Inspired to Inquire
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Identify the unusual events of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem at age 12.
2. Explain what the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old contributes to our understanding of his life and ministry.
3. Suggest one way to ensure that placing the Father’s concerns first is of primary importance in his or her life.
How to Say It
bar mitzvah. bar MITS-vuh.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Dec. 31—A Horn for God’s People (Psalm 148:7–14)
Tuesday, Jan. 1—The Passover Feast Instituted (Numbers 9:1–5)
Wednesday, Jan. 2—First Passover Observed (Exodus 12:11–14)
Thursday, Jan. 3—The Annual Pilgrimage (Luke 2:39–45)
Friday, Jan. 4—In the Father’s House (Luke 2:46–50)
Saturday, Jan. 5—Growing Up in Nazareth (Luke 2:51, 52)
Sunday, Jan. 6—Praise the Lord! (Psalm 148:1–6)
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Why Teach This Lesson?
One way to evaluate what’s important to a person is to pay attention to what he or she asks questions about. The more questions, the more interest! A person may sit attentively during a lecture on nuclear physics, but is the person really interested in that presentation? The attentive posture may be just an exercise in politeness. But if the person begins to ask lots of questions when the presentation is over, that’s a sure sign that the lecture was important to him or her.
The same is true in church. Hebrews 10:25 tells us “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Lord designed the church in such a way that we grow spiritually as we share our lives and faith with fellow believers. We mature as we interact and ask thoughtful questions.
Your learners need to understand that one blessing of being a part of the body of Christ is the maturity and growth the church enables. Jesus at age 12 provides us an example in his interaction with the religious scholars. If Jesus needed to mature spiritually, who are we to think we don’t?
A. Parental Challenges
Parents know what a challenge it is to respond appropriately to the developmental stages in their children’s lives. This involves understanding a child’s needs at given points. For instance, my four-year-old son has rules geared to his age. “You get three books, a kiss, and a prayer at bedtime,” and, “You get to dress yourself, but you may ask for help with the shoes” are examples.
Those are good rules for now, but I have to be ready to make adjustments when he turns five. These will be rules such as, “You can go to kindergarten five days a week,” and, “You get a one dollar weekly allowance.” He may want the rules for five-year-olds now, but I know the time is not right, so I must resist his requests. Such are the challenges of being a parent!
Now let’s try to imagine the parenting challenges that faced Mary and Joseph. How difficult was it for them to understand their son Jesus as he grew? How difficult was it for them to anticipate what his calling signified at the various developmental stages of his childhood? In addition to experiencing the normal physical changes of a boy becoming a man, Jesus was coming to grips with what it meant to be the Son of Man. Our own difficult teenage years provide us with only an inkling of the challenges he faced.
B. Lesson Background
The events we read about in this week’s lesson witness Jesus in Jerusalem. This is not the first time he has been there (see Luke 2:21–40; also see last week’s lesson). It is interesting that the passages describing the two trips end with the same idea: Jesus continued to grow.
There are two settings for today’s lesson. One is the dusty road between Nazareth and Jerusalem (a journey of about 75 miles). The other is the temple in Jerusalem itself. What happened in these two settings will cause us to ask a question that rings true for parents today: What do we make of a child who causes his parents grief when he chooses not to do what he must have known his parents wanted him to do?
I. Important Trip (Luke 2:41–44a)
A. Faithful Family (vv. 41, 42)
41, 42. Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.
Why did God select Mary and Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly parents? This story reveals a primary reason: Mary and Joseph are faithful people. They love God and rear their children to honor him. They are exactly the right kind of people to guide Jesus through childhood.
Jesus’ parents regularly attend the annual Passover festival. This is a testimony to their faithfulness. Men are expected to attend three major annual feasts in Jerusalem (see Exodus 23:14–17; Deuteronomy 16:16). One of these three is the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:17-18). Although this feast is technically distinct from Passover, the two are right next to each other on the calendar. Thus it is natural to see them as one and the same event (Leviticus 23:5-6).
It is highly unlikely that each and every Jewish man always attends every major feast annually. But those conscientious in their faith make the effort. That Mary also comes along represents a later development of attendance by women. They attend according to the custom (compare 1 Samuel 1:3, 7, 21).
What Do You Think?
What traditions or customs associated with the transition to a new year do you observe in your family? Do any of these help serve to pass Christian faith from one generation to the next? If not, how can you do better?
While it is likely that Jesus has been attending Passover with his parents every year, this particular one has elevated significance. Jesus is now age 12. Thus he is approaching age 13, when he will take on increased responsibility. The modern ceremony of bar mitzvah (literally, “son of the commandment”) for Jewish boys who reach age 13 is not practiced in Jesus’ day. But as a cultural precursor to that, perhaps Luke tells this story of the 12-year-old Jesus to record the approximate point at which he becomes recognized as having greater status in the religious community.
B. Absent Son (vv. 43, 44a)
43, 44a. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.
For modern readers, it may be difficult to imagine how Jesus’ parents could “lose” him for a day before realizing it. But let’s think through what actually happens on such a pilgrimage. The journey of 75 miles between Nazareth and Jerusalem is at walking pace, thus it is a trip of at least 3 days. For safety and convenience, those who travel to and from Jerusalem for holy festivals go as groups of families and neighbors. Once they are on the road, they are joined by other groups that are traveling as well.
In this situation, it is natural for the youngsters of the various families to gravitate toward one another and walk together; the adults likely do the same. (We see the same thing at church picnics: the kids prefer to interact with each other rather than with the adults.) Given Joseph and Mary’s world of extended families and village life, they naturally assume that Jesus is with others in their traveling party.
Regardless of the distance they cover by foot, we should consider the time of a day’s journey. Imagine traveling all day in your car only to realize you have to turn around and return to your starting point. Whether the travel is by car or foot, it means extra expense, more time away from work, etc. The extra expense of increased worry is our next consideration.
II. Startling Discoveries (Luke 2:44b–47)
A. Search and Return (vv. 44b–46a)
44b, 45. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
When Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus is missing, they do not know for certain that he is still back in Jerusalem. There is no doubt that they are alarmed by the possibility that something terrible has happened to him. On the return journey they undoubtedly look in desperation for young Jesus all along the way. Even their relatives and friends do not know where he is. It is a frightening situation.
Ignorance Is Bliss?
An old saying goes, “When ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Ignorance may save us from worry, but it is always best to be informed of actual conditions.
Consider, for example, the case of the Johnstown Flood. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was built on the flood plain at the juncture of two rivers. A thriving city of 30,000 inhabitants, Johnstown enjoyed the prosperity of the local steel factories. The pressure of its prosperity led the city fathers to narrow the riverbed in order to increase land available for building. Fourteen miles upriver, the South Fork Dam created a large lake on the side of a mountain, 450 feet higher than the city.
On the afternoon of May 31, 1899, following a night of heavy rain, the residents of Johnstown heard a low rumble. The rumble soon turned into a loud roar as the dam broke. A 60-foot wall of water swept downstream, ultimately killing 2,200 people (www.jaha.org). Ignorance of the faulty engineering was not bliss.
Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem. Ignorance of that fact definitely did not turn out to be bliss to his parents! Their ignorance of what was happening was accidental, but sadly much ignorance of God’s way today is intentional and self-inflicted (Acts 3:17; 17:30; Ephesians 4:18). With the Word of God in our hearts, this need not be so. —J. B. N.
46a. After three days they found him in the temple courts,
The three-day period in question comprises (1) the first day of travel toward Nazareth before Jesus’ parents know he is missing, (2) the daylong journey back to Jerusalem, and (3) a day spent looking around Jerusalem in search of Jesus. The population of modern Jerusalem exceeds 600,000. The population of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day is much less, of course. One reasonable estimate puts it at 60,000. Even so, this “normal” population can swell greatly during feast days. So finding a child in such a crowded city naturally proves difficult. The temple precincts themselves, the focal point of the festival, cover an area of many acres.
B. Questions and Answers (vv. 46b, 47)
46b.… sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
The scene Jesus’ parents come across is, at first glance, not an abnormal one: a group of teachers discussing the law. What is curious is to see a 12-year-old sitting in their midst! Perhaps Jesus simply has found a group and joined the discussion. Or perhaps his impressive interaction with one teacher has attracted the attention of other teachers.
47. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
What Do You Think?
If you had been there, what do you think you would have heard 12-year-old Jesus talking about? What insights from his lips would have astonished the temple crowd? What sayings of Jesus still astonish you today?
We shouldn’t assume that the people are amazed because young Jesus actually is doing the teaching. Rather, what is impressive is the way his understanding of the discussion allows him to respond and interact. Jesus is clearly performing at a level well above what is normally expected of a child his age. The teachers are genuinely impressed by Jesus, and they naturally are interested in the abilities of a potential pupil.
Earlier in Luke we read that Jesus is God’s Son, so perhaps we’re not terribly surprised by Jesus’ proficiency. But consider him at this point in time. Luke records this story because it marks an important point in Jesus’ life. We do not know how much the young Jesus understands about his divinity at this juncture, but he is at the age when a child’s ideas on spiritual matters are beginning to form. This occasion, therefore, seems to mark the time when Jesus begins to communicate something about his nature and mission. It also marks the occasion when some Jews begin to recognize that there is something special about him. This is an exceptional moment in history!
III. Unusual Dialogue (Luke 2:48–50)
A. Accusation (v. 48)
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.”
Imagine that a group from your church goes on a short-term mission trip. As that trip draws to a close, your 12-year-old finds the work to be so meaningful that he begs to stay behind as your group prepares to return home. On one level, you would admire your child’s desire to work for the Lord. On another level, you would see this for the youthful zeal that it is.
Yet the case of young Jesus must involve more than youthful zeal. He has come to understand, at some level, that he has a special calling. But at his young age he may not yet understand how best to manage this calling. So he assumes he should stay in Jerusalem without his parents’ knowledge or consent. There is a delightful innocence to Jesus’ desire to cast aside one set of responsibilities to pursue another. Yet, this is not the time, and his parents have to help him understand this.
So, what do we make of a child who causes his parents grief when he chooses not to do what he must have known his parents wanted him to do? A certain heresy that developed in the second century proposed that Jesus was not really human. People who held this idea could not imagine that Jesus was “like us.” Also, some Christians have a hard time believing that Jesus may have been a difficult child at times, even causing his parents anguish, while remaining sinless (Hebrews 4:15).
But here we have an example of the sinless Jesus causing parental anguish in deciding to remain behind. This 12-year-old has enough knowledge to realize something about his mission, but not yet enough experience and patience to push it forward in the best way possible. Indeed, there will come a time when it will be his mother who pushes Jesus to do something even though he realizes that “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4).
We are not told how well Jesus’ parents comprehend their son’s true nature and role. Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46–55 reveals that she is aware that God is going to bring about some kind of fulfillment through her child. Joseph is aware that Jesus somehow is “Immanuel … God with us” (Matthew 1:23). When they first took Jesus to the temple, Mary and Joseph heard Simeon’s understanding of Jesus to be “the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25–35). They also heard Anna’s understanding of him to be an important part of redemption (2:36–38). But we don’t know exactly how Mary and Joseph really interpret all this, even 12 years later.
Thus, the parents’ amazement is a little difficult for us to sort out as they see that he is capable of entering into dialogue with the teachers. It appears that this is the first time they see Jesus’ abilities in this regard. Yet, Mary is still Jesus’ mother, and her concern soon overcomes her wonder.
What Do You Think?
What challenges do parents face when their children put serving God ahead of following the parents’ desires? How do those challenges differ in Christian and non-Christian families?
B. Response (vv. 49, 50)
49. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
The young Jesus is convinced that he belongs in the temple. His answer reveals no concern about the mental state of his parents. His question Why were you searching for me? expresses surprise that they would wonder where he is. And when he asks Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? he expresses how natural it seems to him that this is where he belongs.
The phrase in my Father’s house is vague in the original Greek. It literally says something like, “about [or in] the ____ of my Father.” The translator is left to make an intelligent guess regarding what to put in that blank. The translation house is a good choice. An even better choice is business (as in the King James Version), since it captures an idea that is broader than mere physical location.
Even despite that bit of vagueness, one thing is crystal clear: Jesus has become aware of a personal relationship with God, and it draws him to the temple. Jesus senses that his role in life is not carpentry, but service to the Lord. When Mary speaks of “your father” (v. 48), Jesus responds in terms of his heavenly Father.
Jesus seems to be surprised at his parents’ surprise. He thinks that they should have known exactly where he was. Jesus’ response signals something of a break between himself and his parents as he announces where his ultimate allegiance lies. Does young Jesus expect to stay at the temple (compare 1 Samuel 1:21–28) while his parents go home? The text doesn’t say.
His Father’s Business
“Raccoon” John Smith (1784–1868) was a famous evangelists on the Kentucky frontier of the early nineteenth century. An outstanding preacher and minister, he learned the value of a disciplined life as he grew up on that wild frontier.
At age 11, he traveled with his father and brother to south central Kentucky. There they laid claim to 200 acres for the family farm. While his dad and brother began the task of clearing trees from the land, John was sent back 100 miles with a packhorse to get a load of corn for seed and meal.
The idea of sending an unescorted 11-year-old out like this would be unthinkable today! But it was not unusual at the time. John completed his assignment in spite of some distractions, arriving back safely with the corn. Nothing dissuaded him from completing the responsibility given to him by his father.
Jesus at age 12 also felt the weight of responsibility. Thus he tarried in Jerusalem at that tender age. Sadly, some folks never seem to feel the weight of much responsibility at any age. Christian responsibility begins to take hold when we acknowledge that we must be about our heavenly Father’s business. —J. B. N.
Visual for Lesson 6
Point to this visual as you ask, “How do you plan to grow in faith and wisdom this week?”
50. But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
The parents have been frantically seeking their son. They’ve been struck with wonder at his abilities in the temple. And now they’re hit with a puzzling statement. Indeed, one wonders whether they’ve been able to fathom any of this. Except for the events surrounding Jesus’ birth 12 years previously, we assume that life has been relatively “normal” up to this point. This incident means that Joseph and Mary suddenly are faced anew with Jesus’ uniqueness. It is all a little too much for them. So they fail to grasp the significance of Jesus’ statement.
IV. Revealed Character (Luke 2:51, 52)
A. Return and Obedience (v. 51)
51. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Even though the young Jesus is surprised by his parents’ surprise, he remains obedient to them. Jesus realizes that obedience to his heavenly Father means obedience to the parents that his heavenly Father has chosen for him. Jesus never sins, thus he does not violate Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother.”
So he returns with his parents. When we read that Mary treasured all these things in her heart, we see her “filing things away” for future reference (compare Genesis 37:11; Luke 2:19).
What Do You Think?
What memories do you treasure, ponder, or savor? What does this say about your own spiritual maturity?
[Be sure to consider Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 as you frame your answer.]
B. Growth and Favor (v. 52)
52. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
This statement reminds us of Luke’s comment in 2:40: “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (compare 1 Samuel 2:26; Proverbs 3:4). It prepares the reader for what is to come: the story of Jesus’ baptism and the official beginning of his ministry.
The account we have just read reveals that the young Jesus is coming to grips with how he should live up to his responsibilities both to God and to his parents. Jesus understands that choosing to reject the will of his parents while still under their guardianship is not the behavior of an obedient child. Part of increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men thus involves obedience to his earthly parents.
What Do You Think?
Do the aspects of personal growth describing Jesus’ life give us a model for spiritual growth in our own lives? Why, or why not?
Jesus had a unique calling. Even so, we can learn some things from his example as we make choices. First, Jesus understood that God would not call him to go against divine principles in order to fulfill God’s will for his life. Thus Jesus realized that God’s will for him could not involve going against the wishes of Joseph and Mary. Parents have been known to demand that their children do things contrary to God’s will, but that was not the case here. So Jesus submitted to his parents’ authority. Likewise, we should understand that our choices must not conflict with things we know to be true of God’s expressed desires as we daily decide how to live.
Second, we see from Jesus’ example that sometimes God says, “Wait—the time isn’t quite right.” It’s easy to get excited about a dramatic plan, claiming that it’s God’s will to “sell all” (Luke 18:22) and go to a foreign mission field. There indeed are times when we must follow God to challenging, exciting places. But often the harder thing is to stay in the current situation and continue to serve him in an “ordinary” way. After perhaps imagining a life lived in or near the temple, discussing spiritual truths each day, it may have been disappointing for young Jesus to go back to Nazareth and help Joseph carry timber. But that was what God desired at that point in time.
Thought to Remember
Make sure to listen to God’s desires above your own.
Our Father, whether you call us to new grand plans or to continue where we are, help us to be faithful and to submit our desires to yours, as Jesus did. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 163