Luke tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people. (Luke 2:52 NLT). An elemental observation of Jesus’ formation notes that Jesus progressed intellectually (wisdom), physically (stature), spiritually (with God) and socially (with people).
John Noland comments, “Luke speaks…out of the conviction that the human maturing process even in perfect form involves not only growth in size but also development in wisdom and in the capacity to execute that which is pleasing both to God and one’s fellows” (WBC Luke, 35a, 133 emphasis mine). With this verse we stand before the beauty and mystery of the incarnation of God, dare I say, a kind of process theology.
Jon Krakauer writes, “Bottled oxygen does not make the top of Everest feel like sea level. Climbing above the South Summit with my regulator delivering just under two liters of oxygen a minute, I had to stop and draw three or four lungfuls of air before each ponderous step. Then I’d take one more step and have to pause for another four heaving breaths—and this was the fastest pace I could manage. Because the oxygen systems we were using delivered a lean mix of compressed gas and ambient air, 29,000 feet with gas felt approximately like 26,000 feet without gas. …I had to remind myself over and over that there was 7,000 feet of sky on either side, that everything was at stake here, that I would pay for a single bungled step with my life” (Into Thin Air, 179-180).
The typical stages involved in conquering Mt. Everest include setting up a large base camp NW of the Khumba Icefall. From there the climbers progress up the mountain from four camps—each camp at a higher elevation. Conquering Everest, like life, is a process with a destination, a summit, and we must proceed in stages. We are wise to stop periodically and assess our well-being and progress. It’s like standing against the kitchen doorframe that had a ruler on it to measure your growth as a child.
God has a stunning, sobering and, yes, ordained purpose for us: “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Romans 8:29). Paul used the metaphor of human development and birth for his apostolic ministry: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you… (Galatians 4:19). I think Christian formation is expressed best in living out the Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (the Great Commandment) as presented by Scot McKnight. Jesus’ earthly summit wasn’t Everest; it was the cross. Jesus set his face like flint (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) to get there. He would not be deterred. Each resolute step that Jesus took was an act of love. For us (pastors) and for our people, we do not reach our summit (being like Jesus) without taking up our cross. It’s a process. Sometimes we have to take ponderous steps knowing that should we fail it will cost us our lives. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.” And when we lose our lives for Jesus’ and the Gospel’s sake, we find them.
Almost all Christian devotional literature before the 20th century presented elements of real danger for those wandering from the Way. Like on Everest, taking one bungling step could lead to instant destruction. Think Pilgrim’s Progress. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world….When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; with grace for his gender rendering).