Monday, January 03, 2011

Sermon on Luke 2:40-52, for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "In His Father's House"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Following on the heels of the birth of Jesus, and then His naming and presentation in the Temple as an infant, the next big story in the life of Jesus is when He is 12 years old. The Gospels give very little biographical detail about Jesus’ early life, other than His birth in Matthew and Luke, and then this one account at age 12. People have always itched for more background, and speculated what the child Jesus would be like. From the centuries after the apostles, right up to the present day, various authors have tried to fill in those missing years with stories ranging from pious, misinformed legends to shameful lies and dreams. Some have made up stories about Jesus’ infancy and childhood to make it seem more miraculous and spectacular than the Bible records; others have made up stories to make it seem un-miraculous and ordinary.

So what does this single story of Jesus’ childhood tell us about Him, and why might it have been included in the Gospels? Otherwise, the Gospel writers completely skip over the years of Jesus from birth till age thirty, when His public ministry began. First, this story tells us about the environment that Jesus grew up in. He grew up in an ordinary Jewish peasant family, with a regular community of relatives and friends. His parents were faithful in keeping the Passover celebration, which all males were required to do once a year in Jerusalem.

It also shows us how greatly His parents loved Him. It’s probably one of the universal childhood experiences that every child or parent has experienced—when a kid gets lost or separated from their parents. Maybe mom is shopping in the store, and the child wanders off, and suddenly both are in a panic trying to find each other. Here Mary and Joseph have lost track of Jesus, naturally assuming that He’s probably playing with His cousins or friends in the caravan of worshippers returning to Nazareth. Panicked because they can’t find Him, they go to Jerusalem and look for three days before finding Him! The couple of times I got lost at the store as a kid couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes, although it can seem like hours when you are a small, frightened child. But can you imagine a parent’s reaction if they couldn’t find their child for three days! How could they have slept?

After three days of your child gone missing, you might expect to either find them caught in some trouble because they ran away or were misbehaving, or you might fear that some harm had come to them. But amazingly they find Jesus behaving perfectly well, caught up in no trouble at all, but respectfully listening and learning from the teachers in the Temple. Jesus was unconcerned, unaware that they were looking for Him. His age of 12 in those times would have been the age of maturity in spiritual matters. He was no longer just a child, and began to have serious questions and have deep interest in God’s Word. As the verses at the beginning and ending of the Gospel reading both affirm, He was growing both physically and in maturity, in strength and wisdom and favor with God.

Incredible relief must have swept over Mary and Joseph as they found their son safe and well, and learning God’s Word, no less! But Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph’s concern and searching for Him, is the most important part of the story. They are also His first recorded words in the Bible. He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus would be in His Father’s house—the Temple—the house of God. This is such an important passage because it shows us that already at age 12, Jesus understood who He was and what He was to be about. He knew that He was the Son of God Almighty and that His destiny was in Jerusalem (Just, 130). More than 20 years later He would return to celebrate His last Passover, before dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The Passover, the Temple in Jerusalem, and God’s Word were all bound up with His destiny. He knew that He was to be about His heavenly Father’s business, and that He must learn and know the Scriptures. He found joy to be in God’s house, just like the Psalmist who wrote, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (Ps. 26:8).

This important story shows a contrast to the claims of many liberal scholars who have tried to explain away the miraculous nature of the New Testament or the radical claims of Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. They want to see Jesus as merely being a man, and they claim that Jesus only gradually grew in His “Messianic self-consciousness.” They want to see Jesus as just an ordinary man and teacher, who didn’t start out thinking that He was the Son of God, or the Savior, but only came to “realize” that He could be later in His ministry. Or even that it was His disciples who later elevated Him to that level. But in 180 degree contrast from those fictions, Jesus never is seen as confused about His identity. He never questions who He is or wonders if He is the Son of God. He didn’t just wake up one day in the middle of His ministry and discover that He could play the part of the Messiah. Rather, even at age 12, in this one single account, He already shows that He knows who His true Father was, God in heaven.

Luther said it pretty simply, that we should just stick with what the Gospel tells us about His childhood and be content with that. Not to speculate or add to what it records. “What more should the evangelist write? It was not yet time for him to perform miracles. He developed and was brought up like any other child, except that some children are more capable than others, and so Christ was a more capable child than others. There was nothing more to write about him than what was written by Luke. If he had recorded what he ate and drank and wore each day, how he walked, stood, slept, and acted while he was awake—what kind of narrative would that have been?” We can be content that the Bible tells us everything that is necessary for our faith and salvation and not more. The Bible doesn’t intend to satisfy every one of our curious questions, but only the most important things concerning our salvation.

We can marvel at the fact that Jesus was already so knowledgeable about the Scriptures at a young age, but also marvel at the fact that just as Jesus’ physical body grew as a normal human, so also His mind and understanding grew as well. Though He was truly God, He also experienced growth just as other human children. Through every stage of growth, from conception till adulthood, Jesus sanctified human existence. He made human life precious and holy by living at each stage of life like us. His perfect humanity was growing perfectly, without the obstacle of sin or any defect. He would become the realization of what God intended for us when He made us in His own image. That image that was marred in us by sin, would be seen in the perfect image of the invisible God in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15).

This short account of Jesus’ childhood also shows us that He was respectful and obedient, that He honored His teachers and parents. This story from Jesus childhood is also written for you children. For 12 year-olds, for kids older and kids younger. To see that even God’s Son, the one who had all power in heaven and on earth—Jesus, the God who made everything—still obeyed His earthly parents Mary and Joseph. He respectfully submitted to them. Do you children here remember the fourth commandment? Honor your father and your mother. Here we see that Jesus obeyed this commandment, He honored His father and mother. He listened to what they told Him, and respectfully obeyed and came home with them.

Children, in the same way you are to obey your parents. In our catechism classes we learned what the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” means. It means, “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” That means that when your parents tell you to do something, you should listen to them. Don’t argue or fight or complain. Your parents will be pleased with you when you listen and obey, and do as you’re told. You also are to respect and obey other authorities. Those are other people that God places over us. Not just as children, but also as adults. As children we have our parents, teachers, pastors, principals, aunts and uncles, in authority over us. Children and parents both have people in authority over us in government. The president and governor and mayor, the police and other officials of the law. We should also respect and obey their authority.

What’s the result of doing this? What’s the result of honoring and obeying? Jesus grew in favor with God and man. God was satisfied with Him, and so were His parents. They were blessed with a respectful and obedient child. Children, did you know that the same blessing is yours if you respect and obey your parents? If you serve and obey and love them, you will also find that they’re pleased with you. They’ll be blessed to have respectful and obedient children. You won’t be disciplined as much if you obey. Did you know that the Bible says that this commandment is the first one with a promise attached to it? “‘Honor your father and mother’—[this] is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Eph. 6:2-3). Our whole lives will be blessed if we’re obedient and respectful, instead of being trouble and showing disrespect. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20).

One of the most important ways that you children can be respectful and obedient to your parents as to God, is by being a good learner and listener to God’s Word. Jesus was eager to be in His Father’s house, at the place of worship, studying and learning from the Bible. So you can be respectful and listen to your parents when they take you to church and Sunday school, not to fuss or complain, but be ready every Sunday morning to go and worship. You can ask questions and learn your Bible stories with respect and be glad to come to God’s house. In fact, I hope that every one of us here, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, is filled with the same thirst for God’s Word that Jesus showed.

Think again how remarkable it is that the one thing that Jesus was so focused on as a twelve year old child, the one thing that had Him distracted from even noticing that His parents had left Jerusalem, was God’s Word. And that it was Jesus, the very Son of God, who was so eager to learn! If God Himself considered this the most important thing that He could do, how can we think anything less? What else could we find that is more important for us to be doing than to hear and learn from God’s Word? What else could take us away from our heavenly Father’s house? There should be nothing else, and we should always rejoice like the Psalmist to say, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells!” God, I love to be in worship and to be in your presence!

This story of Jesus’ childhood is just one glimpse into His early life, but it matches everything else we know about Him—that from birth till His death on the cross and resurrection, He held God’s Word to be of greatest importance. He studied and taught it. He obeyed it in every way. He was obedient and faithful to God and His parents in all things, and He treasured the place of worship as God’s house. Christ lived as a child, a youth, and an adult for us—and by His perfect life and death, He earned us salvation. So that all of our disobedience, all of the times when we didn’t listen or were disrespectful, that we could repent of those sins and be forgiven. Jesus obedience as a child carried through His whole life, and the outcome of that obedience was His saving death on the cross to forgive us our sins. May we constantly turn away from the path of disobedience, and walk instead with Jesus on the path of obedience and faith, receiving His forgiveness for our sins. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. All that we know about Jesus’ childhood, before Jesus began His public ministry at age 30 (Luke 3:23), is recorded by Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 in the birth narratives, and then this one incident from Jesus’ childhood at age 12. What important details about Jesus’ youth and maturing do we learn from this story? Why is it dangerous and inadvisable to speculate about the rest of Jesus’ childhood? Why do some wish to do that?
2. What does this story tell us about Jesus’ family and environment? What was required of Jewish males every year? Deut. 16:1-8, 16. What does it show about the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary?
3. Rather than being disobedient or causing trouble, where was Jesus eventually found? Why were the teachers amazed at Him?
4. What do Jesus’ first recorded words tell us about His self-awareness and clarity about His own identity? What did He mean that “I must be in my Father’s house?” See also Psalm 26:8
5. If the Bible doesn’t record a complete biography of Jesus’ life, why does it include the stories, teachings, and details that it does select? John 20:30-31; 21:25.
6. As true man, Jesus also grew like other children, physically and mentally. How did His full growth and maturity reflect what God intended for humans made in God’s image? How was Jesus the perfect image of God? (Col. 1:15).
7. What does this story teach children about obedience to their parents? Exodus 20:12; Col. 3:20; How do children and adults show respect and obedience to authority? What is the blessing of doing this? See Eph. 6:2-3. How does Jesus’ obedience trace through His whole lifetime, and what was the final outcome of that obedience for us?

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