Scripture: Luke 2:41-52
Sermon prepared by Rev. Russell J. Graff, Stoney Plain, Alta.
Years ago I read the story of man who grew up physically but mentally and emotionally he remained a child. Because he was very large and powerfully built he caused a lot of harm to others and himself in his awkward attempts at interaction. Lenny came to an early death at the hand of his best friend when his mistakes threatened to cause major trouble for both of them. This portrayal of the tragedy of failing to grow up is found in John Steinbeck's, Of Mice and Men, but it is a theme that gets treated again and again because it says something about a situation we are all in, to a greater or lesser degree. We usually all grow up physically, but all of us fail to some extent in the growth of our minds, wills, and emotions. Beyond that we all have room to grow spiritually, yet many of us have that growth arrested at a very early age, or tragically never even begin.
Perhaps you do not see the need to grow up further in these ways. You may be in denial like much of the world where we live. If that is your opinion take a hard look around. How many broken marriages and bad relationships do you see? In the ones you know about, how many of the problems are caused by childishly selfish attitudes and behaviors as well as outright disobedience of God's laws? Why do we keep trying to relive our youth and not grow up? It's called the Peter Pan Principle, we don't want to grow up! In our generation, the film Forest Gump portrays a childlike character who manages to deal with life rather successfully, though not without pain. This may be a sign of our times, trying to say look, we can continue to be childish and still do okay.
But we need to grow up so we can quit hurting ourselves and others. Jesus also needed to grow up and did so in a wonderful way. Looking at his experience gives us a helpful path to follow so we can grow up like Jesus.
First we see that Jesus understood and embraced his true identity.
Luke 2 shows us Jesus, age twelve, attending the Passover celebration. This was a turning point in his life. He was about at the age when Jewish boys took on adult responsibilities in the faith community. In the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, thirteen year old boys declared themselves "Sons of the Law" and became full members of the synagogue with the same privileges as older men. So Jesus was in a time of transition from boyhood to manhood.
At this crucial stage Jesus had a clear understanding of his identity. When his mother reproached him saying, "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." He replied, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" He did not dispute the authority or responsibility of his earthly parents, but he clearly saw and stated his identity based on his unique relationship to his heavenly Father.
He would continue to be a part of his earthly family, and he would identify himself fully with the people of God, but first and foremost he knew God to be his Father, and God's house to be his home. His earthly life and growth flowed out of this identity.
You also must come to a secure sense of identity as a child of God in order to grow up like Jesus. The Lord Jesus came to make this possible for you and for me. If we put our trust in Christ who died to take away our sins and rose again, he gives us the right to become children of God. This is where the journey to grow up in God's way begins. Knowing myself as God's child allows me to grow up like Jesus and become God's man.
A child of God is not merely a person who is forgiven and gets to go to heaven. A Christian, in his or her deepest identity is a saint, a child born of God, a child of light, a citizen of heaven. Being a Christian is not getting something; it is a matter of being someone. Being born into God's family, like being born into a human family is becoming someone who was not there before. Christians, hear what God says about your identity:
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (I Peter 2:9-10)
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! .... Dear friends, now we are the children of God...." (I John 3:1,2)
"We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus..." ( Eph. 2:10)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17)
What you do does not determine your identity. It's who you are that really matters. Knowing who we are and how we see ourselves determines what we do. Too often we see ourselves as something less than what and who God tells us we are in Christ. All of life flows out of this issue of primary identity with God or the lack of that identity. It makes a very great difference if you only see yourself as a sinner or if you see yourself as a new creation, a child of God. Sinners just sin, but God's children grow up to be like Jesus!
Next we see that Jesus' sense of identity as God's child led to a passion for his Father.
"Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" He sounds amazed that his parents would not know where to find him. The birth accounts make it plain that both Mary and Joseph knew Jesus was God's Son. How could they not know he would be eager for his Father's house? Think about what the temple was. It was a place of learning, and that is precisely what Jesus was doing when his parents found him. More than that, the temple was the primary residence of God's presence and the place of his worship. Jesus had an eagerness to be near his Father and to learn his ways. This is a very normal thing...something to be expected.
For the child of God this is also a normal and expected development. He naturally has a hunger to know his Father's Word and ways. She naturally has a desire to draw close in worship. The more we see our identity as God's children, the more we will want to know him, the more we will want to be with him. These things show the reality of the relationship and they bring growth. Just as our children study us and grow to reflect our ways of talking and doing things. Just as they want to be close to us. So the child of God wants to draw near and learn the ways of the heavenly Father.
If these desires are not normal and natural to you there is something wrong. Either you have not found your identity in Christ, or you are not living out of that new identity. If you are identifying yourself as a sinner, it is natural to not have a passion for the heavenly Father. God is the judge of sinners. The fire of his judgement is not a pleasant prospect. No one wants to get close to someone who is going to throw a lightning bolt at you.
God is not a loving Father to sinners. He is a loving Father to children, who still sin, but who are already made righteous in Christ. He loved these children so much that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for their sins on the cross. He is the loving Father waiting for his wandering child to turn toward home. He is the Father who eagerly runs to and embraces each prodigal child who comes back home. He is the kind of Father who makes you eager to get close...to be more like him.
Finally we see that Jesus path to growth was a path of humility and obedience.
We are told: "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them." (v. 51) What a let down, leaving Jerusalem,and the temple, and the teachers there and going home to a place known mostly for its backwardness. Nazareth! The place with a poor reputation.Scoffers said, "Can anything good come from there?" But in Jerusalem,the teachers and all who heard him were impressed. Didn't his folks realize he had great potential in that setting? In spite of all these facts, we do not even catch a hint of complaint from Jesus...just humble obedience.Already at this early age Jesus was showing evidence of understanding beyond his years, and beyond his parents, but he did not rebel. He obeyed.
This led directly to growth. We read at the end of the passage, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." The path of obedience led to growth in wisdom, the very thing he seemed to be walking away from that day when he left Jerusalem. He also grew in stature. The word used here can be literally translated "span" and indicates not only size, but also maturity. As his size grew, so did his standing, his reputation in the community.
The word translated stature can even mean a length or span of time. This is very interesting because it is the very thing promised in the fifth commandment to those who honor father and mother. The commandment says:
"Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long...." (Ex. 20:12)
While Jesus did not have an exceedingly long life on earth, it was preserved long enough for him to accomplish his mission, even though the devil tried to take his life before Jesus could finish his saving work.
He grew in favor with God and men. In every way, in all his relationships Jesus grew in favor. This is also the promise of God to those who obey. God tells us: "When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him." (Proverbs 16:7 )
Humility and obedience are pleasing to God and cause us to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and others.
Growing up like Jesus starts with finding your identity in Christ as a child of God It continues with a passionate love for God and humble obedience to his will. Let us seek the Lord who is the only one who can give us the growth we need.
Lord, please reveal yourself to anyone here today who does not know you as loving Father. Assure them of your loving welcome to each child who comes to you in Jesus name. We also ask that you rekindle the passion for you in hearts that have grown cold or even lukewarm. And please give us the empowerment of your Spirit so we may obediently walk in your holy ways. We ask it in the name of Jesus.
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship
Hymn #625, "Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying"
Hymn #249, "Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty"
Time of Confession
Hymn #264, "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian"
Children's Message — (A Brief talk about the 5th Commandment) or God's Will for Our Lives — responsive reading of Q & A 104
Hymn #155, " Love God With All Your Soul and Strength"
Hymn #557:1-3, " My Jesus, I Love Thee"
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:41-52
Sermon: "Growing Up Like Jesus"
Hymn #568, "Love Divine All Loves Excelling"