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12.30.18 Jesus’ Childhood and Yourshttps://vimeo.com/308801729

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FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE DR. TODD B. JONES DECEMBER 30, 2018 Jesus’ Childhood and Yours 1 SAMUEL 2:18-20 LUKE 2:41-52 Our text this morning is utterly singular. It is the only glimpse we have in the New Testament of anything that happened to Jesus between His birth in Bethlehem and eight days later, with Jesus’ presentation in the Temple when He was circumcised, and His baptism by John in the River Jordan at the age of thirty. Into that huge gap, or silence, if you will, only Luke makes a contribution, albeit an incredibly revealing one, of Jesus at the age of twelve. This did not stop others from trying to fill in the gaps of this silence! Among other efforts, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which was written much later than the Canonical, or the four Gospels, embraced by the Church, provides a series of stories about Jesus between the age of five and twelve. They portray Jesus largely as a miracle worker. For instance, in one, Jesus turns mud into a group of birds, and then claps His hands and they fly away. In another story in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is in the carpenter shop working with His father Joseph, and a board is too short, so Jesus lengthens the board to fit the job. These stories are a very Greco-Roman way of talking about heroic figures, citing signs or evidence of early greatness. The Church wisely cast these stories aside, leaving only this account of Jesus’ childhood. What strikes us in Luke’s account, on the other hand, is the restraint with which he tells this story. It is in every way an incredibly human story. We are told that it was the custom of Jesus’ family to travel to Jerusalem every year to mark the Passover festival. Almost everyone in Nazareth was related to everyone else. The synagogue in Nazareth, if I remember, sat only a hundred people, to show you what a small town it was. So they traveled en masse, as a large extended group of family and friends, and when they were ready to depart, we are told Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. You know how it went: Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph; Joseph thought He was with Mary. (Joseph, I guess, was the one who was really in trouble when they found out that Jesus was not with either of them!) So they head back in order to find their lost son. Lo and behold, when they enter the courtyard of the Temple, they find the twelve-year-old boy Jesus listening to, and asking questions of the teachers in the Temple courtyard. You have read this story before, most people know of this story. I want us to observe three things that this story holds that will be important for us to remember as we move ahead into the year 2019. First, note where it takes place. It is in the Temple, referred to in this passage by Jesus as “my Father’s house.” Luke’s Gospel starts in the Temple. Do you remember how the angel Gabriel came to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies, and announced to him that though they were in their old age, and Elizabeth was barren, that they were going to have a child? The Gospel also ends in the Temple in Jerusalem, where in Luke 24, we are told that they were “gathered continually in the Temple praising God.” This is interesting because Luke is the only Greek, the only non-Jewish person, who writes in the New Testament. What he wants you to know is, “I may be Greek, but I observe and appreciate and respect the Jewish roots, the Jewishness of Jesus’ life.” Luke is so sensitive to the Old Testament story and to the importance of the Temple. Here is Jesus once again in the Temple, talking to the teachers. We are told literally “hearing them” or “listening to them,” and “asking questions.” We are told that Jesus went to Jerusalem with His parents every year, so by the age of twelve, He would have been familiar with Jerusalem. He would have been more than simply a one-time visitor to this place, He would be a pilgrim, somebody at home in this city. When the caravan of extended family is a day into its journey, they discover that Jesus is not with them. They race back to the Temple, and Jesus’ first words that He ever speaks in the Gospels are these words: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” We will get to this passage again later this morning, because it is important. But remember the use of the word “Father” here by Jesus, because in His baptism at the age of thirty, do you remember what the voice from heaven said to Him, when the skies where ripped open, and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove? “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” Do you remember Jesus’ last words from the cross delivered in the Gospel of Luke? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This is wisdom that Stuart offered to our children this morning. Then come Jesus’ last words: “Father, into Thy hands do I commit my spirit.” While the King James Version of the Bible translates this passage differently, the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version both include the phrase, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They do that from context because the word “house” never appears in the Greek, rather it is implied. The King James Version translates it differently, as one of the principles behind the King James translation was what was called “euphony” – that is “something that sounds good.” That is why the King James Version so often sounds more beautiful, more poetic, lovelier than any other translation. In the King James Version, Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Even at the age of twelve, Jesus is showing that life is lived, not to ourselves, but unto God; that if life is lived well, it is lived in response to God’s great love for us, and to the purposes that God intends for us fulfill. To understand who you are rightly is to understand yourself, literally, as a child of God. God’s business, or God’s purposes, are utterly central to identity formation for someone of any age. The question, “Who am I?” includes not just considerations like family, and our gifts and abilities and graces, as important as they are, but also includes serious consideration of God, our Heavenly Father and our Maker. We include this in the very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that we teach in the Presbyterian tradition. The Westminster Catechism begins with the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” We will never discover the purpose of our lives apart from God our Father, our Creator, so let Jesus’ first words ever spoken in the Gospels be a reminder to us as we face another year, that no matter what age we are in life, if your life is not about seriously pondering God’s purposes for you, your life is in danger of wandering to the point of being lost, and your life could be reduced to nothing more than trivial pursuits. The God who created you also calls you by name, and that calling is not something that is static. It is something that is living and breathing and dynamic, so that there is never a point in life where we do not want to ask, seriously, “God, what do you intend for me to do with the rest of my life?” This is a reminder to us that if your life is not about your Father’s business, it is about something less. I love William Sloan Coffin’s statement, “The smallest package in all the world is a person all wrapped up in himself [or herself].” We are created for purposes larger than our own, and there is never a point where we do not need to be asking, “What is your business, your intention for my life, O God?” Secondly, note that the word “amazed” and the word “astonish” appear twice in our story. In Greek, they are both the same word, an interesting word, “existante.” We get the word “existence” or the notion of “existentialism” from it. But we learn first that all who heard Jesus were “amazed” at His understanding and His answers. When Jesus’ parents come and see Him holding forth in the Temple with the teachers of the Law, listening to them, and asking questions, we are told “they were astonished.” Let me suggest to you that this is a healthy response to Jesus! I have been studying Jesus, trying to understand Jesus, learning to love Jesus, and trying to follow Jesus all of my life, and I do not mind admitting to you that I have not begun to figure Him out yet. Jesus continually surprises me, amazes and astonishes me, with His wisdom, with His love, with His understanding, with His life that He intends to give. I never cease to be amazed or astonished by the encounters that I have with Jesus. Never assume that you know all that there is to know about Jesus, and never assume that you have Jesus figured out. To encounter Jesus, really to encounter the Lord of Life, is to be amazed, astonished over and over again by His wisdom, by His humanity, by His teachings, by His compassion, by His life, by His incarnation, by His crucifixion, and by His resurrection. Jesus is an astonishing figure. Life is sure to break your heart as surely as you are given it to live. Life is disappointing, and life can be frightening, it can be filled with disillusionment and despair. Falling in love, amazed with Jesus, over and over again, can literally save you from yourself, from cynicism and alienation, and from despair. Jesus reminds us over and over again that love is always a long distance runner, and that Jesus’ call is the call to Love and to Light and to Life. Third, and this is the essence of Stuart’s children’s sermon this morning, our passage ends with the phrase, “And Jesus grew in wisdom as in stature, and in favor with God and all people.” John Calvin says, “First of all, this is a statement about the humanity of Jesus. In a word, if we do not choose to deny that Christ was a real man, we ought not to be ashamed to acknowledge that He voluntarily took upon Him everything that is inseparable from human nature. It follows plainly that even pure Christians have room to increase in holiness, in wisdom and in love.” Jesus grew. Are you growing? I love the story told of the old Mainer. Somebody came to his little town in Maine on the coast, met an old fellow, a native, and asked him, “Fella, have you lived here all your life?” He replied, “Not yet.” Which is to say: God is not finished with any of us yet. He is not done with me, and He is not done with you! And if you stay open to your Father’s business, your Father’s purposes, you will continue to grow, to grow in wisdom and in depth and in understanding and in the adventure of discovery all of your days. Either you are growing, or you are dying. Take your pick. Truly to follow Jesus is to choose to grow all your days. I went to Princeton Seminary in 1976, the year I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. I had majored in classics and political science, and had never taken a religion course. While all the people at the seminary were speaking English, I barely understood a word of what they were saying! There was a whole new language and world that I had to catch-up on in seminary. The President of our seminary was a Texan named James Iley McCord. He grew up and went to the University of Texas, as so many good Texans do. Dr. McCord was literally and figuratively larger than life. He went to Harvard to study theology, and then to the University of Geneva. Like all good leaders he had an aura about him, a kind of mystique, and part of the mystique around Dr. McCord was the word that he read a book every day of his life. I do not know whether he did that or not, but I know that there was all this mythology around Jim McCord, who was both revered and feared. I had to go once and tell him some bad news on behalf of our class, and somebody told me, “I’ll just warn you ahead of time, anybody who goes one-on-one with Jim McCord is always outnumbered.” And I discovered this truth painfully in that moment. Somebody asked him once in a setting, “Dr. McCord, is it true that you read a book every day of your life?” He did not answer the question. Instead he posed another one: “Would you rather drink water from a flowing stream, or from a brackish pool?” Are you a flowing stream? Are the Love and the Light and the Life of Jesus Christ flowing through your growing soul? As we face 2019, let us all be about our Father’s business! AMEN.
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