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The King's Childhood

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Childhood of the King

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Date: 2022-01-09
Audience: Grass Valley Corps
Title: The King’s Childhood
Text: Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 2:39-52
Proposition: Jesus grew up just like a lot of kids
Purpose: Be amazed by Jesus
Grace and peace.
Examining Matthew’s bio of Jesus
We’ll sneak in pieces from other gospel writers
Some of my favorite parts of scripture are the in-between bits. Stuff that gets glossed over or passed by on the way to the next big story. Today, we’re going to look at a couple of those passages.
Ancient biographers wrote differently than modern biographers.
Modern focus: Details of the life, from the family born into, the circumstances, info about each stage of life.
Ancient focus: What were achievements and failures of person being written about. What was their character. Should they be imitated?
Similar ideas, but nowhere near the same in what they write about.
Moderns may spend 25-50% of time writing about childhood.
Ancients often skipped it altogether as being unimportant.
We are fortunate that both Matthew and Luke gave us some snippets about the birth and growing up of Jesus. All four of the gospel writers spend most of their time writing about his last weeks. Tells you what they thought was most important.
But we’ll get to that end of Jesus’ life later! Today, still at the beginning.
Joseph and Mary and the baby had been visited by the Magi, wealthy power brokers from the east who came to acknowledge Jesus as King of the Jews.
Their presence had alerted Herod the Great to the potential threat to his throne and it took a dream warning from God to get Joseph and his family running to exile in Egypt, narrowly escaping the soldiers Herod sent to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem.
We are given no details of the escape, of the border crossing, or of how the displaced refugee family chose to live while they were there. We don’t know where in Egypt they went. We don’t know much, really, because Matthew didn’t think it was important to the story he was telling about Jesus.
And it’s not.
But we humans are an inquisitive species, and when we aren’t given answers that satisfy us, we make things up to bridge the gaps.
About 200 years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, someone wrote a great piece of fan fiction about him which is called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It tells a remarkable and highly improbable account of the growing up years of Jesus. Mostly it seems to exist to teach that having knowledge without developing wisdom to go with it is a bad thing. Jesus is depicted as a shallow, spoiled, tantrum-throwing brat who maims and kills people around him when he doesn’t get his way or when anyone is foolish enough to challenge or discipline him.
As much fun as this kind of Twilight Zone speculation might be, we want to stick to the hard data facts here, so let me share with you all that we know about the time Jesus and his family were in Egypt.
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”
21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.[1]
We don’t know if this was days, weeks, months, or even a year or two later. We do know Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Or maybe it was 1 BC, or 1 AD, or possibly 5 BC. Okay, I guess we’re a little fuzzy on the specifics around when Herod the Great died.
We do know that when God asked him to do something, Joseph did it. There is some immediacy in the instruction: Get up and go! And it looks like Joseph got up and went.
To me this suggests they weren’t in Egypt for long – possibly just a few weeks of couch surfing or staying in inns here and there while they waited for God to tell them what to do next. It’s not impossible to leave an established life in a moment, but it is harder.
We also know that they didn’t have time to make a plan for where to go…
22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee.[2]
I think he was going back to Bethlehem.
Joseph and Mary had started to build their new lives there.
It was somewhere they didn’t have as much stigma as they would have in their home town. Remember, the people there thought that Mary had stepped out on her betrothal to Joseph and had ended up pregnant. And he had, for whatever reason, married her anyway. There was a lot of shame wrapped into that in their society.
Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, had been in line to be his father’s heir. But some last minute whim or fancy or madness had seized the king, and he had divided his lands between his sons. His sister would somehow end up with a section as well, once the Roman emperor had taken all claims and Herod’s will into account.
Antipas would end up ruling over Galilee and Perea in the northern regions of Israel. Herod Philip was given Iturea and Trachonitis, to the north and east of the Jordan. Salome ended up in charge of three small, separate regions within Israel’s other provinces. And Herod Archelaus, after some political machinations and sucking up to Caesar, came out with the three large, southern districts of Israel, including Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem were.
Archelaus had a reputation for being harsh and cruel, and after only nine years, in about the year 6, the Emperor had him removed for poor governance and Rome began to rule those territories more directly.
Wow, that’s a lot of history in a couple of minutes. Especially since knowing all that bring us to this:
When Joseph heard that Archelaus was going to rule over the area he’d been thinking of going back to, he became very worried. And God send him another dream to steer him away, into the territory of Antipas instead.
23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”[3]
Speaking of things we don’t know, we don’t know what Matthew is talking about here. There is no prophecy which says that Messiah would be a Nazarene, and Matthew is clearing referring to multiple prophets.
Current thinking is that he is referring to several references to the Messiah coming from obscure or humble backgrounds. This fits Nazareth. It was a backwater village, surrounded by more important places.
When Jesus began teaching and attracted his first disciples, one of them went to his friend Nathaniel and said:
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied. [4]
This backwater became the home town of the Messiah. We know that Joseph was a carpenter or a stonecutter who probably could have found work in the nearby city of Sepphoris to support his family. As time went on, there may have been more to do locally, but in those first years the shame we’ve discussed would have made him a less desirable hire to the people of the village. When you live with integrity, the shames of the past, real or imagined, do fade. As their family grew the notion that God was displeased with them would have less to recommend it, though some stigma remained attached to Jesus over the coming decades. We see places in the stories of his life where he is referred to as “Mary’s Son,” a way of suggesting that he was illegitimate and a somewhat offensive way to refer to someone in those days when sons were always called by their father’s name.
But the ins and outs of the next twenty-five or thirty or more years before Jesus began his public ministry are largely unknown to us as well. In truth, there is only one other story recorded by a gospel writer about the formative years of Jesus, and it’s over in the book of Luke in chapter two.
Luke doesn’t tell us about the detour into Egypt. It isn’t important to the story he is telling about Jesus.
Remember that Matthew is trying to show us how Jesus is the long-promised Messiah, the king of kings who was both human and also God in the flesh.
Luke, on the other hand, is telling a story of Jesus as the defender of the weak and savior of the oppressed. He is connecting Jesus to the Prophets, particularly to Samuel, who was a holy man in the midst of an unholy nation. He wants to show his readers the wisdom of Jesus, the Divine Son of God, but also that Jesus was a normal person who we can learn to emulate. He wants his readers to know that they can also be comforters of the weak and oppressed, bringing justice to an unjust world, just like Jesus.
And so, after telling of the events of the birth of Jesus, Luke tells us where the boy grew up and what he was like:
39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him. [5]
And the phrasing he uses to talk about Jesus’ health and wisdom are the same as those used in the book of Samuel to describe the boy growing up in the Temple, before he took on adult ministry.
Then we skip forward to the end of Jesus’ childhood and the beginning of life as a young adult male in Israel in those days.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual.[6]
Twelve, by the way, is the age at which Samuel was said to assume his role as prophet and minister to his people. In Jesus’ time, it was the last days before one was said to assume responsibility for taking part in the journey of God’s people in following the ways of life the LORD had originally intended before the corruption of the world with sin.
Part of that journey was following the Law as given by God through Moses, and part of following the Law was observing the Passover festival each year.
Passover attendance was required, if possible, for all devout Jewish men. They would come into Jerusalem and spend time there in celebration of the way God had saved his people in the time of Exodus. Sacrifices would be made and religious observances held and it was a time of reminder and expectation for the people of God. But Passover was also considered an important teaching time, when traditions and truths would be passed on from the adults to the children so that the LORD would be properly honored and his ways shared from generation to generation.
It sounds like Joseph and Mary were staunch believers and observers of the traditions of their people.
While we can’t say for certain, this seems likely to have been the first time Jesus attended the Passover in Jerusalem. He wasn’t old enough to be required to attend, and it was probably no more than a year or so after Archelaus had been removed from power. He was just about to come of age or perhaps just had, and the tradition of going to Jerusalem was one he needed to learn.
43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.[7]
Don’t go all helicopter parent on them, now! People didn’t keep tight strings on their kids back then. They would have been a small family traveling as part of a group of hundreds in the midst of a group of tens of thousands visiting. It wouldn’t have been strange for a family to break down their gear and begin to travel with a caravan while the children played elsewhere or with friends or whatever. Men and women often traveled separately in these kinds of groups as well, so it would have been easy for each parent to assume that Jesus was simply with the other one. They couldn’t just call or text like we would now.
Until dinner was made and shared and someone noticed that so-and-so hadn’t been underfoot or at hand to help with the dishes, there would have been no reason to notice an older child’s absence.
It was probably not until the next morning that they would have been certain Jesus wasn’t with the group. And their first thought likely wasn’t worry, but concern that he had followed the wrong group out of the city. So they headed back, asking people along the way to watch for him and point him back to them if he appeared. Or, as Luke put it:
45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there.[8]
A day of travel out, then coming back the same distance to start asking about a boy who was nearly a man who might have been left behind or gone astray.
Someone might have said something to them about this thing they had seen or heard about. Or perhaps the confused parents decided to visit the Temple to make a sacrifice and special prayer for God’s help knowing what to do next. Whatever, they found themselves in the right place after all.
46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. [9]
We aren’t told how it came about, but Jesus isn’t sitting at the feet of the rabbis like a student, but among them, like a peer. Rabbis generally posed questions to one another while disciples listened and asked any of their own questions later, in private. Here, Jesus is shown teaching as a rabbi, despite his youth. And the response of those with him suggests that this is a full conversation going on, not something one-sided or confrontational.
He may be just a kid, but he knows his stuff, and those around him are learning from his understanding.
Because we’ve talked about the book of Thomas today, I should point out that it also tells a story about this event, but it has Jesus shutting down the rabbis in the temple, silencing them, as if he has somehow cut off two thousand years of wisdom and tradition by appearing in their midst. That is NOT at all what Luke is suggesting by what he’s recorded. Instead, as their conversation has gone on, those participating are said to be AMAZED as the boy walks with them through Torah, helping them think through new ways to connect to God. It isn’t a repudiation of what has come before, but a clarifying, and encouragement to learn more and act deeper.
Then Mom and Dad show up and see what’s happening and they are blown away, but grateful to have found him and still scared that he was missing and tired from the extra travel time and worry… Luke says they saw this and didn’t know what to think. They were ASTONISHED. And Mary says the most mom-thing there is to say:
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” [10]
To which Jesus says:
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.[11]
Honestly, neither do we, though I think we can see something here that isn’t always easy to see in or remember about Jesus.
In some way, some glorious, mysterious, impossible for us to understand way, Jesus is fully human. Born and growing up just like any of us. Learning and maturing and expanding his horizons, just like any of us.
And in some way, some glorious, mysterious, impossible for us to understand way, Jesus is fully God. Divine, preexistent, powerful beyond imagination, the source and motivation of the cosmos, and yet diminished, held in check by his own will, brought to our level to reach us in a way we could not be reached otherwise. Willing to live and die for his beloved creation. Able to hold back from temptation to reach out and tap that God button to make things go his way. Both God and the Son of God together.
And in this space and time in the Temple of the LORD, alongside his parents, Jesus is in the presence of his Heavenly Father and his earthly father. And as he is passing from human childhood to adulthood, his responsibility is shifting. Yes, he belongs to the house of his earthly father, but also yes, he belongs to the house of his heavenly father and the time has come for him to begin to act in that capacity.
Do you see?
It’s impossible, but he’s doing it, being the son of both fathers.
He is showing both his human and his divine nature together.
And his parents don’t get it.
Not that any parents ever fully get their twelve-year-old, right? But this is, somehow, MORE than that.
And Luke ends the last legitimate story of the childhood of Jesus, with this:
51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people. [12]
So after this glimpse of the divine, we are fully returned to the human, and the story will continue, unremarkably, until the time comes for Jesus to do what he came to do, the things that his biographers thought it was important to tell us about.
So what do we know about the childhood of Jesus?
We know that he grew up like other kids. Some parts of his life were better and some parts were worse and it was all very truly and uniquely commonly human, with all the paradox that statement suggests.
At the same time, we know that the divine has been recognized in his birth and in his growth.
As we continue into his story, this should give us reason to pay attention to what he has to say so that we, like those teachers who surrounded him and acknowledged him as their peer, can be AMAZAED.
Because he’s just getting started.
Pray with me.
LORD-God, Creator of all, thank you for these stories of your Son.
We don’t get them.
And yet, in a way, we do.
Help show us why he deserves favor in our eyes.
Teach us his ways, so we can emulate them, if we choose.
Lead us to choose to do so.
I’ve been remiss, the last couple of weeks. I haven’t given people much chance to acknowledge you as Lord and turn their lives over to your care. God, if there is anyone who hears my voice who has not yet made their decision to follow Jesus, I pray that you would lead them in the right direction to do so.
If anyone needs to make that decision NOW, inspire them to do so with the simple prayer, “Jesus, lead, and I will follow.” Then take them by the hand and the head and the heart and lead them into the great adventure of journeying with you towards the world as you intended it to be.
One in which we live together with you and one another in true peace, with true justice, and in the kind of love that you have for each of us.
Help us to grow in wisdom and stature and favor with all people, just as Jesus did.
We pray this all in the name and by the power of your son, Jesus. Amen.
Next week we’ll hear the story of one who began to follow Jesus before either of them were even born.
Grace and peace to you all.
[1] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Mt 2:19–21). Tyndale House Publishers. [2] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Mt 2:22). Tyndale House Publishers. [3] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Mt 2:23). Tyndale House Publishers. [4] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Jn 1:45–46). Tyndale House Publishers. [5] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:39–40). Tyndale House Publishers. [6] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:41–42). Tyndale House Publishers. [7] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:43–44). Tyndale House Publishers. [8] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:45). Tyndale House Publishers. [9] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:46–47). Tyndale House Publishers. [10] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:48). Tyndale House Publishers. [11] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:49–50). Tyndale House Publishers. [12] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 2:51–52). Tyndale House Publishers.
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