The First Sunday after Epiphany
January 12, 2020
“Honoring Father and Mother”
St. Luke 2:41-52
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously." And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. St. Luke 2:41-52
The text before us this morning is the only account in the Holy Scriptures that gives us any information about Jesus’ life from the time he was an infant until he was thirty years old. The Holy Spirit, who guided the apostles and evangelists to write the New Testament, saw fit to say nothing at all about Jesus’ childhood except for this event. So let us pay close attention to what God teaches us here.
St. Luke records that Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. The Passover referred back to the past and forward to the future. It referred back to when God delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt by sending the angel of death to kill the first born of every Egyptian family, but passing over the homes of Israel where the blood of the lamb marked the door. This led to the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt. It pointed forward to the blood shed by the Passover Lamb who would redeem the whole world. Who was the Passover Lamb?
He was the boy Jesus who stayed in the temple in Jerusalem after the Passover festival while his parents were returning to Nazareth. St. Luke recounts how all who heard Jesus talk to the teachers in the temple were astonished at how much he understood. He understood that he would be the Passover Lamb. Jesus said to his mother and Joseph that he had to be about his Father’s business. The Father’s business took place in the temple. That was where God met his people. It was where God’s grace covered the people’s sins. The temple was where sinners who deserved God’s anger were met with forgiveness and mercy. It was where sinners who did not know how to love would receive God’s love. The temple signified God’s undeserved love. The very existence of the temple was a promise. It was a promise that God would visit his people and be present with his people in a way they had not previously known. God would establish true and everlasting peace with his people. The Passover Lamb would establish it.
Jesus is the temple. First, the eternal Word becomes flesh. Then he shows forth his glory. He loves the LORD his God with his whole heart, soul, and mind. He loves his neighbor as himself. He loves purely. He loves in action, not just in words. He gives himself. He offers himself up to God on the cross as the sacrifice for sin. He suffers and dies for the sin of the world. He becomes the true Passover Lamb. His blood marks the door so that the angel of death passes over us.
Jesus was and is true God and true man. As true God he has always been omniscient. He knows everything. But Jesus chose to humble himself. In his humanity he possessed all of the divine attributes he had as true God, but he did not always take full advantage of them. He chose to learn. He chose to grow. He chose to live the life the law required of us. He humbled himself to become our substitute to redeem us.
He went to the temple to learn. He did not go there to teach. But the answers he gave and the questions he asked astonished everyone who heard him. How can a twelve year old boy know so much? Jesus did no miracle in the temple that day, but he showed himself to be more than an ordinary boy.
Did he do right by causing his parents such anxiety? His mother chides him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought You anxiously.” “Why have you done this to us?” She accuses him. Why? Of what? She accuses him of putting God above her. Well, yes! He did! Jesus placed the First Commandment above the Fourth Commandment. The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The Fourth Commandment says, “Honor your mother and your mother.” What does this mean?
The love we owe to fathers and mothers cannot compete with the love we owe to God. The one who does not fear and love God does not honor his father or mother. The authority of parents comes from the authority God. The dignity of parents comes from the honor we owe to God. Parents do not get their authority from the state, or history, or culture. God established the calling or vocation of fatherhood and motherhood in creation. God made them in his image, male and female, and blessed them to be fruitful. Parental authority is divine authority. God confirmed it in the Law of Moses. Christ and his apostles reaffirmed it. Let us learn from Jesus. He teaches us the true meaning of the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your Father and your mother.”
Jesus teaches us the true meaning of the Fourth Commandment by placing it firmly under the First Commandment. He said, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?” His parents didn’t understand. Parents don’t always understand their duty. St. Luke records, “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” It’s not that Jesus was speaking in riddles. He was crystal clear. Mary criticized him saying, “Your father and I have sought you anxiously.” Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?” When Mary talks of Jesus’ father she thinks of Joseph. When Jesus says “my Father” he is talking about God the Father. Mary and Joseph didn’t get it.
Folks focus on themselves. That’s human nature. Is it not perfectly obvious that for Christ to engage in the things of his Father was more important than any concerns his earthly parents had? It was not perfectly obvious to them, though, was it?
Jesus does no miracle. He won’t do a miracle for another eighteen years. But he is redeeming us. Make no mistake about that! He is obeying the Fourth Commandment the way God wants it obeyed and he is doing so, not just to teach us how it is done, but to fulfill its demands in our stead to give us the credit for his perfect obedience. After Jesus set his mother straight about where his primary loyalty lay, our text goes on:
Jesus placed the authority of God the Father above the authority of his earthly father and mother. He made that crystal clear. Then he went home and submitted to their authority. He honored his father and his mother, placing that honor underneath his love for his Father in heaven.
Jesus teaches Christian fathers and mothers that their first duty to their children is to teach them to honor their Father in heaven. This means to teach God’s word to the children at home and to bring the children to the services of God’s house, not once in a while, but every week. What God our Father has to give to our children is far more valuable than anything we have to give them. We can teach them how to do this and value that, but unless we give to them God’s word and teach them that learning and knowing God’s word is more important than making money, playing sports, having friends, or getting the right job, we are failing in our duty as parents.
At the top of each of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in Luther’s Small Catechism are the words, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” The Catechism isn’t something you leave home to learn. It is for the home. It is for the rearing of children. Every child should know it by heart. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand. Sometimes we fathers and mothers just don’t get it. What our Lord Jesus would have us know is that the time we invest in teaching God’s word to our children will come back to bless us. Jesus teaches us that learning God’s word is the most important thing we can do. This is our Father’s business.
Jesus also teaches us that when we fail as parents he is there to forgive us. The gospel he teaches us in the Bible and in his church is the gospel of his obedience offered to replace our disobedience. Parents who have failed in their parental duties, who considered themselves and their conveniences above the need of the children for God’s word need to repent of this sin. Admit it to God. Confess it. Don’t spin it or deny it. Acknowledge before God that it is sin. Then listen to the gospel. For the sake of Christ’s perfect obedience our sins are forgiven. Jesus was redeeming us there in the temple. He was redeeming us when he went home to Nazareth and submitted to his parents. He was offering his obedience to his Father to replace our disobedience. In him we are forgiven. Every day we live is a day to live under the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The favor Jesus received from God as he grew into manhood is the favor by which he graciously covers all our sins. This is the gospel. It is ours to give to those we love. Giving it to our children and receiving it from them is the greatest joy a father or mother can have.
Rolf D. Preus