The Eternal, Unchanging, All-knowing God Grows Up
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The text is Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Incarnation of Christ was not to remain a secret, but would be revealed gradually, layer by layer; for the Good News of Christ’s coming to earth to be our Savior would be of no use to us if we never knew anything of it. And so the angels sang their Gloria in Excelsis to the shepherds in the fields near the city of David. The shepherds rushed to see this thing the Lord had told them, and they found the Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
The wise men followed His star from the east and worshiped the newborn King in Bethlehem. Warned in a dream, Joseph took the child and His mother, and fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s evil clutches. Simeon held his salvation in his arms at the temple in Jerusalem as He sang his Nunc Dimittis, ready to depart in peace. Faithful Anna gave thanks to God and spoke of this child to all who were waiting their redemption. “And the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.”
We don’t have many stories in Scripture from the earlier days of Jesus’ life until He began His ministry at about the age of thirty—just these few that occurred during His infancy and from today’s Gospel lesson at the age of twelve. No doubt, it would be interesting to hear more about Jesus’ earlier days, but the Holy Spirit did not see fit to inspire the evangelists to tell us more.
St. John’s explanation for what was included and not included in his Gospel account could also be applied to the rest of the Gospels: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The evangelist goes on to say, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). God doesn’t promise to satisfy our curiosity about every detail, but He does tell us what we need to know for our salvation.
Out of all the incidents that could have been told, the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Gospels to write these few as representative of the childhood of Jesus. Each episode reveals a little more about the mystery of Jesus Christ—His person and His work of salvation. In each, we begin to see that this Child, who seems so common and ordinary, so easy to take for granted, is at the same time so mysterious and miraculous that He’s difficult to understand. That will be a continuing theme throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry and even as He reigns over His kingdom today. It’s certainly the case in our Gospel lesson.
It was the time of the Passover, which all adult male Israelites were required to attend in Jerusalem. Women and children often accompanied their husbands and parents, and it was customary for extended families to travel together. Joseph and Mary were godly examples for Jesus, obedient to the Lord’s Word and faithful in their observance of the Passover. After staying the entire week, they began their return trip to Nazareth. But for one reason or another Jesus’ parents did not notice that He was not with them until they stopped in camp for the evening.
Today, such a situation would probably involve the law or child protective services. But those of you, who grew up before the days of “Amber alerts” and pictures on milk cartons, understand how this could happen. Like many of you, by the age of twelve I had a lot of responsibility, including driving the tractor and operating dangerous machinery. In my leisure time, I was relatively free to roam the farm on my own—as long as I showed up for chores and meals. And I was certainly capable of getting into much more trouble than twelve-year-old Jesus.
In Jesus’ day, children grew up even faster; much more was expected of them. Twelve was the year of preparation. Joseph and Mary had brought Jesus to Jerusalem to be taught and examined by the temple teachers. The next year, He would be expected to take His place with the men of Israel, socially, vocationally, and religiously. Stop and ponder that for a second. Thirteen and considered a man. Notice that at the end of this reading it says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature…” Earlier in verse 40 it said, “And the child grew and became strong…” He’s no longer a child but a man. Twelve is the turning point.
Those were the days before we invented the artificial state of adolescence where we indulge childishness in an adult body. In Jesus’ day, a child prepared for adulthood not adolescence. A young girl was prepared to become a wife and mother. And a young boy was prepared to join the men of Israel. This was Jesus’ last year as a child, which is why Luke records this incident.
So picture the scene that evening. Jesus’ parents are worried sick; it appears they’ve lost their Son. So they rush back to Jerusalem to search for Him. Now you might reflect for a moment that if they had believed that Jesus was actually the Son of God in the flesh, they wouldn’t have had an anxious second. He’s the eternal Son of God. He can take care of Himself. Can God really be lost? But ordinarily, Jesus seems so ordinary it is easy to forget who He is.
Finally, after three days they find Jesus! In the temple! Sitting in the middle of all the Bible teachers and scholars. Listening and asking them all kinds of serious questions. Good questions. Smart questions. So advanced that the teachers are amazed at His understanding and answers. Though certainly already aware of His precocious intellect, Mary and Joseph are also astonished. But not enough to dismiss the entire incident immediately. Jesus truly is one of us in all ways. He even knows what it’s like to be chewed out by your parents when you haven’t done anything wrong!
Still, if you’re a parent you can sympathize with Mary and Joseph—especially with Mary’s question: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been worried sick looking for you.” You’d say the same thing. And more. Like, “What were you thinking? You’re grounded! No more cell phone or television or computer or video games for a month!”
But then come the first recorded words of Jesus in the New Testament: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be here in My Father’s house?” And with these words, Jesus attempts to get Mary and Joseph beyond their parental concern and astonishment, and back to focusing on the greater revelation of God’s unfolding plan of salvation for them and the world.
Jesus’ response is short and to the point, but it brings to mind so much more: “Have you forgotten why My heavenly Father sent Me to earth? You gave Me the name ‘Jesus’ because the angel said I will save My people from their sins. I am the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Son of the virgin, Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ I am the Son of the Most High. There will be no end to My kingdom. John leaped in his mother’s womb at My presence. Elizabeth called you ‘blessed among women,’ ‘the mother of my Lord!’ “Don’t you remember all that that the angels, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the wise men said about Me? Don’t you realize that as the Son of God in heaven I have authority over you? Have you forgotten all of that? You should have known that even though I remained behind, I was not disobedient, but that I owe primary obedience to My Father in heaven.”
Contrary to those liberal Bible scholars who boldly assert that Jesus never claimed to be God, the twelve-year-old Jesus here claims a relationship to God the Father, as His Father, the depth of which none of us could ever have. With these first recorded words, Jesus reveals Himself and His purpose—so that we might know with certainty that He is not only true man, but also true God.
The “Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man”… this Jesus is precisely where He’s supposed to be, doing what He’s supposed to do. Jesus is God in the flesh. So it’s no surprise that He’s there in His Father’s house.
But Mary and Joseph weren’t the only people who didn’t understand what Jesus said. Only after His work of redemption was finished would Jesus’ closest followers and family grasp the truth of Jesus’ divine nature and mission. All this pointed to what Jesus came to do. To come to Jerusalem and die on the cross, and then to rise three days later for you. To be the perfect Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Twelve-year-old Jesus is obedient to the heavenly Father and His earthly parents. His desire to remain at the temple—though a source of anxiety for His earthly parents—reveals His primary devotion to His Father’s Word and will. Nevertheless, when they come back for Him, Jesus willingly submits to their authority and returns with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth until His time comes.
For our part, we all live as disobedient children. We neither honor our earthly parents and esteem them as God’s representatives here on earth, nor fear, love, and trust in our heavenly Father above all things. We all consistently fail to hear God’s Word, hold it sacred, or gladly hear and learn it. Since Adam and Eve, we, like all other people have been born in sin and therefore, by nature, reject God’s Word and will. We want nothing to do with the Father’s house or things. For that matter, we are born enemies of God. We want nothing to do with the Father and rebel against His authority at each and every opportunity! We devise our own idols to bring us comfort, and devise our own works to justify ourselves.
Jesus’ perfect obedience from the manger and all the way to the cross is, however, our hope for reconciliation with God. By His saving work, Christ restores the relationship that was destroyed by sin. We are redeemed! We have been purchased and won from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Sadly, we are far too often like Mary and Joseph. We understand too little of God’s Word. We are slow to comprehend, and our hearts resist divine revelation. We are often so preoccupied with our own things and “getting our own house in order,” that we put the Father’s things on the back burner and fail to appreciate the wonderful blessings of being in our Father’s house.
Yet despite our faults, we have a gracious God who comes to us in the person of His Son—yes, even His twelve-year-old Son—Jesus Christ. Even at that tender age, Jesus is teaching His parents—and us—that He is the Son of God. He is the Temple that will be destroyed and yet rebuilt in three days. This same Jesus will be the thirty-three-year-old crucified and risen Jesus, giving His perfect, obedient, righteous life in death for you and your salvation.
And, in both cases, and everywhere in between, you can be certain that He is right where He should be. Jesus is about the things of His Father. There is nothing more important in all the universe than that He goes to Jerusalem. To be there for you. To do what only He can do. To give His life as a ransom for many. Obedient to His Father unto death. Even death on a cross. That’s how precious you are to Him. As a baby. When He’s twelve. At thirty-three. And even now.
For just as God reveals Himself and His salvation in ordinary, yet mysterious ways through the baby in the manger and the young lad in the temple, so He continues to manifest Himself today—in His Word of Law and Gospel, in simple water, bread and wine. Like His Son, each of these gifts is so seemingly common and ordinary that you can easily underestimate their mysterious and miraculous power. But by God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe and understand that in them you have eternal life and salvation.
And you give thanks that the very common aspects of these gifts of God mean that your Lord and His blessings are never far from you. Indeed, through each of these means of grace, Jesus is still among you as one who serves. Serving up the benefits of His dying for you. Giving you His resurrection life in Holy Baptism. Feeding you His very Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Giving you a deep desire to be in His Father’s house. Building a hunger within you for God’s Word, and a thirst for His righteousness. All that you may be certain that there is no sin He holds against you; that He’s answered for them all. So that you may know and believe this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.