Text: Luke 2:40-52
Date: Christmas II + 1/2/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
On this, the Second Sunday after Christmas, on the ninth day of Christmas, we have St. Luke’s account of Jesus the twelve-year-old boy. But it is for much more significant reasons that Luke includes this incident than merely to convey an interesting insight into the otherwise silent years of Jesus’ early days of growing from infancy to adulthood. For one thing, this account leads many to believe that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was evidently a direct source for the Evangelist in composing his Gospel. Of anyone, Luke would be the most likely to research and interview if not Mary then a close relative. It is in her reminiscence of this event some twenty, thirty or so years before that Luke discovered details supporting the telling of Jesus’ mission and the Gospel of salvation. For the details point to, almost shout how this Boy is the Son of God and came to be the Suffering Servant, the promised Messiah, and that by faith in His death and resurrection salvation is brought to everyone. In reporting the account of the twelve-year-old Jesus being lost and found by Mary and Joseph, during the Passover, in the Jerusalem temple, Luke points to the divine plan of Jesus, the Son of God, come to fulfill His true Father’s will, and to be the great Passover or Paschal Lamb by whose sacrifice He takes away the sin of the world and triumphs over death for all who put their faith in Him.
The situation was the annual journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Mary and Joseph are called Jesus’ “parents.” This, of course, becomes an important issue as Mary is reminded by her Son that, as the divine Son of God, God is His true Father. It is interesting that, though only the men were required to attend the Passover in Jerusalem, and this the first year of that requirement for the young Jesus, nevertheless it seems the whole family as well as other relatives always made the journey together.
The drama of the story concerns the return trip when they had walked “a day’s journey” only to discover that Jesus was missing. So the search began. In relating this, Luke hints, first of all, at the plight of all human beings who are lost—lost to God in their sins. Recall the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” “I once was lost but now am found.” All men remain spiritually lost until they find Jesus, or, more accurately, they discover that Jesus has found them! The Evangelist also carefully notes the three days of the search. This unmistakably points eyes and ears of faith to the three days and nights when Jesus was lost to the world after His crucifixion and burial. When Jesus asks Mary, “Why were you looking for me?” it parallels, then, the risen Lord’s question to Mary Magdalene on Resurrection morning, “Whom are you seeking?” (Jn. 20:15). “Mary treasured up all these things in her heart” especially after the death and resurrection of her Son, the Son of God, her Savior and ours.
Therefore we see this text, the near-Christmas witness concerning the early years of our Lord, as pointing us to several important facts for faith. First: Jesus’ identity as God, the divine Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. “I must be in my Father’s house” he reminds Mary and Joseph since it appears they needed reminding. Surely they had spent a little more than a decade bringing up the young Child and maybe family life was so normal that they tended to forget (as hard that may seem to be) that Jesus is the Son and gift of God the Father to the world through the operation of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary, Joseph serving as Jesus’ protector and step father. It is important, of course, that the world knows what believers acknowledge and confess, the Biblical truth that Jesus is the Son of God, “very God of very God, begotten, not made,” that is, eternally begotten, always having been but his relationship with God the Father as Son. He is so closely related to God the Father as to be “of one substance” with Him and, as God, the creator of all things. He has to be true God, as we learn and confess in the little catechism, “in order that His fulfilling of the Law, His life, suffering, and death might be a sufficient ransom for all people,” and that “He might be able to overcome death and the devil for us.”
Then there’s that little but hugely significant word “must,” “I must be in my Father’s house.” Go through Luke’s Gospel to discover and count the times you hear Jesus use the word “must” and you find that it is always involved with His destiny and goal of His passion and death in Jerusalem. For instance:
- Already in Luke 9:22 – “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
- Luke 13:33 – “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following [notice the three days!], for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”
- Luke 17:25 – (Before the last day of judgment) “first [the Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
- Luke 22:37 – “this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”
- And even after His resurrection, the angel reminded the women, Luke 24:7 – “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
- And in explanation to His disciples, Luke 24:44 – “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
So you can also see the great significance of His attending the Passover at the Jerusalem temple, because the sacrifice of the paschal lamb and the whole history of God’s deliverance from the slavery of Egypt all pointed to and would be fulfilled only in Jesus, the true paschal lamb, the suffering servant who came to deliver all mankind from the slavery of sin and death by the sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.
This is the only way we can know that this Jesus of Nazareth really is the promised Messiah or Christ: because everything written, predicted about Him in the Old Testament has been perfectly fulfilled in Him and only in Him. Furthermore, this is the only way we can know that we are saved, that our sins are forgiven, that our Holy Baptism has substance, meaning and power and that the Sacrament of the Altar, too, is more than merely a symbol, that our Lord, after he
“came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures….”
What do you think He was listening to and talking about among the teachers in the temple that day? The Holy Scriptures. “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” We’re not told what was said, but He certainly was able to put whatever they were talking about in the Bible into its proper perspective, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel (!), as pointing ultimately to the Messiah and to God’s gift of salvation by faith in that Messiah. And is this not why our struggle, even warfare in the Missouri Synod back in the 70s and of every age for the proper view of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God was and is so important? We are not free to only imagine what the various words in the Bible, quote, “mean to me,” but must [oops, there’s that word again!] must be heard as always pointing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation by faith in Him. Our study of the scriptures and need for hearing them read and preached is never done—not because the scriptures change, they don’t, but because we change and our world changes and we need to be brought back to the fundamental truth of God’s Word and will.
So, thank you, Dr. Luke, and let’s hear it for the Boy, “the child Jesus,” “the boy Jesus” whom the scriptures declare the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary,” who, as the righteous and perfect Lamb of God, became the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of the world, who opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. This is what makes this incident important and makes this, truly, a very merry Christmas!
 If Mary was fifteen years old when Jesus was born (“year zero”), that would make her about sixty-four in the year forty-nine when she is said (by the Coptic Orthodox) to have died. Luke’s Gospel was written around 58-60.