Our passage this morning is one of the only places in all of Scripture where we’re told anything about Jesus’ life as a child. We have various accounts of his birth—which we’ve just celebrated!—followed by his circumcision as a baby but though we’d like to know more about what Jesus was like as a kid growing up in Israel, we’re told very little. And what Luke does tell us about the child Jesus is baffling, to say the least!
Our passage begins by providing some context. Each year Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Festival (v. 41). In the twelfth year of Jesus’ life, they again went up as per their custom (v. 42). The Passover was the opening day feast of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread first established in the book of Leviticus (Lev. 23:5–6). It was one of three important feasts in the Old Testament, the feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles (Ex. 23:14–17, 34:23; Dt. 16:1–8, 16) being the other two. But since not everyone could attend all three due to the distance traveling required, most Jews would have at least been present at Passover. Keep in mind that the invention of cars and airplanes would need to wait another 1900 years or so. So traveling was a bit more of an ordeal then than it is for us.
The probable reason that Jesus was traveling with his parents to the Passover feast at the age of twelve is because Jewish custom specified that a year or two before turning thirteen—the age at which a Jewish boy could become an adult member of the Jewish religious community—he should start being taken and introduced to the Passover Feast. So this may have been the first time Jesus had been allowed to attend and it would have been very exciting for him. However once the festival was over, Mary and Joseph returned home only to discover that Jesus wasn’t with them. He’d been left behind in Jerusalem.
Now before we accuse Mary and Joseph of bad parenting, we should understand that people at this time often traveled in large groups or caravans so they may simply have thought Jesus was traveling with his friends or relatives. Too, if customs later followed were already in place, women and small children would have gone ahead with the men following so it’s also possible that each parent thought Jesus was with the other. Whatever the specific reason, verse 44 indicates that Jesus’ parents thought “he was in their company” and so they “traveled on for a day”—this would have been about 20 miles—not realizing he had parted ways with the group with which they had come. But as they began looking for him “among their relatives and friends,” they realized Jesus was nowhere to be found so “they went back to Jerusalem to look for him” (v. 45).
This must have been somewhat nerve-wracking for though they had only traveled a day’s journey before realizing he was lost, it took Mary and Joseph three days to find him—one of those days being the long journey back. And when they did find him, they found him not hanging out with the other 12-year old boys and girls but “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers”—or rabbis, experts in Jewish law—“listening to them and asking them questions” (verse 46). Now, I know that all parents like to think that their child is precocious, but Jesus truly was. What twelve-year old would rather spend time quizzing his teachers about Scripture than returning home so he could be with his family and friends? This was no ordinary child. The Incarnation is such a mystery, isn’t it? The fact that God, whom Scripture states is all-knowing, came to earth in the form of a baby and grew up to be this 12-year old child who is learning in the temple boggles the mind. Despite being all-knowing because he was God, Jesus also had to learn because he was also fully human.
So we find twelve-year old Jesus here, growing in his understanding of Scripture. He is listening as he sits among teachers, taking in their teaching and expertise. And he is learning as he is asking them questions. But what is interesting, as implied in verse 47, is that he—though only twelve—was also answering questions that were being asked of him, possibly by the very teachers he was questioning for Luke tells us that “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Who is this child, born in a lowly manger—born of a young virgin and a carpenter? Who is this child who, though born in Bethlehem, was raised in Nazareth, a city about which Nathaneal later asked (when told about Jesus by Philip): “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). [Parallel me being from NJ: “Can anything good come out of NJ?!”] Who is this child, born of such humble background and means, who is nonetheless amazing all those around him with his questions and learning? Even Mary and Joseph who were raising him were amazed. We read in verse 48 that “When his parents saw him, they were astonished.” What was he doing in the temple? How could he have gone there without telling them? How did he come to have such deep and insightful knowledge about Scripture?
Despite her astonishment Mary, who was his mother after all, rebukes him, saying to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” This reaction by Mary is more than reasonable, isn’t it? She and Joseph must have been worried sick about Jesus. They had spent the last three days traveling back to Jerusalem, searching high and low for their son. And, when they finally found him, he was having a theological discussion with the rabbis in the temple, asking and answering questions about Scripture. Now being a theology professor, I’ve gotta tell you, the twelve-year old student child Jesus warms my heart! If only all students were as eager and determined to learn and discuss Scripture as twelve-year old Jesus was. Oh, what am I saying? If only all theology professors and other adults were as eager and determined to learn and discuss Scripture as much as twelve-year old Jesus was!
Now what is striking as well in this narrative is Jesus’ reply to his mother’s question. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” What??? Why were they searching for him? Isn’t it obvious that they would be worried about him? Yet one study Bible [ESV] suggests that the sense here is that knowing Jesus, Mary and Joseph should’ve known they would find him in the temple. Where else would he be? Even so, for Jesus to follow this up with his next statement—Didn’t they know he had to be in his Father’s house?—is amazing. Huh? Isn’t Joseph Jesus’ father? Therefore isn’t Joseph’s house—Jesus’ home—in Nazareth? What Father is Jesus talking about? Whose Son is Jesus then? No wonder, as verse 50 states, Mary and Joseph “did not understand what he was saying to them.” How in the world were they supposed to make sense of such a statement?
And yet despite this statement Jesus does end up returning home to Nazareth and being obedient to his parents (v. 51). And, we are told, for the second time that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” Mary takes all of this in. Mary understands, probably better than any one else in the world, what an extraordinary child this is. This child whose birth, as foretold to her by none other than the Angel Gabriel himself, was born by means of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her. This child whose birth, by means of her virgin body, was a genuine miracle from its inception. There’s a lot here for Mary to treasure in her heart.
Now a few verses—and twelve years—earlier we see the first instance of the heart-treasuring Mary. The shepherds in a nearby field had been greeted by an angel of the Lord and the Lord’s glory shone around them as they were presented with the news that a Savior had been born to them, the Messiah Lord, and that the sign for them was that they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (vv. 8–12). And when these very shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as the angel of the Lord had said, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child (verses 16–17). Then, we’re told, “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (vv. 18–19). So, twelve years earlier, at the time of Jesus’ birth, we see the heart-treasuring and heart-pondering Mary, taking in all of these events for the first time; taking in the miracle of bearing a child through supernatural means; taking in that not only she but even shepherds in the field, recognized who this child was: he is the Messiah. He is the Lord. These are events worth pondering. These are events worth treasuring.
But we see more ponder-worthy events in Luke 2 surrounding the time of Jesus’ birth. When Jesus is presented in the temple to be consecrated or purified—this would have been forty days after his birth—we are introduced to the “righteous and devout” Simeon who was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (v. 25). By the Holy Spirit he had been told that he wouldn’t die until “he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (v. 26). And when Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he knew this was the Messiah and as he prayed he acknowledged that this little baby was the promised “light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (v. 32). This Messiah would be Savior not only of the Jewish people but of all people, even the Gentiles. And Joseph and Mary again marveled and Simeon blessed them (vv. 33–34). This is yet another heart-treasuring and heart-pondering worthy incident.
But, it wasn’t just the shepherds and Simeon who confirmed that this baby was the promised Messiah but also a prophetess named Anna (v. 36). She, too, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel” (v. 38). This is yet a third heart-treasuring and heart-pondering worthy incident.
All of these are confirmations of what the Angel Gabriel had disclosed to both Mary and her relative, Elizabeth, about this child who, even at the moment of his birth, was born a King and Savior for all who would receive him as such. It’s no wonder that we see the pondering and treasuring Mary trying to take it all in.
Now it certainly may be the case that if you’re the mother of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, that treasuring and pondering becomes a way of life. It can’t be that Mary ever forgot, each time she looked at Jesus, that though Joseph, her now husband, had adopted this child, he wasn’t Jesus’ biological father. It can’t be there was ever a day in her life when Mary didn’t realize how extraordinary Jesus was given how supernatural his birth was.
But it may be the case that given that Jesus was fully human from the time of his birth, that Mary—on occasion—did take for granted that he was also, from the time of his birth, fully God. After all, unlike the carol that Wally and Ron so beautifully played, Away in a Manger, that states that “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,”
The little Lord Jesus did cry.
Not only that but the little Lord Jesus needed his diaper changed.
The little Lord Jesus needed to be bathed.
The little Lord Jesus needed to be fed.
The little Lord Jesus needed to sleep. Just like any other little baby. Because, just like any other little baby, the little Lord Jesus, though fully God, was also fully human.
And it is likely that, as a child, Jesus played with the other little children.
And, as a child, Jesus helped his parents around the home.
And, as a child, Jesus learned from the Scriptures—our Old Testament.
And, as a child, Jesus learned the craft of carpentry from his father Joseph, who would have taught his son his trade.
So though this child Jesus was God from the time of his birth, the fact that he was also human from the time of his birth means that he did the things normal children did. And so it’s certainly possible that, at times at least, Mary may have seen him as the child that he was and forgotten that he was also the promised Messiah foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures.
And yet there must also have been many other opportunities for pondering and treasuring the wonder of this boy. And oh don’t you wish we had more of these recorded for us? I know I do. But perhaps the reason we don’t is because it would distract us from Jesus’ true mission. To know too many stories about Jesus’ life as a child might cause us to lose track of the reason he came to earth in the first place. For his primary reason for coming to earth was not that we might learn how a child who is fully God and fully human might behave. No, he came to earth that we might know what humanity, created good by God, was intended to look like, unmarred by sin and living a holy life in complete obedience to and dependence upon God. And he came to earth that we might also know what God is like. For how else could we, who are flesh and blood and spirit, know what God—who is spirit—is like unless he took on human flesh himself.
But the key reason he came to earth was to make right what the first Adam had made wrong. The first Adam, though created good by God and in the image of God, nonetheless disobeyed God by listening to the serpent, the embodiment of evil, in the garden. And when Adam chose to obey the serpent rather than the God in whose image he had been made, he plunged all humanity and creation into the brokenness in which we now find ourselves. He broke God’s shalom, the way he had intended things to be, into a broken distortion and corruption of the good estate in which it had been created. But our loving and heavenly Father didn’t give up on us. In fact Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4–5 that “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” But in order for God to show us his love, he had to reconcile his love with his justice for because of our disobedience, the just thing would have been for us to be cut off from him because of our rejection of him.
As the church Medieval theologian Anselm (1030–1109) reminds us in his (Cur Deus Homo—Why the God-Man or Why God Became Man), because the violation done against God was committed by one who was a man, only one who was human could make it right—could make reparation. Therefore the promised Messiah had to be fully human. Whereas the first Adam, who was created good by God succumbed to temptation, so Jesus, the last Adam—whose miraculous birth resulted in an uncorrupted human nature—would also undergo temptation by the serpent with the difference that he withstood temptation and obeyed God, not the devil, when tempted in the wilderness. So Jesus succeeds where Adam failed and so becomes our new head, our new representative before God if we receive him as our Savior and Lord.
But because the violation committed in the Garden was against God, only one who was God could offer forgiveness for this sin. Because the crime of disobedience was against God, and God is an infinite being, this crime against him was an infinite crime—and only one who was God could make reparation for it. Therefore the Messiah had to be fully God as well. For only God could both forgive the sins of humanity and cover the sins of all humans. This is how God’s love and justice are reconciled in the person of Jesus Christ. As an innocent man, he becomes sin for us and takes on the penalty of sin for all of us who are guilty thus meeting the requirements of God’s holiness and justice; but as God, he is able to forgive us our crime and reconcile us with our loving and heavenly Father by giving us his Holy Spirit that we might be able to know and enjoy him now and forevermore.
So when we think in terms of salvation, we are better able to appreciate how important Jesus’ full divinity and full humanity are. And when we ask: Whose son is Jesus? Is he the son of Joseph, the carpenter, and Mary, his wife? Or is he the Son of God the Father, a member of the Trinity along with the Holy Spirit? The correct answer is yes, he is the son of Joseph and Mary but he is also the Son of God the Father and, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus the Christ is also God.
We see that Jesus is the Son of both in the passage we’ve been considering for we’ve seen how the twelve-year old Jesus obeys both his heavenly and earthly fathers. He obeys his heavenly Father by going about his Father’s business in the temple—learning about Scripture, asking questions of his teachers, answering questions, and amazing those around him. But we also see him obeying his earthly parents as returns home to Nazareth in Galilee with them.
So though we’re not told everything we might want to know about the life of Jesus as a child, we are provided with all we need to know about this boy who, as verse 52 tells us, would grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
Brothers and sisters, as we’ve gathered this morning as we do every Sunday to dwell upon the awesome God who has made us in his image and redeemed us by his Son, let us, with Mary ponder and treasure these things in our hearts.
Let us be those who ponder—and study—and treasure what we learn in Scripture.
Let us be those who ponder—and meditate upon—and treasure what we learn from God’s Word.
Let us be those who ponder—and encourage one another—and treasure all that God has given us in himself—in his Son and his indwelling Spirit.
Let us be those who ponder—and share with those who don’t yet know Christ—and treasure the good news we have in Jesus Christ.
Let us be those who ponder—and pray in gratitude to our loving and heavenly Father—and treasure his amazing and eternal love for us.
So let us now pray.