Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 31 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 30 we looked at the childhood of Jesus and a short glimpse of what his early years may have been like. I hope it was a good on-ramp for your meditation. These years have been such a precious treasure to me as I've pondered them, and I hope this will be the case for you too. Today I want to continue with these silent years of Jesus as some have called them, and I want to look at Luke's Gospel where we have the only recorded event of Jesus' life between His birth and the start of His ministry nearly 30 years later. As James Stalker said:
What would we not give to know the habits, the friendships, the thoughts, the words, and the actions of Jesus during so many years? Only one flower of anecdote has been thrown over the wall of the hidden garden, and it is so exquisite as to fill us with intense longing to see the garden itself. But it has pleased God, whose silence is no less wonderful than His words, to keep it shut. (James Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ, page 18)
Let's read about this one flower of anecdote in Luke 2:
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.”
(Luke 2:41–45 ESV)
Here we are, twelve years later. If you have your Bible, look at that. Right in between verse 40 and 41 is twelve whole years! My goodness! This is God in the flesh we're talking about... The Creator and sustainer of all things... How did he just live in a small town in the Middle East and nobody even knew about it? Along this theme, probably one of the most outrageous verses in the Gospels to me is John chapter 1 verse 10:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
(John 1:10 ESV)
How did we completely miss the Word, God Himself, coming into the world? What an indictment to all of sinful humanity! We didn't even recognize the one who made us when he walked among us. And in this particular scene, here He is, a twelve year old boy, going to the Passover festival in Jerusalem with his parents. He created everything and nobody knows who He is. Wow.
According to Deuteronomy 16:16, Passover was one of three different annual festivals that all Jewish men were required to celebrate in Jerusalem. They had the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover, the Feast of Weeks also called Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths which is also called the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost was celebrated in late May or early June, and Tabernacles was celebrated in late September to early October. Passover was the earlier feast, celebrated in April. It commemorated the Exodus, when God delivered Israel out of Egypt and the angel of death passed over the firstborn of Israel. When the angel came and saw the blood of the Passover lamb smeared on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites, the angel passed over them and the lives of their firstborn were spared.
So this is the feast we see Jesus in Jerusalem for, and this was his first visit with His family, who had faithfully attended every year. He was now required by the Law to come to the feast because he had reached his twelfth birthday. And what a momentous day this must have been not just for Jesus but for any twelve year old in Israel. Think about it and see yourself there just for a second - your family has been going to this feast every year, and you've just heard about it... The celebration of the Exodus, the story you know all too well by now, the crowds of people smiling and rejoicing... the rituals and the reminders of the deep history your nation has with Yahweh. Oh and then there's the Temple - the magnificent, overwhelming grandeur of the architecture, the gold, the priests dressed in their elaborate garb, the dread associated with the holy place, the blood of the sacrifices... This must have been such an overwhelming experience for a twelve year old, especially for the ones living in little villages like Nazareth. What did Jesus feel the morning he awoke and it was that day... the day they would depart to make the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover? What was swelling inside of His heart as He drew near? And when His eyes finally saw the city of Jerusalem from afar, what was stirring deep inside of Him? Oh, this was the pure, untainted Man from heaven and the one who has life within Himself. What was He thinking as the caravan he was traveling with approached the gate of the city? None of the Gospels give us answers to these questions, so we're left to wonder and marvel and anticipate the day when we see Jesus and can ask Him ourselves.
Luke says that after the feast was over, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Now you might be wondering - "how could Jesus have just stayed behind without his parents even noticing? I mean, when I bring my kids to an event, I don't just leave without wondering where they are?" And here's where a little understanding of the culture of the day will help us. The Jews traveled to and from the feasts in Jerusalem in large groups and then would come together as family units every evening during their journey. Because Mary and Joseph were traveling with other pilgrims, they probably just assumed Jesus was with the other children. But in the evening when all the families gathered, Jesus was nowhere to be found. Luke says they traveled a day's journey, which was probably about twenty or twenty five miles. So they had to go back and look for him. Just imagine what Mary and Joseph were thinking on the way back. Did anyone take Him in and provide for him during the three or four days that He was missing? What did He eat? Where did He spend His time and who did He talk to? Once again, the Scripture offers nothing but silence to these questions.
Let's keep going in Luke 2:
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”
(Luke 2:46–51 ESV)
Here we are several days later, back in Jerusalem and Jesus is in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. What did this look like? Remember, Jesus is sinless, and He's God in the flesh. What does it look like for a sinless 12 year old boy and God Himself to be sitting among a mature group of Israelites being taught the very law He Himself wrote? This of course brings up the question - how much was Jesus aware of who He really was? Did He know He was God in the flesh right here in this scene? Did He know He was the author of the very law He was hearing from the teachers? Did He know He was the one giving breath to everyone around Him? This is the mystery that hangs over us as we look at Jesus. It's what Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:16:
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
(1 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
Now it's one thing to have a clear testimony of the divinity of Jesus from Paul's letters and then take that and see the life of Jesus through that lens. But it's another thing, I think even more forceful for us, when we look at the instances in the Gospels where Jesus Himself unveils his self-understanding of His divinity. In other words, Jesus knew exactly who He was. What is often hazy and unclear to us was very lucid and crystal clear to Jesus. All the problems that beset our minds when we try to think of the divinity and humanity of Jesus together were definitely not problems to Him. He knew exactly who He was. And that's why we see Him saying the things He said and doing the things He does. I can't wait to look at all of the times in the Gospels where Jesus makes it so clear that He knows exactly who He is. Oh, they're so awesome. And the first example we have is this one here in Luke 2 where Jesus says to Mary and Joseph after they had found Him in the Temple:
Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
These are the very first recorded words of Jesus that we have in the Gospels, and what does He say? "Did you knot know that I must be in my Father's house?" Oh, what was going on inside of Him? His words here are so similar to what He would later say many times throughout John's gospel. Jesus is saying to His mother and His earthly father that the temple was His Father's house. The temple of course to every Jew was the house of God, and here Luke is giving us one of the first among many examples of how God is the Father of Jesus. This Father/Son language has its roots in the Old Testament in passages like Exodus 4:22, Isaiah 63:16 and Jeremiah 3:4 and it expresses the covenantal relationship between God and His people. But Mary and Joseph didn't understand these things. They were just completely perplexed, and this was only the beginning of the misunderstanding that was going to confront Jesus throughout His life.
Well, there's just so much to meditate on here. I'd really encourage you to just take some time - perhaps during a drive in your car or in the morning as you're getting ready or on the walk to class to just talk to Jesus about these years of His life. Ask Him questions, and as I said back in Episode 5 and 6, these scenes will become more real to you. You can check out those episodes plus the rest in this series from my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Be sure to come back for the next episode where we'll continue to look at the silent years of Jesus. God bless.