Matured

I. Introduction

Well. I’m glad that’s over. I want to put 2020 in the history books. Then I want to take the history book and buy it. Then I want to plant a tree on top of it, just so I can burn it down. Then I want to salt the ground so it never returns.

For much of 2020, Diane and I were mostly unscathed by this tumultuous year. I had changed jobs in October of the previous year to a far more secure position, and I held out hope that even if business turned severely down, it’s unlikely to lay somebody off in their first 3 months.

But then my Mom started to decline. We visited her in March and she was great but having some early dementia issues. By June the dementia had become severe. By October she was gone.

Then when we returned home, we found a plumbing leak in the walls. Insurance only covers a small portion of the repairs. We’ve torn out sheetrock, the bathroom vanity, the bathroom tub, and it’s partially repaired, but tomorrow they begin tearing out the wooden floors. I think on Tuesday somebody is supposed to come shut off our oxygen. We’re experiencing the ongoing joy of living in a continuous state of remodel since my mom passed, digging into savings to pay for it, and we still have several more weeks to go.

I’m ready for a new beginning. Come on, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got.

As I’m prepping this first bible study lesson for me in about 3 months, I think about that scripture from Hebrews, verses 4:15-16 –

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.

I am so thankful Jesus identifies with us, lived a life like us, and everything in life we experience – loss, hardship, hunger or thirst – Jesus also experienced and identifies with our sufferings. Today, we’re going to dive into the book of Luke and see the impact that suffering and persecution had on the early life of Jesus.

II. Book of Luke

The author of the book of Luke is named… um, Luke. He was a historian and a physician who travelled extensively with Paul, and was likely a gentile. Luke wrote this book and the book of Acts likely when Paul was in prison in Rome, and was possibly writing the book of Luke and Acts while Paul was writing his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon and to Timothy.

Many seem to believe that Luke was one of the original 12 apostles, but he was not. Luke says in Luke 1:
Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke chronicled the life of Jesus from birth to death so thoroughly and accurately and guided by the Holy Spirit that his letters to Theophilus are cannon, scripture, included in God’s Holy Word. And Luke, like none of the other synoptic gospel writers, captures the seasons in the life of Jesus.

III. A Season – His Birth

We just finished with the Christmas season and I enjoy driving around and looking at the Christmas lights. I couldn’t help but notice driving around yesterday that it’s 356 days until Christmas and some people already have their Christmas lights up.

Christmas sermons and candlelight services teach and remind us that the arrival of Jesus brings us hope – hope in this life, hope for our future, hope in Him, hope in eternal life, hope in our relationships with one another and that we will see our loved ones again.

And we probably heard in one of these sermons the story from Luke 2 of the birth of Jesus in a Manger, sweet child of hope that Jesus is as He comes to us as the Son of Man and the Son of God. But I want to focus today on the trials and tribulations that were going on in the life of Jesus at the same time. Luke 2 describes the miracle in verses 1-7 –

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all the people were on their way to register for the census, each to his own city. Now Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

We often remember the beautiful parts, but there were a lot of hardships. Joseph and the pregnant Mary had traveled at least 4 or 5 days to answer the census call. It may have been longer; it was common for Jews to detaour around Samaria. Obviously, I’ve never been pregnant, but it seems to me pregnancy has enough challenges without having to ride at 9 months pregnant over rocky hillsides on the back on a donkey.

And the scripture doesn’t mention the donkey. While traveling on a donkey was common, it was also a luxury. Most poor people walked. We know that Jesus and Mary were poor; after giving birth, as written in Luke 2:23-24, they sacrificed a pair of turtledoves in accordance with ceremonial laws of Leviticus 12:8, but Leviticus says that a lamb should be sacrificed, unless they could not afford it, then turtledoves were acceptable. The wise men with their expensive gifts hadn’t arrived. So it’s unlikely they could afford a donkey. It’s possible they borrowed a donkey, but they stayed in Bethlehem for up to two years, so it’s unlikely somebody would loan an expensive donkey for that long.

I can imagine how completely worn out Joseph and Mary were when they arrived, and they just needed to rest. But the scripture says all the inns were full. Nine months pregnant, travel-weary and dirty, and no place to sleep and give birth. The Greek word for inn here is καταλυμα “kataluma” and isn’t a hotel room like we may think of today. The inns would have had a large communal room and everybody just picked a spot on the floor to sleep, but even these large rooms had no space.

Instead, they made their way to where the animals slept. Usually manger scenes show a cozy little barn, but Jews back then used caves – cold a damp caves – to keep their livestock in at night. And then, Mary, exhausted form traveling, gives birth to our Lord and lays Him in a trough that animals eat from.

Joseph and Mary were having the B.C. equivalent of our year 2020. Cold, damp, poor, away from home, sleeping with the animals, and giving birth in a trough.

Yet even in these difficult circumstances, God is at work. God is in the business of creating and fulfilling promises, and He promised we would know His son by the fulfillment of prophecies. From the town of Galilee, into the town of David, and born of a virgin, God is fulfilling prophecy.

IV. A Season – Egypt

Now that Jesus is born, all is easy, right? That’s what many new Christians believe – that if they give their life to Christ, their life will be blessed and there will be no more hardships. No more job losses. No more living room plumbing leaks. No more moms passing away. Everything will be hunky-dory.

God never promises us that. God promises He will be with us, but He never promises us we will be free of trouble. Some people think the “abundant life” Jesus promises implies good fortune forever, but that’s not what Jesus means. Later in Jesus’s life, he is led to the desert without food or water and tempted by the devil for 40 days. And later again, Jesus is scourged, tortured, and crucified. God did not spare His own son from these troubles. He doesn’t spare us, either. He promises He will never leave us during our struggles.

No, Jesus’s like didn’t miraculously become easy after His birth. Let’s pick up two years later – our Christmas stories place the 3 wise men bearing gifts at the birth of Christ, but that’s not likely. We don’t know how many wise men there were – μαγοι (magoi), the original Greek word actually means “astrologers,” or “sorcerers.” There may have been 2 or 3 or 30. We probably get the number 3 from the gold, frankincense and myrrh they brought. The magi had successfully followed the star to Jerusalem, but they believed the newborn king of the Jews would be born to the current king reigning over the Jews, Herod. When Herod started asking questions about the star, the magi realized it wasn’t Herod’s child they were looking for. In fact, the magi realized the newborn king would topple Herod’s kingdom, a threat to Herod. The magi continued on their way to Mary and Joseph and presented their gifts, and then went home a different way.

Herod was likely furious, threatened. Someplace in the city of Bethlehem, born within the last 2 years, was the newborn king of the Jews, a threat to Herod’s lavish way of life. Matthew 2:16 –

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

No, the life of Jesus wasn’t easy. Not even 2 years old, and men were out to kill Him. But God is still at work, fulfilling prophecy. We continue in Matthew 2:17-18 –

Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Mary and Joseph had to flee Bethlehem. An angel tells them to flee to Egypt. How would the very poor Mary and Joseph who could only afford 2 turtledoves for their sacrifice afford to travel such a journey?

Where the Lord call, the Lord equips. Mary and Joseph had the gifts of the magi. And God is still fulfilling prophecy – in Hosea 11:1 God says,

When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

I don’t know how long the family was in Egypt. Herod died only a few months after the family fled, but I’m not certain the family returned immediately. It could have been as long as 6 years before Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel, Luke 2:39-40,

And when His parents had completed everything in accordance with the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. Now the Child continued to grow and to become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him.

I take heart from this scripture – even though it describes the life of the Lord, I think it can apply to all of us when we experience the difficulties of life. We continue to grow and become strong, we increase in wisdom, and the favor of God is upon us.

V. A Season – Passover

We’re going to fast forward now to when Jesus is older, 12 years old. We know nothing else about the childhood of Jesus except what we learn about Jesus from other scripture – He was sinless and followed the Jewish law.

According to Jewish law, Jewish adults were to attend three major feasts annually in Jerusalem – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. And Luke 2:41 says that Jesus’ parents fulfilled Jewish law by attending the feast of Passover. Many left after 2 days, but verse 43 says Mary and Joseph attended the full number of days required. At the conclusion of the festival, it was time to head home.

Most pilgrims would join a caravan for safety and mutual support, as did Mary and Joseph. In these caravans, men usually traveled in one group, women in another. I find it interesting in verse 43 –

and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days required, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents were unaware of it.

Jesus is no longer described as a Child but not a Man, He is described as a boy, and I think that may have led to confusion on Joseph and Mary’s part. At the age of 12 or 13, Jewish boys go through a bar mitzvah to become a child of the covenant, and then they are considered men. If Jesus is a man, he would caravan with the men, but if he’s a child, He would caravan with the women. Verses 44-45,

Instead, they thought that He was somewhere in the caravan, and they went a day’s journey; and then they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him.

A day’s journey out before they noticed He was missing. A day’s journey back to go look for Him. They must have been frantic – they lost not just a son, but the Son of God.

And yet, God still uses this misfortune for His glory. Verse 46-47,

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.

I’ve once heard it said that if you feel like you’ve lost Jesus, you don’t feel Him in your life, then maybe you should turn around. Where was the last place you saw Him? I think this verse illustrates that perfectly.

Some significance in this verse, in the synagogues, usually a rabbi sat and the listeners stood. Jesus is sitting. And it’s unlikely Jesus needed additional information about the scriptures, He is probably asking questions to engage, to challenge the rabbis to go deeper in their understanding.

Then in verses 48-49,

When Joseph and Mary saw Him, they were bewildered; 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?”

Mary spoke to Jesus first, asking why He had treated them in this way. Jesus needed no discipline, since He had not done anything wrong. It was the adults’ responsibility to ensure their child was with them when they left the city.

Another interesting thing here is the transition from Joseph the father to God the Father. This is the last reference to Joseph anywhere in the bible, and Mary references Joseph when she anxiously says “your father and I have been anxiously looking for you!”

And Jesus’s response indicates He is aware of His deity. He may be a twelve-year-old boy, but Jesus understood that God was His Father and this temple was His Father’s house. When Mary referred to “your father and I,” Jesus posed His question in a way that corrected her gently. While Jesus no doubt appreciated Joseph and treated him with respect, Jesus understood His true nature.

Jesus did not apologize for doing something wrong, for He had not sinned. But then Jesus questions His mother. He wondered why they had found it difficult to locate Him. When they couldn’t find Him, they should have known exactly where He would be. When Jesus uses the phrase “had to be” in Greek doesn’t mean “necessary” or “required” or “essential.” A better word would be “inevitable” as in “Didn’t you know that I would naturally be found in my Father’s house?” Being in the temple, which represented the presence of God to Israel, was the obvious place for God’s Son to be. Jesus was patiently waiting for Mary and Joseph to return for Him. Instead of wandering around the city, He remained at the one place they should have come.

A short clip on the life of Jesus as a boy: https://arc.gt/o37kw

VI. Conclusion – Maturity

The life of Jesus was anything but easy. It had plenty of drama. Born of a young woman away from her home in a cave and placed in an animal’s food trough, then having having to flee the country at the age of two because the King Herod was trying to kill you. Then being left behind at Passover in another city. Jesus indeed experienced the equivalent of our 2020 and then some.

And how did Jesus grow after all this? Luke 2:52,

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.

God has used the events from this last year to teach us, guide us, grow us in wisdom and stature with Him and with each other. Let us give God praise and glory for the year we had and the year yet to come.

To God be the glory.

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