Sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany
Romans 12:1-5 + Luke 2:41-52
There aren’t many accounts in the Bible of the early life of Jesus. Between the time of the holy family’s flight to Egypt, when Jesus was still just a baby, until the day of Jesus’ Baptism at age 30, we are told of exactly one event in the life of Christ—today’s Gospel about the 12-yr-old Jesus and the scare He gave to Mary and Joseph when He stayed behind in Jerusalem. We’d like to know more about Jesus’ childhood, of course, what He did, what He was up to, but the words of the Gospel really tell us all we need to know, as a summary of the whole childhood and adolescence of Jesus. Even as a boy, Jesus loved God His Father will all His heart, soul, mind and strength. He honored His earthly father and mother and was obedient to them. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. What else should a young man be up to? Jesus was everything a boy should be.
Let’s turn to the Gospel again and review this story. Luke tells us that it was the custom of Jesus’ parents to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. That was required of every Jewish male as part of the observance of the Law of Moses. The fact that Mary normally went along, too, shows us that this was no mere outward observance, going because they had to go. They gladly went up to the House of the Lord. They gladly celebrated the Passover feast given to them by God as both a remembrance of His past redemption of Israel and as a shadow of the great Redemption that their Son—the very Lamb of God—would one day bring about.
Whether or not Jesus went along with them before His twelfth birthday, we don’t know for sure. But it was (and still is) Jewish custom that at age thirteen a Jewish boy became responsible to perform all the ceremonies required by the Law, and that at age twelve, he started “practicing,” as it were, so that he was ready at age thirteen.
They travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They spend the days of the feast in the holy city. And then Mary and Joseph, together with all the company of relatives and neighbors from Nazareth, start heading back. But the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; How could they not? I suppose because they just didn’t expect it. Jesus was always with them, always following, always obedient. He was wise—very wise for His age, not absent-minded, not one to go off and do His own thing.
They had already traveled a day’s journey. It took them another day to get back to Jerusalem. It wasn’t until the third day that they found Him in the Temple, where it says that He was 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?”
We should be amazed, too, just as amazed as Mary and Joseph were. We should be amazed at the deep love and zeal that this twelve-year-old demonstrated for the Word and the works of His Father. We should be amazed that a twelve-year-old boy should be so in love with the Temple and with the Holy Scriptures that He doesn’t want to leave, that He wants to stay there, not to play around or sight-see, but to discuss the Word of God with the teachers of the Law.
Truly this is the ideal child. And there wasn’t a hint of defiance in Him or of superiority over His parents, even though He was far superior to them. He had no concern for His life, His works, His business, His pleasure, His future, His entertainment. Just the innocent love for His Father in heaven. Jesus is the perfect Child of God, who perfectly fulfills the words of the Psalmist: Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. And again, LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells. And again, Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Jesus, even at the age of 12, was fulfilling His task of being the perfect human being, the One whom you don’t have to command or coerce to go to church, to read His Bible, to be a student of Scripture. He is a willing student of Scripture, excited to learn God’s Word, eager to discuss it. And He does it all on His own, because He is absolutely devoted to His God. His will is perfectly connected to His Father’s will. As Jesus would later say to the Jews: Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
After astounding the teachers with His understanding and after amazing His parents with His behavior, it says that 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.
There He is, the boy who loves God with His whole heart and who honors His earthly parents gladly and willingly. In all His actions, in all His attitudes, in all His behaviors, Jesus increased in favor with God and men. This was a Child, a Boy, a young Man, who never complained, who never grumbled, who was not self-centered, not a brooding teenager, but kind, thoughtful, considerate of others, and perfectly obedient. Of course He grew in favor with God and men. He was everything a boy should be.
Jesus’ perfect childhood, His sincere love for God, His obedience to His parents, His love for His neighbor—this is how it was meant to be, for all of us. This is how it would have been in the world, if Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen into sin. Instead, you children, you teenagers, and you who once were children and teenagers—you know that you have not loved God like that, that you have not been aching to stay at church and keep listening and studying Scripture, while your parents are already out the door. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite, isn’t it? And you know that you have not so willingly and gladly obeyed your parents, or lived your life for the benefit of your neighbor. Jesus’ childhood serves as a warning for young people and adults alike: the life Jesus led is the life that God requires of all the sons of men. It’s not OK for you, even in your youth, to despise the Word of God, to get bored with it, to fail to pay attention to it, to wish you were somewhere else on Sunday morning. Nor is it OK for you to dishonor your parents, or to grumble against them, out loud or just in your heart. Nor is it OK for you to become so self-absorbed that you sit around doing nothing all day instead of serving your neighbor and growing in wisdom.
At the same time, Jesus didn’t lead a perfect childhood in order to condemn you for not doing it. He did it happily, so that you might be brought to repentance and faith in Him as your Substitute. He did it so that you might be able to call God your Father, not because you have loved Him with your whole heart, but because Jesus did, and you are bound to Him by Baptism. He was everything a boy should be, so that you could inherit from Him as a gift everything that a perfect son of a perfect Father deserves, even the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
With the forgiveness of sins comes a new heart, a new purpose, to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, to walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. With the mercy of God in view, you are to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God, as you heard in the Epistle.
So young people, and you who once were young, see your Savior working on your behalf in today’s Gospel. Repent and believe in Him, and see how your Father was working through Jesus as your Substitute, to bring you into His house. But also, learn from Jesus. Learn what it looks like to love God and His Word so completely, to be a willing student of the Scriptures. Learn what it looks like to be respectful of your parents at all times and obedient to those whom God has placed in authority over you. Learn what it looks like to devote your childhood, and your adulthood, and every breath of your life to God and to your neighbor. By faith in Christ Jesus, God now sees you as already being everything a child of God should be. Make it your goal to live that way, too, and you, too, will continue to increase in wisdom, and in favor with God and men. Amen.