The Family Business

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Luke 2:40-52

Wouldn’t you like to know more about the life of Jesus? Especially his early years, growing up at home in Nazareth with Joseph and Mary. What were those years like? What did the young Jesus do? How did he speak? What did he look like?

From the very beginning Christians have been curious about Jesus’ early life. The New Testament passes over most of it in silence. But in the years after the gospels were written, other books began to appear which attempted to fill in the gaps left by the genuine New Testament narratives. The stories these fictitious gospels tell about Jesus’ childhood are quite sensational. According to them, Jesus was a tiny wonder-worker right from the start. Jesus’ childish miracles were sometimes playful, such as the time he formed some birds out of mud and then clapped his hands and made them fly away. Sometimes the stories were imaginative, as when the young Jesus helpfully lengthened some boards that had been cut too short in the family carpenter shop. But others of these imaginary miracles of the boy Jesus are downright sinister, as, for example, when Jesus struck dead a playmate who was rushing at him, or the time he caused another boy who annoyed him to shrivel up. It’s a relief to turn from these imaginary works back to the genuine account of Luke’s gospel.

All this curiosity and speculation about Jesus’ early life is really unnecessary, for Luke tells us plainly what Jesus was doing during those years in Nazareth: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. . . . And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:40, 52). So what was Jesus doing during those growing up years? Just that. He was growing, growing like every other child and young adult, growing in every way physically, intellectually, socially, spiritually. It may shock us at first to think of this that Jesus Christ could grow. Yet Luke says plainly that he really did grow, he grew in wisdom and stature both. There’s no play-acting or pretense Christ’s growth was real. With increased years, Jesus’ physical and mental powers also increased. When he was a child, Jesus was not an adult pretending to be a little boy. He did the same things we all did as children: he lived within a family, obeying his parents. Astonishing as it may be, the Lord of the universe humbly submitted himself to the discipline of two fallen creatures named Joseph and Mary.

Like all children, Jesus made friends, went to school and studied his lessons, went to synagogue and worshiped. He learned a trade and became a carpenter. He could build a house, make a door or a table, form a plow or a yoke for his customers’ farms. Years later his parables and sayings would reflect this background. Jesus knew all about houses built on a solid foundation of rock and yokes that fit and were easy on their wearers..

Going to Jerusalem

But in addition to giving the general outline of Jesus’ early life, Luke does describe one particular incident from Jesus’ boyhood, a visit he made with his parents to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. Here’s how Luke tells it:

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.

Luke 2:40-51a

Let’s take a closer look at this story. One year Joseph and Mary took Jesus with them to Jerusalem on their annual visit to celebrate the high and holy festival of Passover. This was the most important of all Jewish holidays, the spring-time ritual that commemorated the deliverance of the people Israel from slavery in Egypt. For Joseph and Mary to make this trip from their home in Nazareth to Jerusalem was no small undertaking. It meant a hard journey of four or five days at least, then a week spent in Jerusalem, and finally the long walk back to Galilee. But Joseph and Mary were devout Jews; it was important for them to worship the Lord each year in his sanctuary, no matter what it cost them. When Jesus was 12 years old, his parents took him along on the Passover pilgrimage.

It’s not hard to imagine his excitement as he and his parents, in company with many thousands of other pilgrims, drew near to the city. As the travelers climbed up the steep road from Jericho to Jerusalem, they would have sung the traditional Psalms to one another “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). Then at last the pilgrims crossed the top of the Mount of Olives, and saw the city spreading out before them across the Kidron Valley, with the glorious Temple crowning Mount Zion. “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Ps. 122:2). Think how the boy Jesus must have felt as he stood there gazing at that sight the very spot where 20 years later he would weep over the city that would reject and crucify him.

So Joseph, Mary and Jesus celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem. After the festival ended, Joseph and Mary left the city with all their relatives and neighbors to begin the trip home first down the difficult and dangerous Jericho road, then across the Jordan River to avoid the territory of the Samaritans, then the walk north to Galilee and Nazareth and finally home. Traveling in a large group, neither Joseph nor Mary missed their son until they reached camp for the evening. Once again, it’s not hard to imagine how the parents must have felt when they discovered that Jesus wasn’t with them, or to sense their anxiety as they hurried back to the city, or to picture their increasingly desperate search for the young boy, or to empathize with their feelings of anger mixed with relief when they finally did find Jesus after three days of looking.

In the Temple

Where they found him was in the temple, sitting and conversing with the learned religious teachers of Israel. The apocryphal gospels those same fictional accounts that describe Jesus’ absurd boyhood miracles relate that Jesus was lecturing the rabbis in the temple, instructing them not only in the Law and the Prophets but in astronomy, medicine, physics and metaphysics! But Luke says only that Jesus was sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. He was still learning, still growing in wisdom. And, Luke adds, everyone who heard the boy talking was amazed at his understanding.

When Joseph and Mary finally tracked Jesus down in the temple, of course they took him aside to speak with him as any parents would. But the conversation took a very peculiar turn. It started out, as you might imagine, with Jesus’ mother reprimanding him. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48). They must have been tearing their hair out. What parent wouldn’t say at least this much? I know if it was one of my children I would have said considerably more, and in a much louder and sharper tone of voice too! But Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me?” (v. 49). What kind of a question is that for a child to ask who’s been missing three days! What did he think his parents would be doing? But of course Jesus is no ordinary child, as he himself has come to understand. “Did you not know,” he adds in what amounts to a gentle rebuke of his own, “that I must be in my Father’s house, I must be about my Father’s business?”

I think those words of Jesus give us a hint as to what he was really doing during those days of conversation with the rabbis who were so learned in the scriptures. I think he was discussing his Father’s business with them. Jesus was asking questions about the most important themes in the Bible, questions about things like the symbolism of the Passover, the meaning of the sacrificial lamb whose blood saved God’s people from death, the need for redemption from sin’s vise-grip on us, the promise of a Savior who would bring light and life to the world. God the Father’s business his primary business in the world is the salvation of lost human beings. And that is the business to which Jesus would give his whole life. So he began learning about it even as a boy.

Lessons for Parents and Children

Let’s think in closing about the lessons we can learn from this incident in Jesus’ childhood. First, there’s surely a lesson here for families about the importance of worshiping together. Often religious traditions are dismissed as being just that: mere, empty traditions. But how wonderful it can be, how meaningful for us, to embrace them as a family and teach our children by our own example as Joseph and Mary had done to love the praise of God and the house of God and the sacrifices of God and the people of God.

Second, here’s a reminder about priorities, especially for parents. Joseph and Mary were very anxious about Jesus’ well-being as they ought to have been. Good parents should be anxious about their children. Speaking on behalf of all parents, I can say we are anxious about many things. We are anxious that our children may be healthy and strong, that they grow and develop properly, that they do well in school and at other pursuits and activities. We’re concerned about their appearance and their behavior. We want them to excel in a variety of ways. We hope they will get an education and land a decent job and find a fitting partner for marriage. But shouldn’t we be most anxious of all for our children to learn about the Lord, for them to commit themselves to pursuing his business?

Third, here’s a lesson about control. Like all parents, Joseph and Mary had to learn the most important lesson of all when it comes to raising our children: when to let go. There comes a time when another will must come between parents and child, when the child has to learn to obey another Father. As parents we acknowledge that God has a claim not only upon us, but upon our children as well. They are his, not ours. We love them, we seek to guide, teach, nurture and protect them, but we do not own or control them. And ultimately as Christian parents we must release our children to follow the Lord as they can best determine for themselves.

Finally, there is a family lesson here for all of us, whether or not we have children of our own. Jesus’ relationship with God was unique, a fact that Christians emphasize by saying that he was God’s “only (begotten) Son.” Jesus Christ was the Son of God in a way you and I never could be we mean by this that he was God in his very nature. But because he was also in his very nature a real human being, who even as a boy recognized and embraced his Father’s will, Jesus has made it possible for us to call God “Father” too. By offering himself as a sacrifice for sin, Jesus has opened the way for us to become God’s children. The Bible says this: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). By faith in Christ you too can belong to God’s family. And that means you too can be devoted to your heavenly Father’s business.