If you were here last week you’ll remember that we talked about two sets of words that filled out the basic historical record of Jesus birth: two sets of words that told us amazing news about this child who was born 2000 years ago.
Jesus was not just a beautiful baby boy. He was the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one promised by God through his prophets hundreds of years before. What’s more he’s the Lord, that is, he’s God! He’s the one who’ll bring salvation not just to Israel but to all the peoples of the world. But at the same time his coming will bring division: division that is, between those who accept his rule as God’s anointed one and those who reject him, who are offended by the means of his salvation, who stumble at the thought of a saviour who’s hung on the cross as one who’s cursed by God.
Well, today we come to the third set of words that Luke has so carefully recorded for us. These words aren’t spoken by a third person about the child who’s been born. No, these words are spoken by the child himself.
Joseph and Mary, as law abiding Jews, go every year to Jerusalem for the Passover. All male Jews were expected to attend the Temple at the three major festivals each year: at Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. And this year they take Jesus with them. Jesus is just one year away from his Bar Mitzvah, his coming of age as a member of the Jewish nation so it’s time for him to begin to understand what it means to be a Jew.
Now there’s nothing particularly remarkable about their visit. They would have been just one of many such families visiting Jerusalem at the time. Luke tells us nothing about what they did. That’s not important to his purpose in writing. But what does matter to Luke is the fact that Jesus stayed behind. Our English translations have smoothed out the language for us, but here’s something like what Luke actually wrote: When he was twelve, going up to the feast and the feast having ended and they were returning, Jesus stayed behind and his parents didn’t know. For those who understand these things, he uses a string of participial phrases finishing with one main verb, "He remained" in Jerusalem. Luke wants to emphasise the fact that Jesus has stayed in Jerusalem, for three days in the end, talking with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
As we’ll see, this isn’t just a schoolboy prank. Nor is it just the absent minded behaviour of a twelve year old who’s caught up in the moment. No, this is Jesus, the Son of God discovering who he is and learning some of the things he needs to know if he’s to be about his Father’s business.
Having said that though, there is a familiar ring to the story isn’t there? If you’ve had anything to do with children you’ll have had that experience of times when friends come over and the children disappear to play outside. Or you go on a picnic and the kids all go off to explore. I seem to remember at our church picnic out at Lysterfield lake last year there were a few kids disappearing for some time and their parents having to go looking for them when it was time to leave.