Prep for Ministry - Jesus' Training
Scripture: Luke 2:39-52
Jesus grew in favor with God and men, and he sets the pattern for us to grow in the same way.
Well, over the next five weeks, we are going to look at the section of Luke that I am calling prep for ministry. It’s the training montage of the Gospel of Luke for Jesus’ ministry. It’s the section of the gospel that follows the story of Jesus’ birth, but it comes before Jesus begins his ministry. So, it runs from Luke 2:39 through 4:13, and it reads like Jesus Bootcamp. This is preparation. It’s the time of testing and training that Jesus endured to prepare him for his three years of ministry, that culminates in his work on the cross. And there are a few things that stand out about this section of Jesus’ life. The first is how much it focuses in on Jesus’ humanity, especially in our passage today. And in three weeks from now, when we look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we are going to see a Savior that is indeed a man. He’s a person just like you and me. He grows. He learns. He’s vulnerable to temptations that we find in this world. And because he is a person just like you and me, he’s able to sympathize with us. He’s able to understand what you and I are going through. He understands our situation. The second thing that makes this section unique is how it shows us that Jesus is more than just a man. He is a man, but he’s more than just a man. He’s the man that we need because he succeeds where we fail. The core of Christian theology, the part of the news that makes the Good News good, is salvation by grace. It’s the wonderful reality of our salvation, that it’s not purchased by our God-pleasing behavior, but it actually comes to us as a gift. It’s given to us by God. And what makes this grace possible is Jesus’ triumph in precisely the places where you and I fail. Jesus succeeds where we fail. His preparation for ministry succeeds, where our preparation fails. His success in his temptation against sin enables his death on the cross to pay for our sins, instead of his own sins, because he succeeded where we fail. Jesus succeeds where every person under Adam, every son or daughter from Adam, has failed to live a life that’s acceptable to God. And this is why we need God’s mercy and grace. And here in this section, we see why this grace is made possible through Christ. And the third thing that I’m excited about that we’re going to see in this section is that it helps to set the pattern of training that you and I should follow. If you follow Jesus, it is your heart’s desire to be more like Him, right? You want to be more like Jesus. So, we look to his life as a model for how we should now live. And by the way, that’s true of every scripture passage and certainly every passage that teaches us about Jesus. But here in this section, we get to look at Jesus’ training, and it tells us something about the way that we should be training. So if you want to know more about Jesus’ spiritual strength, and how that strength empowers his grace, this is the section for you. This is a great section. And I’m looking forward to the challenge here because I’m like you. I am weak in places, and I need to be stronger. I need to follow Jesus more closely. I need to become spiritually strong. And so, I want to know about the strength of God’s grace and mercy. I want to know how to grow strong in the Gospel, and how I can overcome the sinful temptations of this world. Do you feel like that’s the way you want to grow, too? Well, that’s what you’ll find here. If that’s where you’re at, you’re going to love the next five weeks.
Today, we’re going to start with Jesus’ education as he grows in his father’s house. Jesus grew in favor with God and with men, and he sets the pattern for us to grow in the same way. So go ahead, and if you have your Bible, you can open it up to Luke, Chapter 2, verse 39. I will have it on the screen as well. We’re going to look at a very rare passage today, very rare story. It’s the only passage of scripture that describes Jesus in his boyhood. It’s the only story we have. There are stories about Jesus in His youth from non-biblical books, and they’re pretty shady, and they’re not at all historically trustworthy. Okay? They’re very, very strange. This is the only story in Scripture that tells us anything about what Jesus was like when he was younger. And it provides an outstanding example for us as Christians today. And this is true for all of us. None of us have outgrown what we are going to read today. We’re all going to see ourselves in this passage. But let me talk briefly, just here at the beginning, to two groups of you. First of all, if you are under the age of 18, so you’re in the room this morning, if you are under the age of 18, check out Jesus as a student. You’re going to get to see, this is the only chance you got to see Jesus as a student. He’s in youth ministry at this point. So, check this out. He sets the pattern for spiritual growth that I hope that you will adopt, both now and for the rest of your life. And the other group I want to talk to is those of you who are not followers of Jesus, but you’re checking Jesus out. You’re considering him. And I want you to note the way Jesus grows spiritually. The world tells you to be a critic.
I want to challenge you today to consider a different way of learning today. So, let’s begin in verse 39. I’m going to read the beginning and the end of this story first. “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” The first thing I want you to notice is that there is a frame around our passage today, see how it begins and ends in a very similar way. You can look at verse 40, and then you can look at verse 52. These two statements at the beginning and the end give us the reason that Luke includes this passage. Luke wants us to know what is happening with Jesus while he’s growing up. And you’ll notice that the statement made at the beginning of the story is slightly different than the one made at the end. And that change that you see there is important. Luke starts off in verse 40 by saying, “and the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him”. “Grew” here is referring to his actual physical growth. Jesus is now 12 years old. As a father of a son who just turned 14 this week, I can attest that he is in fact bigger than he used to be. They do grow. But “became strong” here is not referring to physical strength, it’s referring to his spiritual growth. And we know that because Luke qualifies it with “filled with wisdom”. So, we don’t know what Jesus has been doing for 12 years, but whatever he’s been doing has not only given him normal physical development, it has filled him with godly wisdom. His relationship with God has grown to the point where it can be said that not only is he wise, but he’s filled up with wisdom.
Parents, I want you to hear me on this. It is never too soon to be investing the gospel in your kids. It is never too soon. Sometimes I have parents come to me and they say, “Hey, Kyle, when should I start reading the Bible with my kids and praying with my kids?” And my answer is, “do you have kids?” And they say, “Yes”. I say, “now would be a good time”. No matter what their age, you should be investing in them. The normal pattern of spiritual development in Judaism and in Christianity established by Scripture and then demonstrated by Jesus here is home based discipleship. That’s the normal pattern. God instructed Israel to worship as families. He told them to write Scripture on the posts of their house. Maybe you got a picture at home has got some scripture on it. That comes from the instruction we see in Scripture. There’s a place for programs in churches to supplement the discipleship that’s happening at home. But you get to have your kids far more than any program ever will or should have your children. So read Bible stories together. If they’re young, get one of those, get the Jesus Storybook Bible. That one’s great. Read them to your babies, right? There’re other ones too. And they get older, and you can get better storybooks. Sing songs, pray together. I don’t want to hear you say, “well, I don’t sing very well”. Have you heard me sing? You don’t want to, alright? Just sing. I rely on my kids when we start, when we sing as a family, and come on guys, you got to start it off. Dad can’t do it. Alright? But pray and sing and read with your kids. These 0 to 12, 16, 18 years are the years that you have to help develop them to be followers of Christ. And as they grow physically, they should also be growing spiritually in your home. But now jump to verse 52, it’s a very similar ending, but there’s a key change. “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” So here he doesn’t just increase in wisdom, but in stature. Stature is reputation. And it’s not only the favor of God that increases, but it’s also the favor of other people, favor of men. What happens in this story is that Jesus’ wisdom in his favor that he had with God now gets revealed to other people. Other people start to see it, and now they share that admiration of Jesus. What was known only to God is now known more widely. The people in the temple learn something about Jesus. His parents learn something about Jesus in this story. And by considering this story carefully, Jesus’ stature and his favor should increase with us as well.
Let’s look at what happened. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 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, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.” It has got to be embarrassing when you lose your kid, and they put it in the Bible, you know what I’m saying? Oh, Mary was probably Luke’s source on this. And I imagine she was probably, could we just start with us being in the temple? Could we just start? Oh, you need context for that. You need to know how we got there. Hmm. I think there’s a reason that they don’t record Mary and Joseph’s conversation on that day long journey back to Jerusalem. I feel like it was a lot of blame shifting and pointing at each other. A lot of “he was with you” kind of statements, you know what I’m saying? So, Luke has already shown us that Joseph and Mary are very pious people, and they love the Lord, which is why they’re in Jerusalem as a whole family. Only Joseph has to be there, by the way. Custom says only Joseph has to go, but he has his whole family in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. That’s very much in line with what we know about this family. And it explains why Jesus was growing spiritually as much as he had. Clearly, this is a family that is dedicated to making worship a full family practice. And they stay for the whole feast, and then join with the caravan on the journey back to Nazareth. And this is where things go poorly. They thought Jesus was with the other family members, which sounds weird, because we don’t let our kids go off and do anything anymore, right? Everybody’s got their kids real close to them. Well, back then I guess, it was just, go be around in the group somewhere, just stay in the group. And as you imagine, they were loading up, Jesus was there playing with his cousins. And so, you just assume that he’s going to be in the group. It’s really not hard to lose track of somebody when they’re in a group. I once led a missions trip to Ensenada, Mexico, with a whole bunch of teenagers. And on the last day, as we were counting up the teenagers to get back into the vans, we had two vans and they were loading up, and one of our students decided that she was going to ride with a different church group. We were in Mexico. We had to go through the border at Tijuana, and she was in a different vehicle on the way back. And oh, by the way, that church group had a flight that was far later than ours. We were racing to the airport, and they were just sort of lollygagging their way to the airport. And so, we had to stop at a rest stop, and they pulled in and we got this girl, and got her into the van, and we ran to the airport, and we chased through the airport like home alone style, you know, to get to where we needed to be. The point is, it’s not hard to lose a kid. That’s my point. It’s really not, especially since at this point Jesus is the oldest and probably the most trustworthy. He’s the one you’re supposed to be able to let go on his own.
So, what has Jesus, this responsible oldest child, gone to do? Well, here’s the point of the story. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Three days, can you imagine how that must have felt? After three days, they finally find him in the temple, and notice what Jesus is doing here. Here’s the heart of the story. Here’s the most important thing. He’s doing four things. He is sitting. He is listening. He’s asking questions, and he is answering. He’s sitting, listening, asking, and answering. First, he puts himself in a position of submission to his teachers. He’s sitting. That’s the way the rabbis would teach their students. The classroom of learning was sitting with your teacher, and then you’d follow your teacher around, and then you would sit again with your teacher. We’ll see this when Jesus becomes the teacher, and his disciples follow him around. You might think that Jesus being Jesus, would immediately command the place of prominence, right? That he’d be in the place. After all, he is the immaculately conceived Son of God who these teachers have been waiting for. This is the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. They were teaching him about him. Okay. Wouldn’t you think that instead of sitting at their feet, they should have been sitting at his feet? But part of what it meant for the second person of the Trinity to become a man, to become incarnate, was that he would develop like any other person. And this included the expansion of his mind concerning the things of God.
Let me take just a moment here to speak on a pretty difficult theological question. If Jesus is fully God, who is omniscient, he knows everything, how does he grow in wisdom at all? How does that happen? If God knows everything, and Jesus is God, how does Jesus not know everything without ever having to learn? Well, the simplest answer, and the one described in Scripture, and put into words at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, is that Jesus is one person with two natures. So, Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature. Jesus’ divine nature took on a weak human nature when he became a man. He didn’t become less God, He just became more man, 100% God, 100% man. And at different points in the gospels, you can see Jesus perform acts that are in alignment with each one of his natures. So, he will heal the sick, and he will raise the dead, but then he will also get hungry and take a nap. You go, how do you do both of those things? Sometimes he shows his divine insight, He knows things that he can’t possibly know without being God. And sometimes he exhibits limitations to his knowledge that come from his human nature. So, the answer is that Jesus is complex because of his dual nature. But wouldn’t you expect God to be complex? Wouldn’t you expect the Creator God, to be complex? You’d expect complexity. The complexity isn’t easy to wrap our heads around, but I would expect that an eternal God would make a creature, me, who cannot fully comprehend him. While full comprehension of Jesus’ dual nature is going to be impossible, what it teaches us is something that we can comprehend, and it’s something that’s actually pretty inspiring. Jesus’ divine nature causes him to live out his human nature in a way that’s perfect. So, he has a human nature, but he’s able to live it out perfectly because he’s God. He can live it out in a way that’s untainted by sin. For you and me, this means when we look to Jesus acting in his humanity, we see a perfect example of how we are to act in our newly regenerated human natures. We’re seeing perfect human nature when we look at Jesus, and so we know how we should be human. Jesus was perfectly in step with the Holy Spirit. He had perfect communion with the Father, which means he’s showing us, as new creations in Christ, how to do this. If Jesus, under the favor of God and man, develops his spiritual life by sitting at the feet of his teachers, we know that that’s what it’s going to take for us to grow to be men and women who are like Christ.
So, Jesus sits. And he listens. That’s the second thing he does. He listens to these guys teach God’s word. Man, this is an example for our day. We are not a listening culture. I mean, I know you’re listening right now. That’s great. Thank you very much. But generally speaking, we are not a listening culture. We are a know-it-all culture, that doesn’t even wait for the other person to stop talking, before we want to insert what it is we think we already know, on top of that. I don’t want to be too harsh because there are still learners in the world and all of us learn at times. But there is a trend toward pushing aside experts in their field. I mentioned this here just a few weeks ago and taking on this position where we think we know everything. Someone uses a buzzword that we don’t like, and we instantly shut our ears, and we assume we know exactly what that person thinks. And we’ve already had our argument ready for exactly what we were going to say in that moment. Here’s the Savior of the world sitting at the feet of teachers. These are men and women who were made by Jesus. They were made for Jesus. If ever there was a guy that could say, just be quiet and listen to me, it was Jesus in this moment. If ever there was a time when you could say, you know what, why don’t you guys just stop talking, you need to listen, you need to be better listeners, you need to listen to me, it would be Jesus in this moment. But he is sitting, and he is listening, so that as a man, he could deepen his knowledge and his wisdom. And he’s asking questions.
So this third thing he’s doing. He’s asking questions. Jesus probes deeper into the teaching by asking questions to these teachers. Imagine that, when these guys get done teaching, Jesus doesn’t jump up and offer corrections to what they said and grab the mic and begin waxing eloquently about how he actually knows more than they do, he asks questions to further his understanding of the scripture. Again, I know that’s complex because he’s God, but in his human nature, he develops his understanding of God by asking questions and then listening to the answers to those questions. And then after all of the sitting and the listening and the asking, it says Jesus amazed everyone there with his understanding and his answers. So, this process of learning for Jesus resulted in a demonstration of his education through what he said and how he answered questions that the teachers then asked him, to the point that everyone around him was amazed at how well he was doing. Understanding and answering are demonstrations of what he’s learned. By the way, he’s not bringing fresh content here. He’s not demonstrating his own understanding that he had before he received the insights from the teachers. That day is coming by the way, Jesus will eventually speak with authority that is unlike any of these teachers. But that’s not what’s happening right now. They’re amazed because Jesus is taking in the teaching, and then he’s demonstrating his understanding, and he’s getting all of the answers right on the oral examination afterward. Friends, what Jesus is showing us is not only the importance of learning God’s Word, but the manner in which we should learn it. Spiritual formation comes from sitting at the feet of God’s Word and listening to the Lord and to those who teach the Word and deepening your understanding through engagement with the Word. This is how you grow. Ask questions, find answers. There’s a difference between hearing a sermon and engaging the scriptures and seeking understanding. It’s the difference between sitting in the back of the class, tuned out, hoping the teacher won’t call on you, and then sitting in the front row, totally engaged, wrestling with what you hear and asking good questions. I’m speaking metaphorically here, figuratively here, right now. It doesn’t actually matter where you sit. It matters what your heart is doing. It matters what your ears are doing. There’s nothing passive about spiritual growth. You will not just accidentally end up more like Jesus. If Jesus himself was proactively engaged in listening, learning, and demonstrating his understanding, there is no sense in which we will grow and be prepared for ministry without doing the same thing. That takes passion, though. You have to have passion for that.
Where does that passion come from? “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.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Boy, I tell you, if my kid gets an answer like this, we’d have some words. Son, why are you treating me like this? Why were you looking for me at all? Oh, boy. Hmm. But the tone here, the tone here is not sarcastic. We know this because it says after this, that Jesus became submissive to his parents and that Mary treasured these things in her heart. So, this wasn’t a sticking point for them. What Jesus is saying here is a surprising but not disrespectful explanation for why he is where he is. “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” I think 12-year-old Jesus is genuinely surprised his parents couldn’t find him. It seems obvious to him where he would have to be. In the same way that people who listen to Jesus’ answers were amazed at his understanding, Jesus is revealing something to his parents about himself. He’s sharing with them a bit more of his identity and his mission. As the Son of God, he has come to carry out his Heavenly Father’s commands. So of course, he has to be in his father’s house. It is the singular passion of his life to do everything that the father has for him to do. Of course, he has to be in his father’s house, learning from his father’s feet, preparing for his father’s assignment. See when your goal is to serve your father, when God is your father, his mission for your life becomes the singular goal of your life. This should be the motivation; this should be the drive that fuels the passion of every follower of Jesus. I once wasn’t in a relationship with God. I didn’t know my Creator, so there was no real effort to know the Lord. Non-Christians can certainly have a curiosity about God. They may have some interest in learning about God. They may even have some devotion to some sort of false God in order to try to get some kind of blessing for life that they really want. But the person who has a relationship with the father, through the son, has a growing inner passion to be with God. I don’t want God stuff. I want God, to know him, to experience life with him.
A relationship with the Lord will be built on an inner hunger to listen and to sit and to ask questions and to understand who he is. And as you grow in your understanding of the Lord, you’ll not only want to understand his mission for you. You’re going to be better equipped for that mission. Let me turn back to the two groups that I spoke to earlier in the sermon. If you don’t know Jesus, if you aren’t a follower of Jesus, this is why you don’t grow spiritually. This is it. You need a heart transformation. You need a relationship with Jesus before you’ll have a passion in your heart that drives you to spiritual growth. Until that happens, all you’ll have is a passing interest in spiritual things. Your questions will be critical. Your ears will be closed, and you’ll be waiting for your chance to speak. This is not to say that there aren’t good questions that skeptics sometimes ask, but spiritual growth begins with repentance. It begins with trusting in God’s grace through Christ and a new life, then and only then, will you have a hunger for God’s Word. And until you have that hunger, and you really learn the Scriptures, can I challenge you to have some intellectual humility, understanding that there are people who consistently sit at the feet of God’s Word, reading and wrestling with it, who will have more knowledge about it than you do. And to you who are younger, let me say, don’t just listen to Jesus, see his passion. Listen to Jesus’ passion. It’s his love for the father that compels him to be a student of God’s Word. You are not going to just passively grow and be prepared for ministry. It’s not going to just happen somehow. With the motivation of your relationship with Christ, you need to root yourself in God’s Word, ask questions, dig deeper, wrestle with the application of God’s Word on your life.
Did you notice that his parents don’t get mad at him? They don’t get mad at him. I don’t know. Even if my son was Jesus, I think I’d be a little upset about this one. They don’t get mad at him. But despite this being a pretty traumatic event, Jesus’ parents, they don’t get upset. They just take him home. I believe this is because this is the first example of Jesus’ ministry that was going to cause pain for Mary. That was the prophecy of Jesus, about Jesus, in chapter 2 verse 35. His ministry was going to be great, but it was not going to be easy. They’ve known that Jesus’ ministry will somehow cause them pain for 12 years. They knew this was going to be a stretching moment for them. And now here he is on the edge of manhood, and Jesus is beginning to show that his dedication to the Father is more important than anything on Earth. There is nothing more important to Jesus than serving his Father. Even more important than his own parents. Church, that’s where Luke leaves us in this passage today. Praise God, we have a Savior that was committed to the mission of the Father, even when it caused pain, even when it was hard. He is faithful to do all that the father asks him to do when we are not. He succeeds in his spiritual growth where you fail, praise God. It’s because of this perfection that he can die and bear the sins of those of us who are not perfect in our preparation for ministry. We fail all the time. Jesus never did. But then now, let’s also look to him as our example. Let’s commit to be a student of God’s Word in the way that he was, driven by the passion of the relationship with the father that he secured for us with his great sacrifice. Would you pray with me?