Sunday, January 16, 2011

His Father's House and Business

Texts: Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 2:40-52

IMAGINE FOR AWHILE THAT you're Mary of Nazareth. One day the angel Gabriel encounters you with the news that you, yes, you are going to bear the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. You spend six months with your cousin Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant in her old age. Your husband-to-be Joseph is told in a dream that the Baby you're carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Then the Baby is born, and before you have a chance to shake your head over the less-than-ideal circumstances, a band of shepherds appears and tells you a whole host of angels had told them to come and find your little Jesus, because He is the Saviour of the world. Forty days later, you go to the Temple to dedicate Jesus in obedience to the law, and not one, but two prophets come up and announce that your Infant is Israel's promised Redeemer. Then you return to Bethlehem for awhile, and one day, magnificent Magi appear from miles to the east, bow down and worship your Child, and give Him lavish gifts.

I think you'd be convinced that your Child Jesus was unique among children, and not just the way all mothers think their children are unique. You'd understand pretty thoroughly that He had a special relationship with God and that God had given Him a particular mission and purpose in this world. Even when you have to flee to Egypt because King Herod is after Jesus to kill Him, that'd just go to prove that your Son has a prodigious role to play in the history of nations and men.

But eventually you and Joseph return from Egypt and resettle in Nazareth. You get back to your everyday lives. And the other babies start coming: James, then Joses, then Judas and Simon. And two or three sisters for Jesus, too. You don't have time these days to ponder how divinely special your Firstborn is or marvel over His relationship to the Lord Most High. In fact, you get to taking for granted what an obedient, trustworthy, helpful kid He is. "Never a bit of trouble out of Jesus," you say to the neighbors, when you think about it at all. "I wish all the children were like Him." But it's been a long time since you've considered why there's no way they could be. Jesus is just the good kid every mother thinks she has.

Meanwhile, every spring you leave all the kids with their grandparents and you and Joseph go up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. As a woman, you aren't legally obligated to go, but Joseph as a Jewish adult male is. And this year, Jesus has reached His twelfth year and become a bar mitzvah-- a son of the covenant. He's now a man under the Jewish Law, and He comes with you to celebrate the Feast, too. You travel in a great cavalcade of friends and relatives from Nazareth and the surrounding villages, singing the Psalms of Ascents and praising God. At last, you and your husband and your Firstborn stand in the crowd in the Temple courts as the Passover lamb is sacrificed, and you're filled with awe at how God saved His people from slavery in Egypt so long ago.

Do you stay for all for the Passover and for all seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Probably not. Jerusalem is expensive, and work is waiting back home.

So you, Mary, leave the house where you've lodged and start out ahead with the other women and the little children. It's a chance to catch up on all the news, and you're sure Jesus is safe with His father Joseph. They'll be with the men, who bring up the rear.

But that night you make camp, and rendezvous with your husband. You say, "Joseph, where's Jesus? I thought He was with you."

Joseph says, "I thought He was with you!"

You ask friend after friend, relatives after relative, if they've seen Him. No one has. You begin to get worried, and having to spend the night not knowing makes it worse. Jesus has never caused a problem like this! Where can He be?

At first light, you and Joseph head back south to Jerusalem, seeking and inquiring among all the pilgrims who're heading back north. "Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen our Son?"

Your anxiety grows. You reach the capital. Could Jesus be seeing the sights? Maybe He wanted to see the Roman soldiers drill at the Fortress Antonia. Could He have been drawn away by the excitement of the marketplace? In yourself you cry, "Oh, Jesus, Jesus, how could You of all my children do such a thing to me! Where are you? My heart is about to break!"

Finally, the two of you exhaust all the places where you think a smart, curious twelve-year-old boy is likely to be. Then one of you says, "Where haven't we looked yet?"

"We've looked everywhere!"

"What about the Temple?"

Together you hurry up the hill to Mount Zion. But this time you aren't singing psalms, your words are a jumble of panic and hope. You enter the Temple courts, and there on the terrace you see the gathering where members of the Sanhedrin are teaching during these last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The listeners seem very excited. There is a rumble of sage old voices, and then, right out of the midst of those venerable scholars, you hear an adolescent voice raising a question. A familiar voice. The voice of your Son Jesus.

Jesus! You and Joseph simply do not care who those teachers of the law are, Gamaliel or Hillel or Joseph of Arimathea or the high priest Annas himself. You rush right in and there, sitting respectfully among them, is your Son Jesus. All around, you hear the learned men murmuring, "Amazing child! Remarkable young man! Such wisdom, such understanding! Such insightful answers to all the questions put to him! Would scarcely believe it if I weren't hearing it myself. Amazing!"

But that doesn't make you feel any better. You are overcome with astonishment at where your Boy is and what He's done. You look at Him and exclaim, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Look, so anxiously your father and I have been searching for you!"

And that firstborn Son of yours, that Child who never caused you a bit of trouble in His life, replies simply and very respectfully, "Why were you searching for Me? Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?" But it's been a long, long time since the angels and the wise men, and neither you nor Joseph can make head or tail of what Jesus could possibly mean. But He comes along with you obediently, and after this He is again the obedient, dependable, willing Son He always was-- if He had ever been anything else. And you, Mary, store up this incident in your heart, trying to work out what it means. It's only years later, after your Son has died and risen again, that you fully understand why you should have sought Him first in the Temple, His Father's house, and why He was so careful-- and so right-- to remind you and Joseph who His true Father really was.

"Why were you searching for Me? Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?" These are the first words of our Savior that we find recorded in Scripture, and we must consider them spoken in wonder and even disappointment. You do not search, either anxiously or not, for something that is in exactly the right place. You go directly to that place and get it. After twelve years Mary and Joseph should have known that Jesus' place and business was in the house of God. And as much as He was their son in human reckoning, even more He was and is the Son of His Father in heaven. It wasn't Jesus' purpose on this earth that He should live out His life as Jesus bar Joseph, the good and godly carpenter of Nazareth, building houses and mending broken tables and chairs. No, He came to earth to be the Jesus the Christ, to shed His blood to build up the house of His Church and to make sin-destroyed lives whole and new.

If Mary and Joseph could forget Who Jesus was and what He came for, how much more the rest of humanity down through history! You've heard what is made of Him, by unbelievers and by those who claim to be Christians alike. They say, "Jesus is primarily a great moral Teacher." Or, "He died to show us how much God loves us and how we should love one another." Or, "He came to be our Good Example for how we should live."

Friends, these ideas about Jesus seem really attractive and possible. But all of them make Him out to be the same thing Moses and the prophets were. They're about what we have to do to make ourselves acceptable to God, about Jesus somehow helping us keep the Old Testament Law, which is summed up in love to God and our neighbor. We didn't need the death of the incarnate Son of God to teach us that! We've known about morality and the love of God and right living for millennia! A purely human prophet would have done to remind us of all that.

But the Man Jesus was and is no less than the divine Son of God, come in human flesh to save us sinners and reconcile us to God. From His earliest youth He knew who His true Father was, and from His earliest youth He had a hunger and thirst for the word and counsel of God. Heeding God's word and counsel would eventually take Him to the Cross to die for your sins and mine, for that was the predestined goal of the Christ who was to come. Let us never get so used to Jesus that we make Him mundane and comfortable and merely human. To take Him for granted like that is to miss the new life He won for us in His blood, and all the blessings He came to give.

The scholars and teachers those three days at the Temple could well be amazed at Jesus' answers and understanding. If they'd only known it, He was giving the first proofs that He was the Messiah promised by the prophets of old. As Isaiah says,

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of power,

the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

Among the teachers we see the Boy Jesus overflowing with wisdom and understanding; and in His answer to His earthly parents we see how above all He delighted in the fear of the Lord. Later on, the writer to the Hebrews would say that Jesus, "for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." From His earliest awareness He knew who His true Father was, and when the time was right, Jesus grew to understand that He had come to seek and save the lost, and to give up His life as a ransom for many. Jesus' focus on God's will for Him was total, even from His boyhood.

It is God's will for us that we be found in Christ, washed in His blood, clothed in His righteousness, enjoying His peace, focussing on His will, and delighting in the fear of the Lord. As His redeemed people, we now are able to follow Jesus' example as we choose our priorities in life and decide whom we will serve. When we know-- "know," mind you, not merely "feel"-- that any earthly authority is exalting itself above the revealed will of God as recorded in the Scriptures, we must obey God rather than man. And if our love for any human being-- parent, child, sibling, or spouse-- becomes an idol that takes the place of our love for God, that human idol must be dethroned, as much for that person's sake as for our own. God and His will for our lives must come first, as for Jesus they came first.

Jesus' place and business were in His Father's house. In Him, ultimately, our place and business are there, too. Wherever you go, whatever you do, study to be found in Him, living joyfully as a child of His heavenly kingdom. You belong in the salvation, love, and peace of the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ. May anyone who seeks your heart always find you with Him there, filled with His Spirit, expressing His wisdom, walking in His counsel, and delighting in the fear of the Lord. Not through your own works or virtue or strength, but through the finished work, the divine virtue, and the inexpressible power of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, to whom be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

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