Luke 2.41-end (NRSV)
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’49He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
Today's lesson reveals a vitally important truth about Jesus Christ. In fact this passage records the first spoken words of Jesus, our Lord. They are significant because, as Leon Morris puts it:
The first recorded words of the Messiah are ... a recognition of His unique relationship to God ...
In this passage we learn how the boy Jesus came to understand who he really was - the Son of God the Father and that he shared a relationship with God the Father that was unique. In verse 41 we read that every year, the parents of Jesus went to the Temple for the Passover festival. Jewish Law decreed that all males were required to attend the Temple three times each year viz. at the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. (Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16.) Women were not required by the Law to attend but some did. It appears as though Mary was accustomed to accompany Joseph in all his religious duties.
Attendance at the Temple was difficult for the many Jewish men who were scattered all over the Roman world and beyond - but many made the effort. The crowds in Jerusalem during the Passover were therefore tremendous. It is believed that there were often over 100 000 visitors crowded into Jerusalem which only normally had about 50 000 inhabitants.
On this occasion Mary and Joseph took their first-born son Jesus, with them. Jewish boys, at the age of thirteen, became a 'son of the law' or a full member of the synagogue. At this time, he would assume all the responsibilities implied in his circumcision. This is not dissimilar to the modern practice of confirmation, when the child assumes all the responsibilities implied in their baptism. Custom suggested that parents should take their children to the Temple a year or two before their thirteenth birthday so they might begin to understand the significance of what was going to happen when they became full members.
Jesus was obviously fascinated by the whole experience and could not get enough from all the learned people who were giving him instruction. Probably lost in the wonder of learning, Jesus was left behind when his parents began the journey home.
This incident has nothing to do with a child's disobedience nor a parent's neglect. Women often started out on the return journey much earlier than the men, because they travelled more slowly. The women would usually meet up with the men for the first time only that evening. Joseph probably thought Jesus was with Mary and Mary thought that he was with Joseph or both could have thought that he was with family or friends. Immediately they discovered that he was not with them, they returned to Jerusalem. Verses 46-47 explain:
On the third day they found him in the Temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his intelligent answers.
During the Passover season it was the custom for the Sanhedrin to meet in public in the Temple court to discuss - in the presence of all who would listen - religious and theological questions. There would have been no problem in an unknown boy attaching himself to the group. Jesus was 'listening to them and asking questions'. This is a typically Jewish phrase describing a student learning from his teachers. The Jewish educational system encouraged discussion between teachers and pupils therefore giving pupils the opportunity to both ask and answer questions. This is what Jesus was doing. Jesus was thirsty for knowledge. There would have been few good teachers in Nazareth, and Jesus was making most of his opportunity to learn while in the city. The people were 'amazed at his intelligent answers'.
When Joseph and Mary found him they were amazed. They had not expected to find what they saw. They had been anxious and worried that something dreadful might have happened to their son. For many of us, it is only natural that Mary should gently rebuke her son to show him that they had been worried about him. The meaning of this whole incident lies in Jesus' response to his mother's reprimand. We read of the incident in verses 48-50:
His mother said, "Son, why have you done this to us" Your father and I have been very worried, and we have been searching for you!" Jesus answered, "Why did you have to look for me? Didn't you know that I would be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he meant.
Mary and Joseph had experienced amazingly significant and direct revelations from God which had been confirmed by many people. The angel Gabriel had revealed to Mary that she would bear the Messiah; the Holy Spirit had come upon her and she had become pregnant; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist had confirmed this truth to her. Joseph had been informed by an angel of what was happening. The shepherds and the wise men had brought further confirmation. When they presented Jesus in the Temple there had been the witness of Simeon and Anna. And yet verse 50 explains that 'they did not understand'. One would think that it would be obvious that when Jesus came of age and responsibility, God the Father would do something special. Mary had said "Your father and I have been very worried ...", Jesus replied "Didn't you know that I would be in my Father's house." Notice how gently but firmly Jesus takes the name father from Joseph and gives it to God. Jesus had discovered his unique relationship with God the Father and the necessity for him to be in his Father's house. Barclay writes:
At some time Jesus must have discovered his own unique relationship to God. He cannot have known it when he was a child in the manger and a baby at his mother's breast ... As the years went on he must have had thoughts; and then at this first Passover, with manhood dawning, there came in a sudden blaze of realization, the consciousness that he was in a unique sense the Son of God.
Jesus realised that he shared a relationship with God, shared by no other. But mark the result of this realisation. It did not make him look down on his humble parents - the gentle Mary and the hard-working and simple Joseph. In verse 51 we read:
Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them ...
The fact that he was God's son made him the perfect son of his human parents.
Joseph and Mary did not fully understand - they learnt what Jesus' Messiahship meant bit by bit. Remember after the Shepherds had been Mary wasn't sure of what they had meant. Luke writes:
... Mary kept on thinking about all this and wandering what it meant.
When Simeon had prophesied Luke records:
Jesus' parents were surprised at what Simeon had said.
This is easy to understand. They knew that their child Jesus was somebody very special, but they did not know what all the ramifications were. Even though they did not fully understand, they remained faithful and obedient, knowing that when the time was right, they would understand.
Notice how they did things together. The Law only required men to do certain things - but Mary and Joseph did things together. They knew that God had given people certain things to do for their own good and so they obediently did all the things God ordained for them to do.
God has given us these ordinances, because as our creator, He knows that we will benefit from them. We too should take every opportunity to draw closer to our Lord. Mary and Joseph did not understand everything at once - nor do most of us. In time they were to understand everything - and so shall we. Rather than put stumbling blocks in each other's way, Mary and Joseph supported each other. How many parents pull against each other, rather than support each other. How many couples communicate with each other and work together in everything especially in bringing up their children. How many families worship together. Let us learn from the beautifully human example of Mary and Joseph.
And while doing things together and using every avenue to draw close to God, we should also continually expect a deeper and deeper understanding of God's will for us and our families. Verse 51 continues:
... His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened.
Mary had a complicated issue to face. As Mother of the Messiah, she had a son, and yet, she did not because he did not belong to her but to all people. This Mary could not understand. But while Mary did not have knowledge, she certainly had wisdom - she 'treasured all these things in her heart' and waited for fullness of understanding.
There are many things that we do not understand. But if we persevere, keep on thinking about things, and are faithful in worship, prayer and the spiritual disciplines - we will be enabled to understand.