There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And Mary treasured up these things in her heart.
In Luke 2, there is a story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John. And the story begins like this: There were some shepherds out in some field keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, suddenly there appeared to them one angel with these words, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior [one who is mighty to rescue], who is Christ [the Messiah, God’s promised king] the Lord [the almighty God]. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then every angel of heaven appeared singing these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:8-14).
So, the shepherds all agreed that now was the time to get to Bethlehem, the city of David, to see this thing which has happened. It was there that they found Mary and Joseph and a baby lying in a manger. When the shepherds looked at him lying in a manger they then shared the good news of great joy told to them out in that field. And Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (2:15-19).
In Luke 2, there is another story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John.
His Parents Went to Jerusalem
And the story begins like this: His parents went to Jerusalem. His parents went to Jerusalem every year. And his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41). Why? In Exodus 12:24, God gave a command that the Passover be remembered forever. Several times in the Bible God emphasizes how important it is to him that the Passover not be forgotten (Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). The Feast of the Passover is about remembering that God is mighty to rescue. He is mighty to rescue from every bondage; he is mighty to rescue from every oppression; he is mighty to rescue from all that which enslaves; he is mighty to rescue from all that which so easily entangles. He is mighty to rescue from sin.
But this is not the first time his parents went to Jerusalem. In Luke 2:22-40, when he was several weeks old, his parents went to Jerusalem and took him with them. It was to dedicate him, his entire life to the Lord. Why? In Exodus 13:1-2, God gave a command. “The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”” Why? Listen to the very next verse. “Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten”” (13:3).
Do you see it?! Twice in Luke 2, his parents went to Jerusalem. Why? When he was just several weeks old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. And when he was twelve years old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. But why did they take him when he was twelve years old? Or, why is Luke telling us about when they took him when he was twelve years old? His parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. And certainly this was not the first time that Jesus went to Jerusalem for this feast. It is implied that you would have your son with you at this feast every year. “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Exodus 12:26-27).
So, why not tell the story of when Jesus was five or seven or eleven years old at the Feast of the Passover? It is partly because at twelve years old in another year Jesus would become “a son of the commandment,” bar mitzvah, and be a full member of the religious community. And so on this trip Jesus would accompany Joseph to pick out and purchase the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. Jesus would accompany Joseph to the temple and watch as this lamb would be slaughtered on behalf of the family. Jesus then would accompany the lifeless, sacrificial lamb along with Joseph (maybe Jesus carried the lamb) back to the family’s tent to prepare the evening Passover meal. In 20 years, Jesus would be back in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. And then as a man of sorrows. Then as one despised and rejected. Then as one from whom men hide their faces. Then as one pierced for our transgressions. Then as one crushed for our iniquities. Then as one who would bring us peace. Then he would be led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And Jesus Stayed Behind in Jerusalem
But as this story progresses, Luke quickly tells us that when the feast was over Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents along with their extended families and friends and acquaintances, all made their way back to Nazareth together. Each were in a hurry to leave ahead of the massive crowds, the holiday traffic. And so after about a day’s journey away from Jerusalem, his parents realized that Jesus was nowhere to be found. He was not with Joseph. He was not with his mother Mary. He was not with his cousins. He was not with Uncle Zechariah or Aunt Elizabeth. He was not in the front of the caravan or in the back of the caravan (2:43-44). Where was he?
Joseph and Mary were a day’s journey away when realizing that Jesus was left behind. And so they make their way back to Jerusalem, another whole day’s journey. It has now been two days that Jesus was left alone in the big city. His parents make it back to Jerusalem (this now the third time in Luke 2 his parents went to Jerusalem). They spend a day looking for Jesus. My guess is that they first looked in the last location in which they saw Jesus. He was not there. He was not at the playground. He was not in any of the stores. He was not in any of the restaurants (2:45-46). Where was he?
Three days of panic. Three days of worry. Three days of no sleep. Then it was realized there was one place no one thought to look. But why look there? Why would he be there? Joseph and Mary search the temple. Twelve year old Jesus is found…sitting among the teachers. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them, asking them questions and himself being asked questions. And twelve year old Jesus is giving answers. These trained Bible teachers are asking for and listening to his answers (2:46-47). And what is it all about? What is the discussion and the questions and the answers all about? It is all about the glorious revelation of God.
And I know what some are thinking. Of course! Jesus, even at twelve years old, had the answers. Jesus has always had the answers! Jesus always has the answers! Jesus is the answer! But there is more to it. The Bible tells us that when God put on flesh, conceived in a womb and grew for nine months there, he humbled himself by becoming one of us (Philippians 2:6-7). And yes, he was God. He has always been God and will always be God. And yes, being God Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful) and Jesus is omnipresent (everywhere at all times) and he is omniscient (all knowing). But when he became a man, he set aside his absolute right, as God, of their absolute use. He chose instead to experience every bit of what it means to be human. In this context, it means that he had to learn as we learn. He had to learn how to read and how to write. He had to learn math and the sciences. And so here he is at twelve years old, asking questions and growing in his understanding as a man.
I thought that this was such a great insight to share: if Jesus sought out teachers, listened, asked questions, and gave answers about the things of God, how much more ought his people be seeking out teachers and listening and asking questions and giving answers about the things of God? It is a zeal to tackle the glorious revelation of God in the Bible and understand it. So, find a teacher who loves the whole counsel of God; listen to him/her; ask questions; keep asking questions until it begins to all fit together; and be asked questions and give your answers.
I Must Be in My Father’s House
But what were his parents feeling? Each, both Joseph and Mary were entrusted with raising and protecting God the Son. And they thought they failed. Is this the pain Simeon told Mary about? It is a thought that must have exploded in Mary’s mind. And so when they find him, it is no surprise that Mary says, “Son! Why would you do this to us? Why were you not with us? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in tremendous turmoil and pain [great distress]” (2:48).
Now listen closely to Jesus’ answer. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In the moment that Jesus was found asking questions and answering questions, he asks his parents a question. No; he did not intend to cause them pain. But I do think it is a small reminder of things to come, a greater hurt to come for Mary. No; Jesus was not disobedient or disrespectful. The Bible says that Jesus was and is absolutely sinless (cf. John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
Instead, I think that this moment, this story was for his parents. Jesus in that question is revealing to them that he knows exactly who he is; he is God the Son. He knows the mission. And he absolutely values the company of His Father more than anything else. Initially, they do not understand what he is saying (2:50). And it makes us just ask, in twelve years did the words of the angels to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of the shepherds to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of old man Simeon and old woman Anna fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? Are there things fading or becoming obscure to me?
But notice what happened next. Jesus returns with his parents to Nazareth and he continued to be obedient to them (2:51). And he continued to grow and mature and be filled with wisdom. He grew in the knowledge of God’s grace and people liked him! But Mary took this particular moment when Jesus was twelve years old, although at the time she did not understand it, and “treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51).
I think this story was for them. When asked, possibly by Luke, it was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood Mary shared. It was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood that God chose to be written down and heard and remembered forever. Mary did not understand it, but treasured it! Why?! It is because the big point is to understand more of God than I already know. The busyness of life can so easily overwhelm. In that busyness the things of God can grow strangely dim.
There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And that which is to keep us from tottering over is the every day pursuit to know and understand more of God than I already know.