Fully Human (2): Building Mission-Minded Children
Intro -- Col 3:3-4: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” So, is Christ your life? Is your life hidden such that when people see you they are really seeing Christ, and not you? Even in your secular career, is your life about Christ? That’s a lofty goal. And, it’s where believing parents point their children. Toward a life where me and my goals are subordinate to Christ and His goals. Have we taught our kids that God has a mission for them? I’m not talking about full-time Christian work – I’m talking about a life hidden with Christ whatever their career. Russell Moore says this verse is about “finding your life and mission in Jesus’ own, not in fitting him into the kingdom you design for yourself. For too long, we've called unbelievers to ‘invite Jesus into your life." Jesus doesn't want to be in your life. Your life's a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn't boring or purposeless or static. It's wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.’” Are you living that exhilarating life? How do you point your kids there?
Well, how about modeling the parents of Jesus? Last week we saw Luke 2:39-52 is the only glimpse we have of Jesus between His birth and the beginning of His ministry at age 30. This is it. And it is given for a specific purpose that we will examine in detail next week. But it is also reveals valuable parenting principles from the lives of Mary and Joseph – principles for creating a purpose-charged environment to challenge our kids toward God’s purposes rather than their own. I want us to see 5 principles.
I. Balanced in Approach
Lu 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” This emphasizes the human development of the Lord. He experienced His earthly life through His human nature. Thus, He made progress physically, socially, mentally and spiritually. Similarly as parents we are responsible to cover all the bases needed to instill confidence and inspire success in God’s plans for that life. Balance is needed.
II. Exemplified in Life
Lu 2:41-43: “ Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.” Mary and Joseph were faithful attenders at the 8-day festival which included Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It drew hundreds of thousands of people to Jerusalem each year.
In Lu 2:39, Luke says “performed everything according to the Law of the Lord” with regard to the birth of Christ. Now he shows us their continued obedience to the Law. These people lived by the Book. Obedient hearts led to obedient actions, though it wasn’t easy to make this 90 mile trip every year as the family grew. They were, as their son James would one day write “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas 1:22). They exemplify that no training a parent can give to a child is stronger than -- example. They lived what they believed, and Jesus follows their example. Jesus is in the last year before he would become, at age 13, a “son of the law” -- meaning he would be responsible to God directly – no longer through his parents. At age 12, study intensified in anticipation of that coming date. This is still Jewish practice in the ceremony of the Bar Mitzpah (which literally means Son of the commandment). Clearly, the example set by His parents that had a profound effect on Him. Example!
Tommy Bolt was a professional golfer known as Terrible Tommy for his awful temper. Once after lipping out six straight putts, he shook his fist at the heavens and shouted, “Why don’t you come down and fight like a man!” He was giving a clinic one time with his 14-year-old son. After explaining a certain ball-striking technique, he said to the boy, “Now, son, please show the nice folks what I taught you.” With that, the boy obediently hurled the 9-iron he was holding as high into the sky as he could. Example!
Contrast that with Howard Hendricks’s comments about 2 boys from the same family at DTS where he teaches, “If I had to pick two men from our alumni who are making an impact for the Savior, I would choose these products of a humble peach-farm home in California.” He asked once what they most remembered about Dad: "Two things – and interestingly enough, they appear to be contradictory. I used to have a paper route, and I had to get up at 4 AM. I go by my father's room and the door would be cracked, and I would see him on his knees in prayer. That made a profound impression on me. The second thing I remember is my father rolling on the floor with the skids of laughter." What an invincible combination – prayer and laughter! Makes us wonder, what will our kids remember us for?
Want your kids to have a fulfilling, purposeful Christian life. Then you must have one yourself. Want them to put God first – then you’ll have to do the same. Want them to have a rich devotional life. They must see it in you. One mother decided she wanted her daughter to know more of the Bible, so she announced one night that they would read some. She retrieved her Bible, but the little girl said, “Mommy, can’t we use Grandpa’s Bible?” The mother asked why. “Well,” the little girl replied, “I just think Grandpa’s must be more interesting.” “Why would you think that?” asked the mother. “Well, he reads his a lot more than you do,” replied the daughter. See, it’s not who you are on the outside, and it’s not what you say – it’s what you are inside that your children will emulate. They see you as no one else sees you. Their x-ray vision goes straight the heart. Want to know how they’ll turn out? Just look at who you are when no one else is around. Look hard. That’s who they are going to be. To have Godly children, we have to live a godly life.
III. Loving in Character
Lu 2:43-45, “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.” How would you like to have that on your resume? Lost the Messiah.
So, were Mary and Joseph negligent? No. When they went to Jerusalem, they didn’t just go load up the SUV, scoot down I-25 for a couple of days and then back. They walked! And not alone. See that word “group” in Lu 2:44? It is translated “caravan” elsewhere. They were part of a whole contingent from Nazareth who went together. That provided security, companionship for the journey and a holiday atmosphere. Extended family members, cousins, other friends and acquaintances were part of the contingent. Women and children usually walked ahead, and men came behind, sometimes a considerable distance. In that atmosphere, Mary and Joseph probably each assumed that Jesus was with the other or with other children his age. He was trustworthy, and the fact that they did not see him during the first day of the return did not concern them. Far from negligent, they were simply following custom.
Now, v. 46, “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Three days sounds long, but they probably did not discover him missing until nightfall of the first day. Then it was another day to return, and finally a 3rd day of looking. By Jewish reckoning, any part of a day counted as a whole day, so we need not assume that they were the full 3rd day looking before they found their way to the temple. But some time on that third day, they found him. It’s a preview, by the way: 21 years later on another Passover Jesus’ friends and followers thought that they had lost Him for good only to find Him resurrected on the third day – now not merely their friend but their Savior and Lord.
But on this occasion, we get Mary’s reaction in v. 48: “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Everything about this reaction screams “Normal” don’t you think? Mary is overjoyed to see her son, but she can’t help upbraiding him for causing such anxiety. So, did Jesus do something wrong here? Now the orthodox side of your brain is going to be telling you, “Of course Jesus didn’t do anything wrong.” But the unorthodox side of your brain is going to say, “Hmmm…it looks to me like this could be judged in some circumstances as something less than perfect child behavior.” Isn’t Jesus a bit like the boy who decides to join the circus? Deliberately disobedient?
But Luke clues us that Jesus has done nothing wrong here. First, both in Lu 2: 40, 52 he tells us Jesus was growing in favor with God. There is no criticism, only explicit commendation of His development. Second, he tells us in Lu 2:51 that Jesus was submissive to His parents. This is not a story of teen-age rebellion. But most telling of all is God’s statement in Heb 4:15 that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” There is misunderstanding here, yes – but there is no sin.
What there is is a lot of love. Mary says they have been “in great distress”, a word describing great mental pain or anguish. They were worried sick, because they loved Him. Actually, there is love all around here. They loved him enough to make teaching Him the Word a priority. Jesus himself says later in answer to one of Satan’s temptations that the Word is more important than food. He got that from His parents. They loved Him enough to live it before Him. They loved Him enough to give Him opportunity to live out His own faith. They loved Him enough to trust Him out of their presence. They sought Him with urgency when He was lost from them. Love is more than feeling; it is actions that point children to the Word to learn values and God’s love for them, that hold children accountable, not accepting excuses, and that respect their reach for independence as they develop.
Steve Farrar in Point Man cites a study done on children with high levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. Dr. Peter Blitchington summarizes the study like this: "Parents of highly self-confident children met three criteria: first, they were very warm and accepting of their children. They showed in every way that they genuinely liked their children. Second, they provided clear guidance for their children [for Christians, that’s the Word]. They laid down specific rules and regulations, and they expected their children to adhere to those guidelines. Third, they were respectful of their children's initiative and endeavors. They did not stifle their children whenever they showed independent actions.” Every one of those is modeled in the way Jesus’ parents love Him – creating a caring, secure, loving environment for growth.
IV. Imperfect in Execution
Will you be glad to know that Mary and Joseph were not perfect? V. 50: "And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” We will sort out the significance of Jesus’ answer to Mary and Joseph next week, but for now, understand that while doing their best, they were not perfect. Despite all the revelation they had been given; despite the fact that we often find Mary treasuring these things in her heart and pondering them, they were still somewhat in the dark as to the exact nature of His mission. They did not totally get Him, and they had failed to understand that He must take advantage of a unique opportunity afforded Him in Jerusalem.
It reminds us that parents are not perfect. We make mistakes. We can’t let that become an excuse. But we can know that we will not achieve perfection in this life and when we do not, we need only confess our sins – even to our children if necessary – and move on. When I was about 6 years of age we lived on a farm in Nebraska, and every winter Dad would put plastic storm cloth over the screens to block the harsh winter weather. He carefully explained to all of us boys that we were not to tamper with those screens in any way. Any holes poked in them would ruin the effect. So, when I saw my 4-year brother, Paul (#3), grab a broom handle, climb up on the washtub that was nearby and proceed to poke holes in the plastic, I was quick to grab the broom from him and warn him away. He got down and took off, but somehow before I got rid of the broom, Dad came around the corner and drew the only conclusion possible – that I had put those holes in the plastic.
I had the broom and I was the only one tall enough! I denied and denied and explained fully how it happened, but Dad was having none of it that day. Eventually he forced a confession out of me. I just didn’t know what else to say. And I got a good spanking. Falsely accused and falsely punished. But you know what? That was a complete aberration in my dad’s life. I can’t remember holding one hard feeling against him. Of course, he apologized in later years when he realized I really had not done it. It became a cherished family story – but it also illustrates a wonderful truth from I Pet 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” If kids know that you love them, they will forgive quicker than you can imagine. Sometimes, that’s what we have to fall back on. So, when it’s not perfect, Beloved, move on, and trust the Lord to cover it. He will.
V. Aimed at Launch
Jesus’ parents allowed him plenty of latitude to explore. Otherwise, He would not have been lost. He was not tied to His mother’s apron strings – although she tried at times. But notice Lu 2:49: “And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus’ comment is interesting. Since He never sinned, He was not in rebellion here, but was doing the perfect will of His heavenly Father – so there is a lesson in His comments. Despite the fact that they were loosening the reins, they had not gone far enough. They missed that he needed to take advantage of this opportunity to further His knowledge of the Scripture. Prov 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go” – according to His bent. The bent of this child was different from most, and they had missed a key way in which they could have participated in furthering His preparation for ministry.
The big point here is that by the time a child is 12 years of age, in most instances, the process of letting go should be underway. The function of a parent is not to hang on as long as possible, but to guide children into their God-ordained mission at the appropriate time. This does not happen overnight, and Jesus according to Lu 2:51 “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He wasn’t a finished product yet; He continued to be submission to them in the will of His heavenly Father, but they had learned a valuable lesson in letting go.
I love how Bill Cosby challenged students in a commencement address at the University of NC. He said, “All across this great nation people are graduating and hearing they are going forth. My concern is whether they know where "forth" is. The road home is already paved, but "Forth” is not back home. We love you and we are proud of you, and we are not tired of you . . . but we could get tired of you. "Forth" could be next door to us, but you pay the rent.” “Forth” for a Christian child is a life mission which could be anything from serving as a full-time missionary in a cross-cultural setting to bringing a Christian worldview and witness to a career in agriculture, engineering, architecture, business, teaching or wherever God calls. The point is, we’re all called to something, and as parents our job is to launch our children into their calling. Remember Psa 127:4, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” Arrows have a purpose which can only be achieved by letting them go.
Are we creating an environment where kids are challenged that is not about them and their kingdom – but about Him and His kingdom? Many of you have met Wayne and Amy Losey – missionaries that our church supports who work in a very dangerous part of the world. They have occasionally had to move residence when the wrong people found out where they were, and sometimes when they went out with the whole family of 4 girls and a son, the kids had to duck down so as not to be visible. I first met them about 4 years ago when they did a presentation to a small group here. Afterward I said to Wayne, “You didn’t highlight it much, but it is clear that you are living in a very dangerous area. How do you present this to your children?” I’ll never forget his response. He said, “What we do is what Christianity if all about. Ours is a normal Christian existence. God is in charge. We know we are where he wants us. We teach our children that our faith is in God. If, in His grace, anything should happen to us, they know that we love them, that we will be with Him, that God will care for them, and that they can carry on for His eternal purposes.” That is what life is about. Most of us aren’t in mortal danger every day, but that is the right perspective. Our job as parents? Create lives hidden in Christ that will appear with Him in glory. God help us to do it. Let’s pray.