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Lessons Learned

Luke  2:41-52

Readers with military experience will understand why I do not consider basic training, as delivered by the Unites States Army, to be a model of educational technique. Most of what I learned about the art of legitimate killing has faded with time. But there is one particular lesson I do remember.

The session began with our drill sergeant holding a pugil stick. Imagine a Q-tip about six feet long with a boxing glove at each end. It was the training tool to teach us the various maneuvers with the rifle and bayonet. There are over a hundred such maneuvers, and we quickly gave up trying to write them down in our little notebooks. Each maneuver had two demonstrations: “this is the knife thrust to the groin” was followed by “this is the counter to the knife thrust to the groin.” So it went, until the very last maneuver: “this is the butt stroke to the head.” But no counter.

There’s always one fool whose curiosity overrides his sense. That was me. Like a moth to the flame, I asked, “Drill sergeant, what’s the counter to the butt stroke to the head?”

“I’m glad you asked that, troop. Come up here and I’ll demonstrate it.” He handed me a pugil stick, made sure that I knew how to deliver the butt stroke to the head, and then asked, “Ready?”

I was about to reply when he took the bottom end of his pugil stick and rammed it through my chin, sending me flying backwards. When the laughter subsided, the drill sergeant said, “The counter is to hit the other guy first.”

I suspect Mary and Joseph felt the same way about this incident. Of all the things of Jesus’ boyhood, we know only this one – and I suspect it’s because it’s the one with the pain associated with it.

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You." And He said to them, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?" But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

(Luk 2:41-52 NASB)

We shall see lessons learned by his parents, his teachers, and by his example.

Lessons from his parents

As far as I can determine, God never lays out the qualifications for raising Jesus. What does it take to be the earthly parents of the Son of God? The Omniscient One likely used great care in picking out this couple. Let us see what might have made them find favor with God:

  • Both were obedient to the Law. This is the solid ground of faith, for without obedience it is impossible to have faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God.
  • Indeed, they went beyond the Law’s requirements. By the Law of Moses, all males (usually defined as twelve years old and above) were required to present themselves at the Temple for Passover. But this family went as a group. Mary’s presence was not required; indeed, some argument could be made for her to stay home and watch the other children, all of whom would have been too young to stay by themselves.
  • It is apparent that they were not alone in this, for they assumed that their son was in the company of friends and relatives – also traveling back from the Passover. They lived in a community of faith and obedience.

It’s a solid example.

“Unaware of it”

It may seem remarkable to parents of a generation in which children are abducted with all too great a frequency, but they let this twelve year old young man watch after himself, expecting him to check in at nightfall. This tells us something about their parenting style:

  • It’s obvious that they trusted him. Most of us would consider this a lucky accident, to have a child who could be trusted so much at twelve. But remember that in their society, this was the age at which one began to assume the responsibilities of a man. Their relationship was one of trust, not one of glowering mistrust.
  • From that we can conclude that their parenting style was designed to produce adults – not adult size children. They expected him to act in a manner that we today would find unusual. As my wife and I put it, they weren’t raising chickens for Colonel Sanders, they were raising eagles to fly.
  • Even when they find him, you can see the reaction they give. These are pious people; they find him in the temple – and they want to know why. They even go so far as to explain why (their feelings). It’s an adult conversation. Can you imagine the effect this would have on most twelve year olds today? Most parents would be screaming, but they are treating him as one who has shown himself responsible.
“Did not understand”

One thing that resonates with me: they did not understand the answer. Has that ever happened to you – that Christ gave you an answer you didn’t understand? They were looking for him with anguish; he was where he was supposed to be.

Sometimes God does that with us. Bob Henneman relates a story about how the Coast Guard solved the mystery of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.

What prompted the reassessment of the sinking is that a few years back the Atlantic Gypsum Conveyor, a conveyer ship full of gypsum, was sailing up the East Coast.  A conveyer ship is similar to a tanker, but with onboard conveyer belts below the main deck to self-load dry cargo like chalk, gypsum, talc, etc.  A door at the side of the stern allows the ship to offload herself to train cars or hoppers on the dock.   The crew of this particular conveyor ship had failed to properly secure this door.  In only slightly rough seas, each wave dumped a little more water into the conveyer passage and on into the holds.  The gypsum quickly absorbed it, thus becoming very heavy.  A Coast Guard plane happened by, and noticed that the ship was very low in the water.  It started to video tape the ship, and radioed the crew to offer assistance.  The crew responded, basically saying "Help? Why would we need help? Things couldn't be better."  The Coast Guard pointed out that the ship was about to sink, which the ship's master did not believe until it was too late.  About 10 minutes later the ship dipped her bows into a trough, and never came back up.  She rolled over and was on the bottom of the ocean inside of a minute.  I don't recall the number of casualties.  Had that Coast Guard plane not happened along and alerted the captain and crew, they might have all disappeared without a trace, creating yet another mysterious ship loss.

As a result of this incident, the NTSB decided to re-examine the Edmund Fitzgerald with new video technology which was not available the last time they looked at her wreck.  The NTSB also had the Coast Guard revoke the operating certificate of the conveyer ship's sister ship until the door was modified to prevent a repeat accident.

We are often in the position of that ship’s master: Why should I need help? God’s answer is not understood – until the ship sinks.

You can see that in one little phrase – that Mary treasured these things in her heart. She did not understand at the time – but she knew that it was important. God gives no trivial answers.

Lessons via his teachers

There is a temptation to interpret this passage as the young Jesus telling off the hypocrites in the Temple. Instead, he shows them the proper respect for teachers:

  • He listens to them. If the teachers of Christ have any one request of you, that’s it. Listen. It is not only respect, it is for your profit. Even if all that we do were simply to gratify our own egos, it would still be of benefit to you.
  • He questions them. And I thank him for the example. Please, ask questions; it’s the best way for the teacher to know what’s going on in your mind. It is also profitable to the teacher; often, you will point out that which he had not considered.
  • You are to do this, even if you know the teacher to be a hypocrite. Our Lord sets the example and gives this as command.[1]
“All who heard”

Permit me two points, as the teacher.

  • Please note the word, “all.” The word of God is for all, our Lord not denying any who will come. No one need be turned away; all should be made welcome.
  • Please note the word, “heard.” Are we listening?

The example of Christ

Older scholars often referred to the life of Christ as being “exemplary.” By this they meant not only that it was morally correct but also that it is to be an example to us. We ask, “What would Jesus do?” Then we forget to look in the Gospels to find out what He did.

In his Father’s house

Over the front door of my house is a wooden sign, engraved with our family name. My children call this home; it is always thought of as “returning home.” The Temple is the place where God put his name; it has Jesus’ Father’s name on the sign over the door, so to speak. It’s where He belongs. But there is more to it; the house of the Lord goes by many names. Here are three:

  • It is the house of prayer.[2] In my youth churches rarely had locks on the doors. I asked about this once; the answer was simply that we did not know when someone might come in need of prayer.
  • It is a house of sacrifice.[3] We speak much of giving, even giving generously. These people understood that tithes and offerings were one thing; sacrifices another. We do not hear much about sacrifice these days.
  • It is the “Tabernacle of Witness”.[4] It is the place where you can see visibly the witness God bears against sin. In the first temple, it was the Ark of the Covenant, also called the “ark of the testimony.” In our time, you need but look forward to see the Cross at the center – God’s testimony against our sin.
Jesus expected them to know where He was

Little noted in most studies of this passage is the reaction of our Lord. He obviously thought his parents should have been smart enough to figure out where he would be. What can we learn from this?

  • He must have had a track record for this – one who lingered in the synagogue, for example, learning all he could. How many of us could say that we would linger at church? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness?
  • He also expected that they would know that he put God first – even ahead of them. If the center of the wheel is in the right place, all the spokes fit.
  • Indeed, “God first” should be our witness. It should stand out and be obvious.
He continued in obedience
  • This obedience is a model to us – children or adults. Obedience (or subjection, in our translation) is not a burden even to the Christ. It is the first step in knowing God.
  • Note, please, that he “continued” in subjection. The point is not clear in all translations, but the original has it correctly. It does not mean he obeyed his parents in this one instance, but that he continued to obey them. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Note also: the trip to the Temple must have been a “mountain top experience” for the young Jesus. How calmly he makes the trip down! Can we say that we are willing to come down from the mountain top experience – and be the same person in the valley of troubles below?

It is not right to expect that a Christian can achieve maturity in a day. This teacher certainly is taking longer than that. But see how Jesus grew:

  • He grew in stature, physically – but also in wisdom. Did you know that the book of Proverbs was given to provide wisdom for the young?[5] If he needed to, surely the rest of us do.
  • He grew in favor with men. As Christians, we should seek to be those who are known for doing what is right. Combined with a gentle spirit, we should find ourselves more and more in favor with those around us.
  • He grew in favor with God. Surely here is a testimony that he is fully human!

So, let me ask you: are you growing in God these days?

[1] Matthew 23:1-3

[2] Isaiah 56:7

[3] 2 Chronicles 7:12

[4] 2 Chronicles 24:6

[5] Proverbs 1:8

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