Luke 2:40-52 – Growing Up God’s Way

I think sometimes we don’t give children, and especially teenagers, enough credit. We often put them on the back burner until they’re old enough to really serve God. But spiritual training for Jewish children began at a very young age, and was very intense because they were given great responsibility at a young age also. Paul wrote to Timothy about how as a child, even from an infant, Timothy had been instructed in the Word by his mother. Can’t you just picture Timothy’s mother reciting Scriptures and telling Bible stories as she bounced Timothy on her knee?

Rabbi Judah ben Tema said that Jewish boys should learn the Scripture at age 5, the Mishnah or Jewish law at age 10, and learn to fulfill all the law by age 13, and then they should learn the Talmud, the Jewish commentaries on the Old Testament at age 15. The mother was directly responsible for these early years of development. 85% of a child’s character is developed in the first 5 years of life – no better way to start them out than with the Bible. But dad would get involved too. Though dad had a job, as his children got older, he would make teaching the Bible to his children and applying it to real life situations a priority. This is what they were commanded to do in Deuteronomy 6 and other passages. In fact, the worth of a Jewish father was measured by how he raised his kids.

On a related note, never underestimate the spiritual abilities of a child. They have a sensitivity to spiritual things that we should always be aware of, and never bypass. Some think children are too young. I heard one pastor last year on the radio say that he never shares the gospel with a child until they are 12 or 13, because he said they can’t understand it until then. But Polycarp, the early church martyr, came to Christ at age 9. Jonathan Edwards, whose preaching stirred New England, came to Christ at age 7. Count Zinzendorf, who started a missionary movement, signed a covenant at age 4 which reads, “Dear Savior, do thou be mine, and I will be Thine.” And he stuck with it. He turned his part of the world upside down. Isaac Watts came to Christ at age 9. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, became a Christian at age 12, and began pastoring at age 17. He used to preach a lot on children coming to faith in Christ, and he would say, “Before a child reaches 7, teach them all there is of heaven, and better still, the work will fly, if he learns before he’s five.” He believed in child evangelism, and that children can be used by God in great ways.

Luke 2 40-52 Boy Jesus in temple

We are going to see the same thing of Christ today in Luke 2 as we look at one of the childhood events of Jesus. There is really not much information in the Bible about the childhood and teenage years of Jesus. We know some of what happened during his first eight days of life, and we’ve seen this in previous studies. We also know that he spent a short time in Egypt when King Herod was trying to kill him, and that he grew up in Nazareth. Other than that, and what we are going to learn today from Luke 2, we know nothing of Christ’s growing up years.

Isn’t it strange that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and aside from a few brief statements about his early years, and this one event we will be looking at today, we know almost nothing of the first 30 years of Jesus’ life? This is partly because what Christ did at the end of his life is more important than what he did in the beginning. It is His death and resurrection that bought eternal life for us, not his birth and growing up years. Certainly, his growing up years are important, because it is in these years that he developed and lived a sinless life. And Luke is the only Gospel writer to point this out to us.

Although we don’t know much about the first 30 years of the life of Christ, we do know of one event which took place when he was 12 years old. We see this in Luke 2:40-52. So far in Luke 2, we have seen four people who were obedient to the Word of God, Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna. Now we see that Jesus also was obedient to the Word of God as He grew up.

IV. Jesus Learned and Obeyed God’s Word while Growing Up (Luke 2:40-52)

A. Introduction (Luke 2:40-45)

Luke 2:40. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

We looked at this verse several weeks back when we saw that Joseph and Mary obeyed God’s Word in parenting Jesus. And we learned from this verse that because of their parenting, Jesus grew physically, spiritually and mentally. Most of us understand that He had to grow physically, He had to become strong, and grow older, but we struggle with Him growing spiritually and mentally. How could He grow spiritually? He was God. God doesn’t develop spiritually. And since Jesus was God, how could He develop spiritually?

The answer is…I don’t know. All I do know is that this is what the Bible teaches. Down in Luke 2:52, at the end of that verse, we read that Jesus grew in favor with God and men. He grew in favor with God. That means spiritual growth. What that probably means is spiritual understanding. Spiritual discernment. Spiritual effectiveness. Spiritual ministry. We also see this truth over in Hebrews 5:8 where we read that Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered. And learning obedience is definitely an aspect of spiritual growth. We will also see some of his spiritual development today in the passage before us. I don’t know how it all worked, but it’s one of the things I hope to have Jesus explain to me when I get to heaven.

The other way Jesus grew, according to verse 40, was in wisdom. He was filled with wisdom it says. You know, wisdom is different than knowledge. Wisdom is applied knowledge. But before you can acquire wisdom, you must have knowledge. So as Jesus developed in His wisdom, He also developed in His knowledge. Now, this is a challenging thought as well. Jesus is God, and God knows all things. How could Jesus learn if He was God?

Well, I think we have slightly more understanding here than we do with the spiritual development. In Philippians 2, we learn that when Jesus Christ came in the flesh, He gave up, He willingly surrendered. He emptied himself of some of what it means to be God. He did not ever become less than God. He was always fully God. But when He came in the flesh, He wanted to fully understand what it was like to be human, and so He had to give up certain aspects that would interfere with being human. One of these was His omniscience—His knowledge of all things.

Jesus, although He was the Son of God, was also human, and so He had to learn the Bible, and learn theology, and learn obedience just like we do. Jesus was fully human, just like we are, and a big part of being human is the learning process.[3] He learned how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, how to read and write, and how to obey His parents. He even had to learn the Bible and theology. And, in fact, there were some things that He did not learn and could not learn. For example, in Mark 5, He doesn’t know who touched His clothing. In Mark 13:32 we read that Jesus does not know the timing of certain events in the future that the Father does know.[4] If you have trouble understanding how all of this works out, that’s okay. I have trouble comprehending it also. And we’re in good company. There are very few theological ideas which have been discussed and debated more, and yet are still misunderstood. Just know that whether we understand it or not, Jesus did grow up just as we do. He developed just as we do. He experienced life just as we do. Yet in it all, He was without sin.

Luke 2:41. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.

The Feast of Passover, remember, is the feast commemorating the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the death of all the first-born sons. And here again, Jesus, as the first born son, has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Look at Luke 2:42.

Luke 2:42. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

Mary and Joseph have raised Jesus for 12 years, and during this time, Jesus will begin to show his independence from them (cf. John 2:4). Independence is not sinful, but is something that every child must go through in order to become an adult themselves. It was at the age of 12 that young Jewish men began their formal training in the synagogue, were received into Judaism as a “son of the law” and were expected to begin strict obedience to the law at this age.[5]

Luke 2:43. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it;

Note that it says Joseph and his mother, not His father and mother. Joseph was not his real father, remember. This become important in a bit. Very likely, Joseph and Mary had other children at this point, which they were looking after. And since Jesus was now technically an “adult” by Jewish standards, they trusted him to keep with the caravan. Verse 44 points this out.

Luke 2:44-45. but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

Have you ever left a kid behind at the shopping center? Almost all parents have done it at one time or another. I think my parents have left all of us kids at one time or another over the years. That’s easy to do when there were 10 of us. I think my younger brother Philip holds the records for getting left the most times in the most places. Now, it’s bad enough when we do it to our own kids, we feel terribly guilty, like we’re such bad parents. But imagine if you were parenting the Son of God? But what’s even worse is that Mary and Joseph didn’t realize it a couple miles down the road; the text says that they went a day’s journey.

Now maybe some of you are thinking, “I’ve never done that. At least when I left a child at church, we realized it five or ten minutes later. But Joseph and Mary—what irresponsible parents! How could they go a whole day without realizing that they had left Jesus behind?”

Luke 2:44 tells us why. They though He was with a relative, that He was playing with some of His cousins, or riding with them. This feast occurred once a year, and so everybody would travel together, fellowship together, and share meals together. So when Joseph and Mary don’t see Jesus all day, they just figure He’s off with His cousins, or with an uncle or grandmother. But when He doesn’t come back to sleep with them that night, they get a little nervous. Maybe Joseph and Mary got into a little tiff. “I though you had him.” “No, you said you were going to make sure he was coming.”

They go around asking if anyone has seen Jesus, and nobody has. Jesus was not with them. They had left Jesus behind.So they return to Jerusalem to look for Him. But notice that they don’t find Him right away. Maybe after a while, they decide to go pray to God in the temple, or go make a sacrifice to God in the temple. Or maybe they just had looked everywhere else in the city. But for whatever reason, after three days they go to the temple.

B. He was teachable (Luke 2:46)

Luke 2:46. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

They finally find him – in the temple, and not just in the temple, He was involved in a theological discussion with the teachers. He was in a Bible study with the temple leaders. This is not the place the average parent expects to find their twelve year old son. But that is where He is.

Notice what He is doing. It says He was listening to them and asking them questions. It was the custom of the teachers to meet in public in the temple to discuss religious and theological questions where everyone could listen and learn. It is here that they find Jesus, among a crowd of other learners. We must not think of it as a scene where a young boy was dominating a crowd of teachers. What we see from this was that Jesus was learning. Jesus was teachable. I do not think He was there to impress them, or amaze them, or “wow” them with His knowledge. He was there to learn. To listen. To ask questions.

We’ll see that in Luke 2:47 in a bit, but there is a great spiritual truth here for all of us. Jesus Christ, though He was God come in the flesh, knew that before He could teach, He needed to be taught. He knew that the prerequisite to teaching was being teachable. Before He could begin his ministry, He needed to learn. There are many in Christ’s church today who want to teach, but do not want to be taught. They want to teach, but they do not want to learn. There are many new Christians, who want to dive right into ministry. And while this is probably a good idea in some ways, it is a bad idea in others. The best thing a new believer can do is sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him for several years before jumping headlong into ministry.

And even then, we must always remain teachable. You may have discovered that the best teachers are also teachable. The best teachers are those who want to learn from others. Do you want to teach? Well, the first step is to learn. To be teachable. As James says, be quick to listen and slow to speak. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – He wants us to listen more than we talk.

In a Bible study, or in a small group, or in a teaching setting, do not be quick to show off how much you know, and what great insights you have. Focus first on listening, on learning, on asking questions. And as you do this, as you show that you have a teachable heart, God will eventually call upon you to teach. This is what happened to Jesus. After He had learned, He taught, look at Luke 2:47-48.

C. He taught (Luke 2:47-48a)

Luke 2:47-48a. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed;

There is an old oil painting called “The Young Christ Teaching in the Temple” which attempts to depict this event, but the painting gets it all wrong. It shows Jesus in this exalted position, raised above the rest of the teachers, sitting on chair which looks like a throne of some sort, and all the other teachers are kind of groveling before Him as He apparently delivers a lecture. But this is not the way this event should be understood. He was not the authority figure here. He was there to listen and learn and ask questions. It is true that the religious leaders were impressed by how much He knew as a 12 year old, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that He is behaving like a know-it-all smarty pants, showing off His knowledge to the teachers.

Yes, they were amazed and astonished, but they were impressed at how much He knew at such a young age. You know, Jesus had to learn just like we do, so how did Jesus become like this? In Luke 6:40, Jesus says that a student will not become greater than his teacher, but when he is fully trained, will become like his teacher. And this is what happened with Jesus. Although in verse 46, He was learning from human teachers, He surpassed them, and became wiser than them, because He had another Teacher. His other Teacher was God Himself. Remember, verse 40 said He was strong in Spirit. He had the Holy Spirit as a teacher.

Luke 2 boy Jesus in the temple

And He has given to us the Holy Spirit to teach us also. You will never become wiser than your human teachers unless you also turn to the Holy Spirit to teach you. And Jesus says in John 14 that the Holy Spirit will teach us and guide us into all truth. 1 John 2 says the same thing. But how does the Holy Spirit teach? He always teaches through the Word of God. As we open the living Word, as we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us and open our eyes that we might see and our minds that we might understand, He unfolds Scripture to us in ways that we never would have seen on our own.

Harry Ironside tells the story of a time when he was first beginning to pastor as a young man, and he went home to California to visit his family and found a man of God living nearby who was from Northern Ireland. He was very sick, and had come to California hoping that the weather would aid his health. This old man lived, Ironside tells us, in a small tent out under the olive trees. Ironside went to see him there, and he remembers how he could see the thin, worn face upon which the peace of heaven was clearly visible. He could barely speak above a whisper, for his lungs were almost gone, but Ironside remembers how, after a few words of introduction, the old man said to him, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ; are you not?”

“Yes, I am” he replied.

“Well,” the old man whispered, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.” He opened his well-worn Bible, and until his strength was gone, simply, sweetly, and earnestly he opened up truth after truth as he turned from one passage to another, in a way that Ironside had never seen before.

“Before I realized it,” says Ironside, “tears were running down my face, and I asked, ‘Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn them in some seminary or college?’”

“I shall never forget his answer.” Ironside writes.

“My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in Northern Ireland. There, with my Bible open before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart, and He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.”[6]

Jesus was the same way. He had learned His Bible through prayer and careful study and the Holy Spirit’s illumination, and now He was amazing these scholars and teachers with His wisdom and knowledge. And He was only 12.

It is never too late for you to start doing this, opening your Bibles, day by day, and asking God to teach you through it, so that you will become like your teacher. I want to especially encourage teenagers and young people to start doing this right now. Many teenagers think they know more than their parents. Teenagers think their parents are stuck back in the dark ages. They think their parents are helpless and hopeless.

I once thought this, but let me tell me tell you young people something. All parents hope their children will become wiser than them. But in order to do that, you must learn the lessons they learned. Until you are older, you are to be teachable and obedient to your parents. They know many things which you do not, and cannot not, until you are older.

I once saw a billboard sign that said this: “Teenagers! – Are you sick and tired of putting up with your parents? Act now! Move out! Get married! Buy a house! Get a job! Act now while you still know everything.” My wife Wendy saw a sign once that said, “Have a problem? Give it to a teenager—they’ll solve it.”

I say all of this in good humor, but before teenagers can hope to teach their parents all that they need to know about life, they need to be teachable themselves. And even if you think your parents are helpless and hopeless, they know a lot more than you think they do. Let me share a secret for teenagers who want to be smarter than their parents, who want to have the perfect job, and the happy marriage. What is the secret? Do the same thing Jesus does here: Learn the Word of God.

The first four chapters of Proverbs promise that if you study the Word of God, and if you live according the Word of God, you will become wise and successful. You will have long life and honor. You will have knowledge and discernment. You will make wise choices. You will save yourself from much heartache and pain. Get the Holy Spirit as your teacher. Read the Bible every day. Pick up one of those “through the Bible in a year” reading charts in back and start letting the Holy Spirit teach you. Or, take the book of Proverbs and read it through every month. The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters, so taking one chapter a day, you can read it through 12 times a year.

There are so many pitfalls, and so many dangers in this world, you must have wisdom if you are going to survive. And Jesus shows us that the only way to get wisdom is to learn it from God, through the Bible. As a result, Jesus, at twelve years old, was wiser than all the teachers in Jerusalem. That’s pretty amazing.

I do want to mention one other thing from verse 47. At the end of Genesis, in chapter 49, Jacob pronounces prophetic blessings on all of his sons before he dies. And in Genesis 49:10, we read that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from beneath his feet, until Shiloh comes…”

Shiloh literally means “the one to whom it belongs” and is a term for the Messiah. So Genesis 49:10 says that royal line of Israel would rise from the tribe of Judah, and that it will always have royal authority until the Messiah comes. And so King David, of the tribe of Judah, is put on the throne, and his son Solomon follows him. The nations splits after Solomon, but there is still someone from the tribe of Judah sitting on the throne in Jerusalem. At least, until 587 B.C. when the Jews of the Southern Kingdom were carried off into captivity.

But even then, the Jews still had ruling authority. Even though they were in captivity, they did not believe that the scepter had departed. You see, although they were in captivity, they were allowed to retain much of their leadership structure, decision-making abilities, laws and religious system. Over time, because of sin and disobedience, the Israelites lost more and more of the power to rule themselves. Until finally, all that was left of the ruling power in Israel was the authority of the Sanhedrin – and specifically the right to carry out capital punishment – to put to death those whom the law determined must die.

The scepter had not yet departed from Judah, but the only thread they had left was that little bit of power and authority in the Sandhedrin. But one year, when the Jews were under Roman rule, the Roman Procurator Caponius took away this last shred of ruling power. He decreed that they no longer had the authority and power to carry out capital punishment according to their law. And the Jews alive at that time thought that God’s Word had failed – the teachers of the law were especially distraught. Never had there been a promise of God which did not come true. But finally, they thought, one of God’s promises had failed.

And in fact, one of these teachers wrote, “Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come.” (Babylonian Talmud, 4,37). Now, when was this written? It was written in 7 A.D. right about the time when a young boy of 12 years old (assuming he was born in 5 B.C. – Life Application, p. 1636) is marveling some of these very same teachers at the temple at Jerusalem.

Right at the time when they were bemoaning that God’s Word had failed, that they had been rejected by God, there was God’s Word in the flesh standing right before them, showing them that rather than rejecting them, God himself had come to deliver them.

Isn’t that incredible? Well, Jesus has been taught, and now He has done some teaching – showing that the promised Messiah has come. Now, from Luke 2:48-50, we see a secret to Jesus’ ministry on earth. His secret was that He knew what to focus on.

D. He knew what to focus on (Luke 2:48b-50)

Luke 2:48b-50. and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.

Joseph and Mary were understandably a little upset at Jesus. He has been missing for several days, and they probably didn’t get much sleep during this time. They have been frantically looking for Him, and now, they find Him, calmly sitting in the temple, involved in a Bible study. So Mary says, “Son, why have You done this to us? Your father and I have sought you anxiously.”

But Jesus answers, and kind of corrects Mary by saying, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” We see from this question that Jesus did know who He truly was. Not the child of Joseph and Mary, but the Son of God. His work was not as a carpenter, but as a teacher and Savior.

You know, there are many things Jesus could have done while on this earth. He could have become a political leader and gone about trying to fix everything that was wrong with the world. But He didn’t do that.

He could have gone around healing everybody who was sick. But He didn’t do that either. He could have gone around feeding everyone who was hungry and giving money to everyone who was poor. But He didn’t do that.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father. Don’t get me wrong. These other things are the will of God too. We are supposed to stand up for what is right. And we are supposed to help the sick, feed the hungry, and give money to the poor. But Jesus knew that He was only one man, and one man can only do so much. Jesus knew that He could have gotten sidetracked by so many other good things to do, that He would fail to do the one thing God had sent Him to earth to do. Jesus came, according to John 10:10, so that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. That is why Jesus came and that is what He focused on, because that was God’s will for His life.

Do you know why you are on this earth? Each of us has a purpose from God. And it is different for each one of us. For some of you, it may be to get involved in politics. For others, it may be to help the sick, or feed the hungry, or give money to the poor. Oh sure, all of us should do some of this, the Bible is clear on that. But all of us have a definite and specific purpose from God that God wants us to fulfill. And if we let ourselves get sidetracked from this purpose by all of the other good things that we could be doing, we will never accomplish God’s will for our life.

I know why God has placed me on this earth. It is to preach and teach the Word of God so that hearts and lives are changed. And it is incredibly refreshing, incredibly fulfilling to be doing what God wants me to do. Now, there are a lot of other good things I could be doing as a pastor. If I let myself get sidetracked by these other things, as good as they are, I will not be accomplishing God’s will for my life. You too, need to discover God’s purpose for your life and live it. Like Jesus, you need to discover God’s will for your life and then do it.

Of course, there is a drawback. Look at verse 50 again. But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. They had been hurt. They had been offended. They had wanted Jesus to stay by their side as they thought He should. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Imagine Joseph saying, “You must be about your Father’s business? Well, I’m a carpenter. What are you doing here in the temple, preparing a bid on some construction work they need done?”

Jesus was very often misunderstood. But that is what happens when you step out to do the will of God, some people are not going to understand. Some people are going to say, “You want to go overseas to work on airplane engines in the jungles of Indonesia? But you could make so much more money here as an airplane mechanic.”

“You want to stay home and be a mother to your children? But you would make such a great doctor.”

“You want to give a large portion of your money to the church? That’s insane. You could reinvest that money and make millions of dollars!”

When you step out to obey God’s will for your life, some people are not going to understand. But that’s okay, because, like Jesus, you are about your Father’s business.

But lest we think that he was disobedient to his parents, Luke reminds us that He was very obedient to His parents. In fact, at this point in Jesus’ life, obedience to His parents was His Father’s business.

E. He Obeyed His parents (Luke 2:51)

Luke 2:51. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Jesus was not a rebellious child. He was about His Father’s business, and part of that at this point in his life was to obey his parents, to be subject to them. He submitted to them even though they didn’t understand what He was about. You know what I’ve noticed? The more mature and the more secure a person is, the easier submission is for them. The more insecure and immature a person is, the harder submission is for them. Submission is becoming the right person, not fighting for your rights. It is submitting to another, not because they know more than you, but because God calls you to submit, even if you know more than them.

Children, submit to your parents. Employees, submit to your employers. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, submit to Christ. All of us, submit to the government.

Jesus knew what He was about, and even though He knew more than mom and dad, He was so secure in who He was, He submitted to them as was right for Him to do. Luke ends this section in the same way he began it.

F. Summary (Luke 2:52)

Luke 2:52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

This verse is nearly identical to Luke 2:40. Jesus is growing up here – in all the ways that every person does, yet without sin. God was more and more pleased with Him every day He was alive.

Could that be said of you today? That day by day, you get wiser and stronger, and that God and other people are more and more pleased with how you are living? That is the way Jesus grew, and I think it is a wonderful goal for us to have as well. Let us, like Christ, be about our Father’s business, so that we can increase in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man.

Footnotes for Luke 2:40-52

[1] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, 255.
[2] NT Apocrypha, Vol. 1, p. 443ff. Edited by Schneemelcher.
[3] Edersheim, , Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 192.
[4] Cf Grudem, 533. And Grudem and Damarest, V.2, 322-350.
[5] NT Wycliff, p. 200; and Nelsons, p. 1254. Keener, Bible Background Commentary, 195.
[6] Ironside, 86-87.
[7] Jewish NT Commentary, 111.
[8] For a description of what this would be like, see Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 226-234.


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