“In My Father's House”
Oh how precious little we know about our Lord Jesus Christ's early years. We have a somewhat detailed story of his nativity. We know about his early visitors, the Shepherds and Wise Men. We know he met Simeon and Anna in the temple at 40 days old. And we know he and his parents had to flee to Egypt to escape the cruelty of King Herod.
But in the 30 or so years before he began his public ministry, the Gospels are rather silent. They don't tell us much about what Jesus did, where he went, what he said. We are simply left to assume that he lived a normal life, the dutiful son of Mary and Step-father Joseph. We conclude that he would have normally learned his earthly father's vocation of carpenter. That he took care of his mother when his father died. That in all things, he was a dutiful and sin-free example of what a son should be.
And this in itself can be instructive – that for most of Jesus' life, his fulfilling of the Law for us was in the simple day-to-day doing of what he was given to do. For most of his years, he wasn't wowing the crowds with miracles and sermons, but doing simple things according to his vocation. What an example for us to learn from – that righteousness consists, first of all, in doing those every-day things you are simply called to do. And that in doing all these little things, every day, he was doing on our behalf what you and I fail to do.
And then we can say simply when Luke tells us “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom”, we learn that Jesus also learned. He was like us in every way, after all, yet without sin. So he had to learn things and gain in wisdom. He did not, it seems, make full use of that Divine omniscience that was his by right. But instead he humbled himself to do as we do, to grow and learn. This teaches us that there is nothing sinful in learning. For if being a student is good enough for my sinless savior, it is certainly a worthy vocation for me.
Nonetheless, we don't know much about most of Jesus' life. But there is this one little story, our Gospel reading today, that we have about an incident from his boyhood – at age 12. An episode that is recorded for our instruction. From it we glean some important details.
For one, it appears Jesus' family was a religious one. They made the pilgrimage from Nazareth to Galilee every year for the Passover. Just as they observed the appointed customs and rituals concerning his circumcision and purification, so they also celebrated the other appointed feasts, we assume. This annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not without some cost and inconvenience. But like many observant Jews, they remembered and gave thanks for the deliverance that their God worked for them in bringing them out of Egypt. And they looked for the promised deliverer to come, the one to whom the Passover ultimately points – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Perhaps a little ironic that they took him along with them each year.
We, too, do well to observe the customs and traditions that the church has set before us. In many things there is freedom, of course, but we honor those who have gone before us by regarding their wisdom in these things. This is why we use things like Advent Wreaths and Church Calendars, and celebrate Transfiguration and Epiphany. They are good and helpful traditions that help to teach us about our God, what he has done for us in the past, and what he does for us even today in Christ.
Yet for some, even a weekly pilgrimage to the altar of the Lord is more trouble than it's worth. For others, the force of habit may bring us here, but sin distracts and disturbs our weekly sabbath rest. Our minds drift, our grumbling old Adam grumbles about this or that. We sinners can despise God's word even as we sit in the pew! Which only means we need the word all the more.
For his part, Jesus seemed to delight to be in his Father's house. He sat there listening to the teachers and asking them questions. As he grew in knowledge and wisdom, he knew just where to find it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. And God's holy Word is the one infallible source for true wisdom. As Jesus was in the Father's House, the temple, he did what he was called to do at that age – grow and learn. And they were amazed at his answers, these scholars of the law.
But he would come back to this temple, we know, for other purposes. He would turn over tables and whip out the money changers. “My Father's house is to be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers!” He would teach in the temple, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. And he would declare about this temple, that not one stone would be left upon another.
After three days Mary and Joseph found him. And that little phrase, “after three days” reminds us of another three day temple saying of Jesus. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again”. Of course he referred to the temple of his body, which would be destroyed, for us, on the cross. And when that happened, the temple curtain would tear in two, from top to bottom, for God himself in heaven does it – showing us the veil that separates his holiness from us has come unraveled in Christ. Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day, his temple restored in glorious fashion. And when he left behind an empty tomb, the angels wondered why his disciples were looking for him, for clearly, “he's risen, he is not here.”
Mary and Joseph were looking for him, too. They didn't know where their son was! What irresponsible parents (we might say). But Luke clarifies, they were traveling in a large group with many others, probably family members from Nazareth, and so it wouldn't have been unusual for them to briefly lose track of their son. But after those three days they began to worry. They knew that had to turn back.
Looking for Jesus. There's a theme we could key in on. Where do you find Jesus? Many people are looking for him, even today. Some think to find him in their own good works, in simply following his example. Study your bible, for instance, help the poor. Listen to your parents. Be nice. You'll be so much like Jesus it's like you've actually found him!
Well if that's how you find Jesus you'll find it fairly difficult, even impossible. For not only can we not fulfill the law perfectly as he did, our Old Adam doesn't even want to. Our Old Adam would like to start Jesus on a game of hide and seek – “ok Jesus, you go hide – and I'll go have a sandwich. I don't need you and your forgiveness. I'll take care of things myself, thanks very much.”
Still others would look for Jesus in the most popular places – at the biggest churches with the slickest pastors. A Jesus of worldly success and outward blessings. A theology of glory Jesus, obsessed with victory, glory and the approval of the world. I'm sorry, you won't find that here today at Messiah. There will be no fluffy Jesus or buff-shined-shoes Jesus who tells you that your best life is just ahead of you, just think positive and keep smiling. No Jesus to make you rich with a heavenly windfall or a Jesus who promises perfect health if you'll only pray hard enough. Instead here, you will find a Jesus of the cross. A Jesus who first tells you you're a sinner. But also Jesus who suffers and bleeds and dies for sinners.
In other words, the Jesus we really need. And here is true wisdom – knowing that we need him. Knowing that what God tells us in his law is true – that we are poor miserable sinners destined for destruction. That no amount of rituals and sacrifices, even the fruit of our body can pay for the sin of our soul. That our best works are like filthy rags and our best life is still a one-way ticket to the grave. That without Jesus we are lost, lost, hopeless and destined for destruction.
But the Spirit calls to us in the word, to turn back, to repent. Like Mary and Joseph turned back to go to Jesus, don't leave God's house this day and go back to Nazareth under power of your own devices. Don't go without Jesus. He has an amazing answer for you today in whatever distress you find yourself. And that answer is his Gospel, the wisdom of God, his very self.
“Why were you looking for me?” Jesus asks. A rhetorical question, of course. “Didn't you know where to find me?”
Don't you, Christian, know where to find him?
Today we don't find him like they did in Galilee, Nazareth and Jerusalem. Nor do we find him as someone else, but only as the Jesus he actually is. But by his grace and favor, through the Holy Spirit, he finds us first. And he comes to us in his means of grace:
Find him in his word – preached and proclaimed, read and prayed and sung. Here the Living Word speaks to you, equipping you with everything you need for true wisdom and salvation. Here we, like Christ, can grow in wisdom and understanding. Here we are made dead but the cutting law, and alive by the reviving Gospel. Find Jesus in his word, for he has promised to be with us always, and always in that word.
Find him in your baptism. You were made new in those waters, washed of all the sin of your Father Adam's house, and incorporated into a new house – the house of your Heavenly Father.
And find him in his Supper. For there he most poignantly promises to be, in the flesh and in the blood. “This is it, it's me! I'm here for you – to forgive you your sins”.
May your weary and distressed soul find astonishment in the words and wisdom of the Christ this day. May you, like Mary, treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart. And may you go back on the trail to Nazareth, or wherever you are to go, and fulfill your vocations with joy. Be it student or teacher, as school starts again. Be it parent or child. Be it employee or retiree or citizen or friend.
And may you never be far from your Father's house. Here you hear and are forgiven. Here you eat and drink and live. Here the favor of God is upon you, in Jesus Christ our Lord.