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The prepared text for this morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York, is below.  If you’re looking for the sermon audio, it is available from this link.  It is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, but instead of skipping all the way to Jesus’ baptism at about thirty years old we’re looking at a story of Jesus at age twelve.  After all, Jesus’ baptism by John tells us what Jesus did in our place that points forward to His death and resurrection but this story of Jesus at age twelve tells us a lot about the life of baptized children today.  I didn’t point it out in the sermon, but it is interesting to reflect on the timing of three days.  That is, Mary found Jesus on the third day in this story just as the women would find the tomb empty on the third day.  To Mary, Jesus was lost until the third day.  However, Jesus was with God those three days.  This highlights a difference in the way that Luke tells the story of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus compared to Matthew.  That is, Matthew stresses the event of Christ’s crucifixion in terms of God forsaking His Christ.  However, Luke portrays Christ as with God through it all.  The plan for next Sunday’s sermon is to explore Romans 1:18-32 in its context.  If you are ambitious, you might read this post that discusses the reasons Paul wrote that letter.

Wikipedia has a picture of the painting Christ among the Doctors. One wouldn't expect children to be seated up higher than the rabbis, but the artist clearly wants us to see Christ elevated above them.

Christ among the Doctors, c.1560 by Paolo Veronese

The television public service announcement, “Do you know where your children are?” always comes across to me as rather annoying. But every parent has experienced that moment of panic when you realize that your child is not where you thought they were and you do not know where they are. Our story today is about a twelve year old boy named Jesus. No doubt many of you are familiar with his parents Mary and Joseph and everything you know about them suggests that they are excellent parents, especially to have a son who is so very well behaved. So it might come as quite a shock when you hear how long it was before these excellent parents noticed the young Jesus was missing. Actually “missing” is not quite the right word for it. They were in quite a panic because they could not find Him, but He was exactly where they should have expected Him to be. Our passage today is about that incident. So hear now the word of the Lord from the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 2:41-52 

  1. The twelve-year-old Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be.
    1. When we hear the PSA on the television at 11 p.m. the thought is that our children should be at home, and that is precisely where Jesus was and where He had to be. He was in His Father’s house. He said to his mother, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He had to be there. It was necessary that He stay behind in Jerusalem to go spend time in His Father’s house. He meant no disrespect to his earthly parents, to Mary and Joseph, He was surprised that they did not know where He would be. And He did go back to Nazareth with them to live for several more years and Luke tells us that he was submissive to them. (That is a topic or theme worthy of its own sermon.) But He was already aware that He was no ordinary boy. He knew that He was the Son of God. Not everyone went around calling the Temple, “My Father’s House.” This was a saying that Mary did not fully understand when He first said it, but one that she would ponder what it meant throughout His life. But there was no more fitting place for them to find Jesus than in the Temple.
    2. And the main reason that Jesus was in the Temple was to continue His training in the Scriptures. We often forget that Jesus is fully human, including having a human mind. God cannot grow in wisdom, but the text tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom. Most people when they read this passage seem to think that Jesus was doing all the teaching, but the text says that He was learning. It tells us that He was listening to the teachers and asking them questions. They would, in turn, ask him questions. This was the style of learning in those days. And Jesus was twelve-years-old, which is significant because normally it is at age thirteen when a boy would become a son of the law, that is the Aramaic phrase is “bar mitzvah.” At the age of twelve was a natural time to sit down and explore theology with experts in the Scriptures. The unusual thing was how advanced this young boy was in his understanding of Scripture, when Mary and Joseph saw this even they were astonished. Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be, continuing to prepare for His ministry.
  2. And your children also belong in their Heavenly Father’s house.
    1. Their Father’s house is here among the people of God in worship. Young children already are discovering that their family is larger than their parents and siblings living in their home. Indeed, God the Father is their Father, Jesus is their elder brother, believers in this congregation are their family and those who believe in Jesus in other congregations are also part of their family. If you go looking for them at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the first place you should look is here. If you manage to get home without them, the first place you should look is here. It should not be all that surprising if they stick around afterwards because they have questions. But the reason that they belong among the people of God is that they have been adopted into the family of God through baptism in Jesus’ name. We gathered together are their Father’s house. (And we who believe in Jesus are all children of God).
    2. And the main reason that twelve-year-old girls and boys would come here is to continue their training in the Scriptures that they began with their parents during the week. They have many questions. They are preparing for the ministry that God is calling them to do as adults. They are learning and growing in wisdom. Many of them will astound you as to what they already know at their age, but they are continuing to grow in knowledge and wisdom in order to fulfill the purpose that God has for them in life. Whenever children are here in worship they are exactly where they are supposed to be. To be sure, there will be times when we as parents will be thrown into a panic wondering where they are and there will be things that they will say that will lay bare our hearts for all to see. These are lessons that we as parents need to learn about trusting God. But the whole church together has the opportunity to teach them about this Jesus who stayed behind in Jerusalem to be in His Father’s house and to help them to discover what it is that God is calling them to do and to help them to prepare for it – all by opening the Scriptures together. As they grow in stature, may they grow in wisdom and favor with God and man because they are growing in their relationship with Jesus. And may God do the same in you as you find that you learn more by teaching others than you ever did when being taught. And may blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.
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