Posted in theology

The Carpenter

By Elizabeth Prata

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of reading old books. I’d found out about a 1900s missionary William Borden, and in a biography Borden mentioned attending a sermon by Campbell Morgan. Curious about Morgan and the sermon that impacted this burgeoning missionary, I followed up. What I found was wonderful. I wrote about the evangelist Campbell Morgan yesterday, but today I’d like to share with you about the sermon he preached, one of hundreds I’m looking forward to learning about.

I think we’re all curious about Jesus in his “hidden years at Nazareth” as Morgan called them. We see much about the baby when he was born, and then when he was about two years old when the Magi worshiped him in the house. We see nothing else of Jesus until he was twelve and at the temple questioning the priests and listening to them. That was the incident when the caravan left Jerusalem to return to Nazareth but Jesus wasn’t among them. Joseph and Mary had to return and look for the boy. Then…nothing until he stepped foot in the Jordan at John the Baptist’s baptism of Him.

What was Jesus like in the in-between? In his sermon, Morgan said there were two verses from which we could glean much. The Hidden Years at Nazareth is based on his sermons from Mark 1:11 and 6:3, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, and “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” we learn of man’s view and God’s view. Morgan said that the 18 years between Jesus entering manhood and seen questioning the elders at the temple, and his step into public ministry at the baptism are the hidden years, but that we have much to learn from the silence and the one or two Bible verses about it.

We think of the triumph of the cross but that would not have been a triumph if Jesus had sinned along the way. With Easter just passed we rightly focused on the cross, but we often gloss over the import of the part where we say “He lived a sinless life.”

Morgan wrote: “Let us, then, try and see Him in those eighteen hidden years. The two verses that I have read are the only two that give us any definite or detailed account of what Jesus was doing from the time He was twelve until He was about thirty. Take the two statements and fix them on your minds for a moment: “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  “Is not this the carpenter?”  These two passages supply the story of the eighteen years. Jesus was a carpenter pleasing God.” end Morgan quote.

Jesus was baptized, overcame the temptation in the wilderness, then returned and ascended the teaching seat in the synagogue and read from Isaiah. The men assembled in that solemn Sabbath day said, “Is this not the carpenter?”

As Jesus stood between the dividing line of his hidden life and his public ministry, God spoke from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Was God’s pleasure in Jesus on the cross? It was yet to be. Was it of his temptation in the wilderness? That was still to happen. Morgan makes the case that what God was pleased with was Jesus’ daily life in common work- as a carpenter.

Campbell Morgan again: “For the greater part, then, of the life of Jesus, He worked with His own hands for His own living. That brings the Son of God, in living, pulsating life, close to every man who works. The man Jesus rose at daybreak, and, picking up His tools, made yokes and tables in order that He might have something to eat, and that, not for a brief period, but for eighteen years. He was an apprentice boy, a young man improving His craft, a master in His little shop with the shavings round Him and the tools about Him.”

Picture this scene in Nazareth 2000 years ago. Note that the men in the synagogue said is this not THE carpenter? It was not likely that a small town such as Nazareth would have had more than one carpenter. Jesus was THE single carpenter, toiling in this manual labor daily.

“Sometimes we have overshadowed the carpenter’s shop with Calvary’s cross. We have no right to do it. We have come to forget the fidelity of the Son of God in the little details of life as we have gazed upon His magnificent triumphs in the places of passion and conflict.” ~Campbell Morgan

It means that for all those 18 years between 12 and 30, Jesus never once did “shoddy work.” It was always his best work for the customer. He never once became impatient with a customer. He never cut a corner. He was never late with an order.

Morgan said in addition to His common work, Jesus was perfect in his relations with his community. “In the second place, the divine approval meant that the influence of the life had been pure and bright and good. You all know the effect of influence. What sort of influence has He exerted? Pure and strong! But he would have lived a bright, strong, glad life before Him, for no life ever touched the life of the Son of God but was the brighter and purer and stronger for the contact; and so, when the years of the carpenter’s shop are over, God sets His seal of approval upon them, first, because the work has been well done; and secondly, because the influence of the life has been true and right and noble.”

It was Jesus’s delight to do the will of His Father, and for those 18 years the will of God was for Jesus to labor in obscurity in the carpenter’s shop…to live a perfect life, and to produce good goods, be pure in heart, and honorable to all. Why? Why not incarnate and go right to the cross? No! It was the daily accumulation of the steps toward that pinnacle that Jesus must tread. He had his foot on the neck of every sin, every day, as he toiled.

Morgan: “Let me put it superlatively, and say, Calvary’s cross would have been nothing but the tragic ending of a mistaken life, it had not been for the carpenter’s shop! In that carpenter’s shop He fought my battles. My hardest fight is never fought when there is a crowd to applaud or oppose, but when I am alone. There was necessity for it, and because of Nazareth’s shop there came Gethsemane’s garden and Calvary’s cross, and so, abiding in the will of God, by victory upon victory, He won His final triumph, and so opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The carpenter’s shop made Calvary not a battle-field merely, but a day of triumph that lit heaven and earth with hope.”

Let us not dare to think our work in the common hours is meaningless. Our tentmaking jobs, the jobs in which God is pleased to serve us as His will, are the steps t the place of triumph. Stay at home mothers, for you, as well, the daily grind of overcoming temptation to impatience, to sloth, to shoddy work, are the jewels in the crown that Jesus shares with you.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15). Does this verse now have more meaning as we picture Jesus in his carpenter shop, toiling daily for years upon years, living the grind of life, step by step climbing over the temptations as he exudes purity and honor among all who see Him? It pleased God to station us as cleaners, plumbers, manufacturers, stay at home mothers, God having served up to us a daily toil in obscurity where we meet life with honor and purity and overcoming temptations. Let us be walking daily toward our reward in heaven, living the common life in our toil, toward the Carpenter who will receive us with the words that show He, also, is pleased with us.

Further Reading

Christian Tentmaking

Campbell Morgan’s Hidden Life at Nazareth, a .pdf


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.