Young Jesus and a pre-school graduation

Published 11:58 am Saturday, June 7, 2014

Twenty-seven years ago this month, I graduated for the first time. I was 4 years old.

I’m honestly not really sure if I remember the experience at all. Do you ever have those moments when you hear so many stories about something and see so many pictures that you begin to think you actually remember the event, even though you don’t really remember anything else from that point in your life? That’s how I feel about this.

Whatever the case — whether I actually remember the event or not — it was a pretty significant moment in my life. I got all dressed up in my blue cap and gown. I had my name called and walked across the stage to receive my diploma. My parents and grandparents were there with me, congratulating me on my big achievement. (Though, I have to wonder, was there anyone who didn’t graduate? I’m pretty sure the only requirement for graduation was being 4 years old and not moving before the end of the school year.)

Not long ago, I learned that Jesus would have had a similar experience when he was just a few years older than I was. In the Jewish culture of the first century, there were also celebrations for significant academic achievements. Though Jewish children did not go to pre-school and elementary schools like we do, they had levels of education through which they would progress. The primary difference was that instead of studying reading, writing and arithmetic, they would study the Bible.

The first phase of education would come when a young boy was about 6 years old (girls did not receive formal education in those days). This phase was called “Bet Sefer.” In this phase, the boys would spend several years closely studying the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In fact, they would study these books of the Bible so closely that by the end of those years, they would be expected to have these books of the Bible memorized (makes my finger-painting projects seem pretty pathetic).

At the end of those years, if a student showed particular skill in memorizing and understanding the scriptures, that child would graduate Bet Sefer and advance to the next phase called “Bet Talmud.” This was an essential step for any young boy hoping to someday become a rabbi (i.e. a Jewish teacher, which Jesus was).

I can only imagine the celebration that occurred the day Jesus completed Bet Sefer. I can picture his family, complete with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, surrounding him as his teacher announced his achievement. Doubtless, he went without the traditional cap and gown. But certainly there was a degree of pomp and circumstance, for he was taking an exciting step towards an important future.

No matter what period of history you live in, there is always something exciting about graduation. Whether it is graduation from high school, college, nursing school or a weekend cooking seminar, there is something special about the sense of achievement that comes as you transition from one phase of life to the next.

I think we need these moments in our lives. We need these transitions. We need something that clearly defines our movement from one point, one phase, one period of life to the next.

Graduation forces us to look ahead. It forces us to wrestle with the question, “What’s next?” And honestly, I think God urges us toward such moments.

It’s too easy in life to get stuck in the rut of redundancy, doing the same thing day in and day out without any plans for the future. But God doesn’t want us to rest in the ruts. God wants us to keep moving, to keep pursuing, to never become complacent.

In his last moments on earth, Jesus looked at his followers and said, “Go, therefore, into all nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In other words, he was telling us to keep his ministry going, to continue to making disciples as he had done. And he was telling us to not only do this in a small area for a small number, but to impact the lives of every person in the entire world.

Christians refer to this command by Jesus as the “Great Commission.” It’s his final command for us, his ultimate vision for the world. And it’s something that will never happen if we rest in ruts. The only way that we can inspire an entire world to follow Jesus is if we are constantly growing in our own faith and constantly searching for the next opportunity to have an impact the lives of others.

We can’t content ourselves to say, “Well, God used me to feed this one hungry person; I guess my work is done!” It has to be a lifelong pursuit, one in which we graduate and transition from one opportunity to the next, forever drawing closer to Jesus and helping others to do the same.

That’s why this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church we’re setting aside time in our service to recognize all of those who are graduating this year. We believe that these important moments in their lives are not only the end of a journey, but the beginning of one.

They are exciting transitions through which God will use the experiences of their past to propel them into an even more significant future, one in which they will hopefully continue to graduate, forever growing in their relationship with God and fulfillment of Jesus’ Great Commission.

So, may you take time over the next few weeks to recognize the graduates in your life. And may you realize the need to graduate yourself. May you see the opportunities before you to take up a new path, a new endeavor —a nd allow God to use these paths to not only shape your relationship with Jesus, but to use you to invite others to experience the same.

Brandon Robbins is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or