Good morning, Friends!
It’s time for us to move on from Christmas. But before we do, I want to look at a period we hardly ever think about. It’s that time between when Jesus was born, and the time when we really meet him again 30 years later as an adult.
We know from the Bible that Jesus spent some time in Egypt when he was a baby. His parents had to flee for their lives.
We also know that Jesus spent his childhood in a poor village called Nazareth in the north of Israel.
We think that Jesus’ father Joseph was a humble tradesman – the Greek word in the Bible is teknon, which could mean a carpenter, or a repair man, or a contractor. Whatever, his father worked with his hands.
But the only hard evidence about Jesus’ childhood, is in the story from the gospel of Luke that I want us to read together this morning.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
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.”
“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.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
– Luke 2:41-52
There are a lot of different ways you can take this story. If we had been Mary or Joseph in that situation, we would have been going crazy. And if any of us had been Jesus in that story, we would have been grounded!
It says that Jesus’ family went every year to the festival in Jerusalem. That means they were devout. They kept the traditions. They followed the Jewish law. It also means that Jesus was familiar with Jerusalem. He visited the city every year as a child, so he knew the city pretty well later on as an adult.
In Jewish tradition, between twelve and thirteen years old is when a child is considered to be an adult. It’s when boys and girls officially become bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, which means a “son or a daughter of the commandments”.
Children at that age still have a lot more growing up to do, but that’s when they’re considered old enough to understand things, and take adult responsibility for their actions.
You hear a lot about how kids today are pushed too hard, about how children are exposed to things and have to make decisions that they shouldn’t be expected to make.
Well, I think children should be protected. And I think children shouldn’t be exposed to a lot of things. But I also think that we need to expect more of our children, even when they’re as young as twelve and thirteen. Kids can understand right and wrong. Kids can stand up for what they believe.
Anyway. During the Passover festival, religious teachers would come out of their homes and classrooms. They would come to the Temple, and find a corner, or a place on the steps, or an unoccupied place in the court yard.
And they would hold question-and-answer sessions for everyone who wanted to come and hear them. This was so that all the people who had come to Jerusalem for the festival could learn, and so that they would be excited about questions of religion.
When the rest of his family and neighbors were all headed for home, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. When his parents found he was missing, they were frantic. I would have been hysterical, if one of my kids were lost by themselves in the big city.
Then it says, after three days of searching all over Jerusalem, they found Jesus in the Temple, sitting with the elders and the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And everyone who listened to him was astonished at how much he understood, and at the answers he gave.
Now there, for most people, is the whole point to the story. “Wasn’t he an amazing little boy?” they say. “Wasn’t he special? Even when he was just twelve years old, he already acted just like a Savior!”
Maybe so. But I always want to know is, “What questions might Jesus have been asking?” Did you ever think about that? Do we ever try to put this story together with the person that Jesus eventually became?
You see, later on, Jesus became a teacher. But the way Jesus taught, wasn’t by lecturing. Jesus challenged people to find answers for themselves.
Over and over, Jesus would start by telling a story. And then he’d say, “What do you think? What do you think God’s kingdom is like? What do you think we should do? How would you handle this problem? Would you heal this person? Which prayer do you think God answered? Who do you think went home right with God?”
Jesus always asked questions. “Have you ever seen faith like this? How would you feed this big hungry crowd?”
I think it all comes back to this story from Jesus’ childhood. He was asking questions right from the start.
Jesus said, later on,“Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. . .” Notice he didn’t say child-ish. He said child-like – like a child. Only people who are able in some important way to become like children again can enter the kingdom.
And I think that maybe entering the kingdom of heaven has to do with asking some of the same questions that children ask, and being just as stubborn about getting the answers.
Have you ever had kids yourself? The Number One question for kids is always “Why?” Kids ask it all the time, and they ask it whether you’re ready to give them an answer or not.
“Why do people get old? Why do bad things happen? Why doesn’t that other person like me?”
Right? Children are always asking questions like that. It’s that simple, direct, childlike asking “Why?” that marks so many of Jesus’ questions as an adult.
Why can’t people get along? Why can’t people forgive each other? Why do people suffer? Why do people pray and nothing happens?
Those are childlike questions, but they’ve got to be answered. And maybe if we ask those questions ourselves, we’ll be more like Jesus.
The subject of our questions doesn’t have to be easy. We can ask questions about all kinds of hard and difficult things. But the simplicity and the directness and the persistence makes a question childlike.
You only have to listen to the questions Jesus asked as an adult to agree.
“Why should people have to be so limited and joyless on the Sabbath? Didn’t God make that seventh day as a day of rest, as a day of refreshment, as a day of joy? Why can’t people be healed and fed on that day?” Jesus got into a lot of trouble for asking questions like that.
Or, “Why would you only stone the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? What about the man? Wasn’t he caught, too? And why stone them at all? What about all that stuff where it says that God loves mercy? Huh?” Jesus got in trouble for that one, too.
The other question children always ask, besides “Why?”, is, “What if?. . .” And I’m sure all of you recognize that one, as well.
“What if God really wants us to stop fighting, and give up going to war? What if people really shared things with each other? What if people really tried to follow God?”
Questions like that, which any child can ask, are the ones that really bother us. The really important questions in life aren’t the complicated ones, or the subtle ones. They’re the simple ones.
The people who win Nobel prizes are the people who ask simple questions that nobody ever asked before. And they pursue those questions with a level of persistence that sets them apart from the rest of humanity.
Jesus did the same thing. Jesus asked questions that nobody could answer, like, “Who can forgive sins? What’s it going to profit, if you win the whole world, and lose your soul? Do you really want to be healed? When are you going to turn your life around?”
In this scene in the Temple, in this morning’s gospel reading, we’re getting a first look at the kind of questions Jesus would be asking for the rest of his life.
“Does God really want us to try to get revenge? You’ve heard people say, `An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. . .’ But does God really want people to be like that? If people always try to get even and tear each others’ eyes out, won’t everybody be blind? Don’t we all need healing, and mercy, and forgiveness?”
Sometimes questions like that can save people. Sometimes the simple, direct, persistent questions Jesus asks are what turn us around.
And then there’s that line at the end of the story, the one where Jesus says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Just as this story is our first glimpse of the kind of questions Jesus would later be asking, so in the same way this story is our first glimpse of the kind of relationship Jesus felt he had with God.
Jesus saw the Temple – this enormous, awe-inspiring, building that took two generations to construct, which was literally covered with gold and precious stones – Jesus saw the Temple as simply, “My Father’s house. . .”
Later on, Jesus saw any place where people gathered to pray from the heart, or any place where people are reconciled with each other, as a place where God was present.
When Jesus prayed, he didn’t begin his prayers with words like, “Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of the Universe, Unreachable and High Above All Human Thought. . .” Jesus never said anything like that.
Instead, he taught us to pray by saying, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is done in heaven. Give us today the bread that we need. Forgive us, even as we forgive each other. Please don’t let us be put to the test. Deliver us from evil. Amen. . .”
That is the kind of relationship Jesus had with God — God was his heavenly Father, just as Mary and Joseph were his earthly family. He lived with them in the family’s home in Nazareth, but he also knew that he had another home – which was his Father’s house.
I’d like us to try to have that same sense of comfort and belonging when we come here to worship. You’ve all got a home. But this is your Father’s house. This is where your brothers and sisters in Christ hang out.
I’d like us to feel, as Jesus did, that we don’t just have one group of people, who we call our family. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, is my mother, and my sister, and my brother. . .”
Jesus didn’t draw lines of nation and color. He never refused to help anyone who came to him. As people say around here, “Jesus never knew a stranger.”
I’d like us to feel, as Jesus did, that all of us truly have one Father, and that God’s business is our business. When we do that, we will be entering the kingdom.
And for me, church is a place where it’s all right for people to ask any question. Any question at all, whether it’s philosophical, or practical. Whether it has to do with the beginning and end of the universe, or whether it’s about why someone is hurt or lonely or scared in the middle of the night. Any question at all.
I’d like us to be able to bring the same kind of questions, and to have the same kind of trust that Jesus had, when we pray.
- Can we change things?
- Is this right, or wrong?
- Do we have to believe that? Who said so?
- What is God calling me to do today?
- How do I know that it’s God’s voice?
See, questions open up a whole new world for us. I think we should be asking more of them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – not of me, not of each other, not even of God.
God is the Spirit of truth. For God, there are no wrong questions, just wrong answers.
God knows what’s in our hearts – the searching, the hope, the faith we want to have.
Questions are a lot like prayers. God can handle them.
Try asking the questions that Jesus asked. And see if you get some of his answers.
Let’s take all this into our quiet prayer time.