Gospel: Luke 2:40-52
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
Lesson: 1 Kings 3:4-15
Psalm: Psalm 119:97-104
CLB Commentary – Dr. Gaylan Mathiesen
This is the only place in the Bible where we read of Jesus’ childhood. In the coming year he enters young adulthood, becoming a “son of the law” and thus a full member of the synagogue with all the responsibilities of a Jewish man. The setting for this life transition is the Passover, a most important festival for the people of Israel, and a fitting backdrop to this early introduction to the Lamb of God, whose shed blood “takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29 NIV).
Following the Passover, the families journey back home; one day into this journey, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was not with them. Why did it take a full day to discover that Jesus was not with them? Back then it was customary for the women and small children to start out without the men, since they had to travel more slowly. The men and older boys would start out later, traveling more quickly, and meet up with the women and children at the first night’s camp. It’s possible that Joseph thought that Jesus was with Mary, and that Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph. Perhaps also in a large caravan the parents would not miss their boy until evening, assuming he was with another family (William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, Westminster Press, 1975, p. 29). At any rate, not finding Jesus in the caravan, they began a worried search back to Jerusalem.
The text says, “after three days they found him in the temple courts,” likely meaning that the first day they traveled without missing him, the second day they returned to Jerusalem, and on the 3rd day they found him. No doubt worried for his safety, there seems to be a bit of rebuke in Mary’s words, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus’s response evidences surprise at this reaction from his loving parents. Why?
If we put a few things together, we might get a better glimpse into the meaning of this conversation between parents and child. For one thing, it was customary during the Passover season for the Sanhedrin to meet in public in the Temple court to discuss religious and theological questions publicly before any who gathered to listen. The presence of a young man like Jesus, now 12 years old and soon to be a “son of the law,” would not be considered unusual at all—thus Jesus’ participation also would not be unusual.
While Jesus apparently considered it only natural for him to be where he was, Joseph and Mary obviously were not expecting Jesus to take on this new status quite so seriously and so soon. What seemed so natural and matter of fact to Jesus was not so for them. But an even more important point to focus on here is found in Jesus’ response to them. Until now, Luke refers to Joseph as the father of Jesus, if only in the sense of Joseph’s responsibility toward Jesus in the home. And yet, in verse 49, Jesus seems to transfer that fatherly
role to his heavenly Father. This tells us that Jesus now possesses a fuller understanding of his position as the Son of God and the saving mission on which he is sent. This will be difficult for the religious to accept, eventually leading to their accusing Jesus of blasphemy.
At any rate, we see Jesus growing in his understanding of who God is and who he is. This is something that would not have been clear to him in his early childhood. Luke said that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men (v. 52). A young man of 12, he is still under Joseph and Mary’s care, thus he returns to Nazareth and is obedient to them. Apparently the Spirit too is telling him that it’s not quite yet time for him to launch out in ministry—that will come later. Still, this incident serves to foreshadow what is ahead, and again Luke says that Jesus’ mother “treasured all these things in her heart.”