Every parent and grandparent enjoys displaying pictures of their children and grandchildren. We love recording these moments so we can relive and cherish them later. Parents also love to recount all those cute (or embarrassing) stories of things their children did when they were little.
In light of this human characteristic we are somewhat confused by the lack of information on the childhood and young adult years of Jesus. In the Bible we read about the birth of Jesus and then suddenly he is 30 years old! There is only one picture from between birth and thirty of Jesus and that is found in Luke 2:41-52. It is a story about the time Mary and Joseph thought they had lost the Son of God.
Young Jewish boys were considered to be “under the Law” when they reached the age of 13 (bar mitzvah). It was customary to take your son to the temple the year preceding bar mitzvah as kind of a “dry run” so that the boy could be introduced to the customs and practices of the Law. It appears that it is this visit that is recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke.
We are told that Mary and Joseph were devout and went to the Temple each year for Passover. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus was with them on these visits. During this particular visit however Jesus would have gone with Joseph into the temple area and perhaps witnessed the Passover events in a new way and from a new perspective.
However, before we get into the text we should ask a simple question: Why was it that this event was the one event that was recorded from the pre-ministry years of Jesus’ life? Most likely Gospel writers did not tell us about the early years of the life of Jesus because the gospel authors were not writing a biographical account of Jesus, they were telling the story of redemption and additional details would distract from what Christ did on our behalf. But if that is the case, why record this account? I think we read this story because it shows that by the age of 12 Jesus had come to fully realize who he was.
I think on this visit Jesus, who had surely been told the stories of his birth by his parents, came to the Temple and put it all together. Let’s look at the details.
Passover lasted for seven days so it appears that Mary and Joseph stayed for the entire feast. When it came time to leave they headed home to Nazareth. The journey was probably about 80 miles (assuming they went around Samaria). The average person would travel around 20 miles in a day. Because the roads were often filled with robbers, people traveled in large groups for safety reasons. Most likely a large group of family or the neighbors from Nazareth all traveled together. Joseph and Mary (who probably had other children at this time) believed Jesus to be with his friends in another part of the group. It is also possible that Joseph traveled with the men and Mary traveled with the women and children. Each easily could have believed their son to be with the other.
When evening came and the group arrived in camp Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was not with them. Most parents understand that panicked feeling when you can’t find your child. I wonder if that feeling was greater because the couple knew this was God’s Son!
Mary and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem to try to find their son. They didn’t find Jesus until the third day. Most likely it was the third day since they left Jerusalem (one day out, one day back, another day looking for their son) rather than their third day back in Jerusalem (meaning 5-6 days total). We are filled with questions: Where did he go at night? Did he know his parents had gone home? Did one of the teachers take him to their home? Did He sleep in the temple area?
All we do know is that they found him in the temple with the teachers of the law.
Reunion. Though Jesus surely was instructed at the Synagogue school in Nazareth like the other boys, in Jerusalem he was able to talk with the sharpest theological minds of the day. During the Passover it was customary for the Jewish leaders to meet in public in the Temple court to discuss religious and theological questions. Jesus found his way to this group. We are told,
they (Mary and Joseph) found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
The word for “amazed” means to be beside oneself. In other words everyone was astounded at the questions Jesus asked and the insight that he possessed. Did Jesus ask questions designed to instruct (“Is it possible that . . . ?) or were they only for information? We don’t know. Jesus had a clarity in his thought and understanding that they found baffling.
Jesus of course was sinless. That doesn’t just mean that he was a “good boy” all the time, it means he did not have the muddied thinking that comes with the corrupt mind. We don’t realize how damaging sin is to our reasoning ability. The logic of Jesus was flawless. Jesus also had the Holy Spirit guiding him. We have alienated ourselves from God by our sin but Jesus remained in undiminished fellowship with the Spirit. He was the Son of God! He understood the core issues, He grasped hidden things, He knew God better than the teachers did.
If you have ever lost your child – even for a few moments – you understand what happened next. When Mary and Joseph found their son they were certainly relieved, however the anxiety and the fear they had experience caused them to scold Jesus. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” If you have children, you understand completely.
Explanation Jesus answered his parents,
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus was confused by the fuss. Why were they frantically searching for Him? Why didn’t they know he was in his Father’s house? It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Where else would I be?” This is a significant statement. It shows Jesus was already aware of an intimate relationship with God that was way beyond the norm. Kent Hughes comments,
in the huge library of the Old Testament’s thirty-nine books, God is only referred to as Father fourteen times—and then rather impersonally. In those fourteen references “Father” is always used in reference to the nation, not to individuals. God was referred to as Abraham’s Father, but Abraham did not speak of God as “my Father.” But when Jesus came on the scene, he addressed God as his Father and never used any other term. 
Jesus knew who He was at 12 years old. He was God’s unique and special Son. This being said, there is another question: Did Jesus disobey his parents? How could Jesus be sinless when he “disobeyed” his parents in this way?
There is nothing in the passage that indicates Jesus was disobedient. We are not told that Jesus was told the family was heading home and he needed to come with them and refused to do so. Jesus was not being disobedient. He was so wrapped up in the things of God that he gave no thought to what was happening around him. He probably was completely oblivious to the time.
This isn’t hard to imagine. Think about the child who is so intense playing a video game that they don’t even hear you talking to them. Wives, think about how absorbed your husbands can get into a ballgame. You ask them questions and they may even respond . . . but they remember nothing! Think about how teenagers can get so wrapped up in visiting with their boyfriend, girlfriend, or their friend that they lose all track of time. I think this is what happened to Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be great if we or our children became oblivious to what was going on around them because they had become so captivated with the Lord that they lost all track of time?
Don’t miss the postscript to the story,
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Having seen the anguish of His parents Jesus did not claim some kind of executive privilege. He went home and was obedient. We can only surmise that Jesus helped his father with the carpentry business. He likely helped his mom after Joseph died. Perhaps he even waited until his brothers could manage at home before he began his ministry. Jesus saw submission as an act of obedience to His Father in Heaven.
Luke adds that Jesus continued to grow physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially.
This is a fascinating account that informs us about Jesus but also can instruct us in the living of our own lives. There are several practical principles we can draw from the text.
First, note that as Mary and Joseph took action to train their child in the things of God we should do the same. Every year Joseph and Mary made the trip to Jerusalem. They established a pattern of honoring God. Solomon wrote, “Train up a child in the way that they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” (Pr 22:6)
The Proverbs tell us that we need to actively point our children in God’s direction. This means teaching them to pray, to read their Bible, to seek God’s heart in whatever we do. It means training them to worship, to attend Sunday School, to be a part of youth ministries. It means teaching our children to honor the Lord with their finances and to serve the Lord with their time.
Unfortunately, the more common approach today is to “let our children decide for themselves”. The problem is the way of godlessness is being promoted on television, in music, in the movies and in the secular world all around us. When our children are only shown one option we should not be surprised or complain to God when they choose that option! Some of you will say: “I don’t want to fight with my children over the church.” May I ask, if you are not willing to fight for their spiritual well-being . . . what are you willing to fight for? And if you are willing to fight for other (and frankly “lesser”) things (which every parents does), then doesn’t that say something troubling about our own values?
Make no mistake: we are training our children in the way they should go . . . the question is: what way are we training them to go? Are we training them to pursue deep spiritual truth or the superficial fancies of the world? Parents, please take a good look at your family. If you are promoting godlessness by your inaction – change direction!
Second, we see that Jesus believed that responsibility to the Lord took priority over everything else. Jesus wondered why his parents would think he was anywhere but the Temple. Jesus is giving us a lesson in priorities. Our Lord understood that unless God has priority in our lives we are only playing the religion game.
I am not arguing that the activities of the church must have priority. We can be very active in church activities and events and still not be giving the Lord real priority in our lives. Serving the Lord is a 24/7 proposition. And if we are going to serve the Lord full-time we must give priority to growing in our relationship with Him. This has some practical application for the discipline of our lives.
1. Make Christ first in your life by responding to His gift of salvation. Instead of merely talking about faith exercise your faith by admitting your need for forgiveness, by recognizing the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for your sin, and by surrendering your life to His Leadership.
2. Give God first place in your heart by spending time in the Word of God every day. Take time to read and listen to the Scriptures and then seek to apply them in the way your live during the day. Speak often to Him in prayer. Just as superficial communication in a marriage will not develop intimacy, so quick sentence prayers will not be sufficient for us to grow deep roots. Sentence prayers are important, but we also need more substantial conversation with the Lord. Discuss the things you read in the Bible. Ask the Lord your questions about life. Pray about the things and people that cause you to churn. Pray also for those who are hurting around you. Develop a relationship with God.
3. Give God first place in your mind by dwelling on the things of God. Think about this: if we were as diligent about learning about God as we are in getting the details of the latest political story, the latest celebrity scandal, or the happenings on the ball field, imagine how much we could grow in the faith.
It is interesting to me that the people who tell me they don’t have a good memory when it comes to the things of God are often the same people that can tell you what every person in the room was wearing, all the arguments for their view of the current political scene, or can recite the averages of their favorite ballplayers. We have no aptitude for the things of God because we are not applying ourselves in the spiritual realm! Jesus reminds us that we cannot think Biblically unless we diligently pursue Biblical understanding.
4. Give God first place in your family by giving thanks at the dinner table, by seeking the Bible’s guidance for family decisions, by praying for each other, and by making it known that Sunday is first and foremost the Lord’s day.
Third, as Jesus respected those in authority over Him so should we. Isn’t it fascinating that Jesus submitted to the authority of his parents? One of the things God intended to do in becoming man was to give us an illustration of what it meant to live a godly life.
Submission is not simply about maintaining order in society. It is also about developing a habit that will carry over into our relationship with God. The people who rebel against earthly authority will also rebel against God’s authority. Once we believe we can “handle things on our own” we stop listening even to the Lord.
We live at a time of unprecedented rebellion against authority. Children rebel against parents, workers refuse to respect their employers, citizens refuse to respect their leaders, Judges refuse to respect the law and society as a whole has come to believe that morality is no longer something established by God but is something determined by public opinion.
I’m not trying to add fuel for a gripe session. The challenge is to go in a different direction! We are called to submit to the authorities in our life as a way of showing respect for God. Are you praying for our leaders? Are you speaking honorably about those who have authority over you? Are you faithfully doing your job? Are you willing to learn from the teachers, coaches and parents in your lives? Jesus shows us that this is the right thing to do.
Finally we are reminded that true maturity involves growth mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Jesus grew in wisdom (intellectually) and stature (physically) and in favor with God (spiritually) and men (socially or inter-personally). God created us to be multi-dimensional (which is a reflection of His complexity and greatness). The person who is growing in a balanced way is growing in each aspect of their life.
Here’s the question: Are you growing in a balanced way? There are some who spend all their time in the gym but never open a book. Others only read books and do nothing to take care of themselves physically. The majority of people work on the physical, intellectual and social areas of life but completely ignore the spiritual. There are people who are great with information but lousy in dealing with people. They have knowledge but no empathy. What we learn from Jesus is the need for a greater sense of balance in our lives.
I encourage you to take stock of your life. Where are you out of balance? Where you lack balance take deliberate action to bring needed balance into your life this year. If you don’t know what to do, find someone who is well developed in the area where you are weak and learn from them. Ask the fitness buff how to get into better physical shape. Ask a nutritionist how to eat better. Ask a scholar for recommendations on good books to read. Watch and listen to that person who is at ease with people. Ask questions. Find someone spiritually mature and soak up everything you can from them.
If you had only one picture from the youth of your children how much would that picture mean to you? You would cherish that picture. You would study it. You would notice every detail and etch it so clearly in your mind that you would never forget it. We only have one picture of the early years of the life of Jesus. However, it is a picture filled with depth and insight. We would be wise to study it carefully and hide it’s richness deep in our hearts and minds.