“The Son Who Was Perfectly Obedient”
(Luke 2:41-52 – Christmas 1 – December 30, 2018)
Luke 2:41-52 – His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
By now, most of us have received many Christmas cards and newsletters. Often in these, along with season’s greetings and New Year’s wishes, people give an update on how the past year has gone for their family, what new things they and their children have accomplished, etc.
Can you imagine how Joseph and Mary’s newsletter might read, if they gave an update each year about all the accomplishments in the life of the boy, Jesus? They could report that, once again this past year, Jesus always put others before Himself. He always got along with other kids and respected His elders. He was the perfect help around the house, not waiting to be told but just doing what needed to be done. Once again, the annual newsletter could conclude as our text does: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
With any other boy we might roll our eyes and say: “Okay, okay, we get it! Your son is doing very well. Congratulations! But isn’t that a little overboard?” But in Jesus’ case, it would not be bragging or stretching the truth to say He was perfect. I am sure that if Joseph and Mary spoke of Jesus it was with complete humility, giving all credit to God for the Son He had given.
But Jesus’ perfect life was not for His own sake. Galatians 4:4-5 tells the whole reason He was born, lived under the roof of Joseph and Mary, and walked the face of this earth: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Every year and every day of Jesus’ life was all about living for you and me! Let us consider “The Son Who Was Perfectly Obedient.” From His youth we see Jesus 1) Always obeying the law of His heavenly Father; and this was 2) To redeem us as children of His heavenly Father.
1) Always obeying the law of His heavenly Father
There was something new Joseph and Mary could report this year in Jesus’ life. “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.” According to the law God gave the Jews, all males were required to go to the temple at Jerusalem once a year for the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:1-8). At 12 years old Jesus came of age, becoming what the Jews call “a son of the law.” Already at infancy, He had been marked as “a son of the covenant” by circumcision on the eighth day, as the law required of every Jewish boy. But by age 12, a boy would have received sufficient instruction in God’s Word to become a “son of the law,” with the privileges and responsibilities of adult believers. So Jesus was pledged to obey God’s law for life.
In some ways, it may be compared to our practice in New Testament times. We baptize infants, since God’s Spirit instills faith and marks our hearts as His children by this Sacrament (Titus 3:5; Romans 2:29). Later, when youth are about the age of Jesus here, they receive catechism in God’s Word. Then with confirmation vows to be faithful in God’s Word and Sacraments, they receive the privileges and responsibilities of communicant membership in the church.
Even to this point as a boy, Jesus was perfect in fulfilling God’s law. But His obedience was not just outward ritual, according to the letter of the law. It was inward and heartfelt, according to the spirit of the law. We see evidence of this as it says: “When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.” The Passover feast lasted a week. Most people, having spent the time at God’s house required by the law, would have been ready to get home and get on with life. It may be the way we feel at times, when our minds are on the things of the world and we can hardly wait to get through church or daily Bible reading, so we can get on with life. But not Jesus. He wanted to stay at His Father’s house to be in the Word.
Here, Jesus gave His earthly parents a scare they probably would recount for years. After traveling a whole day on the way back to Nazareth, they noticed Jesus missing. They probably traveled with a large group of pilgrims, with relatives and acquaintances, and assumed Jesus was in the long line of travelers. But after stopping for the night and not finding Him, they had to spend the next day returning to Jerusalem. At last on the third day: “they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.”
Jesus was not lagging behind because He wanted to hang out with friends, or due to any kind of rebellious or independent spirit. He was with the rabbis, eagerly listening and asking questions to learn from Scripture. The rabbis often responded to students’ questions by posing their own, to stimulate deeper thinking. In this, already Jesus showed a firm grasp on God’s Word, as it says: “All who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
What a good example the boy Jesus is to us, when we think we know it all and grow bored with God’s Word. Even from childhood, as the eternal Word of God who became flesh (John 1), Jesus showed extraordinary knowledge and wisdom in the written Word. Yet in humbling Himself to become the Son of Man, He required learning that Word. In this, He eagerly fulfilled not only the letter but also the spirit of the Third Commandment. For what does it mean to keep the Sabbath Day holy? As we confess in the Catechism: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
It says: “So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.'” We can understand their concern. As parents, what a great responsibility we feel for the children God has given. We pray for guidance in training them in His Word. We pray that He would protect them in body and soul from all harm and evil. We pray also for His forgiveness in our failings. What a responsibility Joseph and Mary must have felt in caring for God’s Son, the Savior of the world – especially in a time like this when they thought they had failed. Like us, they clung to God’s grace and forgiveness in the calling of parenthood He had given them.
With all respect, speaking the truth in love, the boy Jesus responded as no other child could: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Already at this early age, Jesus understood His unique relationship as the only-begotten Son of God, and not only the Son of Mary. He knew He was on earth to carry out His Father’s mission.
It says: “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.” Who can fully understand these things? The eternal Son of His heavenly Father humbled Himself and submitted to earthly parents. Though He had given them evidence of a greater and higher calling which they could not fully understand, yet He went with them as a perfectly obedient Son.
How often it is the opposite with us. As sinful children, we have used our parents’ lack of understanding as an excuse not to submit to their will. How often, in the rebellion of our youth, we have rolled our eyes at our parents’ wishes and have been ashamed to associate with them. Or perhaps in later years, when we feel we have given our parents evidence of greater and higher callings, we neglect them because we are too busy and wrapped up in our own things.
How often it is true that the way we learn to relate to our parents in the home carries over to how we relate to every superior. The sins of our youth do not just go away. With respect to authority in the school, the workplace, the government, and every area of life, we find ways to despise the authority of superiors God has put over us – through laziness, cheating, slander, etc.
But not Jesus. When the relationship with God the Father is right, other relationships follow. Here Jesus shows perfect submission, not only to His parents but also His teachers. As God’s Son, His wisdom and understanding is perfect; yet He submitted to imperfect teachers. Later He submitted to paying taxes under earthly kings, though He is King of all (Matthew 17:25-27; Luke 20:22-25). In submitting to earthly authorities, He fulfilled not just the letter but the spirit of the Fourth Commandment. For what does it mean to honor our father and mother? We confess in the Catechism: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them.”
It concludes: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” These are the last words we read of Jesus’ early life, until at age 30 He was baptized by John. In Nazareth, He continued to show Himself to be the perfectly obedient Son, always doing the will of His heavenly Father. God was well pleased with His Son. People could not help liking this youth who lived such an uncommonly godly life. Later, when He came forth publicly as the Savior, He continued to show Himself to be the perfectly obedient Son of God. When men unjustly hated and accused Him, He could say: “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46)
2) To redeem us as children of His heavenly Father
Sometimes, being around a person whose life record outshines our own can be intimidating. That person’s extraordinary goodness or accomplishments can be like a glaring light shining on our own shortcomings. We confess that from conception and birth, we have not been perfect like Jesus. But we need not feel intimidated with Jesus. He did not live a perfect life just to shine the glaring light on our shortcomings. Remember that the whole reason God’s Son was born of a woman, born under the law, was to redeem us as children of His heavenly Father.
Even from His conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, all through His youth and manhood, even unto death on the cross, Jesus was perfect for us. This was so that His entire life could sanctify our entire lives, from conception to death. Even from childhood, Jesus obeyed the law of God for you and me. That is the perfect life God the Father now counts to us.
But redeeming us took more than just fulfilling the law. As Jesus Himself learned in the Scriptures from childhood, the redemption of sinners takes sacrifice. That was the lesson He observed in Jerusalem during the Passover. As the Passover lamb was sacrificed at the temple, the worshipers remembered how God had set His people free from slavery by the blood of the lamb. And one day the boy Jesus, as the Son of Man, would sacrifice His life on the cross as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), to set us free from slavery to sin and death by His precious blood.
We can thank God for His perfectly obedient Son. All that Jesus accomplished year after year was “to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5). Now by baptism and faith God has adopted us as His children, pouring out His Spirit in us, uniting us to His Son as heirs of eternal life (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 3:26-27).
Therefore we can rejoice to be with Jesus in His and our heavenly Father’s house, as we take to heart His gracious promises. Like Joseph and Mary, we need not search anywhere else to put our hearts at rest. Let us seek Jesus where He is found. Day by day, our Savior is here for us in His Word and Sacraments, with all the blessings of His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And one day, He will bring us with His eternal family into His Father’s heavenly home.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.