The Theology of the Messiah's Growth
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 2:49–2:52
The Theology of Messiah’s Growth
February 28, 2016
We’re looking for God’s grace to trust him even more, and we’re going to find that in our text this morning. So, turn in your Bibles to Luke’s Gospel. Last week we started reading the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy, visiting the temple, and you can find that story at the end of Chapter 2. We’re going to start there reading this morning in Chapter 2, verse 40. Like I said, we’ll just begin by reading the account this morning and refresh ourselves with the truths that are here. It says in verse 40,
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. When he was 12 years old[Good!], 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 them 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. And 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 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 story, as we started getting into last week, is set in the context of the family’s annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the time of the Jewish Passover. This is a joyful celebration for them. It was, like I said, like a family reunion, bringing all the families and all the tribes of Israel together during these feasts—three of them a year when all the males were supposed to appear. And this one in particular was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which also contained the Feast of Passover. So, it was a remembrance of God’s redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Nothing is recorded here in the text about this celebration of the feast other than the fact it is just mentioned, that they went there for that purpose. The family is just in Jerusalem for the week. They head home in the caravan, returning to Nazareth. They travel out leaving Jerusalem one day. When they stop to camp that night, the terrifying realization comes over Mary and Joseph—Jesus had been left behind. Crowded city, hundreds of thousands of people pilgrimage there. Jesus is there all alone. So the parents are obviously sick with worry.
So, they pack up, head back, search for Jesus. Three days had passed since they left, since their departure from Jerusalem. Their fears and anxieties are relieved when they find Jesus safe in the temple. As we pointed out last time, finding Jesus in the temple—it just gets us to the beginning of discovering what Luke wants us to see. That’s just the context. Luke recorded this narrative, not merely to satisfy our curiosity about the boyhood of Jesus, though who can help being curious about those things? Luke recorded it for us to understand the theology that explains the Messiah’s growth. The central phrase there in the narrative is in verse 46. It’s just that prepositional phrase “among the teachers.” That’s where Jesus is—they find him among the teachers. And that may be where Mary and Joseph found Jesus, which brought an end to the parental crisis of finding there missing child, but in reality, this just really marked the beginning of discovering who Jesus really is.
Mary and Joseph had lived with Jesus for 12 years now. They, themselves, benefitted from special knowledge, angelic visits, prophetic revelation. They had both witnessed the impossible become a reality, Mary more so. She experienced it in the most intimate way possible through miraculous conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. And yet, here she is perplexed, surprised, a bit dumbfounded at Jesus and his words, his behavior. She even seems to be somewhat perturbed at Jesus. “Son, why have you treated us so?” “What have you done?” When Jesus answered her, Mary still didn’t understand even though she herself had told him that he was the son of the Most High. How does she not know? One commentator, James Edwards, reflects on this seemed disparity and understanding when he writes, “Faith and understanding are not guaranteed by the privilege of proximity to Jesus.” Isn’t that true? Zechariah was visited by Gabriel, yet he disbelieved. Mary and Joseph received more revelation than he, yet they did not understand. “The story of Jesus is the story of the inscrutable and unfathomable ways of God. This story is not understood in a flash of insight. Time, struggle, even suffering are required of the parents of Jesus, as of all people, if they are to know and follow Jesus.”
That’s exactly right, isn’t it? Mary, perplexed by her son’s response in typical fashion to her, quieted her soul at this point. It’s a thing about what had happened. She needed time to contemplate this, to ruminate over it, which is what we read in verse 51. It says that, “Mary [once again] treasured up all these things in her heart.” She was right to do so. Folks, so are we. Luke has once again signaled to his readers that we need to slow down. We need to reflect on what we’re seeing here at this point in the narrative. It’s a massively important truth that we find here. Incredibly profound. And I pray that the Lord will help us understand this because it provides an occasion for deep and rewarding meditation, and all that thought and pondering is going to lead us to joy and deep confidence in the perfection of our great salvation.
Let’s get into it. What we’re seeing here is an example, and it’s the only example, by the way, of Jesus’ human development during his growing-up years in Nazareth, while he’s growing up in his parents’ home, all prior to public ministry. In fact, from this point on, there’s going to be another 18 years when we don’t see him. This is the only glimpse we have into that entire time—nearly 30 years of human growth. And as I said, it’s not here recorded for our curiosity. So, why is it here? Well, Luke telegraphed his intent in verse 40 to show us how the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And even though he was filled with wisdom, verse 52 says, “Jesus increased in wisdom.” Do you hear those verbs? Growing? Becoming? Increasing? All of those are words that are attendant to his human nature, not his divine nature, right? Luke wants us to see Jesus growing here. He wants us to see him increasing in wisdom. It says here that Jesus increased also “in stature and in favor with God and man.” And this account is showing us that as well. The grace of God was clearly upon Jesus from birth all the way through his entire life, and what we read here in the silent years is a “for instance.” This is an example of how Jesus grew in wisdom and favor during the years he is out of the public spotlight.
But in the midst of this portrayal of Jesus growing in wisdom and grace, we see something else. Luke gives us this account to record a monumental moment in Jesus’ life. Here in this account we see Jesus verbalizing his own messianic self-discovery. By that I mean he has discovered he is the Messiah. He learned that, he came to understand that. Something crystalized in his 12-year-old mind that day in the temple, and what he verbalized to his mother was essentially this: “I’m the Messiah.” Luke has provided us with another tremendous insight in this account into some profound realities about Jesus’ true nature. And like Mary, we also need to stop and reflect on what we are actually seeing here. We need to understand this. We’re getting a preview into the significance of all of this that’s going to bear tremendous impact on the rest of Luke’s Gospel, okay?
This Gospel of forgiven sins, this Gospel of perfect righteousness, the Gospel of life eternal—it starts here. So, point one for today’s sermon is simply this: The Fact of Jesus’ Self-Discovery. We need to see this for ourselves, and what I want you to understand as we go through this entire sermon, here’s what I want you to get, here’s how I want this to impact your life: I want you to behold your God. I want you to admire your Savior. I want you to appreciate the greatness, the depth, the profundity of so great a salvation. You need to understand why this is so important—what God has done and how his wisdom is displayed in just a simple, really, narrative.
So, point one: The Fact of Jesus’ Self-Discovery. Take a look at the text again, starting in verse 46. His parents, it says there, “found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers,” and get this, “listening to them and asking them questions.” Why was Jesus listening to the teachers? Why was he asking them questions? I mean isn’t this like a fakery on his part? Didn’t he know all things? Was it kind of infused into him at birth and now he’s just kind of toying with them in the temple? No. He’s listening to them and he’s asking them questions because he is learning. He’s learning as a human being with a human nature. He needed to learn. So he’s here still gathering information. He’s still synthesizing, processing, thinking, discovering. We’re going to come back to how Jesus learned in just a moment.
But let me ask you a question. Does it strike you as odd that the son of God, the divine child would need to learn? I mean as the son of God, he created these teachers. Colossians 1, Hebrews 1—he brought these men, these very men—he’s sitting there listening to them, sitting at their feet—he brought them into existence, like he did all things. He brought into existence the ground he’s sitting on and the flesh that he sees before him. The men of flesh and blood—now he’s listening to them. He’s asking them questions. He’s learning from them. Does that strike you as ironic? It should. If we’re honest, we should find it hard to understand how that works. This is exactly what Hebrews 5:8 tell us: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience.” He learned. This is one of those truths in Scripture that we can apprehend, honestly, because it’s plain and simple, written in simple language for us, but it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend, right? It’s impossible for us to get our arms all the way around this because this is so beyond our own human experience. We have one nature, not two. Jesus had two natures: a human nature, just like ours, and a divine nature. We don’t understand how this works together. I don’t want to pretend even this morning to psychoanalyze Jesus. No way we can do that. As I said, we’ll come back to this in a moment. There’s more to see.
For now, let’s just assume the fact that he had to learn and take a look at his own testimony here, his own self-discovery. Look down at verse 48: “When his parents saw him they were astonished [like all the other people who heard him]. 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 now know I must be in my father’s house?’” There are several things I want you to see here in Jesus’ reply. First, note the subtle role reversal in his answer. Mary had expressed how she and Joseph were troubled, how they’d been anxiously searching for him, and she’s calling Jesus to account here, in a motherly way, assuming, like all mothers do, that he had done something wrong, right? But not only does Jesus’ reply not acknowledge any personal responsibility for Mary’s anxiety here, it turns the tables. Not in any dishonoring way, but rather innocently. His answer here is a mild rebuke. The answer is short, it’s simple, it’s direct, but it’s also respectable. But there is a hint of, “Duh,” in what he says, right? This is so obvious to him, and he’s really surprised at Mary’s perplexity. Mary should have understood something here, and if she had understood, she would have been spared from all that anxiety and all that searching. “She brought this on herself,” is what Jesus is saying. And here the parent has become the student of her own child. It won’t be the last time.
The second thing to notice: Jesus’ reply here is a clear indication of the distance that truly existed between himself and his parents. At 12 years old, Jesus had discovered something about himself that he assumed Mary had known all along. After all, isn’t she the one who told him about Gabriel’s visit before he was conceived to let her know that the son to be conceived in her womb and born would be the Son of the Most High? Didn’t she reveal to him the angel’s words, “The child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God,” (Luke 1:35)? The fact that she didn’t know that, or the fact that she at least hadn’t factored that into her own missing-person’s issue here, well, that’s just become painfully clear. Jesus hadn’t realized that she had failed to recognize his true parentage—that is by the Father—until now. So, the reality of her ignorance has dawned on him and her. The true distance between his understanding and that of his own human parents—well, he would need to adjust his interactions with them accordingly.
The third thing I want you to see—and this is really the most important point here in his reply. Jesus’ reply reveals the fact of his own self-discovery. This is our point, right? The truth of his role as Messiah. As I said, it’s crystalized in his mind at this point, and it comes across in two very significant ways. The first and the most obvious is that he speaks of God as his Father. This is significant because when the Jews referred to the fatherhood of God, they used plural possessive pronouns—words like “Our Father,” right? Or, more typically, they referred to God in terms of their ancestry, identifying their own individual self in relation to the corporate people of Israel. So, they talked about the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and they saw themselves in relationship to God in those terms—in corporate terms through their connection to the people of Israel. By contrast here, Jesus speaks of God with the first person singular pronoun, a possessive pronoun, “My God, my God, my Father.” God is not just “Our Father,” one among many descendants of Abraham; for Jesus, God is “My Father.”
Conversely, Jesus understood himself to be his Father’s son. Years later, during Jesus’ public ministry, saying what he had just said to his mother would almost get him killed. Do you remember that in John 10? Jesus kept referring to God as his Father and himself as God’s son. Over and over again, he says, “My Father, my Father,” four times in that section. Finally, the Jews had heard enough. In John 10:31, it says, “They picked up stones to stone him.” Enough of that, enough of that blasphemy. And when Jesus asked them why they wanted to stone him, they said, “For blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” So Jesus answered them. He said, “Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in my Father.” And they sought to arrest him. The Jews wanted him dead because he had the audacity to call God his Father, to use the first person singular possessive pronoun, “My Father,” when referring to God. To them that was blasphemy. They rightly understood his claim to divinity, but they wrongly condemned him for it.
Folks, Jesus is making the very same claim right here. Same claim to his mother, 12 years old, same claim. This is a remarkable point of clarity in his self-discovery. But it wasn’t just the fact that he recognized God as his own Father—singular—it was also the sense of responsibility that he had that he took ownership of. And that’s the part that he says—look at it there in the text, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Now, a couple things here. The reference to his Father’s house—it most immediately refers to the place he was in, right?—the temple, the location. Mary was looking in all kinds of other places for him, and she should have only looked in one place—his Father’s place. So, “my Father’s house” refers to the location of the temple, but also to the sense of responsibility he was taking on to carry out his Father’s household business. The eldest son in any Jewish home was given the birthright, a double portion of the inheritance. And that wasn’t a matter of making the firstborn rich like some kind of sanctioned favoritism. The first born was expected to take responsibility for his whole father’s household after his father had died. The double portion of the inheritance provided the funds necessary to be the executor of the will, to carry out the legal responsibilities and all the rest. There is a corresponding privilege to that as well. As the oldest and only Son of God, 12-year-old Jesus, considering his transition to manhood, considering his coming of age, his bar mitzvah, becoming a son of the commandment, is here embracing his responsibly to conduct his Father’s business, to be about that work.
Again, the writer of the Hebrews reflects on this reality. You can turn over there if you’d like to, Hebrews 3:1. You can just write it down if you’d like to listen while I read, but the writer to the Hebrews picks up on this same theme of Jesus having a responsibility as a son in his Father’s house, that he needed to exercise a faithful stewardship of his Father’s household. So, Hebrews 3:1-6 says this:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of the house has much more honor than the house itself. […] Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.
Again, this is just another remarkable point of clarity in Jesus’ 12-year-old mind, his Messianic self-discovery—it’s crystalizing in his thoughts and in his affections. And to further anchor this point in the text, do you see in Luke Chapter 2, verse 49 where Jesus says, “I must”? It’s a very important word. It doesn’t seem as significant here at the beginning of the story, but that verb becomes a marker of divine imperative throughout the rest of Luke’s Gospel. It’s a simple verb, three letters in the Greek, dei, and Jesus used it time and again to express the necessity of carrying out various aspects of his Messianic mission. He uses the verb “dei,” and when he uses that word, he signaling his intention to submit to the Father’s will, no matter what it meant, to carry out his Father’s wishes, to stick to his Father’s timetable. There are a number of examples. Here are just a few: In Luke 4:43, he told the people he couldn’t stick around in places where he had done miracles, and his ministry was becoming popular and well known, but he must leave there even though they wanted him to stay. He had to leave there—why? Because “[He] [dei] must preach the gospel in other towns as well; for that’s why I have been sent.” In Luke 9:22, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
He repeated that again and again—the necessity—in Chapter 17 verse 25, Chapter 24 verse 7, as well. Luke 13:33, he said must continue on his journey to Jerusalem because that is where prophets are typically rejected and martyred and, “Why should I be any different?” In Luke 22:37, he said that what is written about him must be fulfilled. Dei—it must be fulfilled. In fact, everything—Luke 24:44—everything written about him: “In the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Whatever conformed to the divine necessity—that is what determined Jesus’ steps, what dictated his decisions, what set the course of his entire life, and remarkably here, at 12 years old, the divine necessity of his Messianic role had a firm hold on his mind, on his affections, on his will. He was ready to do his Father’s work.
That’s point one. I just wanted you to see how clear Jesus was at such a young age about who he was and what he was sent into the world to do. And that’s all contained in a very simple answer here, just a simple reply that revealed a significance distance between himself and his parents. They didn’t realize it. As verse 50 says, “They did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” We can sympathize. How would we react, right? There was a huge gulf that existed between his knowledge and theirs—most significantly between his knowledge of himself and his mission and their knowledge of who he was and his mission and what he had been sent by God to do and to accomplish.
So, the question is, how did this happen? How did Jesus come to this self-discovery? How did he find out who he really was, what his role was? Was this some sort of prophetic insight, a revelation from the divine nature within himself to his human nature? Is it a dash of brilliance? Is this infused into him from his birth? Take a look at point two in our outline: The Process of Jesus’ Self-Discovery. How did this happen? I’d like to make the case here that Jesus came to a knowledge of his true identity, his Messianic mission, by a more regular means of grace, one we all have access to. By regular, I don’t mean in any way to diminish this means of grace. It’s very important. Jesus had certainly made a remarkable discovery, especially for a 12-year-old boy, but he came to that discovery through a relatively unremarkable means. Do you want to know how Jesus came to understand he was the Messiah, the Son of God? Here’s the bottom line: He read about it. Like you and me, Jesus studied his Bible. And like you and me, the more he studied, the more he came to understand divine truth. You say, “No way.” Oh, yeah. And what do you think that mandates for us? What’s the application point? Good. You got it.
We set aside some key differences between us and Jesus Christ for the moment.For example, we don’t have a divine nature in us; we’re not appointed for a Messianic role. I hope nobody comes up after the service and says, “Oh, I am.” I’ve had that kind of thing happen before. It’s like megalomania—they’re consumed with their own self-importance, and they come and tell you what God has revealed to them about what their supposed to do and how you’re to fund it. I’m not getting the same vibe from God. Unlike Jesus, we’re plagued with the sin nature. We’re subject to the internal, distorting, weakening influence of sin on our mind and our understanding. Jesus didn’t have that. But setting those and other differences aside, Jesus needed to study the Bible just like we do. Since the earliest days of Jesus’ childhood and probably even as early as the brief sojourn that his family had in Egypt, but certainly upon returning to the setting in Nazareth, Jesus was under the influence of the kind of educational commitment that was present in all faithful Jewish homes. The instruction would have started with his mother at a very young age from the time he could talk and then continued under the tutelage of his father, Joseph. Now, not all Jewish homes were alike; we need to grant that, just like families today who can be involved in many other pursuits. Their commitment to religious and theological instruction to their children is marginal at best. Same temptation existed for Jewish homes in the first century. Educational goals today—they run from the pragmatic like get a better job, make more money, to the psychological—“Know thyself” is the key to wisdom, unlock your personal potential. They can run the philosophical searching for the meaning of life trying to grasp reality. Some pursue education today simply to fulfill selfish ambition. They want to gain wealth, influence or fame. They want to increase their clout, their political power. They want to ascend the ladder of authority and social influence.
All those goals and ambitions—they’ve always existed, right? They existed in the first century as well, but because of the uniquely religious nature of the Jewish culture in society, God had revealed to them, you understand, an entire culture, an entire society, an entire way of life to the whole nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. He said, “Here, here is society in a box. Here is your culture, here’s your language, here is your theology, here is your everything, your law, your civil code, your ceremonial codes.” Everything was included in the Law of Moses. So God gave it to Moses, Moses gave it to the people and said, “Okay, this is how we’re going to live. We’re going to be distinctly different from any other culture in the entire world.”
Now, we didn’t grow up with that—many of us. We didn’t grow up with this kind of understanding, this kind of culture, but the Jews did. Jewish homes were uniquely characterized by a commitment to their children’s religious instruction. In fact, the call to educate the family in Scripture was the main task of parenting. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” All of a sudden it starts with theology on the oneness of God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” Children were to be taught by worshipers. You shall be hard at work teaching them diligently to your children. “You shall talk of them when you sit at your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, they shall be frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Everywhere you go is to be a reminder of the law of God. Beloved, would the Christian parents today take their duty to educate their children that seriously—that is to spend time studying so they could teach their children? All too often parents today just rely on the school system or even the church to educate their children. That’s insufficient at best. It could even be misleading or even detrimental depending on what school, what church, what influences. Remember: time equals influence. The more time, the more influence. Think about that. Biblically, the responsibility to educate is first and foremost a parental responsibility. As Moses said, parents are to love God fervently for themselves first, to know his words by heart. Parents are then, out of that overflow, to teach their children. What did Moses say? They’re to teach them diligently. They’re to teach them often and always, at all times, on all occasions.
Listen, that is the kind of home that Jesus grew up in raised by godly parents who took their responsibility to educate him seriously. That had implications for their lives, made demands on their time, ordered their days and their weeks. It ordered their seasons and their years. Alfred Edersheim writes extensively about the education of children in a Jewish home. He wrote this: “Directly the child learned to speak, his religious instruction was to begin, no doubt with such verses of Holy Scripture as composed that part of the Jewish liturgy, which answers to our creed. Then would follow other passages from the Bible—short prayers and select sayings of the sages [talking about Biblical sages, you understand]. Special attention was given to the culture of the memory since forgetfulness might prove as fatal in its consequences as ignorance or neglect of the law.” Memory was very important for the Jewish upbringing. Memory. In some cases, in larger cities such as Jerusalem, children received education in a Jewish kind of school system. But in smaller cities and towns, like Nazareth, education took place in synagogues during the week. Writes Edershiem, “A synagogue teacher imparted to them the religious knowledge of the law with constant adaptation to their capacity with unwearied patience, intense earnestness, strictness tempered by kindness, but above all, with the highest object of their training ever in view.”
Just pause here for a moment. What was that highest object? The knowledge of God. The knowledge of his word. The knowledge of his righteousness. Continuing: “To keep children from all contact with vice, to train them to gentleness even when bitterest wrong had been received, to show sin in its repulsiveness rather than just to terrify by its consequences, to train to strict truthfulness, to avoid all that might lead to disagreeable or indelicate thoughts and to do all of this without showing partiality, whether with either undue severity or laxity of discipline, with judicious increase of study and work, with careful attention to thoroughness and acquiring knowledge. All of this and more constituted the ideal set before the teacher and made his office of such high esteem in Israel.”
I’d love to take that on, wouldn’t you? That’s what we need to do. That’s how we need to train our children. From the earliest days of articulate speech for a child, until they are around ten years old, Jewish children learned directly from the Bible. The Bible was their textbook. And get this—you know where they started? Your favorite book and mine—Leviticus. They started in Leviticus, and the particular emphasis in Leviticus was on the first nine chapters, laying a foundation in theology—the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the need of man, the need for an atonement, and then the gracious reason for the priesthood. It was vital for kids to understand holiness from an early, early age. Children were then taught directly from other parts of the Pentateuch with special attention given to Genesis 1-11, the creation narrative all the way through the Noahic flood. That whole thing set the narrative framework for their entire worldview. God created the world in six literal, 24-hours days. They relied on his word, they relied on his power from the very beginning. After that with a basic understanding of the Mosaic Law in place, parents taught from the prophets, which pointed people back to the Law of Moses, and then the hagiographa, the holy writings like the Psalms, the Proverbs, the wisdom literature. And by the time a child reached ten years of age, he had memorized large portions of the Bible, and that foundation in God’s word then allowed a child from ages 10 to 15 to learn from the Mishnah, the oral traditions, the legal precedence of the Jewish people. It was like a book of case law that allowed the student to see how the Law of Moses had been applied to specific cases. After that, the student was ready to engage in theological discussions, which would continue for the rest of his life.
Now, we can assume that Jesus, growing up as he did in the pious home of Mary and Joseph, received this kind of a religious instruction. And we might have to admit at this point that it is nothing more than an assumption, but we have the biblical record. Jesus possessed and intimate, profound familiarity with the Bible—the whole Bible. It’s clear from Jesus’ quotations of the Scripture. Mostly, you can read them in Matthew and Luke. He had read and memorized the Bible in the original Hebrew, even though he spoke Aramaic and Greek in common discourse in society and life. So, no doubt he had been reading, sneaking peeks so to speak, from the synagogue scrolls. He became very familiar with those books there, committing Scripture to perfect memory. He wasn’t hindered like we are by sin and its distortion upon the mind. His reading and his understanding were clear, precise, unhindered. Throughout the Gospels, we can see his interactions with the scribes and the Pharisees, as well as the Sadducees, and they clearly demonstrate his familiarity with the Mishnah, with the oral traditions of the leading rabbis like Hillel and Shamai. And he not only interacted meaningfully with theology, he was able to discern the heart of the issues, to come to biblical judgments for himself. That’s why, for example, when we read Matthew 5, over and over he said—remember that line?—“You have heard it was said.” Jesus was referring to the common teaching of the rabbis, and he could respond to what people had been taught by the scribes with his own judgments, arrived at through personal study and reflection, and he would respond this way over and over, right?—“You’ve heard it was said, but I say to you.”
Jesus had heard these teachings for himself. All through his growing up, he had examined them for himself. He compared them to the original intent of Moses and the law, and he came to his own convictions. He did his homework, and then he taught the people with confidence from the source of the well of his own conviction in Scripture. Often, rather than simply appealing to his own authority, which he could have done by rights, he called people to examine the written record. “It is written.” When confronting the religious leaders, those with greater access to the word of God, those who should have known, he rebuked them often by saying—do you remember what he said? “Have you not read?” That’s why Matthew 7:28-29, the end of his discourse called the Sermon on the Mount, writes, “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, not as their scribes.”
Listen, you need to understand that Jesus was not hit over the head with a magic wand by his fairy godmother so he suddenly had full and clear insight into the Bible. His divine nature didn’t upload truth to his human nature. The process of Jesus’ self-discovery had come through hard work in Scripture. He had to study it, just like you do, just like I do. Obviously, Jesus heard his mother’s recounting of that visit from Gabriel, the story of his cousin, John the Baptist and his conception and his birth. He had heard about the prophecies. He had heard about the shepherds, the angelic host, the wise men, all the rest. But Jesus’ self-discovery grew into conviction by studying the Scripture and finding himself there. Jesus built his self-understanding from the ground up, putting together the truth from Biblical texts, which is why he could guide others like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. to understand for themselves what was written. Jesus told them in Luke 24:25, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’” He was chastising them: “Why are you ringing your hands about an empty tomb? Shouldn’t you know?” “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
When I get to heaven, I want to ask him to do that for me, don’t you? Jesus’ realization of his Messianic role came from the Bible, and it was confirmed by the prophetic words spoken about him. And then it was sealed by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him at his baptism. Theologians don’t know, but maybe even the baptism of the Spirit did infuse some kind of a special knowledge and revelation to him that further solidified this. We don’t know that for sure, but the conviction that he had was already at that point deeply rooted in Scripture, and it made him unflappable—it made him unshakeable, firmly grounded and rooted in his Father’s written word. That’s why he could stand up to every challenge to his authority. That’s why he could stand up to every conflict with such grace and yet such firmness. Wouldn’t you like to be like that in your life? You know we can grow in that.
If all this amazes you about Christ, it should. We should stop and ponder and wonder about the glory in him as a man confronting all his adversaries—if that amazes you, think about this. This conviction here is coming from a 12-year-old child. I know 12-year-old kids. I mean they’re wonderful, but no wonder they were amazed. This 12-year-old child came to this conclusion from Scripture, and if you’re amazed, you’re not alone. Look at Luke 2.47: “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” And yet God intended to give him 18 more years of study to learn, to grow in conviction before bringing him into public ministry. We might pause at this point and ask why. Jesus had come to understand himself to be the Messiah, the One prophesied about in the Law of Moses, the prophets, the psalms. So, in light of this remarkable self-discovery here in the temple—this crystal clear knowledge of who he really is—why didn’t Jesus enter into his Messianic mission right away? Why, according to verse 51, did he go down with his parents and come to Nazareth and continue being submissive to them?
Well, for one reason, Luke 3:1-20 had not happened yet. John the Baptist had not yet arrived on the scene and Jesus knew, reading from Scripture, that the forerunner coming in the spirit and the power of Elijah would come before him to prepare the way. That was the signal. That was the trigger. Until that happened, he needed to continue, stay right where he was and continue in submission to his parents. But there’s another reason. It’s hinted at in verse 51 and summarized there in verse 52. We’ve looked at the Fact of Jesus’ Self-Discovery, point one. We’ve looked at the process of how he came to this understanding, point two. But, let’s wrap it up by looking at point three: The Significance of Jesus Self-Discovery. We’ll get a running start to this by backing up to verse 49 and reading from there, okay?
He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you know 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.”
Now, this has been hinted at all along, but it’s time to bring this to the surface and examine it carefully. This passage here reveals some very, very deep theology. Most immediately by providing the record that leads to our understanding of who Christ is in his two natures: his divine nature on one hand and his human nature on the other. Imbedded in this simple story of a missing child revealed in this profound story of Jesus’ Messianic self-discovery, we see the divine nature shine through a very, very human nature. The divine nature peeks out in this passage just briefly by what Jesus said in verse 49. His parents react to it in verse 50. And then the divine nature submerges again, hiding just below the surface, verses 51 and 52. Jesus had demonstrated the clear distinction between himself and his parents. He spoke of a higher loyalty he had to his true father, relative to his loyalty to his parents. And with this interaction with Mary, both of them became painfully aware how far advanced he was in knowledge and understanding—far beyond them. It was apparent Jesus had a mission that was far beyond Mary’s full comprehension. It’s impossible to know exactly what she had pictured about the Messiah’s ministry, but we do know that everyone else throughout his whole lifetime, including even his closest disciples—they misjudged Jesus as the messiah, his purpose, his plan, the Father’s timetable, the necessity especially of his suffering and his death. Peter even pulled him aside privately and said, “May it never be. Even if all abandon you, I will never abandon you.” I love Peter. I love him. But you know he was wrong about that. So was everybody else. They had all misunderstood. They had only come to a full understanding of what he was really up to after his resurrection, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, after the New Testament is revealed.
In the meantime, and all the while as he continued to increase in knowledge and understanding over this next 18 years of his life, Jesus needed to practice simple but demanding principles for himself—things like “Honor your father and your mother.” He had to learn to accommodate himself to his parents’ lack of understanding. He had to learn to submit to those who knew far less than he did. Again, unlike John the Baptist, who spent a lot of time out in the wilderness, Jesus was being groomed for a different kind of ministry. “He went down with them”—verse 51—“and he came to Nazareth and he was submissive to them.” This, folks, was an area of further growth for him. All that he knew by study and meditation needed to be governed by consideration for other people. I mean, think about that. You’re harboring this secret since you’re 12 years old that you’re the Messiah—don’t do that. No, don’t consider yourself to be the Messiah, but he did. Okay, so he had this truth in himself—12 years old, he’s the Messiah. He knows what he’s going to do, and the more he studies, the more he sees it clearly. And he’s sitting on that knowledge for 18 years. That’s a trial that you and I don’t know. You push us hard enough, we’ll reveal all our secrets, right? So this is an area of growth for him. And he had to practice patience for all this time in his life as he had accommodated himself to the weakness to the people around him, including his dear mother, including his adopted father. It’s in this domestic context, in the village life, in the carpenter’s shop, working with people, serving his parents, relating to, interacting with all kinds of people as a shopkeeper almost. That’s the context of verse 52. He’s increasing in wisdom and he’s growing “in favor with God and with man.” And that’s where we see the divine nature and the human nature united perfectly in one person portrayed here in flesh and blood.
There’s another significant point of theology that’s revealed here. It’s not just the two natures. It’s something else. This one is less obvious, but it’s so valuable for giving us full assurance of our salvation. It’s so important for deepening our reverence for God, for understanding the depth of his wisdom and increasing our devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The development of Jesus, the process of growth and change, which, by the way, is a common feature of human nature was totally foreign to the unchanging nature of his divine being, right? God is immutable. What made his human development so significant for his role as our Savior and Redeemer?
To answer this question, let me introduce two terms to you and then make a distinction between them. One is called the “active obedience” of Christ. I don’t know if you’ve heard that term before—the active obedience of Christ. And the other is called the “passive obedience” of Christ. The concept of passive obedience—this is one, whether we know the name of it or not, we interact with all the time. It’s the subject of many of our songs and our thinking. It’s related to the word “passion,” which is from the Latin root passio, which means suffering. This passive obedience is talking about the suffering of Christ, what Christ suffered for our sins. It’s his physical suffering, his emotional, psychological—everything that has to do with his human nature, all the suffering that he went through—and all that culminated ultimately with his death on the cross. He became our substitute by bearing in his body on the cross the wrath of God that we deserved, right?
But the other concept, which has an equally significant contribution to our salvation, is the concept of active obedience as a human being. Active obedience has to do with how Jesus, acting as the representative head of his people—fellow human beings—how he completely and perfectly obeyed the law of God on our behalf. That is to say, what Adam failed to do because he fell into transgression in the Garden of Eden, Christ accomplished because he never fell into transgression. Instead, he lived on. He obeyed God’s commandments. He obeyed all of them from the beginning of his life to the very end, from the start all the way to the finish line. He endured every temptation righteously. He passed every test perfectly. He had victory in every single trial. By his obedience, he won the reward of our eternal salvation. That is the reward he gives to us—all those who embrace him in repentance and faith. That reward of eternal salvation, which he merited, which he earned by his own obedience, he gives his perfect record of righteousness as a gift to those who draw near him in faith. We cannot earn it for ourselves, but we receive it as a gift of the grace of God. Christ won it; we receive it as our inheritance. This is what that passage from Hebrews teaches, which I’ve quoted a couple of times already. Hebrews 5:8-9 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.”
Listen, here’s the significance of this doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. If Christ came to forgive our sins only, well then we would be merely returned to Adam’s state of innocence from which he fell in the garden. The slate would be wiped clean, for sure. But on our own, what guarantee is there that we could obey the fullness of God’s law perfectly? I mean, if Adam couldn’t, we sure can’t. The doctrine of active obedience is an ironclad guarantee we will never fall again. Jesus Christ came to obey the law of God fully and completely on our behalf, doing what we could never do, and by faith in him, we’re united to him. Not just in his death, but also in his life. His life is our life. His righteousness is our righteousness. And you know what? We walk through a growing process called sanctification throughout the rest of our life, to walk in greater and greater consistency to that righteousness. And as we grow as Christians, we find what an utter, profound joy it is to walk in the law of God, to walk in his truth, to understand his ways. That is true freedom. That’s true liberty. And one day, we’ll be glorified never to fall again. No more sin. Just to be more concrete about it, think about it this way: All those points about obedience and wisdom that Jesus navigated with his parents, having to have the wisdom to walk through life with imperfect parents, and he’s a perfect child, messianic self-understanding, all that—which one of us honored our parents fully, completely? Not one of us, right?
The record of Christ’s perfection in honoring his father and mother—that record of perfect obedience to the fifth commandment—that’s all reckoned to our account. God looks at our lives, those of us who are in Christ, and he counts us perfect in that category and every other category as well. Every aspect of God’s holy law is complete in him. Every jot, every tittle, every last word—Christ obeyed it all, and his record of perfect obedience is then imputed to us by God. It’s reckoned to us by God. That is the grace of God. Wait—there’s more! I’m not a used car salesman when I say, “Wait there’s more!” Because Jesus practiced obedience, because he walked in perfect wisdom, because he lived that out through the severest of trials and temptations, he is able now to become our sympathetic high priest. He knows our weaknesses. He understands all of our frailties. He cares for us as we face trials and temptations of our own. He loves us. He sympathizes with us. He prays at the Father’s right hand for our success and he sends his Spirit to lead us into the victory of righteousness. Isn’t that precious?
Listen to these verses in Hebrews 2:10: “For it was fitting that he for whom and by whom all things exist in bringing many sons to glory should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Hebrews 2:17-18: “Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make propitiation for the sins of people for because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 4:15-16: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet”—what?—“without sin,” right? “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 7:26-28, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest—holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for the sins of his people since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in the weaknesses as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
Once again, it’s a Son that’s been perfect forever, right?—who has become the source of our eternal salvation to all who obey him. We obey him by faith, right?—we trust him. This isn’t salvation by our merit, it’s salvation by Christ’s merit. We trust in him. Jesus’ concern for all our trials, folks—it’s very real because he lived through human suffering just like we have. He endured even deeper experiences of suffering than we have. He knows our struggle with weakness and temptation because he endured every kind of temptation that we face. Since he outlasted every temptation, he knows the full force of temptation like we don’t. Temptation pressure comes on us and we snap. If the devil were completely unleashed on us, we’d break right away. The devil was released in full force on Christ—Luke Chapter 4, Matthew Chapter 4—full force, pressed him to the very extent of his own power. No breaking, but he felt it. He felt every bit of that stress of temptation. Because he never relented, because he never gave in, he can help us when we are tried and tempted. Jesus is our ever-present help in times of desperate need. All we need to do is cry out to him and he’ll deliver us from temptation. He’ll help us in our weakness. He’ll lead us into righteousness. What a Savior, Amen!
Not long before his death in 1937, Jay Gresham Machen left Princeton Seminary, which was liberalizing fast, and he started Westminster Seminary. He sent a short telegram to a good friend with these words before his death, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ, no hope without it.” The story of the boy Jesus at the temple—it illustrates that profound theological truth in full and living color—“no hope without it.” With it, every hope.
Let’s pray. Father, we want to thank you for such a great salvation, and by setting the salvation that we have come to participate in by your son, faith in him, we come to see the depth of your wisdom. We come to see how far this goes. And, truly, we only know the part, not the whole. We can’t get our hearts or our minds around all of this. And, yet, the more we understand, the more we learn, the more we love you. Thank you for your kindness to us in Christ. Thank you for your tender mercy—that you are slow to anger, abounding in mercy, that you love us. You’ve given us Christ. We love him. He is our champion and our sovereign king. We come to him willingly to worship and praise him and bring honor to him and bring honor to you by how we live our lives in obedience of faith. Thank you, and please use us to good effect in our lives that we would love you even more, that we would glorify you more consistently in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.