In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
Many Christians–myself included–grew up with a wrong understanding about today’s Gospel of the boy Jesus in the temple. We think that He was able to amaze the teachers with His understanding because He was (and is) God. As the only-begotten Son of the Father, He is omniscient and therefore He knows all the answers; no big deal for Him to do this. Except that’s not actually what is going on here. For notice how it says that the 12 year old Jesus was listening to them and asking them questions. And it’s not that Jesus is just playing along; He’s truly learning. For it is written here that He increased in wisdom as well as stature. Just as Jesus was growing up in body, so also He was growing up in mind as a true human being. So Jesus doesn’t impress the teachers here by pulling out His divinity card. Rather, right there before them is perfect humanity, a boy who loves His heavenly Father and who is absolutely enthralled with pondering the Scriptures, who has no sin to cloud His understanding and insight.
The way that the Scriptures speak of this is that the Son of God emptied Himself of His divine powers for us. We were just talking about this last Wednesday in Confirmation class; it’s called Jesus’ state of humiliation, that period of time where our Lord did not always or fully use His divine knowledge and might. Only after His death on the cross and burial did Jesus then enter His state of exaltation, as He bodily rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand. Certainly now He does always and fully exercise the powers of His divine nature as both God and man. But here in today’s Gospel, Jesus has emptied Himself for us in order to redeem us. It is written in Philippians 2: “[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
So consider what is going on here. Having been raised in a pious household, Jesus had been hearing and learning the Scriptures all His life and was growing up with a clear-minded, innocent, accurate grasp of them as a fully human boy. Now here He is in the temple, and He is just reveling in the discussion of the things of God, demonstrating marvelous insight, growing in the holy words of the Scriptures. Imagine seeing a 12-year-old boy today doing that in Sunday School or Bible class. Well here is Jesus doing that, all without making use of His divine powers–He whom all the Scriptures point to. Here in Jesus, perfect 12-year old humanity is being revealed. That is what is bringing amazement to the teachers.
We also are given to marvel and to be amazed at all this. For Jesus our Savior was doing this for us and for our children and our grandchildren. He was living a perfectly human life in our place, unstained by sin from beginning to end, so that He might cleanse us of our sin, so that we might be given to share in His love of the Word, and so that we might be made perfectly human again through faith in Him.
This is so important for you to remember and cling to, especially in those times when you seem to have lost track of Jesus like Joseph and His mother did. All too often we can become complacent in our faith, thinking that we’ve got it all figured out; and then we take our eyes off of Jesus to focus our attention on the things and the people and the honors of this world, being conformed to this world (Romans 12). Everything seems to be going along fine until we get a rude awakening, when we’re confronted with the truth about ourselves, and suddenly Jesus seems to have become far, far away from us, we’ve been walking without Him for so long. That’s when the fear strikes you that perhaps you’re the one who is lost, and you don’t know how to get back to Him. Well the good news of today’s Gospel is that Jesus in the temple is already at work to bring you back into God’s holy presence–as Mary and Joseph were brought back–and to find you and reconcile you to the Father in Himself. That is His Father’s business.
As Joseph and Mary were anxious at being separated from Jesus, so Christian parents also are anxious that their children not be separated from Jesus in this ungodly world. Our fears in particular are for our loved ones who have strayed away from the Lord and who may not even seem to care, who have loved this world and its wisdom instead of the wisdom of Christ. We shouldn’t just give up and say “Oh well, what can I do? I’ll just pretend like they’re not unbelieving pagans who have no time for the preaching of Christ or His holy supper.” We should care and be anxious for them and pray for them and speak to them about Christ. For Jesus lives through these growing up years, including adolescence and early adulthood–those times when people all too often stray away from the faith–Jesus lives through all the stages of our life to sanctify them for us, and to make the way back for those who have strayed, so that His life might be theirs again, so that the words of the Psalmist might be in their mouths, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways. According to your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Our Lord fills up this and every phase of our life with His perfect life so that we might never lose hope for those who have lost track of Jesus. He lives to restore our humanity and to reclaim and draw us back to Himself.
For what is clear here is that while Joseph and Mary lost track of Jesus, Jesus Himself was never lost. He was always right where He was supposed to be. He was in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business. Jesus would not only learn and do the carpentry work of His guardian-father Joseph, but also and especially the work of His heavenly Father, where wood and hammer and nails will be to be put to a different use. Jesus will continue His work until it perfected 21 years later outside Jerusalem as He says, “It finished.” This is, after all, the Passover feast, and the Lamb of God is in the holy temple. His shed blood causes death to pass over you. By His holy cross He takes away your sins. You are redeemed; you are forgiven.
For three days Mary felt the loss of her Son here, when He had to be about His Father’s business. All these things that happened she would keep in her heart, even though she didn’t understand them yet. Mary may well have recalled this day in the temple as she stood at the foot of her Son’s cross, and lost Him again, this time to death and the grave, only to receive Him back once more on the third day, risen from the dead. Here Jesus said, “Why did you seek me?” Later angels would announce to the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The temple was destroyed and in three days it was raised up again. Jesus had to be about His Father’s business like this to deliver Mary and Joseph and the whole world from the curse.
Today we are given to see that our God empties Himself so that we might be emptied of our sin. In Jesus we are being restored to our true selves. By His Spirit, we are being made to be all that we were first created to be–not in the way of the world, which thinks you are becoming all you can be by pursuing self-fulfillment and achieving all your dreams–no, you are being recreated in the way of Christ, increasing in godly wisdom, in love for the Lord, in kindness and compassion for others.
So remember this: You may sometimes lose track of Jesus, but He never loses track of you. He has inscribed you on the palms of His fully human hands. The Lord has given you His saving name, and He has not withdrawn it. His words and promises always remain true; you can count on them. Trust in them. For Jesus increased in wisdom and stature in order to give you stature and standing before God, to bring you back into the Father’s favor, to make you wise for salvation through faith in Him. Here is your lost humanity restored. You can count on this Jesus, who already as a Boy is applying Himself to His saving work for you. It is written, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:9-10).
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit