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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Boy Jesus Delights to be in his Father’s House
Text:Luke 2:41-50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,2,3                                                                                      

Ps 92:1,6

Reading – Luke 2:21-52

Ps 71:1,3,9,10

Sermon – Luke 2:41-50

Hy 24:1,2,3,4,5,6

Ps 84:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, think about Jesus as a child, and what He might’ve been like. Have you ever wondered? We’re curious, because in the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, just a few of his years are described. There’s a handful of stories from the time surrounding his birth, up to when He was about a month old; after that, there’s much about his ministry, beginning when He was about thirty. From one month old to thirty years old—that’s a big gap. There’s a lot that we don’t know about the earthly life of Christ.

Those “in-between years” have given rise to a lot of speculation. What was Jesus’ childhood like? What did He do in all those years before his ministry? Now, if you go looking, you can find some ancient legends about Jesus as a child. It seems that Christians in the second and third centuries wanted to fill the void. And so they made up stories of what the boy Jesus was like, performing “mini-miracles” and making supernatural displays of knowledge!

We accept, of course, that on this whole period of Christ’s life, the gospels are silent, because we don’t need to know. There’s next-to-nothing about the child Jesus—almost nothing, with the notable exception of our passage.

In our text, we see the Saviour, just twelve years old. And here we see him, not running the streets of Nazareth and playing games with his childhood friends, but studying in the temple at Jerusalem. And remarkably, we hear the young Jesus speaking about his calling—that He had come to do his Father’s will! This is our theme from Luke 2:41-50,

The boy Jesus delights to be in his Father’s house:

  1. the concern expressed by his parents
  2. the calling received from his Father


1) the concern expressed by his parents: This morning we’re reading from the Gospel of Luke, his carefully researched account of the life and death of Christ. The last time that Luke told us about Christ, earlier in this same chapter, He was just a baby when Joseph and Mary presented him for purification at the temple. Now in our text, Jesus is suddenly twelve years old. What has happened in the meantime? They’ve been living in Nazareth. That’s where they were from, and where Jesus would spend his formative years.

Luke tells us that “[Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (v 41). Nothing too unusual there. This was one of the highlights of the Israelite calendar, for there were three annual feasts celebrated at the temple: the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Most families lived at a great distance from Jerusalem, so they were only able to go to one feast per year. But if they could, the one that they attended was Passover. This was the great feast for celebrating Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt, the feast when the Passover lamb was prepared and his blood poured out.

Perhaps Jesus had been taken along to Jerusalem already from his infancy. But this particular year is special. We know that, because the Jews had a custom that a boy needed to be taken to the Passover for at least a year or two before he turned thirteen. Then, once he was thirteen, he would be considered an adult member of the nation.

So it is that Joseph and Mary make the three-day trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem together with their first-born son. Sharing in that ceremony would have made a big impression on the boy Jesus. Think of him eating the stiff bread, tasting the bitter herbs, smelling the roasted lamb; hearing the story of the Exodus. It was all very meaningful, this holy Supper, with its focus on God’s redeeming grace.

It was a rich few days. But when Passover week is done, the return trip doesn’t go so smoothly. Luke writes, “As they returned, the boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and his mother did not know it” (v 43). Maybe one of your siblings has been left behind at church after the service; it probably didn’t take too long for your parents to figure it out, and they came rushing back within minutes. But for Joseph and Mary to forget their son in the bustling city of Jerusalem? And to lose him for a few days?

We might be ready to crown Joseph and Mary “the worst parents of the year,” but remember that they were traveling with a group of pilgrims from Nazareth. It was quite a crowd of people heading home in those days after Passover. In a large convoy, on those busy roads, it would be easy to assume that the boy was with his friends, or to think that he was with the other parent: just up ahead, or just behind.

After a day’s travel, Joseph and Mary realize their mistake. But they’re already a fair distance from Jerusalem. First they must travel all the way back, and then they need to spend time trying to track him down.

Probably many families have a story about losing a child in a crowd at the airport or in the shopping centre—even if it’s just a few terrifying minutes—so they can imagine the growing anxiety of Joseph and Mary. Where was their son? What’s going to befall him in this big city? Abducted? Assaulted?

And then maybe Joseph and Mary’s thoughts started to return to the glorious words spoken about this child, already more than twelve years ago. He was supposed to be the Saviour, the King, the Messiah—well, what would come of that glorious future if he’d been snatched up by a slave trader? By the third day He might already be on his way out of the country.

After our life’s own moments of crisis, we’ve probably all discovered that there’s no use being anxious. When we’re terribly worried about something, there’s no use trying to predict every outcome, prepare for every event. In the moment we forget this, but there’s someone far greater who has all things in his loving hands, a wise Father who always accomplishes his perfect plan for our good.

Joseph and Mary soon discover this very truth, as their anxiety gives way to astonishment: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (v 46).

Here was their son—no worse for wear. Thriving, actually! He’s right in the middle of a theology seminar at the temple. Seeing Jesus in the temple, we might jump to the practical questions. Where did He sleep, these past three days? What did He eat? And what about having a little more consideration for his parents?

But the only thing we’re told is what activity has brought Jesus to this place: He’s here to grow in the Word of the LORD. The temple was always a place of sacrifice and ritual cleansing. But back then, the temple courts were also used as classrooms. It was common to see a group of students gathered in the temple precincts. They’d be sitting around the feet of this or that rabbi, listening intently as he lectured and debated on the Scriptures and their interpretation. The students would listen, and also ask questions: “Rabbi, what exactly does the law mean when it speaks about loving our neighbour? Rabbi, how will we know when the Messiah has come?” Often times it’s our questions that reveal how engaged we are with the lesson.

Jesus is here because He wants to learn the Scriptures. He already has a sense of the holy mission God gave him. So He’ll prepare himself, getting taught by those who sat “in Moses’ seat” (Matt 23:2). You can imagine the twelve-year old Jesus asking, “What exactly is the task of the Christ on earth? How did the prophets speak about his death? Who are his people? Israel only, or the nations too?” The rabbis would’ve had much to say.

Even so, this story is puzzling. For did Jesus really need to learn? Was He not the eternal Son of God, sent from heaven? Didn’t He know exactly what the Father wanted him to do? But don’t forget that this twelve-year old was fully human. He wasn’t born with a complete download of Calvin’s Commentaries. He wasn’t always the star debater who could hold his own with Israel’s greatest minds. He too had to grow up, and learn wisdom, and mature in spirit. Like us, He needed the various opportunities of life to develop and grow through them.

For this reason He’s at the temple: He’s being sanctified for his future work by studying the Scriptures, lingering in his Father’s house. That’s a powerful lesson for God’s people, no matter our age. If you’re a twelve year-old like Jesus in our text, is that what you love to do? Maybe you love to ride your bike, and play video games, but do you also love to grow in the Word, to learn about it from your parents, or from your teachers at school?

Or if you’re twenty, is this still your joy: “listening and asking questions” of the Word, trying to find out more? If you’re sixty-three, do you still try to grow in the Scripture? Jesus did, and so should we try to grow! As soon as we’re old enough to make that decision ourselves, we should seek the knowledge of God’s Word, and seek the blessing of being in God’s house.

In the same way, every believing parent should be thinking about this: Are the children God has entrusted growing up in the faith? Are they preparing themselves—are we preparing them—for the calling in life that God gives them?

Sometimes, it seems, we treat children as if they don’t have a great capacity for spiritual matters. We might say, “Talking about God is too difficult for them. Most of Scripture just goes over their head anyway. They just won’t understand, not yet.” Yet in so many places, God calls on parents to instruct covenant children in the faith, even when they’re young. The words of Deuteronomy 6 are familiar, yet ever-challenging to parents, “You shall teach these words diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in the house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (v 7).

This means encouraging our children, training them to walk closely with the Lord. And that happens through those simple discussions at home, telling about what we believe, and showing how to put faith into practice. It happens by being in church—even as young children—being here to share in worship and hear the Word. It happens through Catechism class and Bible study, “listening and asking questions,” just like Jesus did in the temple.

Children, are you growing in your love for God? If you have your own Bible, are you reading God’s Word, and do you listen carefully to it when it’s read and preached? Do you pray that God would give you faith and help you to understand? By God’s grace, then you too—like the boy Jesus—will become strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. Then you too will be ready for the life work that God gives you.

And again, the need to grow in the faith never fades. Think of what Peter lays down as an abiding commandment, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour” (2 Pet 3:18). Grow, he says—and keep growing! Day by day, week by week, we have this opportunity, to increase in the knowledge most worth knowing. Think again of Jesus, sitting in the temple courts of God for three days in a row. The words of Psalm 84 describe him well, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (v 2).

So it is today. When we’re in God’s house—sharing Christ’s love for the courts of God—that’s when we progress in faith. Let’s gather here, delighting in God’s house, delighting in God’s people, and delighting in his Word. However old we are, we must stay in training: learning about the Scriptures, learning about our God.

Jesus was in the temple to learn. But amazingly, He’s also there to teach. For, “All who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (v 47). Somehow this twelve-year old boy has already acquired great wisdom and insight. And this is a sign of things to come, for later, think of how after the Sermon on the Mount, it says that “the people were astonished at his teaching, for He taught them as one having authority” (Matt 7:28-29). For God’s people, this Jesus He will be our chief Prophet and Teacher.

So maybe Joseph and Mary’s oldest son was gifted. Perhaps He was top of his class at Nazareth Primary School. Even so, any parent who reads this account understands what happens next. When Joseph and Mary finally discover Jesus, they’re overwhelmed. Mary puts the exasperated question to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously” (v 48). And Christ responds to his parents very simply. He speaks of the calling He received from his Father. 

2) the calling received from his Father: “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v 49). This isn’t back-talk from the boy Jesus, but in these words there’s a world of meaning. He speaks of the Messiah’s mission on earth, and his devotion to his calling: He’s got to be occupied with the saving plan of God the Father.

Yet Joseph and Mary don’t understand. They don’t understand, because they’ve overlooked the subtle difference between Mary’s question and his answer. She had said, “Your father and I have sought you…” Yet Jesus speaks of a different Father entirely. He speaks of needing to be “about my Father’s business.” He hadn’t run away from Mom and Dad; rather, He had gone home, to his Father’s house.

Pay attention to these remarkable words. For remember how old Jesus is—how young He is! He’s twelve, barely the age of maturity in Israel. But already He knows that He has a special relationship to the heavenly Father. Mary had been told years before that this child will be “Son of the Most High.” In some way the boy had already come to realize this truth, that He and the Father in heaven were one.

And here at the temple, He could be near his Father, worshiping and praying and learning. He’s actually amazed that his parents don’t realize this. For Christ understands that this single thing was his priority as the Son—his life’s calling. Like He said years later, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).

Jesus knew his Father, loved his Father. And the day was coming when Jesus would reveal the Father in a bold new way. He would tell people about him, about the Father’s perfect justice and perfect mercy. In fact, more than twenty years later, we find Christ still in the temple, still teaching. Luke tells us that even during his last week on this earth, Christ was in these same temple courts every day, teaching the people, telling them about the glories of the Father.

For now though, Christ prepares himself. As that twelve-year old sat there and listened, what connections He already made? What prophecies did He already see fulfilled in His own short life: born in Bethlehem, a root of Jesse’s tree, from Nazareth? Just a few days before, he saw the Passover Lamb slaughtered in Jerusalem—did the twelve-year old Christ understand that one day He would be that Lamb, the one who takes away the sin of the world?

He certainly understood it later. But to get to that point meant traveling a road of suffering. In fact, already as a twelve-year old, Jesus had a hard choice to make. Where did God want him to go? For wouldn’t He learn more by staying at the temple, than by returning to Nazareth and his father’s workshop? Where could Jesus best be busy with his Father’s business? To the end this was the struggle, but Jesus always wanted to do God’s will.

Joseph and Mary don’t understand. Yet in the very next verse, we learn that He’s still an obedient son: “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (v 51). Jesus still had a lot of growing to do. They say that children learn the most during the first three or four years of life, yet parents should remember that there’s still so much more to teach, through the years of adolescence and the teens—and even beyond. And so for Jesus too, the process continued—not only getting taller, but getting wiser.

As that twelve-year old became a thirteen-year old, became a twenty-year old, became a twenty-seven-year old, Jesus kept learning the ways of the Father. Think of how ready He was on that day of his baptism, when the Father announced, “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” (3:22). With those affirming words in his ears, Jesus begins his ministry.

Even then, the challenge doesn’t go away. For at the end of his life, we see Jesus still wrestling with the task He received. Will He follow the Father’s road of obedience, right to the bitter end? Will He really be the Lamb, that final sacrifice of blood unto the LORD? “Not my will,” He prayed to his Father, “but your will be done.”

Beloved, what a great comfort in the faithfulness of Christ! For Jesus did what we could not. He offered what we could not. He obeyed completely. He submitted entirely. Through his struggles and triumph, Jesus made it possible for all of us to become the children of God.

This also means that Christ knows so well the human experience. He can relate to our strains and stresses and heartaches, because He wasn’t immune to the host of troubles that fill this life, whether we’re young or old. Beloved, be encouraged to know that our Saviour has been a twelve-year old. He’s been an eighteen-year old. He’s been a thirty-one-year old. He has been there, and so He has sanctified every age: infancy, childhood, adolescence, older youth, adulthood—set every age apart for God.

Though He only lived to be about 33, He experienced every hardship that we’ll ever face, and so much more. He tasted the deep struggle of doing the Father’s will, the struggle of being faithful in the most trying of times: “In all points He was tempted as we are, yet He was without sin” (Heb 4:15).

And so Christ will greatly help us to do the Father’s will! He knows exactly what we need, and He has promised to give it to us. For still today, Christ is busy with the things of the Father. Just as He was when He was twelve years old, He is still concerned with God’s plan and purpose. Today He is still in his Father’s house—but now even seated at Father’s right hand. There in heaven He prays for us his brothers and sisters, He watches over us, and He helps us.

What a great reassurance! For as the children of God, we too, are in school, learning the ways of obedience: we’re learning self-control, learning patience, learning how to love, learning how to be thankful. Like the young Jesus was, we too are learning to “be about our Father’s business.”

If you’re daily sitting at the Saviour’s feet, then you’re in a great place to be instructed. If you’re humbly listening to his Word, then you’re learning where Christ calls you to serve. Our education takes a lifetime, and our progress is slow. But our chief Prophet and Teacher himself is willing to teach us! So listen to him!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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