You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. [Philippians 2:5-7 (NLT)]
Jesus may have been the Son of God but, for most of His life, He chose to live as the son of a man. Luke’s words that Jesus “grew in wisdom and in stature” [2:52] lead us to believe that Jesus was bound, both physically and mentally, by the normal course of human development. He didn’t arrive as an infant who could speak in full sentences, recite the Torah, discuss Scripture with the rabbis, turn water into wine, or walk (let alone walk on water). Like other human children, Jesus had to grow, mature, and obey His earthly parents. While fully God, Jesus also was fully man, with a human nature and will; when He overcame mankind’s sinful nature by never sinning, He did that as a man.
Even though Mary and Joseph knew Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would reign over Israel, they didn’t know the details of God’s plan or the magnitude of His power. Although they knew their son was special, they had no idea how special He really was! I can’t help but wonder what Jesus was like as a child, what was it like for Joseph and Mary to raise the Son of God, and what it was like to have God for a brother.
The gospels specifically mention Jesus’ sisters and four brothers: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas. [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3] Some say that these siblings weren’t the children of Joseph and Mary but were cousins or distant relatives. The Greek words used, however, were specific: adelphos (brothers) and adelphe (sisters). After the wedding at Cana, John tells us that Jesus went to Capernaum with Mary, the disciples and “his brothers.” [John 2:12] Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention that ”Jesus’ mother and brothers” came to see Him and John tells us that our Lord’s brothers had doubts about Him being the Messiah. That they eventually came to believe in Jesus is clear; they were united in prayer with the disciples after the resurrection prior to Pentecost. Paul refers to James as “the Lord’s brother” and both James and his brother Jude wrote epistles we find in the New Testament. That Jesus had siblings is clear; how they came to be is less clear.
There are many who hold that Mary remained a perpetual virgin: that she and Joseph never consummated their union. The Bible, however, does not support that assertion. Matthew wrote that Joseph did not “know” Mary (a polite euphemism for having sexual relations) until the baby was born, clearly implying that he did “know” her later. Both Matthew and Luke refer to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn” rather than her “only” son. God ordained marriage and sex before sin entered the world and there is no reason to think Joseph and Mary did not follow His command to “become one flesh” and “be fruitful and multiply.” The sin would have been if Mary had refused to have relations with her husband. For those who want to think of Mary as a perpetual virgin, however, an alternate explanation is that Joseph was a widower and those six or more siblings were from his earlier marriage. In that case, Joseph would have been quite a bit older than Mary and, while he is described as being a righteous man, nothing indicates he’d been previously married. In this scenario, unless those children were all grown and out of his house, where were they that Christmas night in Bethlehem? No mention of a family is made.
Although He was God, Jesus came to earth to live and die as a man. I can’t imagine God wanting Jesus to grow up without experiencing the mayhem, noise, tears, conflict, teasing, and laughter that come with brothers and sisters in the house. As part of a family, Jesus learned how to play, share, wait His turn, tolerate annoying siblings, and help the little ones. The lessons He taught us about love, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and turning the other cheek were all lessons Jesus had to learn as part of a family unit. As Jesus “grew in wisdom and in stature,” he learned how to live peacefully with others, lessons that were invaluable when dealing with the petty rivalries and disputes of His disciples. As we approach the holiday season and the stress of large family gatherings, let us remember that we’re not encountering any challenges that Jesus didn’t face. He managed to do it without sin; can we?