Intro – Read Luke 2:39-52 – Lu 2:39 is a transitional verse taking us forward from the birth of Jesus. He tells us in Lu1:2 that he had interviewed eyewitnesses – one of whom had to be Mary herself. Luke has information that could have come from no other source. Don’t you wish you could have been a fly on the wall for that interview? Luke undoubtedly heard many things from Mary, but what he gives us in this passage is the one and only glimpse we have of the childhood of Jesus. We are curious for more, but this is all the Holy Spirit has seen fit to give us. We can assume that it is enough. So, why is it here? And what does it teach us?
Remember, one great clue in interpretation -- repetition? This passage has nearly identical bookends. Lu 2: 40: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” That’s Jesus from birth to age 12. Now Lu 2: 52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” That’s Jesus from age 12 until our next glimpse at age 30. They have a common emphasis? Notice the verbs – “grew”, “became strong” in Lu 2: 40. “Increased” in Lu 2: 52. Those words indicate progress -- development. They show us Jesus as fully human. In His divine nature, He knew everything; in his human nature, He knew nothing to start. Think of His divine nature as locked away during His earthly existence. He never utilized it to any special advantage. He lived a fully human existence. That’s why the God says in Heb 4:15 that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are.” He developed physically, socially, mentally and spiritually – just like we do. That has some astounding implications. It’s not difficult for us to picture Jesus growing physically – but to imagine Him knowing nothing? Harder to get our arms around! But He learned things. He matured in character and learned social skills. And He grew gradually into His knowledge of God just like we do. That is at the heart of the passage.
Luke also wants to show us that at age 12 Jesus recognizes His own deity. He learns who He really is, and begins to grasp His mission. Yet, armed with that staggering information, he continues in submission to His parents. That’s the main point. This is not primarily instruction in parenting.
But – there are childrearing principles here I want to examine before we go to the heart of the message. Prov 22: 6) Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The Hebrew, as we’ve seen, could be translated, “Train up a child according to his bent” – that is, in keeping with the unique gifting, personality and inclinations of that child. That’s a heavy responsibility. It is entirely possible for us with all good intentions to point children in the direction we want them to go, or toward worldly rather than spiritual success – to leave God out of the equation. Inadvertently we can choke out God’s best for them. But I see here 5 principles for creating an environment that will help children to discover God’s purpose for their lives that we will examine this week and next.
I. Balanced in Approach
Mary and Joseph must have often wondered, “How does one raise the Messiah?” He was clearly special, but He didn’t come with an instruction book. So, they set about as best they knew how to provide an environment where He could thrive by learning, growing, developing. And interestingly the emphasis is not all spiritual – it’s balanced. In both Lu 2: 40 and Lu 2: 52 we see that balance. Lu 2:52 particularly: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” The word “increase” (προκοπτω) comes from two words – the first means “forward”; the second means “to beat”. Like a hammer driving a nail with each strike. It depicts a steady and persistent advance. So Jesus is pictured as advancing – developing in four areas – wisdom (intellectually), stature (physically), favor with God (spiritually), and favor with man (socially). Physically, socially, intellectually and spiritually. And these are mentioned not once, but twice. Apparently all are important in God’s mind. Let’s look at each briefly.
In Lu 2: 40 we find that Jesus grew and became strong. In Lu 2:52 He increased in stature. He got physically bigger and stronger as the years went by. Jesus was a man’s man. He not only grew up, He grew strong. Later on He had no trouble gaining the respect of the rough-and-tumble fishermen who populated the Sea of Galilee. And God thought that His physical growth was important enough to record in His Word. So, we might ask ourselves, how do we insure the physical development of our own children?
Well, food is a primary contributor, isn’t it? We need to insure that our children are eating -- and eating right. If we are going to do our best to grow children physically, we need to know and teach them the things that are good for them. Not everything is. We have a generation of fast-food addicts often driven by hectic parental schedules. But can we let that be an excuse for allowing our children to overindulge on things that are bad for them? Give your kids a head start by minimizing the sweets and fast foods and soft drinks and maximizing a balanced diet.
Growing strong also involves exercise. During His three year ministry, Jesus walked thousands of miles around Palestine. He could keep up with anybody. So, kids need activity that will develop their stamina and build strength. Sports can help if the children are interested. Not all are, but generally there is some kind of exercise that does not seem burdensome to them. The Bible also advocates work. Look with me at Mark 3:1, “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?” The hometown folks knew Jesus as the carpenter. That will tell you a lot about how He grew and got strong. He was working, no doubt from his youth. It’s good to teach children to work. Work and exercise get kids away from TV and video games for awhile. I’m not against those, but if we’re are going to grow a children who are strong physically and mentally, we are going to have to put limits on those things.
There is so much to say here. Kids need sleep. They need to be taught there are things that can harm their bodies, and that they are responsible before God for their body. We all are. The principle is in I Cor 3:16-17, “16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” That’s not just for kids, is it? That’s for all of us. God’s Word obliges us to care for the body He has given us to the best of our ability. Our kids will learn by what we do, not what we say, how to eat right, exercise, and avoid the things that are bad for the body. Like all things, our children will become what we are, not what we say. Example is key.
Jesus grew in favor with man. Do you know what that means? It means He got along with people. And where did He get that? Same place we all ought to get it – at home! It is disheartening to see people who have been crippled socially because their parents never taught them social skills, never took them anywhere, never helped them learn to relate to people, did not teach them manners, but rather encouraged in them jealousy, intolerance, indifference and selfishness. I love how John describes Jesus in 1:14 as “full of grace and truth.” Jesus always made a good first impression. Many hated the message, but His person was attractive – full of grace and truth. Wouldn’t you like that to describe your kids? This is such a big subject, but let’s consider just 4 or 5 traits to teach kids to enhance their social skills.
Put others first – This principle permeates the Bible in passages like Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Teach this verse to your children and then show them how to apply it. Teach them to share because Jesus has given so much to us. Give them opportunities to help with chores around the house that will benefit someone else in the family. Ask at the end of each day how they contributed to someone else at home, school or play. Create a sensitivity to others by regularly asking, “How do you think so and so feels about this or that?” Teach older children to participate socially by putting away cell phones and video games when others are around – which means you will have to model that behavior. Put others first.
Make friends by being friendly -- Prov 18:24 in NKJV – “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” I discovered that verse in my early high school days at a time when the awkward trauma of teen-age angst was heavy upon me. It changed my whole life. I found out that if you take an interest in others – ask a few questions about them, you can make friends with almost anyone. A few words of grace return a hundredfold in most cases.
Avoid Gossip – Prov 16:28, “A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.” Teach your children not to entertain, let alone initiate, slander and gossip. Rather, teach them to speak and act honorably toward all, but particularly friends – especially those who have been singled out by the crowd. School days are an ideal time to learn “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Teach them James 3:5-6, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” The best thing any of us can learn is to never say anything we would not want blasted to the whole world.
Tolerate Differences – I don’t mean declare everything equally truthful or right. I mean teach children to respect the feelings and rights of those who disagree with us – who are different. Our homes are cauldrons of insensitivity, prejudice and condemnation through our off-hand, throw-away comments aimed at those whose lifestyle we reject, or whose political or religious beliefs we disagree with. I’m not advocating compromise, but that we teach kids tolerance for those who have a different point of view.
Champion the Underdog – Prov 17: 5) Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” Belonging to a group is a wonderful thing. But when it involves picking on someone less fortunate, we need to teach our children to stand tall. You can be sure that that is where God is, and that’s where we want to be.
There is so much more. Teaching boys how to tie a tie or girls how to walk in high heels – how to interact with the opposite sex, how to be moderate in apparel and attitude so that they are not put into situations they do not know how to handle. We want to prepare our children so that they can find favor and move confidently among other people – finding favor with men. Not by manipulation, but through kindness, gentleness and reflecting Christ.
Jesus increased in wisdom. Actually, the phrase in Lu 2:40 is interesting. It literally reads He was, “continually being filled with wisdom.” We might ask how one can be continually being filled with wisdom. You are either full or you’re are not, right? But of course, this is recognizing that as children grow, their capacity grows along with them. You could explain 2 2 for a month to a three-month-old, and they are not going to get it right? But by age 5, it should start to click in. So Jesus was in a continual learning process. We’ll consider some profound implications of that in a couple of weeks, but for now, His parents made sure that He had opportunities to continue to develop mentally. No doubt a great deal of his learning was at home. Where did He learn carpentry? At the feet of his earthly father, right? He no doubt went to whatever school was available. And He showed fluent knowledge of the OT which was not simple as scrolls were not readily available to just anyone. Much of that knowledge was probably from rote memory.
But it all points us to challenge our children intellectually. School is a great start, but we need to challenge them further in areas of their bent -- in the way they should go. Get to the library, play games, take advantage of some of the outstanding TV programming. Encourage them to try everything. Try music; try drama; try cooking, photography, sewing, woodworking – whatever. Find out what really stimulates them. They are not all Einstein, but we want them to grow to their capacity – whatever that is. A person who has grown physically but who hasn’t put it together mentally is like a car without an engine. We want them mentally to be the best they can be.
Finally, Jesus grew in favor with God. Everything else is important, but it all pales in comparison to this. The goal is children who know God. We have studied in recent months how God tells us in Deut to teach our children all the things in the Bible by the way we speak and live. We’ve looked in detail at Eph 6:4 regarding how we are to train and instruct and discipline our children. How we need a daily family time around God’s Word. We must be reading the Bible and Bible stories with our kids ourselves, getting them to church to learn, memorizing with them, praying with them – all those things.
But let me challenge you further. Americans proudly promote the power of the individual. We don’t bow to kings. We don’t recognize class distinctions. Anyone can grow up to be president regardless of race, color or creed. You want it – you go get it! With perseverance and hard work, it is all available. As Christians we urge them to invite Christ into their lives somewhere along the line, and to seek His help. But here is my point. It is really easy to urge our children to seek God’s help to become what we want or what they want, rather than what He wants. There is a very fine line between me-centered Christianity, and God-centered Christianity. But that fine line is crucial, for on one side lies the idolatry of self – on the other side lies true worship and favor with God. So the question is, is God a tag-along in our parenting, or are we creating children who prize God’s will above all things. For many parents, that is a scary proposition. What if God sent them to Africa?!!
We’re like the woman who called a gift shop and asked if they had toy phones. She explained, “It’s to go with a casket ribbon that reads, ‘God called and she answered.’” After hanging up the clerk shared the strange request with a co-worker. Momentarily, the phone rang. The co-worker said, “You answer it!” Sometimes we fear the will of God, do we not? But we fear the wrong thing, Beloved. What we should fear is missing His will.
You see the thing that gave Jesus favor with God was that, as we have seen many times, was His burden to do the will of the Father, not His own will. Jesus neatly summarizes His whole approach to life in John 5:30, “30) “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” That, Beloved – that is the ultimate goal for childrearing. To release them into the will of God for their lives, seeking the unique mission He has for them.
Most of us have seen the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire which documents the experiences of the Scotsman Eric Liddell at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Liddell was favored to win the 100 yard dash, his best event. But months in advance, the published schedule called for trial heats on Sunday, and Liddell, a devout believer, would not run on Sunday. He trained for the 400 meters, but his best time going into the Olympics was mediocre by international standards. When he got to Paris, the schedule held and so he withdrew from the 100. But he entered the 400 and just as the race was to begin, another believer from the American team slipped in a piece of paper with a quotation from I Sam 2:30: “Those who honor me, I will honor.” Eric Liddell won the event in a world record time of 47.6 seconds – 1-1/2 faster than he had run previously. He said at the time, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast, and when I run I feel God’s pleasure." He went on to say, "To give up running would be to hold Him in contempt." His missionary parents had taught him that his gifts were for God’s glory, not for his own. But that’s not the end of the story.
Liddell went to China as a missionary. During the 1930’s he married a Canadian girl and had three children, but by 1941, danger from the war forced his family to relocate to Canada while he stayed on. His efforts in teaching and finding provisions for the poor people where he lived became legendary; he was known affectionately as Uncle Eric to his young students. One fellow-worker said of him, “He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known." When he died of a brain tumor in 1945, just five months before the end of the war it is said that his last words were, “It's complete surrender" in reference to how he had given his life to God. Beloved, isn’t that what we want for our children – that every physical, mental and spiritual ability they have be given to Him, rather than trying to fit Him into their lives? That’s the goal. That’s what Jesus’ parents teach us about balanced parenting. Let’s pray.