The Carpenter and the Cross

Why was Jesus born the son of a carpenter to work as a carpenter? The question remains answered only in the mind of God. Yet it can be said that the Father’s plan to atone for sin through Christ was perfect, and carpentry provided the perfect home life and work for the Son of God who would take away the sins of his people.

Why was Jesus born the son of a carpenter, to work as a carpenter (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3)? Some would respond that before the Son of God entered his public ministry he needed to work, and carpentry provided a living as good as any other. However, there are other occupations which look as if they would have been better suited to prepare him for ministry. Fishing would have been fitting work; Jesus called the disciples to become fishers of men, fed multitudes with fish and bread, and compared the kingdom of heaven to a fishing net. He could have been a vintner, growing and processing grapes for wine. Young Jesus turned water into wine, then later said he himself was the vine feeding his disciples, and he cautioned his listeners against putting new vintage into old skins. Shepherding could be called a family tradition, since the Messiah came from the line of Judah, and King David worked among the sheep. Jesus told a parable about seeking the lost lamb, he said he knows his sheep, and—most importantly—he is the sacrificial Lamb of God. Shepherding would seem a better occupation than carpentry.

Christ did not say much about wood or carpentry. He spoke of judging others with the analogy of the eyes having a splinter or a log, and he alluded to carpentry when he told of the man tearing down barns to build bigger ones. Why the Christ was born of the virgin Mary into a carpenter’s household is information the Lord has not condescended to reveal to his image bearers. However, this brief article proposes that the attributes of carpentry uniquely contributed to prepare Christ for his earthly ministry.

When I was a child visiting my grandparents, a man I did not recognize came to the house. My grandmother introduced him to me as her brother. He was a quiet and reserved man, but he none the less extended his hand in gentlemanly fashion and I grasped it. I could feel his calloused leather-like palm and fingers. I was surprised by the texture and lack of suppleness of the skin. Grandmother informed me that her brother had been a carpenter for a number of years. The manual procedures required in his trade had resulted in gloves of skin created by reoccurring contact with the rough surface of wood.

Like my great uncle, the Lord of Glory’s hands had been thickened to some degree over time by tooling wood. Some of the personal encounters Jesus experienced during his ministry might raise a question regarding God’s wisdom in selecting carpentry for a trade. Consider some of the things Jesus did in ministry. His thick-skinned fingers took mud he made from spittle and dirt and gently applied it to the eyes of a blind man to give him sight (Jn 9:6). It was his toughened hands that gently touched the children that came to see him (Mt 19:13-15). Then, following rash Peter’s slash of Malchus’s ear with a sword, the Christ, the anointed one, carefully used his calloused hand to miraculously restore the ear (Jn 18:10; Mt 26:51). The softer hands of a physician, lawyer, or scholar may be thought more appropriate for Jesus’s work, but the toughened hands of the Carpenter exemplified his full humanity as he accomplished the divine work of redemption.

Jesus often argued from the lesser to the greater in his teaching, but his carpenter’s hands show a physical argument from the intuitive, what man expects, to the counterintuitive, what God does. The ways of the Triune God are not man’s ways. Christ’s hands exhibited his mannishness—and their skill came in handy to make a whip for running the moneychangers out of the temple—

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