Our Perfect Brother
1st Sunday after Christmas
Our Perfect Brother
Text: Luke 2:41-52
It’s one of those perplexing stories of the Bible. The more we study it, the more questions we have rather than answers. The basics of the story are very simple: Mary and Joseph obediently followed the Lord’s instructions to travel from their home in Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Passover festival. One time when Jesus was 12, they made their annual trip to Jerusalem and when it was over they set out with their family and friends to return home. However, about a day later, they realized Jesus wasn’t with them. They returned to Jerusalem and searched for three days until they finally found him in the temple. Then Jesus returned home with them. Those details of the story are the easy part. All the questions they lead to though—that is the challenge!
First some of the easier questions. Why didn’t Mary and Joseph know Jesus wasn’t with them? Did each assume the other was with Jesus? (Parents do that sometimes.) Did they assume he was with friends or other family in their traveling caravan? Was Jesus such the perfect child that they trusted him implicitly?
Also, why did it take three days to find Jesus? Where did they think he was? Where all did they look? Why didn’t they look in the temple first? Did they really look for the Son of God at the soccer field or Toys R Us before going to the temple to look?
And here’s maybe the simplest question about this whole event: Why is this story recorded and why is it the only one about his youth? We know lots of details about Jesus’ birth. We know about the Magi visiting sometime in the first two years. But from the visit of the wise men until his ministry began at the age of 30, this is the one and only story about Jesus in Scriptures. Why? Why no other stories? Why only this story?
If the questions are starting to perplex you, just wait. We haven’t even gotten to the difficult ones yet. Try this one: Why would Jesus do this? Why wouldn’t he have told his parents what he was doing? If he was true God, wouldn’t he know how they would react with worry and concern? Was he being defiant? (But he couldn’t have been if he was perfect!)
What about Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph? It was a gentle rebuke. “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Did they deserve this response? Did Mary and Joseph really sin by not knowing where Jesus was?
Speaking of, once more we wonder why they didn’t know where he was. Would they expect anything different from Jesus? If their son was the Son of God, why didn’t they spend extra time in the temple? Why didn’t they allow Jesus to ask and learn as much as possible in the temple as often as possible?
And speaking of that, how could it be that Jesus was listening to and asking questions of the teachers? Wasn’t he God? Didn’t he know everything already? Jesus is the Word made flesh. Why would he have to ask about the Word of God, which is really his own Word?
Now we are really starting to scratch our heads in confusion. There are so many questions about this story and so few answers. It truly is one of those perplexing stories of the Bible that leaves us wanting so much more.
But maybe it’s this approach to the story that is leading us astray in the first place. As we use our rational human minds to analyze what Jesus did, our rational human minds naturally begin to wonder if this is some mistake in Jesus’ life. In other words, if we’re asking what Jesus did wrong or if Jesus did wrong, then we are coming at the story with the wrong approach. A better approach to this story is to put yourself into their sandals. What would you have done if you were in the story?
Mary and Joseph are easiest to relate to. Don’t you think you would have been parents much like that? First of all, it was likely a simple mistake that in those times and that situation they lost track of Jesus. Traveling in a caravan the women and children often went up front and the men traveled in back. Each could have easily assumed Jesus was with the other parent or any one of their other friends or family members. It is also probably safe to assume that the Son of God had proven himself quite trustworthy in his first 12 years.
But in this particular story, wouldn’t you have had similar reactions as Mary and Joseph? Clearly Mary and Joseph were worried and concerned, possibly even upset. Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Now most of us would have had words a lot stronger than that for our children, but you do get the impression that Mary and Joseph maybe felt like Jesus had wronged them.
However they felt, it is also clear that Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand everything about Jesus. Just before Mary spoke those words, it says in verse 48 that when they found Jesus listening and teaching in the temple they were astonished. Then when Jesus asked why they didn’t know he had to be in his Father’s house it says in verse 50, “But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Maybe that verse sums up Mary and Joseph well. They didn’t understand. Then again, would we? Would you have known what to expect from the Son of God? Would you have fully grasped what the promised Messiah was supposed to be doing and why? Would you have fully understood the tension between having someone who was both your son and also the Son of God at the same time? Just as you and I study this story today and we are left with piles of questions while we struggle to understand it, so also if we were in the story we would have likely had many questions while struggling to understand Jesus. If we stand with Mary and Joseph in contrast to Jesus, it reminds us how imperfect we are.
Now consider also if you were the 12 year old child in the story? What would have been your thoughts and actions? Would your parents have lost you because you were being mischievous and up to no good? When you were 12, what kinds of trouble would have you have gotten into if you went off on your own adventure? And as a 12 year old, would your first choice have been to go and study intensively at church for 3-4 days straight?
What about when Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus? How would you as a 12 year old have reacted to them? “Ugh. Come on, mom and dad! What’s your problem? I’m fine! Leave me alone! You never give me my space! All my other friends were doing it, too!” If you or I were Jesus in the story, there are any number of ways that we would have likely acted with defiance or disobedience or disrespect. So we see again that if we stand in contrast with Jesus, we are reminded how imperfect we are.
And when we come to that realization, then the story begins to make more sense. You see, the story is common enough that it could have been almost any parent or any child in the story. And yet, any parent or any child would surely have acted or reacted in this story imperfectly, with a heart that is tainted by sin and that falls far short of the glorious righteousness and knowledge that only our God has.
But that’s not the case with Jesus. Jesus did everything perfectly because he was not only true man but he was also true God. He needed to be in order to be our substitute and Savior. So now think about this story considering Jesus as true man and true God, and consider this true God-man in the story living for you. It begins to make a little more sense.
Here we have Jesus as true man, a young boy obediently going with his parents to and from Jerusalem for the Passover every year. Yet we have Jesus as true God who knew he had to prepare himself for his coming death and fulfillment of the Scriptures.
So then we have Jesus as true God who knew he needed more than anything to be in his real Father’s house—not Joseph’s house in Nazareth learning carpentry, but God’s temple in Jerusalem. Then we see Jesus as true man, trying to learn, asking questions, taking in wisdom and knowledge from the teachers. And yet we see Jesus as true God also answering questions with such understanding that he even amazed the teachers.
Then we see in the story Jesus as true man who had parents who loved him and were concerned about him. Yet we see Jesus as true God who was so focused on his heavenly Father’s business and on his mission as Savior that his earthly parents couldn’t even understand it. And then we see Jesus as true man returning with his parents to Nazareth as any 12 year old boy should. But yet we hear that Jesus as true God was obedient to his parents. And finally in the last verse we hear about Jesus growing in wisdom and stature as any true man would, yet we know that he had wisdom and maturity that only God could possess and as he grew he grew, “in favor with God and men,” which only a perfect and righteous man could do.
As we think about this story in these terms, we begin to see that it’s hard to tell and distinguish when Jesus is acting as someone who is fully human and when he is acting as someone who is fully God. But if you’re having trouble figuring that out, that’s a good thing. We can’t. Jesus’ two natures are inseparable. Once he was conceived and born Jesus became fully God and fully man, forevermore inseparable.
When we understand that, we not only understand this story but we also better understand our salvation. How could Jesus be born so humbly, live so humbly, accept persecution and rejection? How could Jesus say that the Father is greater than he is or that he doesn’t know when the Last Day will be? How could Jesus wash his disciples’ feet, suffer, be crucified, and die? Isn’t he God? Well he is, but all those things are true and could happen in respect to his human nature—because Jesus was also true man.
But how could Jesus perform all of those miracles and healings? How could Jesus teach with such power and authority and wisdom? How could Jesus resist every last temptation and sin from Satan? How could Jesus pay for all sin with one death? How could he rise from the dead as if death and the devil had no power over him? How could he ascend into heaven and rule and reign at the Father’s right hand? Isn’t he true man? Well he is, but all those things are true and could happen in respect to his divine nature—because Jesus is also true God.
The story of the boy Jesus in the temple is one little snippet from his entire life and work. It’s also the only story we know over a 28 or 29 year period of his life. But that’s okay. The story of the boy Jesus in the temple is just one more example that Jesus is Our Perfect Brother. Jesus is our brother in every sense of the word. He took on human flesh and became one of us. He was fully human in every way living under God’s laws and demands. He even died as you and I are destined to because of sin. Yet Jesus is also our perfect brother because unlike us he lived a fully righteous and holy life. He obeyed all of God’s laws and demands without fault or failure. He even died an innocent death which by his divine power he used to defeat the devil and pay for all sins of all time all at once.
See Jesus in the story for who he is today. He is true God and true man. He is Our Perfect Brother, our perfect substitute, our perfect Savior.