Let me ask you to turn to Luke chapter 2. We want to look at the very end of that chapter. We've had a marvelous Advent season, a marvelous opportunity to examine the titles of Christ given to Him in the Scripture and understand His mission and His work, understand what it means for Him to be our Redeemer. Now that Advent is over, Christmas has come and gone, I guess I really wasn't quite ready to let it go all the way just yet. I thought one more opportunity to look at these great truths packed in the incarnation. So that brought my mind to Luke chapter 2. As we read the passage, you're going to see that I've actually chosen a passage that is, for us tonight, that is ripe with opportunities for me to utter Christological heresy. I probably will! You'll know how bad it is if you drive around this building tomorrow and you find the Reverend Dr. Strain and the elders tacking my hide to the wall outside. "This used to be Billy Dempsey!" Hopefully, God has guided me and I can say a few things that will not be quite so awful!
But it’s a dangerous territory in some cases. It requires some precise thinking and precise speaking. I’m not always a precise thinker or a precise speaker, but we still, there’s richness here for us to gather and carry forward as we leave this season and move into the rest of the year. A Savior who’s become man, and yet never quit being God – how do you get your mind around that? How do you get your heart around that? How do you explain that? How do you put words around that? Many do, and most do better than I, but we’re going to spend some time with this passage and glean some richness nevertheless. Before we do, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, thank You for these truths that are just marvelous beyond words. It really does take us back to Micah who said, "Who is a God like you?" Who would imagine that God would become man and not come as a king or a prince but come as a poor man, a carpenter, yet born into a line to whom great promises were made, yet whose present experience reflected nothing like those great promises? Yet, Father, You remembered Your promises – sent Your Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law; who now sits beside You on the throne of the universe; the dust of the earth. Father, our minds whirl at those thoughts. Thank You for the marvelous nature of Your redemptive work on our behalf. So as we come to this portion of Your Word, open our minds and hearts, feed our souls. We make our prayer, Father, in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.
Let’s begin with verse 39. We’ll read from verse 39 through the end of the chapter. And I want you to notice there are two statements that bracket the narrative here. The narrative is of Jesus at age 12 going with His parents to the temple during the Passover, the Feast of the Passover, and being left there inadvertently by His parents thinking He was with another part of the group on their way returning home. That’s the narrative, and their return to Jerusalem to find Him and His first recorded words in the Scripture. But bracketing that narrative are these statements regarding Jesus growing and increasing in favor with God and with man and growing in wisdom. We want to start with those statements and then zero-in on the narrative. So with that bit of tutorial, let’s look:
“And when they had performed everything according to the Law” – this is the purification of Mary and the purification of Jesus as a baby at His circumcision – “everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 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.”
The grass withers, the flowers fade, the Word of our God stands forever.
In his years of preparation, Jesus experienced the fullness of human life – that's what I think this passage is teaching us – to make Him a Savior, a Redeemer acquainted with our needs, our weaknesses, our sorrows, as well as our joys. But also in this passage, I think we'll see, we learn something here of how to respond to the mysteries of God's providence as we experience them. So first of all, let's look at these two bracketing statements I mentioned to you because I think they're the places we really see Jesus experiencing the fullness of human life-shaping Him and shaping His experience, His human experience as our Savior and Redeemer.
The first thing we want to recognize is what Luke says to us about the fact that Jesus grew. He grew physically. Well now that makes sense. I remember David, in his Christmas Eve sermon, he said, "Why didn't God just send Jesus as a full grown man to accomplish the work that was before Him – the work of redemption that was before Him?" Obviously, David went on to say it wasn't God's purpose to send a full grown man. It was God's purpose to send an infant, an infant as Luke says in verse 40, "to grow and become strong." In the natural course of human development, Jesus went from weakness to strength. In weakness as an infant, weakness as a child, weakness as an adolescent, weakness as a young man, to the strength of full manhood. Jesus knew weakness as we experience weakness. That was important in God's economy not to send a full-blown, fully grown man to do the works of redemption, but to send one who knows our sorrows and who is acquainted with our griefs. How does that happen except that He experiences the natural course of life – weakness going to strength; strength not sufficient for what He would like to accomplish today. He's got to wait and get stronger. He couldn't perhaps handle His father's mallet, Joseph's mallet as an eight-year-old. He had to wait until He was a twelve-year-old to swing that mallet truer and straighter as Joseph would have tried to teach Him. That's a course of development over time. "He increased," verse 52 says, "in stature." God sent His Son as an infant who grew as all humans grow, developing by stages through infancy to young adulthood and full manhood.
That’s important. That’s important for our young people to understand, our children to understand, that Jesus knows as our Savior, as our Mediator, as our High Priest, our Intercessor, praying for us and praying for our children, He knows what it means to be a child. They have frustrations, our children experience frustrations as they live a life of limits. Don’t they? Jesus lived a life of limits as a child. He understands those childhood limitations. We teach our children to pray in the midst of their frustration of being children because Jesus understands what it means to be a child and to live with the limitations of childhood.
He grew spiritually. This is where I might stray into trouble! Be praying for me! He grew spiritually. Again, look at verse 40 of Luke 2. Luke says, He began strong, “filled with wisdom.” The Greek actually translates that a bit differently as a present participle – “becoming full of wisdom” – which makes a bit more sense. Jesus, as He knows God’s Word, as He hears God’s Word, as He reads it and hears it for Himself in the synagogue, He begins to understand its application; He begins to understand what the commandments mean. He begins to understand the importance of the prophets and what the prophets are saying. He begins to understand the history and the importance of the histories and what the histories are telling us. He’s becoming filled with wisdom; He’s increasing, as Luke says in verse 52, He’s increasing in wisdom. He’s increasing in not just the bare knowledge of what God’s Word says – I think Luke’s use of the word “wisdom” is important here. It’s not just the bare facts, although certainly Jesus, as you and I do, learned to retain the bare facts of the passages and the commandments and the law and the prophets and the histories, but also that increase in wisdom is learning how those bare facts apply to life as we live it every day, life as Jesus encountered it as a boy growing to manhood in Nazareth, a boy responding to an earthly father and mother, a boy responding to siblings as Mary and Joseph had children also that joined the family. Jesus is recognizing how the truth of God makes life different, how the truth of God shapes His responses to all those influences around Him and all those responsibilities that are His as the firstborn son in the family and all those leadership opportunities that are unique to His place as the firstborn. Jesus is learning that the bare facts of Scripture have implication and bear weight upon all of that – life as He lives it.
You see, Jesus, as He’s growing and increasing – just like you had psychological limits as a child – Jesus grew through psychological and mental boundaries and limits as a child and as He grows so does His knowledge not only of God’s Word but His appreciation and understanding for what God’s Word means grows. He knew the material, He grasped the concepts and He recognized how those truths affected life, attitudes, experience. As His understanding matures, so does His grasp of God’s truth and so does His understanding of His application to life.
What does that mean for us? That means that you and I can be very dull. We throw rocks at the disciples for being so incredibly dull. And there’s a moment in this passage when we’d be tempted to chastise Mary and Joseph for their incredible dullness. Maybe they were dull. But Jesus understands, understands a dullness because He grew in His understanding, in His appreciation, His knowledge not only of the Word of God but what it means. You and I grow in our knowledge of the Word of God and also what it means. It means that He is patient with us in our growing, He’s patient with us in our learning, He’s patient with us as we see Him being patient with His disciples. And we read the Gospel accounts and we want to say, “You guys are blockheads! Don’t you get it?” And Jesus would turn to us and say, “Yeah, don’t you get it?” He’s patient with us and yet draws us in, step by step draws us into His truth as we will expose ourselves to His truth, as we will hide His truth in our hearts, as we will feed ourselves on His truth, He draws us in deeper and deeper and deeper, step by step, inch by inch, line upon line, precept upon precept because He knows how He learned; He knows how we learn. He’s patient with us in our learning.
I think where you see Jesus the most impatient with His disciples in Mark chapter 8 is when they will not learn because of their hardness of heart. And He’s warning them in hot terms to be aware of and to stay away from the hardness of heart that they find among the religious leaders of their day, the religious leaders who had shaped the worship of God, especially Judaism, as His disciples were experiencing it in His day, He’s warning them against a hardness of heart. He’s not impatient with learning; He’s impatient with disbelief and the hardness of heart that He finds there and that He finds there and He finds with us as well. He’s learning and growing as a young man, as a young man growing into manhood. What does the Word of God mean? How does the Word of God shape my understanding of life and my responsibilities and how does the Word of God determine my responses to all that I see around me? He learns those things. They weren’t just deposited in His head at birth. He learned them as He learned the truth of God’s Word.
He grows in favor. Do you see that in verse 40? "The favor of God was upon Him." Verse 52, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." Is Luke saying God loved Jesus more over time? Did God change in His love for Christ, in His experience of love for Christ? I do think maybe our own parenting perhaps gives us something of an illustration – it's not a direct overlay but there's a touchpoint here that helps us. A parent loves his or her child seemingly without measure. Don't we? I remember a lady saying, "You love them because you love them and you just can't love them any more! You just love them!" And there's a lot of truth in that. And as they grow, we watch them. As they try to do the right thing, as they try to do the right thing even as it may cost them – and it's not that we love them more as we watch them try to do adulthood the right way, but we certainly experience a deep sense of favor for them, don't we? We don't love them more, but it's as though our heart enlarges for them as we see them living and walking and struggling and falling and scraping their knees and getting up and trying it again. We watch them do what we tried to teach them on our best days and our heart enlarges towards them as we see them try to live in a way that pleases the Lord.
That’s what I think Luke is telling us. God didn’t love Jesus more, but as Jesus grew and as these things that we’ve been talking about, as they’re bearing fruit in His life, God favors His Son, He likes what He sees, He’s delighted with who Jesus is becoming and the fact that Jesus is loving His Word and growing in wisdom.
Absence of Sin
Let’s remember too that the impact of the absence of a sin nature here in Jesus’ relationship with His heavenly Father – let’s think about that for a second. Between the two of them, there’s no separation caused by sin. Think about that for a moment and what we live with in terms of what our sin does and the jagged edges of sinful practice and sinful action and raw unbelief, how that impacts our relationship with God. There’s not that separation there with Christ. There’s not that sense of spiritual distance that we experience. There’s not the veil, at least not in the way you and I experience the veil between God and ourselves. There is a clear, unsullied communion between Father and Son. It’s not like Jesus sees His Father. He’s human just like we’re human and so there’s not that visible. We often think, don’t we, “If I could just see Him, if I could just talk with Him face to face.” Jesus doesn’t have that either as a man. But nevertheless, there’s that unsullied, unbroken intimate communication because there’s no sin that separates the Father from the Son. Those nights of prayer that we see in the gospels, that the Gospel writers relate – Jesus would disappear, would go up the mountain and pray all night. Where do they begin? They begin in Nazareth; they begin in Jesus’ childhood – that unbroken communion with His Father in prayer. Those forty days in the wilderness when Jesus was driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness in the beginning of His ministry, what was He doing? One of the things He was doing was communicating with His Father in unbroken intimacy and intensity. That’s the lifestyle that began in Jesus’ childhood as He is growing in favor with God. Part of that growing in favor is that delight of unbroken communication between the two of them, unbroken communion I’ll say between the two of them.
Well, Luke says in verse 52 that Jesus increases in favor, not only with God but with man. Jesus kept the law, didn't He? That's why He's our Savior – because He lived a life of obedience to the law of God. What neighbor or teacher or friend doesn't receive that kind of living favorably? What relationship doesn't prosper when there's someone whose intent to keep the law? What relationship doesn't thrive when there's someone at the heart of it whose drive is to be humble, whose drive is to be humble, whose drive is to be second? You first. How many of those friendships are cumbersome to us? You first. You go first. You get most. You do better. Those friendships are a delight to us. Those people, we favor those people as we find them. Jesus loved the Lord with all His heart, with all His soul, with all His might. He loved His neighbor as Himself. Who doesn't receive that kind of living, that kind of conduct favorably? If we experience those virtues in increasing fashion over the years, our favor grows. Jesus would be increasing in favor with men because His understanding and His application of Bible virtues and graces would be growing and deepening year by year. Those who know Him could watch Him grow.
David was talking to the children about sanctification. That’s what Jesus does with us. That’s the very thing He does with us as He makes us like Himself, as His Spirit brings His Word to bear in our lives, in our relationships, in our goals and dreams and aspirations. As they become more and more goals and dreams and aspirations that reflect the honor and glory of God, what happens in our relationships? We grow in favor. We grow in favor with God. We grow in favor with men. Not because we always keep the peace. Sometimes we may ask hard questions, but over time people learn because we want the best for them, we may disagree but because we want the best, because we love the truth, because we want the ways of God and the ways of God’s kingdom to advance. We’re not trying to win. It’s not about me first. It’s not about “do it my way.” It’s about what are the ways of honor and grace and virtue of the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus makes us to be. And by His grace, we have opportunity as He sanctifies us to grow in favor with both God and man. What His experience is, is what He’s duplicating with us as His people. In these days, in real time, that’s what He’s doing with us.
You and I know it’s painful because we love the darkness and not the light. It’s painful because we love our sin. It’s painful because we want to be me first. It’s painful because dying to self is always painful. We have a Savior who hears that, who understands that. We call out to Him and He helps us because He’s been in that process – yet without sin – but He’s been in that process and He knows how to pray for us when we can’t even pray for ourselves in that fashion.
Well, let’s talk a bit about the narrative. And it’s in the narrative, verses 41 to 51 that we see some things that also are helpful to us. And I think one of the things that we see that’s perhaps the most helpful is how we respond to the mysterious providences of God. Before we look at that, let’s look at one thing in particular. This historically now, this is probably the first time that Jesus has accompanied His parents to Jerusalem on their yearly trip for the Passover. Jesus was, as Luke tells us here, about the age of 12. In the next year, He would undergo His bar mitzvah; He would become a son of the law, a son of Torah. And so it was traditional before that event takes place, the year before, for a young man to go to Jerusalem for at least one of the great feasts. His parents always went to the Passover Feast so He accompanies them to the Passover for the first time; sees the temple for the first time. Sees the great sacrificial offerings, watches the Passover take place for the first time.
I think what's happening here is someone who is so captivated with what God is doing, what God is saying, the whole majesty of redemption, the whole beauty of the law played out and lived out in living color for Him for the first time. He's captivated. He can't tear Himself away. He can't imagine being anywhere else but right here at His Father's business. That's another way to translate, "in my Father's house" or "in my Father's business." It's the same. Where does God's business take place? It takes place in His house. What is God's business? It's the proclamation of the Word. It's the proclamation of the Gospel, the Word of the law, and the proclamation of the Gospel through the sacrifices that point to the true sacrifice who is to come. Not the blood of bulls and goats that saves the sinner but the Lamb of God who is to come and take away the sin of the world. He's captivated there. He can't imagine not being there.
You ever get captivated with something? Sure you do. You get so busy and so intent and so wrapped up in something you forget lunch, you forget appointments, you forget to do the next thing on your list. You get so captivated you just can’t imagine being or doing anything else. Maybe that explains what happens here and why Jesus is in the temple long after His parents have left. I say long after, depending on how you count the days, once they realized they came back a day. Mary says, “We were looking for you for three days.” Or Luke says they were looking for Him for three days. It could have been as long as three days that Jesus was sitting there. And what’s He doing? What’s He doing? He is listening to the teachers of the law and He’s asking questions. He’s listening to the teachers of the law and they’re amazed, Luke says, at His grasp of what God’s Word means. He could be a teacher of the law. He could be a teacher of the law, but He’s humbly asking, He’s wanting to learn more. He’s twelve years old. He’s hearing things He’s perhaps not heard before. He’s certainly captivated by what He’s hearing and He wants to know more of what they can tell Him and what they can teach Him. He’s hungry. He’s hungry for the Word of God. You and I get antsy. You’re nervous I’m not going to quit at seven o’clock. Jesus is staying in the temple for three days. “I want more! I want more! I want more! I want more!” Jesus is captivated by the Word of God.
But the passage also shows us something else here that we need to grasp, especially as it relates to Joseph and Mary. The passage that's part of this portion of the narrative demonstrates the slow dawning realization of His unique status and their role. You see it with Mary. "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress!" Of course, He's in the last place they look. It's very interesting that they would not look there earlier than they did, but they find Him in the last place they look it seems. And He says to them, "Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" verse 50, "And they did not understand the saying He spoke to them." And this is where I ought to rail against Mary and Joseph and their hardness of heart. How could they not know? How much have they seen? How much do we long to see the things that they saw? If we saw those things and heard those things that they saw and heard we'd sure get what Jesus was saying! What's wrong with them? That would be a great sermon! Man! I could preach for another hour on that sermon.
But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is the reality of God’s ways and God’s purposes played out are easy for us to overlook and not just misunderstand but fail to understand. They are living with an extraordinary providence here. You and I don’t live with the extraordinary providence that Mary and Joseph are living with and yet we live with God’s providences. And sometimes one seems just as mysterious as another. We live with God’s providences. His ways are past finding out. His ways in our lives, the things that we stumble over day after day – why this? Why did this happen this way? Why is this circumstance so hard and why did this set of events happen this way when I so longed for and prayed for it to go this other way? We stumble and grind over God’s providences, don’t we, because they’re past finding out. Mary and Joseph, God’s unique providence in their life right now related to Jesus. It’s past finding out. Yes, they had a ton of information, but information is not always the answer. Is it? It’s not the answer in their case. They still don’t recognize what it is that He’s supposed to do because it’s not been made plain to them yet. So He says, “Why would you look for Me? Why would you not know that I would be in My Father’s house?” and they still don’t understand because they don’t have all the pieces yet.
It’s interesting what Luke says about Mary. “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” You and I don’t have all the pieces that we want. For all the questions that we have, we’ve got more questions than we’ve got answers on any day of the week. What do we do with God’s strange providences? I can promise you information is not enough. If God were to give us all the information, it’s still not enough. We treasure them. You know what that word means? It’s a real strange term. It means “keep safe.” Mary keeps those things safe. We find it, Luke says the same thing right after the birth as she’s hearing from these strange shepherds who come up to the manger in the cattle stall with the strange tale of angels and stars. Mary treasures those things. She keeps them safe. She doesn’t want them to get covered up, she doesn’t want them to get lost. She doesn’t want them to get set aside. She treasures them because in some day at some time they’ll fit.
Luke says earlier in chapter 2 when he makes that same statement about Mary, "she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." That means that she's trying to put them together. She's got pieces, she's got pieces and she's trying to put them together. That's what she's doing here. Here's another piece. She's trying to put it together. You and I have pieces – pieces that don't fit together. We can't align them. We're trying to make a puzzled look right and it doesn't work right; we don't have all that we need. We've got a piece here and a piece there and we're trying to fit them together. We treasure them, we hold them, we keep them because at some point God's going to do something and we begin to see how they come together.
Piper says something very interesting. John Piper says, “At any given time God is doing ten thousand things in our lives, and we can identify three of them.” And at some point, it’s as though He throws back the curtain and we see how all these disparate pieces find their way to come together and it’s a marvelous mosaic we never would have guessed, we never would have imagined. We never saw all those pieces coming together in such a way, in such a fashion, but God was doing that all that time, all that time. We treasure the pieces. We keep them. We don’t let anything happen to them, because God’s going to give more pieces. God’s going to give more pieces before He throws back the curtain and we see the grand mosaic that He’s been putting together all this time when we thought He’d forgotten about us.
That’s what’s happening with Mary and Joseph. They’re gathering pieces. “I don’t understand!” They’re gathering pieces and God will make it plain. You and I are gathering pieces. We have a Savior who understands that, who watched His parents struggle over the pieces. He knows how to help us. He knows how to help us as we call on Him and lean on Him. The writer of Hebrews says something very interesting and very beautiful. It means a lot to me in light of reading these verses in Luke. He says in chapter 4 verse 14, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That’s the kind of Savior we have. Because He came as a little baby and grew in a hard world to manhood, lived with His parents in submission to them – weak Joseph and weak Mary; don’t understand, “I don’t have all the pieces. I don’t know what’s going on here.” But He lives in full submission to them.
Go back and read through John’s gospel and you’ll find from the time Jesus begins His earthly ministry until the time of His passion you’re going to see ten different times He says that what He’s doing He’s doing in submission to His Father. He got a lot of good practice in Nazareth living in submission to Joseph and Mary. You and I have trouble living in submission from time to time to those who are over us, in submission to God and His will and His ways. We have a Savior who lived in submission to people who didn’t get it and to the Father whose will was His delight to do.
Father, we thank You for sending Your Son, in sending Your Son, a Savior like none other. Father, who else but You would do such? We thank You. Help us take advantage of a High Priest who’s gone through the heavens, who knows our life, who knows what it’s like to be a person, a real person, a full person, and yet who knows what it’s like to have constant communion with You, can bring our needs to You in such wonderful fashion. Lord, we love Him. We thank You for sending Him. Help us walk with Him. Hear us, as we make our prayer, Father, in His name and for His sake. Amen.
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