Epiphany One Sermon 2002| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Luke 2:41-52
Years ago Dort put on the refrigerator a comic that featured a husband and wife watching their children fight. The father said to the mother, as if to encourage her, “All kids fight.” She replied, “Yes, but they are our kids.” It’s humbling for parents to learn. Their own children are poor, miserable, sinners who love themselves first and most. Every mother’s heart has suffered to see the sins in her own children. She will often fight against the evidence and the plain teaching of God’s word by excusing her children’s sins. If she loves her children she will face the truth about them and admit their sin.
But consider Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. She was the only mother who ever lived who gave birth to a sinless Child. The Bible tells us little about Jesus’ childhood. From his infancy until he was about thirty years old we know next to nothing. The Holy Spirit saw fit to record for us only the account in today’s Gospel Lesson about Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Still, there is one thing we know for sure about Jesus’ childhood. He never sinned. Not once did he disobey his mother or father. He never talked back. He never lied. He never took anything that didn’t belong to him. He did not speak unkindly to those who were unkind to him. Whenever anyone insulted him, he responded with patient and forgiving love. He was completely devoted to his Father in heaven. He prayed with perfect sincerity. He always loved the word of God. He never failed in any religious duty. And in this life of sinless devotion to God and perfect submission to his mother and stepfather, Jesus didn’t come across as a holier than thou snot who wore his religion on his shirt sleeve so as to let everyone know he was better than they. No, he lived humbly. He wasn’t proud or conceited or boastful. He was a thoroughly lovable boy who never once disappointed his mother.
How much she loved him!
And so when he was nowhere to be found on the way back home from Jerusalem, she was afraid. Her son had never done anything to hurt her before. If he wasn’t with the company that was returning to Nazareth, where could he be? He must have suffered some kind of accident or worse. Maybe he was lying dead somewhere, a victim of a crime. She was frantic for his safety. Yet neither she nor her husband had the sense to look for Jesus in the one place they should have looked. They knew Jesus as the obedient boy who never did anything wrong. They forgot, at least for the moment, that this obedient boy was to be the Savior of sinners. That is why he was born. That is why he was named Jesus. And that is why he was in the temple.
What would the teachers be teaching at the time of the Passover? Why they would be explaining the original Passover, as the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the children of Israel who had painted blood on the doorposts. They would teach and explain the significance of the blood, and the subsequent Exodus from Egypt through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness, and later their entry into the Promised Land. Jesus would learn the wonderful history of the church from learned men who understood what it all meant.
But they had never had a student like Jesus! Everyone present was astonished at how well Jesus understood the Holy Scriptures, and how he answered the teachers’ questions. He was a unique young man. No teacher has ever had a student like Jesus. No boy or girl ever loved God’s word as Jesus did. No child ever wanted to learn it more thoroughly. And as this twelve year old boy, who hadn’t yet begun to shave, listened, learned, and answered the questions of his teachers, the written word and the incarnate Word were joined in perfect unity.
The mystery goes beyond our ability to understand. How could the eternal Son of the Father who by nature knows all there is to know learn things he didn’t already know? I don’t understand. God the Son, the eternal Word, did become flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He was the all-knowing, almighty God. Yet he chose to hide his divinity under the humble cloak of his human nature. He had all of the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, as St. John teaches us. Yet, until he changed water into wine at the age of thirty, he did no miracle. He deliberately chose to learn, to grow, and to develop. As our text tells us, he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” His holy manhood hid his true and eternal deity. But Jesus couldn’t hide the pure and holy love that he expressed in everything he ever said and did.
His mother had seen his holy life. She had heard and believed that her holy Child would be the Savior of sinners. And yet she scolded him as if he had done something wrong. “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” She spoke to her holy Son as if he had finally fallen into sin! But there was no sin in him. There was only the burning desire to do what his Father set before him to do. Look at how Jesus answered his mother. He asked, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Mary had referred to Joseph as if he were Jesus’ father. Jesus answered by reminding her that God was his true Father. Pay close attention here. Jesus calls God “my Father.” Jesus teaches us to call God “our Father.” Jesus doesn’t call God “our Father” and he doesn’t teach us to call God “my Father.” This is because Jesus is God’s Son in a way that none of us are or ever can be. He is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before time began. And in time, in the fullness of time, he became a baby, a boy, and a man. This he became in order to do his Father’s business. He went to the temple because that was his Father’s house. And there in the temple he learned what would be required of him as his own body replaced brick and mortar as the meeting place between God and man.
The temple was where God met his people. Jesus would now be the place where God would meet his people. As St. John said of Jesus, the Word made flesh: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” But his life could not become ours unless it were given into death. Only as Jesus faced our death by facing our sins on the cross did his life become ours. The blood of the Passover Lamb was to be the blood of Jesus. And while the teachers in the temple talking to Jesus probably didn’t know who Jesus really was, they did know what the Passover signified. They knew of the promised Suffering Servant who would fulfill the significance of the blood on the doorposts of the first Passover as well as the meaning of the unblemished lamb that was eaten at the festival every year. The promised Savior would be the Lamb of God whose blood would keep the Angel of Death’s sword in its sheath. As the hymnist writes, “Where the paschal blood is poured, death’s dread angel sheathes his sword.” Jesus would be pierced for our transgressions. His blood would be displayed before heaven as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. God’s anger would come down on his innocent head as he bore in his innocent body and soul all of the punishment of God against all sinners of every description throughout the history of the world. Only in this way could God’s anger be set aside so that we would be at peace with God. His mother would watch it happen. And she would feel it in her own soul. Jesus knew this. He knew of the prophecy that Simeon spoke to his mother. Twelve years earlier, there in the same temple as Jesus now stood, Simeon had said to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” (Luke 2:34-35)
Yes, Mary would feel it. And it would be a far worse pain than the uncertainty and anxiety she suffered when in her ignorance she looked for Jesus in all the wrong places. It would be when she looked at Jesus in the right place, where he belonged, as the meeting place between an offended God and his sinful humanity, that she would feel a cut inside of her deeper than any mother ever felt.
No mother’s love was ever greater than Mary’s. Mary has often been compared to the church. Mary is the God-bearer who gave birth to Jesus and was therefore God’s means of bringing his eternal Son into the world. Today, the church, which has Christ’s pure gospel and holy sacraments, is the means through which God comes to us. And surely Mary is a wonderful model for the church. She believed with a firm simplicity every word God spoke to her. She willingly bore whatever pain being a Christian would require of her. And when her Son chided her, she submitted to him, though he was just a boy under her authority.
She didn’t understand him. But she listened to him. And so it must be with us. You don’t listen to God’s word only when you understand it. You listen even when you don’t. The truth of what God says doesn’t depend on our ability to understand it or explain it to others. The truth of God’s word comes from God himself. Every word God says is wonderful because God is wonderful. Every word is pure, every word is life, and every word is precious to us because every word comes from God.
Why did Jesus love the word of God so much? Because he loved God so much. As the twelve-year-old boy in the temple he was loving the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. He was fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things. He was using his name faithfully. He was loving and honoring and gladly hearing and learning his holy word. He was twelve. He was plenty old enough to learn the mystery of godliness.
And so are you, dear children of River Heights Lutheran Church. You are not just kids. You are Christians. You are not a different kind of Christian than Mom or Dad or anyone else in this congregation. You are God’s own children, and God wants you to learn, just as his beloved Son learned. God wants you to cherish, that means to love with all your heart, everything he tells you. God doesn’t care so much about what you do with all your things, or how well you do in school, or how strong and smart and talented you are. He cares much more about your love.
What God wants from you is your heart. He wants your love. He wants you to care about what he says. He wants you to learn, to study, and to memorize your Catechism, just as Jesus did. He wants you to love everything he says, for this is how you love God. And he wants this for you, not just when you’re twelve, but when you’re fully grown, when you’re busy raising a family, when you are retired, and when you are getting close to your departure from this world. He who had to watch his mother’s heart break with sorrow as she witnessed his suffering and death for you, wants you always to witness that suffering and death too. But not in sorrow as a mother sees her dear child suffer. No, Jesus wants you to look at his suffering and death in deep joy. Because it means that your sins are washed away. It means that the Angel of Death cannot strike you. The blood forces him to pass you over and let you live.
And what a life we Christians have to live! It is a life of loving what God says, just as Jesus loved it. It is a life lived in union with Jesus who lived it before we did, paving the way for our lives with his own life of perfect and loving and holy obedience. Look at his life and see your own! Look at his holiness and see your holiness. Look at his perfect satisfaction of God’s every demand, and know that God is now pleased with you for Christ’s sake. God’s favor rests on you, because it rests on his holy Son, and Jesus has given himself to you.
This is what the word of God shows us, and this is why we love it so. The twelve-year-old Jesus stayed in the temple to learn what the Scriptures required of him. What God’s word required of Jesus, it gives to us. This is why we love it more than our very lives.