Dec 30, 2021
After three days they [Jesus’ parents] found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:46-47).
Of all the stories about Jesus’ childhood, why would Luke choose to tell this story? Certainly, there were more interesting ones; stories that would give us a flavour of what his youth was like. And even this story leaves us with questions, such as, how did a 12-year-old boy survive three days in a strange city without his parents?
Most of our tantalizing questions wondering how life in Nazareth was affected by having the Son of God grow up there remain unanswered for now. Luke chooses to tell us this story to fill in the portrait of Jesus birth he has been painting. In Philippians 3, Paul details how in his early life he was the perfect Jew. Luke is picturing Jesus with similar colours. He was born to and raised by pious Jewish parents. Only men were required to attend the religious festivals in Jerusalem, so Mary’s going shows deep family piety.
With this family setting, Luke invites us all to consider the kinds of things our children learn from us. Do our words and actions match the faith teaching that we offer our children and grandchildren? Is our piety mostly showy, as Jesus decries in Matthew 6, or does it show a deep faith in God’s activity in this world? Can those around us notice our growing faith?
Further, Jesus and his parents were well integrated into their community. The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem took three days and people traveled in caravans for protection. That Jesus’ parents did not worry about him for the first day, indicates that they fully expected others in the caravan to be looking out for him. They were likely looking out for other children and youth. This tidbit suggests that Jesus’ family was very ordinary.
In that day, it was not unusual for students to gather at the feet of the rabbis to discuss the Jewish faith, their understanding of God, and how to live faithfully with him. This was usually in a group question-and-answer discussion format, as Luke indicates. Thus, Jesus’ interaction with the rabbis was not unusual. That he didn’t leave Jerusalem with his parents was unusual, but Luke does not put the focus there.
His intention is that we recognize that even at this young age, Jesus has amazing knowledge of the things of God. Those listening to him are astonished at his understanding, a reaction that will occur later to Jesus’ miraculous work (8:56). Already early in life Jesus values the pursuit of comprehending God.
I think Luke wants us to understand that Jesus’ pursuit of God was not a product of his unique sonship with God. Rather, it was the outcome of a life lived among those who walked with God. It pictures how all of us should prioritize our lives before God. The way he lived his life and pursued God faithfully reflects how we should seek God’s face. When David was dying, he counselled his son with these words, “If you seek [the Lord], he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9). Luke is illustrating this truth.
Finally, this story illustrates something that one of Jesus’ brothers would later write, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Later, Jesus and the religious leaders would come to logger heads, but that was because they were threatened by him. They refused to believe that he was the Son of God. They pursued their own power rather than submitting to the Lord. Jesus began by submitting to them.
As you ponder the year that was, consider these things.