The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Today’s Gospel lesson is one that typically raises a lot of questions. This is good, and it shouldn’t be surprising. After all, I don’t find it coincidental at all that this is exactly how we see our Lord teaching the learned teachers in the text. Even as a boy, Jesus is fully God. He doesn’t need instruction in the Word of God. He IS the Word of God! He IS the wisdom of God made flesh! So… why does Jesus ask all these questions of the teachers? Basically, Jesus is teaching these men by using what is known as “the Socratic method” (made famous by Socrates); i.e., the master teaches by asking the students questions. The students are brought to correct understanding by having to think about the question and give sound, reasonable, logical answers in return. In this case, the students; i.e., the learned religious leaders, were being questioned by the young Master. This certainly makes sense when you think about it. None of those guys would’ve listened to a twelve year old boy lecture them, but they would willingly answer all his questions during Bible study. Little did they know that they were the ones actually being taught. By asking all those questions, Jesus was getting them to think about the reasons they believe, teach, and confess what they do. Did what they believe sync up with what God actually said? Were their beliefs and practices in line with God’s Word, or was there a disconnect. Were things not quite adding up? Were things not making sense? This is why your Lord Christ, in all wisdom and mercy, was asking these learned men so many questions. Perhaps the reason why this text raises so many questions is because our Lord is still teaching us in much the same way.
Here’s the deal, though: There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to address ALL the questions that arise out of this text, not today in sermon form at least. For brevity’s sake, let’s hit on a couple of main questions. We’re told that Jesus increased in wisdom, maturity, and favor with God and with man. What does all that mean? How does omniscient Jesus increase in wisdom? Well… remember that Jesus was also 100% man. As a young lad, He did still have a lot to learn, not in terms of divine wisdom (which was always 100%; Jesus was ALWAYS omniscient), but in terms of the wisdom of maturity; the wisdom that one gains/acquires as they grow from childhood into adulthood. And make no mistake: That’s what the text says in the original language. It’s not just that Jesus grew in stature; i.e., he got taller and filled out. No! He matured, physically, mentally, emotionally… you know, the same way we do.
Think about it from your own experiences. Our priorities change as we get older. We mature. Typically (but certainly not always, as is the case with certain immature fools), maturity brings with it a certain “wisdom.” They [maturity and wisdom] go hand-in-hand. Maturity brings with it a sense of responsibility and duty and obligation (at least, it’s supposed to). Maturity means having the wisdom to know that you need to do what’s necessary; what’s right, even though you may not want to do it; e.g., go to work and pay your bills, etc. Did the boy Jesus grow and mature? Yes. The boy grew into a man.
Okay… so what does the wisdom and maturity of faith look like? What does it sound like? What’s most important to one who is wise and mature in their faith? I know as it pertains to Jesus, we can look to the Garden of Gethsemane mere hours before His crucifixion as a prime example of faithful maturity and wisdom. “Father, if there’s any other way, take this cup of suffering from Me. Nevertheless, not My will be done, but Thy will be done.” That’s the wisdom of faith. That’s the maturity of faith. Jesus is doing what needs to be done. Understand: Out of a pure and incomprehensible divine love, Jesus willingly gave up all of heaven’s majesty for a cross. He willingly sacrificed His life in order to redeem our lives. As fully omniscient God, He knew full-well what was needed to satisfy the impossible debt of sin. Only the blood of the righteous One can make atonement for sin. Jesus knew that He must suffer the righteous, hellish wrath of God if we children of Adam were going to be saved. Still… He is also fully man. Nobody WANTS to suffer! We don’t even want to be disliked or inconvenienced. It’s not crazy or wrong to say that Jesus didn’t want to suffer the hellish wrath of His heavenly Father. Still… He did it… willingly. He knew what needed to be done, and He did it. He put His Father’s will first. This is what the wisdom and maturity of faith looks like and sounds like. This is the wisdom and maturity of faith in action.
But even here in the Temple as a twelve year old boy we are already bearing witness to a profound maturity of faith. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” The innocence of Jesus’ response almost overshadows the profound maturity of it. “Well, duh! Where else would I be? What do you mean you were searching everywhere under the sun for Me? Why wasn’t this the first place you looked? Where else would I be? This is what faithful men do.” (Bear in mind, as a twelve year old Jew, Jesus would have already gone through His bar-mitzvah, meaning that in terms of the faith, He was considered to be a man. His faith was His. He was responsible for making sure that His faith was fed and nourished and put into proper practice. If only “more mature” adults had such a faithful and mature mindset!) “Mom: This is what faithful men do. They gather around the Word of God. They’re in the house of their Father. Where else would they be?” Out of the mouths of babes, right?
This raises some big questions for the person in the mirror. What about you? What does the wisdom and maturity of faith look like? What does it sound like? What’s most important to one who is wise/mature in their faith? Could you be accused of being wise and mature in the faith, or do you still have a lot of growing and learning to do? I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: Here is almighty God, right where He promises to be, and doing exactly what He promises to do. Here is where almighty God Himself is bringing heaven to meet earth, in your very presence, right here in His holy house. Here is God’s feast of forgiveness, grace, and mercy, and it’s all for you, overflowing and unconditional. Those who are wise and mature in the faith know their sinful reality. They also know this Christ-centered, grace-filled reality. Those wise and mature in the faith know what’s truly important. They know what needs to come first in life, over everything else, even over the things you probably want to do more. However… when you truly understand your sinful reality and what God is actually doing here in/through these means of grace, it’s not even a matter of doing what you have to do, even though you don’t want to do it. Coming into God’s holy house/presence to receive His free gifts of grace and mercy and love and forgiveness isn’t like having to wake up and go to work on a Monday morning or going to the gym or paying the mortgage instead of blowing the money on something “fun.” It’s not like going to the doctor or the dentist for an annual exam. Nobody WANTS to do these things, but we know that we need to do these things. I know the Old Adam in all of us struggles to come to church, certainly as often as “church” is offered. You may not want to admit that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Understand: It is commendable that you still get out of bed and come to be in the presence of the Lord. That’s just what mature Christians, made wise in the faith, do. We don’t always like it, but we do it because this is what’s most important. Those immature in the faith can’t say that, and the fruits they bear and excuses they make confess the truth of their immature foolishness.
But you know what? True wisdom and maturity of faith sees things differently. The wisdom and maturity of faith doesn’t have to come to church at all. It’s not a “have to.” It’s not a chore or a demand. Rather, it’s a joy. It’s a privilege. It’s another God-given opportunity to be in the presence of God and receive His good gifts from His hand! The wisdom and maturity of faith wants all the Jesus it can get! I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of maturing and wising up to do. Lord, have mercy!
One final question: What does it mean when it says that Jesus increased in favor with God and with man? Well… think about it in terms of the world you live in, work in, and play in. There are many people in this world today who seem to have it all. Has God blessed them in their prosperity? Yes, actually He has! Does that mean that they have found favor in His eyes? Not necessarily! Remember: God causes the rain to fall upon the righteous as well as the unrighteous. There are plenty of foul unbelievers in this world who have been blessed with the best that all this world has to offer. In man’s eyes they are truly favored. However, without faith, these people, as great and smart and beautiful and wealthy as they may be, are outside of salvation, and thus, outside of God’s good favor.
Conversely, there are plenty of very faithful people in this world who seem to have gotten every raw deal and bad hand dealt to them that life could dish out. However, in the midst of all that pain and suffering, is a vibrant, living faith in Christ Jesus. God looks on this person and calls them favored. The rest of the world sees them as cursed or bad luck or forsaken. The rest of the world does not look with favor upon them, but God calls them holy and precious in His sight. This is where the angel’s Christmas pronouncement to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks intersects with humanity and begins to make sense. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace upon whom His favor rests.” Think about that for a moment. There is peace—true peace which surpasses all human understanding—for those on whom God’s favor rests. That peace is only understood in the wisdom and maturity of faithfulness. God’s favor rests upon those who have faith; those who in the wisdom and maturity of faith know the peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace that is known only in Christ Jesus.
And that’s how we’ll wrap this up for today; with all the focus right where it needs to be: on the peace of Christ. May God grant you in this new year the wisdom and maturity of faith; the wisdom and maturity and peace that comes with simply trusting with a child-like faith (ironic, right?); trusting whole-heartedly that His favor rests upon you because of the all-atoning work and person of Jesus Christ alone.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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