Text: Mark 6:3 "Is not this the carpenter?"
The Carpenter and the Carpenter’s Son
NT Reading: Matthew 13:53-
If I were to ask you what kind of employment Jesus had for most of his working life up north in Nazareth, I don’t think you’d have any difficulty in replying. In Jewish society of the 1 st century it was expected that a father would teach his trade to his son from about the age of 12. Joseph was a carpenter and so it follows that he would bring up his adopted son to be a carpenter too.
The Jews valued manual work highly and there was nothing thought to be demeaning about working with your hands. We have read in the OT how specific skills and abilities were given by the Spirit of God to those with the responsibility of constructing the Tabernacle and all the accoutrements that went with it. The work that is sometimes translated ‘carpenter’ in the OT is also translated more generally as ‘craftsman’ or even ‘workman’.
The NT word translated ‘carpenter’ is similar. While we automatically think of wood when we hear the word ‘carpenter’ in the original Greek the word used is a little broader than that. It indicated someone who makes or builds things. Perhaps we should not imagine that Jesus spent his whole time making tables and chairs but that he worked for the "Joseph and Son Construction Company".
It was honest work, it was respectable employment and it was probably Jesus’ principal occupation for 18 years or so.
A Put Down
Given all of that is interesting to note that when inhabitants of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth described him as a carpenter and as a carpenter’s son they intended their remarks to be something of a put down.
Jesus had been causing something of a stir now that he had begun to teach in the region and on that Sabbath he had spoken to them in their own local synagogue – and they didn’t like it very much.
They knew that he hadn’t had any formal training as a rabbi and they had no explanation for his miracles but instead of being impressed they were grumpy and critical.
Who does he think he is? He’s getting delusions of grandeur he is. He’s getting above his station. We knew the truth about him. We know who he is: it’s the carpenter’s son; it’s the son that’s taken over his old Dad’s business. Yes, he’s just a carpenter – nothing more important than that.
And we read that "they took offense at him."
Their only objections against him was that they knew which family he came from and what he did for a living!
They were so close to him that they failed to appreciate him for who he was and what he was starting to do and to teach. Familiarity had bred if not contempt then at least annoyance when the direction of his life took a significant change and he started to do things he hadn’t been doing before.
Before we go any further we should stop and think about this for a moment.
On one level the inhabitants were quite right: Jesus was a carpenter and he did belong to one particular family. And that underlines for us that his incarnation was very real indeed. He was not pretending to be a man but he had really become a man when he came into the world. He had identified himself so much with the men and women he had come to save that they saw him as one of themselves. Jesus walk through this world was not the walk of a highly privileged man with a highly protected status – he was a man of the people. He did the same kind of work that they did, he had family responsibilities to fulfil as they did and so much like them was he that they were surprised when he started to follow another path.
I’m not suggesting that Jesus was like them in doing the same kind of wrong things they did or that he had wrong attitudes as they did – the Bible tells us clearly that he was without sin – but he was so like them in other ways that they were astonished when he began to act differently.
So we have here not only a clear indication of the reality of the incarnation but also a description of the extent of his humbling. He stooped low, not that being a carpenter was somehow an unworthy occupation, it wasn’t, but he stooped so low in becoming indistinguishable in his outward status from those around him.
"Is not this the carpenter’s son?" The question was put with a negative tone and with a negative intent but in reality it testified to the fully committed manner in which he went about his business of being the Saviour of the World!
An Appropriate Description
A carpenter’s work involved making and repairing things and it is difficult to think of a more appropriate employment for the incarnate Son of God. After all he had long been involved in the construction, care and restoration business.
Doesn’t Scripture itself teach us that he was the main agent involved in the very creation of the world?
Nor was John alone in ascribing such a position to Jesus; listen to what the apostle Paul had to say:
Similarly the writer to the Hebrews:
Prior to his incarnation the Son of God made the world (creation) and maintained the world (providence).
Coming into the world Jesus added another aspect to this work the work of repairing the things that were broken:
He healed the sick
He cleansed the leper
He raised the dead
In his work he deliberately patterned himself upon his Heavenly Father as he went around doing good (Acts 10:38).
In moving on from his labours as a carpenter he continued to be in business of making and repairing only now he was involved not with wood or stone but with flesh and blood. His new work was that of repairing what was broken and with making people new.
Just as building a house needs careful planning so does the work of repairing broken humanity, the repairing of our own individual lives. Each of us is different; we each come from our own unique individual background and we each have our own specific personalities. And he knows the best way to deal with each of us. God’s truth is true for all of us and has to be applied to all of us but the means whereby that truth is applied to us will differ from person to person and Jesus remains a master builder.
As in his carpenter’s workshop he would have had to examine each piece of wood to know how to use and transform it into something useful so he does not use a one-
His work of building and transforming his followers is referred to in a variety of ways:
Jn.1:42 "(Andrew) brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter)."
(Cephas means "rock, stone" in Aramaic while Peter means the same in Greek).
Peter’s character in the gospel seems anything but stable – he certainly does not appear as a solid, dependable rock-
Mt.4:19 "And (Jesus) said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Indeed as the apostle Paul would later writer:
1Cor.5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
Jesus changes people. He rebuilds and restores the broken as he saves us by his grace and works out his purposes in our lives.
He has a building project for your life – he wants to make you into the person God always intended you to be but which sin has prevented you from becoming. He will carry on your project until everything has been completed:
Phil.1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his leaving of them to return to heaven he assured them that it was for their benefit for him to go away. He gave them at least two wonderful promises at that time: in leaving them he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them – and what a wonderful promise that is! He also assured them that in leaving them he was not going to forget about them or cease to be active on their behalf but declared that he was going to prepare a place for them. Yet more building project language from the the mouth of the carpenter from Nazareth!
An Ongoing Building Project
In addition to saving individuals on earth and preparing a glorious heavenly home for them Jesus is also engaged in a massive construction project that is global in its extent and reach. Not only is he interested in saving individuals he is interested in forming them into a united body too.
Do you remember his words, I’m sure you do:
Mt 16:18 "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
This goes a long to explaining why there is so much building analogy used when it comes to describing the growing church in the NT.
Jesus is described as the head of the church he is building but he is also the chief foundation stone upon which the whole is constructed. The foundation has been laid by the apostles and prophets and the whole edifice is designed to be a Temple dedicated to God and his service, a dwelling place for God himself to meet with his people. And through the NT this church is growing as Jesus adds those he saves to it.
And it hasn’t stopped yet!
He sent out his first apostles into the world with the charge to preach the gospel to all nations and they began the task that the church continues to this day.
The gospel was preached first to Jews but very soon to Gentiles too who responded to God’s offers of grace.
We have too a vision of that church in the Book of Revelation where there is a huge crowd that is impossible to count and which includes people from every people group from every background imaginable and they will have been forged into one church, one united people with united joy in their wonderful Saviour.
Looking at the church in our own day we realise that there is much that remains to be done, we’re still pretty much a construction site, a ‘work-
Our Lord Jesus humbled himself: from being the creator of all things he stooped to working in obscurity in a carpenter’s workshop in a backwater of the Roman Empire. He didn’t complain about it and didn’t rebuke those who didn’t see him as anything other than one of their local craftsmen. It was patient work, preparatory work.
Much has changed – he is recognised by millions as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World – but still unrecognised by so many more.
Trust him and serve him gladly in the glorious building project which is the church, so precious to him that he sees it as his body.
Praise his Name.