If God were to become a man, it would be at turns surprising, offensive, wonderful, and strange. And so it was. We are made in His image, but His goodness and justice and beauty and joy are far beyond what can even imagine, and therefore, He takes the initiative. He is leading us to become what He already is in fullness. Which is why we must follow Him.
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover…” (Lk. 2:40-52)
MISSING AT PASSOVER
Luke frames this episode with summaries of Jesus growing up (2:40, 52) which means that this is one of the central points of this episode. Luke indicates the ongoing faithfulness of Mary and Joseph in their attendance of the annual feast of Passover (Lk. 2:41), and his note about Jesus being twelve and going up to Jerusalem “according to the custom” may refer to his bar mitzvah – when a Jewish boy came to be recognized as a “son of the law” (Lk. 2:42). There were probably around two hundred thousand pilgrims for the feast in Jerusalem and another hundred thousand sheep for sacrifices. The city would be full of bustle and singing and family reunions and feasting. On the great night of Passover every house would celebrate the feast with the sacrificial lamb and the story of the Exodus would be recounted. When the feast was over, Mary and Joseph began the journey home with a number of their family members and neighbors. Some records indicate that it was customary for the women and young children to travel up ahead while the men and older sons brought up the rear, but regardless, at the end of the day’s journey when they all came together, it was a classic, “I thought he was with you” moment (Lk. 2:43-44). It would have been a full day’s journey back to Jerusalem and then another full day and night of searching before he was finally found (Lk. 2:45-46).
DIDN’T YOU KNOW?
On the third day, His parents found Jesus in the temple. Luke sets the scene by noting that 12 year old Jesus is in the midst of the teachers of the law, and He was listening to them and asking His own questions (Lk. 2:46). And everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at His understanding and answers (Lk. 2:47). Now when Mary and Joseph saw Jesus they were also amazed. On one level, they are amazed like any heart-sick mother and father would be to finally find their son lost for three days, and yet they are also amazed like everyone else, that He is conversing naturally with trained theologians (Lk. 2:48). Mary asks what every mother would ask, “How could you do this to us?” And she appeals to Him to sympathize with their plight: “your father and I have been looking for you with great sorrow.” And yet, His reply, the first recorded words of the Savior of the world, is: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be about my Father’s business?” (Lk. 2:49) But they did not understand what He was talking about (Lk. 2:50). But the point is unmistakable: Mary asks why he was not being mindful of his father, and Jesus insists that he was.
GOD WITH US
Luke demonstrates here that Jesus was a normal human being who grew up and learned (Lk. 2:40, 52), and that He was simultaneously God (Lk. 2:49). This is not something the apostles made up later to make themselves feel better. Luke is building a case for this outrageous claim, and this introductory episode of 12 year old Jesus is part of the evidence for that claim. It should also be pointed out that the Jews should have known this: The entire narrative of the Old Testament is this truth wound through the story of Israel, the covenants and sacrifices point to God coming down into their midst, and finally the promises of the Messiah to come. He would be the Lord’s servant, and somehow in Him, it would also be the Lord Himself going forth like a mighty man, like a man of war to save (Is. 42:1, 13-16).
HE CAME FOR US
The Bible teaches that humanity’s most fundamental need is to be reconciled with our Maker. This is the origin of all of our deepest hurt, angst, and hatred (Rom. 3). This is why people harm themselves and others. The religion of secular humanism must deny the reality of this spiritual death and throw purely material cocktails at the problems. Even though we can’t really control material reality, we think we can, but regardless, all manmade religions try to manufacture a way back to God (or ultimate peace or justice or harmony). But only Christianity has the audacity to tell the unvarnished truth: that’s impossible. Sinful man can’t get back. This is like an expedition to the Sun. There is no going to God. The only possibility is God coming to us. And Luke along with the rest of the apostles sealed with their own blood and the testimony of their lives, that He has. And the wonderful thing is that because He has become one of us, He sympathizes with us in our weakness. He was tempted in every way and yet remained sinless (Heb. 4:15). And He learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:7-8). He came for us.
This episode is unmistakably a preview of another scare that will come at the end of Luke’s gospel. This is not the last time Jesus will go missing for three days. And on that third day, Jesus will once again ask two heartbroken disciples why they don’t know what’s going on (Lk. 24:25). He was to be about His Father’s business. And in both instances, Jesus is found doing Bible study. If Jesus seems to be missing, if you need to find Jesus, He will always be in the Word.
There’s also a subtle but significant point being made about authority and leadership. Jesus was being obedient to His parents by being obedient to His Father. True authority only comes from God, and therefore true obedience and submission is always ultimately to God and His Word. Mary and Joseph and all disciples have a responsibility to know the Scriptures in order to recognize Jesus, in order to know who He is and where He is leading. You can’t assume you know where Jesus is leading. You must not assume that He is accompanying you on your business. He is leading all of us on His Father’s business, even when we have to turn around.
All true authority is leading others in obedience to Christ. Faithful leaders are only as good as they are following Christ. His plans and designs are sometimes very surprising, but He always sticks close to the text. So if you want to know what He is up to, look for Him there.