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The Life of Jesus: Boy to Man

January 19, 2014
Sermon:  The Life of Jesus: Boy to Man 
Text:  Luke 2:41-51


Today we continue our series The Life of Jesus by looking at a story that is unique to the Gospel of Luke.  None of the other Gospels includes this transition between boyhood and adulthood when Jesus was twelve years of age.  The Gospel of Matthew does take us through a birth narrative, one that is different from Luke, but then goes straight into the ministry of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel begins with the ministry of Jesus.  With Luke’s inclusion of the information about the family going to Jerusalem for the Passover observance, we learn immediately that the family is thoroughly Jewish, totally Torah-observant Jews and that Mary and Joseph followed the traditions of Judaism.

Traveling to Jerusalem every year for the Passover was above and beyond what was expected.  Most Jewish people made the trip only once during their lifetime unless they lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem, a day’s walk. Making this pilgrimage every year from Nazareth was quite an accomplishment for this family.  The journey required climbing mountains and devoting a considerable amount of time.  If Mary and Joseph traveled from Galilee by foot, going fifteen miles a day, it would have taken them about a week to arrive and another week to walk back home.

Luke’s story presents multiple themes that deserve our reflection, but I want us to consider three drawn from this passage. 

First, this narrative is a coming-of-age story.  Every person has such a story, and some have been made famous in the works of great literature.  Coming-of-age rituals vary from culture to culture.  One ritual in the South Pacific takes only seventeen seconds.  A boy about the age of Jesus here, twelve, climbs a rickety tower that is ninety feet in the air.  Around each ankle he ties an eighty-seven foot long vine taken from the jungle.  The boy is to dive head-first off the tower.  If, when he reaches ground, he successfully brushes his chest against the ground, the tribe is ensured a good yam harvest that year.  More importantly, if he survives this primitive form of bungee jumping, he becomes a man.

Our particular culture drags out this ritual of becoming an adult.  We consider teenagers adults when they begin living under shelter that they provide.  It takes a long time for some to get to that point.  They go away to college and then to graduate school.  Some return to their parents’ home after school and delay adulthood by staying awhile.

I have mentioned to you before Mark Twain’s humorous take on adolescence.  He suggested that when a boy turns fourteen, a parent ought to put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole.  He added that when the boy turns sixteen, the parent ought to plug up that hole.

Scripture handles the adolescence of Jesus with this one important story recorded only in Luke’s Gospel.  You understand that after Jesus left the temple in Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, we do not hear from him again for eighteen years.  During that period we have nothing but silence.  I suppose that refusing to talk about adolescence is one way to handle it.  Luke 2:52 merely tells us he was “obedient to them…and he grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and other people.”  Jesus, a Torah-observant Jew, did just what the fifth commandment told him to do; he honored his father and mother.

The two times I traveled to Jerusalem I had the occasion to visit what is called the Western Wall.  This remaining part of the traditional and magnificent Temple Mount that Herod built is a place in which Jesus worshipped.  Some call it the Wailing Wall because Jewish people still go there to pray.  Sometimes they write their prayers and stuff them into cracks between the stones.  As the people pray out loud, they move their body from side to side.

The traditional rites in which a boy becomes a man or a girl becomes a woman in Judaism usually occur when a Jewish child is about age fourteen.  These rites called bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs – with meanings of “the son of the Torah” and the “daughter of the Torah” – often happen there at the Western Wall.

Some have asked, “Was the event recorded in Luke 2 the bar mitzvah of Jesus?”  The answer is no.  If you have ever been to one of these Jewish traditions, you know that a great party follows all of the ritual.  These events in the lives of Jewish children are celebrated, but we see no party here in Luke 2. The bar mitzvah as a ritual was not actually confirmed in Judaism until about the fourteenth century.  This may be a very early trace of the ritual of later years.

Jesus clearly remains in the temple after his parents leave the Passover because he wants to learn the law.  Apparently the elders have a lot to learn from this twelve-year-old boy.  The fact that we see him seated in the temple may be significant, even at age twelve.  Luke tells us that Jesus is seated with the elders when his parents find him.  Sitting was the position of authority for a rabbi.  You realize that Jesus was also seated for his first sermon in Nazareth.  He gave the entire Sermon on the Mount in a seated position.  We read in Matthew 5:1 that he “went up into the mountain and when he sat down, his disciples came unto him.”

It is true that all of us can learn from our children and teenagers.

Our son Scott asked Anne, his two-year-old daughter, yesterday morning if she would like a cup of coffee.  Of course, Scott was teasing her.  She said, “No, Daddy.  I am too strong for coffee.”  Try asking a child a question like that sometime.

We see no celebration and no festivity at this point in the life of Jesus.  We do, however, see great consternation, great anxiety, at least on the part of Mary and Joseph for several days.  They are worried sick because their child is missing.  Is anything more terrifying to parents than losing a child?  The two look and look and look, retracing their steps, just like we would do if we lost the remote control or our keys.  They go back over the ground they had covered for places this boy might be.  They find him three days later, talking to the elders in the temple.

Whether we should read anything into the three-day time period, I am not sure.  We  do see that same span later in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus was in the tomb for three days.

A very interesting exchange occurs between parents and child when they are reunited.  They inquire, “Didn’t you know that we would be worried about you?”  If I squint really hard and try to see any other twelve-year-old boy in this situation, the answer sounds pretty smart-alecky:  “Didn’t you know that I would be about my Father’s business?”  The fact that Jesus is, after all, the Son of God makes the interpretation of his answer a little different.  When we hear him say these words to Mary and Joseph, he is reassigning the term Father.  Jesus elevates the name, giving it a different place.  Father no longer refers to Joseph, his foster-father.  Now it refers to God.  “Didn’t you know that I would be about my Father’s business?”  Luke makes the new meaning very clear, emphasizing that Jesus, a fully human teenage boy, is also the Son of God and fully divine.

A second theme of Chapter 2 – lost and found – is repeated throughout the Gospel several times.  We all lose items.  I constantly lose my cell phone, but we are not talking about car keys or cell phones.  We see this theme presented with a strong emphasis in Luke Chapter 15 where we find a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son.

In a sense, the lost son in this story has been misplaced.  His absence is understandable, though, considering how people traveled in that day.  A contingent of people in Nazareth would travel to the Passover together, with the women and children going ahead.  The men, who could walk faster, would catch up to the others.  They would all camp together at night.  Each day the men traveled as a group, separated from the women and children, but the two groups would meet again at sunset and be together as families.

It is not hard to imagine Mary, who was traveling with the women and children, thinking, Well, Jesus is twelve.  He must be with his father and the other men.  Joseph might have thought, Jesus is still a child.  He is only twelve.  Surely he is with his mother.

It is also not hard to understand their alarm if you have ever lost a child.  You know that being in a situation where one of your children is missing, even just for a few minutes, will strike terror in a parent’s heart.  That is exactly what happened to Mary and Joseph here.  Losing a child is particularly frightening.

My brother Bob was missing for four hours, years ago when he was two.  Everyone in the neighborhood began a frantic search for him.  Those looking later found him at Duncan Park Lake.  During those four hours, my parents were both terrified.  I am sure Dad was scared, but my mother showed her fear most.

Mary and Joseph’s finding their lost son in the temple raises some questions:  Have you ever misplaced Jesus?  Have you ever thought that you really had Jesus with you, but you realized you had misplaced him when something happened?  Have you ever realized that Jesus was no longer such an important part of your life as he had once been?  Simply misplacing Jesus happens for a number of reasons.  Sometimes we are in such a hurry, living in the fast lane, that we do not take the time to have our devotion, read the Scriptures, or spend time with our Lord.  Sometimes we take Jesus for granted.  I have told you before that the saying “Once saved, always saved” is a good Baptist doctrine, but it is a little bit like saying, “Once bathed, always bathed.”  After a while, it sort of wears down.  We must renew our commitment, renew our relationship to Jesus, every day.  Sometimes we misplace Jesus because we just drift away from him.  The book of Hebrews says, “We must give more earnest heed to things we have heard lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1-4).  That drifting away is part of life.

Where did Mary and Joseph find Jesus?  They might have looked for him a number of other places first, but they found him in the place of worship.  That is to say that if we misplace Jesus, one place to find him is in the place of worship.  That might be here at Morningside, but you may also find him in other places of worship in your life, places where you read the Bible, places where you pray, places where you feel especially close to God.

It is a mistake to think that somebody else is responsible if Jesus is missing from our life.  We are responsible.  Sometimes we want Jesus to come and be with us where we are.  He will do that.  He has said, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”  The truth is that we must also seek him.  A double search is occurring here.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found.  Call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).  Jesus himself said, “I came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10).  This is not a game of hide-and-seek.  This is a process of seek-and-seek.  He seeks us, and we seek him.

Once we rediscover Jesus, once we find him, we must find him again.  When we do, something important happens to us:  we have a sense of renewal.  We have again an experience that is almost indescribable.  It is an experience of knowing that we are in the presence of our Lord who loves us.

A third theme present in this story, as well as in other Gospels, is the theme of amazement, astonishment – two words that have the same meaning.  The elders are amazed at Jesus’ knowledge.  Mary and Joseph are astonished at their son’s remarks, informing them of his purpose for being in the temple.

The same theme appears in Luke 5 where Jesus preaches to a crowd from a boat.  Afterwards, he realizes that the men who owned the boat had fished all night but had not caught anything.  When Jesus instructs them, “Put out into deep water.  Let down the nets for a catch,” Simon Peter must have thought, Who in the world are you, rabbi, to think that you know more about fishing than I do?  We have been fishing all night long and have not caught a single fish.  But, because you say so, we will do it.  The fishermen bring in so many fish that it almost swamps two boats.

Simon Peter is amazed.  Luke 5:8 says that he falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful and unclean man.”  This disciple is considered ritually unclean because of his trade, handling dead animals.  He is also a sinner, and he prays that Jesus would depart from him.  Jesus answers, “No, I want you to follow me.  If you will follow me, I will teach you how to catch people.”  My goodness!  How Jesus did that for Simon Peter!  How many lives were changed because of Simon Peter’s witness?

In the Gospel of Mark, amazement occurs in the very first chapter.   People are amazed at Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath at Capernaum.  He teaches them, not like their scribes, not like their teachers, but as one who has authority.  The scribes may have been so impressed by him as a twelve-year-old boy because of his unusual authority.

Matthew 8 gives the account of the disciples being in a boat with Jesus when a ferocious storm occurs.   Jesus, who has been sleeping in the bow of the boat, speaks, “Peace, be still.”  Scripture says, “They were amazed and asked, “‘Who is this man that even the winds and the waves obey him?’”

Here in Luke 2, we have a transition from the amazement of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in a stable to the beginning of his ministry.  We see double amazement among the elders and Mary and Joseph.  Luke places this story right here, inviting us to stand in amazement.

Many aspects of the life of Jesus should amaze us.  If not, maybe we have grown callous and cold.  We come to this passage, and we must ask ourselves, How did Jesus come to understand this unique role as the Son of God?  I see the answer unfolding right here in this passage.  We ask ourselves, Have I lost Jesus?  Have I misplaced him somewhere?  Do I need to return and find him again?

I think we also have to ask, Is there anything about my Christian life, anything about my walk with Jesus that amazes me?  I have thought about that question this week, a week that has not been the easiest.  I found myself being amazed by what Christ Jesus has done in my life.  I am amazed by what he has done right here and what he continues to do in this church.  I am amazed by the way he works in human life.  I have seen that multiple times this week.

Our real amazement comes when we are amazed by the grace of God.  We realize that Jesus loves us in spite of our sins, in spite of our uncleanliness.  When we think that we are so mature in our faith, when we think that we just do not need all of this anymore, we discover that we really have lost Jesus and that we absolutely do need him in our lives and in our hearts.  When we cease to be amazed and do not think it is important anymore, we stop sharing the good news, stop reaching out, and stop going to any special trouble to glorify God.  It becomes more about what we want than about what He wants.

I am amazed when I read in the Gospel accounts that the three-year ministry of Jesus substantially changed the lives of only about 150 people.  Of course that number is multiplied many times over once Jesus acted in the lives of the Apostle Paul, Peter, and other disciples.  Think about the impact, the ripple effect.  How many people were affected?  By the seventeenth chapter of Acts, we read that those early disciples had turned the world upside down.  Why?  Their amazement never ceased.  They continued to be amazed and share that amazement about the gospel with others.

Where do you stand in your level of amazement?  Does Jesus still amaze you?  Do you allow Jesus to do things in your life that would be amazing?  I want to invite you to accept Christ as your Savior if you have never done that.  This is the time.  This is your opportunity.  Right at the heart of the Christian life is this amazing grace that we need to reaffirm over and over again.  The hymn we sang this morning, “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” is a prayer of recommitment to Christ Jesus.  Perhaps you feel that you have misplaced Jesus and you want to rediscover him.  Perhaps you need to make a recommitment.  I invite you to make that decision.

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2014

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