I’ve always found Luke 2:41-52 to be an interesting passage to meditate on because it gives us a glimpse into the life of Jesus when he was just twelve years old—and as a Middle School Pastor, I’ve found it to be an extremely relevant passage for the many near-twelve-year-old students that I spend time in the Bible with each week! But I don’t think the implications of this passage are limited to students—in fact, I think these few moments of Jesus’ life carry an important challenge for all of us today. So, let me invite you to meditate with me on one of the first recorded encounters that people had with Jesus when he was twelve years old in the temple.
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.
A lot of people might be familiar with the custom that caused Jesus and his family to travel to Jerusalem—the Passover. It’s a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In the last of the ten plagues on Egypt in Exodus (check out Ex. 7-12!), God sent the angel of death to visit the firstborn sons of those who lived in Egypt—when the angel came upon the houses of the Israelites, he saw a special sign marked in the blood of a lamb smeared on their doorposts and “passed over” those homes. Passover is a really important day of remembrance for the Jewish people because it ultimately points to how God provided a method of salvation for his people—and oddly enough, on this day of Passover we find out that God is providing a new and greater salvation for his people through Jesus (wow!).
If you’ve been in church very long—or even if you’ve watched one of my favorite movies, “the Prince of Egypt,”—you’ve probably already heard about the Passover and the tenth plague. But there’s another important detail here that you don’t want to miss the context for. Luke mentions that Jesus is twelve years old. The year that a Jewish boy turns thirteen is the year that they become obligated to observe the laws and customs of the Israelite covenant. And so, the fact that Jesus is twelve years old here tells us that he was right on the precipice of taking responsibility for himself—and in this case, we see a really awesome example of Jesus jumping headfirst into his responsibility for his own spiritual growth and maturity.
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.
In the previous few verses, we find out that Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem when his family began to travel home—and so, his parents return to look for him, and what was he doing? He was taking responsibility for his own spiritual growth and maturity—in the temple, listening and asking questions! When Jesus had an opportunity to learn more about God and develop in spiritual maturity, he took it. And Jesus is only twelve years old at this point! I think many of us, like Jesus, find ourselves at a critical moment in our lives where the responsibility to learn about God and grow in our faith falls more heavily on our own shoulders than ever before. And like Jesus, we need to recognize that it’s time to step up and get serious about God.
Now, there’s one more thing about Jesus’ encounter at the temple that I think is significant for us today—listen to what his parents say, and to his response in verses 48-49:
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?”
This is the first time the expression “my Father” is used in such a way in the Bible—and when Jesus makes this statement, it gives us a glimpse into what Jesus understood as a twelve-year-old about his purpose. It’s not a coincidence that the last thing Mary says is, “your father and I have been searching for you,” and that Jesus responds with the words, “my Father.” Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ true father—he was his adopted father. And what Jesus says here reminds Mary that he possessed a unique relationship with God—Jesus is God’s son. Here, at twelve years old, Jesus knows his purpose: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and he is here to bring salvation and eternal life to those who believe in his name.
There are two things that I think we need to recognize and remember from this encounter:
Jesus took responsibility for his own spiritual growth and maturity
Jesus knew his purpose and his relationship with God
How can you take responsibility for your own spiritual growth and get serious about God? And what is your purpose and relationship with God? I think in some ways, twelve-year-old Jesus is leading us to follow in his example.
Middle School Pastor