The First Words of the Divine Child
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 2:39–2:49
The First Words of the Divine Child
February 21, 2016
It’s a joy to be back in Luke’s Gospel again today. And if you’re not already there, you’ll want to open the second chapter of Luke—we have been enjoying a rich, rich study of the infancy narratives about Jesus as a baby, and here, we’re going to see this morning, as a little boy. Luke has been preparing us in these narratives, these first two chapters, by setting our expectations about what we’re going to find about who Jesus is because he wants us to properly, rightly receive Jesus and his ministry. That’s been the intent of these first two chapters. Luke has served us, the readers, very well, helping us appreciate what’s going to follow in the rest of the story. Eighty verses in Chapter 1, 52 verses in Chapter 2 are all for that purpose—to help us to appreciate and have right expectations about what we’re going to find. We’ve learned already just even without hearing anything from Jesus himself—we’ve already learned who Jesus really is. He has been set in his historical and redemptive context. We’ve already learned why God sent Jesus into the world. But we have yet to hear him say one single word. And that is going to change today. Jesus finally breaks the silence in this final narrative in Chapter 2. These are the first recorded words of Jesus. Keep in mind, this is from the lips of a 12-year-old boy. It’s clear in the text that he is still maturing, but his very first words, though simple and innocent—they’re at the same time direct and profound.
Before we get into that final narrative, there’s a verse we didn’t cover as we looked at the text last time, and I’d like to take a moment to look at how Luke concluded the previous narrative in Luke 2:39. Is verse 39, would you say inspired by the Holy Spirit, inspired by God, put in Scripture? Would you agree with that? Okay, if it’s inspired, we need to preach it, don’t we? All right, so that’s what we’re going to do here. But I want to highlight something important in this verse about Luke’s purpose in writing because we need to make an important apologetic point. By that I don’t mean making an apology. Apologea is the word for making a defense, like giving a reasoned argument. So, that’s the Greek intention of “apologetic point.” We need to make an apologetic point that has implications for how we read the Bible and then also how we defend the Bible to its detractors, its critics, okay?
So I’m going to make one point in this section. Take a look at verse 39. “When they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” It seems like a simple sentence, but that sentence actually covers a lot. That verse wraps up the section that began in verse 22. In verse 22 to verse 39, you remember, Jesus is just a baby—he’s about a month and a half old. You remember his parents took him up to the temple; they were in Bethlehem, where he was born, and they let him be raised there for 40 days, about a month and a half. And then they brought him up to Jerusalem to perform purification rights that were associated with childbirth and also to dedicate him back to the Lord. Remember, we said Mary is like Hannah of old—she’s giving back Jesus to God. She’s acknowledging his calling to a lifelong devotion and service to God to serve God’s purposes. Ever since the angel Gabriel appeared in Mary’s home, it was clear from the start that Jesus was sent from God—that he belonged to God.
Then, everything that followed in Mary’s life—from her visit to the house of Zechariah where she was in conversations with Elizabeth—she, by the Holy Spirit, sang her own song. She saw the birth of John the Baptist. She hears for herself Zechariah’s prophecy, she goes home and prepares, travels down to Bethlehem, and the birth of Jesus happens. Then the very morning he is born, the shepherds visit. They give their amazing report of the angelic host of heaven. All of that confirmed those original words from Gabriel that he—this child—“will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High.”
So, for Mary and Joseph, dedicating Jesus to God wasn’t simply a pious act of their own religious devotion—though it was, it was at least that—but really, this was a reasonable acknowledgement that this child was not ultimately their child. They understood that. Jesus came from God to do the will of God on earth. So this summary statement in verse 39—it does reflect their piety, but it says something else. It signals their intention to follow God’s law faithfully. All of a sudden, they know the stakes are very high with this one. They need to do this right—they’re raising the Messiah himself. And that had to sober them up for the significance of the task they had in raising the very Son of God.
But having said that, in verse 39 there seems to be some important information missing from that summary. It says they performed everything according to the law. And then they returned where? To Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Look, we know from reading Matthew’s gospel—the whole of Chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel—Luke has left some information out of his account. What happened to the visit of the magi from the East as they were bearing their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh? Where’s that? That happened, you know, by the way, as they were living in Bethlehem in a house. They didn’t stay in the stable the whole time; they lived in a house in Bethlehem. So, it seems clear when Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem after performing the purification rights and dedication at the temple, they returned to Bethlehem, not Nazareth. So, why is that missing? What about the wrath of King Herod—he’d been deceived by the magi, and he was going to slaughter all the male children of the region two years old and younger. And that event prompted the flight of the holy family to Egypt. Are these mistakes? If Luke is such a great historian, why such significant oversights in his narrative? I’ve read commentators who do believe Luke made a mistake, or at the very least he was ignorant of the facts. I find that hard to believe. One commentator correctly sees Mary as Luke’s source for much of what he’s written in these infancy narratives, but at the same time, he believes Luke was ignorant of the magis’ visit. He just didn’t know about it—that’s why he didn’t put it in.
Again, it’s hard to believe—if Luke talked to Mary, if he got her recorded documents, is it reasonable to assume that she forgot to relay such significant details, like, “Oh, yeah, by the way, we had to flee to Egypt because Herod was killing all the kids”? It’s a big deal. Listen, it’s precisely because Luke is such a thorough researcher, such a precise historian and an excellent writer, that we should assume the best of him. We should always give him and any biblical writer the benefit of the doubt. If there’s something that doesn’t make sense, we shouldn’t question the writer; we should question our own understanding. Let’s start there. Maybe we don’t understand his purpose. Maybe we don’t understand what the Spirit’s intention is. This is no oversight here, just to let you know. This is all a part of Luke’s plan in writing. When we approach the text with that assumption, we find crucial keys and issues come together. And we find in this text a crucial key that unlocks the purpose for which Luke wrote when we start to ask those kinds of questions. The best explanation of why Luke didn’t include the visit from the magi and then the flight to Egypt is that Luke is not merely an historian. He’s not just an historian. He’s not writing merely to report on a set of facts with calculated and cold reporting. He has a larger purpose in writing. He is a believer. He is a Christian, and he wants you to believe and to be a Christian.
He has a larger purpose for writing that spans both books that he wrote in the New Testament—both Luke and Acts. In Luke 1:3, he wrote this, “It seemed good to me, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” The orderly account concerning what Theophilus had been taught is not limited to just the details about Jesus alone. Theophilus had learned about Christianity, which goes beyond what’s written in this Gospel, which is part one of the story, to include the Book of Acts, which is part two of the story. I want you to turn just quickly to see this, to Acts chapter 1:1 because I want you to see this for yourself so you can be convinced in your own mind. I want you to see Luke’s larger purpose for writing both Luke and Acts as kind of companion volumes. It is more comprehensive than what’s contained in the Gospel of Luke alone. It involves the continuation of the story in the Book of Acts. Notice what it says there in the first two verses:
In the first book, O Theophilus [“first book”? What’s that? The first book is the Gospel of Luke, right?], I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up, after he had given commands to the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
Did you hear that? The Gospel of Luke is only the beginning of a continuous account. Jesus began to do and to teach during his earthly lifetime, and then he continued to do and to teach throughout the Book of Acts—while seated at the right hand of his Father in Heaven, through whom? The Holy Spirit, right? After Jesus rose from the dead, the apostles thought it was all over, too. Not so. Jesus was just getting started. Take a look at verse 3:
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, “You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [They’re thinking, “It’s over; we’re here at the end.”] He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Listen, when the Jews rejected their Messiah, you know what? That meant that the door of salvation was open wide to the Gentiles, which is why we’re sitting here today. A new institution called the church was revealed. This was not an afterthought of God like, “Oh, let me figure out what to do now that the Jews have rejected their own Messiah. I really hoped wringing my hands that they would accept their Messiah, but now let’s try Plan B—let’s bring all the Gentiles in.” No, this is the purpose, the plan from the very start, from before the foundation of the world. And so we’re not surprised that Jesus had an orderly plan for growing the church by the power of the Spirit through his apostles. And that is what you see—an orderly plan there in verse 8. Look at it again. Verse 8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you will be my witnesses”—where?—“In Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That verse in Acts 8:1 happens to be an outline for the entire book of Acts. The Gospel came from Jerusalem and Judea, chapters 1 through 7. It moved into Samaria, chapter 8. And then it spread to the very ends of the earth, chapters 9 through 28. In fact, the final verse of Acts tells that Paul, though he was under house arrest at the time, was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” “Bold” and “unhindered”—those are the final words of the story. It indicates the Gospel continues to spread wherever it’s proclaimed, wherever it’s taught faithfully. And listen, folks, that’s how we here in our church, 2,000 years later—that’s how we join with all true churches in historical continuity going all the way back to this time. We continue the story to this very day. So when Luke wrote about his orderly account, Luke 1:3, his intent was to connect this gospel Luke with the book of Acts here in the opening verses of Acts. This is what he meant by “an orderly account,” what he intended in writing.
So, going back to our question—why did Luke leave out the visit of the magi? Why did Luke leave out Jesus’ trip to Egypt? Because Luke is telling the whole story of Christianity, and it’s an orderly account of the beginning and the expansion of the church. Luke is very church-focused. The magi, keep in mind, were Gentiles, not Jews. Egypt was a Gentile land, not within Palestine, not a Jewish land. So Luke’s intent was to emphasize Jesus’ plan showing that salvation is from the Jews—John 4:22. Remember, Jesus said that to the Samaritan woman: “Salvation is from the Jews.” You know, Luke doesn’t mention that account about the Samaritans. As Paul said, Romans 1:16, “The Gospel is to the Jew first and then to the Greek.” Did Jesus leave Jerusalem and Judea during his lifetime, during the events that are recorded in the Gospel of Luke? Yes, he did. He was in Egypt, as we’re mentioning. He was in Samaria. He was in the Gentile region of the Gadarenes. He was in the Canaanite region of Syria-Phoenicia. He was also in Caesarea Philippi during the transfiguration. Significantly, Luke is rather silent about all the places Jesus visited. He muted the Gentile nature of those places.
And that’s interesting because although Luke is very universal and broad and concerned about the salvation of the Gentiles, he is restricting himself for his purpose of presenting an orderly account not just of Jesus, but of Christianity and its spread. He mutes the details. He almost hides the visits that Jesus made to foreign, non-Jewish lands. Why? Again, he is painstakingly consistent in sticking with the orderly plan. He is disciplined in that regard. The story started in Jerusalem, as we are seeing here in the first two chapters of Luke. You can actually turn back to Luke Chapter 2. The story started in Jerusalem. And it started at the very heart of Jerusalem—in fact, at the very temple itself. And the story then spread throughout Jerusalem, then Judea, then into Samaria, then outward from the land of Palestine to Antioch in the Book of Acts, and then to the very ends of the earth. But Luke wants his readers to see that the taproot of Christianity is in the temple. Christianity is not a cult of the Jews. It has a historical continuity. It has a consistency with the whole Old Testament. What God promised in the Old Testament was coming to pass here in Christ and in the Church. Christianity is what God intended all along. And that’s why saved Christian Messianic Jews—they call themselves sometimes “completed Jews,” right? Because they know that what has happened in Christ and in the gospels and in Acts and in the New Testament is the completion of what God began.
Now, why have we taken time to expose all of this? What is the significance? Beloved, we live in a world that is dominated by hostility to the biblical text. Sadly, the world has been aided and abetted by liberal scholarship, which has grown up within churches and within many Christian colleges, universities, seminaries, which are purportedly Christian. And the constant push within liberalism is to disconnect Jesus from other parts of Scripture, whether from what’s prophesied about him in the Old Testament or how the New Testament interprets him, or both. But the Bible, as we’ve seen in Luke in particular, wants us to keep Jesus firmly imbedded in the Biblical story, both the Old Testament story and the New Testament story. The facts about Jesus cannot be divorced from their context and looked at in a vacuum. They have to be set in their context, rightly interpreted and understood. Because scripture divorced from its context allows people freedom to fashion Jesus in their own image.
Liberals—-whether the scholarly liberals in the universities and seminaries, or the more cultural variety of liberals, as in the Emergent Church Movement—liberals claim to be going back to a purer form of Christianity. They claim to be on a quest for the historical Jesus. “Listen, I don’t want the Jesus your religion has concocted. It’s confusing. Let me go back to the purity, the real story, the real words of Jesus.” That’s what they say, but their quest, not surprisingly, ends when they find a Jesus that looks remarkably just like them. That is the very essence of idolatry—to create and fashion God in your own image, in your own likeness. There is much more we can say about that, much more I’d like to say, but I just want to solidify your thinking, not to assume there is some purpose other than what Luke states. Look at Luke’s purpose. Look at what he says. Trust him.
And I wanted you to see his purpose in writing, which led him to choose not to include certain facts of Jesus’ life, because it reveals an interest we need to hold onto very firmly. Listen, the story of Christianity—the truth about Jesus in particular—it will be known when it’s connected to all that came before it and when it’s connected and interpreted with all that comes after. The facts are not naked facts. They are facts imbedded in the context, and they are rightly interpreted by that context. There is a history and theology that explains who Jesus is and why he came to earth, and we need to be careful students in order to come to the knowledge of truth, all right?
Well, let’s call that sermon one, shall we? And then we’ll move on from here. If you’re not back in Luke Chapter 2, let’s begin back there, and we’ll look at this final narrative of Jesus in the temple. By design, Luke has us exactly where he wants us. We’re located here at the beginning where it all began: in the city of Jerusalem at the very heart and center of Israel’s religion and culture. We are at the temple. They’ve gone back to Nazareth, but it’s 12 years later. And here is where we have our first opportunity after waiting a long, long time to read the earliest recorded words of Jesus. Look there at verse 40:
And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was 12 years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching 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 were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
The account there as you probably noticed is bracketed by two verses about the growth and development of Jesus, verse 40 and verse 52. And it’s interesting that it says in verse 40, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” But then in verse 52 it says he “increased in wisdom.” “He increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” And Luke has put these two verses like parentheses around the story with verse 40 on one end and verse 52 on the other because he wants to give us a picture of Jesus’ normal human maturation. By bracketing the story in this way, Luke is helping us to see the theme of the narrative. Why is it here? Jesus grew, he increased. He grew in strength, he grew in wisdom. He was filled with wisdom, but he grew in it as well. And he had favor or grace with God and man. Jesus didn’t arrive on the scene fully mature and ready for ministry. He needed to grow up—as Hebrews 5:8 and 9 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
See, the Holy Spirit wants us to see how Jesus learned obedience, how he was made perfect for the task, and this is the one account that we have of that. Just this one event. We might wish we had more, right? I mean what parent wouldn’t mind looking into the home of Joseph and Mary as they are trying to raise this perfect child? I mean what would it be like to raise a sinless child? No discipline necessary, right? No spankings, to time-outs, no correction or remediation. You know, the moment you spank him, you need to repent. Utter perfection. All the kids are like, “Boy, I wish that was me.” Such utter, total perfection in the home until the arrival of Jesus’ siblings. Poor Joseph and Mary—they were in for a rude awakening with those, weren’t they? Tough on the siblings—they couldn’t blame anything on their brother. But with Jesus, no problems at all. So what has happened here in this narrative, in this account? It’s taken them totally off guard. I mean it’s throwing them completely for a loop. It seems so out of character for what they’ve expected and that’s why Mary even feels comfortable rebuking him. “Son, why have you treated us like this?”
Many have wanted more than what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ early years. We should be content with the one account that the Spirit has given us because in this one account is all that the Spirit wants us to see about this. It’s all he wants us to understand. If we’re content with what we have,, if we don’t seek more than what is written, if we assume that the wisdom of the author who gave us the single account of Jesus is valid, you know what? It’s going to help us to pay very careful attention to the details that are actually here and not look elsewhere, not be distracted, because there are profound insights that have to do with the very nature of our salvation. If we’re not content with what’s written here, we’re going to be susceptible to listening to some pretty ridiculous fables that have been written about Jesus’ childhood—tall tales that detract terribly from the story and that model the truth about who Jesus is. Maybe you’ve heard some of those. One of them says that as an infant, Jesus was lying in the cradle looking up at Mary, and suddenly he starts speaking to her and tells her, “Hey, I’m the Son of God.” Turns out he was very conversant—already knew the entire language as an infant—proficient, communicative. Another story about his infancy: There was a leprous woman who was healed by bathing in Jesus’ bathwater. I don’t know why this stuff has to be there, but that was the story.
One source, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew tells the tale of Joseph and Mary and Jesus, along with a whole bunch of other children—it’s like they took a field trip down to Egypt, and as they were fleeing to Egypt, they took all these kids. I guess they were rescuing them from Herod—that’s the idea. So they were taking off down to Egypt, and along the way they sought some rest in a cave. It turns out the cave was full of fire-breathing dragons. So Pseudo-Matthew tells us, “Suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of his mother”—you know, he’s being cradled up there. He climbs down—“from the bosom of his mother and he stood on his feet before the dragons and they adored Jesus and thereafter retired.” Jesus, the dragon trainer. This is truly the Jesus we never knew, isn’t it?
There’s a well-known source of many of these silly stories—the infancy Gospel of Thomas—to be distinguished from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. This is the infancy of Gospel of Thomas written probably around the mid-second century, and the writer tells us about the five-year-old Jesus who was playing by the ford of a brook, and he’s commanding the flowing waters to gather into little pools by the power of his word. And while he’s playing in the mud, he makes 12 clay sparrows—totally impressing the other kids, right? But since he did it on the Sabbath, well, one of the kids ran home and told his parents, and that parent then reported that Sabbath violation to Joseph. When Joseph confronted Jesus, Jesus clapped his hands together, and he told the sparrows, “Go.” And the clay birds came to life and flew away, chirping happily, merrily, like a Disney tale. That caused quite a stir among the people. And just a little bit of jealousy among the kids. One kid malevolently came and took a stick and messed up all the little pools of water that Jesus had made. He shouldn’t have done that because according to the tale, he was “wroth and he said to him, ‘O evil, ungodly and foolish one’”— I mean five-year-old Jesus saying this, right? “‘O evil, ungodly and foolish one, what hurt did the pools and the waters do thee? But now thou also shalt be withered like a tree and shall not bear leaves neither root nor fruit.’ And straight away the lad withered up wholly.” Jesus killed the kid by shriveling him to death.
There’s another account that talks about a kid who was running through the city just frolicking. He ran into Jesus and knocked Jesus down, so Jesus got up and killed him. It’s not the same meek and mild Jesus we know from Scripture, is it? How is that people are fooled into thinking that these have any markings of reality about them? To be fair, not all of Jesus’ powers were malevolent or used for vengeance. Jesus was once playing with Simon, the Canaanite, a little kid. There was a serpent that Simon was playing with, and it bit the kid. So, Jesus caused the serpent to suck back the poison that he had injected into Simon, after which the serpent burst. He blew the snake up. That one I like. I’m very willing to believe that because I don’t like snakes either. They are the very symbol of evil from the Garden, so I don’t mind blowing them up at all.
But all this outlandish stuff that’s written throughout all the centuries, not only is it in stark contrast with Jesus’ true character that is filled with wisdom, there’s no wisdom in those stories. And not only do they contradict the dignity and the noble character of Scripture, these stories are really carnal distractions from the profound truths the Spirit wants us to see here that are actually recorded in the text. What Luke wants us to see here—what the Holy Spirit wants us to see here—is a growing boy, a boy who is uniquely perfect, but a boy who is thoroughly human. And it’s from the lips of this human boy in the first recorded words of Jesus that we hear his own testimony to his very divinity as a 12-year-old. It’s in the portrayal of his real humanity that his divinity is revealed. What we’re seeing here is clear evidence of Jesus’ full humanity. At the same time, we’re seeing a very simple, but a very profoundly significant affirmation of his deity. And this is the testimony—get this—of the child Jesus: At 12 years old he knew his true significance as the Son of God. That’s remarkable.
So what we’re going to do for the rest of our time this morning is consider the story that’s before us. Next week, we’re going to come back to unpack more of the significance of the deep theology imbedded here. Some very, very profound insights are here that are going to help us secure certainty in our own salvation. Again, it’s what Hebrews 5:8 and 9 says: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of”—What?—“eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Listen for us, the faithful, for all who obey him, he is the source of an eternal salvation. There is a confidence and a security and a certainty that we find in this story. We’re going to find out next week, then, why learning obedience made Jesus the source of eternal salvation for us, why this is so important.
For today, though, we just want to look at the bare story, on the face of it. You’ll see this in any good story—it contains basically five elements: a theme; characters; a setting; a plot, which involves conflict, usually; and then a resolution of the conflict, completing the story. And that’s really what we see here. The characters in the story—who are they? Jesus’ parents and Jesus. They are essentially the characters. The rabbis teaching, the friends, the acquaintances, the relatives—they’re all part of the background and the setting, but the real characters are Jesus’ parents—and really Mary—and then Jesus himself. The setting—it’s a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, an annual pilgrimage. The plot or the conflict would appear on the surface to be about parental anxiety in losing a child, and then the resolution is finding him safe and sound. That’s what we see on the surface anyway, but there’s more. When they do find him, they see something more revealed. Something that develops the theme of the story, which is the theme, as I mentioned in verse 40.
So, we’ll begin with where Luke begins—with the introduction. Point one in your outline is: Introduction: The Annual Pilgrimage. And this covers the theme and the setting. So the theme in the opening verse of the narrative, verse 40, says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” Or we could say the grace of God was upon him. As we already noted, the first verse is the opening bracket of the story. Everything else is contained within it, and its companion bracket closes the story in verse 52: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” So, again, those verses are like bookends that hold the whole story together. And here, Luke is connecting this story back to his summary statement about John the Baptist in Luke 1:80. You can flip back and look at that. Luke 1:80 says, “The child”—talking about John the Baptist—“grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” That’s interesting. Like his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus also grew and became strong.
But unlike John the Baptist, Jesus was not removed from the normal routines of life until his public ministry. He didn’t spend his days out in the wilderness until he appeared in public. Jesus remained within a domestic setting, in submission to his parents. He was an apprentice to a carpenter father, Joseph. He was an obedient son to his mother, Mary. He had to live and grow in an environment where people are having to relate to him and he’s having to relate to other people. There’s a social development and refinement of Jesus, but in Chapter 3 with John the Baptist—not a whole lot of social refinement. “Brood of vipers” is John’s opening line. What is that? Hey, hello, how about a greeting? No— “brood of vipers.” So that’s john the Baptist. Jesus—a very different kind of a ministry. This interjection here in verse 40 bracketed with verse 52, connected to Luke 1:80—it’s also connecting Jesus back to Samuel as we talked about before. Jesus, like Samuel, was also dedicated by his parents to lifelong service to God. Samuel was also dedicated to lifelong service to God. Samuel also needed to grow up. And notice there’s a similarity in this verse in 1 Samuel 2:26. “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with men.” Isn’t that interesting? So, it connects all the way back to the Old Testament—Samuel growing in stature and favor with the Lord and with men. Samuel had to grow in stature and favor. John the Baptist had to grow and become strong in spirit. Jesus being fully human—he also had to grow and become strong. And that is an essential truth that we need to see here about the theme of this story it’s going to demonstrate to us, which is why there’s a bracket—we could have summarized it one verse, right, and then it would be completely parallel with Luke 1:80 and 1 Samuel Chapter 2, verse 26. We could have connected those with just one verse each. But here in Luke 2, Luke wants to expand that and show us some insight and illustrate what this actually looked like. How did Jesus grow in wisdom?
This text affirms the reality of the incarnation because Jesus was by all appearances, to everybody who was around him, a normal human boy who needed to grow—not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, socially. His thinking needed to mature. But there was also something very, very unique about Jesus, which makes him very different from any other human boy. He was filled with wisdom from his youth. The favor and the word is actually charis, grace. The grace of God was upon Jesus from his youth. Jesus was remarkable in the wisdom he displayed even from a young age. But it could still grow. It could still be developed. If you’ve been attending the Ephesians study, we’ve been talking a lot about wisdom. Walking in wisdom, as Paul commands in Ephesians 5. Wisdom, as we’ve said in that study, is true knowledge that’s rightly applied. Wisdom is the right or the effective application of knowledge, and that is how Jesus lived from his childhood. Remarkable. He walked in wisdom. And the more Jesus learned, the more knowledge he attained as a human, and the more he grew in wisdom. He never failed to walk in wisdom. Now that’s unique. Incredibly unique.
Alfred Plummer, one commentator, put it this way—very helpful. He said, “The intellectual, moral and spiritual growth of the child, like the physical, was real. His was a perfect humanity developing perfectly, unimpeded by hereditary or acquired defects. It was the first instance of such a growth in history. For the first time a human infant was realizing the ideal of humanity.” Do you get the significance of that? Adam and Eve were created in innocence, weren’t they? But full-grown. Which came first—the chicken or the egg? Right. The chicken laid eggs—didn’t start with an egg. It started with a full-grown chicken. Same way with Adam and Eve—started with a full grown Adam and Eve. They gave birth to humans who had to then grow and develop. They didn’t have to develop and they were created in innocence. Here’s Jesus also conceived in innocence, growing without any defect, without any malady of sin, without the noetic effects of sin—the effects of sin on the mind—no depravity. This is the first time we’ve seen anybody on earth in all of human history grow up perfect. Divine grace rested on Jesus all of his life in a unique way, distinguishing him absolutely from all others. No mistaking it, there was no one like him.
Take a look at verse 41 now. Let’s get into the setting of the story. Just like Samuel’s parents, just like the parents of John the Baptist, we here see Joseph and Mary portrayed in verse 41 as faithful Israelites. They kept the Law of Moses. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was 12 years old they went up according to custom.” You can stop there. In Exodus 23:17, Exodus 34:23, also in Deuteronomy 16:16, God told Moses to command the Israelites basically this: “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God.” The three occasions were the three major feasts of Israel: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering. The Feast of Unleavened bread commemorated the exodus from Egypt, which included the Passover. It was about a seven-day feast. Then there was the Feast of Harvest, which was also called the Feast of First Fruits, also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, which we see in Acts chapter 2. And that was to thank God for the beginning of the harvest. And then we see the Feast of Ingathering, called the Feast of Tabernacles—it shows up in John Chapter 7—the Feast of Booths. And that was all to thank God for what he provided throughout the entire harvest season. So, get this—this is how Israel’s families took vacations. This is what they did. They took trips down to Jerusalem. They joined together with the other families of Israel—it’s like a huge family gathering, right? They came together for a big reunion of all the tribes of Israel, all the families of Israel. You can imagine how joyful this was. They came together to eat, to remember, to give thanks, to have fun, to thank God for all his blessings. Yeah, God commanded these celebrations and you think, “Oh, that’s legalism.” No, no, no, no, no, no—please don’t think of it that way. God commanded their joy. He commanded their rejoicing. The Law of Moses to these people who were faithful Israelites wasn’t stifling drudgery. This is how faithful Jews enjoyed their God.
Now, by New Testament times, the exile had happened. There were a lot of unfaithful Israelites throughout Israel’s history, and they saw the law of God as drudgery, and they didn’t want to follow it. So God judged them ultimately by casting them out of the land. There’s a lot more to the story, as you know, but God commanded some exiles to return to the land of Israel from Persia. A few that came back, but most Jews still stayed separate in Gentile lands, and that was what came to be known as the Diaspora, the scattering, the spreading around as they’re dispersed around the world. And many Jewish men could travel to Jerusalem just once a year, to one of those three feasts, and they chose the Passover—the most significant of the three. Joseph—he had the benefit of living close enough that he could travel to all three. Just a simple point here of application: Where you live can make a difference in the quality of your spiritual life, right? Expand that to the other decision you make in your life about your job, about your lifestyle, about what you’re going to be a part of, what you’re not going to be a part of. It has implications for the quality of your spiritual life. Just file that away.
There was no command that Mary and Jesus had to come along just the males of Israel were commanded to appear—males of legal age. But religious piety is what characterized Joseph and Mary from the very beginning. They were devoted from the heart. This was not a hard thing for them to do. It was one thing they loved to do; it was no burden. They drew near in worship because they loved to be with other faithful believers. It’s like what we do every week coming to church, loving to be together, and it says they went up to Jerusalem from Nazareth to Jerusalem—it’s an ascent, ultimately an ascent of about 1,300 feet. It’s an arduous trip, but the families of Nazareth would make preparations within Nazareth to travel together. Annually, they’d travel together, they’d set aside provisions, they’d travel by caravan that offered protection and comfort, but also friendship. So they’d stay together. Then when they got to Jerusalem, they’d celebrate the feast together, and then they’d return in caravan together.
And this feast, this particular feast, was special for Jesus because at 12 years old, he was about to become a son of the law. What’s that called in Hebrew? A bar mitzvah, right? Bar means “son” and mitzvah means “commandment.” So, “son of the commandment.” Have you heard of that? This is the year he moved from boyhood to manhood. He became responsible before the law, and he became recognized in society as a man—to follow the social customs, to follow the legal observances—and he was accountable to that. Jesus came to Jerusalem for this year anticipating he would receive some religious instruction beyond what he could get in his local synagogue. So, here he comes, anticipating being in the temple with the temple-trained, temple-taught rabbis. This is the scholarly source of all the teaching in Israel—the scribes and the rabbis. They taught the nation the laws and the customs of Israel. So he was going there to be educated by the best of the best, going there to learn his social and legal responsibilities. So this is an exciting opportunity for him, an exciting privilege as he enters into Jewish manhood, especially so for him because he knows his role. That’s the setting—an annual pilgrimage to celebrate the Feast of the Passover—not a typical one for Jesus, especially for him.
And here’s where the plot thickens—second point: Situation: A Missing Child. Take a look there in verses 43 to 45. Here’s where the plot develops, and this involves every parent’s nightmare. “When the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.” That’s about a five-day journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem traveling by caravan, perhaps a bit longer. So a day’s journey away from Jerusalem isn’t too far away, about 20 miles, but for a worried parent on foot—that’s a worrying distance. That’s too far. Before you judge these parents as being irresponsible parents, first remember your own mistakes, okay? I know you’ve all done this. But also keep in mind that they were traveling with friends and relatives. They were traveling with neighbors from Nazareth. And typically, in the caravan as they traveled, women and children would be up front, traveling in front of the caravan because they are slower, and the men are traveling in back, and they’re going to pick up the stragglers, right? So they’re kind of keeping everything together in the caravan in the back—the men are. Women are up front. Jesus here is 12 years old. It’s one of those in between years. I mean he’s too old to maybe play with the little kids up with the moms, and he’s not old enough exactly to be back with the men.
So, it’s reasonable that the thought crossed Mary’s mind, wondering where Jesus was, and you know as a mom, it crossed her mind: “Where’s Jesus?” But she probably assumed he was with Joseph. And then Joseph probably thought he was with Mary. I know you’ve done that. I’ve done that. As the day wore on, though, no sign of Jesus. So, the concern’s growing. They stop for camp at night and that’s when they really start the search. They start looking intently, trying to find him. And if you’re a parent, you know the feeling—the panic you feel when you’re kid goes missing at Walmart. Or worse, when you’re at an outdoor venue like Elitches or some kind of amusement park or something like that—thousands of people. You wonder, “Where is he?” If that’s ever happened to you, you can imagine the sickening feeling these two parents felt traveling a day’s journey away from where they think he is, then discovering he’s gone. Jerusalem, you have to understand, was thronged with people. During the time of the annual feasts, the population of the city was swollen to hundreds of thousands, and they were people from all over the world. So it wasn’t a completely irrational fear that some criminally minded, deviant scoundrel would find some lost kid, grab him and cart him off to some foreign land where he’d be sold in the slave market. That kind of thing happened. So this is no small crisis. Joseph and Mary return immediately to Jerusalem. They’re hoping and praying they find Jesus before it’s too late. “I mean we’re the parents of the Messiah and we can’t even find him,” you know? That’s a bummer.
So, take a look at the resolution. Point three in our little outline there: Resolution: An Unexpected Discovery. A relief, but there’s an unexpected discovery. It’s interesting here, the restoration of the plot isn’t merely that Joseph and Mary found Jesus. That was just the occasion of making a very important and unexpected discovery. Take a look at verse 46. It says, “After three days”—that had to be, by the way, the worse three days of their lives— “they found him in the temple.” They had to be emotionally drained by that point. Almost beyond the realm of hope—and then they found him. And just instantaneous relief to see him. “Okay, he’s safe!” But they discovered something else as well. “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 were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.” Stop there. The crisis is over, but the discovery here is just beginning. Truth is just dawning on them. His parents arrived at the scene. They found Jesus sitting in the midst of the teachers.
Generally you’d have a teacher about 50, 60, 70 years old. And Jesus is sitting there. The posture of a teacher or scribe at that time was to sit, to teach from a seated position, and the students would all sit at the ground at his feet, listening. And a teacher would have his group of students and then another teacher would have his group of students. You know what it pictures here? Jesus is in the middle and all the teachers are around him. He’s in the midst of them, and he’s interacting with all of them. I mean, to have an intellectual conversation with somebody of the level of these kind of teachers—if you’ve ever done it, it’s a draining thing. It drains your powers of intellect and it actually wears you out physically. Jesus was fielding and answering and asking questions from a multitude of teachers. I don’t know how many were there, but more than one—several—and he’s around them, engaging them all. His mind is amazing. He’s asking them questions of theological significance—about biblical law, about biblical precedent, about history.
Several commentators point out the phrase, “among the teachers”—it’s mathematically, as they numbered the word in the section here—mathematically it’s the central phrase in the narrative. Just a matter of fact. “Among the teachers” is right at the center. Already as a boy, he’s recognized as being among the teachers, but at this point in his life, he’s a learner. He’s the son of God, but he’s put himself at their feet. He’s a learner. No coincidence that this is at the center of the story. Notice the emphasis on the sentence there. You see the verb “listening” comes before the verb “asking questions.” Kids, take note—listen carefully before you ask questions. I think we could all learn from that. Jesus here is in the position of a humble student. He’s there to listen and then interact with what he hears and understands. But he’s uncommonly inquisitive. His questions are thoughtful, insightful, penetrating, probing. His answers are insightful and sound, he’s well-informed, and he’s well-reasoned. Earlier, I mentioned the infancy Gospel of Thomas. And that work of fiction actually ends by taking this account and cutting and pasting it into its own framework. But it completely contradicts how it portrays the boy Jesus because in that infancy gospel of Thomas, it shows Jesus teaching all of his teachers. It shows him correcting them and reprimanding them and showing how he is above them. There is no hint of that here at all. He’s not debating with them. There’s not the slightest disrespect for those who are over him. He knew his place, and at this point in his life, he’s at the feet of the teachers, not the head.
But that said, of the 28 times that Luke applies the designation “teacher” or uses the verb “teach” in this gospel, this is the only time it’s used of someone other than Jesus. This is the only time he’s in their presence and someone else is called the teacher. From here on out, he is the teacher. Everyone else is his students, and the world becomes his classroom, but until then, he listened and he asked questions because it was not yet his time. Listen, Jesus was unique, no doubt. We should not fail to notice here that even though Jesus was unique and he was remarkable, he’s not atypical of the way kids are. Kids want to learn. They’re intensely interested in truth if you get down to their level and teach it to them. So do not sell your kids short. Do not buy into the cultural messaging that all they want is to be entertained, all they want is video games and social media. That isn’t true. They have profound questions about the world around them. And you need to teach the answers to them. That’s why you’re there. They want to understand how things work. They want to understand why and what and everything else in between. They want to understand how. So look beyond the immaturities you see on the surface and engage their minds. They need you to do that. And I appreciate Jewish society for that very purpose. They expected those young people at 12 years old not to be out there goofing around and doing foolish things, but to be there at the feast with teachers, learned teachers, scholarly teachers, understanding and learning.
For Jesus, his curiosity about spiritual things was unparalleled. These rabbis had never seen such a child. It’s no wonder the people who were present that day were amazed at Jesus’ answers. “When his parents arrive and found him there, they were also amazed, but the text described them as being astonished, and the word here indicates a level of exasperation. “Three days looking for you and here you are. Okay, what’s going on?” Like any mother, Mary is able to quickly shake off her astonishment to give Jesus a bit of a scolding. I love that here—she’s a mother through and through, right?
Final point in your outline: Conclusion: A Profound Lesson. Mary is first to speak, but as she speaks, the focus of the narrative pivots to Jesus, and she calls Jesus to account with a rebuke. His answer, though, turns the tables by instructing her. This signals a looming change coming into their relationship. Take a look at verse 48 there again in the middle of the verse, “And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” She’s perplexed. You get it. And now that her panic has subsided, she’s become a little bit perturbed. Some of the heat is starting to come up, right? She’s been worried sick and here is just a preview of what it would ultimately mean to raise the Messiah in her home. This is the first indication of what Simeon had prophesied in the temple 12 years earlier—“a sword will pierce through your own soul as well.” Well, she’s feeling the point of that sword right now. She’s beginning to feel it burrow into her soul that there is a distance here. The distress for her is caused by the fact that Jesus has a higher allegiance than his mother, a closer familial relationship to God as his Father.
Jesus’ answer to his mother—it’s gentle. It comes across as innocent, but you can’t escape noticing the mild rebuke there: “Mom, you shouldn’t have been anxiously searching for me at all. You and Joseph should’ve known exactly where to find me—in my Father’s house.” Don’t miss the contrast between what Mary said there, “Your father and I,” and how Jesus countered with, “My Father’s house.” Joseph wasn’t his father. He wasn’t being unkind, but that had to sting a bit. It’s true, though, that Jesus belonged to God, not to Joseph. Ultimately, he didn’t even belong to Mary, and this hint of distance between them had to hurt her as a mother. Jesus didn’t stay behind in Jerusalem because of any defiance or indifference to his parents; it was simply an interest in the truth. He was intensely focused. He was fixated on his upcoming messianic mission. He wanted to be at the very heart and center of his Father’s business right there in the temple. He wanted to be at the heart of the teaching. He wanted to be hearing the truth expounded. He wanted to interact with the great teachers all the while preparing for his mission. He understood at this early stage in his life that he is the promised Messiah; he’s the Son of God. For him, Messiah wasn’t just a title or a role, it was his being; it was who he was, and he knew himself to be united with God as his Father. It’s a mystery that we really cannot fully comprehend. He tells his mother here, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Must.
Folks, we’re going to stop there—cut it short just a little bit for the sake of time, but I just want to draw your attention as we think about the Lord ’s Table before us. As we think about this, this account right here has everything to do with securing our confidence in our eternal salvation. The fact that Jesus grew, that he never committed a sin, doesn’t just mean he’s the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins, though it does mean that. It means that he completely fulfilled the law on our behalf. Even as a child, we have clear evidence right here that he never committed a sin. Did he need to grow in the outworking of his relationship with his parents and live in submission to them? Absolutely. But did he sin? No. He honored his parents, and that’s what the text says. It says, “He went”—verse 51—“down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” That submissiveness—that perfection—is what’s given to us as a gift of righteousness by our God and Father because of Jesus Christ.
Let’s bow in prayer here. Father, we just want to thank you for such a beautiful text that illustrates the perfection of Jesus Christ. But it also demonstrates in that perfection in the midst of growth—normal human growth—is his need to increase in wisdom in his application of the knowledge that he had. Like Jesus, we all need to grow in wisdom, but we also need to grow in knowledge. He is in every way our pattern and our example, but he also attains to a level we could never attain. He attained to the level of perfection—perfect righteousness for us. We’re so grateful for that because united to him, we stand before you as well in perfect righteousness. We stand complete, lacking nothing, fully accepted of the Beloved. We come before you, Father, we come before you, Lord Jesus, to commune with you before this table. We’re so grateful for your perfect life that won our salvation. Thank you for saving us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.