When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they didn’t understand what he meant. Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart. Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people. Luke 2:39-52 NLT
In this passage we find the last mention — albeit indirectly — of Joseph’s role as the guardian father in the life of Jesus.
In the Christmas narratives we learned that Joseph was a “righteous” man, meaning that he would have some standing within the religious community and would have held a position of authority in the synagogue of Nazareth.
Jewish law demanded that all adult male Jews who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem attend the Passover Celebration every year. Those men who lived outside this radius were expected to try to attend at least once in their lifetime.
But here we note that Joseph took his young family to the Temple every year, despite the fact that Nazareth was over ninety miles from Jerusalem and the one-way journey would take about a week traveling on foot!
The event described by Luke is significant in that Jesus was now twelve and would be “bar mitzvah”, “a son of the commandment”. In all legal senses, he was now a man, responsible for his own actions under the law. This status allowed him to participate in Jewish religious ceremonies in his own right, rather than as a minor child under supervision of his parents.
Those of us who are parents know that our concern for our children never leaves us, and the thought of a pre-teen fending for himself alone in a big city teeming with strangers for three days would certainly be cause for trepidation!
We must not think that Joseph and Mary lacked responsible parenting skills, however.
Since women and children of necessity traveled slower than the men in a traveling party, it was customary for them to start the journey home ahead of the men folk and everyone to catch up at the first evening’s overnight stop. It’s easy for us to imagine the growing sense of panic when the words “I assumed he was with you” made Jesus’ absence plain. Mary would have assumed that Jesus was asserting his new manhood and traveling with Joseph, and Joseph would have assumed the man-child was traveling with his mother.
The reason Jesus was found in the temple was because it was the custom at Passover for members of the Sanhedrin to give lectures and take questions in the temple precincts.
We should not have a picture of a precocious twelve-year-old Jesus lecturing the old men of the establishment, rather he was “listening and asking questions” which was exactly what the session was intended to do. However, the questions he was asking made it plain that he had a level of understanding far beyond his peer group.
It is here that Mary asks Jesus why he has done this to them because she and Joseph were frantic with worry. Jesus answers that they should not be surprised that he was in his Father’s (not Joseph’s) house. He had figured out what his true status and purpose in life was, but it is rather lovely that despite this new-found knowledge, he willingly returns to Nazareth and is “obedient to them”, working in the family business and participating in the social life of the town.
Even at this early age, Jesus did not use his supernatural nature for his own benefit, but in a pattern that repeats and continues, he sacrifices his own will for that of his true father. He would continue in obscurity living and working in Nazareth for another eighteen years before the beginning of his ministry.
As the fourth doctrine of The Salvation Army succinctly states, “… in the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united, so that He is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.”
He did everything in his power to live a normal human life and identify with me!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black