1st Sunday after Christmas
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was born to save you and me, dear friends in Christ, if you have children you know that children can do things that are absolutely confusing, right? For example, the other day, and remember that its winter, my son David decides to walk out onto our deck with a shirt, coat, boots, and a diaper, that’s it – no pants! Why? I don’t know, it’s confusing!
There are many confusing things about our world and confusing things about life. As we see here in our text Jesus is confusing to a lot of people. He confuses the people who don’t know him and we see that he confuses the people who do know him and love him dearly. The religious teachers in the temple don’t know him are confused by him and his knowledge and his parents who know him and love him are confused by him. So, that leads to another question, what about you? Does Jesus confuse you? Do Jesus’ actions confuse you? There are many confusing things about life in this world and many things that God does or wills to happen in our world that leave us confused. But isn’t this a major theme throughout Jesus life? He confuses all kinds of people, he confuses the Pharisees and religious teachers, he confuses his disciples and his family who think that he’s crazy. And yet, even though Jesus confuses us, we’re to go home and love and serve him anyway. Why? Well what do we learn from this text?
This is the only instance that we have from Jesus’ early life. We’re told that every year his earthly parents traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. This was something that was required by every Jewish male 12 years old and older. So, we learn that since Jesus’ parents did this as a custom, they were pious, God-fearing people. What’s interesting is that at the age of 13 a Jewish boy became a ben hatorah, or a “son of the law.” There was a time of intense training and instruction before a child became this “son of the law” and then would follow all the OT ceremonial laws as an adult and it was expected that they would then learn a trade. Probably somewhat similar to our custom of confirmation after a child is instructed in the basic truths of the faith and can on their own vow to remain faithful in the Christian faith until death. So, likely what would have happened is that Joseph, Jesus’ step father, would have taken him through the Jerusalem streets explaining to him the laws, and intensely instructing him about the meaning of the Passover, and then taken him to the temple to explain the significance of all the things that part of the Jewish worship there, and then after this Jesus would have taken up his father’s trade of being a carpenter. It was distinct honor for a father for his son to become a “son of the law.”
But then what happens? Joseph and Mary leave with their group of family and friends in order to make the several day journey back to Nazareth, but they forget Jesus behind. Now at first we might think, how in the world did they forget their child! Well, as a parent of several children I can understand, in fact, I know of instances where some of you have forgotten a child here at church. It happens. But it was also a totally different society back then. Their society was very communal, very community based, it would not have been strange for Joseph and Mary to assume that Jesus was with the caravan heading back to Nazareth.
Well, where was Jesus? He was still back at the temple. And what was he doing there? He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” In other words, Jesus was asking questions, listening and answering his own questions. Now a 12 year old doesn’t normally do that, a 12 year old doesn’t amaze and astound very knowledgeable people. He has insight that goes way beyond what education was available to him in this society. They’re astounded.
Well, in the meantime, his parents find out that he’s not with them, they hurry back to Jerusalem. We can only imagine how distraught they were, they didn’t just lose their child, they lost the very Son of God who was entrusted to their care! After 3 days they find him in the temple courts and he astonishes them. He’s made no effort to find his parents, he’s happy and content to be in the temple. She can’t understand this and she rebukes him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” She’s in effect saying, “How dare you dishonor us! And dishonor your father and of all times when he’s been training and instructing and mentoring you!”
And how does Jesus respond? “I am honoring my Father.” “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” This is really interesting. Notice that Mary had said “your father” but Jesus said, “My Father.” Jesus is claiming a very unique personal relationship with God the Father. We’re very used to thinking about God as our dearly, loving, gracious “Father.” But in the OT times they didn’t refer to God as their Father so much. They did, but it was more as God was the source from where they came than an intimate relationship with God. Jesus is honoring his Father. In fact, Jesus’ relationship with God the Father is more important than his relationship with his earthly parents.
Who was in error here? Who left whom here? Who is at fault? It wasn’t Jesus. They had left Jesus and Jesus was right where he needed to be. Jesus wasn’t disobeying or dishonoring his parents, but in a certain sense he didn’t have to obey them. Why not? He’s older than them. Remember, He’s God! Everyone is to obey Him! His parents are confused and the next verse we see that he was obedient to them. The obedience that Jesus gave his parents was voluntary, He didn’t have to, but chose to, and this is good news for us because Jesus perfectly obeyed his parents for all the times that we’ve failed to obey our parents.
But you notice that Jesus never really gave a full explanation to Mary. She was confused. “I’m looking after you, I’m giving myself for you, I’m caring for you, how could you treat me like this?” She’s confused. Jesus confuses her. Does Jesus confuse you? For many people Christmas is a fun time, a good time, get-together’s, parties, time off work. But we all know that the rest of the year isn’t going to be a good time. As Christians it can be easy for us to fall into a false and sinful line of thinking: I’m obeying you God, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, I’m doing my best to keep your commands, I’m committing my life to serving you, I’m going to church, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and then something bad happens and immediately Mary’s question pops into our heads, “How could you treat me like this?” After all I’ve done for you, how could you do this to me? And we’re confused. We so easily develop in our minds our own ideas of what life should be like and are confused if Jesus does something different than what we expect. Does Jesus confuse you?
We’re told that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. She didn’t have it all explained, but she remembered and pondered all these things. Think about what Jesus said, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” That word translated “had” in the Greek is better “must” or “it is necessary.” And it shows up all over the NT. Often in Jesus’ speaking like: the Scriptures must be fulfilled, everything written about me must happen, the Son of man must suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus was following the will of God the Father who sent Him. One pastor made an interesting observation here: At this time Jesus would have been taken around by his earthly father Joseph and mentored and instructed by him around Jerusalem, what if, this pastor says, at the same time someone else was taking him around and giving him lessons a million times deeper, what if God the Father was instructing him as he was walking in the streets of Jerusalem saying, ‘You’re going to walk these streets again, but you’re going to be carrying a cross. You’re going to make this temple building obsolete because you are the temple, you’re going to celebrate the Passover again, but you’re that sacrificial Passover Lamb.” And that’s exactly what Jesus came to do: to win our salvation. Why? Because even though he may confuse, he’s totally committed to loving and serving those he confuses. He must do what God the Father wants. He goes home and submits to Mary and Joseph.
And that’s the answer. When Jesus confuses you, instead of saying, “How could you treat me like this?” Say, “Lord, you bowed your head to the worst possible difficulty ever, you suffered my eternal judgment and didn’t abandon me, so I know that even though I don’t understand this now, I know you won’t abandon me through it. Because you’ve shown me that you’re totally committed to me and my eternal salvation.” Mary treasured what she did know about Jesus and now in heaven she’s no longer confused. When you’re confused treasure what you do know about Jesus- He committed his life to serving and saving you – and one day in heaven there will be no more confusion or misunderstanding but perfect joy and peace forever. Amen.