God in Man Made Manifest
The First Sunday after Epiphany| January 13, 2013| Rev. Rolf Preus| 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 theme of the season of Epiphany is well put in the refrain from Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn: “God in man made manifest.” This truth enlightens our hearts and minds. When we know God in Christ we know God. Before man can know God, God must become a man. The true glory of God is seen nowhere else than in the man Jesus Christ who is God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. If you want to know God, see God, learn from God, and receive eternal blessings from God you should look to the twelve year old boy Jesus who stayed in the temple in Jerusalem after his family and relatives had left to go home to Nazareth. This boy is your God.
He teaches us how to live and he gives us a life to live. When God becomes one of us and does what he wants us all to do he teaches us how to live. If you want to live the good life, live as Jesus lived. We don’t know the good life by following our own affections. What we want is not necessarily good for us or for others. What we want is not always right. What is good and right, best for us and for others, is what God wants for us. If you want to see what God wants a boy, girl, man, or woman to do you need look no further than to how Jesus of Nazareth, our God and our brother, lived his life.
God’s law is summed up in the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments are the First Table of the Law. They teach us our duty to God. The next seven commandments are the Second Table of the Law. They teach us our duty to our neighbor. Jesus did his duty to God and to his neighbor. He obeyed the Ten Commandments. He is God. He is the true source of all authority in heaven and on earth. He from whom all authority comes, who gave the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai, now submits himself to the law he gave.
He submits to the First Table of the Law. He shows his love for his Father in heaven. He cherished the word of God above everything else in this world. His parents took him to church and he went willingly and paid close attention. They brought Jesus to synagogue every Saturday. They brought him to the religious festivals held in Jerusalem, about twenty miles from Nazareth, where they lived. The most important of those festivals was the Passover. That was the festival they had just attended on this occasion when Jesus remained in the temple after they had left and they didn’t know where he was.
Jesus remained in the temple to learn. He wasn’t there to teach. He was there to learn. St. Luke records that he was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” He was learning the Holy Scriptures.
He submits to the Second Table of the Law. St. Luke writes: “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” Parental authority is the foundation for civilization. Where parents lose their authority is where civilizations crumble and fall. We are witnessing this today in America. Parents are either unaware of their responsibilities for their children or are unwilling to meet them. Seeking fulfillment for themselves and ignoring their duty to their children, fathers and mothers neglect their children’s need to be fed by and nourished in the word of God. Children grow up confused. They know little about the faith their parents were taught. They are prime targets for every religious con artist on the make for converts. The knowledge of God’s word is the great gift parents can give to their children.
In the twelve year old Jesus we see this. We see the importance of children submitting to parental authority. Jesus did so. We see the greater importance in holding God’s word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. This is what our Lord, the twelve year old boy, teaches us. There is no more precious possession the Christian has than the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
This portion of St. Luke’s Gospel contains the only information we have about the life of Jesus from the time he was a little baby until he was a thirty year old man. God has chosen to tell us nothing more than this. And what does God tell us? He tells us that Jesus, who submitted to his parents in humility and love, placed his devotion to God’s word above his devotion to his parents. He gently chides his mother for her chiding of him. When she confronts him with the question, “Why have you done this to us?” as if Jesus has done them wrong by staying behind in the temple and causing them to worry, Jesus replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”
One could argue that Jesus is talking here as the Son of God and is reminding his mother that his eternal relationship to the Father is more important than any duty he owes to his mother and stepfather. That is perfectly true. Jesus is talking as the Son of God. But he is also talking as the most dutiful son of Mary. It is precisely as the most dutiful son of Mary and Joseph that he places devotion to God’s word above devotion to them. This is how we honor our father and our mother. We do so by honoring God. To place obedience to God above obedience to father and mother is to honor father and mother. Nothing can honor the Christian father and mother more than to honor God and to cherish God’s word above all else.
What was Jesus talking about with the teachers in the temple? What were they teaching him and what was he learning? They had just observed the Passover. They were undoubtedly talking about that festival and what it meant. The Passover was a memorial of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The original Passover was the tenth plague sent by God, the plague that finally convinced Pharaoh to let Israel leave Egypt. God sent his angel of death to kill the firstborn of every Egyptian, from the family of Pharaoh down to the lowliest inhabitant of the county. Every firstborn son of the Egyptians was killed.
Israel was spared. God instructed them to take a lamb, kill it, roast it, and eat it, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. God commanded them to take blood from that lamb and put it on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. When the angel of death would see the blood he would pass over that home, hence the name, Passover. The Passover became a festival commemorating that event. It was also known as the feast of unleavened bread. What was Jesus learning when he was learning about the Passover?
Here we are confronted with the mystery of the incarnation. God became a man. God knows everything. Boys and girls must learn how to read and write. They must learn their catechism so that they know right from wrong, and what God graciously promises to his children. As God Jesus already knew everything there is to know. There was nothing for him to learn. But as a boy growing up he chose not to take advantage of his divine omniscience. He humbled himself. He learned God’s word along with other boys and girls.
What did he learn? He learned the meaning of the Passover. What does the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of the home mean? Why does the angel of death pass over the home and not kill anyone wherever he sees the blood marking the door? Jesus learned that he was the Passover Lamb. He learned that it was his blood that would be shed. Wherever his blood marks the door the angel of death passes over and kills no one. That’s what Jesus, at the tender age of twelve, learned.
When we look at the boy Jesus we are looking at our God. We are looking at our brother. We are looking at our Savior. God joined the human race to do as one of us what we owed him. We owed him obedience. We didn’t deliver what we owed. So he became one of us to become our champion. He took upon himself our duties. He did our duty to God. He did our duty to our neighbor. He did it for us.
We marvel at the mystery. He who knows everything learns from the Holy Scriptures. He who is God over all submits to the authority of his mother and father. He who is Wisdom incarnate grows in wisdom. He who is the Source of God’s favor grows in that favor he bestows. But the wonder of the mystery does not just bring us to marvel. It brings us to trust. It brings us to rely on God’s grace in Christ as the solid foundation for our lives.
And we need it! For we have not been the fathers and mothers God has called us to be and we have not been the sons and daughters God has called us to be. We have put our own needs, wants, and desires above God and his holy word. We have acted as if we, not he, know best. We’ve neglected God’s word in favor of inferior and less important pursuits, foolishly adopting the values of the world. We’ve chafed at submitting to authority that doesn’t meet with our approval, as if it is we and not God’s commandment that determines for us what our duty to human authority ought to be.
To put it another way: we have sinned against both the First and Second Tables of God’s law. That’s obvious. And that’s the source of sorrow and trouble in our lives. Now look to Jesus and see what he is doing. He is God become man. He shows us how to live. But that’s not why he became one of us. He didn’t need to become one of us to show us how to live. He had already given us his law at Mt. Sinai. That written law shows us how to live. God became one of us in order to give us the life to live. For he who manifested his glory at the manger and in the temple was doing for us what we needed done. He was living the holy life of every boy and girl and man and woman. He was living this life for us, as our substitute. Now he gives this life to us, it is a life already lived, and already approved by God.
So we live as God’s children under the favor that Jesus has won for us all. We live as saints because God has forgiven us all our sins. Christ’s life of obedience is reckoned to us as righteousness. The angel of death passes over us. The blood of Jesus marks our door.
We find in Christ’s Church what Jesus found in the temple. He found his identity as the true Passover Lamb. We find our identity in Jesus. He died our death so we are not afraid to die. Death cannot be punishment for us when he has suffered for us. We find our identity in Jesus. He is the one thing needful. His Church is our true home. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our true family. Our God became our brother to give his life for us all. His life is our life and we live under the favor of God. Amen