Life of Christ 16
The curtain that covers the silent years of Jesus' life is only once raised (Luke 2.41-51), but in that raising we see a precious and holy glimpse that reveals to us much of Who a young Jesus was.
All Jews were commanded to assemble at Jerusalem for the Passover, and millions of them obeyed. Joseph and Mary clearly were the type who did, and the child Jesus must have reveled in the stories they told on their return each April, but He Himself was too young to go until the age of 12. In contemporary Jewish culture a boy celebrates his bar mitzvah at 13, becoming, literally, a son of the Law. Although that custom did not originate until centuries after Christ, for a 12 year old Jesus the opportunity to attend Passover in Jerusalem must have been a clear demarcation line in His life.
It was customary for Jews in a neighborhood to travel together in groups, albeit separated by gender. The men and women would then gather together again each evening, and it is relatively easy to see how, on the return journey, neither Joseph nor Mary noticed Jesus' absence until the close of the first day's travel.
Jesus, at 12, has heard of the Temple almost daily ever since He could remember. It was often mentioned in the Torah and Mishnah, which were probably His sole textbooks up to that point. Jesus Himself surely had heard the story of His own presentation there at about six weeks of age, and of Simeon and Anna's words on that occasion. In Jesus' day, the Temple was the physical heartbeat of everything it meant to be a Jew, and Herod the Great's extensive remodeling, recently begun, would have only added to the allure. Twenty one years later Jesus would weep as He rounded the Mount of Olives and the Temple sprang into His sight though crowds around Him were shouting His name in adulation (Matthew 23.37). I think that same Jesus, at 12, probably wept too, in awe and joy, the first time He saw it.
He would not have wanted to leave the Temple. After the Passover seder was celebrated Jesus must have gotten up early the next morning and returned to it, unbeknownst to His parents, pulled by His love and desire for His Heavenly Father, and out of a desire to experience the place which Jehovah loved so much. It was common in that day for esteemed rabbis to gather around them a group of followers, and to partake of a give and take conversation with them about some aspect of the Law, and it was to these groups that Jesus attached Himself after His parents left. Even then, at 12, He already had the incredible knowledge of the Scriptures, and the barbed way of wording His point that He revealed so often in His public ministry decades later. How those learned rabbis marveled at the maturity and spirituality and knowledge this young man displayed!
Though Jesus at that age did understand many things, He would not have understood a parent's worry gradually turning to fright and then coming out as anger. But what He did understand, I'm convinced, was His place and role in the world, and His relationship to His Heavenly Father. In other words, I believe that Jesus at 12 understood that He was the Christ, and the divine Son of God, and that His destiny was to die for the sins of humanity in just a few short decades.
Let the enormity of that last sentence sink in a moment before you hasten on, dear reader. My reason for asserting this is His use of the phrase 'I must be about my Father's business' (Luke 2.49). The Old Testament does not reveal God as Father, at least not openly; it is there only implied. In fact, I will repeatedly assert this year that Jesus was a revolutionary, not a reformer, and one of the most revolutionary of His doctrines was that revealing God as our Father. So in His day, at His age, to speak of Jehovah as His Father reveals both a depth of understanding of Who God was, and a depth of intimacy in relationship with that God such as no one else had.
Regardless of whether it was by age 12 or not, at some point, studying the Torah, sitting in synagogue, watching the sheep on a Galilean hillside, or lying awake on His pallet, He had come to the conclusion that He was the Messiah spoken of in the Book He studied so much. …and that is exceeding difficult to wrap my mind around. Who could He talk to about it? His rabbi? His parents? His friends? No, no, and no. Only His Heavenly Father. What a sweet and precious communion that must have been to Him, and become to Him, indeed to them both, as a juvenile yet quickly maturing Jesus came to realize Who He was. Such scenes are almost too tender and holy to look upon, but unless He was born omniscient, which I cannot believe, then they are certainly true.
And yet His greatness is seen yet again in that He remained subject unto His parents (Luke 2.51). Deity took out the garbage and did the dishes at the command of His mother. Deity made His bed, and swept the floor, and babysat His siblings, and held the boards while His dad cut them. Deity bit His tongue while His rabbi made errors in interpreting and applying the Torah at school. Long before Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the death of the cross He learned to humble Himself, and be obedient to the imperfect parents and teachers and authorities He encountered in daily life. There is such loneliness here! There is such humility here! There is such grace here! There is such pressure here! There is such intimacy with His Heavenly Father here! There is such obedience here! Additionally, there is such example here. It just so happens that I have a 12 year old son. Why can't he be like Jesus? I can here you thinking it, 'Well, that's not a fair expectation for a father to have. Your son isn't perfect. He's just a regular boy. He's no Jesus. You shouldn't put such pressure on him.' Excuse me? If I, as an adult, am supposed to be like Jesus was as an adult then why is it wrong to expect a 12 year old to be like Jesus was as a 12 year old? Isn't being like Jesus the great aim of Christianity?
The problem with American Christianity is not that we set the bar too high, and psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually damage people by demanding they meet it. No, beloved, the problem is that we set the bar so low that all people have to do essentially is to roll across it and then accept their spiritual maturity trophy. Let us point our children to Jesus, and may they discover in Him both a Saviour and an example. And let us point ourselves at Jesus and find in Him all of that, and more.
If you would like to listen to the audio sermon that accompanies this blog post you may find it here on our church website. Press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 6, 'And The Child Grew'.