There is part of me that wants to preach on this passage specifically about Jesus’ experience in the Temple. For one reason, it is interesting because it is the only story we have of Jesus as a young boy. The other reason is that as a parent it blows my mind that Jesus could be missing for that long without his parents realizing. But that is not where I am going.
Instead I am going to focus on the last verse that talks about how Jesus grew up and developed. This is an amazing verse that we could easily just pass over. Christians believe that Jesus was not just a human who grew up to be a great teacher and religious leader. Crucial to our faith is the incarnation, the belief that God became a human being in Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought about what this means? If this is true, either Jesus was fully aware and developed the moment he was born or he would have to grow and learn like every other baby. He either already fully understood quantum mechanics or he would have had to learn to walk and talk like any other baby. I can appreciate those who believe that Jesus was already fully aware at birth because at least that affirms the divinity of Jesus. But the incarnation is not just that Jesus was God but that Jesus was human as well. If we take that seriously, we would have to also affirm that Jesus went through all the natural stages of development, including the process of learning knowledge. That is an amazing idea. And it is not just speculation as our passage specifically mentions this.
In 2019 we are going to be focusing on the part of our mission of growing spiritually. We are going to introduce this by looking at how Jesus grew and use that as a template for our own growth. If Jesus grew and developed, ho much more do we need to. We are going to look at four specific ways we develop as Christians.
Even those Christians who would struggle with Jesus growing in knowledge and understanding would have to accept that Jesus grew physically. It is unlikely that Jesus was born as an adult male or that he taught the crowds as a tiny body. He physically grew, becoming taller, gaining muscle mass and becoming prepared for the physically demanding ministry that he would have.
What does this have to do with us? When we think of how we grow spiritually, we should not ignore our physical changes. We go through the stages of child to teen to young adult to mature adult to senior adult. I am firm believer that none of us get to say “I have put in my time” and get to retire from serving. No one is too young and no one is too old. But how we serve is affected by the stage of life we are in. Affected, not determined. Each person is different and we must be slow to generalize. What stage of life are you in and how does that position you for effective ministry?
Growing in Knowledge
The passage we have read tells us that Jesus, even as a pre-teen, had enough knowledge to interact intelligently with the teachers in the Temple. Even so, Jesus grew in knowledge according to Luke. Jesus was likely taught the Torah by his parents and other family members. He learned how to interact with others and to communicate effectively. His parents reflect a good knowledge of the way nature works. All of this came to fruition in his ministry as he both taught the crowds and debated with the religious leaders. It looks as if he was intentional in growing in knowledge throughout his life.
If Jesus the Son of God sought to grow in knowledge, how much more should we? I will admit that this is the area I am passionate about. I love formal schooling, workshops, reading books and listening to podcasts. There are so many subjects that I would want to learn about.
But you do not have to be natural student for this to be relevant. Before followers of Jesus were called Christians, we were called disciples. Disciples are learners. We do not have to learn every subject under the sun but we need to learn from Jesus. This happens by studying the Bible. But it also happens from learning from other Christians. It is not a competition about who knows the most, as if Christianity was a trivia contest. It is about all of us following the example of Jesus by growing in knowledge, in whatever way that looks.
Relationship With God
Who was Jesus? He was the Son of God, he was the second person of the Trinity. And yet we find that he grew in his relationship with the Father. This was part of his experience of becoming human. He would not ask us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do. We read in the Gospels about Jesus going off to pray to the Father. He invested in his relationship with the Father.
If Jesus was willing to do this, how much more should we? We have absolutely no excuse. You may be aware that some people debate whether Christianity is a religion or a relationship. It is not one or the other. Christianity may be more than a religion but it is not less. In addition to being a religion, it is a relationship with God. There is plenty of references to us being adopted by God as sons and daughters. But adoption isn’t enough. We need to work on our relationship with God by spending time in his presence through worship and prayer. The great thing is that there is not a one-size-fits-all methods of getting closer to God. For some is sitting in silence, for others it is exuberant worship. The point is that we should be getting deeper in our relationship with God.
Relationship With People
The final thing we learn about Jesus’ development is that he grew in his relationships with others. The Gospels are full of examples of this. Jesus was baptized by John, not because he needed to repent, but because he wanted to stand with his people. While Jesus could have performed his ministry by himself, he chose to gather a large group of disciples, a smaller group of twelve and an inner core of three. Beyond the disciples, he had close friendships with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Considering Jesus was part of the Trinity, it is not surprising that he sought community.
When I came back to faith after time as an atheist, the church I attended emphasized a personal relationship with God. There is truth to that but it also misses an important truth. When we study the Bible for how we are to relate to God, it always focuses on community. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said to love God and love each other. We pray “Our Father who art in heaven” and not “My Father who art in heaven.” When we show up at church on a Sunday service, it is not to just spend time with God, it is to spend time with each other. Christianity has a strong focus on community and fellowship. If we are to grow spiritually, we actually have to work on our relationships with others.
This year we are going to focus on growing spiritually. But growing spiritually is more than just studying the Bible or reading a good book. Jesus grew and developed in four ways: physically, in knowledge, in his relationship with God and his relationships with others. While this passage is primarily about what happened to Jesus, he is our model for spiritual development. We need to serve according to our physical stage, commit to becoming a lifelong learner, invest in our relationship with God and we get to do all of that together as a community.