First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 9, 2011
“Taught by a Twelve Year Old Boy”
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
We look to Jesus and we see the perfect example for us to follow. We look to Jesus and we see our Savior from sin.
Now these are not the same thing but they are related. It is as Jesus is providing us with the perfect example on how to live that Jesus is saving us from our sins. He lived his life for us. By “for us” we mean he lived his life as our substitute, our representative. He took our place. Every time we hear the familiar Gospel accounts of Jesus life we should consider and take to heart this precious truth. Every good thing he ever did he did as our substitute in order to offer his holy obedience to God to replace our sinful disobedience. He fulfilled the demands of God’s law for us.
We sometimes call this his active obedience. He did. He thought holy thoughts. He spoke holy words. He did holy deeds. Where we disobeyed he obeyed. He always did the right thing. He actively fulfilled all the requirement of God’s law.
Jesus’ obedience was also passive. He suffered. This was undoubtedly the topic of the conversation between him and the teachers in the temple where Jesus remained while his parents looked for him elsewhere.
It was the Feast of the Passover. God established festivals for his Old Testament Church for a reason. They didn’t gather together to celebrate their religious feelings. God instituted the feasts for the purpose of teaching his holy word to his people. The greatest of all the feasts was the Feast of the Passover.
The Feast of the Passover hearkened back to the Exodus from Egypt where the children of Israel had been languishing as slaves for hundreds of years. God send Moses to deliver them. God spoke through Moses to Pharaoh and told him to let his people go. God sent plagues to persuade Pharaoh to obey him. Every time Pharaoh agreed, only to renege on his agreement.
The final plague convinced Pharaoh (at least long enough to give the children of Israel a head start.) God sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn son of every Egyptian family. He commanded the children of Israel to mark their doors with the blood of the Passover lamb. When the Angel of Death saw the blood on the door he would pass over that house and kill no one. When the twelve year old boy Jesus stayed in the temple after the Feast of the Passover he was the topic of conversation, though it is unlikely that his teachers knew it. He knew it. He was the true Passover Lamb and it would be his blood, shed on the cross, which would mark our doors and cause the Angel of Death to pass over us and spare our lives.
Jesus’ love for God’s word and his willingness to learn it was his active obedience. He learned of his passive obedience, that is, his suffering and death as the Passover Lamb that would take place twenty one years later.
Mary didn’t understand. The woman uniquely blessed by God didn’t understand. The mother of God didn’t understand. The woman who signifies the Church didn’t understand. She didn’t understand because she didn’t measure things by God’s word. That’s what happens when you don’t consider the important things of life in light of God’s word. You misunderstand what life is all about.
In Mary’s opinion, Jesus should not have worried her and Joseph. He should have considered his father’s and mother’s feelings. Children should consider their parents’ feelings. They should honor their father and mother. That’s what Jesus did. He submitted to his parents. But there is a greater duty. The greater duty is to God. Jesus said, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?” He says so not only because he is the Son of God who must become the Passover Lamb. He says so because he is a boy living the obedient life of all boys and girls. Going to church, reading the Bible, studying God’s word – these all come before obligations to parents, teachers, or anyone else.
Jesus the twelve year old boy is our teacher. Learning God’s word comes before learning anything else. Learning God’s word comes before making money, paying bills, and arranging matters for your retirement. To take God’s word into you is to take life into you. As Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)
The Bible tells us nothing about Jesus’ life from the time he was an infant until the time he was thirty years old except for this single event recorded by St. Luke. The Holy Spirit regarded this event as worthy of including in the Holy Scriptures rather than anything else that Jesus said or did from when he was a baby until he began his ministry thirty years later.
When Jesus asked and answered questions about the meaning of the Passover he was learning what he would do. Years later, John the Baptist would remind Jesus of what he learned as a boy when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This is what all twelve year old boys and girls should be learning. They should be learning about the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son, shed for them and for many, for the remission of sins. They should be learning how to recognize their own sin and to repent. For this knowledge they need to be taught the Ten Commandments. They should be learning who made them and to whom they owe their very lives. They should be learning who lived and died for them and what it means to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They should be learning who the Holy Spirit is and what he does to make them holy and to keep them in the true faith.
Mary and Joseph loved their son. Their worry over him testifies to the fact. Mary took to heart what the angel Gabriel told her and she knew that her Child was no ordinary Child. She believed the promise that her son would be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
But she didn’t necessarily know what was best for her Child. He knew better than she. She didn’t expect him to be in his Father’s house, even though that was quite obviously where he belonged.
So it is among Christian parents today. They love their children but don’t necessarily know what is best for them. Often times they have little confidence in their own abilities as parents and so they look around to those they admire and who are admired by others and they follow their example on how to raise their children. Of course, few parents put God’s word first in their own lives to say nothing of the lives of their children.
Parents want their children to be respected by their peers, excel in academics or sports, be popular, stay out of trouble, and make a decent living. These are all worthwhile. But they are not what life is all about. Knowing Christ is what life is all about. To know Christ is to know his word. It is to be taught by God.
This teaching isn’t teaching that can be imparted once and retained. It must be taught and taught and taught some more. Otherwise it won’t be retained. That’s because the message of the cross is foolishness to those are who perishing as St. Paul wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. What Jesus discussed with the teachers in the temple was precisely that: the message of the cross.
When Jesus put his presence in the temple as of higher importance than his presence with his family he wasn’t denigrating his family. He was placing the First Table of the Law above the Second Table of the Law where it belongs. What we owe to God comes before what we owe to our neighbor. This is so for two reasons. First, God himself is above our parents, our children, our husband or wife, or anyone else in our lives. Second, what God gives is far more precious than what anyone else can give.
Children who put God’s word above their homework, sports, jobs, friends, and anything else that takes up their time receive much more than they give. Paying attention in church, listening to the sermons, reading the Bible, memorizing God’s word: these look like work. They look like some kind of chore. But in fact, they bring peace and rest and immense satisfaction.
To know Jesus is to know peace. It is to know where you belong. It is to know where you stand with God. It is to be able to put every little detail of your life in the proper perspective. To know Jesus in his word is to know that your sins will not condemn you. What you have done that is wrong and that calls for punishment – yes, even death – has all been placed on Jesus, the Passover Lamb, who has suffered for you. He faced the sword of the Angel of Death and shed his blood. That blood marks our door. Death passes over us. Life remains with us.
What is the greatest gift parents can give to their children? Is it what they in their hearts feel? Oh, we may think so. Our love is so precious. But I doubt our feelings are any more sanctified than Mary’s were. And she didn’t know what was best for her boy.
So we don’t follow our hearts. Instead, we listen to Jesus. We learn from the twelve year old boy. His Father’s business is more important than any other concern we have. To read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the word of God is to become wealthy beyond compare. For throughout the Scriptures is revealed the pure obedience of our Lord and Savior Jesus whose innocence clothes us and makes us saints. Finding our identity in God’s word we find rest for our souls in him who is our true rest and peace. Amen