Sunday after Epiphany, 2006| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Luke 2:41-52
When our children were little, to young to read, I would read Bible stories to them and whenever we saw the picture of Jesus as the twelve year old boy in the temple I would point to the picture and say, “Big Boy Jesus.” They knew that Jesus had been a big boy. The picture made that clear. Jesus was their older brother.
In Luther’s great creedal hymn we confess Christ’s incarnation in these words: made true man our elder brother. Every little child should look to Jesus in the temple and see his brother there. Every big boy and girl should as well. Every old man and woman should, too. For in Jesus’ boyhood we find our identity as children of God.
Jesus was a big boy. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay grows up. From the time he was an infant until the time he was thirty years old we know very little. In fact, all we know is what is recorded in the Gospel Lesson for this morning. Since this is all that God has chosen to tell us about the youth of our Lord Jesus we should pay attention.
Today’s Gospel Lesson teaches us that Jesus was obedient to his father and mother. St. Luke writes that he “was subject to them.” He placed Himself under their authority. The Fourth Commandment says:
Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.
Note the promise attached to the Fourth Commandment: “That it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Disobedience to the Fourth Commandment is the source of disorder, crime, and violence. Where children are raised by their parents to respect parental authority the neighborhood, community, city, and country will be blessed. People will live longer and healthier lives. When children do not learn to respect their parents they do not learn to respect others and so do not learn how to get along with their neighbors. All human authority goes back to the Fourth Commandment. Every government instituted by men derives its authority to govern from the Fourth Commandment. It is not for nothing that the Holy Spirit included an account of Jesus young life that shows how He submitted to the authority of His parents. Commandments five through eight that teach us to respect our neighbor’s life, marriage, property, and honor will all stand or fall with the Fourth Commandment.
But the Fourth Commandment must give way to the Third Commandment.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
When God gives us children He requires of us that we give them back to Him. So it was with Jesus, our big brother. And so it must be with us.
Jesus came from the Father. As we confess, He was “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” He was God from eternity. When He became a man He did not cease to be God. He did not lose any divine power. As God He knew everything there is to know. He did not lose this knowledge when He became a human being. But He chose to live a life as a man without taking advantage of all of His divine powers. In this way He who was eternal wisdom grew in wisdom. He who knew all things studied and learned. He from whom every word of God was given to the prophets who wrote it down in the Scriptures searched those same Scriptures to learn of His divine mission.
It was the festival of the Passover. The original Passover was when God commanded the children of Israel to mark their doors with the blood of a lamb. The Angel of Death would visit all the homes and kill the firstborn son of every Egyptian family. When he visited those homes marked by the blood of the lamb he would pass over them. As Jesus asked questions of the teachers in the temple and listened to their answers He saw that He Himself was to be the Passover Lamb. Jesus, our big brother, had a desire to know and understand God’s word, God’s will, and God’s plan of salvation. There in the temple at the age of twelve years old, Jesus saw His future unfold before Him. The blood that turns away death was not the blood of an innocent animal. It had to be the blood of a man, an innocent man, the God become man, Jesus. Jesus, the holy Son of the Father and the dutiful Son of Mary, would shed His holy blood for sinners. So the Scriptures said. So Jesus learned. And He did not shirk such learning. He embraced it. He embraced it in obedience to His divine Father and in love for us all.
This was the business of His Father’s house. The temple is where God meets His people. God came to His temple in the person of a twelve year old boy. There He studied. He learned. He sought out instruction in Christian doctrine.
His mother objected. She loved with a mother’s love. She chided her divine Son. Wasn’t He concerned about her and Joseph? She referred to Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, as “your father.” In response, Jesus referred to God the Father as “my father.” Only Jesus can call God “my Father.” The rest of us are taught to call Him “our Father.” We are children of God by adoption. Jesus is the Son of God by an eternal begetting. The temporal will of Jesus’ human mother had to give way to the eternal will of Jesus’ divine Father. “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” They didn’t understand. But we do understand.
We understand because Jesus, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. His blood marks our door and the angel of death cannot touch us. We understand why Jesus had to study theology in the temple. It was for our benefit. Placing the Fourth Commandment under the Third Commandment is for our benefit.
It doesn’t seem so. That’s because we may not immediately see the benefit in our children memorizing the Catechism or learning the Bible stories and the basics of Christian doctrine. There is an immediate concern, on the other hand, if our children don’t do as they’re told, if they don’t do their chores, their homework, or if they smart off and start running wild. So we assume that if we keep them under loving discipline we have done our parental duty. That’s a wrong assumption to make.
Can we parents admit something about ourselves? We are not as important as we may think. As much as our children need us, they need God’s word even more. As much as we want our children to love us, they need to love God more. As much as we want our children to listen to what we have to say, it is far more important that they be indoctrinated in God’s word than that they go where we want them to go and do what we want them to do. We don’t know our children’s future and we certainly aren’t in control of it. When we give them God’s word and encourage them to learn it and take it to heart we are giving them their future.
Mary didn’t understand Jesus’ words, but she did ponder in her heart those things that weren’t yet clear to her. She would in due time learn what her Son was learning in the temple during the days when the family left Jesus behind. She would feel the sword pierce her soul as Simeon foretold (Luke 2:35) as she watched her Son become the Passover Lamb while nailed to the cross bearing the sin and the death of the whole human race. Mary would see what it was her Son had to know.
And every Christian mother and father must look to Calvary to see there what their dear children must learn to know. Christian doctrine is not lessons to be learned and forgotten. The Third Commandment is more than the demand that we go to church. We are to attend with an attitude of wanting to learn every word that comes from the mouth of God. We cannot honor our parents and other human authorities if we do not put God’s word above them. To love God’s word is to love God, for it is by His word that He makes Himself known to us. No human father or mother can guarantee what our Father in heaven guarantees. The foundation of His guarantee is the obedience of His only begotten Son all the way to the death of the cross. And this is the essence, soul, and center of all Christian teaching. This is why we learn God’s word. Everything we learn relates to Christ and serves in joining us to Him who is our God and our elder brother.
Jesus has been through it all before us. We follow Him. We do as He did. He put God’s word first – above all earthly pursuits and all human affections. We place God’s teaching as more precious than any human relationship. We do as Jesus did. Oh, we should! Who can argue against that? But we don’t. We don’t follow Him as we promised to do when we confirmed our baptism. We place friends, family, and the comfort of familiar ties above loyalty to God’s word. But Jesus remains our elder brother. He has been through it all before us, but with one vital difference. He always placed affection for God’s word and God’s truth and God’s promises above affection for anything in the world. And He did so to fulfill for us all our filial duty to our Father in heaven. This is why we hold on to Him. For His sake death and judgment pass over us and we live under God’s grace. Our many sins are blotted out. Christ’s obedience is credited to us. Our brother has become our Savior. As the angel promised, He has saved His people from their sins.