✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
The Gospel of Luke gives us more detail about Jesus’ childhood than any other Gospel. Luke begins his Gospel by telling us that his account is an orderly and careful narrative based on eyewitness testimony. We get a strong hint as to who one of those eyewitnesses is in today’s reading. Luke points out that “His mother kept all these things in her heart”–just as earlier we heard at Jesus’ birth when the shepherds came that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke is able to give us these details because Mary was there for it all, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit Luke recounts her true story.
This story has the ring of truth to it all the more since Mary doesn’t make herself look particularly good. She, along with Joseph, lost track of Jesus for an entire day before they even noticed that He wasn’t there! Think about that. Mary and Joseph were faithful parents, but also parents of a sinless child–one who did what He was supposed to do, who honored and obeyed and never rebelled against His mother or father. So perhaps they became a bit lax here. You can understand how it would have been easy for them to take for granted that Jesus was where He was supposed to be on that journey home–in the large caravan of family and friends that they were traveling in for safety’s sake.
Have you ever done that–taken Jesus for granted and not paid attention to Him like you should? It can be easy to get lax and lazy about looking to Christ, meditating on His Word, praying to Him. You figure you know enough about Jesus; you don’t really need Bible class, you went to Sunday School! It’ll be fine if you don’t have daily devotions or give attention to Jesus’ Word for a while. As you travel through life and go along with the crowd you turn your attention elsewhere and leave Jesus behind. Next thing you know, you’ve journeyed a long way from your Lord. Perhaps the fear has even struck you, “What if there’s no way back and I’m cut off from Him? What if I’m the one who’s lost because I lost Him?” You can understand Mary’s panic that she had lost track of the Savior Himself. Perhaps the anxiety we often feel in our own life comes from the distance we’ve built up between ourselves and Jesus.
And then Mary does something that we also do in the midst of our worry and anxiety and stress; she says to Jesus, “Why have you done this to us?” Even though it’s our own neglect or failings, we still want to blame the Lord for what we endure, as if the sinless One has somehow not done the right thing by us. When we go through hard or stressful times, we can be tempted to say, “Lord, why did you do this to me?” as if the consequences of our fall into sin were His fault. Of course, you can also hear the good motherly tone in Mary’s voice, which is not simply expressing anger but relief at finding Him, and wonder at what He was doing there.
Jesus’ response to His mother indicates that they should’ve known all along that He would’ve been in His Father’s house. “Why did you seek Me?” He said. This was an easy one. And yet it clearly illustrates how we fallen human beings tend to search for God and seek His presence in the wrong places. We think we can get closer to Him by going out into nature. We think we can get closer to Him through spiritualized self-help philosophies, in superstitious experiences, in the emotions of the heart. But that’s not where God has promised to be with His grace.
The Lord is to be found in His temple. And Jesus begins to reveal to us here that the temple, the true and abiding dwelling place of God is not a building but the eternal flesh of Christ. Jesus is Himself the temple. For it is written that in Christ all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. Therefore, if you wish to seek God, you must seek Christ and nothing else. And if you are seeking Christ, you must look for Him according to His human nature; in those physical, audible, concrete places where He is present for you. Seek Him in His Word and preaching. Listen for His help in confession and absolution. Find Him in the supper of His body and blood, given for your forgiveness and healing. Jesus is still about His Father’s business, teaching us and comforting us and giving out His gifts of life and deliverance and hope.
The human nature of Jesus here is the key thing. You may be wondering, if Jesus is God–and He is–why would He be asking the teachers questions, as the Gospel says. How could He grow in wisdom if He already knows all things? Well, remember that prior to His resurrection, Jesus was in what we call the state of humiliation. In other words, He didn’t make use of His divine knowledge; He had emptied Himself of His powers as God. So when Jesus amazes the teachers, it wasn’t as if He was cheating and using His divine omniscience. Rather, right there before the teachers 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. Jesus had been hearing and learning the Scriptures all His life and was growing up with a perfect, sinless grasp of them as a true human being. Jesus was living that perfect and holy life for us so that He might give us His holiness as a gift and make us perfectly human again. In Jesus, we learn to love the Word of God and to ponder it and meditate on it just as He did.
All of this happens when Jesus is at the age of twelve. At this age, Jewish boys would begin to leave the society of women and enter the society of men. The rabbis instructed Jewish fathers to be gentle with their boys until age twelve, and then begin to teach them the way of manly living, including strict discipline if necessary. Probably at this point, Joseph would have begun serious teaching of his carpentry trade to Jesus. The twelve-year old Jesus was now being treated as a man, and that is why He went up with Joseph to Jerusalem for the Passover.
The point is, a Jewish boy begins to do his work at age 12. And at twelve, we see Jesus already apply Himself to His proper work – not only the things of His guardian-father, Joseph, but especially the things of His heavenly Father. For He says to Mary His mother, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Conceived without the aid of a man in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, God the Father is Jesus’ Father–in a way that is different than God is our Father. Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, of one substance with the Father. Jesus is the Son of God by nature; we are children of God by grace through faith in Him.
So now Jesus begins to apply Himself to the work that the Father has given Him to do, and He will keep on working until that work is perfected. In Jerusalem 21 years later, He will say, “It is finished.” Remember that Jesus is in the temple, the place where sacrifices would occur. It was the time of the Passover, when the lamb would be offered up and it’s blood shed in remembrance of how death passed over God’s people in Egypt. Jesus is the Lamb of God, whose shed blood causes eternal death to pass over you, whose holy cross takes away the sins of the world.
So twice Mary would have to feel the loss of her Son, when He had to be about His Father’s business. Mary surely 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 again 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 cross and resurrection were etched into Jesus’ entire life. Jesus had to be about His Father’s business, dying and rising, to rescue Mary and you and me and the world from sin and death. He is alive to lift you from emptiness and despair and to give His life and His mercy to you.
You may sometimes lose track of Jesus, but He never loses track of you. He grows in wisdom and stature to perfectly restore your humanity and to bring you back again into the Father’s good graces. Jesus lived your whole life for you, even the challenging years of young adulthood, in order to give you new life with God. Your hold on Him may grow weak; but His baptismal hold on you is strong and sure. He put His saving name on you, and He’s not going to go back on His Word. You can count on this Jesus, true God in the flesh, who already as a Boy is applying Himself to His work on your behalf.
So then, brothers and sisters of Christ, let us now be about our Father’s temple business in this new year. Let us not be conformed to this world and drift with the crowd away from Christ Jesus. But rather let us be transformed by His words and sacraments, treasuring them up in our hearts, growing up into Him who is our Head. By the mercies of God, offer up your bodies as living sacrifices in love for one another, holy and acceptable to God in Christ. Seek the Lord in His holy house, until we finally come to the stature of the fullness of Christ on the Last Day.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠