Sermon Manuscript – December 30, 2007

INTRODUCTION

One of the most wonderful things about being a parent is watching your child grow. The excitement you feel when they stand up on their own for the first time, or point to something and say its name without being prompted, or when they come home from school with a report card full of A’s – it’s great. Growth is a beautiful thing. Sometimes it’s a little frustrating – Caden said his first “no” yesterday – but it is so beautiful.

But it doesn’t just happen. Kids grow up, and some fly straight while others go bad. Some are brilliant while others just scrape by. Some of that, I’m sure, is what they’re born with, what they inherit. But a lot of it is things outside themselves.

There’s just a bewildering array of products out there for parents with young kids. There’s learning toys that teach shapes, computers that coach vocabulary. One of Caden’s favorite things is these Disney videos called “Baby Einstein,” that are basically a string of colourful video clips and puppet acts put to classical music. It’s disturbing, really, how addictive it is. Caden will turn the TV on and then fetch us and point at it, as if to say, “Put it on!” One time, Erin was getting ready to change his diaper and put him in bed, and I happened to turn on his “Discovering Water” DVD in the other room. When the music came on, he recognized it immediately – I realized it when I heard, “JEFF!!” in the baby’s room as Caden started squirming out of her grip, still naked and dirty, to try to get to his video. He missed his nap that day. We have friends in Nova Scotia whose boy will have a screaming fit when the video comes to an end. It’s like drugs. It’s creepy.

Babies like those videos, because of the colours, because of the music, because they stimulate their senses and show them interesting things. They grow that way. They grow other ways, too. Parents need to encourage their children’s growth in different ways – food, exercise, socializing, reading, housework, and so on. We, as children of God, are expected to grow, too. Peter tells us to crave pure spiritual milk, so that we grow up in our salvation. The Christian life is growth. And our text today shows us our example for growth. It shows us how we can grow. Let’s read.

JESUS GREW!

Before we get into our passage in detail, I’d like you all to notice something about our passage. Luke has placed “brackets” around it, beginning and ending it with almost the same statement. In verse 40, he tells us that the child Jesus grew and became strong, and that God’s favor was on him. In verse 52, again, he tells us that Jesus grew in stature and wisdom, and that he increased in favour with God and man.

It’s so easy to think of Jesus as superhuman. After all, he is God! Yet we must remember that this God became a real man. Jesus was born as a little baby, just like us, with dirty diapers, just like us. “The little boy Jesus, no crying he makes” – so the song goes, but that can’t be right. He was a real human baby, and real babies cry! That’s how they communicate, how they grow.

And this little baby grew. Luke tells us about four kinds of growth. He grew in stature – the Greek word can mean in years or age or maturity as well, and the point is that he grew up and developed physically, just like all of us. He grew in wisdom – his little brain got bigger, and day by day his understanding increased. God doesn’t change or increase in knowledge, but the human being Jesus did – because that’s what God made human beings to do. He grew socially. His wisdom impressed others, as we will see in our passage. Jesus never sinned – and so he must have been just a pleasure to be around. Later, people would flock to him. Jesus grew socially. And he grew spiritually – as he became older, as his body and intellect developed, the human Jesus became more and more aware of his divine nature, grew closer and closer to God. And God’s favour toward him – his grace, his love for His Son – increased as Jesus perfectly grew up.

How can it be that Jesus can be God, never changing, always perfect and complete, and yet can be human – growing up, increasing in understanding and experience, growing in his relationship with His heavenly Father? I really don’t know. I don’t think that’s something we can fully understand how those two things relate. As Gerry’s been talking about recently, this is a tension that we have to hold. Our human minds can’t fully comprehend it – it is one of God’s mysteries. But we do know these things for certain: Jesus was fully God. Jesus was fully man. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with the Lord.

And while we can’t understand the way these fit together in Jesus’ life, we can learn one thing. This passage teaches us how Jesus, the man, grew. It shows us how he grew in wisdom and in favour with God. That’s the point. That’s why Luke puts these brackets around the story. He’s saying, “Jesus grew! Here’s an example! Here’s how! We can learn from this!” So now we’ll get into it in detail.

GOD GAVE HIM ROLE MODELS

What a beautiful thing. Jesus has been growing up in the home of his mother, Mary, and his adoptive father, Joseph. The home of a carpenter. He must have been a strong man – imagine this man: carrying the beams, swinging the ax, sawing the boards, hammering the nails, these all make for a hard, physical job. He’s a precise man. You get the measurements wrong, and you screw up the whole job. You have to get it right. You have to get it just so, have to be precise. Joseph’s also a dedicated man – there’s a lot of people counting on him to build them their tools, to help build their homes. There’s a lot of work to do. No time for distractions. This is the kind of man Jesus grew up with.

Jesus, his eldest son, was Dad’s apprentice. He was right there in the shop, every day, learning these things. There he is, sawing the line Dad drew. There he is, measuring the length of the beam. Joseph checks it, to make sure it’s right. And Jesus learns. He’s growing. He’s young, and his hands are still learning coordination. I’m sure that Joseph had to walk him through it, had to guide those little hands, had to smooth out the rough parts, round off the corners when a little too much wood was left over. This is how Jesus grew. This is how he learned – at his father’s workbench.

Strong. Hard. Precise. Dedicated. That’s Joseph. And yet the Bible tells us more about him. We know he’s a gentle man. We know he’s caring. When he found out Mary was pregnant, before he knew the truth, he must have been devastated. He must have been crushed, badly hurt. Yet even in the pain, when a lesser man would have sought to get even, to hurt her back, Joseph resolves to divorce her quietly. Keep it out of sight. Keep it private. Don’t humiliate her. Don’t make a scene. The Bible says that he was honorable – here’s the evidence. He was a gentle and caring man.

And – he’s a spiritual man. Joseph – hard, strong, precise, dedicated, gentle Joseph – he walks with the Lord. Yes, Mary got a visit from an angel to announce Jesus’ birth. Joseph gets three messages, visits from God in dreams. One to tell him it was okay to take Mary as his wife. One to tell him to leave for Egypt to escape Herod. And a third to tell him to go back. What an honour to have such access to God! What a privilege, what a responsibility to be the main role model, the primary male figure, for the Messiah! Joseph was close to God.

And here we see that closeness, that piety. Every year, it’s his practice to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover. The law required this, and he obeyed. That’s not a small thing. Nazareth is about three day’s journey from Jerusalem – that’s six days on the road, there and back, plus the time spent in Jerusalem. And he doesn’t do the bare minimum, either. The text tells us that they left Jerusalem when the feast was complete. That’s seven whole days. The requirement for those out of town was only two. Joseph does more than the minimum. He thinks it’s important to do the whole thing. Seven days. Plus six on the road. Two weeks out of every year, it is his practice, his habit to travel to Jerusalem. Like I said, he’s a dedicated man.

That’s Jesus’ earthly father. The text isn’t afraid to call him that. Though Joseph isn’t his physical father, that’s what Mary and Jesus call him. The Jews had a saying – it’s not him who begets, but him who brings up, that’s the father. Joseph is a strong, precise, dedicated, gentle, and spiritual man. What a father he must have been!

What of his wife? Mary is held up in the Bible as an example of faith. When the angel tells her she will bear the Christ, she says, Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be according to your word.” Yes, Lord. I am your servant. Even though she knows what people will think. Even though the shame for her, in that culture, would be extreme. Even though it meant humiliation and shunning and people talking behind their backs, she accepts.

Here we see her going up to the festival. It was her habit, too. Every year. That’s remarkable – the law only required the men to go. The women could, too, but it was optional – the rabbis considered it an act of mercy not to require such a physical hardship of women. If they went once, that was considered plenty. Mary, too, like her husband, does more. She goes above and beyond the call of duty. She’s a dedicated, pious woman. A woman of faith.

These are Jesus’ parents. His human role models. God the Father gave him good ones. How does Jesus grow? In what practical ways? Here’s the first. He’s got good examples. He’s got great, godly role models. Do you want to grow in wisdom, in favour with God? Find strong, precise, dedicated, gentle, loving, God-centred, Spirit-filled role models and friends. Surround yourself with them. The first way growth happens is by imitating godly examples.

THE CRISIS

So they go up to Jerusalem. “Up” – Jerusalem’s in the mountains. Not an easy journey. Dangerous, and certainly a hard walk. Especially for women like Mary and children like Jesus.

They spend the whole festival in the city. All seven days – seven days of excitement, seeing the sights, like the huge, gleaming, golden Temple, of smelling the aromas of anointing oil on the clothes of the priests and the smoke of the daily sacrifices, hearing the trumpets of the Levites worshiping on the mountain, tasting the bitter herbs and unleavened bread and roast lamb of the Passover meal. What an experience.

And when it’s all over, Mary and Joseph pack their bags and leave. Without Jesus. How does that happen? Remember, the trip to and from Jerusalem, in the mountains, isn’t easy. It’s downright dangerous – later in life, Jesus would tell a parable about a man beaten by robbers and left for dead on a road from Jerusalem, and it was a story with too much resemblance to reality for people to ignore. So, they traveled in caravans, large groups, to and from the feast. Traditionally, Jewish women would walk ahead of the men. So in a large group, Mary was probably walking with the other women up ahead, while Joseph hung out with the men at the rear of the caravan. They each probably assumed Jesus was with the other – at least until they stopped for the night, and came back together, and realized that they assumed wrong.

Now they’re scared to death. And so they head right back to Jerusalem – a long day’s trip. Imagine what was going through their minds– not far from there, Jesus had been born, and King Herod had sent soldiers to kill every boy under the age of two – because he feared their son. Even though Herod was long dead, I’m sure that memory was running through their mind, how the authorities had tried to have Jesus killed less than twelve years before. As they hurried back to Jerusalem, as they searched the dusty streets and knocked on the doors of the houses they had stayed in, that deep fear surfaces again – “What if someone tries to kill him again?”

AN ASTONISHING SIGHT

Desperately, they climb the steep, winding city streets up to the Temple Mount. They enter through the gates into the wide-open space of the Temple Courts. As they search the huge complex, they happen on a large room off to the side of the temple – a classroom, or a courtroom. There’s a lot of people in this room. A group of older men, all wearing little boxes on their foreheads and hands and tassels on their robes, sitting in the middle of the room. There’s two or three rows of them, seated in a semicircle. And they hear everyone murmuring and buzzing, talking to one another. They’ve got expressions of amazement and astonishment. And sitting in their midst is their son, Jesus.

These men are the teachers, the doctors of the law. And Jesus has been invited to sit with them! As Mary and Joseph watched, the rabbis asked Jesus a question. His answer caused another buzz. Then it was Jesus’ turn to ask a question. Some of them shrug, and raise their hands – they’ve been stumped by a twelve-year-old. Others start to answer, but are cut off by their neighbors, who have a different view. Everyone’s soon discussing this insightful question, and what the Law might mean about this. And this goes on – back and forth, question and answer, Jesus and the rabbis. That’s how the rabbis taught – they would invite a promising pupil or scholar into their midst, and then they would ask them questions. And they would invite questions back. And here’s twelve-year-old Jesus, holding his own in a deep theological discussion with men who have studied the Law for decades. Everyone is astonished.

Only twelve, and Jesus has a deep interest in God. Not even a teenager – and he knows His Bible. He loves God’s Word. Why had he stayed in Jerusalem? For this! Jesus is growing. He’s growing in wisdom. He’s growing spiritually. How does he do it? Here’s the second way. He immerses himself in God’s Word. He studies God’s Law. He wrestles with it, struggles to understand it, to make it his. He saturates himself with the Bible. All at just twelve years old! Do you want to grow in wisdom? Do you want to draw nearer to God, to grow in favour with Him? Read His Word. Know your Bible. Do you have questions? Go to the Temple! God gives His people pastors and elders, whose task is to understand and teach the Bible, and they sit in His Temple – in the body of His church – to help us as we struggle to learn and apply God’s Word. Jesus wasn’t too proud to ask questions. He valued God’s Word. That’s the second way he grew.

CHIDINGS

Mary takes Jesus aside. She hugs him fiercely, tears in her eyes. Imagine the relief! The king didn’t kill him, after all. No wild beast has hurt him. He’s safe and sound. And then the frustration comes out. “What is this you have done to us?” she asks. “Your father and I have been so worried! We’ve looked everywhere for you – for three days!” She’s chiding him. Jesus was the perfect child – she probably wasn’t used to doing this! She’s probably quite confused, too. For Jesus to put them through this kind of stress is just so out of character for him.

His answer is even more confusing. Jesus seems to be gently chiding her back, actually. “Why did you search for me?” he asks, innocently. I can see genuine surprise in his eyes. “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”

His Father’s house. His heavenly father – not his earthly father. Jesus is here in the house of God, and he needed to be here. It was necessary. Why? Because Jesus, though a human being, is on a divine mission. He answers to God before anyone else. Even including his parents. He’s not being disobedient to them. He’s not questioning their authority – later, Luke goes out of his way to stress that Jesus was submissive to them. Jesus loved his parents. He obeyed his parents. He’s not disrespecting them here. But his stay at the Temple makes a vitally important point. That point is the third way that he grew. And it is the most important, most fundamental reason why Jesus grew in wisdom and in favour with God. The third, and most important, way to grow is this: He put God first.

God comes first! Everything Jesus says and does is related to His Heavenly Father. In all things, the first and most important thing to Jesus was to do His Father’s will. That is so important. John 6 tells us that the reason we are eternally secure, the reason that a true believer cannot lose their salvation, is because it is the will of the Father that Jesus lose none of those He has given him. Luke 22 shows Jesus later in the Garden, agonizing about the Cross – and it is because it was His Father’s will that he go there, because, as Isaiah 51 tells us, it was the will of the Lord to crush Him, Jesus went to the Cross and died for our sins. Jesus lived to do God’s will. His whole life was lived first and foremost for God. His whole life, from the beginning we see here to its terrible end at Calvary, and after that at the resurrection and even now sitting at the Father’s right hand in heaven, has always been and forever will be all about the will of His Father. That’s the third way we see him grow. And it is the most important.
Do you want to grow in wisdom? Do you want to increase in favour with the Lord? Do everything to the glory of God. Live every moment for God. Put God first and foremost – even more than that, actually. Make God everything. Absolutely everything you do should have reference to God, should be service to God, should give glory to God, should reflect God. There is no division between the sacred and the secular, between “spiritual” and “other” stuff. It’s all got to connect to God. God has to be first. It was necessary that Jesus be in the Temple, putting God first. We must do the same.

THE AFTERMATH

Jesus is fine. His parents are relieved. And so they hit the road – back down the winding, descending mountain roads, north to Galilee. Then Luke tells us an important thing here. Jesus was “submissive” to them. He continued in submission to them. There is a noteworthy picture – Jesus, Creator of heaven and earth, the Saviour of the world – submissive to an imperfect, sinful man and his imperfect, sinful wife.

The idea of submission is an unpopular one these days. The media, music, TV, our culture at large encourages independence and freedom and liberty. The idea of submission seems so passé. Many people, Christians among them, look at the idea of submission as violating their dignity. Yet submission to authority is a biblical teaching. Every one of us is expected to submit to one authority or another. As Christians, as the church, we all submit to Christ. Children are commanded to submit to their parents. Paul, in Romans 13, tells Christians to submit to the government and obey the law. Wives are directed to be submissive to their husbands. Church members are to submit to the elders and pastors placed over them. Each of us is expected to submit to the Word of God and to correction by fellow believers when we sin.

The Bible is full of submission. Submission isn’t demeaning! To be subject to authority, to respect those given responsibility over us, doesn’t infringe our freedom or insult our dignity! If Christ, who is God, deserving all glory and honour, thought it fitting to submit to the earthly parents given Him by the Father – imperfect, sinful though they were – then who are we to say that submission is beneath us? Are we better than our Lord? Luke presents this example of Christ’s submission not just to show that his staying in the Temple was not disrespectful. No, it is yet another way Jesus grew in wisdom and favour with God and men. The fourth way a person can grow in wisdom and their relationship to God is to submit joyfully to those authorities God has placed in their life. Do you want to grow in wisdom? Do you want to have a closer walk with God? Examine your life. Are you being submissive? Are you obeying God’s Word in everything, holding nothing back? Are you listening to people when they point out things that you’re doing wrong? Do you respect your boss? Your husband? Your parents? Do you obey the laws of the nation? Be submissive! This is God’s will, and this is how we grow!

CONCLUSION

We’ve seen four practical things that helped the boy Jesus grow in wisdom and in favour with God and man. He had great role models – imperfect, sinful role models, but still very good ones. He loves the Word of God, and he hides it in His heart, he learns and studies it. As we’ve just seen, he submitted to the authorities in His life. And most importantly of all – Jesus put God first. He did His Father’s will, above all other things.

The other three things are just practical ways to demonstrate that God has first place in our lives, that God is everything to us. A person who puts God first in everything will seek good, godly role models and friends. Not to cut ourselves off from people who aren’t – Jesus hung out with adulterers and tax collectors! – but, if God is really everything to us, the people who we choose to take our lead from, whom we choose to imitate, whom we admire, must be people of upright character, people of godliness. A person who loves God more than anything will love His Word and struggle to understand it. Even when they don’t understand it, like Mary didn’t understand Jesus’ words in verse 50, a person who puts God first will still treasure what they can’t understand, will hide it in their heart, and trust that God will reveal the meaning to them. A person who cherishes God cherishes His Word. And a person who desires to see God exalted and lifted up in everything will demonstrate that by submitting joyfully to the authorities, and to the leaders of the church, and to correction by fellow believers, and to parents, and to husbands, and to governing authorities. Submission shows a spirit of humility and a respect for God and His ways – and these are beautiful things to God. Godly role models, love for God’s Word, submission to authority – these all point to God. These all show that God is everything to us.

That’s Luke’s message. Jesus grew, like all of us. But He grew perfectly. And the most fundamental reason Jesus grew up so well is that to him, His Father is everything. God and His glory came first. If we would be like Christ, if we want to get closer to the standard of perfection that God desires us to strive for, then we must put God first – we must make Him our everything, above all. God must be in all, and above all. Let’s pray.

– Jeff Jones

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Sermon Manuscript – December 16, 2007

When I was in college, I went on a trip to Washington, DC, with the school band. I remember walking the streets of that nation’s capital, seeing the sights, visiting the museums, taking lots of pictures. I was with a couple of buddies, walking away from the U.S. Capitol, and we began seeing police all over the place. There were patrol cars parked at every intersection along the street. And as we walked, suddenly they all turned their lights on, and the policemen got out and closed all the cross streets. We turned to look back, and we saw a motorcade leaving Capitol Hill – two or three long, shiny, black limousines, with little flags fluttering from their bumpers and antennas, driving really fast away from the Hill. They drove right by us. We looked and tried to see who was in the cars, but the glass was all tinted and we couldn’t make them out – which, I suppose, is the point! To this day, in those moments when I’ve been really bored or nostalgic, I’ve wondered idly who that was. Was it some high official – a cabinet secretary, even the President or the Vice President? Who knows. The point is, though, that for that moment, everyone along that street stopped and watched this impressive convoy go past. Wondering, most of them, who they were. Wondering what was going on. Why the hurry. What’s the big deal?

This passage from Matthew 2 is really the same scene, in many ways. I want you all to look at this story with me, before we dismiss. Here we are, in another national capital, with another group of locals watching another fancy procession, wondering: what’s going on? Who are these guys? Here’s a group of foreign dignitaries, who have traveled for months from the east – probably around Babylon in Iraq, but maybe even further – and they’ve come to visit someone.

The one “born king of the Jews.” That causes an uproar. The whole city is unsettled, disturbed. Along with the current King, a guy named Herod. See, this idea, of a child born King of the Jews, really bothers Herod. He’s the King of the Jews. But – he wasn’t born that way. Herod’s family had basically bought the throne from the Romans – he hadn’t been born to it. He couldn’t have been – Herod wasn’t even Jewish! And so the idea of a rightful king terrifies him.

Long ago, God promised a Jewish king named David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. God always keeps his promises – Jesus was that king, God Himself become a man, coming to earth to live a real earthly life. As a man, as the son of David, Jesus was the rightful king of the Jews. As God, as the creator of all things, Jesus was – and is – the rightful king of everything. And so this little boy born two thousand years ago in a Roman backwater isn’t just a nice story. He’s the most important thing in the world, and every single one of us owes him our allegiance. That’s our first point. Jesus is a king. Jesus is our king.

The wise men may not have known all this. But they knew he was a king, and that he deserved honor. So they brought him their best – the treasures of their land. Gold. Frankincense. And myrrh. Myrrh was used to embalm dead bodies and prepare people for burial.

Burial spices – what kind of a present is that? I think the Magi brought it because it was precious, because it was something their land was famous for. But even though they probably didn’t mean anything deeper than that, the gift itself has a really important message for us – for all humanity. There are no coincidences in the Bible – God wrote all of history, and in His story this gift of burial spices means something. That meaning is our second point: Jesus came to die.

Jesus came to suffer. God became a man in order to die. Jesus Christ’s mission was to be killed on the cross – that’s what we remember at Easter, but already, here in the Christmas story, in the gifts of the wise men, we see the foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus’ birth is good news because his death was good news. The Father sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to die in the place of sinners, to take the punishment that every one of us deserves. See, we’ve all sinned. Every one of us, through the things we’ve done wrong, have rebelled against our rightful King. We are all guilty. And yet our King came to earth to die, a perfect man for imperfect men, giving his perfect life so we could be counted as perfect by God, taking our sin on himself and receiving the punishment it deserves. And just as He was raised from the dead, and just as He now lives forever, we too will be raised and given eternal life – if we believe.

If we believe – and, you know, that’s the point. See, this particular story is actually about how people responded to Jesus. Matthew’s actually calling for a response. When the good news came, when it was announced, how did people respond? What did they do when they heard?

This is really a story about two groups of people. We see here the wise men. Foreigners – not Jews. They are not part of the chosen people. They are outside the camp, unclean. And even worse than that – they are Magi. They’re not kings, though a lot of songs say that. They’re actually astrologers – like the guys who write the astrology column in the newspaper, with the Cancers and the Leos and the Geminis and all that, these wise men made a living reading the stars, looking for signs, trying to tell the future.

There is the irony. The ones who come from thousands of miles away to worship the king of the Jews – they’re not Jews! In fact, their lifestyle is an abomination to the Jews! The Law of Moses said to stone sorcerers to death, and yet that’s exactly what these guys were!

Foreigners. Outsiders. Sinners! And yet here they are to worship the King. And look at them. They arrive, and they see the child, and they are overjoyed. Literally, it says, “they exceedingly rejoiced great joy.” When was the last time you felt like that? Indescribable happiness? I can only think of a couple times in my life – the moment I saw my wife-to-be walking up the aisle in that white dress, or the first moment I heard my son cry. Have you ever had a moment like that? That’s how these men felt. Their eyes had seen the King, the Lord of Glory. They fall all over themselves to worship him, opening their treasure boxes, giving him gifts, weeping with happiness. It didn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter how bad they had been, how sinful they were – they came to Christ, and they were not turned away. They were held up as an example to follow here! That’s how we should respond!

On the other hand, there’s another group of people in this story. The people of the land – the ones who had been awaiting this promised King, who had been looking for a Messiah – where were they? We see the religious leaders – the priests, the scribes of the people – telling Herod and the Magi where Jesus was. They explained where to find him. They told them who He was – that He was from God, that he came as a ruler, that he came to shepherd His people – to care for them, to love them, to feed them, to protect them.

And yet – the Magi – the foreigners – travel alone. None of those priests come to see what the Scriptures promised. There are no Jewish leaders here to see the King of the Jews. Jesus came to be King of Israel – and Israel yawned. The people of Jerusalem could hardly have missed the news – their King was born! – and yet, when it came down to who would actually go take a look, who goes? Not them. Only seven miles away – but they were too busy. They were too distracted. They were looking for something a little more flashy than a kid born in a trough. They were looking for a conquering hero, not a baby in stinky diapers.

That’s the contrast here. That’s the choice here. Here we are, at Christmas. The good news is in every carol, every tree, every string of coloured lights. Jesus is born. We saw the play this morning – Jesus is born. How will you respond? Like the foreigners and sinners we are, who despite their faults threw themselves before the Lord with joy? Or will you carry on this busy season like the people of Jerusalem, thinking you’re all right, maybe getting around to it later? Will you believe in Christ, and trust Him to save you from your sins and the punishment that they deserve? Or will you look for something more flashy, more impressive, more popular instead, putting him off till later?

– Jeff Jones