Connections 12.30.2018: Growing Up

Luke 2:41-52

My younger daughter Natalie will be 12 years old in March. It’s a delicate age. She is just crossing the threshold into puberty, clinging to the joys of childhood while also confronting body changes and swinging emotions. When faced with a wide-open Saturday, she would still rather be outdoors exploring the natural world than looking at her phone or hanging out in her bedroom. She is delightful and curious, stubborn and occasionally unfocused.

What was Jesus like at age 12? I always wonder when I read this Scripture. Of course, we have to take into account what we know about his culture and society. Expectations were different, life spans were shorter, and Jesus was the Son of God. He was born with a prophecy hanging over his head. His parents knew he was different in ways they could barely begin to comprehend.

Even with all of these factors, though, Jesus was still a 12-year-old boy. I’m glad Luke included this story, and the parts I appreciate the most are those that show Jesus acting similar to my own preteen and his parents acting the way I act at times.

• Jesus wanders off in Jerusalem without telling his parents (v. 43).
• Jesus’ folks don’t see him but assume he’s with some other relatives or friends (v. 44).
• Mary and Joseph realize Jesus isn’t with the group at all. Suddenly frantic, they head back to the city (read between the lines of v. 45).
• Mary’s first reaction upon finding her son is to fuss at him for his irresponsibility (v. 48).
• And Jesus’ response to his mother is not lacking in sass: “Duh, Mom. Of course I’m here at church” (v. 49).

While we’ve never left Natalie alone in a city or discovered her at church on her own, we’ve certainly been through similar circumstances.

We can’t find Natalie.

Surely she’s with someone else.

Where is she?

“Why didn’t you tell us where you were going?”

“Of course I’m here! Where did you think I would be?”

The reason I like young Jesus so much is that he is very human. He’s a boy on the edge of maturity, a little explorer—curious, bold, and adventurous. He is beginning to pull away from his parents, striving to become his own person and make his way in the world. In all of that, he’s not so unlike my Natalie.

Jesus is a Savior we can identify with, and that means everything to me.


1. Luke is the only writer in the entire Bible who tells us anything about Jesus as a child. Why do you think he chose this particular story?
2. Based on this event, how would you describe young Jesus?
3. In what ways is Jesus similar to the children you know? What makes him different?
4. What do you think it was like to be the parents of the Messiah? What did Mary and Joseph have in common with all parents? What unique challenges do you think they faced?
5. Why is it important to see Jesus as truly human?

Reference Shelf

Luke, by using “his parents” in 2:41 and 2:43, and by having “his mother” say “your father and I” in 2:48, lets us feel all the normal ties between parents and children. Of course they love him, and they have been going crazy looking for him for three days; of course they are proud of him, but they are also ashamed for having “lost” him, and ashamed and angry at him for having put them in this predicament. When Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s things?” Luke lets us feel the sword cutting Mary to the quick of her soul (2:35). One part of this story, then, is the conscious choice by Jesus to go where God leads, even if that will be hurtful to his parents, and to choose to serve God above all else.

But the story ends with a reconciliation of sorts. His parents did not understand what he said to them, but he nonetheless went with them back to Galilee and was obedient to them. Rembrant’s etching, depicting Jesus between his parents—Joseph’s hand rather firmly over Jesus’—is of an adolescent in need of parental advise and protection. Luke’s Jesus, at the end of the birth narrative, needs to grow up, and so he does, in the safety of a family who would not stop looking until they found him.

Theologically, the two strands of the story are related to the intersection of humanity and divinity in Jesus. He knows, and only God knows how he knows, that he must be about God’s business; did Mary tell him, or, like Mary, did he hear the voice of an angel telling him about his special role in God’s plan? He can amaze the teachers with his perception, and can fail to tell his parents what he is up to, causing them days of unnecessary grief. That is pure teenager, that wonderful and maddening mixture of quick perceptiveness and utter self-absorption. Onstage, he never apologizes, and the way he talks to Mary, under normal circumstances, would probably only increase the length of his grounding (“Didn’t we know? Worry us sick, and then he says we should have known? I’ll tell you what you’re going to know, young man! You’re going to know the inside of your father’s workshop like the back of your hand, and you’re not going to know much else until Elijah comes back or you grow up, whichever comes first!”). But what he says is true: he must be in his Father’s . . . whatever—places, tasks, people, plans. This is not a miracle story, like the later Christian infancy tales of Jesus making clay birds fly and bullies drop dead—thanks be to God! Instead, it is a tale of the wonder of how God’s Son grew up listening for God’s voice, taught by caring adults, protected by loving parents, nourished in a safe place so he could mature to be strong and wise.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 77–79.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.


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