As many of you have probably noticed, I really enjoy preaching through Biblical biographies! I love preaching through the life stories of all the incredible characters found throughout the Scriptures. Over the years I’ve preached through the stories Joseph, Elisha, Samson, Nehemiah, Abraham, Samuel, King Saul, and so far, about 1/2 of the life of David.
But I realized something this last December. As I began preaching through the different characters of the Christmas story, I realized that I’ve never really preached through the life of Jesus!
Now of course, Jesus has been a key part of pretty much every sermon I’ve ever preached! After all, every part of the Bible points to the life of Jesus in some way, shape or form. He is the central figure of the Bible and it all relates back to Him.
But as far as chronologically working through the life of Jesus here on earth, that’s something that I’ve never really done!
And so – for these next few months between our seasons of Christmas and Easter – I want us to walk through the life of Jesus – from Christmas to Easter.
And I don’t intend to make this a detailed, comprehensive study on every aspect of Jesus’ life here on earth – perhaps one day we’ll do something like that – but this time around I just want to create a bit of a timeline for us – just a basic outline to see the flow and progression of the key events in Jesus’ life and ministry.
We certainly spend a lot of time studying his birth every Christmas… and his death and resurrection every Easter – but what about all of the other stuff that happens in the middle? I mean, we’ve got miracles & parables, training the 12 disciples, healing people, casting out demons, teaching and preaching…. But how does it all fit together? How exactly do we get from Christmas to Easter? So that’s what I want us to look at for the next few months.
Now of course, having just come out of the Christmas season, I think we’ve all had a sufficient refresher on the birth of Jesus, so I won’t go over all of that again. Instead, I want us to pick up the story a little later on in Jesus’ life – when he is now 12 years old.
Not much is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to his full-time ministry – which he started when he was about 30. In fact, this event I want to look at today actually is the only recorded story in the Scriptures of Jesus’ childhood – outside of his birth. So that, in itself makes this a rather unique story.
It also includes the very first recorded words of Jesus. So I think this will be a key point for us to look at as we begin this overview of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Now just before we get into our passage today, I briefly want to fill in the timeline between Jesus’ birth and our story today. When we concluded our Christmas series with the wisemen and King Herod a couple weeks ago, we ended with Joseph taking his wife and new baby down to Egypt to escape from King Herod who had ordered his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. Of course, being warned of this in a dream, Joseph took Mary & Jesus and fled to Egypt – where they stayed until Herod died – which happened probably less than a year later. After Herod died, an angel appeared to Joseph again and told him that it was safe to return to Israel. So Joseph took his family and left Egypt and they eventually made their way back to their hometown of Nazareth.
Now of course, Luke doesn’t include the story of the wisemen, King Herod, or the trip to Egypt in his Gospel (only Matthew includes those details) – and so as we begin our story in Luke chapter 2 today, the flow of the story may lead us to assume that Mary & Joseph returned to Nazareth just a few weeks after Jesus’ birth. But actually Jesus could have been 3 years old or even older by the time they made it back to Nazareth – where Jesus would then grow up.
Of course, we’re not given those types of details in the Scriptures, so it’s probably not too important for us to calculate all the dates and numbers and put it all together in a neat little package. Those details don’t change purpose or the message of this story, but I did just want to mention those things briefly, just in case you had questions about that as we get into our passage today.
So let’s start reading in Luke chapter 2 – starting at verse 39.
39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
And I’ll just pause here before we go any further. You know, I find it fascinating to think that Jesus had to grow up. Remember, He is the second person of the triune God! He has existed eternally – and in fact, it was through Him that all things were created! We talked about that at Christmas time as we read through John chapter 1.
And in case you missed that, let me quickly remind you: John 1:1 says..
1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
This same person that John is describing here – the Word who created and brought life to everything – is the same person that Luke describes now as a child who had to grow up healthy and strong in the town of Nazareth.
I think we often forget the human aspect of Jesus. Of course, we know that Jesus was both God and man – but I think we tend to think of him more as God than as man…. At least in Christian circles, anyway. For us who have been Christians for some time, after hearing all the stories of his miracles or reading about his sinlessness, and of course, the fact that he rose from the grave after being put to death on a cross – we tend emphasize the deity of Jesus. We emphasize that Jesus is God!
But at the same, don’t forget that Jesus is also human – just like you and I. Hebrews 2:14 tells us…
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son [Jesus] also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death… 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.
These verses tell us that Jesus was made to be like us in every respect… Jesus went though all the same human experiences as we do. As we read in Luke, Jesus had to grow up as a child. He had to learn to crawl and say his first words. He had to be potty trained and to learn to use the toilet (or whatever they used back then). He had to learn to dress himself and tie his sandals. For you kids in school – Jesus even had to learn math and learn how to read. He had to learn and grow in all the same ways that we do!
The only difference is that Jesus did it all without sinning. Even as a child, he always acted according to the will and character of God. Actually, a little further in Hebrews chapter 4 we read…
15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
Can you imagine a child who does not sin? Can you imagine being Mary or Joseph having this little boy who never does wrong? Never punches his brother! Never pulls his sister’s hair. Never throws a temper tantrum! What a parent’s delight! That would be amazing to have kid like that! But at the same time, I can imagine that would be incredible frustrating for his brothers and sisters.
I’m the second oldest in my family, and I tell ya, it was hard enough for me to live up to the expectations set by my older brother! I can only image how challenging it would be for Jesus’ brothers to live up to his example!
But yet, that’s what the Bible says about Jesus. Fully God. Fully human. And completely without sin.
And it’s those three facts together that make this story about Jesus as a child so intriguing. So let’s read on…
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
Now let’s pause here to talk through some of this. There are some really great questions that come up out of these few verses.
First of all, how in the world did Joseph and Mary leave Jesus behind in Jerusalem without noticing he was missing? Were they just terrible parents or what? It’s one thing to lose a kid in the grocery store for a few minutes or forget them out in the car when you get home – but to leave your 12 year old son behind all by himself in a big city – and you don’t even notice that he’s missing for a whole day?!?
Well, let’s not be too quick to condemn Mary & Joseph as bad parents. There’s a few cultural things that might help us make sense of this situation. First of all, travelling was very different back then. As Mary & Jospeh made the journey from Jerusalem home to Nazareth, they would have been travelling with quite a large group of people who were also making the same journey. The Mosaic law required that every Israelite man was to go to Jerusalem for the Passover every year – and so people from all over Israel had come to Jerusalem and were now heading home. And so, as everyone made their way home, there would have a been a huge crowd of people all travelling together. Many of them would have been friends and relatives from Nazareth, but there would also be many others from the other towns and villages along the way.
What’s more, in that culture, the men would typically travel together – talking and visiting among themselves – and the women and children would travel in another group – talking and visiting among themselves. With Jesus being 12 years old, he was just the right age where he could have fit in either group. 13 was the age where an Israelite boy would become a man – kinda like our age 18 now. And so Jesus could have very easily been traveled with men – since he was almost 13. Or He could have still been traveled with the women and children since he was still only 12. Either way, it would be very easy for his parent to assume that he was with the other parent or even somewhere else in the crowd as they travel along.
Don’t forget. Over the years, Jesus would have proven himself to be a very responsible young man – He had never sinned and so you can imagine that His parents would have placed a great deal of trust in him. I mean, Jesus literally had a perfect track record of obedience! So even if they hadn’t seen him for several hours, they really wouldn’t have any real reason to be concerned. He was as trustworthy and as responsible as they come.
So I don’t know that we need to place blame on Mary and Joseph for being negligent parents! On their part, it really does seem like an innocent mistake. But the other question in all this is, what was Jesus doing and thinking through all this?
Did he purposely stay behind? Had he intended for his parents to go on without him and without realizing he was missing? Or was it a case similar to the movie “Home Alone” where mom and dad left and perhaps Jesus didn’t even realize they had gone until much later?
We’re actually not ever told specifically how this all unfolded, but we can know a couple things for sure. For one, we know that Jesus didn’t stay behind out of deceit or disobedience to his parents. That would contradict what we already know about Jesus – that he was sinless – we read that already in Hebrews. 1 Peter 2:21 clarifies that even further. It says…
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
22 He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
1 Peter 2:21-22
Obviously, that statement applies even to this situation. Even as a child, Jesus never sinned nor ever deceived anyone. So clearly, Jesus was not in the wrong in this situation – even though later, his parents would falsely make that assumption. But we’ll get to that in just a bit.
For now, all we need to know is that, through no wrong-doing of himself, young Jesus was no where to be found among his friends and family. Verse 45 continues.
45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Luke 2:45
Now keep in mind that Jerusalem was no small city – AND it was still likely quite packed with people who had come for Passover – so searching the city for a 12 year old boy was no easy task.
I imagine they retraced their steps – going back to wherever they had stayed in Jerusalem before – maybe checking in their with other friends or relatives in the city – looking through the marketplaces or town square – or where ever they thought Jesus might be hanging out. But they just couldn’t find him anywhere – until finally, three days later, they found him in the Temple of all places… Verse 46 says….
46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
We read earlier how as Jesus grew up, he was filled with wisdom and God’s favour was on Him. And that’s evident in these verses here. Even at the age of 12, Jesus was astounding the religious leaders with his understand of the Scriptures.
But notice that Jesus was listening to them and asking questions. He had come to the temple not to teach – as he would do later on in life – but to learn. Again, this is the human aspect of Jesus that we often fail to realize. Yes, Jesus was filled with wisdom and God’s favour was on him, but he still had to go though the process of learning. He still had to grow in his knowledge and his understand of God – just like we do. Which is crazy to think about – I know – because He was God!
Just the fact that Jesus had to learn is hard for us to understand. After all, isn’t God omniscience? He already knows everything. So how can it be that Jesus learned? Well, again, as we read earlier in Hebrews, Jesus became like us in every respect. He somehow set aside or limited his divine abilities so that he would experience all aspects of human life – including learning – just like you and I do.
And that leads me to the other thing that I noticed in these verse and that is, of all the things that a 12 year old boy could find to do in the bustling city of Jerusalem as he spends multiple days left to himself – what does Jesus decided to do? He chooses to sit among the religious teachers at the Temple, listening to them and asking questions.
What kind of 12 year old boy does that? I think most 12 year old boys would much rather play dodgeball with their friends than sit and have conversation with the elders of the church.
But not Jesus. Even at this young age, Jesus knows what’s important. He wants to grow in his understanding and his relationship with God.
How many of us – even at our age now – make it such a high priority to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God? If you had three days to hang out by yourself in the city – how would you spend your time? At church? I don’t know about that….
But how we spend out time really reveals our priorities in life. Look at your calendar. Look at your todo list. Or just think about the time you spent this last week… How much of it did you spend purposely working to grow in your knowledge and understanding of God and in your relationship with Him? Isn’t that a priority for you?
Where you spend your time really reveals your priorities in life…
And Jesus had his priorities crystal clear. And that becomes even more obvious in these next verses. Let’s take a look…
As Mary & Joseph finally find their missing son after three days of searching, we read in verse 48:
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.
We can see by Mary’s question that she assumed that Jesus was in the wrong – “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” Mary is presuming that Jesus had deliberately or at least thoughtlessly done them wrong – causing them a great deal of stress and anxiety to say the least.
But Jesus gently responded that maybe it was Joseph and Mary who perhaps had acted in error. Look at his reply. “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus seems genuinely surprised that his parents wouldn’t have known where he would be. Of course he would be at the temple! Jesus had to be in his father’s house.
You may have noticed an interesting play on words here. Mary says “Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere” – speaking of Joseph as Jesus’ father. But Jesus responds “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” referring to God as his Father.
And I think that’s the point of this whole story. While Mary & Joseph still see Jesus as their little boy, Jesus has grown to understand His unique identity as the Son of God and has begun to carry out his mission on earth.
Even though Jesus wouldn’t begin his public ministry for another 18 years or so, even now at the age of 12, Jesus began to focus on his primary task of accomplishing the Father’s will.
And of course, one day, that would include going to the cross as a sacrifice for the sin of all men. But for right now, that meant growing in wisdom, growing in his relationship with God, growing up physically, and of course, also being obedient to his earthly parents – which is exactly what we see him doing. The story concludes with these verses:
51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
And you know, this is a pretty good template for us to follow as well – as we work to carry out the will of our Father in heaven.
As it was for Jesus, God will for us is to be obedience to those in authority over us, to grow and increase in wisdom, to grow up and mature as a person, and also to grow in our relationships with God and others.
I think that’s a pretty basic formula that God wants all of us to follow.
So to close this morning, I’d just leave you with that thought and question: Are you following the will of the Heavenly Father in your life?
We may not be “The Son of God” in a literal sense – but through faith in Christ, we have become adopted sons and daughters into the family of God. And like Jesus, our mission on earth is to do the will of our Heaven Father. Jesus, as a 12 year old, knew his identity and knew his mission – and made it a priority to be about his father’s business.
Most of us are now beyond that 12 year old range – so how about you? Do you know your identity in Christ? Or I guess, first of all, have you accepted God’s invitation to become adopted as his child in the first place? John 1:12 tells us…
12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
That’s the first step. Believing in Christ and accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour. And when we do that, we become children of God, complete with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that.
And that’s why, once you understand your new identity and who you are as a child of God, it needs to be your priority to carry out your father’s will. Of course the specifics will be different for all of us, but the basics are the same – obedience to those in authority over us, always striving to increase in wisdom, to grow up and mature as a person, and to grow in our relationships with God and others.
And of course, none of us will do that perfectly (only Jesus lived a sinless life), but that’s the goal – knowing our Heavenly Father and being obedient to Him.
I pray that each of us would make that our priority as we leave this place and go out into our week today.