Boy Jesus Luke 2:40-52

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario 31 December, 2000,
by Robert Brow (

Last Sunday was Christmas eve. And we thought about the coming of Son of God to be born in our world. But Jesus did not remain for ever a little baby in a manger. Today our Gospel reading is about the childhood of Jesus and his coming of age. Let me remind you of what Paul said was involved in this taking on of human form:

"Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited., but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7) That means he became fully human, not just as a baby but in his boyhood and teenage and adult years. He experienced all that we experience. The Epistle to the Hebrews says "we have one who in every respect has been tested (tempted) as we are yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). So let's look at that from the point of view of three very typical human experiences.

First of all he took birth in an ordinary human family. Actually no family is normal. Each of our families has its own struggles. In our day there are millions of families living as refugees, and Jesus' earliest memories were of his family being refugees. To escape Herod's plan to have all the baby boys of Bethlehem killed, Jesus' parents had to flee to Egypt and live there as foreigners. And when they eventually came back to Nazareth the boy Jesus would have been mocked as a Egyptian. Some of you will remember that kind of cruel teasing.

Some of you remember the day when you discovered that your parents were not your birth parents. Jesus found out that he was adopted when Joseph had the faith to accept him as his son. Jesus also heard the village gossip that his mother Mary was pregnant before her marriage. It would be many years before he understood how he came from heaven. And when it was time for Jesus to learn the facts of life Mary had to explain that she was still a virgin when the angel Gabriel came and announced "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:34-35).

Jesus also had brothers and sisters. When Jesus began preaching in his hometown, people said, "Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" (Matthew 13:55-56). With four younger brothers and a number of sisters you can imagine the games, and fights, and upsets that occured in that big family.

Jesus was also raised with some wonderful family traditions. In his case, "Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover" (Luke 2:41). It was a very exciting annual holiday. We drive in our cars to go camping; they had a week's walk each way from Galilee and back. And Jerusalem was a big busy city compared with the sleepy village of Nazareth.

There were some awesome religious services to take part in, but the heart of the celebration was a very special Passover meal. A lamb was killed, and the family sat down to a meal that reminded them of the Exodus from Egypt fourteen centuries before. There were all sorts of dishes each with their own meaning. As part of the ritual the mother of the family had some words to recite, as did the children. Like Jesus many of you have enjoyed your family traditions this Christmas.

Secondly in our text today we have Jesus aged 12, beginning to enter his teenage years. For any boy that is a very disturbing time. All sorts of strange feelings and emotions emerged from the depths of his being. As you did, he had many questions concerning the rules and religion of his parents. In the old days a boy wanted to be a fireman or a Canadian Pacific steam engine driver. These days they want to be a jet pilot.

But Jesus longed to be a rabbi. So he loved listening to the famous teachers of Jerusalem as they taught and discussed in the temple courts. His parents found him "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47).

Young men who knew the Psalms and large parts of the Old Testament could easily be accepted in a famous school for rabbis. And so Jesus might have received a first class university education. In fact he was so excited by all this that he got left behind when his parents and their friends moved off on their way back to Galilee.

And when they came to look for him, they reproached him. "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety" (Luke 2:48). But he was now no longer a child. He was his own person, and he had new interests and a life to live. They must have found his answer very hard to take. "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" That can also be translated "I must be about my Father's business" (Luke 2:49).

A son becoming a rabbi was viewed as a great honor in any Jewish family. But Joseph wanted Jesus to learn the carpentry business. Many of you remember that kind of family decision, and because of parental pressure, or lack of money, you missed out on an opportunity to train for a good career. The words in our Gospel tell the story of that disappointment : "He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51).

This is the last mention of Joseph in the Gospels, and Jesus is referred to as "the carpenter's son" (Matthew 13:55). So he must have continued the family carpentry business when Joseph died a few years later. Meanwhile he continued his part time Old Testament studies, perhaps with the help of a local rabbi. It was only eighteen long years later at the age of thirty that Jesus was able to leave the carpentry business in the charge of his younger brothers. When he moved away to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13), he was soon recognized as qualified to teach as a rabbi, and began his ministry in the synagogues of Galilee (Matthew 9:35).

The third way in which he had the same experience as us was in dealing with his own bodily nature. From the genes of our parents we have the same kinds of instincts as a cat. There are drives for food, and self-protection, comfort, territory (we like our own space), curiosity, gregariousness, sex, nesting, and raising own children. Jesus was fully human, so he had all our usual instincts. And of course instincts were given to us, so they are not sinful in themselves, though all of us have some instincts that we find very hard to control.

But instincts cannot perfect us to love like God. We can discipline our pets, and our children, to avoid certain kinds of unacceptable behavior. Animals can be trained to do all sorts of tricks in a circus. But our instinctive animal nature does not love enemies, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, pray for others, worship God, or care about taking good news to others.

The good news of the Gospel is that in addition to our flesh or instinctive nature we can be open to the Holy Spirit to do in us what we can never do naturally, or by self-discipline. In the Gospel of Luke we are told that Jesus from his earliest days was open to the moving of the Spirit. "The child grew and became strong in Spirit" (Luke 1:80). At his baptism "the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form" (Luke 3:27). Then he was led by the Spirit through his temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1). "Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee . . . and he began to teach in their synagogues" (Luke 4:14). His first sermon in the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth began with "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18).

So in his human family life, and teenage experiences, and in his instinctive nature Jesus was very ordinary. He had no supernatural advantages that we do not have. What enabled him to create parables, heal the sick, cast out evil spirits, and teach his disciples to love, was his openness to the Holy Spirit of God. In every situation he did what Paul tells us we can do. "Those who live according to the flesh (our instinctive nature) set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). How do we set our minds on the Spirit?

There was a farmer and his wife who were given a huge satellite dish by their children for their wedding anniversary. But when someone asked them a year or two later how they were enjoying the channels on their satellite, they said "We never got round to it." Like Jesus we are all wired up to access the channels of the Holy Spirit. He has many channels to give us wisdom, understand the Bible, receive the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit, and much else. By far the most important channel is the channel that gives us the prayers that God has in mind. But if someone asked you whether you enjoy accessing the God-given channels of the Holy Spirit, what would you say? Perhaps you might have to admit "I never got round to it."

Tomorrow is New Year's day. Don't try to think up some good resolutions, which you won't keep anyway. May I suggest you try focusing on the prayer channel of the Holy Spirit. That is what Jesus did every day. He was very ordinary like you and me, but he prayed according to the will of the Father.

The year 2001 could completely transform your life. Don't say "I never got round to it," which means ignoring all that the Spirit has for you to enjoy. Learning to pray in the Spirit is very simple. Paul said "All who are moved by the Spirit of God are the children of God" and "the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how tro pray as we ought"(Romans 8:14, 26).

All you need is five minutes to begin. Turn off the television, and quieten your heart. Say "Holy Spirit please give me a prayer to pray." Very soon you will find a person's face comes to mind. Then you turn to Jesus the Son of God and say "Lord bless that person." Once you begin, you will get the confidence to access other channels of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus you will still be very ordinary, but also totally different as you are filled with the love of God.

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