We don’t often think of Jesus being a child, teenager, or even a tween, but He was one. I suppose the reason is that there isn’t a lot of material written about Jesus’ childhood between His birth and late-twenties. What was it like to parent a young Jesus? Perfect right? No tension, no discipline, no disappointment. Well, not exactly. Jesus had a moment of tension, but the tension was only there from the perspective of His parents.
The situation occurred following a family trip to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41ff). Jesus’ family annually observed the Feast of the Passover. It is here that we see some valuable lessons for parents from Jesus’ parents.
1. Godly parents’ obey God first (Luke 2:41-42).
In celebrating Passover, Jesus’ parents were not just taking a fun trip to see local attractions, they were showing their appreciate for the Law and their love for God. Mary and Joseph were living their faith openly before Jesus. This is not the first time we see this young couple loving God and obeying Him (cf. 2:22-24, 39).
Parents who obey God first will often have children who follow closely behind. Children learn by what they see, not just what they hear. Parents who allow their children or society dictate their mode of parenting will be frustrated and disillusioned as will be their children. Put God first before your children. Even when you blow it, let your children see you bend your knees back to Him.
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
Note Jesus’ timing in Jerusalem. He is 12 years old, the age that marked the final year of preparation for a son before he entered full participation in the religious life of the synagogue. Up until this point his parents, especially his father, would teach him the commandments of the law, which were completed with a ceremony where he formally became a “son of the commandment” (bar mitzvah). It was this moment Jesus chose to stay behind in the temple. Perhaps, He wants to demonstrate that He is more than an ordinary Jewish bar mitzvah.
2. Godly parents entrust their children to God early in their childhood preparing them for adulthood (Luke 2:43–50).
Jesus’ family likely traveled in a large group with other relatives, friends, and neighbors. “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 company they went a day’s journey.” (vs.43-44) Now the journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth was 153 kilometers (95 miles), and traveling by foot was probably more than a day trip.
Then it happened—a Home Alone moment. In the commotion of leaving the celebration Mary and Joseph didn’t account for their most precious cargo: their son, Jesus. Think about that moment as a parent. Immediately they check every person for details, “When did you see him last?” No quick flights. No cellphones. No 911 or Amber Alert. Quickly they traced their steps back Jerusalem probably checked every town and wayside along the road back.
Do you feel Joseph and Mary were neglectful to leave Jesus behind? There are two interesting things happening here that seem inconsistent. First, Jesus’ seems to disrespect his parents’ time and feelings. Second, there seems to be an implicit faith Mary and Joseph have in their young son. He was not an irresponsible boy nor was He rebellious. They trusted Him and knew He had wisdom. This suggests that Jesus’ motive in staying behind was not carelessness or disrespectful, rather it was purposeful.
After 3-days in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus. Where was He? He’s in the temple of all places talking, listening, and asking question of the teachers. He was not like other 12-year old boys who’d probably be at the pool or arcade! Joseph and Mary were beside themselves, frustrated at the circumstances separating them from Jesus. They responded as most parents would, “Why would you do this to us? We’ve been worried sick!”
Jesus’ response is astounding. No doubt this is the point to Luke’s inclusion of this story in his gospel, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (or doing my Father’s business)?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” (Luke 2:49-50) Mary and Joseph’s human emotions clouded their understanding that Jesus is God and Savior. They saw themselves as parents and Jesus as their son. And the lack of understanding Jesus’ word showed that there was more going here than meets the eye (cf. Luke 18:34).
Jesus chose this crucial stage in his life, on the brink of manhood, to tell his parents in an unforgettable fashion that He now knows whom His real Father is and what His mission is. In a real sense Simeon prophecy to Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:33-35 was already coming to pass, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” The time will come when Jesus will be killed in Jerusalem, 3-days rise from the dead, and that will be a great pain to Mary. And the past 3-day for Mary and Joseph foreshadow that pain.
Joseph and Mary probably saw their parenting role in transition that day. Sometimes the biggest pain in parenting is the pain of having to cut the strings of ownership over the lives of your children. Yet that is the goal of parenting. From the very moment your child enters the world, you are preparing them to live outside your roost and walk in loving obedience to God’s commands. As painful as it is to cut the ties it is even more hurtful to keep them tied. Godly parents entrust their children to God in childhood preparing them for adulthood.
3. Godly parents help their children learn to be obedient to God and to them (Luke 2:51–52).
Following this tense situation Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52) Jesus understands who He is in God (the Son of God), and man (submissive to His parents). Jesus continued to be under the authority of His parents, but He also recognizes His unique sonship to God and that His mission will require of him a devotion to God’s purposes even if it brought pain and misunderstanding from those closest to Him. In the end, Mary rejoices and treasures this situation in her heart.
Luke now sets the stage for Jesus’ adult ministry as the Son of God. 18 years later, when perhaps some of these very same teachers who marveled at Jesus’ understanding would mock and murder Him. He came to do His Father’s business even if it cost Him His life.
Parents, when teaching your children obedience it must first be modeled by your obedience to God and other authorities over you. I’ve counseled many parents with rebellious teens. Rather than dealing with their children right away I usually have a few questions for the parents, “How do you talk about your boss at the dinner table? How do you talk about the President while watch the news? Or what do you say about the pastor after the service in the car on the way home?” It’s then that the light bulbs turn on for the parents.
Obedience to authority is a milestone of maturity first modeled in parents then followed by their children. When disciplining your children to obey authority it is important to discipline rebellion against it rather than immaturity in it. This teaches children that maturity is a process, but rebellion is direct disobedience that not only has consequences in childhood that if not dealt with will have even severer consequences in adulthood.