Summary: Jesus comes as the Son of God so he must be about his Father’s business.
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.
In this case you can imagine this group of families from Nazareth who’ve travelled together for safety reasons, strung out along the road, kids running everywhere, parents talking about the things they’ve seen and done in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, but looking forward to getting home to more familiar and quieter surrounds. So it’s not surprising that it isn’t until they stop for the night that they realise that Jesus is nowhere to be found.
Again, you can imagine the state they were in as they hurried back to Jerusalem to look for him. They’ve walked for a day before they realised he was missing and now they have to walk back again.
When they arrive they begin the search. The implication is that they search high and low before they think of looking in the temple. Finally they find him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And here’s the first thing Luke wants us to be clear about: "All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers." Here is Jesus at the age of twelve and already he’s showing a depth of understanding of things spiritual that the theologians are amazed at. Later on, people will remark on the way he teaches with authority. The gospels are full of these sorts of expressions: "They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority" (Luke 4:32). At the end of the sermon on the mount Matthew reports: "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." (Mat 7:28-29 NRSV).