After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it… from Luke 2:41-52
When our two boys were still very small we went one day to look around a garden centre. It was a big, bustling place, set on a busy main road. What happened, all in the space of a few seconds, was every parent’s worst nightmare… “Where’s Christopher?” “I thought he was with you!” “No – I thought he was with you…” Aaaargh!!!
That first note of panic quickly gave way to frenzied searching, and, mercifully, the top of a little head was soon spotted bobbing merrily along through the crowds on the other side of the place. Nina went one way, I went another, and we managed to head him off and round him up before anything disastrous happened. Massive relief all round.
Joseph and Mary knew something of that feeling – though their son was rather older than ours. Having visited Jerusalem for the Passover festival with the twelve-year old Jesus, they were heading back to Galilee with friends and neighbours when they became aware that Jesus didn’t seem to be around. They had assumed that he was in the Nazareth party (a perfectly reasonable assumption to make in the kind of society in which they lived).
But no. So back they hurry to Jerusalem. And, sure enough, there they find him. What is he doing? He is “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). When they tell him off for causing them anxiety he seems remarkably relaxed: “Surely you must have realised I would be in my father’s house? Where else did you imagine I might be?”
I wonder what it did to Joseph and Mary to hear him speak about “my father” – and to realise that it wasn’t Joseph he was talking about? Suddenly those long-ago events in Bethlehem took on a new and deeper meaning, and no doubt quite a painful one too. Did it bring especially to Mary’s mind the words of Simeon: “… a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35)? No wonder she “stored all these things away in her heart” (verse 51).
This memorable story, given to us by Luke, stands alone in the gospel narrative; it’s a full twelve years after the Christmas accounts, and some eighteen years before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s just a tiny glimpse – though certainly a very vivid one – into Jesus’ early life.
Have you ever stopped to imagine what Jesus must have been like as a small boy? as a teenager? as a pupil in the local synagogue school? as the eldest child playing with his brothers and sisters? as an apprentice in the carpenter’s workshop?
Of course, we have only our imaginations to work with, for the Bible doesn’t give us any detailed information. We must be content with speculation.
But various thoughts spring to mind. Two particularly strike me. I’ll mention one now, and come back next time to the other.
First, then: Jesus had to learn, just like any ordinary child.
We need to resist the idea that from birth Jesus knew everything – that he was miraculously endowed with supernatural knowledge. The young boy in that circle of wise teachers in the temple showed, it seems, remarkable understanding; but Luke describes him “listening” and “asking questions”. Even as a full-grown man later there was a famous incident when he declared his own ignorance on a particular matter. (Look up Matthew 24:36 if that’s got you scratching your head.)
Putting it another way, Jesus was human as well as divine. Over two thousand years the church has never fully succeeded in explaining how that can be. But it is the clear teaching of the Bible, and we need to grasp it, especially at times when we feel most keenly our own weaknesses, limitations and humanity. Jesus the man doesn’t only help us from a lofty distance. No: to quote Stuart Townend’s lovely hymn, “he walked my road and he felt my pain,/Joys and sorrows that I know so well.” Is that a truth you need to take to heart as a comfort today?
We mustn’t, of course, put ourselves on the same level as Jesus, but as we think about his human limitations, an important question arises: How eager am I to learn and to grow? Do I, like him, have an appetite for God and his word? Am I prepared to take the time and trouble to get to know the Bible, to listen to reliable teachers, to try and mature in my understanding and knowledge?
Luke plainly tells us later (verse 52) that “Jesus grew in wisdom”. Could that be said also of me?
Perhaps there’s a new year resolution there just pleading to be adopted…?
Father, thank you that the Lord Jesus Christ was fully human as well as fully divine. Thank you that at times he was, like me, weary and tired, troubled and distressed. Thank you that there were things he didn’t know, and that he had to grow in wisdom. As I think about my own many weaknesses and limitations, help me to find comfort and strength in his humanity. Amen.