The Lord's Day Morning
March 8, 2009
“In My Father's House”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Turn with me to Luke 2:40, as we continue through this great Gospel together. We’re at a very special passage when we come to Luke 2:40-52. It is the only story that we have of Jesus between the time of His infancy and the beginning of His ministry as an adult of around thirty years old. So from the time He's a very young child, just weaned, to the time that He is an adult we have no record of His life–only this story.
Aren't you thankful that Luke spent those months in Palestine — perhaps while Paul is in prison — going around and interviewing eyewitnesses to the life of Christ? And aren't you thankful that he was able to get to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and be able to ask her about this so that he could write this story down for us? And don't you wish that you could have been a fly on the wall there as he asked Mary questions about the life of the Lord Jesus Christ?
But under the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit and for reasons that we’ll have to ask God about in heaven, this is the only story that God chose to be written down for our instruction from that period of time; and you’ll see it's a very important lesson, and so it will make perfect sense to you.
But understand that you’re coming to a very special passage. A brother was showing me this morning after the service that since 1973 he has been recording in his Bible what passages have been preached for the sermons that he's been listening to. He reckons that since that time he's listened to about 1800 sermons and has recorded them in his Bible. And he said, “This is the first time I've ever heard a sermon on this passage.” Well, it's a great, great passage.
Now the second thing I want you to see as we look at this passage is that some of you, because of what Jesus does and because of the way that Mary reacts, are going to have questions in your mind. Did Jesus do something wrong here? Now the orthodox side of your brain is going to be telling you, “Of course Jesus didn't do anything wrong.” But the unorthodox side of your brain is going to say, “Hmmm…it looks to me like this could be judged in some circumstances as something less than perfect child behavior.”
To disabuse you of any question that Jesus has done anything wrong, especially because Luke is going to record for you exactly how Mary responded to this and because Luke knows that it's going to raise some questions in your mind… (by the way, that's going to be one of the testimonies that this is true history, because Luke knows that it's going to raise some questions in your mind)…in order to set your heart at ease, Luke is going to give you several clues that Jesus has not done anything wrong here.
First of all, look at verse 40 and verse 52. He's going to begin and end the passage by telling you what? That Jesus was growing in favor with God. No implicit criticism, only explicit commendation of Jesus.
When Bible authors want to let you know that they’re criticizing a character, they almost always give you some hints in the Bible passage that they’re criticizing this particular character. So for instance when David is about to commit the sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah, in
I Samuel 11, how does Samuel open up that chapter? “At the time when kings go out to war, David remained in Jerusalem.” And then he says, “And he arose early one afternoon….” Now he has just tipped you off that something bad is about to happen! Because David isn't where he was supposed to be, and he's getting up late, and that's not good! (Remember that, young people!) So he's told you something in the passage that lets you know that he's not going to be happy with what David is about to do. There is no hint of that in this passage. It begins and ends with God's commendation on the maturing process of Jesus.
And then notice at the end of the story it says (verse 51) that Jesus was submissive to His parents…that He continued in subjection. So this is not a teenage rebellion story. The hormones are not bouncing out of control in Jesus and He's just out of control. Luke is telling you that's not what's going on here. So if you have any question about what's intended to be understood by this story, Luke is giving you all sorts of pointers so that you’ll understand and appreciate the real message.
Now just let me go ahead and tip you off. The key point of this passage is found in verse 49. It's in Jesus’ reply to Mary's question. And I’ll tell you why we know that's the key point in the passage because, again, good writers tip you off as to the key point and Luke has a neon sign in this passage that hits you in verses 50-51 that is designed to point you to verse 49 as the key passage. We’ll explain that in a minute, too. So just be on the lookout for the key message. It's in verse 49.
Now just let me tell you ahead of time what the key message is about. The key message is about who Jesus knows himself to be. The key message of the passage is about who Jesus knows himself to be.
If I can picture for you an imaginary conversation…. If you’ll allow me to imagine with you for a moment, let's say Theophilus is talking with Luke (remember Luke's writing this letter — this epistle, this Gospel — to Theophilus), and let's say Theophilus says something to Luke like this: ‘I just don't understand how it is that a devout Jew could have come to have been so hated by his people. I mean, if he was observant of Moses’ Law and came from godly parents and was committed to the word of God and taught his whole life according to the word of God, I just don't understand how he could end up being lynched twenty years later. I just don't understand it.’ And it's almost as if Luke says, ‘Okay, let me explain that to you, Theophilus. Let me tell you why. It wasn't because he fell short in his devotion to God's word. It's another reason why he fell afoul of his own people twenty years later. And, Theophilus, it has to do with who he claimed to be. That's what got him into trouble and that is what is central to the message of the gospel.’ And so he says, ‘Theophilus, let me tell you a story that Jesus’ mother told me about his late childhood, right before he was to become a man, and I think it will explain the question that you’re asking.’
So let's read God's word. And before we read it, let's ask for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word. Every word of it is true, and every word of it is for our instruction, every word of it is edifying, every word of it is profitable; and so we ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would help us to understand it. We know that a prayer for understanding is necessary because even this passage will let us know that smart, godly people sometimes don't understand. Well, Lord, we don't claim to be smart and we're not all that godly. And so we need Your help to understand Your word. Help us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the word of God. Luke 2, beginning in verse 40:
“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This passage is pressing a question home to all of us today, no matter who we are. Whether we're professing believers or not, whether we're members of this church or not, whether we're Christians or not, it's pressing home this question on us: How do you reckon with who Jesus is? How do you reckon with who He is?
If you’re a believer in Jesus, you know that He is the Son of God. You know that He is fully God and fully man. You know that He's the Savior of sinners, but you have to reckon with the truth of that. You may believe that, but here's the question: How does that impact you? How does that play out in the way that you live? Is the truth of who He is playing out in your life the way it ought to be? How do you reckon with who Jesus says He is?
On the other hand, you may not be believing in Him. You may not think of yourself as His disciple or as a Christian. I think most people that would gather in a church that preaches the Bible would have some modicum of respect for Jesus; they would think highly of Him; they would think of Him as a great teacher, a great prophet, a very moral and wise man who had a lot to say. I can't imagine someone gathering in a Bible-believing church that would think low thoughts of Jesus. But maybe you got dragged here with somebody this morning, and just because you love them you came along anyway. Well, whatever the case may be, you have to reckon with the question of who this Jesus is, who He claims to be, what He says about himself. It's that question that Luke is pressing on all of us today: Who does Jesus know himself to be? Who does Jesus claim himself to be, and what implication does that have for you?
There's really just one point in this passage…but if you’d allow me to make three points on the way to that one point, look first of all at verses 40 and 52, the beginning and the ending of the passage, because here Luke is telling you that Jesus is a real human. He is truly human. He doesn't just appear to be human; He's not just a spirit that looks like He's human but He's not really human; He is fully human. How does he tell you that? He tells you that by telling you that He grew up. He became wiser. He grew in physical stature. He grew in favor in His relationship with other people. He's telling you that He is really human. Now this is important because for 300 years after Christ was born, nobody in the church had the chutzpah to deny that He was fully divine, but a lot of people struggled with believing that He was human. And Luke is saying, just in case you missed it, Jesus grew up. Just like your kids have to grow up, He went from being small to being big. He learned things. He matured, both in terms of His character and His stature. He grew up. He was fully human. The humanity of Jesus is being affirmed. That's the first thing.
The second thing you’ll see in verses 41-42. Luke is saying again (we saw this the last time)…Luke is saying again that Jesus was born into a devout, law-keeping family. His parents were godly, in other words. How is that stressed? His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. When He was twelve, they went up there “according to custom”. What's he telling you? These people observed the Law. They lived by the book. The Bible was their only rule for faith and practice, and if Moses said that as good Jews they were supposed to go to Jerusalem and worship, they were there. He's telling you that He had godly parents who reared Him right, reared Him by the book from day one. See, this is disabusing Theophilus of any thought that somehow Jesus didn't understand the Bible, or didn't obey the Bible, or didn't understand Moses, or didn't follow Moses’ Law. No, Moses from childhood was read and taught and learned and practiced in His home.
Let me just say in passing that though we're not called by God's word to go to the temple or observe feast days, there is still something that we can learn from the godliness of Jesus’ parents. We new covenant Christians have the joy and privilege of gathering every Lord's Day to worship the living God, and there is nothing more powerful than a family sitting together on the pew and young people who may be bored to tears of what is going on within the hour of a service realizing, ‘You know, my Mom and Dad are pretty smart…pretty active…pretty busy. They've got things to do, people to see. But every Sunday they stop everything and they worship God. Hmmm…God must be pretty important. He must be more important than anything else.’ And if that were the only thing that children bored to tears in worship services ever learned, that would be a pretty important thing to learn. We can learn something from the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph to make sure that their son was under the means of grace, following the commandments of God's word. We can learn something from them in the way that we rear our own children. In the priorities that we establish in the worship of the living God, we teach them a big lesson: God is more important than anything else. When we stop our work, when we stop our play, and we just worship Him…we gather with His people, and we declare with our lips and with our life that He's more important to us than anything in this world.
Now before I get to the third thing that I want to say — on the way to the one point — let me give you an aside for no extra charge. This is one of those passages…look at the story in verses 43-48. This is one of those passages that proves to me that the Bible is true.
This story bears all the marks of truth. If you were wanting to invent a story about Jesus’ childhood, you would never think to invent a story like this! It's too sticky. You’d invent a story that had less problems. And it's totally unlike the stories that people invented about Jesus’ early childhood. You know, starting at about the end of the second century and running all the way to the fifth century, people wrote stories–people who had no information whatsoever from any direct witness or participant in the life of Jesus Christ. People wrote stories about what they thought happened in Jesus’ childhood. We have some of those stories today. There is an Arabic Infancy Gospel that dates from about the fifth century, the 400's, that tells a story of Jesus going into a town one day and going into a dyer's shop — a man named Salim. And Salim was the town dyer. That is, if you wanted your clothes turned a particular color or you wanted some fabric turned a particular color, you went to the town dyer and he mixed up a mixture and he dipped your clothing or the fabric that you wanted dyed into that mixture and made it the color that you wanted it, and sold it to you. And there's a story in this Arabic Infancy Gospel of Jesus’ going into the workplace of the town dyer and taking all his clothes and dumping them into a cauldron of indigo. And the town dyer goes crazy! He says, ‘Jesus, you've just ruined my business and my reputation! You've ruined all of these clothes!” And then Jesus says, ‘No problem. Just tell me what color you want the clothes to be,’ and he starts pulling them out of the cauldron of indigo, and oh! That one's red, that one's green, that one's yellow…. It's totally fanciful! Totally fanciful!
Nothing fanciful about this story. It's one of those stories that just proves to me that Luke is not telling you stories, he's telling you the truth. He's writing down history. He's telling you something that actually happened.
Now my third point. Look at verses 46-47. Jesus’ parents leave Jerusalem. Now they had come down with relatives and friends; and He wasn't in their immediate presence, but they assumed that He was with relatives and friends. It lets you know that they trusted Him, or they would have had their eyes on Him every moment. They trusted Him, and so they thought that He was with some of their relatives or friends who were with them in this caravan that had come down to worship. They get a day out of Jerusalem and they haven't seen Him… ‘Hey…Hungry isn't here. Where is he?’ And so they go to the relatives and to their friends, and he's not there. And every parent in this room — I mean, this is the original Home Alone! Every parent in the room knows the abject horror that is struck in their hearts: ‘We have just lost the Messiah! Not good!’ And so they go hustling back to Jerusalem and they check everywhere. They check the playgrounds…they check the bakery shops…they check the swimming holes. They check everywhere. And finally they think, well, let's go to the temple. And they go to the temple, and lo and behold, there he is. [Now I'm being facetious, of course. They don't check the bakery or the swimming hole or the playground.]
They find him in the temple, and that's actually a very important part of the story that he's in the temple. Because Jesus is in the temple because he wants to study God's word, and he wants to be in his Father's house. And we're told when they find him that he's sitting there among the teachers. He's sought out teachers of the Bible, He's listening to them, he's asking them questions, and he's giving them answers that astonish them.
Now I just want to pause right there, and I want you to take that in for a second. Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, wanted to study the word with people who knew the word. Now if Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, wanted to study the word, do you think you and I ought to want to study the word? Oh, yes! Oh, yes! We should. John Piper, back in 1981, when he had just gone to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, had been a professor at Bethel, which was a religiously affiliated school. He had taught Bible and religion at Bethel, and he made this observation:
“In my six years of full time teaching, I have found that only about one person in ten really wants to understand more of God than they already know.”
That's astonishing. But let me ask you this. How much do you want to understand of God? How are you pursuing the knowledge of God? Are you in His word day by day? Not only Lord's Day after Lord's Day but day by day, are you in His word? Jesus wanted to be taught the word of God by people who understood the word of God. He wanted to ask them questions. He wanted to listen to them. He wanted to grow under the word. Ought we not to want and plan to study the word of God, and to study it? To love our Bibles, and to want to grow in our knowledge of God because we're studying the Bible?
Now here's the big point. Look at verses 49ff. There we see the point of this whole story. What's Luke telling us about here? Well, look at verse 48. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, they say to Him: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I…” [By the way, it's interesting, isn't it? Mary says this. His mother says it. And we knew that it would be His mother who would say this! How many times have you heard this? “Your father and I…” I mean, it rings true! You've heard this before. Maybe recently you've heard this!] ‘Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you. We have been looking for You with distress. We have been worried sick.’ And what's Jesus’ response? ‘Why did you need to search for Me? You ought to know where I was. I had to be in My Father's house.’
You see what Luke is teaching you there. Can you imagine the conversation?
‘Okay, Mary, I've just got to ask this question. Did your son know that He was the Messiah?’
‘Well, Luke, let me tell you a story that happened when He was twelve years old. You see, we had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover, and we’d left. And we thought that He was with Cousin Elizabeth and Uncle… [whatever his name was]…and we got down the road and He wasn't with us. And, you see, we went back to Jerusalem and Joseph and I scoured the place. And we finally thought to look in the temple. When we got to the temple, there He was, sitting with the teachers of the Law. And we said, ‘Son, your father and I have been looking for you.’ And you know what He said back to us? He said, ‘Mom, don't you know who my Father is? Don't you know that I had to be in my real Father's house? Don't you know that I treasure my Father more than I treasure food? Don't you know that I wanted to commune with Him in His word? Why did you have to look for me? You ought to have known where I was because…Mom! Angels told you who I am! Angels told you who my Father is! I love you, Mom; I love you, Dad. But I had to be with My Father. Why is that so hard for you to understand?’
And you see, the way that Luke tells you that's the main point of the story you’ll see in the next verse: “And they did not understand the statement which He made to them.” It's like Luke puts up a neon sign: “Danger! Danger! Do not go forward! The point of this story is in the previous verse!” They did not understand something really, really important. And what was it really, really important that they didn't understand? That He is the Son of God. And He was just in His Father's house communing with His Father. And they ought to have known that.
Do you see how Luke is telling this both to people who wouldn't dare deny that He's the Son of God (but they’re not living like it), and to people who don't accept Him as the Son of God (but who will go to hell if they do not)? Luke is saying, ‘How do you reckon with this Jesus? Do you realize that He is the Father's Son? And do you realize that as the Father's Son, He values the Father's company more than anything?’