Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 04/24/1994
2:41 And his parents used to go to Jerusalem every year a the Feast of Passover. 42 And when he became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the feast. 43 And as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And his parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 And when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. 46 And it came about that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you." 49 And he said to them, "Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 And they did not understand the statement which he had made to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth; and he continued in subjection to them; and his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.
There is perhaps no passage in all the Bible more tantalizing to the curiosity than this one. From his circumcision at eight days old to the beginning of his public ministry in his thirties, we glimpse in specific terms only one day of Jesus' life: this one. Surely Mary could have told Luke more about Jesus' childhood. If she was like any mother I ever met, she must have told Luke more about Jesus' childhood! So why did he choose to include only this episode? Probably because this episode from Jesus' chldhood has something to teach us about who Jesus was and what his mission was, while the rest of it was quite normal and uneventful. If we did know more, it probably wouldn't tell us anything we really need to understand.
It is insightful to compare the sober historicity of Luke, who is the only Gospel writer who tells us anything about Jesus' childhood at all, with the apocryphal Gospels, which have no compunctions about gratifying our curiosity. They give us dramatic vignettes indeed: The time when Jesus and his playmates were molding animals out of clay, and Jesus threw his bird up into the air and it flew away; the time the neighborhood bully tried to pick a fight with Jesus, but when he went to punch him his hand just withered up and fell off! The trouble with these accounts is that they are obviously pious fiction, and not very good even as that. That boy was an obnoxious show-off who did not exactly turn the other cheek. He did not grow up to be the Jesus we know from the Gospels, who was not a wandering magician but a frail human being whose miracles--wrought only after the Holy Spirit came on him at his baptism--gave glory to God because he did only what he saw the Father doing.
The reality was much more prosaic. He would have gone go synagogue school from the age of six to twelve to learn to read the Torah. After his bar mitzvah at thirteen he was probably apprenticed to Joseph in the carpenter's shop. After Joseph's death he probably supported his family for several years as a carpenter--perhaps beginning his public ministry only when his brothers were old enough to take over the family business. We do not know the details, but two Scripture passages give us the general idea. Isaiah 53:2 says that "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him." He looked like a normal kid, in other words. If you had watched his childhood unfold, he might have struck you as a bit unusual, precocious and well behaved perhaps (though even that would not always be obvious, as we shall see), but you would have seen nothing to tell you he was the son of God. And Hebrews 4:15 says that "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." To outward eyes he would have just looked normal. He went through everything that other kids go through. He cried when he was a baby. How else is even a sinless baby supposed to let its mother know it is hungry or needs its diaper changed? If they would have had little league baseball back then, he would have struck out as often as anyone else. (Missing a baseball is not a sin.) When he was a teenager he was awkward around girls and got zits. All this we may guess, but one thing we know from our passage today: he got into trouble with his parents, who, like the parents of every other teenager who has ever lived, did not understand him.
How Jesus came to recognize that he was different and to understand what that difference meant is a mystery that no story even of Scripture can help us to penetrate. It is not something that we can ever fully comprehend. But sometimes you could get a glimpse of it if you knew where and how to look. And so Luke gives us here one example from Jesus' childhood that can help us to see certain things about Jesus. In this story we can see:
Jesus' first priority was the things of God (vs.. 49). It was to be about his Father's business, as the King James puts it. Yes, this is the same person who would later say that his very meat and drink was to do the will of the Father, who would choose death, if need be, rather than let the Father's will go undone. It was something he felt as a matter of necessity: he had (Grk. dei) to be about his Father's business. So central was this to his personality that he seems to have been genuinely surprised that his parents would not have known this. How could they not know where he was? It was obvious to him; there was no question!
And what was his Father's business? It had Scripture as its center and its starting point. Since Jesus grew in wisdom, it is clear that the present experience of his divine omniscience was one of the things he laid aside when he took on our nature. He had voluntarily adopted the limitations of having his infinite mind operate through a finite human brain. And so we find him immersed in a deep theological and exegetical discussion with the greatest Bible scholars in the land. And he wasn't just lecturing them. He was asking questions as well as answering them. Do we grasp what this means? Jesus as a human being had to study the Bible to understand his own mission! I've always wondered if it wasn't Isaiah 53 that they were discussing.
Now, do not miss the application of this point. If even Jesus needed not only to read the Bible but also to think about it, study it, and discuss it, how much more to we need to be doing the same thing? What incredible arrogance is it if we are trying to lead the Christian life without doing so! If you are following Jesus' example, it means you will not only be a regular and serious Bible reader, it means that you will be landing on the doorstep of the best Bible scholars you can find and asking them questions. Part of your pastor's job is to be one of those people for you. Make sure he is a man who understands his role so, and make sure you give him the study time he needs to be able to fulfill it.
The people who heard the boy Jesus discussing the Bible with the rabbis were impressed by his understanding and his answers. I think the word "understanding" is a key word here. What impressed them was not just his Bible knowledge, but his understanding. Maybe he could have been captain of his quizzing team, but what made him stand out was the intelligence of his questions. What he said made you think; it made you see things in a new way. What impressed people was his insight into the Bible and his practical application of it. Years later it would be no different. "Never man spoke like this man." He taught with authority, not as the scribes.
This is Jesus making his first public impression. What made him stand out? What made him different? What made people notice him? It was not grandiose miracles or moving rhetoric, though he would show himself capable of both before he was done. It was--and it continued to be--his insight into the Scriptures! If we want to be more like Jesus, maybe we should start by asking God to give us more of that.
What was Jesus' problem at this point? It was the same problem every other adolescent boy in the history of the world has faced: his parents did not understand him! Only, in his case, they really didn't understand him. Jesus was sinless, but this passage makes us realize that to be sinless is not always to look sinless in the eyes of others; to be sinless is not always to stay out of trouble. If you cannot hear the exasperation in Mary's voice, if you do not realize that Jesus was in a big heaping mess of trouble, then all I can say is that you have never had a mother.
Jesus, being sinless, had not been deliberately disobedient or blamefully negligent. He really seems to have thought that his parents would know what he was doing, and to have been genuinely surprised when they did not. Verse 49 is not insolence, which would be incompatible with the clear biblical teaching that Jesus was sinless, but sincere surprise. Maybe he had said something to them before they left for Nazareth and they didn't catch it. We do not know. But we do know that this was a continuing problem even after Jesus grew up. When Mary heard during Jesus' public ministry something that gave her the idea he wasn't eating right, she did what any other mother would do: she sent his brothers to straighten him out! (Mark 3:21).
Now, I want you to appreciate and sympathize with the difficulty of this thing on both sides. How would you like to try to raise the Son of God? He is sinless, but he is a kid. He is sinless, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to be potty trained. He is sinless, but that doesn't mean he comes out of the womb already knowing things like what good manners consist of. He is sinless, but that doesn't mean he will never get himself into trouble! So how do you go about raising him? What are the precedents? Mary's job could not have been an easy one.
And we must recognize the difficulty for Jesus too. He is in trouble, but it is not his fault. It is never his fault, but he is in trouble anyway. It is hard enough to respect your parents when they know more than you do. It is hard enough to obey them and submit to them when you know they are right. What if they are wrong and you know that? I want you to appreciate this point so you will be in a position to be adequately impressed by the next one:
How did Jesus handle this difficult situation? He obeyed his parents. He was in subjection to them. His meat was to do the will of his Father, and part of that was "Honor your father and mother." If you don't think it is very hard to show respect and submission to people in legitimate authority when you know they are wrong, when you know they are completely off base and clueless and don't have a leg to stand on but they simply can't or won't admit it, then you have either lived a very sheltered life or just never bothered to submit to authority in such a situation. I tell you, I am more convinced that Jesus really was the sinless Son of God when I read verse 51 than maybe at any other point in the Bible. A twelve year old did that! Would I have done it? Definitely not. Would you? Can you do it now? I have swallowed my pride and done it as an adult a few times for people in authority over me with what I hope was a pretty good grace, but never without a great struggle. When I was twelve? It wasn't going to happen.
Jesus was tested in every point like as we are. Every point. The difference is that he was without sin. I think this was one of the biggest tests. Why did he have to go through it? Because it was a necessary part of his preparation for the Cross. "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from the things that he suffered. And having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:8-9). My friends, that submission was part of the price of our redemption.
Jesus, who at twelve showed a maturity beyond what I have managed as an adult, increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. This verse used to confuse me. How can a person who is perfect make progress? But the answer is really not all that difficult. He progresses from being a perfect boy to being a perfect man. Don't miss the practical point of this: Jesus showed he was perfect by continuing to grow. And he grew in a number of areas. First was wisdom. Wisdom is the crown of intellectual virtue. Intelligence is just processing speed. Knowledge is the possession of information. Understanding is seeing how those bits of information relate to each other. But wisdom is knowing how to use your intelligence, knowledge, and understanding in creative and constructive ways that bring glory to God and benefit to man. If Jesus grew in wisdom, surely we should want to do the same. And how do you grow in wisdom? There is only one way, the way that Jesus did it: You submit to God and his Word in the midst of the difficult and challenging experiences of life.
Saying that, we might seem to have said enough. But Luke goes on to make sure we do not miss the fact that Jesus' growth touched every area of his life. He grew in stature, that is, he grew physically. Think for a moment about the implications of the fact that he probably worked as a carpenter before the invention of power tools. He grew in favor with God, which is to say he grew spiritually. And he grew in favor with men, which is to say he grew socially. If we want to be Christlike, then we should ask God to help us grow in wisdom in all these areas of our lives as well. If Jesus as a perfect human being needed to grow, how much more do we?
Why does Luke include this story in his telling of the Gospel? Ultimately it is because to understand Jesus' Priority and his Prowess, his Problem and his Practice in dealing with it, and his Progress, is to understand the Promise this young lad held out to us as our future Redeemer. And what was that promise? "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." To understand this incident from Jesus' boyhood is to see the promise of a sympathetic Savior.
The one thing we know about Christ's boyhood is that he had the same problems we did, and he had them worse. Can we possibly believe he was never tempted to sass Mary, to talk back to her? He was tempted in all points like as we are. Of course he was! And with more excuse than we. Yet he learned obedience through the things that he suffered. He did this so he would be qualified to be a perfect Sacrifice, but also so that he would be able to be an effective Mediator. There is nothing we face in life about which we have to worry that maybe Jesus will not understand. We cannot even say, "Well, of course he is omniscient, but that is only a very abstract kind of understanding." No. He has been there. He has added to his perfect omniscient knowledge the experience of these things in the flesh. "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin."
Because of experiences like the one Luke has recorded for us here, and because of how he handled them, Jesus is able to offer us three things we desperately need. The first is Forgiveness, for which he paid his blood, blood which was worthy to be a perfect sacrifice because his obedience had been not only perfect but real, experienced in the nitty-gritty of life. The second is Understanding. He really does know what it is like to be tempted. He knoweth our strength that we are dust, because he wore that dust for more than thirty years. And the third is Strength. Not only was he tempted in every point like as we are, but he was yet without sin. He has already successfully resisted every temptation, and he makes that same power available to us when we trust him completely.
We learn from this passage in a new way what it means to say that "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). And what is the conclusion Scripture draws from that lesson? It is in the very next verse. "Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may find mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." May this fascinating episode in the life of our Lord encourage us to do so indeed.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams