Lord, apart from you we have no good thing. On our own we are blind to see you, so open our eyes. On our own our ears are stopped up, so we ask that you would dig them out so we will hear your word. On our own our hearts are too hard to receive your word of grace, replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh that we will love you and trust you all our days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the gospel of Luke. Luke 2, beginning in verse 41. Luke is in the New Testament about 2/3 through your Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Luke was a doctor who travelled with Paul the Apostle and researched all the accounts about the life and ministry of Jesus and wrote this account of the gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Chapters 1 and 2 of the gospel tell of the announcement and birth of both Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and his cousin John who was called to prepare the people for Jesus. Chapter 3 will begin the public ministry of Jesus and his baptism and anointing of God for his mission as the Messiah. But at the end of chapter 2 is the record of a short event that took place during Jesus’ childhood. It is a story I think we should hear this morning. It’s Luke 2:41-52.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him where amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us this way? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is the only story we have in any of the four gospels that takes place between the time surrounding Jesus’ birth and his baptism at the Jordan to begin his ministry. Thirty years of life has led to some wild speculation about the early life of Jesus, but this is all we have. Unlike his cousin John, who was secluded in the wilderness his whole life, Jesus grew up in the village of Nazareth with other people and presumably had a fairly normal childhood, all things considered. But we are told this story of when Jesus was twelve in Jerusalem. Of all the events that took place in those thirty years, God thought it important that we know this one. So let’s settle in and work our way through this story to understand what is happening, what it says about Jesus and what God might be saying to us through it.
So let’s begin in verse 41: Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Centuries earlier, when God revealed his Law to Moses, giving him instructions on how to worship, how to live, who they were and what God had done in redeeming them, God said in Deuteronomy 16:16, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place he will chose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths. They shall not appear before the the LORD empty-handed.” The place God chose for his dwelling was the temple in Jerusalem, so three times a year all the Jewish men were required to come and worship the Lord at the temple and take part in the festivals. One of those festivals was the festival of unleavened bread, known as the Passover. When the people of God were in bondage in Egypt, God broke the power of Pharaoh by taking the life of the firstborn of everyone in Egypt. The Lord instructed the people of Israel to take the blood of a lamb and put it on the doorposts and to go into their homes and prepare unleavened bread. The LORD passed over their houses and the people left Egypt. Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, was the celebration of God’s act of deliverance.
Every Jewish male had to come to Jerusalem for it. Women were not required, but many came. Whole families and villages would travel together to Jerusalem for the festival and the city would bulge to about six times its normal population. Imagine a festival where the whole population of Hamilton suddenly moves into Brantford for a week. That’s what it felt like.
So Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents were faithful and came every year. Let’s pick up again in verse 42: And when he (that is, Jesus) was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. So far, everything is normal – as usual. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.
Jesus stays behind when the whole group of family and friends moves out. His parents do not realize it because they assume he is somewhere in the larger group of travelers. I imagine this a bit like my children during coffee time after the Sunday service. I do not always know where they are, but I assume they are somewhere in the church and someone knows where they are. Eventually I start looking for them and usually they are exactly where I thought they would be. Once they weren’t and I felt quite a bit of panic. So Jesus’ parents were not being neglectful, but simply assume Jesus is hanging out with his friends and other relatives in the large group. It is only after a whole day’s travel, when they stop for the night, that they go looking for him. No one has seen him and then worry starts to set in. It feels a bit like the scene in Home Alone where the large McCallister family travels for Christmas vacation and it is only when they are finally getting their luggage that they realize that little Kevin is not with anyone, but was left behind. Only Jesus wasn’t left behind, he stayed behind for a reason, which we will see in a little bit.
Verse 45: When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Once they realize Jesus is not with them, they rush back to Jerusalem to search. Three days Jesus is not with them. I cannot imagine the panic, the fear, and worry that must have been in Mary and Joseph’s heart. Mary later tells Jesus that they were searching for him with ‘great anxiety.’ This is a fairly tame translation. The word translated ‘great anxiety’ means ‘to be in great pain, be deeply distressed or worried.’ Mary and Joseph have been out of their minds with worry for Jesus, until they find him in the temple.
They find Jesus sitting in the temple. The temple of the Lord had a large outer courtyard known as the ‘court of the Gentiles.’ It was the largest section of the temple and the only place in the temple where non-Jews (Gentiles) could enter. For both those reasons, it was also the place where teachers would sit and teach the Bible to students and pilgrims. Jesus himself would do this later in his ministry and his disciples would continue to teach in the temple until it was destroyed in 70AD.
So in this massive courtyard, they find Jesus. What is he doing? He is sitting among the teachers. He is listening carefully to them and asking good questions. The mark of a good student is good questions. In Jewish thought, wisdom is often revealed not just in having the right answers, but in asking the right questions. So Jesus’ questions are catching people’s attention. But not only that all who heard him where amazed at his understanding and his answers. Jesus not only has good questions, but his answers reveal his wisdom and depth of understanding. He knows what he is talking about. People are surprised to hear all this from a twelve year old.
Verse 48: When his parents saw him, they were astonished and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us this way? Look, your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” In other words, ‘Why did you put us through this? Your father and I have been worried sick.” Is there a bit of accusation in Mary’s question? Maybe, but there is clearly concern and confusion. The Bible tells us Jesus never sinned, so he didn’t do anything wrong here, but we can at least understand Mary’s reaction.
In Jesus’ response we have his first recorded words in any of the gospels: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” While Mary and Joseph were worried, Jesus tells them they should not be surprised at finding him here. Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Literally ‘I must be about the things of my Father’ – or older translations say ‘about my Father’s business.’ Throughout the Bible, the temple is referred to as the ‘house of the Lord,’ so I think Jesus is talking about where he is, but I think that he also intends a double meaning. In response to Mary’s question, ‘of course I am in this place, in the house of my Father’ but also ‘of course I am doing the things of my Father.’
Jesus’ response reveals his sense of his own identity. He knows his special relationship to God the Father. He is not just in ‘the house of the LORD,’ but ‘his Father’s house.’ This is particularly striking since Mary had just said ‘your father and I were searching for you’ referring to Joseph and Jesus says ‘my Father’s house’ meaning God the Father. He knows his special relationship to the Father. In a sense he is saying that they should have expected him to be here, because he is home. He is in his Father’s house, for God the Father is his Father. Jesus knows, already at twelve years old, that he is the Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, eternally begotten of the Father, begotten not made. He knows who he is.
We see Jesus’ awareness of his identity as the Son of God, but his response also reveals that he knowns his mission. Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business (must be doing the things of my Father)?
Jesus is sent by the Father and he is about the things of the Father. Jesus will later say, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished” (John 5:19-20).
Jesus’ mission to the do the will of the Father and so he tells his earthly parents that they should not be surprised to find him here in the temple, because they should not be surprised to find him doing the will of the Father.
What is the Father’s business? What are the things of the Father? Jesus is sitting with those teaching the Scriptures, so the work of the Father must be rooted in the Word, but I wonder if the timing of this whole event might give us a better picture.
Is it an accident that Luke tells us that this incident happened during the festival of Passover – the festival which celebrates God’s redemption with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm? Is it an accident that we learn that it was not just any festival or any trip to Jerusalem when Jesus stayed behind and proclaimed that he must be about the Father’s business, but that it took place at Passover – where the people remembered that the blood of lamb on the wood of a doorpost saved God’s people from death?
I think it is no accident. Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house, be about my Father’s business? The Father’s business is exodus, is redemption, is freeing the people and passing over them by the blood of a lamb.
Did Jesus know then, at age 12, that the mission he was sent on would go through the cross? Did he know that willingly submitting to the Father’s will would involve being the ultimate Passover lamb? I don’t know. It doesn’t say. Scripture prophesied that it would happen and Jesus knew the Bible inside and out, so its possible he already knew. But when confronted by Mary and Joseph, Jesus says he must be about his Father’s business and he says this around Passover. He knew already, at the very least, that he had a special mission as the Messiah of God and it would be even greater than the first Exodus. He already knew that his mission was to redeem the people of God.
So in this short scene in the life of Jesus, we see the twelve year old boy full of wisdom, asking good questions and giving good answers to the experts in the scriptures. We see that Jesus already knew of his special relationship to the Father and that he was charged with the mission of carrying out the Father’s will in the world to save. All this we see about Jesus in his choice to stay behind in the temple after the Passover. But there is also something in this episode that should challenge us.
We see the tensions that sometimes arises between the calling to honor our parents and the calling to honor the Father. There can be tension between loyalty to the ways of humanity and the ways of God. Honoring your parents is important. It is one of the Ten Commandments. We know Jesus followed it, not only because he never sinned, but we are told that he went with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and obeyed them. Honoring your parents is important, but our ultimate allegiance is to the Lord. Jesus was faithful and obedient to his earthly parents, but his greater and ultimate allegiance was always to his heavenly Father.
Christians have duties and responsibilities to many different people in different areas of our lives, but none above God. We honor our parents, but not above God. We are called to obey the authorities God has put over us, but not if they command us to do something contrary to God’s will. We have responsibilities in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and friendships. As we live in this world, there may be times in our lives where we feel that tension – pulled between wanting to do what would honor God and what might be easier. At times honoring God will lead us to pull back and say ‘No’ to something against what God has revealed to us in his Word. But at times, honoring God will lead us out into the world, into the hard and dark places, into the difficult terrain of the Father’s business in a broken world. But Jesus Christ has already walked that road for us. He has already fully submitted his life to the Father so that we, whenever we feel that tension between competing demands, can in freedom submit our lives to the Father as well.
Jesus honored his parents, Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. But his first calling was always to the mission of the Father. Because he did so, he has redeemed the people of God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.