knew the loving embrace of his nursing mother. It was different than the strong embrace of his carpenter father. Jesus could tell the smooth skin of Mary’s cheek from the rough beard of Joseph. 
As Jesus realized more and more that he was his own, separate person, he may have wondered, as many children do, where he was before he was here with his parents. Lying on his bed at night, before he fell asleep, he may have looked at his hands in the dim light wondering at how he could just think of moving his fingers and they moved! Jesus may have tried to see how long he could hold his breath or noticed the dazzling brightness in his closed eyes when he rubbed them with his knuckles. Jesus would have puzzled over where he went when he was asleep. As Jesus encountered the death of animals, neighbors or even relatives, he would have wondered if they still lived somewhere else. And so where would he be one day when he died? 
All the while Jesus learned about the extraordinary ordinariness of being alive, this psalm would have set everything in the context of the God who made him. How  Jesus would have known the fresh joy each morning expressed in this psalm: “I awake, and I am still with you!” Psalm 139 gathered up every thanksgiving at meals, every bedtime prayer, and every song of the synagogue with the reality that Jesus lived because he was created by a God who every moment knew him and related to him. 
Praying with Jesus
Jesus the surge of living flowed through you!
You knew the child’s delight of discovery. 
I can see you laughing
As Mary blew on your tummy,
As Joseph tossed you into the air.
I love to think about how you first spoke.
Did your parents keep using the funny names
You gave to things?
I love to visualize you on your bed in the dark,
Or in the early morning before the house stirred,
Speaking to your toys, making up little stories.
I love to see you walking outside,
Holding a hand, feeling the sun, 
Breathing in the scent of home.
I love to ponder how the awareness 
Of your heavenly Father grew year by year,
To imagine you hearing this psalm and
Realizing, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 
What love of life you surely had,
How precious were those days at home,
Before the weight of the world bore down 
Upon the shoulders of your soul. 
Posted in: Lent