Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 27, 2009

Sermon on Luke 2:42-51


  1. See his perfect love for his Father’s house
  2. See his perfect obedience to his parents’ command

 Text: Luke 2:42-51


Two days ago, Jesus was a newborn infant in Bethlehem’s manger.  Two Sundays from today, Jesus will be a thirty-year-old adult who inaugurates his ministry by his baptism in the Jordan River.  That’s quite a bit of material that we’re supposed to cover in the next two weeks!  Maybe it seems that the framers of the church year tried to skip over the details of Jesus’ early life, but the reality is that we do not have many details about Jesus’ first thirty years.  We know about his naming and circumcision on the eighth day of his life.  We know that he was presented to the Lord in the temple according to Jewish law on the fortieth day of his life.  We know that Magi from the East came to worship the toddler Jesus when he was around18-24 months old.  We know that King Herod tried to kill the toddler Jesus when he learned about the Magi’s visit, and that Jesus’ family escaped to Egypt.  We know that after the death of King Herod, Jesus’ family moved to the town of Nazareth.  But that’s about it for the early years of Jesus’ life.

Well, there is one more story.  In the Gospel for today, Saint Luke tells us about an interesting incident that took place when Jesus was a twelve-year-old boy.  Considering that we will start the Epiphany season very soon and focus on the ministry of the adult Jesus, there seems to be no better time to consider this lesson about the twelve-year-old Jesus than during these twelve days of Christmas.  So this morning we will consider what lessons we can learn about the twelve-year-old Jesus and how they apply to us and our faith.  Luke encourages us to see Jesus’ perfect love for his Father’s house, and to see his perfect obedience to his parents’ command.


A street corner evangelist was preaching to all the passers-by at a busy intersection, telling the passing pedestrians they needed to find Jesus.  As one little girl walked by, he said to her, “Little girl, have you found Jesus?”  And the little girl said, “Found Jesus?  I didn’t know he was lost.”  We all know what the street corner evangelist meant, but the little girl made his question sounds kind of ridiculous.  How does the Son of God become lost?

But as silly as it sounds, that’s what happened in the Gospel for today.  Mary and Joseph had the embarrassing distinction of losing God—not figuratively, but literally!  Mary and Joseph dutifully made an annual journey from Nazareth south to Jerusalem each year for the Passover.  (Our reading says that they went “up” to Jerusalem even though they traveled south, because the city itself was 2,500 feet above sea level).  When Jesus was twelve years old, he was able to come on the trip with his parents for the first time. 

Chances are they traveled with a group of extended family.  Luke tells us that after the Passover was finished, they headed home with a group of family and friends, with no idea that twelve-year-old Jesus decided to do what comes naturally to God—be in his house!  For one travel day, they assumed that Jesus was somewhere in their large group heading back to Nazareth.  But after the day was done, they realized that they had lost Jesus.

All kidding aside about “losing God,” Mary and Joseph must have felt like their stomach was tied in knots.  Parents know the feeling they get when their child is lost in a large crowd.  If you lose your child for just ten seconds in a crowded department store, those ten seconds feel like ten days.  So we can only imagine the awful, gut-wrenching feeling Jesus’ parents had when they had to make a return trip to Jerusalem and then hope that somewhere, somehow they would find the child that God had entrusted to them.

Three days of searching—not three minutes, not three hours, but three days.  What must have gone through their minds?  Were they blaming each other?  Were they blaming themselves?  Were they retracing their steps and trying to determine where they spoke to him last?  Were they trying to figure out how they were going to comb such a large city like Jerusalem for one preteen boy with a rather common first name?

I don’t think Mary and Joseph had completely forgotten that the child they were dealing with was also God.  I don’t think they had totally erased from memory the events surrounding his birth.  But after twelve years of parenthood, perhaps they had gotten so accustomed to life with Jesus that they forgot whom they were dealing with.  If you lose the Son of God, where would be the best place to look for him?  In church, right?  In the temple, of course!  “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished.  His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’”

Mary’s statement to her son reveals her frustration more than anything else.  Jesus had not treated them shabbily.  He only did what came naturally for the Son of God.  “‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked.  ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  His parents were astonished when they found him, but the religious teachers had been floored at the probing questions and amazing insights coming from a mere boy—and they didn’t know this boy was also God incarnate.  The whole experience shows how much love Jesus had for his Father’s house.  If Jesus had lived today, he would have picked Sunday School over the amusement park.  If Jesus had been with us for our family Christmas celebration, he would have delayed all gift opening so that he could come to services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!  How remarkable for Mary and Joseph—and us—to see Jesus’ love for his Father’s house!

If only our love for our Father’s house was as great as Jesus’ love at age twelve!  If only our problem was that we had to be forced out of church because it was time to close the building.  If only our problem was that we needed a bigger building and more services to fit everyone who wanted to worship—and not just for the children’s Christmas service, but for every Sunday.  If only our New Year’s resolutions included resolutions to stop making excuses and start getting into the Word.  If only we would stop the petty rationale that turns every party and social event into something more important than hearing the Word of God in the house of our Father.  If only we would stop compromising the Word and start taking God at his Word.  If only we loved our Father’s house and the Word preached in our Father’s house as much as Jesus loved his Father’s house—for our failure to love our Father’s house is not simply a poor choice or a bad habit.  It is the inevitable symptoms of the spiritual disease of sin that affects us every moment of our earthly lives and condemns us to an eternity of hellish death.

But the twelve-year-old Jesus shows no such symptoms of sin, because the twelve-year-old Jesus is still the eternal Son of God.  The twelve-year-old Jesus not only loved his Father’s house and cherished his Father’s Word, but he did so in your place.  So often we think that Jesus’ main work for us was his death on the cross.  I have no desire to diminish the incredible sacrifice Jesus made for you and me at the cross, but we also ought not to forget the 33 years prior to his death—including the twelfth year of his life.  Jesus loved his Father’s house perfectly, and through faith in that boy in the temple, his perfection is now yours.  Jesus’ loved his Father’s Word perfectly, and through faith in that boy in the temple, is holiness now counts for you.  That’s one lesson from the twelve-year-old Jesus that we can take home during these twelve days of Christmas.


Pastors and theologians sometimes talk about two different ways Jesus obeyed God’s will.  Pastors and theologians sometimes talk about the “active obedience” of Jesus and the “passive obedience” of Jesus.  The passive obedience of Jesus refers to the way Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, convicted, condemned, and crucified.  As true God, Jesus was in full control of the situation, even though he appeared to be passive.  On Good Friday, Jesus was passive, submitting to God the Father’s will that he endure our punishment for sin.  The active obedience of Jesus refers to the way Jesus willingly obeyed everything God’s law commands of every person.  He loved his heavenly Father perfectly and he loved every human being perfectly.  And in this little glimpse into his childhood, we see Jesus’ active obedience.  He loves his Father’s house perfectly.  But he also obeys his parent’s commands perfectly, and that is just as important to note.

Luke simply notes at the end of our account, “[Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.”  Luke is not at all suggesting that Jesus wasn’t previously obedient to his parents when he stayed behind in the temple.  If his parents had said, “Come home with us, we’re leaving now,” and Jesus had stayed in the temple, then we’d have a problem.  But his parents simply assumed that he was in their larger travel group when they left.  Now they finally find him, the drama is over, the story ends happily, and Jesus listens to his parents obediently.

Maybe you have seen an artist’s rendering of the Ten Commandments where one stone tablet has the numbers one, two, and three, and the other tablet has numbers four through ten.  If you didn’t know better, you’d say that the numbers aren’t balanced out.  But the reason many artists draw pictures of the Ten Commandments that way is because the first three commandments form one group and the last seven form another group.  The first three commandments describe the way we are to love God perfectly.  The last seven commandments describe the way we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  When Jesus stayed in the temple because of his perfect love for his Father’s house, he kept the first table of the law, or the first group of commandments.  When Jesus left the temple and obeyed his parent’s wishes, he was keeping the second table of the law, and in particular, the Fourth Commandment.

For every time we failed to listen to our parents as children, Jesus listened to his parents perfectly.  For every time we have disrespected the authorities placed over us, Jesus respected the earthly authorities placed over him even though those authorities existed because of him!  For every time we have created an excuse why we don’t need to respect parents or government or church, Jesus respected those same authorities perfectly.  This is not something you would expect from a twelve year old boy, but that’s because this isn’t any ordinary twelve-year-old boy.  This boy is also the Son of God, born for you in Bethlehem, sacrificed for you at Calvary, and reigning for you from heaven.


I suppose it would have been pretty easy to read this story of the boy Jesus in the temple and talk about the good example Jesus set for us.  Jesus loved God’s house perfectly, and so should we.  Jesus obeyed his parents perfectly, and children should do the same.  Those are not incorrect observations.  But those observations alone would miss what is so remarkable about this story.

Here is what is remarkable about that story.  A twelve-year-old boy loved nothing more in the world than to be in church, listening to and learning about the Word of God.  A twelve-year-old boy listened obediently to his parents, not once, but every moment of his whole childhood.  And the Holy Spirit has led you to believe that that twelve-year-old boy is God Almighty and your Savior from sin.  And by faith in that twelve-year-old boy, God looks into your heart, but he does not see your failure to love him and others perfectly.  He sees the holiness of the twelve-year-old Jesus replacing your sin, and he sees the blood of the thirty-three-year-old Jesus washing away your guilt.  Those beautiful truths are lessons to take home not only during the twelve days of Christmas, but every day of your life!  Amen.



  1. Thanks for the insight!! I have the oppertunity to teach this lesson to 5th & 6th grade sunday school kids this sunday.


%d bloggers like this: