First Sunday after Epiphany
January 13, 2008
“What Jesus Learned in the Temple”
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” St. Luke 2:49
Mary said to Jesus, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Jesus replied to his mother, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Mary spoke of one father and Jesus spoke of another Father. Mary spoke of Joseph, her husband. He was not Jesus’ natural father. Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. But Joseph was Jesus’ legal father. Jesus spoke of another Father: God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. His duty to his legal earthly father was subordinate to his duty to his Father in heaven.
Jesus did not deny his duty to Mary and Joseph. He was obedient to them. Jesus obeyed the Fourth Commandment, which says: “Honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Mary never had reason to complain about how Jesus treated her. She knew her son well. She took to heart the promise given by the angel, the prophecy pronounced by Simeon, and everything else God told her about her divine Child. That he would obey her and Joseph was a given. By the time he was twelve years old she was quite accustomed to it.
But in this particular instance it’s obvious that Mary is simply clueless. And from the 20/20 vision that hindsight provides, it’s amazing that she could have been so obtuse. Where else would Jesus be but at the temple? They had just visited Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. The Passover was an important feast that commemorated how God set his people free from slavery, miraculously led them across the Red Sea on dry land, and brought them into their own land.
During the event the Passover commemorated, the children of Israel were commanded to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to mark their homes so that when the angel of death came by to kill the first born of the Egyptians, he would see the blood and pass over the homes of God’s people.
The symbolic meaning of the Passover is that when the Savior of the world would come and shed his blood all those who took refuge in that holy sacrifice would escape the wages of their sin, which is death. Death comes to visit all sinners. He sees the blood of the Passover lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Wherever he sees this blood, he passes over and does not strike anyone down. When your sins are covered by the blood of the Lamb of God you are free from the slavery of sin, free from the fear of death, and free from the guilt and punishment your sins brought upon you. This is the meaning of Passover.
After celebrating the rituals connected to this feast, the folks from Nazareth were on their way home. All except for one of them, that is. Jesus remained in Jerusalem. He remained, not only in Jerusalem, but in the temple. That’s the first place Mary should have looked. Mary knew the prophecy. Didn’t Simeon say to her, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also”? The sword piercing her soul was to watch her innocent son die. She would watch as the Passover was fulfilled. The Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world. Jesus is that Lamb of God. She would watch as her son Jesus fulfilled the true meaning of the Old Testament rituals. What she would watch is precisely what Jesus was learning as he stayed in the temple, asking the teachers questions and answering the questions the teachers put to him.
Jesus went to the temple to learn. He was a boy twelve years old. He wanted to learn God’s word. As he learned God’s word he learned about himself and what would be required of him. He was under the authority of his parents. He was under the authority of his Father in heaven. He remained obedient to both his parents and his heavenly Father.
Jesus Christ is true God and true man. He received his divine nature from his Father before time began. As we confess in the Creed, he was “Begotten of the Father before all worlds.” He received his human nature from the Virgin Mary in time. As we confess, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”
In today’s Gospel Lesson we see that Jesus grows in wisdom. This is according to his human nature. As true God he knew all things. But in his humanity he chose not to use all of the fullness of his divine power all of the time. He didn’t do a miracle until he was thirty years old. He deliberately chose not to know things that he in his divinity knew. He humbled himself and became obedient.
This is the only account of Jesus’ life from the time when he was an infant until the time when he was about thirty years old. The Holy Spirit saw fit to cause St. Luke to record this and so it is part of the Bible. Where the Bible is silent we really have no right to speculate about what Jesus might have spent his time doing. We only know what God has chosen to reveal to us in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. And from the Bible we know that Jesus cared more about learning God’s word than about doing whatever other things twelve year old boys find interesting to do. As a matter of fact, Jesus exemplifies what a twelve year old Christian boy or girl should value and do. If you learn to love God’s word when you are young you will be wealthy your entire life. If you learn to despise God’s word you learn to cut yourself off from the greatest joys God gives us in this life. Consider Jesus. His parents did not require that he be in the temple. They didn’t even know he was there. No pastor had assigned him memory work that he needed to recite. He wasn’t required to go. He went to the temple to learn God’s word because that’s what he wanted to do.
Now Jesus was a unique Child. Born without sin, he did by nature what was good and right to do. He went to the temple to learn God’s word. That was the good and right thing for him to do and so he did it. But our children are not Jesus. They are born sinful, just like their parents. If they do what comes naturally to them they will not seek out instruction in God’s word. They’ll oppose it and resist it and deny it. So how can we get our sinful children to be more like Jesus? How can we get them to seek out God’s word?
First of all, we bring them to God in Holy Baptism where God washes away their sin and gives them a new nature. God regenerates them so that they are born again. Born from above they have new desires to do and to be what God wants of them. They are still sinners, however. So they struggle – as we do – within the contradiction. As Christians they want to learn everything God wants to teach them. They love hearing God’s word and they want to drink it in. As sinners they don’t want to listen to a word God says. So they struggle and we struggle with them.
We bring them to church with us. We bring God’s word to them in the home. The Bible doesn’t say anything about Sunday schools or Wednesday schools or any other kind of church school for children. The biblical model is that the pastors teach the entire congregation and the parents teach their own children at home. The Sunday school is a modern invention. Teaching God’s word to our children is our privilege as parents.
Most parents feel ill equipped to do it. People think the education of children is something that only those who are professionally trained can do. But God’s word teaches us differently. We read in Deuteronomy 6:4-7,
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.
How do we do that? We teach them to memorize the Catechism. Every child should know the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer and what they mean. We remind them that they are baptized. As we teach our children the stories of the Bible they learn who they are. Just as Jesus learned who he was and what he would do to save sinners as the Passover Lamb, our children find their identity as Christians through learning the Bible.
Their identity is bound to Christ. They are Christians. Think of all the junk coming at them from television. Conforming to the popular culture will only lead them away from Christ. But as they learn God’s word and take it to heart they will find what their Lord Jesus found. They will find the Passover Lamb. For Jesus it placed upon him an obligation to go to the cross and die. For us and for our children it gives us the promise of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us at the cross. And we sorely need it! We have not been the parents God called us to be. We have not been the children God has called us to be. We’ve neglected the word of God. We’ve sinned against our Father in heaven and we know it. But we also know Christ who bore our sins and who blotted out the handwriting that stood against us. He forced the angel of death to sheath his sword and pass over us. In place of the fear of death we have the promise of everlasting life. That promise is us and for our children.
Rolf D. Preus