Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sermon for the Sunday after Epiphany

Epiphany 1 – Luke 2:41-52 – January 9th and 10th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we hear the story of Boy Jesus in the Temple – the great Sunday School Classic. I can even remember the lessons – see how Jesus goes to Church and pays attention and learns – you should go to church and pay attention and learn, too! And yes, that's true – but that's not really the full point of this text. There's so much more going on. In fact, this text is fantastic. If we rush through it, if it treat it just as a morality tale about showing up to Church, we miss just how wondrously it reveals who Christ Jesus is. So, let us examine and ponder the text.

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. There's a lot in these two sentences. I could point out that this was their custom – that they made it a habit. I could point out that the parents brought the Child faithfully and regularly. That is true – but here's the biggest thing. When? At the feast of the Passover. Everything in the Scriptures, everything in the story of salvation, your salvation, revolves around Passover. Passover was the meal first celebrated in the Exodus – the Lamb eaten in haste with the blood on the wood of the door posts. Passover is what is being celebrated on the night when He was betrayed, when He took bread broke it and gave thanks and said, “This is My Body”. That happens when Christ celebrates Passover. It's Passover when they take Christ Jesus, the true Lamb of God, and nail Him to a wooden cross that is drenched in His blood for our deliverance. Luke isn't giving this story to be cute – it's pointing ahead to what Christ Jesus would do at the passover, not when He was 12, but 21 years down the road when He is 33, when He gives His life for your Salvation.

But even when He was 12, we should have had a clue of what was coming. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the Boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. Now, this does let us know that Jesus was a pretty responsible kid – Mary and Joseph figured He could take care of Himself, that He's probably just walking in the big gaggle of cousins over there. You didn't have to worry about Jesus – but when they go to camp for the night, He doesn't show up. And no one's seen Him. And so they tear back to Jerusalem searching for Him. And then we get a highly amazing verse.

After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Now, don't hear this and think, “Man, Mary and Joseph are lousy parents, they spent three days in Jerusalem before they go to look for Jesus in the Temple.” Day 1 was walking away from Jerusalem, Day 2 was heading back, and then, on the third day, that's when they find Him. However, I am hoping that something else is spinning in your mind when I said “on the third day.” This is a giant case of foreshadowing – again, on the third day 21 years down the road, that's when Jesus rises from the dead. This is pointing forward to Christ's death and Resurrection, because God really likes to use foreshadowing. That's basically what the prophets are – that's what the Passover itself was – a giant dose of divine foreshadowing so that folks would be prepared for Christ's Coming.

But let's consider what Jesus is actually doing in the Temple. This is one where we don't hear this right, we don't understand. Jesus is sitting, and He's listening to the Teachers and asking them questions – and we hear that and think, “wow, what a good student. Active listening! Asking questions!” Nope – not what is going on. First thing to note – Jesus is sitting among the teachers – and if you were sitting in the ancient world, that meant you were the teacher. The teacher sat. A few chapters later in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches at Nazareth, He reads from Isaiah and then we hear this: “And He rolled up the scroll and give it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'” He's not just going and sitting down like one of our readers – He was sitting in the teaching seat – it would be the equivalent of walking and standing up in the pulpit today. Moreover, in the ancient world, when the Rabbis got together (and to a certain extent even today), teaching was done by question and answer. It's something I do in bible study, I ask questions. The Rabbis thrived on that – so the hearing and questioning isn't Jesus learning... it's Jesus schooling the Rabbis. We get an example of this 21 years later in Matthew 22: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?' They said to Him, 'The Son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord, saying, 'The Lord said to My Lord, sit at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet'? If David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?' And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.” That's how the teaching, the intellectual debates were done – by asking questions back and forth and each other. And the boy Jesus blows their minds – And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. Note this – they weren't amazed at His age. This isn't “I can't believe a 12 year old knows so much” - rather, He is surpassing them in knowledge. He is teaching, He is giving them understanding, He is giving them answers that they hadn't had, that they hadn't thought of. This is Christ Jesus, the Word of God Himself, explaining the Word of God. And it's wondrous.

And then Joseph and Mary show up. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. This is actually funny. This word here doesn't mean “impressed” - they weren't pleased over how much their Son knew. They were freaked out and embarrassed – that moment that parents have where they can't believe what their kid has just done. Which is why Mary says, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Every single one of us in here, when we were young... or maybe not so young has gotten the “Just what in the world did you think you were doing” tongue lashing. That's what's going on here. And yet, Jesus is in teaching mode, and so He asks one last set of questions to amaze the Rabbis - “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” Now, here's one where old King James translates it better - “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” Literally Jesus says that He must be in the “things of His Father”. And yes, while the temple is a thing of the Father, and Jesus is in it – that's not really the main thrust. You see, it's not that Jesus is a good little boy who goes to Church – the point is that Christ Jesus came and was born to be about the work of Salvation, and that's what He's going to be doing. Of course He's going to be teaching, of course He's going to be in the Temple, of course He's going to be preparing folks for His own death and resurrection, because that is what it is all about – Christ's death and resurrection for our forgiveness. “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.” And, understandably enough, Joseph and Mary don't understand. It would have been over our head too.

And after that, they head home. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. And Jesus goes home – He gets up, leaves the Rabbis behind, because He is only 12, he's not 13, he hasn't been Bar Mitzvah'd yet. And He follows along after mom and dad, He does what they say (that actually would be the finger wagging part of this text). And He grows up – and then Luke jumps forward 18 years to when John the Baptist starts preaching, and Jesus is ready to turn 30 – which is when the Rabbis started teaching publicly in full.

So then – what does this mean? In thinking about this text, I am amazed at how often we just want things to be nice and neat and orderly. Mary and Joseph wanted Jesus to be nice and neat and orderly – as a parent, I totally get that. And that's actually a trend in American Christianity – we're big on moralism, on making the point of Scriptures, the Church, about making people behave nice and orderly. And that's not a bad thing in and of itself – but it's not really the point, it's not really the main thing. It's interesting, Mary “treasured these things in her heart” - you know what that means? That's Mary saying, “maybe instead of hustling Jesus out of there because I was embarrassed, I should have listened to Him more, I should have marveled over what He was teaching, what He was doing.” And likewise, we today can be so quick to drive to the practical – is this lesson going to help my kids behave, or give me advice on how to manage the house, or teach me to manage my finances? Actually – the point is revelation, is epiphany, is the light shining upon us. Just pause for a moment and ponder – there is Christ Jesus, and as all the world swirls around Him, as His parents are panicking and freaking out – there He is. God become man for our salvation. God calmly revealing to us the plan of salvation laid down from eternity. I'm reminded of a story later in Luke – Jesus with a different Mary and her sister Martha, where Martha is running around all busy, but Mary just wants to sit and listen to Jesus. Martha was distracted by much serving. And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” So yes, there is an aspect of Jesus in the Temple that is about getting to church – but that's because Jesus is there. Because in His House Christ still comes and teaches us through His Word, because Christ calls us away from all the busy practicalities that we Americans love and worship, and instead He focuses upon the fact that He is our Savior and Redeemer, that He is about His Father's business. That we are saved not by what we do or our own improvement, but that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

That's Jesus's focus. That's what He is determined to be about. It was true, even when he was a 12 year old – and no offense to the 12 year olds in here, but that's not an age of great dependability. Doesn't matter. Jesus is bound to bring about to fulfillment all the promises of salvation found in the Word – and He does. Thus we have life in His name, all thanks and praise be to God. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. +

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