‘“Why were you searching for Me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:40-52 NIV
Every parent knows that there are no perfect pre-teens. In fact, many parents say that pre-teens can stretch a parent’s patience to the limit! Younger children are more easily disciplined, and most older teenagers have learned some degree of responsibility. But pre-teens are another story!
What about the Lord Jesus? He went through the pre-teen years – but He was unique. He was the perfect pre-teenager! He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:52).
JESUS: The Perfect Pre-Teen
At the end of Luke 2 we have the only recorded story from the boyhood years of Jesus – His Passover visit to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary. Between His infancy and the beginning of His public ministry, the biblical record is silent about the events of our Lord’s life, except for this one story when He was 12 years old. Some apocryphal literature purports to record other boyhood acts and sayings of Jesus, but this material has never been accepted by Christians as historically reliable. The Passover visit to Jerusalem, quoted above, is the only inspired account of any event in the pre-teen years of Jesus.
However, we know that during those “silent” years Jesus was living a perfect life that was pleasing to God. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the Father’s voice came from heaven saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). He said this before Jesus began His public ministry or did any miracles, and it described the Father’s approval of Jesus’ life as a boy and young man. “Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight” (Isa. 42:1).
In accordance with the Mosaic Law, which commanded that all Jewish males go to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate certain feasts of the Lord (Dt. 16:16), Joseph and his family joined the caravan from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. For Joseph and Mary, this was a special visit to the Holy City and house of the Lord, because Jesus was now 12 years old, and on the threshold of the “official” age when Jewish boys become men. Jesus was preparing to become a “son of the Law,” to take His place of responsibility in the religious affairs of the community. Before the next Passover, He would officially become a man.
Traveling up to Jerusalem by caravan was exciting, especially for country folks who looked forward to visiting the big city of Jerusalem – “the city of the Great King” (Ps. 48:2; Mt. 5:35). It was also a time of worship because the congregation would sing the psalms of ascent, Psalms 120-134, as they climbed the roadway to God’s chosen city. Can you imagine Jesus singing with the rest of the pilgrims? “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem … That is where the tribes go up … to praise the name of the Lord” (Ps. 122). Here was the perfect pre-teen singing God’s praises! This visit to Jerusalem was all part of His preparation to return years later to the same city as the perfect Lamb of God.
JESUS As God
As God, Jesus was an unusual child. In Luke 2:49 we have the Bible’s first record of words spoken by Him. Notice that they are a claim to His deity. When His mother said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You,” Jesus responded, “Why were you searching for Me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”
Jesus was drawing a distinction between His earthly father, Joseph, and His heavenly Father, God. Notice that the Lord did not say, “in our Father’s house,” but instead said, “in My Father’s house.” Before His ascension, the Lord said to Mary Magdalene, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, toMy God and your God” (Jn. 20:17). As believers, we are sons of God, but we are not in the same unique relationship to God the Father as is the Son of God!
At age 12 Jesus was fully aware of His unique relationship to God the Father. He was the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He was God incarnate. Although He grew naturally from infancy to manhood, He was an unusual child because He was fully God. He wasn’t unusual in appearance or physical strength, but in His behavior He was sinless – the perfect child. His parents never had to discipline Him. Ask any parent today, and they will tell you that such a child doesn’t exist! No wonder Luke 2:51 says that “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” He was certainly an unusual child!
During the time His family was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the other boys from Nazareth were probably running around the city, taking in the sights, playing games and doing things other pre-teens do. On the trip home they were likely goofing around, out of the sight of their parents, at the outskirts of the homeward-bound group. However, as verse 46 says, Jesus was “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.” He wasn’t flippant or argumentative. He was a child who loved God’s Word and wanted to discuss it. And “everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Lk. 2:47).
After this event in Jerusalem, Jesus returned home to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary, and “was obedient to them” (Lk. 2:51). What an unusual statement about a 12-year-old boy! The fact that He was the Son of God meant that He was the perfect pre-teen. The Lord Jesus, as God, was certainly an unusual Child.
JESUS As Man
As a human, Jesus was a normal child. If you had lived in Jerusalem and had seen the caravan from Nazareth arriving for the Passover, would you have been able to pick Jesus out from the other pre-teens in the group? Would He have had a halo around His head? Would He have been dressed in white? Not unless you’re looking at an artist’s rendition of Jesus! You won’t find a halo or a white robe in the Bible, not even when He was an adult. At 12 years, Jesus would most likely have worn a hand-me-down, well-worn, earth-colored robe for the long trip. Maybe He had a new robe in his pack to wear to the temple on the feast day, but it would have been earth-tone as well.
From a distance Jesus was just an ordinary boy, indistinguishable from the other 12-year-old boys in appearance. We probably wouldn’t have been able to pick Him out of the crowd because He was truly human – “fully man.” As a human child, Jesus lived a normal Jewish boy’s life in an ordinary small town in Israel. As a normal child, He grew and matured from infancy through boyhood to manhood. He ate, slept, learned and grew – physically, mentally and socially, as Luke 2:40 tells us: “And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.”
However, if we were to circulate among the group of boys, it wouldn’t be long before we would recognize Jesus. He would be the friendly, unselfish boy who always helped, who shared with others, who was responsible, who was obedient – the boy everyone loved! “Jesus grew … in favor with God and with men” (Lk. 2:52). Certainly Jesus was an unusual child because He was 100% God, but He was also fully man – 100% human. Therefore Jesus, as man, was a normal child.
Be A Friend Like JESUS!
In the last verse of Luke 1 we read about the growth and maturing of John the Baptist: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” There’s a significant difference between that verse and the final verse of Luke 2, where we read about the growth and maturing of the Lord Jesus: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with men.”
John the Baptist was “strong in spirit” – that is, spiritual and dedicated. He pleased God and was greatly used by God, but he was an austere person, ascetic in his lifestyle, and probably not the kind of person we’d naturally find attractive or with whom we’d easily make friends. Jesus, on the other hand, was not only strong in spirit and spiritual, but He was friendly and sociable as well. He grew in favor with people, as well as with God! At one point during His public ministry, Jesus spoke about the differences people noticed between John’s asceticism and Jesus’ accessible lifestyle. “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine … The Son of Man came eating and drinking … a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Lk. 7:33-34). Jesus was open and accessible to people. He was a well-liked person, as a boy and as an adult. “He grew in favor with God and men.”
Jesus made friends easily (Jn. 1:35-50; Lk. 7:34; Jn. 15:15). He would have been voted the best-liked student in Hebrew School! He reached out to people in a kind and loving way, and encouraged them. He helped them in times of need – whether a small physical need like a meal, or a great emotional need like the death of a loved one (Jn. 11:11). As He was then, so He is now. What a Friend we have in Jesus!
Our Lord Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), and now He asks us to follow His example. Jesus specifically asked us to serve others, following His example, when He washed His disciples’ feet. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (Jn. 13:14-17).
Jesus wants us to be friendly, open, and accessible to people – as He was. He asks us to be humble, kind, compassionate and gentle (Col. 3:12-14) – as He was. He asks us to come alongside people who are in pain or distress, comforting and encouraging them (2 Cor. 1:3-4) – as He did. He asks us to bring healing and strength to people who are frail and weak (Heb. 12:12-13) – as He did. He asks us to serve others, as He serves and cares for us. “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn. 13:15).
He’s our perfect Model! We should strive to be like Him.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org