Jesus and His First Thousand DaysRichard Lundie
Tucked away in the account of the nativity, we find profound truth about Jesus’ life. Yes, there were shepherds, and Magi, and traveling to Bethlehem. But the central event of this story is often lacking in details: Jesus, an infant, was born. Even the biblical account summarises it in one verse:
Luke 2: 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke, the doctor, writes “she gave birth”. These three words contain so much. And yet they capture a shared experience of the whole of humanity.
Mary had gone into labour. The pain would have been significant. The contractions would have come quicker and quicker, signalling the imminent arrival of the child. When the time came, the baby boy was pushed out his mother’s womb, through the birth canal and into waiting hands. He was covered in amniotic fluids, likely in her blood, too. Mary wiped away the white, greasy vernix from his skin, revealing pink flesh below. His first cry, as God-in-flesh, would likely have been a feeble squeal. A cry for nurture. A cry for nourishment from his mother. Mary wrapped him in cloths to cover his nakedness. It was probably Joseph who cut the umbilical cord.
Jesus fumbled in search of what would physically nourish him. His little mouth latched onto Mary’s breast and the Son of God was fed. His first meal as Immanuel, God with us, was in the loving embrace of his mother. Mary and Joseph, as his earthly parents, would have loved him, held him, fed him, ‘burped’ him, cleaned his diapers and nurtured him.
This kind of detail of the Son of God, the creator of the heavens and the earth can make us feel a little uneasy. We might have a visual picture of what Jesus, the grown man, looked like. I suspect we do not have a picture of Jesus as the infant. Why? At Christmas time, we read v6-7 and rush on to talk about the angels appearing to the shepherds. And we overlook a core truth: the Son of God entered this world as an infant, like you and me.
Over the ages, theologians have grappled with how to reconcile the humanity of Jesus with his divinity. How could he be both man and God at the same time?
Jesus had a human body – that thirsted, hungered and grew tired. Jesus had a human mind and brain, as he grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Jesus had a soul and human emotions. And, like we have read so far, was born as an infant. And yet, he was God.
Some people, in trying to make sense of this fully-human and fully-God tension, have suggested a few explanations. One is that Jesus never had an actual physical body: he was merely God in the appearance of man. Others claim that Jesus was just a man until he was turned into the son of God, at his baptism. Both of these views fall short of explaining the range of scriptures that give us this beautiful tension of Jesus being one person, fully man and fully God.
Jesus chose his entrance into the world
When we hold to the position that Jesus, from conception, was both fully human and fully God, we look at his birth and time before his public ministry with a new perspective.
The Son of God chose the time and manner of his entrance into this world. He chose to be born, being pushed through a birth canal. He chose that for the first years of his life, he was completely dependent on his mother for nutrition. He chose that for his early life, he would need the care, protection and stimulation that Mary and Joseph would provide. The Son of God, by whom and through whom all things were created, needed to be taught how to walk, how to speak and how to feed himself.
The First Thousand Days
What we know from research is that the first thousand days of a child’s life – from conception to two years – is a crucial window of opportunity for its healthy development and growth. Every child needs four basic building blocks for their flourishing. An abundance of these building blocks will lead to good neural development, ensuring growth and development –not just in their childhood, but for the rest of their lives. These building blocks are nutrition, stimulation, a sense of security and love.
Jesus himself would have needed these building blocks in order to grow healthily. By inference, we can tell that he did indeed receive them. We continue to read in Luke 2:
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Luke 1 shares the account of how Mary was told that she would bear a child. She travels to her relative Elizabeth, who is pregnant with who we will know as John the Baptizer. As Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, her baby leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). This fascinating account reveals that God is already at work in the lives of people even when they are still in their mother’s wombs. He is not waiting until a certain age or maturity. He is involved and active from the first day.
What does this all mean for us today?
- Jesus chose the nature of his coming into this world and, in so doing, honoured childbirth. Thinking back to Genesis 3:16, childbirth itself is not the curse. The pain associated with it is part of the curse of sin.
- Considering Jesus as an infant elevates our view of babies and children. We are not somehow ‘lesser than human’ if we are below a certain age. The Magi and shepherds came to worship and revere Jesus, even as an infant and young child. They didn’t wait until he had started ministering. Each child is fully human, bearing the image of God at whatever age. We are to treasure young lives.
- Jesus embraced children. Mark 10 tells of how Jesus took children into his arms. He didn’t see them as second-rate humans, only needing his attention when they reached a certain age. Having been a child, He knew and understood that little children should never be on the margins. If they are worthy of his attention, then they are definitely worthy of ours.
Jesus’ Last Thousand Days
Jesus’ first thousand days were essential for his flourishing as a child and adult. His final thousand days were crucial to our flourishing today: in his final thousand days, Jesus had his public ministry. Is teaching, his signs and wonders, his life, death, resurrection and ascension – all crammed into 3 years. It is incredible to think about what can be accomplished in just 1000 days.
When we consider his first day and his last day, we see something more of this majestic king who descended into our story to commune with humanity.
On his first day, Jesus was covered in Mary’s blood, part of the price that she paid in bearing him and giving him physical life. On his last day, Jesus blood was spilt, covering not only Mary, but all those who would believe in him. It was part of the price he bore so that we could have spiritual life.
On his first day, Jesus cried in hunger and thirst for his mother’s milk – perfect rich and creamy nourishment. On his last day, on the cross, he cried out “I thirst”. And instead of perfect nourishment, he was given wine vinegar. The last taste in his mouth was sharp and sour.
On his first day, Jesus would have cried – seeking nourishment and nurturing from his mother. It was a sign of new life. His last cry, on the cross, was “It is finished”. It was a proclamation that his work on that cross was done – the price for our new life was paid.
On his first day, Jesus was born into a family. Knowing how important it is to be in loving relationships, on his last day, he tasked John to take care of Mary.
On his first day, Mary wrapped him in new clothes, bringing comfort and warmth. On his last day, his clothes were ripped from him, leaving him naked and shamed.
On his first day, he was placed in a manger, a place not his own. On his last day, he was placed in a tomb that was not his own.
See children in a new way
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, entered into the human story as an infant. This powerful truth can enable us to see pregnancy and young children in a new light. Children are not to be endured or tolerated. They are to be treasured, nurtured, supported, encouraged and built up. It is remarkable to consider what can be accomplished in just 1000 days.
Science has given us a framework of what is needed, but the life of Jesus has given us a compelling why.