Technology has changed the way children respond to a camera. Not too long ago, one might have expected timidity, but now with video cameras in cell phones, children pose and smile like they are headed for Hollywood. When particularly cute, their pictures go viral and the world marvels. When we think of the childhood of Jesus, we find ourselves wanting. No videos exist to convey whether he was cute or clever. A small picture is found in the writings of Luke (2:40-52). Though brief, that glimpse was very significant to Jesus’ mother Mary and to Luke, who preserved it for us.
It is an account of the young Jesus who willfully chose to stay in Jerusalem to spend time with his heavenly Father. According to Mary’s recollection, he ended up conversing with scholars and teachers. All were impressed. Mary was anxious and upset.
The life context of this incident is telling. Jesus grew up in a God fearing home where Scripture governed life. Luke tells us that the family went to Jerusalem yearly for the Passover feast. Jesus grew up knowing the central place of spiritual devotion in his family life. That annual trip shaped his consciousness providing structure and guidance. No doubt it was part of a routine that included the weekly observance of the Sabbath and daily religious instruction from his mother. Eventually synagogue schooling would be included alongside his duties as a carpenter’s son. Compare that to the habits that shape modern family life. A boy at the age of twelve will reflect family priorities. No doubt Jesus did. That reality brings momentum to the present story.
Notice that verses forty and fifty-two mirror one another. Jesus “grew and became strong, he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him (NIV).” You can hear Mary telling that to Luke. Motherly affirmation followed the story as well: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” That is the context we need for understanding Luke’s point. We readily relate to Mary’s anxiety over her twelve-year-old’s safety and provision. Her questioning of Jesus is so very human. Yet, she ultimately recognized that her boy Jesus was given wisdom, grace and goodness by his heavenly Father. Every man could see that. Hence she treasured even this anxious moment in her heart.
Now, in the light of that, take note that this incident is the earliest recorded willful decision that Jesus made as the Son of God in our flesh. It also gives us the earliest recorded words spoken by Jesus. How it was that Jesus chose to stay behind and seek his place in the temple, we are not told. But the boy Jesus was growing in wisdom. Things were happening which revealed his heart and longings even at the age of twelve. He clearly embraced his unique relation to his heavenly Father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house – the temple, the place where his heavenly Father was worshiped.
This childhood story serves several purposes. First, it challenges us. If a twelve year old can recognize the importance of our heavenly Father, shouldn’t we? Secondly, it instructs us. Jesus’ unique identity as the son of God consciously engaged his decision making even as a child. His teaching as an adult was consistent with his life as a child. The Father’s will was the end for which he lived. Thirdly, it humbles us. Mary thought of Jesus as her son. Certainly a mother would be expected to do just that. We parents think of our children as if they were really ours. When they become adults, we realize we were confused. We were only serving greater purposes. They too have a heavenly Father. His interest is that our children would “love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and strength.” So Jesus did! That is the picture that Luke gives us from Jesus’ childhood. It is a beautiful picture, don’t you think? It is a picture that is still going viral!
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the February 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.