As you were raising your children, did you have moments when you saw traits or behavioral patterns in them that caused you to ask, What do we have here?
At the age of five, one of our grandsons memorized the liturgy in our Lutheran Book of Worship. He loved to play church where he was the pastor and his siblings (or whoever else he could corral) were the congregation. He preached so hard he had voice problems that made it necessary for his mother to take him to the doctor. He was limited from preaching until his vocal cords were healed.
He was also interested in the hymns of the church. One Friday at lunch he asked, “Grandpa, what hymns are we singing today?” I told him that one of the songs was My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.
He then asked, “There are two melodies to this hymn. Is it number 293 or 294?” Listening to this five-year-old child caused many of us to ask, What kind of a mind does this child have? In a much greater way this was the question that puzzled Joseph and Mary as they raised Jesus.
We know little about Jesus’ early life. In the Apocrypha (early Christian writings that are not included in our Protestant Bible) there are some stories about Jesus’ childhood that are of great interest, but not verifiable. So there is little authentic information to make us better informed on Jesus’ early days. This raises the question, When in those thirty-three years that he lived on earth did Jesus come to the full realization that He was both God and man? When did His nature awaken to a full comprehension of His true identity? Because these questions interest people who want to learn more about Jesus, the visit of Mary, Joseph, and the twelve-year-old Child to the temple gives us important information.
Before Jesus was born, Mary had received some disturbing news from an angel: “The Holy Spirit will be upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you so that the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Mary responded, “I don’t understand what is happening to me, because I am a virgin. But I am the Lord’s servant and I yield to His will.” Now, when Jesus was twelve, she had other questions.
Luke tells us that every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, they took Him along for this religious festival. After the feast was over, they started for home. The travelers made the journey in groups for security reasons. William Barclay, a Biblical scholar, tells us that the women sometimes started before the men since they did not walk as fast. In the evening, when the group had assembled, Mary must have asked Joseph if Jesus was with him. Joseph told his wife that he had assumed Jesus was with her. After a search of their group, they concluded that their son must still be back in Jerusalem.
The two nervous parents lost no time. Soon they were on their way back to Jerusalem where they searched for three days. Where would you expect to find a twelve-year-old son? He might have found some children and was having a good time playing with them. On the other hand, the big city with all of its stores could have overwhelmed him. Joseph and Mary searched for their child becoming more frantic as the hours wore on, but Jesus was nowhere to be found.
Finally, they decided to look for Him in the temple. There He was. The Bible says, “He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Relieved that they had found Jesus, it appears that Mary was angry at Jesus. This is her rebuke: “Son, why have you treated us like this? You father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (vs. 48).
Jesus’ reply caused more questions: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
I am convinced that when Joseph and Mary were alone, they must have asked each other what kind of a child they had. Both of them must have thought of those early revelations they had received from God through the angel and the old man Simeon. He was the Savior and would build a kingdom that would have no end. Their discussion simply raised more and more questions, but few answers were coming forth.
Jesus went home with his parents, and for the next eighteen years he worked diligently in the carpenter shop at Nazareth. During those years his parents lived a normal life and had other children. It was also during those years that Joseph died.
At the age of thirty, Jesus had become aware of who he was and what his mission was. It was time to leave the carpenter shop and begin His redemptive mission, which was to end with his death and resurrection. It was during the last three years of his life that Mary became more and more perplexed regarding her Son. However, she was learning that the person to whom she had given birth was far more than her son whom she had born, raised, and loved. He was God’s Son.
In this story God teaches us that while we are on this earth we will never know all of the answers to the questions that surround Jesus’ person and work. But we are also taught not to miss the message by trying to explain the mystery. Yes, millions have tried to explain these mysteries, but their rationalism has made Jesus no more than another person, great as he might be, and his primary work that of a great religious teacher. Can you imagine confessing a creed such as this:
I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, one of the greatest men who ever lived. He suffered and died for his convictions. He had a great understanding of right and wrong. His memory will continue for many centuries, and those who take his teaching seriously will be good people who can be trusted.
Can you imagine a Christmas Gospel such as this:
Joseph and Mary were going to have a baby. They also had to make a trip to Bethlehem because the emperor had called for a census to be taken. Joseph was from the lineage of David. Therefore, they had to register at Bethlehem. While they were there, Mary had the baby in the barn. It was a rough beginning, but it turned out alright. He grew up to become one of the finest men ever to live. He started a great religion that teaches high morals. If you were to summarize what Jesus’ main teaching was, it could be said in his own words: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”
This is the Christmas story stripped of all mystery, which makes it no gospel.
The life of Jesus is not a fairy tale, nor is it simply a legend. It is the story of God coming to this world. It is full of mystery that is revealed in part by the Holy Spirit to the Christian while he or she is here on this earth. It will be fully revealed only when we have come to our heavenly home. It is the mystery that adds to the joy of living with the Gospel and experiencing His love for us.
For those who do not know Him, do not turn your back on Jesus simply because the Biblical revelation of His life goes beyond your understanding. Simply receive Him in faith and he will restore you into fellowship with God.