When it comes to Jesus’ actual childhood we don’t know much. We have to accounts of Jesus’ birth and then most of the Gospels skip to Jesus’ ministry, which probably started around the age of 30. That means we don’t know much about Jesus’ life on this earth. However, we do get some glimpses. And today we’re going to look at some of those glimpses. First a story that takes place very closely after Jesus’ birth and then a story that takes place when Jesus is your age, twelve. Both of these stories are actually in the same book of the Bible so we won’t have to do much flipping around! Please get your Bibles and turn to Luke.
When we studied Jesus’ birth we saw how Matthew and Luke had slightly different narratives, with Matthew emphasizing Joseph’s perspective and then giving us the tale of the Wise Men, while Luke gives us Mary’s perspective and the tale of angels and shepherds. This story we’re going to look at takes place after Jesus’s birth in Luke but before the story of the Wise Men in Matthew. Because if you may recall, the Wise Men did not show up until Jesus was a toddler—probably around two. So it wasn’t until Jesus was about two years old that they fled to Egypt. Up until that point it seems they were living in Bethlehem.
However, Mary and Joseph were good and righteous Jewish people who followed the law, and that means that they would every year travel to the temple for different events and celebrations. Today’s stories are going to revolve around one of those trips. Someone please read Luke 2:21-24.
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
So Jesus is circumcised according to the Law of Moses. That didn’t have to happen at the Temple, I don’t think. It could happen in Bethlehem, where he was born, since circumcision took place days after the baby was born. No one wants to travel with a baby that young!
But Mary and Joseph were required to bring him to the Temple after that for all first born males were required to undergo a ritual purification to dedicate them to the Lord. I believe this took place one month after the birth. Which still sucks to travel with a baby that small. I do not envy Mary. First she had to travel while pregnant and now she has to travel with this tiny little baby!
We talked about before that the Temple is not quite like a Church. Today you can go to church wherever you live—we don’t have to travel to Israel or Rome to say we’re visiting the actual church. We also like to say things like “The church is not a place but the people.” Remember the Temple was not like that. There was only one Temple, and it was viewed as God’s home on this earth. No other building could be the Temple.
Though it’s important to remember that this is the Second Temple. The first—the Temple of Solomon—was destroyed by the Babylonians. This would be the Temple built during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But they built it in the exact same location and according to the same specifications as the original Temple.
The Temple was a critical part of ancient Jewish life. And there were certain things, according to the Law, that you could *only* do at the Temple, like make sacrifices. As such there were certain feasts and religious events that you had to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate, no matter where you lived. So whether Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem or Galilea they would have to travel to Jerusalem at least three times a year to celebrate the three major Feasts that required worship at the Temple: the Feast of Unleavened Bread—which we know as Passover, the Feast of Weeks—which is also called Shavout, and the Feast of Booths—which is also called Sukkoth. We’re going to see this a lot in the New Testament, how Jesus has to travel to Jerusalem for one of these three feasts, and he even travels to the Temple one time for Hannakuh, but that’s not considered a big deal holiday so you weren’t required to travel to the Temple for that though you could. It was like an optional holiday.
So Mary and Joseph travel with baby Jesus to the Temple to dedicate him to God and make the appropriate sacrifices according to Biblical law.
Someone please read Luke 2:25-35.
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
While Mary and Joseph are at the Temple trying to do their religious duty to dedicate Jesus to God, they run into a really old man named Simeon. Apparently Simeon had been told by God that before he died he would see the Messiah.
As soon as Simeon lays eyes on Jesus he knows who he is. No one has to tell him. He can just see it in him! He takes Jesus into his arm and praises God. And one of the amazing things, is that Simeon in his prayer to God states that he knows that Jesus is not just for the Jewish people but for everyone—a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, it says.
We’ve talked about before how Luke was writing his Gospel for the Gentiles—the Greeks and the Romans and everyone non-Jewish. So it makes sense that he includes this important bit. Because you know what? Not every Jewish person realized that. And that’s because they are God’s chosen people, so they assumed the Messiah is only for them. We’re going to see in this in a couple of stories. And it’s true that Jesus came back for Jewish people first—to reach them first—that’s why all of his ministry was in Israel with Jewish people and most of his early followers were Jewish. But he also came for the rest of us—the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people—and Simeon realized that.
Mary and Joseph are amazed by Simeon’s words but he’s not done yet. Next he says that Jesus will be responsible for the fall and rise of many people in Israel and that many people’s innermost thoughts will be revealed. We’re going to see over and over this is true—as we see how people respond to Jesus during his ministry. But then he ends by telling Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul.
And that’s true too. Because Mary outlives Jesus and there is nothing more painful and horrible for a parent than to outlive their own child. That is likely what Simeon’s prophesy here is alluding too.
And Simeon is not the only person they run into at the Temple! Someone please read Luke 2:36-38.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna[a] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[b] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
While in the Temple they run into a woman named Anna. She is very old and a widow, and it seems she spent most of her time in the Temple, fasting and praying. And the Bible calls her a prophet.
This is a small encounter, in terms of how many verses is spent on this but she too recognized Jesus and praised God and began to tell everyone how Jesus was going to be the redemption of everyone. She knew by looking at him, just like Simeon and she spread that word to everyone she could.
Anna is a prophet. It says so right there in verse 36. You know there are still people in this world today, Christians, who say that women can’t be prophets. That they can’t spread the word of God without a man overseeing them. That women are less. But Anna shows us this is not true. She had no husband. She was a prophet in her own right, and she told everyone she could about Jesus and how he would be the salvation of them all.
So these two encounters happened when Jesus was little little, like a month or two old. But this is certainly not the last time Jesus would travel to the Temple, and Luke doesn’t skip from here to Jesus being a full grown adult. His next story is about Jesus when he is twelve years old.
Jesus—God incarnate walking this earth—as a tween.
So let’s look at that story.
Someone please read Luke 2:41-45.
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
Every year Mary and Joseph go to the Temple for Passover. They probably go for the other two feasts I mentioned as well—though maybe not Mary and all the kids. But the whole family definitely goes for Passover. And Jesus wasn’t an only child. We’ve talked about this before, but he had several siblings. The Bible names his brothers as James, Joses, Judas, and Simon—not to be confused with any of the disciples of the same name. Those were apparently really popular names in Jesus’s day. The Bible also says he has sisters—plural—but not how many. So he had at least two, so Mary at least in the end had seven kids. Maybe more. Now all of those kids may not have been born for this story, but I bet a handful of them were.
So going to Jerusalem for Passover is like a cross-country road trip with a bunch of cranky kids in the car, except there’s no car. You’re walking.
However, they would be traveling in a large group. Because everyone went to this festival—everyone in Nazareth—where they lived—who was Jewish and able, would be traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. So Mary and Joseph would be traveling with a lot of extended family members and neighbors, and I bet they all relied on each other to keep an eye on the kids during this journey.
And Jesus was the oldest of Mary’s kids. I know some of you are the oldest, and I bet you’ve experienced situations where your parents pay less attention to you because they know you have it handled. They can trust a 12 year old to stay with the group and walk the right direction. You cannot trust a three-year-old to do this. So Mary was probably chasing after her little kids and trusting Jesus would follow the group.
And he did, all the way to Jerusalem, no problem. There was just a problem when they were going back.
On the way back from Passover, on their way to Galilea it’s been a whole day and suddenly Mary and Joseph realized they haven’t seen Jesus, all day. They start asking around and well, no one has seen Jesus. How did this happen? How did they not know where their 12 year old was? Well like I said Mary was probably paying attention to the little kids. But often when people traveled in groups like this, the women and children would travel together and the men would travel together. So they were like one big traveling group segregated by gender.
Jesus as a twelve-year-old could feasibily be in every group, because as tweens you guys are on the cusp of becoming adults but still kids. So Mary probably thought Jesus was traveling with the men—escaping all the little kids and traveling with his dad. Joseph probably thought Jesus was with the women and children helping Mary corral all the younger kids.
But he was not. Jesus wasn’t there at all.
At this point, Mary and Joseph are probably freaking out. So they turn around and head back to the Temple.
Someone please read Luke 2:46-50.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them.
It takes three days for Mary and Joseph to find Jesus. Now at least one of those days is going to be a travel day back—since they were a day away when they realized he was gone. And it’s not like they have cell phones and can just call him. I bet the other part of the time was going back to the person they had been staying with and looking for Jesus there and at all the surrounding places. Any place they might have visited. They don’t initially think he’ll be at the Temple, but after looking for two days and being at their wits end they go to the Temple.
And that’s where they find him, sitting with all the rabbis and teachers and religious scholarly types discussing the Scriptures. He’s listening to them and asking them questions and these old scholarly men are amazed at the level of understanding this kid seems to have of the Bible.
Mary is understandably furious. She has been looking for Jesus for days. He was supposed to go back with them. Surely he knew he was supposed to go back with him. I doubt their leaving Jerusalem was a surprise and she’s like “Jesus, what the heck? Are you trying to give me a heart attack? We’ve torn this city apart looking for you?”
And Jesus just looks at her and is like “Why? Surely you would know I’d be at my Father’s house.” Because remember the Temple is viewed as God’s actual house, his home, on the planet earth, and Jesus’ is God’s son. So that’s what he means here.
It says Mary and Joseph do not understand his response.
There’s a couple of things I want to talk about here. Jesus undoubtedly knew what day he was supposed to leave Jerusalem. He knew he was expected to go home. But he didn’t. He stayed and went to the Temple, causing his parents to freak out. Also back in my day, Jesus’s response to Mary here would have been called “back-talk” and many 20th century parents would punish their kids for ever responding like this to them.
Jesus didn’t go home when he was supposed to and he arguably “back-talked.” So my question to you is: did Jesus sin?
[Let them think about it for a minute and give their thoughts/answers]
We know Biblically that Jesus was perfect and sinless. The New Testament proclaims this over and over again, that Jesus was perfect and committed no sins. And yet here we have 12-year-old Jesus disobeying possibly a direct order from his parents but at least an expectation and then back-talking to Mary with his “duh Mom, of course I’d be here.” Is that not sin?
Well…is it a sin to disobey your parents?
[Let them answer]
The answer is yes and no. Let’s flip back to the 10 commandments. Someone please read Exodus 20:12.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Sometimes when we talk about this verse to little kids we transliterate it as “Obey your mom and dad” but it’s important to realize that that’s not what this verse says, it says “honor.”
Honor. What does it mean to honor someone? And how is that different from obedience? Any ideas?
[Let them answer]
Obedience simply means doing what your parents tell you. To honor your parents is to hold them in respect. But respecting your parents doesn’t always mean obeying them. But a lot of the time, it does. And this is where it gets confusing.
If your parents tell you to do something is wrong and against God, you do not and should not obey them. For most of you this will never be the case. But some kids have abusive parents, who use them and abuse them. Their parents abuse the trust a child has of their parents and ask them to do things that are dangerous or illegal or stupid.
Most parents are not abusive. But some are.
But even if your parents are not abusive and they love you, and they follow God, we’re all sinners. We all sometimes do things wrong. Sometimes your parents do things wrong. And that’s okay, they’re human. But sometimes you’ll have to discern especially as you get older and become an adult and parent yourself, where that line is between obedience to them and doing what is best for God and your family.
I will say 99% of the time, it’s generally a good idea to obey your parents. Your parents rules and orders come from a lot of life experience that you don’t have. They’re setting down rules to keep you from making their mistakes or from doing things that could harm yourself. Really little kids don’t understand why they just can’t run into the street. That’s why parents make them hold their hands when they’re walking on sidewalks or crossing the street. Because little kids don’t understand or know that cars can hit or kill them. But parents do. That’s why parents make those rules.
And that’s why parents make the rules you have. Whatever they are! Maybe you think having a bed time is really unfair, but your parents have read the studies that show that tweens and teens really need nine to ten hours of sleep a night for their brains to develop. So you think the rule is unfair but your parents know this rule is for your best.
But sometimes parents make a judgement or a rule that isn’t fair or right—or that you have to break to love your neighbor properly. Like I said that’s going to be literally 1% or less of the time when you’re a kid but as you get older and become more independent that becomes more and more. [Give an example if you have one of something from your own teenager years or young adult hood where you struggled with a rule your parents gave that wasn’t actually fair or right, or a time where your parents were actually in the wrong towards you.]
So 99% of the time we should be obeying our parents, but occasionally maybe we can’t. And that’s not a sin. Jesus did not sin by disobeying his parents. Because he still honored them.
What does it mean to honor someone?
[Let them answer]
The definition of honor is to regard with great respect or great esteem. You should respect your parents greatly. They do more than you can even know to raise you, they sacrifice things they would rather do to be there for you. Sacrifice things they would rather have to buy you things. Sacrifice their mental sanity sometimes when you try to drive them insane! Our parents do a lot of for us, and because of this we should honor and respect them greatly.
That means we probably shouldn’t yell at our parents. We should always take their advice and thoughts seriously. We should realize they have so much more experience than us and therefore we should give their rules and advice greater weight even if we don’t understand it.
If you think your parents are wrong and disagree with them? You probably shouldn’t scream and yell at them. That is not respectful to them and it won’t help your case. [Example: When I was in Middle School Harry Potter became popular. And Christian parents who hadn’t read it were afraid of it. They thought the books were going to lead us down a path of darkness. My parents knew I read Harry Potter and then they heard at church how Harry Potter was evil. So one day after church they came to me and said I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter anymore.
I could have yelled and screamed at them. I could have told them they were mean and unfair and stupid. Because they were wrong. They were very wrong. Harry Potter is not evil. It’s a book. And I knew that. I may have only been 12 but I knew they were wrong. Instead I calmly asked if they could explain to me why I wasn’t allowed to read it anymore. And then we had an actual conversation. No yelling. No screaming. And I pointed out to them how I read other books with the same themes and magic and that they hadn’t forbidden those, and how my parents also read and enjoyed those books. And my parents realized that they were wrong. And they said I could keep reading Harry Potter. With the caveat that I couldn’t read it at church. And that was fair.
Because I respected my parents and had a respectful conversation, we were able to have a real discussion and get to the root of the issue.
On the other hand, what if they said I couldn’t read it at all? Maybe the way to honor them would be that while I was under their roof to obey this silly rule. I have a friend who as long as she was under her parent’s roof she didn’t read Harry Potter. So she didn’t read it until she moved out, because she knew it was her parents house and her parents rules. That was how she respected and honored her parents.]
There are a lot of ways we can honor our parents. And generally 99% of the time that means obeying them. But sometimes not obeying them is not the wrong thing to do. Just like Jesus here. He wanted to stay in his ultimate Father’s house and discuss the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with that. And when Mary freaked out at him, he didn’t yell or scream at her, he just said, “I’m at my father’s house!” Mary didn’t understand it, and she might have taken his words for disrespect but it wasn’t.
Sometimes parental perception is wrong. And that’s okay. We’re all human. And unless you are Jesus you’re not perfect. So we have to work with our parents and work together, and remember that they are our parents, and we live under their roof and we should respect and honor them.