When Jesus Was a Kid

At the age of twelve, Jesus taught us about the humanity of the saints, the importance of raising our children to be about the Father’s business, and the importance of subjection to godly authority. Are we humble enough to be taught by a twelve-year-old?

I love the humanity and the earthiness of the Bible. Something fantastic that you see when you look at Scripture, and when you look at the feasts of the Church, is that it really focuses on stories. It looks at real people doing real things that we can all connect with. We have passages in the Bible, and we have feasts of the Church, that look at marriage, conception, birth, and death — things that we all understand, things that we all face.

I love a particular passage in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus is a child – twelve years old (Luke 2:41-52). He is no longer a baby. There is no longer a Nativity scene. And he is not yet an adult entered into his public ministry, teaching and preaching and performing great miracles.

Jesus at age 12
Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple at age 12

This is a family. You have his mother Mary, her husband Joseph, and then you have their twelve-year-old son, a boy named Jesus. This shows us that He really did become a human being just like us. He grew up from childhood to adulthood just like all of us, and there are some fascinating things that we see in this passage.

The Humanity of the Saints

The first lesson, I believe, is just the humanity of it, the sheer humanity of it. Almost the humor of it. It helps us realize that the saints, even saints like Mary and Joseph — they are real human beings just like you and me.

Now, in the Orthodox Church, how much do we honor the Mother of God? We honor her a lot. She is not God, so we do not worship her. But we honor her greatly, for God has honored her greatly. She is the one who gave birth to God. In her womb, the Son of God became incarnate, taking on human flesh. We know that the queens in ancient Israel were not the wives of the kings, but the mothers of the kings. And since Jesus is our king, the queen is therefore his mother, Mary. It is fitting that we honor her.

We have icons (paintings) of Mary in multiple places throughout our church. We ask her to pray for us. We have multiple feasts of the Church that lift her up, and rightfully so. At the same time, this passage clearly illustrates her human limitations. For three days, the Mother of God didn't know where Jesus was. Have you ever thought about that? What if you couldn’t find your own son for three days? Wouldn’t you be a little embarrassed? And here this story is, right in Scripture.

Theotokos Hodegetria Icon
Theotokos Hodegetria icon - Mary points us to Christ

She’s exalted. She’s on high. We lift her up, we honor her, and she’s still so human. She couldn’t find her son Jesus for three days. The Theotokos Hodegetria, one of the most famous icons that we look at, is one where she holds the Christ child; she’s pointing the way to Him. And yet, for three days, she didn’t know which way to point. She didn’t know where He was.

That’s very human, isn’t it? It doesn’t make her out to be a superhero, wonderwoman, superhuman, or an otherworldly person so very different from us, does it? Mary is one of us. She is 100% human. These are the same sorts of foibles and mistakes and things that we all have to deal with, simply because we are finite humans. Of course, there is no malice in her heart. She was a good mother. Still, this story is very striking. She couldn’t find Jesus for three days, and neither could Joseph.

They finally found Him, and not only do we see the humanity of the saints in this passage, but we also see something important about raising children. This passage is fascinating because it says that Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man.

Raising Our Children to Follow Christ

Jesus grew in wisdom? I thought He was God. Isn’t He omniscient? Doesn’t He know everything? No, He doesn’t. Remember, during His ministry as an adult, His apostles asked Him about His return, and He said, No man knows the day or the hour, nor the angels, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

Now, as God – in His existence as God – of course He is omniscient. But when He took on human flesh, in the sense in which He existed as human, walking around on earth, He also takes on human limitations. As the Logos, He is omnipresent — He is everywhere. But in His human nature, as Jesus, He can only be in one place at a time.

As the Logos — the second Person of the Trinity — even during the time from His death to His resurrection, He is still very much alive and is holding the universe together by the word of His power. Athanasius writes about this. And yet during those three days, He is dead in the tomb. He is simultaneously dead and alive. Sort of like Schrödinger’s cat.

If this doesn’t blow your mind, you’re not listening. If this makes sense, you’re not hearing what I’m saying. The Incarnation is mind blowing. It’s impossible to fit into our head, just like you can’t pour the ocean into a cup. You can look at any part of it you want, and try to comprehend that little piece of it, but to put it all into your head at once . . . it will shatter the container that you try to put it into.

He is God and man. That means he is immortal and mortal. He was simultaneously dead and alive. As the Logos, He’s omnipresent, and yet as a man, he walks around in one place at a time. As the Logos, in His eternal existence as God, He’s omniscient — He knows everything. And yet as a twelve-year-old child, He grows in wisdom, and He grows in favor with God and man.

That can’t fit in my head. I can’t handle that. But we see it in this passage, because what does Jesus say? He says, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” He’s a twelve-year-old kid! Apparently, in ancient Israel, at least in Jesus’ household, they had never heard that phrase, “Well, just let kids be kids.” 

In America, what that normally means today is “Well, just let ’em play, just let ’em do whatever they want, let ’em waste their minds on video games, entertainment, doing whatever they wanna do, and then when they turn eighteen, we’ll suddenly expect them to be mature, and to be able to handle themselves in adult life.” But it doesn’t work that way.

You don’t automatically become mature just because you have a certain birthday. It has to be taught, it has to be trained, from the youngest age. That’s why even these little ones, two years old, three years old, five years old, seven years old — yes, we expect them to sit quietly, stand quietly, and pay attention in church. “Obey your mother and father”. We have daily prayers.

And as we go through life, in the way that we interact with our parents, and the way that we interact with our brothers and sisters, and the way that we think about work, and the way that we think about money, and the way that we think about relationships, we are to be training up our children to be godly.

Mary and Joseph thought that Jesus needed to be with them, going wherever they were going. But Jesus knew that He had to be about His Father’s business. And this is not something unique for Him, just because He happens to be the incarnate Son of God.

Every twelve-year-old boy needs to be about the Father’s business. Every boy that is a child in this room, every girl that is a child in this room, this is not something for later when you’re an adult. but you children — today — now, at your age, you’re supposed to be about the Father’s business.

Now, that doesn't mean you can never go play a game, or do something entertaining, but that needs to be like salt and pepper, just a little seasoning. But what if you took the food away and all you ate was the salt or the plate full of pepper? You could not survive for very long, and neither can your souls–your eternal souls–survive for very long on a diet of entertainment alone. The primary core of your life needs to be pleasing the Father.

“How can I worship Him and glorify Him in everything that I say, everything that I think, and everything that I do?” And if we as parents are not making that the primary goal in how we are training our children, we are parenting wrong. We’re doing it wrong. Now some parents realize, “You know, we really shouldn’t have our kids playing video games all the time, and doing sports all the time, and involving themselves in activities that are purely entertainment all the time,” but we can still miss the boat.

I have met families where they don’t spend a lot of time with entertainment, and they don’t spend a lot of time with God, but they do something respectable, like really focusing on getting their children ready for a career, whether it’s to become a painter, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or whatever. They really work hard preparing their children to be successful in life, in a material sense.

Now, that’s not all bad. By all means, we need to teach our children to be successful. We need to teach our children to be able to work, and to provide enough to live on. But if that is the core of what we’re doing, we’re parenting wrong. We’re preparing our children’s souls for destruction. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but he loses his own soul? What does it profit your child if he grows up to be a successful, millionaire businessman, but he has no clue how to live day-to-day in communion with the Lord?

The primary thing that Jesus’ parents taught Jesus was not, “Here’s how you be a successful carpenter.” Yes, his dad taught Him that trade. Joseph taught Him how to work with His hands, how to earn a living, but that was not the core. That was not the most important thing. That was secondary.

Teaching your children godliness and holiness, that’s the core. That’s primary. That is the first thing that you have to focus on. For if your children work hard, that’s no guarantee that they will be righteous. But if you teach your children to be righteous, that is a guarantee that they’ll work hard. Sort of like CS Lewis said“If you aim at heaven, you’ll get the earth thrown in for free, but if you aim at earth, you’ll miss out on both.”

Scripture does not primarily teach us to “let kids be kids”, and to seek entertainment. Scripture does not teach us to primarily teach our kids a trade, how to work with their hands, how to deal with finances and money. Scripture says to raise up your children. Teach them in a way that they should goWhen you rise up, when you lie down, when you go out, when you come by the way, teach them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Teach them to love their neighbors as themselves.

Fill their hearts with righteousness. Fill their hearts with love for Christ. Make that the central point of every day. And then even when you talk to them about money, talk to them about these sorts of things: 

  • “Here’s how you deal with money in a way that’s going to please God.”
  • “Here’s how you work with your hands if you’re a carpenter (or whatever type of trade that you’re in).”
  • “Here’s how you work with your hands in the way that pleases God.”
  • “Here’s how you paint for the glory of God.”
  • “Here’s how you write to the glory of God.”

Because, in many communities, there are two houses side by side. One house has a family that claims to be Christian. The other house has a family that rejects God altogether. And from Monday to Saturday, you can see no difference in how they deal with their money. No difference in how they go about their secular careers. No difference in how they handle their financial affairs. No difference in their relationships. The only difference comes Sunday morning: one family has to get up a little earlier than the other so that they can go sit down, in a building, sing two or three songs and listen to some pastor give a motivational speech.

If that’s all your Christianity is, then Christianity is not what you have. Christianity is all-encompassing, all-consuming, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, every thought that you have, every action that you take. Every thought and action that you teach your children to have needs to be centered on Christ. Jesus said at the age of twelve, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

So this passage in Luke’s gospel teaches us about the humanity of the saints. It teaches us of the necessity of raising our children to put Christ first in everything that they do, in every corner of their lives. And one more important thing that it teaches us – it goes against the grain of our culture – is this idea of subjection to authority.

Subjection to Authority

Did it ever occur to you that God submitted to a young Jewish woman? Think about that for a minute. The Creator of the universe subjected Himself to someone who knew less than He did, and who was less powerful than He was. In fact, He is the one who created her. But finding Himself in the form of man, finding Himself as a twelve-year-old boy, it says in Scripture that He went back to Nazareth with Joseph and with Mary and He was subject to them.

In modern American culture, there is an assumption that if you submit to somebody else, if you are subject to somebody else’s authority, then they have to earn it. "They had better be truly superior to me. Otherwise, there’s no way I’m gonna submit myself to them."

Let me ask you something: Do you believe, according to Scripture, that Jesus was subject to St. Joseph and St. Mary? Do you believe that Joseph and Mary are superior to Jesus? Do you think Joseph and Mary are smarter than Jesus? Do you think Joseph and Mary earned the right to have God subject to them? If not, then why was He subject to them?

He was subject to them because God-given authority is not strictly dependent upon what you’ve earned, or upon what you’ve learned. God sets things up to work in a certain way, and He calls us to be humble enough to do that.

It’s difficult enough to humble ourselves to somebody who is superior to us in some way. Even that is hard for our proud hearts. But God requires us to demonstrate greater humility than this. If another person is in a place of authority, then we need to be obedient, whether it’s the authority of parents over children, the authority of a husband over his wife, the authority of clergy over laymen, or the authority of bishops over other clergy.

It is so easy for us to turn our backs on Orthodoxy, and to accept America’s values. It is too tempting to accept this culture’s values, to accept the values of the world, which say, “You only get to a place of authority if you deserve it. You only submit to somebody if they’re better than you.” 

Well, guess what? Scripture commands all of us to treat each other as if they’re better than you. Submit to one another in love and fear of God. Children, obey your parents, for this is pleasing to God. Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord. Obey those who rule over you in the church and who oversee you, for they watch and they care for your souls.

If you see somebody in a place of authority, within the family, within the church, or within society, the first question to ask is not, “Do they deserve it?” The first question to ask is not, “I wonder if they’re smarter than I am?” The first question to ask is, “Am I humble enough to follow Christ?” For as a child, even God was willing to be subject to His parents.

This passage teaches us about the humanity of the saints. This passage teaches us the importance of raising our children to be about the Father’s business. And this passage teaches us the importance of subjection to godly authority. This is what Jesus Himself taught, even as a twelve-year-old child.

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