Last Sunday, Dec 26th, I had the opportunity to preach at Devonshire.
It seems odd that we’re almost gone from Harrisburg. This coming Sunday will be our last Sunday at Devonshire. It’s sad. Of course we’re looking forward to where God is leaving us, but it’s sad that we’re leaving the community we’ve grown to love and have felt cared for. I was happy to have the opportunity to leave one last message with them.
You can find the sermon below, OR you can download the sermon here.
What do we know of Jesus as a man? If we were to go through the Gospels we would find that we know a lot about Jesus as an adult. The majority of the Gospels tell of the time during Jesus’s ministry, which he started at 32 years old. And we are all familiar with the events surrounding his birth. We know that he was dedicated in the Temple. And then, years fly by. The next time we see him, or the first time we see in Mark, Jesus is walking through the crowds to be baptized by John.
We have only one story about Jesus as a boy. This is today’s text. Turn with me to today’s passage, the story about Boy Jesus, Luke 2:41-52:
The Boy Jesus in the Temple]
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that heard spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
(Luke 2:41-52 ESV)
As I said before, this is the only story we have Jesus as a boy. And since this story takes place when he was 12, we’ve missed a couple of years. And we won’t hear about him again until he is 32 years old. So why this story, why this event?
Luke must have thought it was important. Let’s go back to the prologue for a minute. In 1:1-4 we’re told why Luke wrote this gospel: to write an orderly account that Theophilus and any other reader would have certainty concerning the things they were taught. This story, however brief, was written with a purpose so that we would know for certain what we have been taught. We can move with confidence and have faith in who Jesus was, is, and what he accomplished.
This time of year our ears are full of the testimonies of what others are saying about Jesus, and a lot of them are in Luke. We have an angel talking to Mary about her unborn baby. We have an angel talking to Joseph about Mary’s unborn child. We have angels in an evening sky declaring the glory of the Lord and saying how wonderful the newborn boy is! We have Simeon and Anna singing praises and prophesying over an 8 day old. These are all testimonies about Jesus given by other people.
This story is different, though, and as we go through it, we can see why. Jesus is back in the temple, but this time to celebrate Passover. This was the main event in the festival life of the Israelites. Imagine Macy’s at Christmastime. Imagine Giant with snow on the way. The place was packed and the city was in high swing. We’re not sure what happened, but you can imagine that it would be easy for a child to get separated form their parents if everyone’s not paying attention. Whatever the reason, Jesus is separated from the rest of the group, and Mary and Joseph, like any good parents, freak out. They return to the city and search frantically for the missing boy.
The scene that unfolds is odd. They find him in the Temple. We don’t know when they lost him, he may just have stayed there when they went there as part of the pilgrimage. They were traveling with a large group and maybe everyone assumed he was with someone else. Whatever the case may be, they go back to the Temple and find him sitting with the teachers, asking questions. Mary turns to Jesus and says what’s on every mother’s mind during this reading: What were you thinking? Your father and I have been looking everywhere for you! Do you have any idea the stress and worry that you have caused us? Are you trying to send us to an early grave?! I also hear in her voice the stereotypical overplayed Jewish mother from the Bronx.
This is not about a boy being a boy. This not to show us how “human” Jesus was, or that he just like any other boy. It is in this scene that we catch a glimpse of who Jesus thinks he is. Jesus responds by reiterating what others had said about him… He was in His Father’s house.
Now this was a bit odd. It apparently caught Mary off guard. Luke says that she “stored these things in her heart”, which is a way of saying that she wasn’t quite sure what to do or think. It was doubly odd because, well, who says this? Who describes the Temple of the Living God as “his Father’s house?” This was blasphemy. People got killed for talking like this. To say that God was your Father was the same as saying that you were God yourself. Because if Man produced man, and cows begat cows… then God begat God. The Israelites had a different concept of divinity than the Greeks did. Hercules was not a god, even though Zeus was his dad. But for the Hebrews, if you were God’s Son then you were God. This was the final charge that the leaders of the Temple bring up to kill Jesus. But here, in this moment, as a 12 year old boy, Jesus is not hiding anything, or speaking in code. He’s being plain in his speech and he’s not hiding anything.
Jesus is a big topic, and we don’t help it. Every Christmas and Easter he dominates the TV with specials about who he was and what he was doing. No one else is given this much airtime. And the conversations that surround him are huge. There are books written for the sole purposes of either proving or discrediting him as what seems to be what others have said about him.
It has been said, by some scholars, that Jesus, a poor Jew living in squalor, the son of a carpenter in a land with few trees, never meant to be savior to anyone. He was a good guy with good insights into the workings of the human heart. He never wanted to be anything more than just a guy trying to help the world. These scholars then go on to say that Jesus became a myth, a legend, larger than his actual life by his followers, other poor men who saw their chance at power.
But this seems at odds with what we actually read in Scripture and what we know of the men and women who carried the message of the gospel. Most importantly it is at extreme odds with who Jesus says He is in Scripture. The words that have been passed from Jesus’s lips to our pages don’t seem to be the kind of things that would garner followers. He’s telling one group of people that in order to be his followers they have to “eat” him. At another point, he tells a rich young ruler that he has to sell everything he has and give all the proceeds to the poor. This doesn’t seem to be a man consumed with wealth or power. And if this were so, that he is only looking for a way to the throne, it ends horribly.
But in the three areas of Jesus’ life that we have already seen, his birth, dedication, and baptism, is this why these people involved said what they did? Was it so that Jesus knew who he was? Did he ever doubt that he was God’s Messiah? Did he ever doubt his calling?
What is interesting is that this is the only story we have of Jesus as a boy. There are other stores out there, but they show us a Jesus different from this narrative and the rest of the Gospels. But what he says about himself in these passages are a clear insight into himself. Who did he actually think he was?
It can be interesting to look at what other “sources” say about the boy Jesus. Here’s a story from the Gospel of Thomas:
From the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (2nd century):
When this boy Jesus was five years old he was playing at the ford of a brook, and he gathered together into pools the water that flowed by, and made it at once clean, and commanded it by his word alone. But the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph; and he took a branch of a willow and (with it) dispersed the water which Jesus had gathered together. When Jesus saw what he had done, he was enraged and said to him: “You insolent, godless dunderhead, what harm did the pools and the water do to you? See, now you also shall wither like a tree and shall bear neither leaves nor root nor fruit.” And immediately that lad withered up completely; and Jesus departed and went into Joseph’s house. But the parents of him that was withered took him away, bewailing his youth, and brought him to Joseph and reproached him: “What a child you have who does such things.” After this again he went through the village, and a lad ran and knocked against his shoulder. Jesus was exasperated and said to him: “You shall not go further on your way,” and the child immediately fell down and died. But some, who saw what took place, said: “From where does this child spring, since every word is an accomplished deed?”
Here is one more example from the Arabic Infancy Gospel:
One day, when Jesus was running about and playing with some children, he passed by the workshop of a dyer called Salem. They had in the workshop many cloths which he had to dye. The Lord Jesus went into the dyer’s workshop, took all these cloths, and put them into a cauldron full of indigo. When Salem came and saw that the cloths were spoiled, he began to cry aloud and asked the Lord Jesus, saying: “What have you done to me, son of Mary? You have ruined my reputation in the eyes of all the people of the city; for everyone orders a suitable colour for himself, but you have come and spoiled everything.” And the Lord Jesus replied: “I will change for you the colour of any cloth which you wish to be changed”; and he immediately began to take the cloths out of the cauldron, each of them dyed as the dyer wished, until he had taken them all out. When the Jews saw this miracle and wonder, they praised God.
These stories from Thomas and the Muslim traditions differ from the Gospel testimonies because it changes who Jesus is, and the shape by which he saw himself. It makes him mischievous and boy-like. As if his role on earth had not been determined yet. It’s almost as if he has these powers and doesn’t really know what to do with them. Like a kid in the candystore, or Peter Parker trying to make money from wrestling.
But this is not Jesus. This story in Luke, this one story is important because it shows that from an early age Jesus was not confused about who he was. What he says about himself is exactly what others recognize in him. He is Immanuel, God with us. His relationship with God is unique and different than anyone else’s relationship with God. He knew who he was. He wasn’t waiting for others to affirm who he was. He didn’t need others to affirm who He was.
He was sure. So sure.
And, according to the Old Testament, he would know it at a really young age.
Here’s the Immanuel passage from Isaiah 7:14-15:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
(Isaiah 7:14-15 ESV)
Curds and honey were what you gave to an infant. It’s what you gave to young children who were beginning to eat solid food, who started to talk. This passage from Isaiah is saying that the coming Messiah would know from a young age who they were and they would be sinless. They would not even sin in their gurgling and cooing.
And he said and affirmed what others had said about him to comfort others, to bring them joy and peace. To make sure they were sure. Our comfort this time of year is that we can see Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. He is indeed who he says he is. And it’s not just that we should believe because others have said so. We can have faith because he knew who he was the whole time.
But at such an age? At 12 years old, could he possibly have known? What did you want to be when you were 12? When I was 12, I was sure that I was going to be a lawyer and fight for those who didn’t have anyone to fight for them. My brother wanted to be a garbage man and a football player. At the same time.
Jesus never had to question what he was going to be when he grew up. He knew what he was doing before he entered flesh. Christmas was not the beginning of Jesus. He was present when the world began. Paul says that the world was made through him, and for him. In him all of creation finds its purpose. Before he laid in a manger, he saw the Cross and willingly came. Before he was put in Mary’s womb, he was the crown of thorns. Before the earth was called into being, he loved us and knew what must be done so that we could be with him.
He was sure. So sure.
This is who Jesus is. He is the one who chose to be with us, to demonstrate the Father’s love to us, and to bear our sins so that we could stand before him and be with him forever. And he knew this before the earth’s foundations were made. This is something that other religions, other non-Biblical gospel narratives lack.
Luke was written while some of the apostles were still alive. Luke may have talked to Mary and gotten this story from her. We know that he travelled with Paul and was able to meet a lot of people who were witnesses to the Gospel events. The Gospel of Thomas written close to two hundred years after the ascension of Christ was never regarded as being “true”. Early Christians had even noted it as heretical. And how? Because it talked differently of Jesus than the gospels. It was a different picture of Jesus than what others who had known of him to be.
If Jesus is Immanuel, then it speaks of Jesus being known for something else, then. It speaks of him being God… that means that he would act and speak in a way that would remind those who knew God of God. His character would be the same as the one who had lead Israel through the wilderness, who gave Moses the Law, who put David on the throne and dismissed Saul. This is what the prophet Isaiah was saying in the often quoted passage 9:6-7:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)
This child, when you looked into his eyes you would be staring into the eyes of the Almighty God. And this child would know it. He would be sure, so sure. No doubt. And he would know why he had come.
Again, this was not an idea that was planted in his head by others. He knew. We was aware of his mission, his calling, his purpose, the cross. That he knew is amazing, and is not just the testimony angels in an evening sky. It’s the testimony of his actions and his words. It can be seen in the love he had for the harlot brought before him to be stoned. It can be seen in the compassion he has for the blind crying out for relief. It can be seen in the love he has for the rich young ruler, who was blind to his own needs. it can be seen in the cross, as he thought of the entire world lost without his death.
When we read what Jesus said about himself, we can take comfort, and find joy. We may not fully understand them, or even the entire mystery of the Trinity, but there is joy in what has been said! It is for our peace, and comfort, so that we can be assured of what we do know.
This is not easy. Not even his mother fully understood, and angels came and told her what was going on. It’s not going to be easy for us to wrap our heads around, either. We know human, and we are aware of divine, and we sometimes feel like we’ve been let down by both in extraordinary ways. When we read of Jesus, we are given hope because if this is humanity it’s not like any we’ve ever seen before. And if this is the Father’s love for us, then how can we doubt how much God loves us? How could we doubt that God cares for us?
Hear this passage from the Gospel of John, and listen what Jesus says about himself. Turn with me to John, chapter 5:
[The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath]
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
[Jesus Is Equal with God]
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
[The Authority of the Son]
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
[Witnesses to Jesus]
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
(John 5 ESV)
Jesus is aware of who he is. He is aware of his mission. And we can see that it is no different than the heart of God. When we see Christ, when we read his words and how he interacted, we are seeing the very mouth of God, the b=very hands of God, the very love of God before us. Be encouraged. Be of joy. Be filled with peace as we enter this New Year, that as we hold onto the promises of God, we are holding onto the life of Christ. And in that life we can see that we are loved and are valued. He loved you before the foundation of the world. He chose to come as an infant, to bear flesh, so that you could one day stand before him and never leave his side again.
We are swayed by whatever is on our minds, by whatever has our attention, but whatever worries us the most or gives us the most pleasure, no matter how fleeting. And yet…
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
(Romans 5:6-11 ESV)