I know that I have at some point previously written in these devotionals about one of the more famous stories from the growing years of our family of boys. It was at a time when we only had the first three, and I would estimate that their ages at the time of this incident were about 6, 5 and 3. It was at the evening feeding time (known as dinnertime to more sophisticated families) that the two older boys – Nathan and Benjamin – were being very, very bad at the table. I had warned them several times about their poor behavior when, at last, I just blew up on them. Following a severe verbal lashing that left them in quiet tears, a moment of dead silence followed. The air of heightened tension was at last broken when three-year-old Aaron just blurted out confidently, “I’m always a good boy!” Diana and I couldn’t hold it together, we totally busted out laughing!
Though indeed a very good child as I recall, it was not however a definitive truth that he was ALWAYS a good boy. But there is one child in history who could make that assertion, and that was Jesus. Imagine being his brother and having to hear Mary and Joseph say, “Why can’t you be good like your older brother?”
We weren’t perfect parents either, although we never made the mistake of temporarily putting a child in a carrier on top of the car while settling everything and everyone else inside, and then driving away with a boy still on the roof.
We did however leave a child behind one time … yes, Aaron, when he was about age 5 or 6. We had been at a soccer game of an older boy, and by this time also had a fourth child. Diana and I had driven there separately, and then we each drove home, each thinking that Aaron was with the other. It was a while until we realized it was unusually quiet, at last also realizing that we had left him behind at the field.
Oh my! I got into the car and drove quickly to the sports complex (just a couple miles away) and pulled up to find Aaron there with only one couple who yet remained. They were saying to him, “Tell us again little boy where you live.” You would think the kid would be glad to see me. But he just said, “Hi dad” and then joyfully continued on with the long story he was telling these people.
This same sort of mix-up happened with Mary and Joseph and Jesus in this lone biblical account we have of the childhood of Jesus. It involves a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover when Christ was age 12. This was a big deal for a family to make such a journey in ancient times, but many did. The roads would have been filled with pilgrims, surely many of them travelling together in groups. It was typical during these journeys that the older children would more likely be with the men, while the younger ones would be with the women.
After the festival, each thought he was either with the other or at least somewhere among the families and friends journeying home to Galilee. At the Holiday Inn on the first evening, he could not be found. So back to Jerusalem went the parents, searching for three days before finding him in the Temple. Jesus gives them a priceless answer as to what had happened. It’s a sort of “Duh” with an accompanied face-plant, “Why would you think I’d be anywhere but here?”
Over the years of church ministry in each place I have served, I have had that occasional precocious kid who is like “age 12 going on 40.” Sometimes it is a child who is advanced in biblical understanding, or perhaps one who is way ahead of the game musically and in terms of interacting publicly. We’ve seen these kids; we have some of them! But this must have been on an entirely different level, sitting in the temple with the religious teachers and leaders – listening and asking questions. Knowing how Jesus messed with them later in life with probing questions that had no answer, I could imagine even at age 12 there were interactions that were alternately amusing, deeply probing, and even annoying to be coming from a middle-schooler.
We may be a bit surprised at the reactions of Mary and Joseph. After all, they knew he was the Anointed One, the Messiah. But all of that divine, prophecy stuff had happened 12 years earlier. The picture I have of this is that there were no other big events to remind them of this over the intervening time. Think about something that happened at Christmas in 2005. How real is that to you today? This is not to say that they forgot or that they did not believe. Rather, I’m simply suspecting that their lives fell into 12 years of regular patterns of family life and making a living – building lots of chairs, cabinets, bedframes and animal troughs … having more children, etc.
We tend to think of the godly characters of Scripture as people who had an ongoing, daily conversation with God, experiencing miracles around them on a regular basis. In fact, prior to the Day of Pentecost, biblical characters did not necessarily have the Holy Spirit resident in them in the way we do. They did not have the completed Scriptures. Yes, there were great events in their lives, maybe even a series of them within the space of a couple of chapters. But between those big events were often many long years of silence where they had to live out their faith even in the absence of visible evidences and without the comfort of the indwelling Spirit.
For them, for us, this walk on earth is a long, faith walk in the same direction. As it says in Hebrews 11:1,2 — Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. It is like long-term investing. There are many days when “the markets of life” are not producing obvious gains. But the reward is there in the end for those who remain faithful.
Luke 2:39 – When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.