In 325 AD the Council of Nicea met to hammer out one of the most controversial doctrines of the time. They came to a conclusion about the nature of Jesus Christ. Previously there had been significant debate about whether He was man or God and how humanity and divinity worked in His life. Docetism said that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh; Arianism held that Christ was a created being and Nestorianism, maintained that the Son of God and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate natures. The Council of Nicea agreed about what we continue to believe today and that is that Jesus was fully God and fully man.
What interests us is “How did that work in the life of Jesus?” Although at a completely different level, we wrestle with the same question. We are children of God and fully committed to following God and serving Him. At the same time, we are also human beings. We need to eat and relate to other human beings and do all the things that human beings do. How can we live well at those two levels?
There is a story in Luke 2:41-52 in which we see what was probably the first clash in Jesus’ life on this question. As we examine this story, we get a bit of a glimpse of how Jesus lived as God and man? As we think about His example, there are some things for us to learn as well.
It was the custom of Jesus’ parents to go to Jerusalem every year in order to attend the Feast of the Passover. There were three festivals which faithful Jews were required to attend – the Passover, the feast of Pentecost and the feast of Tabernacles. Because such travel involved a lot of time, time away from things at home and also cost, most people who lived some distance away only attended once a year at the feast of Passover.
We don’t know if they attended all three, but the text says that it was the custom of Jesus’ parents to attend this feast annually. The distance is at least a 3 or 4 day walking trip and so going required a significant commitment and the fact that they went regularly tells us that his parents were seeking to follow God faithfully and to the best of their understanding.
It was the custom that at the age of 13 a boy would be considered old enough to begin to take on adult responsibilities. We do not know if this was the first time that Jesus had gone along to the feast, but it was significant that when he was 12 he should go along to begin to learn what it meant to participate in the adult celebration of the festivals. So when Jesus was 12 years old, he went along with His parents on this journey to celebrate what God had done in delivering His people out of Egypt.
After the days of the festival were over, they began the return journey home to Nazareth. For the sake of safety, they usually traveled together in a large group. It was not unusual for the women and children to travel separately from the men, who may have gone ahead and behind to protect the whole group. So it was that after they had traveled a day, they stopped for the night. At this point, Joseph and Mary may have checked in with each other. Perhaps each had assumed that Jesus was with the other or perhaps with someone else in the group, but he was not and after searching among the whole group it became obvious that they had left him behind.
The story intrigues us because we don’t know everything that happened. Did the parents forget to tell Jesus it was time to leave or did Jesus just decide to stay behind? We just don’t know so it is a difficult to lay blame either at the feet of the parents or Jesus.
Mary & Joseph returned to Jerusalem and began to look for him. The text says that “after three days they found him…” Was that three days after they had left – one day to travel out, one day back and one day searching or was it three days after they returned to Jerusalem. In either case it highlights the question of Jesus, “Why were you searching for me.” They had spent time looking around all the different places where a 12 year old boy might have been, perhaps where they had stayed, with other friends or at the shops in the city but not looking in the temple. This suggests that they did not have a strong sense of who Jesus really was.
When they found him, they were upset with him, as parents would be and registered their displeasure with him.
It is at this point that Jesus pointed out to them that he was right where he belonged as the Son of God. He was in the temple. While there He had not been idle either, but had been taking the opportunity to ask good questions of the religious leaders and we read that they were impressed at his perceptive thoughts.
Mary and Joseph didn’t understand His response, however, even though Mary was “pondering these things in her heart.” This is the same phrase which occurs when the shepherds had come and announced what they had seen. Even so, they still didn’t fully understand.
After they found him they returned to Nazareth and Jesus continued to live with them and grow up. In fact, he continued to live with them for another 18 years until he was 30 years old.
The Bible reveals, particularly in John 1:14 which says that “the Word became flesh,” that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is interesting to contemplate what that might have looked like. There are stories, myths really about miracles that Jesus performed as a child. In one tale, familiar to the writer(s) of the Koran, young Jesus was modeling clay birds by a stream. Young Pharisees carped that he was violating the Sabbath with such “work,” whereupon Jesus clapped his hands, bringing the birds to life.
Yet stories like the one which we are examining today suggest that his divinity was much more hidden than that. If his most “divine” act as a child was to say “I had to be in my Father’s house” and if at that point his parents didn’t understand even that saying, then it is unlikely that he manifested his divinity as a child. The Bible tells us that He “emptied” Himself of the divine glory as we see in Philippians 2. When his ministry began and he started to truly manifest divinity in his ability to heal and teach with authority, his mother and brothers once again didn’t get it and found his behavior so unusual that they had concerns about him, as we read in Matthew 12:46. So if His divinity was hidden in that way, how did He live as a human child? The answer to that question is found in verses 51, 52. The first thing we discover is that He returned to Nazareth with his parents. This return was not reluctant or forced, but willing because we notice that he obeyed His parents.
We also notice that he continued to grow as a human child. His growth was in stature. He had been born as a baby and he grew as a child and became a man. His growth was also in wisdom. It seems that He did not know everything even though He was divine. That phrase lets us see that he had emptied himself of divine wisdom and grew in wisdom, much as any human child. We also read that he “grew in favor with God and men.” He was a child who continued to obey God. We read in Hebrews 5:8, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered." Growing up was a part of the things he suffered. He was a child who developed in his relationship with God and also in his relationship with other people.
The humanity of Jesus teaches us that being human is not a curse or a sin. We are human and live human lives and deal with human matters every day. Doing that is not the absence of godliness. Some have thought that the flesh is evil and must be denied and so and have lived apart from every human comfort and convenience. The humanity of Jesus shows that He did not do that. He fully embraced being human and as such affirms our humanity and takes away the guilt of being human.
I think it also teaches us that He was human in the sense that he was the best human being that he could be, in spite of all the limitations of being human. He embraced his maturing manhood and grew in wisdom and was liked by people and grew in his relationship with God. As such, His example teaches us to live as the best human being we can be. Instead of falling to the worst of humanity, the example of Jesus challenges us to be the best human being we can be – hard working, growing, learning, encouraging others, loving others and affirming the same thing in others, so that others would be inclined to say of us, “She is a great human being.”
Yet Jesus was also fully divine and aware of His divinity.
His awareness of His divinity is seen in the perceptive questions he asked so that all who listened to him and saw what was happening “were astonished.”
The awareness of His divinity is also seen in what he said to his parents, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”
In this statement we understand that Jesus had a clear understanding about what His primary relationship was. When Mary scolded him she said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching.” Jesus response refers not to Joseph his earthly adopted father, but he says, “I must be in my Father’s house.” The love which Jesus had for His Father is evident not only at this early time in his life, but also throughout His life. For example in John 10:30 He tells the disciples, “I and my Father are one.”
Just as Jesus manifested His divinity by the clear understanding of His primary relationship and by His strong and intimate relationship with His Father, He becomes the example for those of us who are children of God. Certainly there is a difference, but there is nevertheless a powerful encouragement to recognize the primacy of our relationship with God and to live in intimacy with Him.
The other way in which we see His awareness of His divinity is in the sense of mission He lived with. The English translations don’t give us the full strength of the phrase “I had to be” or as NRSV has it “I must be” in my Father’s house which has behind it a Greek word which indicates that it was a divine necessity. Jesus knew that He had come as God to earth in order to accomplish the will of God. This example of Jesus also encourages us to be about the work God has given us to do as His children.
This story reveals one glimpse of that marvelous mystery of the complete humanity and the complete divinity of Jesus. It helps us understand a little of how he lived fully as a human being and also was fully divine.
As a human being, Jesus was the best human being he could be. As divine, he never forgot that He was first of all the Son of God and one who had been sent to do His work.
If that is a little glimpse of how Jesus lived in that challenging place of being a Son of God in the world, we can learn from Him.
We also can do all we can to grow in understanding what it means to be the best human being we can be. We also must put our relationship to God in first place and serve Him fully.
As we begin a new year, may we make this our resolution to follow Jesus, both in our humanity and in our being children of God.