From the Editor: Ivan Leigh Warden, DMin, served as the associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the
General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was passionate about following Jesus’
example in ministry to the people in twenty-first-century urban war zones. He passed away this year, and his
counsel and spiritual insight will be truly missed. We present this feature, from the Message Vault, circa
The Jesus They Knew
If you grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York, the
Cabrini-Green area of Chicago, Illinois,
the Harlem area of New York City, the Watts area in Los Angeles, California, or other similar regions of the world, you
may recognize the setting for the boyhood of Jesus. Nazareth lay in a saucer-like depression halfway up the
slopes of the Galilean hills, but its isolation was more apparent than real.
From the southern rim of the saucer one could see 3o miles in three directions, and to the north of Nazareth, a trail
that could be traveled in 3o minutes leading to the main east-west road of lower Galilee. Almost three miles from the
road lay Sepphoris, the big city of Jesus’ boyhood. Romans destroyed it when Jesus was only 10. However, in Jesus’
manhood, Herod Antipas reestablished it as a Greek city, and it became the capital of Galilee. Some scholars believe
Jesus was one of the carpenters who helped to rebuild the city.
Though not Jesus’ biological father, Joseph played a significant role during Jesus’ most impressionable years: he
showed Jesus the importance of working hard and providing for family, and he taught Jesus how to rise above the
circumstances of life.
Did you ever stop to think that Jesus lived in one room, much like numerous urbanites around the world do today?
Did you know that Dwyane Wade, professional basketball player with the National Basketball Association (NBA),
member of the NBA Miami Heat team, and NBA All-Star player, lived with his father and step siblings in a one-room
apartment in Chicago, Illinois, and that at any given time between eight and 12 people were
sharing and sleeping in the one room?
In the poorer homes of Nazareth people squatted on the floor, and furniture, if they had any, was sparse and of a
simple design. Chairs were not deemed a necessity, since visitors could squat or recline on handmade rugs from
local manufacturers that covered the clay floor. The people did not have beds, either; they would place a mat on top
of the rugs, and over the mat they placed a quilt, and over the quilt a covering of wool or skins for warmth. Think of
their “bed” as what you know today as a sleeping bag. It was this type of bedroll that the man of John 5:8 carried
when he was told to “take up your bed and walk.”
Bilingualism was an economic necessity in the marketplace. Jesus was trilingual. He read and spoke Aramaic
fluently. He knew Hebrew well enough to read it in public, and He had a carpenter’s command of common Greek.
Jesus was homeschooled. The law commanded every pious father to teach his sons the Shema: “Hear, 0 Israel: The
Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all
your strength. And these words . . . you shall teach .. . diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit
in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy
Joseph taught Jesus a trade. Custom decreed that the eldest son should follow the occupation of his father. Joseph
provided Jesus with His early education. Jesus was taught by human experience. His perceptive and profound
insights into human nature did not suddenly spring to life when He was 3o. They were the product of a mind and
spirit long attuned to the human scene. Jesus probably based the characters in His parables on real-life experiences
He had with the people of His youth. The dishonest steward, the prodigal son, the unjust judge, and others suggest
that Jesus was a straight-A student in the school of human experience.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM JESUS’ EXPERIENCES LIVING
We can take from the life of Jesus that He did not grow up rich. He knew what it meant to work hard for every single
cent. He did not let His living arrangements and life circumstances dictate who He would become. If anything, He
was determined to make the best of the situation of living in an urban area and being very poor. He took the time to
listen, learn, and grow with wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). Instead of settling for
mediocrity, Jesus aimed only for excellence. He spoke more than one language and was a breadwinner of His
family at an early age. Jesus learned not to let rumors control His life, though the social media of His day must have
had a blast tweeting about who His real daddy was.
With all of His circumstances that He had no control over, He never let them define Him or His character. When the
time came for Jesus to begin His public ministry, He was, because of His hard work ethic (though only about age
3o), able to leave His family in good financial shape.
Jesus is the perfect example for men today. In His environment, and in spite of His environment, Jesus
became the Savior of the world.