MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
Sunday, January 09, 2000
KJV Luke 2:41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
In this Gospel we see that Joseph and Mary were unable to comprehend the Child they raised, even though they knew about His divine origin and unique virgin birth. Secondly, this Gospel silences anyone who wonders why God did not convert the Jewish religious leaders. There stood Jesus in their midst, showing His amazing superiority at an early age. They had every opportunity to believe in Him, starting at that time, but also later, when He revealed Himself through His teaching and miracles.
Throughout Epiphany we have lessons that emphasize the revelation of Jesus to the entire world. This one is especially intriguing. As Paul asked in Romans, “What advantage does the Jew have?” The advantage is knowledge of the Scriptures. Every faithful Jew is raised with a knowledge of Hebrew, a cycle of readings, and access to what we call the Old Testament. The Hebrew name is literally Torah, Prophets, Readings. I think it is exciting to think of these elderly scholars, with an incredible knowledge of the Scriptures, listening to Jesus with awe.
It’s important to understand how this works. Jesus was not found until the third day, so we can assume He was at the Temple the entire time. In addition, His role was not to stand there and lecture the Jewish leaders. Sometimes we see paintings of Jesus standing in from of the leaders, His arm raised, as if He were delivering a solemn address. The Jewish tradition encourages younger people to ask difficult questions of the learned. So the text tells us that Jesus was listening and asking questions. Obviously, the questions revealed how much He understood.
I may have mentioned that in Columbus we had a family visit on a regular basis. The father was a pioneer in military jets. The mother was brilliant. The children radiated intelligence. The oldest son went to the U. of Chicago to get a Ph.D. in economics. The children loved to ask difficult questions, and their questions not only gave away their understanding of the Christian faith, but also what was being discussed in the adult class. We only guess that Jesus in the Temple was 10 times as perceptive. Everyone was astonished at His understanding and answers, for surely the teachers began asking Him questions as well.
People can sense when someone has an unusual amount of knowledge. There will always be fakes and pretenders, but still people know real authority. Nothing has more authority than the Word itself. Jesus was and is the Word of God in the flesh. When He spoke, He taught with authority, not the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, but the authority of God.
This happens today as well. The Word of God has its own authority. The whole world can preach against the Word, and it does, but people still believe the Word and consider the Scriptures infallible. In Columbus especially I heard people tell me that the minister would attack the Bible in the pulpit. More than one person said, “Why go to church to hear the minister preach against the Bible and say it is full of errors?” Most people do not get involved in all the historical data confirming the truth of the Bible, and it’s just as well. Too many get involving in an outward proof that depends upon a certain discovery, such as Noah’s Ark or the ark of the covenant. I saw a television show where Pat Robertson seemed to be claiming that they just found the ark of the covenant. They must have been wrong, because the story died away.
I have no question about the historical and geographical accuracy of the Bible. If anything, I am surprised that any liberal can open his mouth, considering what we have learned in the last century. Obviously few of them have studied these discoveries. But I doubt whether the guestbook from the Temple, signed by Jesus, would convince them.
On the other hand, a believer, someone converted by the Word, cannot be dissuaded by the arguments of man. Why? Because he knows that the Word of God pierces his heart with the Law. No matter what any fool might say about the Bible and the Christian faith, the Law reveals us for what we are. It can be so dramatic that people will burst into tears, as one group of prisoners did once when I simply quoted the Bible to show how we are all sinners. The individual knows that the Word of God has done this, not an effort by a human, but through the power of the Holy Spirit alone. Individuals know this because of their own resistance. There are only two causes of conversion: the Holy Spirit and the Word. The Bible does not recognize “a willing heart” or “a receptive person” as a third cause.
How receptive was Paul on the road to Damascus, persecuting the Christian faith? How receptive was Grace Fuller, spouting her Unitarian blather (her conversion by the Word alone is quoted verbatim in Thy Strong Word)? How ready was Augustine, who willfully resisted the Christian faith of his mother Monica? How ready was John Newton, a hated member of a crew doing hateful business, hauling slaves from Africa? Look at how we diminish the power of God when we make man or the human will a cause of conversion.
When we consider Jesus in the Temple, we should not assume that everyone who heard Him rejected Him. It is likely that we have vignettes from the life of Jesus to show us why the Gospel was a powerful force in Israel. After all, the persecution of the church did not happen because it was harmless and ineffective, but precisely because it was uprooting sclerotic Judaism and converting Jews to the Christian faith. Paul, before his conversion, was eager to have Christians arrested. The apostles preached in synagogues until they were expelled. When the truth becomes apparent to people, the enemies of the truth must silence the Word by killing, persecuting, jailing, and expelling. Nevertheless, key leaders became believers.
KJV John 19:38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
KJV John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Should we think that the initial listening and questioning by Jesus in the Temple had no effect? When Jesus spoke, God incarnate spoke. When He converted key leaders through the Word, they converted others through the Word. The Word is not as sharp as the sharpest sword, but sharper than any double-edged sword.
KJV Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
The Word is sharp and powerful in discerning and powerful in comfort, as the subsequent verses show.
KJV Hebrews 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
So we can see that Jesus conducted His public ministry for the very purpose of revealing the comfort of the Gospel to all people. Who would aid the Roman government in killing Him? Jesus spoke with them, the Jewish religious leaders, for days in the Temple? That was “His Father’s business.” By this we know that there is no comparison between our thoughts and God’s thoughts, our ways and God’s ways. God provided the Gospel in the flesh for those who were in a position to crucify Christ. Many were justified by faith. Many more were condemned to eternal death and punishment for their unbelief.
And we can consider this wonderful story, the only one about the youth of Jesus, and think, “All this happened for me.” The very fact that we are hearing the Gospel means that God has provided the means to give us His Word. He sent the prophets and the apostles and most of all, His beloved only-begotten Son. The Gospel has been sent out to the entire world, but in particular to individuals.
The Gospel moves forward in positive ways, through people God has sent and trained through the Word. But it also moves ahead because of afflictions, disruptions, persecutions, splits, and controversies. Many people have been shocked to find themselves expelled or excommunicated for believing the Word, but the warnings began clearly enough in the Gospel of John.
KJV John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3 And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
It is difficult at the moment to see these events as good, but they are God’s will, or at least within the control of God. He limits the evil that people can do and also turns evil into good. Some people miss the ease and comfort of the large congregation, when they form a tiny, independent congregation. No money, no furniture, no hymnals, no candles, no Sunday School materials, no building (usually) or too much building. But look at this contrast: in a large congregation an inordinate amount of time is spent running the organization, and secular concerns often dominate the agenda. In an independent congregation, organization strength is missed, but endless meetings are not. Very little time is spent in an established congregation on spiritual matters.
That also happens in denominations. When I was in the LCA, we never had parish pastors giving papers. The bishop would give a talk, very unprepared. National church leaders, sometimes called The Wisemen From The East, would lead sessions. One man had a huge division and an enormous budget – all the American missions plus most of the social activism efforts. Someone noted on a napkin: “The greater the height, the larger the view of the speaker and the shallower the content.” The man was so vain he put on glasses to write on a board and took them off in facing the group. In contrast, when pastors are forced to give papers, they have to study a topic and at least one person learns something. If he does a good job, someone else learns something. If he is orthodox or not, something worthwhile is accomplished, if people are discerning about the Word. If not, they are damned for their unbelief and participate in the spread of false doctrine.
But the greatest testimony to the power of the Gospel is this. Although many books have the power to judge us and condemn us for our actions, our sinful nature, only the Gospel has the power to comfort us through the forgiveness of sins. This is the very purpose of the Christian Church, to show sinners that their Savior has paid for their sins on the cross and risen from the dead. No one, no matter how religious or moral he might be, is anything more than a lost sinner without Christ. No one can ever be comforted apart from the Gospel. We live in a troubled world because people want forgiveness but only receive more Law – commands, demands, and judgment.
Someone may say, “But I don’t feel forgiven.” That is all the more reason for hearing the Gospel and clinging to it. If someone is tortured by regret, the Gospel promises must penetrate the regret with the constant message of true and genuine forgiveness through Christ. If someone has grown up with nothing but the Law, this is difficult to grasp. In fact, for all of us, our weak faith is always in need of God’s love to strengthen the trust He plants in our hearts. Complete and full forgiveness, through God’s grace alone, received in faith, goes against our human pattern of thought. We cannot imagine taking on the sins of the world and dying for sinners. Because we cannot imagine it, God reveals it as truth and proclaims it in hundreds of ways through the Scriptures and the Sacraments.