Date: August 11, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 2:41–2:52
What was it like to watch the Son of God grow up in Nazareth? Have you ever asked that question as you read the Gospels? What was it like to watch the Son of God – the Eternal Word himself, the One through whom all things were created – what was it like to watch him grow up in Joseph and Mary’s house? What did the boy know, and when did he know it? What was it like to see him learn to walk and talk, or to watch as he learned his letters? These are fascinating questions. Jesus is fully God but also truly human, so what was it like for him growing up in Nazareth?
But as interesting as those questions are, the Bible is largely silent when it comes to our curiosity. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ birth is followed immediately by the ministry of John the Baptist and then Jesus’ baptism. There is about a thirty-year gap that Matthew skips over. In Mark’s Gospel, there is no account of Jesus’ birth at all. There’s an OT quote, and then Mark jumps straight to John’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism. Even the Gospel of John, which is unique in its presentation of Jesus – even John’s Gospel gives us no insight into Jesus’ childhood. For the most part, Scripture is silent when it comes to our curious questions.
But there is one exception to that silence, and it is our passage this morning. Vv41-52 here in Luke 2 are absolutely unique in the biblical record. This is the only instance we have in Scripture of Jesus’ childhood. This is the only insight we get into his personality as a boy. This is it, just this handful of verses. It’s a unique passage.
But for such a unique passage, it is also rather restrained. Did you notice that when we read? Luke’s description here is short on details; it’s reserved in what it recounts. Notice, there’s no hint of Jesus using miraculous power to draw attention to himself. There’s no speculation about how he got along with other children. None of that. Luke gives us just the facts of this one event from Jesus’ childhood.
That raises a question we need to answer from the start. Why does Luke include this unique but restrained story from Jesus’ childhood? What’s the purpose of telling us about twelve-year old Jesus? The answer becomes clear when we notice that this is the first time Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel. V49, Jesus utters his first words, and those first words reveal Jesus’ understanding of himself and his mission. That is Luke’s purpose for including this unique but restrained story. It allows us to see that from his earliest days, Jesus understood both who he was and what he came to do. In that sense, this passage is really a preview of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Before Jesus’ ministry begins, we’re given a glimpse of what Jesus will teach about himself and his mission.
Looking at the details of the passage, Luke’s focus is on what Jesus knows. Specifically, there are three truths that deserve our attention. First of all, we should note Jesus’ Insight into God’s Word. Second, we need to see Jesus’ Understanding of God’s Nature. And third, we’ll consider Jesus’ Commitment to God’s Will. Three truths about what Jesus knows. Let’s begin then, in vv41-47, with Jesus’ Insight into God’s Word.
Jesus’ Insight into God’s Word
You may remember from last week how Jesus’ parents were faithful to observe the Law of Moses. Even though some twelve years have passed, today’s passage begins in the same way. Notice in vv41-42 that we meet the family journeying to Jerusalem for the Passover. This was the start of a weeklong festival in Jerusalem that commemorated Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Just like last week, the picture Luke gives us is of a faithful, devoted Israelite family that is careful to walk according to God’s Word.
Now as an aside, this is not the main point of the passage, but since we’ve seen it two weeks in a row, it is worth pointing out Joseph and Mary’s faithfulness to the word of God, particularly as parents. Notice how central the worship of God was to the life of their family. And notice how their children would have witnessed that faithfulness year after year. Technically, only Joseph was required to make these trips. He didn’t have to bring the entire family, but he did. The entire family came to worship God. Think about the impact that would have made on those young hearts and minds. Think about the trajectory that would have set for their lives.
Now, was there more Joseph and Mary needed to do to be faithful parents? Absolutely, of course. There’s teaching and discipline and love and care. There’s more to do, for sure. But even still, we shouldn’t miss this foundational faithfulness. What marked the rhythm of their family’s life? The worship of God, according to his Word.
There’s some wisdom there for us as parents today, isn’t there? We shouldn’t underestimate how valuable it is to make the worship of God according to his Word the center point of a family’s life. That kind of faithfulness can be, Lord willing, very formative, even foundational, for our children’s hearts and minds. Are there other things we must do? Absolutely. But without this foundational faithfulness, year in and year out, those other things become much more difficult and perhaps even much less effective over the long haul.
It’s not the main point of our text, but it is an instructive example. Joseph and Mary make the worship of God according to his Word a central point of family life, and we would be wise to the do the same in our homes as well.
But for this particular trip to Jerusalem, Luke tells us the family encounters a problem. You can see it there in vv43-45. When the family sets out for home, Jesus remains behind. His parents don’t realize this at first. They think he is off with family or friends, which is a natural assumption to make. Add to that the fact that we know Joseph and Mary had other children after Jesus, and you can easily envision how this oversight happens. They’re probably wrangling little ones, not worried at all about their twelve-year old son. He’s fine, off with some friends.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Jesus is not with friends. He has remained behind, and it’s not till the end of the first day that Joseph and Mary realize something is wrong. And at that point, they do what any parent would do – they set off in a scramble to find their son.
But it’s only after they search for three days, Luke tells us in v46, that they finally find Jesus. But the significant point here is where they find him. Notice v46 – “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” You’ll remember that the Temple was the center of Israel’s religious life. God’s presence was said to dwell in the Temple, and God’s priests offered sacrifices for sin here in the temple. But another key feature of Temple worship was the teaching of God’s Law, the discussion of God’s Word. Rabbis would gather at the temple with their students, and they would engage in these dialogues about God’s Law. There would be these extended question and answer sessions, all focused on the content of God’s Word. What did it mean? How did it apply? How should we follow it?
And that’s what Joseph and Mary walk up to in v46. They walk up to one of these teaching sessions, and surprisingly, that is where they find their Son – right in the middle of the teachers, asking and answering questions about the Law and Word of God. Now, that fact by itself is pretty astonishing – to see a twelve-year old hungry for this kind of dialogue, so hungry that he stayed behind for three days. That alone is pretty astonishing.
But v47 takes it to another level. Notice what Luke tells us in v47 – “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, you’ve got to keep the context in view to grasp this verse, I think. These teachers are among the brightest minds in Israel. Their calling is to discuss and teach and analyze the Scriptures. Their job, in fact, is to be so well-informed that they are not amazed or surprised by any question. They’re supposed to be the ones amazing others, not being amazed themselves! And yet, what is happening here in v47? The teachers are amazed at the twelve-year old boy. The brightest minds marvel at the level of insight displayed by this soon-to-be young man. Clearly, the twelve-year old Jesus has a depth of knowledge that astounds those who hear. Clearly, his hunger for God’s Word gets their attention.
Does this mean Jesus was teaching the teachers new things? Who knows – perhaps, but Luke doesn’t flesh out the details. At a minimum, however, we can say Jesus is amazing the teachers with his insight. At a minimum, he is astounding the wise with his hunger for God’s Word. This is actually an illustration of what Luke says later in v52 – that Jesus grew in wisdom and in favor with others. His insight is increasing, even to the point that the teachers of Israel are amazed.
One of the many things I find striking at this point is Jesus’ very evident desire to go deeper in the Scriptures. Think about that. I know on some level it’s hard to fathom how the eternal Son of God can grow in wisdom, or how the Word made Flesh can go deeper in God’s Word. I know those connections are hard to fathom, but that’s the mystery of the Incarnation. It defies our understanding to some degree.
Even as we acknowledge that mystery, it should be clear to us that Jesus wanted to go deeper in the Scriptures. He loved God’s Word, and he wanted to discuss it and ask questions and listen and give his answers. That’s one of the takeaways here, brothers and sisters. Jesus sought out this opportunity because he believed, even at twelve years old, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus was hungry for the Scriptures.
If I were to put this takeaway rather bluntly, this is what I would say. If Jesus sought to grow in the Scriptures, how much more should you and I? If Jesus viewed God’s Word as valuable and worthy of his time, how much more should you and I invest our time to know God’s Word as well? Listen, brothers and sisters, I certainly hope we’ve seen how Jesus is unique here in these verses. He has insight that amazes the teachers, and from this point forward, we should expect that Jesus will be the One who can authoritatively explain what God’s Word means. I hope we’ve seen that uniqueness.
And at the same time, I also hope we’ll learn from his example as well. If Jesus considered the Scriptures this valuable, this important – how much more should we? There’s no better day than today to start. Take up God’s Word, and read. It’s an investment that adds value, both today and to eternity.
Jesus’ Understanding of God’s Nature
That’s the first truth we see in this unique scene – Jesus’ Insight into God’s Word. The second truth takes us to the heart of the passage, vv48-49 – Jesus’ Understanding of God’s Nature. Having found their Son, Joseph and Mary are nearly overwhelmed by the moment. Notice v48 – “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.” The teachers are amazed, and Jesus’ parents are astonished. They’re overwhelmed, in other words, to see their Son present in the temple, in the midst of the teachers.
But you’ll remember that Joseph and Mary have been looking for Jesus’ for three days. That’s a long time, so Mary’s astonishment fades, at least enough for her to ask the question you might expect. Again, v48 – “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.’” In short, Mary wants an explanation. Again, three days is a long time, and they’ve been worried. “Why did you stay behind,” she asks. Mary wants her son to explain.
But notice also that in asking this question, Mary refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father. You see that there in v48? Of course, that’s how their family is presented to the watching world. Joseph did raise Jesus as his own Son. And yet, that statement is missing something, isn’t it? It’s missing the key piece to this entire episode, and that is the truth of Jesus’ identity.
Notice Jesus’ answer in v49, and listen to how he gently but clearly corrects his mother’s question, v49 – “And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” Remember that this is the first time Jesus’ speaks in Luke’s Gospel, and with these first words, Jesus very clearly affirms his identity as the Son of God. Joseph may be Jesus’ earthly father, as Mary reminded him, but Jesus’ identity is determined not by Joseph but by God himself. Jesus even takes the very bold step of calling God my Father – not just the Father, but my Father.
Jesus understands there is a personal connection between himself and the Almighty God. This is what the angel told Mary before Jesus’ birth, and this is what Jesus now reminds his mother of there in the temple. There is a unique, personal connection between Jesus and God Almighty. Now, as the NT unfolds, we’ll learn more about this connection. We’ll learn that Jesus possesses the divine nature, completely and totally. We’ll learn that what is true of God is true of Jesus Christ, for he is God’s own Son, one member of the triune Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy spirit. We’ll learn all of that as the NT unfolds, but for now, Luke has given us enough to see that from the beginning, Jesus understood his identity. He understood that he was the Son of God, that God Almighty was indeed his Father.
And it’s that truth that answers Mary’s question. Mary asks, “Why did you treat your father and me this way?” And Jesus says, “But mother, remember that God is my Father. Where else would I be than in my Father’s house, attending to my Father’s word?” It is Jesus’ identity as the Son of God that demands both Mary’s attention and ours. Above all else, to make sense of this twelve-year-old boy, we must see and believe and embrace this truth – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God in human flesh.
Several years ago, there was a book published entitled, Saving Jesus from the Church. The author’s goal was to convince people to pursue an alternative vision of the Christian life, and this alternative vision included the belief that Jesus was not a divine Savior but instead a profound Teacher. He didn’t come to save, the author claimed, but simply to teach. But here’s what made this particular book so dangerous. The author went on to claim that this alternative vision of the Christian life was not new, but was actually very old, even going back to Jesus himself. If you read Jesus, the author claimed, you’ll find a man who understood himself to be a Teacher, nothing more.
But that is exactly the opposite of God’s Word this morning! The entire point of this scene is that Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God, and that he understood this from a very early age. This is not some doctrine that the church invented. This is from the mouth of the Man himself. If you want to know and follow Christ, then you must begin at this point – with the confession that Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh. That is the truth of Jesus’ identity. It’s the truth Jesus understood about himself and about God’s Nature, and it’s the truth he has now revealed to us in God’s Word.
Jesus’ Commitment to God’s Will
But as profound as this confession is in v49, there’s actually another piece we need to note from Jesus’ answer. It is the third truth in our passage, and it helps complete the picture of who Jesus is. V49 also shows us Jesus’ Commitment to God’s Will. You’ll notice in v49 that Jesus says he must be in his Father’s house. The idea here is necessity and submission. It’s not that Jesus can be in the Father’s house, or that he might be in the Father’s house. No, Jesus must be in the Father’s house. He must be about the Father’s business. That’s the point here. It’s about the Son’s submission to the Father’s will.
But when we expand out and consider the entirety of Luke’s Gospel, we find that this point takes on even more significance. Throughout the Gospel account, Luke uses this same verb to describe Jesus’ mission, the things that Jesus must do as the Christ. Here again we have one of those preview moments. Jesus says he must be in his Father’s house, and if we expand out, we see more clearly what Jesus must do. Listen to these examples and consider how twelve-year old Jesus already has his eyes fixed on the Father’s will.
As the Father’s Son, Jesus must proclaim the good news of the gospel. Luke 4.43 – “Jesus said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus must preach.
As the Father’s Son, Jesus must fulfill the Scriptures. Luke 24.44 – “Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” Jesus must fulfill God’s Word.
As the Father’s Son, Jesus must walk the road of suffering that leads to Jerusalem. Luke 13.33, Jesus said to his disciples, “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus must go to Jerusalem to suffer.
And as the Father’s Son, Jesus must be rejected and killed, only to then rise again on the third day. Luke 9.22 – Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus must lay down his life for his people. Preach good news, fulfill God’s Word, suffer on the road to Jerusalem, endure the cross, and then rise again on the third day – Jesus must do his Father’s will.
Now, look back to v49 here in Luke 2. When Jesus says he must be in the Father’s house, we should hear in those words the faithfulness that not only submits to God’s will now, but also the faithfulness that will one day lead Jesus all the way to the cross. This is why he came – to do the Father’s will. That commitment is on display here in Luke 2, and that commitment will one day find its ultimate expression at the cross.
At this point, we’re ready to connect Jesus’ identity and his mission. We’re ready to connect our second truth with our third. Remember in our second truth, we saw Jesus’ identity as the Son of God – fully divine, sharing the Father’s nature. And here in the third point, we’ve seen Jesus’ mission – that he must do the Father’s will, a commitment that would culminate in the cross. Now we’re ready to connect those truths – identity and mission – we’re ready to connect those together.
And surprisingly, the connection comes from a lack of understanding. Notice v50. After Jesus answers Mary’s question, notice what Luke says, v50 – “And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” Here again, we have a preview of what is to come in Jesus’ ministry. Joseph and Mary do not understand what Jesus is saying. They don’t yet see his identity. They don’t yet grasp who he is. And this will not be an isolated event. All throughout the Gospel, people misunderstand Jesus. Even his own disciples struggle to fully understand who he is. Joseph and Mary’s lack of understanding is not an isolated event.
And that raises a question we have to answer. What will resolve this lack of understanding? What is the truth that gives illumination and allows us to see, without a doubt, that Jesus is the Son of God? The answer is the cross and resurrection. It is Jesus’ mission that finally and ultimately reveals his identity. That’s the connection we need to see here. It is the cross and resurrection that reveal to us most clearly the glory of the Son of God. It is the cross and resurrection that show us most fully the Son’s commitment to the Father’s will. And it is the cross and resurrection that declare to us God has come to save his people through the work of his only Son, Jesus Christ. If you want to understand Jesus then you have to look to his cross. You have to see his commitment to the Father’s will, a commitment that lead him to die and rise again for the salvation of his people
And so, I’ll ask you – Do you know him today? He is the Christ, the Son of God, and he has come to save those who trust him. Do you know Jesus by faith? Have you confessed your sin, and bowed before him in faith that he will save those who trust him? That’s really the question of this passage. Do you believe that this Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again to save?
Brothers and sisters, what we need to recognize at this point is that this entire scene is like a megaphone, blasting out a call for us to hear and believe and respond to Jesus Christ. We said at the outset that Luke is the only Gospel writer who includes this scene, and now, I hope we see more of his purpose for doing so. Luke puts this powerful scene so early in his Gospel as a way of saying to us, “Listen up! This is the Son of God. This is the One who has come to do the Father’s will. This is the One who will endure the cross. Listen to him! Don’t breeze past what he says. Slow down, listen, and respond with the faith and obedience that he deserves.”
And the way we do that, brothers and sisters – the way we respond is by giving attention to God’s Word, believing what it says, and then living in obedience to it. Is that true of you today? Is that true of me? Are we taking in God’s Word, listening to what it says, and then submitting our lives to it? As much as it might stretch us to think this way, that’s what this moment with the twelve-year old Jesus is saying. It’s a call to submit to his Word, for he is indeed the Son of God.
Brothers and sisters, the stage is now set for Jesus’ life and ministry. The prelude is finished, and we’re now ready for his ministry to begin. Notice how the final verses of the passage set that stage, vv51-52 – “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 stage is set. Luke has laid the foundation. Jesus is truly human, having been born of Mary. He obeys his parents, and he even grows as any boy would, Luke tells in v52. Jesus is truly human. And Jesus is fully God, the Father’s Son who has come to do the Father’s will. The stage is set for us to see that this Jesus is the Savior of God’s people.
May God grant us grace to listen to him, brothers and sisters, and may our lives demonstrate our faith in and our obedience to the One who is the Only Son of God. Amen.