Sermon on Luke 2:40-52, for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas 2020 (B), "Submission to God"
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The four Gospels only share this one episode between His infancy and His adult ministry—the child Jesus in the Temple. While God obviously did not consider the rest of the “middle years” as essential knowledge about Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), this one episode frames some important themes in His family life. As the Christmas hymn sings, Jesus is our “childhood pattern, day by day like us He grew” (Once in Royal David’s City). Some of the themes framed by this window into Jesus’ childhood are the responsibility and trust that Mary and Joseph had for young Jesus. 12 years old was the age of “bar mitzvah” a “son of the law”, who was responsible to God’s commandments. He was given unsupervised time and was trusted to be responsible. We also see the importance of the community surrounding the children and relatives of Jesus, and the centrality of worship in their lives.
But here’s a theme that I want to zero in on that continues through Jesus’ life: Jesus’ submission. Submission is an uncomfortable word. In an age of individualism, self-determination, suspicion of authority, and even an arrogant desire to rewrite nature according to our own demands, the idea of “submission” seems to smell of weak compliance, aimlessness, or lack of resolve. That’s not the true meaning of submission, the gut reaction of many is nevertheless that “submission” is highly undesirable. But when Jesus’ parents came looking for Him, found Him in the Temple, and called Him home, it says that He came to Nazareth and “was submissive to them.” What does submission mean? How does this trace a theme in Jesus’ life? And how does it lay a “childhood pattern”, or truly a whole-life pattern for us?
Submission is about who or what is in authority over us, and how we respond to it. It relates to the natural order of life in this world, and the differing layers of authority in life. It includes the family authority of father and mother, or the household authority of a husband. The mutual submission of Christians to one another, as well as to the authorities outside home and Christian community, which include government, employers, and all the rest. However we organize the overlapping and intersecting layers of authority, God necessarily comes out on top. And second only to God the Father is Jesus the Son!
So right there is something amazing. Jesus, second only to the Father, voluntarily and obediently goes down many layers and levels of authority below Mary and Joseph, His mother and adoptive father. Viewed from His divine status, it’s astonishing that He would submit and obey Mary and Joseph and follow their leading. Even as a child, He displayed His prodigy and wisdom in the Scriptures. Didn’t He know better than His parents? Yet viewed from human status He was Mary’s own child. Joseph was God’s own appointed guardian for Him—so regardless of His heavenly authority, on earth He submitted to His parents like any other child.
The fourth commandment is “Honor your father and mother”. This is submitting or obeying. Sin messes with the peace and simplicity of the command by making us stubborn, self-willed, disobedient, and rebellious. By sinful nature, we are all unwilling and unyielding. We don’t want to submit. We don’t want to obey or cooperate. But Jesus’s own life shows we should obey proper authority; it’s part of God’s good order in creation. Life goes far more peacefully when we follow God’s good order, instead of the disorder of stubborn, selfish, and rebellious behavior. That’s why this is the first commandment with a promise: “Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:3).
Of course, wisdom and even a little bit of instinct can tell proper authority and godly commands from someone who has no rightful authority over us, and who commands us to do evil. Solomon prayed for this the kind of discernment. It was the natural wisdom growing in Jesus as a young child. Submission is not blindly obeying anyone and any command; legitimate or not. A child does not obey a stranger who tells them to get in their car. But in another situation, they ought to listen to the inherent wisdom or authority of a stranger’s warning to keep out of danger. “Keep back from that edge! Careful, those are poisonous!”
Tracing this theme of submission through Jesus’ life, you find many interesting and even surprising things. At Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, He rejected the devil’s false authority and rebuked him with the Scripture: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10). God is the source of all true authority. Jesus never yielded to the misguided religious teachers who thought they could control Him by their misinterpretations of the Law and “stumper” questions. But then when it came to His unjust trial, the false witnesses against Him, and the sham investigations by the High Priest and Pontius Pilate, Jesus submitted to their authority. This seems like a strange exception, until we recognize that this was in line with God the Father’s will. And also when we remember that Jesus pointed Pilate to the higher authority, and Pilates’ truly pawn-like role in the bigger picture (John 19:11).
Jesus prayed about submission in the Garden of Gethsemane. Is there any other way to do this? Let me know! But then Jesus accepted the answer and committed Himself, submitted Himself: Father, “not My will, but Your will be done” (Luke 22:42). God’s will lead Jesus to the cross. No easy act of submission. No weak compliance of a person lacking resolve, but a patient and strong determination to obediently do what was right. To follow the course submission called for, to its awful conclusion, death on the cross. Jesus’ purpose was this: “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book” (Heb. 10:7). And “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb 5:8). What an impossibly difficult lesson of obedience, for Jesus to learn through the suffering and death of the cross! But “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Submission and obedience is rarely easy, and when it is aimed at what is good and necessary, it can be very difficult.
What does Godly submission look like in your life? Are you a child, growing in wisdom and size, learning to obey God and obey your parents? A fight against what “I want” and what your parents tell you to do? Are you a youth, growing in wisdom and maturity, learning to respect your teachers and elders, and learning to identify what is good, right and true, and to avoid what is wrong and false? Are you an adult, growing in wisdom, dealing with difficult employer or co-worker situations, and learning how to manage a difficult office environment? Or how to yield and be cooperative for the greater good? Or achieving teamwork by good leadership and fairness? You are all Christian members of the congregation, growing in wisdom, learning how to submit or yield to one another in godliness, and jointly pursuing God’s kingdom here among us, rather than fighting for our own way. Are you a husband or wife, growing in wisdom, learning self-sacrifice and submission in marriage, to participate in the goodness of God’s created order and design?
Whatever your circumstances, you’re in a web of relationships and situations where godly submission is required of you. Family authority, civil authority, church authority, all flows from God’s authority. We’re called to do what’s right, even when it’s difficult and counter to our selfish desires. We’re not called to do what’s wrong or evil, even when someone in authority commands us. Jesus taught us something profound when He came under His earthly parents’ authority and submitted to them, and even when He obeyed the rulers who unjustly condemned Him to death. God’s order and design for life is good and necessary. Chaos and conflict rise when we reject order and go “every man for himself.” Even a broken and defective order is better than anarchy and lawlessness. God puts authority in place for our good, and godly submission to do what is right, yields blessings to the faithful.
But even more importantly, Jesus obediently kept the 4th commandment by submission to His parents, to the authorities (when it aligned with God’s will) and to God the Father Himself, He obeyed the 4th Commandment for us. And all God’s good commands for us. The good that we consistently failed to do and bring about by obeying God’s good design, Jesus performed for us by humbling Himself and “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). His obedience replaces all our disobedience. It defines the One Perfect Record that is counted to your favor when you believe in Jesus. The Perfect Life of Jesus is our childhood pattern, and pattern for all of life.
His life shows us what is Christ-like. His submission was not weakness or powerlessness or passivity. It was disciplined power. Power under control—God’s control. Letting God’s plan work itself out in God’s timing, by consistently and faithfully doing what was good and right, even when it was hard. And our life is joined by Baptism to His, so that Christlikeness takes root in us. We learn godly submission. Our power and will disciplined and under control—God’s control. To have the strength of heart and will to serve and subdue our desires, to do what is good and right, even when it is hard. And as Christ lives in us, and shapes us in His pattern, we will also grow in wisdom and stature before God and man.
Let us pray: Lord God, when my sinful flesh is selfish and unyielding, take my hardened heart and give me a new heart of flesh that pulses with Your Life. Teach me in my life and my situations, a tender and strong submission—yielding to proper authority, respecting parents and obeying what is good and right. Help me experience the goodness of godly submission, even when the way is hard and my patience is stretched. Lord Jesus, it is You that walks in me, and moves me to obey Your will. Let me be completely Yours and help me follow Your design in me all my days, with forgiveness, joy, and peace in my life. In Your Name I pray, Amen!