It’s obvious that in these first two chapters Luke is giving us pictures of Jesus’ life prior to his public ministry. We get pictures of him as an infant and (in our text this morning) as a twelve-year-old boy. This section ends with Luke’s words in 2:52 as he writes, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” This is the marker that the next time Luke writes of Jesus he will be a man. And, indeed, the next incident in Jesus’ life of which we read in Luke’s gospel takes place about eighteen years later.
However, just as this theme of Jesus’ infancy, boyhood, and growth fill these first two chapters, climaxing in our text this morning, I’ve also argued that there is another theme in these first two chapters. That theme is testimony concerning the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout these first two chapters we have found numerous people testifying as to who is this Jesus of Nazareth. Whether it has come through the mouths of angels, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, Simeon, or Anna, Luke has provided much evidence concerning Jesus’ identity. In our text this morning we find that the testimony comes from Jesus himself. In Luke 2:41-52 Jesus speaks for the first time in Luke’s gospel. They are Jesus’ first recorded words in Scripture, and, not surprisingly, they are words that address his identity. Many have testified as to who Jesus is thus far, but in our text this morning we will hear Jesus’ self-attestation. Before we get to his words, however, let’s look at the events of the narrative.
Luke begins the story by mentioning that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. In Exodus 23 God had commanded the males of Israel to make this journey three times a year, but after the Jews were dispersed throughout the region this had become nearly impossible. However, those devout Jews still made this journey at least once in the year, typically to celebrate Passover. Joseph and Mary were indeed a devout couple, making this trip every year and staying until the feast was ended. But this trip to Jerusalem would be a memorable one.
This particular trip to Jerusalem took place when Jesus was twelve years old. This was an ideal time for Jesus to make the trip as he was entering into manhood and would be able to become familiar with the temple and other sits and customs in Jerusalem. When the feast was ended, however, Joseph and Mary took off in the caravan, not realizing that Jesus wasn’t with them.
When I was young I would fall asleep in the services at church often. I’m not proud of it; I’m just admitting it. And when the service ended my parents would get up and talk to others, typically coming back to get me before they went home. On one particular Sunday, however, their talking with others had brought them both outside. Mom was talking with some people in one part of the parking lot while my dad was talking with some others in another part of the parking lot. Therefore my grandmother went up to my dad, asked him where I was, and he said, “Judy has him.” She then went up to my mom, asked him where I was, and she said, “Dan has him.” Anyway, long story short, thankfully my parents came and got me before I woke up to a dark, empty, and locked church.
But it’s possible that something like that happened with Joseph and Mary. In a large caravan of people making a trip together, a family would often be separated. Some say that it was typical for the women and young children to walk in the front while the men and older children walked in the back. Therefore, it’s possible that each assumed that Jesus was with the other or perhaps with some relatives. Regardless of where specifically they thought Jesus was, Luke tells us that they both assumed he was in the group. But Jesus wasn’t. He had stayed behind in Jerusalem.
At the end of the day, now a significant distance from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph began to search for Jesus (for you scholars out there, this would have been the first search for the historical Jesus). It was probably typical at the end of each day for the family to gather themselves together to sleep for the night, so Mary and Joseph searched among their relatives and friends, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. Therefore they began the trip back to Jerusalem.
Luke tells us that after three days they found him, but he is most likely counting the day’s journey from Jerusalem and the day’s journey to Jerusalem as two of those days. So they probably only searched in Jerusalem for one day, and then they found him. He was in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Like all those hearing him, Mary and Joseph were astonished when they walked up on the scene. Jesus most likely displayed quite a deep and insightful understanding of the Scriptures, reflected both in his questions and answers. However, Mary wanted to know why Jesus had caused them such heartache. Therefore, Luke tells us that she asked him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (v. 48).
Mary was obviously upset. She had at least two days for her anxiety to grow and grow as she wondered where Jesus could have been, so by the point she found him you can imagine her condition. She was probably quite upset and possibly feeling sick. But Jesus’ answer is not, “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have done this.” He asks them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). But his parents did not understand what he spoke to them.
Every analogy with Jesus can break down if pressed, but you can imagine a mom and dad waking up, not realizing where their child is, panicking, then finding him in his room as he has just made his bed, vacuumed the floor, and dusted the dresser. You can imagine the parents saying, “We’ve been worried sick about you” to which such a good son could respond, “Well, I woke up, realized my room needed to be cleaned, and decided to stay in here until I got it together in a presentable manner.”
In that situation the parents would rightly be upset. They didn’t know where he was and had been worried. But they would quickly realize that they had no reason to be upset at the child. He had done nothing wrong. In fact, he had done everything right. The problem is that they didn’t think to expect him to stay in his room until it was clean.
Something like that is going on here. Mary is rightly upset because she’s been scared. But the problem is not with her son, Jesus. The problem is that they hadn’t thought through what he had to be doing as the Son of God coming to redeem God’s people. They hadn’t thought through his identity enough to expect him to see the need to gather around the teachers in the temple to learn God’s Word more and more. They had not yet come to realize fully what having Jesus meant for him and for them.
However, I want us to pause for a minute and ponder what Jesus’ response to his parents mean. And first here we can note yet again that Jesus is not simply an ordinary person, but he is the Son of God.
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus refers to the temple as, “My Father’s house.” That is, Jesus recognizes that he is no ordinary person but is the Son of God. God is his Father. We don’t know at what point Jesus began to realize exactly who he was, but by age twelve he is well aware that his relationship to God is different from anyone else’s. God is his Father.
To this point many others have bore witness to this, but now Jesus himself does. And the identity of Jesus is key for us. This was not something that we should look over lightly. John tells us in John 5:18 that the Jews were seeking to kill him all the more because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” This is a bigger claim than just being one who lives in a world where God is creator. Jesus will go on to say that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
Jesus’ identity to God is different from ours and from anyone who has lived in history. He is God’s Son. He is God the Son. And this is exactly who we need him to be. Only God can save us, and yet God stands over us as our judge. However, because Jesus comes to us as God the Son, then God can stand as judge and come as redeemer and object of judgment at the same time. The beauty of this reality is that only Christianity has a just justification. Any other religion that wanted a god who justified people would have to do it in an unjust way, for such redemption require that God serve as judge and the object of judgment. This is only possible because of what Jesus claims here. He is God’s Son, God the Son.
Yet Jesus’ statement reveals something else to us as well. It shows us that Jesus comes not simply as God’s Son but as the obedient Son who has come to do his Father’s will.
Jesus is the obedient Son, coming to do his Father’s will
He says to his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” That is, there are demands upon me that I must obey, and part of those demands includes learning from the teachers in the temple. Jesus came into the world to obey his Father. He came into the world to complete a mission provided by his Father. Therefore, when we think of God pouring out his wrath on Jesus at the cross instead of pouring out that wrath on those who deserved it – us, we cannot think of this picture as a kind and loving Jesus loving and helping us though God wants simply to judge us. This is not a biblical picture because Jesus does what he does in obedience to the Father. He willingly obeys the Father, and because he has chosen to obey the Father, he must do what the Father commands. Thus, we cannot look at the cross and see Jesus’ love for us in contrast to God the Father. Rather, we must look at the Son and say, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” The cross is an expression of love from both the Father and the Son, each doing what was necessary for our redemption.
But here we might also note something else. Though Jesus’ sonship means that he is equal to God (as we have said, “God the Son”), it does not mean that he cannot submit to God. In fact, that is exactly what we see in this text. At age twelve Jesus already knows that there is a “must” to his actions. He must obey the Father. The Son continually submits to his Father’s will.
But some might say that these do not fit together. To be equal, some might say, means that you do not perpetually submit to another, for does not constant submission show you are less than another? And the answer is, “No, it doesn’t.” Jesus submits to the Father and is simultaneously equal to the Father. To submit to another does not make one less than another. Otherwise we would have to ignore John’s statement in John 5:18 that Jesus was making himself equal to God.
This is also why we can say that men and women are completely equal in nature and yet carry different functions. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, and if they think that makes them less then they need to take a long and hard look at Jesus, one who did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited but humble himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore, Jesus reveals two key theological truths in his first recorded words in Scripture. He is God’s Son and therefore equal with God. He is the Anointed One. He is the Christ. He is God’s Son. He is God the Son. And at the same time he submits to the Father, living his live under the “must” of God’s commands.
And in the midst of this narrative, as we have seen that Jesus has done nothing wrong, Luke wants to drive home the point that he never did wrong. Luke continues the narrative after Jesus’ response and the note of the parents’ bewilderment by writing, “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” (v. 51). Luke wants to assert to Theophilus and us as well that Jesus was not only the obedient Son of God, but he was the sinless Son of God.
Jesus is the perfectly sinless Son of God
You can read this narrative and be tempted to think that Jesus was one who denied being submissive to his parents. I think if we understand what was going on with Jesus in the temple we can quickly see that that is not the case. But Luke makes it clear by letting us know that Jesus was indeed submissive to his parents. And why was he? It is because he never sinned, and therefore would do nothing that was sinful. He submitted himself to the commandment to obey his parents, and in doing so honored his Father.
We not only need one who is God to come and redeem us; we also need one who is sinless. The reason the priests under the law were worthless to bring about forgiveness of sins is because they had their own sins. They first had to make offerings for their own sins before making offerings for ours. It’s as if they were all right there in the pit with us while we needed one outside of our circumstances to save us. That’s what Jesus is. He’s one who is very much unlike us in that he is sinless completely while we are sinful with sin pervading our entire being. And that sinlessness included submitting to his parents.
This is again a good reminder to us. There are not commands that we can feel comfortable ignoring. Children, when your parents tell you to make your bed and you don’t, you’ve sinned. When we put use software in an illegal way, we’ve sinned. When we don’t accurately report your taxes, we’ve sinned. Christ did not sin and has commanded us to be holy. Therefore, do not think obedience is beyond what God expects of us; it is exactly what God demands of us.
Yet thankfully we can know that where we fall desperately show of that demand, Christ has met it on our behalf, obeying in every way God’s commands. We need his righteousness for our salvation as much as we need his sacrifice for our sins. We need the sinless Son of God.
It may be that years later if Mary did tell Luke personally of this incident that she said to him, “Luke I noted and treasured in my heart even then his obvious sinlessness. I needed that for my own redemption.”
And yet Luke does not want us to forget that though Jesus was sinless he was in every other way like us. He was a man, the God-Man. He was human.
Jesus is the God-Man, human even as we are
We see this in the final verse of the section. Luke writes, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (v. 52). When Luke wrote of John’s birth, he ended the section writing, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (1:80).
Luke obviously says more of Jesus to show that Jesus is superior to John. Indeed, he is greater than John, more superior to him. But I think Luke also wants us to note the similarities between the two. Just as John grew and became strong in spirit, so Jesus grew, increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Jesus was a real man.
He grew up from boyhood to manhood. He grew in stature. He grew in his understanding as his mind comprehended more. He grew as one who knew God’s favor more and more, understanding God’s nature and ways more and more. He grew more in favor with men. Jesus grew because he was human.
We’ve said we needed one outside of us to save us. We needed the sinless Son of God. But we also needed a man to save us. How could one who is not like us represent us? How could one who is unfamiliar with our temptations intercede before us as our priest? Jesus is like us. He is a man. And he was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. He grew as we grow. He got tired as we get tired. He was one of us, and yet was simultaneously God. We needed him to be both. We needed God to save us and man to represent us. The God-man represented and redeemed us.
Therefore, we need to marvel at the identity of Jesus. He is everything we need the obedient Son of God who is equal to the Father, who was like us, tempted in every way that we are, and yet was sinless. Every detail of his identity is necessary for our salvation. Therefore, may we marvel and walk in obedience before this one who has redeemed us. Only Jesus of Nazareth can be Savior, and let us thank God that he is. Amen.