George Booker
To Us A Child Is Born

(12) “I Had to Be in My Father’s House” (Luke 2:39-52)

The projected return of the little family, after Herod’s death, to Judea and Bethlehem was overruled by God (Matt. 2:22), and Joseph was directed to take Mary and Jesus back to Nazareth (v. 23; Luke 2:39). There Jesus would spend his childhood and young manhood in extended education and preparation for his ministry.

Nazareth lies in a basin within the hills of southern Galilee, just north of the plain of Esdraelon. There every season would bring its lesson to the eager young mind of Jesus, and the richly symbolic words of the prophets would be reflected in the everyday life of a people who lived close to the earth. Gaily colored flowers adorned the hillsides, never toiling or spinning — yet they grew, at the Father’s pleasure. Below in the plain the farmers pursued their labors, plowing and sowing, waiting and reaping. Away to the east fishermen cast their nets in the pristine waters of Gennesaret.

On either side of the little town, and within easy walking distance, were the busy roads, lifelines of the Roman empire. Along them passed merchants, soldiers and tax collectors and, at the appointed seasons, devout Jews from Asia and Macedonia, bound for the Holy City. In a sensitive mind like that of Jesus, all these scenes would leave deep and abiding impressions.

These relatively quiet years are described in the simplest of terms:

“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).

Only one incident forms a bridge between the birth records and the beginning of Christ’s public work—the incident in the temple at the age of twelve (vv. 41-51). It is at once the logical outcome of Jesus’s Divine origin, and the logical introduction to his life’s work.

“Speak, Father”

However, before we turn to that incident, a question suggests itself: Since, by the time he was twelve years old, Jesus knew of his Divine parentage (v. 49), how did he come to know? When did Mary and Joseph reveal this to Jesus ? Or did they ? Scripture gives no definite answer. A reverent spirit of curiosity, however, suggests one possibility.

It has been seen that Mary very prudently refrained from telling even Joseph of the unexpected conception of Jesus (Matt. 1:18,20). In faith she had left that for God to do, in His own way and His own time, and He had not disappointed her. It would be in keeping with Mary’s modest character if she and Joseph likewise refrained from explaining to Jesus who his real Father was, knowing that God would choose His own method.

If this were so, then when and how did God tell Jesus? The records are silent, but perhaps there is a hint in the story of the child Samuel. The similarities between Samuel and Jesus are many: each a special conception, each a holy child, each dedicated by a righteous mother to God’s service. The logical sequence, then, that brings us to 1 Samuel 3 is very attractive; prudent imagination may fill in the details as follows.

It was night and the child Jesus had lain down to sleep. Then the Lord called Jesus, and he answered, “Here I am”. He came to Joseph, “Here I am, father; you called me”. Joseph said, “I called not; lie down again”, and he went and lay down.

The Lord called yet again, “Jesus!”, and again he went to Joseph, only to find that he had not called. A third time, the same thing happened. Finally the light dawned for Joseph, and he perceived the source of the calls. “Go, Jesus, lie down: and it shall be, if the call comes again, you will say, Speak, Father; for your Son is listening.”

Thus, perhaps, on a quiet summer night, the child Jesus followed the voice out onto the hills of Galilee, and so began that majestic, mysterious communion like no other: “I and the Father are one.” Through so many long nights, on mountain tops, by the seaside, and in crowded cities, he spoke with his Father. He lifted up his soul to the throne of heaven, and heard whispered in his ear the words of eternity.

“Where the tribes go up”

At age twelve a Jewish boy became “bar mitzvah” — son of the covenant. As an adult male worshiper he was now obliged to keep the feasts, including the passover, at Jerusalem.

As he came to understand who he was, Jesus would develop a special fascination for the passover. Other boys might be infatuated with the account of the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, or the courage of Moses, and surely Jesus would also be impressed by such things. But “we are persuaded better things” too of the little Son of God. It is easy to imagine him being drawn, in deep wonder, to ponder the lamb without blemish, prepared and watched, and then slain without uttering a sound, its blood sprinkled on the doorposts.

The “Lamb of God” who would “take away the sin of the world” was not made in a moment. His character was the work of many years. Slowly, painfully, he “learned obedience” in ever more difficult lessons, until at last he was ready for the supreme test.

Did the child of twelve read and contemplate, and did he understand, the words of Isaiah?

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (53:4-7).

The great day dawned for which he had waited — his first “official” trip to Jerusalem as “son of the covenant”. After three days’ journey they approached the city. Jerusalem the golden, like a lion — the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” — crouched on the mountains of the Lord, its bright and glorious temple dominating a scene of dramatic and breathtaking beauty. To an intelligent and idealistic young mind, one attuned to the psalms of David, there would naturally occur wonderful Spirit-guided words of praise and thanksgiving:

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD... Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels” (Psa. 122:1-4,6,7).

“Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. On the northern side is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress... Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation” (48:1-3,12,13).

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary” (63:1,2).

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young — a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house” (84:1-4).

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4).

Almost in the shadow of the temple, at the place chosen by the Lord more than a millennium before, Jesus and his family observed the passover ritual. The boy Jesus drank the wine of joy and fellowship, and tasted the bitter herbs, and broke and ate the unleavened bread. He heard the words of Moses, and he embraced the hope and the promise they held forth:

“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’ ” (Exod. 13:8).

It was a preview of another passover, twenty years hence, which Jesus would eat “with desire” and great love before he suffered, the just for the unjust, to lead mankind out of the “Egypt” of sin and death.

“In my Father’s house”

The feast being ended, the pilgrims packed up and left Jerusalem, but the Son of God could not just yet tear himself away from his Father’s house. In the midst of the teeming crowds, Joseph and Mary supposed that Jesus was in the company of some of their “relatives and friends” (Luke 2:44) also returning to Nazareth. The time that elapsed, before they became alarmed at his absence, would not have been at all remarkable under the circumstances. In the case of Jesus it was the absence of a youth who, his parents well knew, had never done anything unwise or improper.

Retracing their steps, they found him sitting in the temple, in the midst of the legal scholars, listening carefully and then posing them questions.

“When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you’ ” (v. 48).

To this mild rebuke, Jesus replied in the kindest possible way, but with a firmness that belied his tender age. Though his answer was with all due respect to his mother and Joseph, he left no doubt who his true Father was:

“Why were you searching for me?... Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?” (v. 49)

Where else should a son be, except in his father’s house? Even the prodigal son finally learned this (Luke 15:17,18).

These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and they bring into focus the essential purpose of his life. How well he acted in the cause of his Father may be judged in the last words of his mortal life: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Mary did not fully understand his words. (For that matter, which of us understand them better? If we did, then surely our lives would be vastly different from what they are.) But she kept all these sayings and cherished them in the motherly storehouse of memories. Later... much later... it would all become clear.


The first demand placed upon Jesus by his resoluteness in life was by no means the easiest to bear. His commitment to his Father’s business called for him first to return to Nazareth and then, for eighteen years, to wait, work, learn, and pray:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).

It was a severe discipline for one so intelligent and so dedicated, yet it developed the deep reserves of patience and devotion that so characterized his public life.

In his “commandments for the king” Moses said,

“He (the king) is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law... he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees... Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deut. 17:18-20).

Here was the task which occupied much of the “hidden years” of Jesus, from twelve to thirty. The young prince and heir was preparing himself to be king. Most likely Jesus wrote out his own copy of the prophets and the psalms as well as the law, and memorized them also. The man whose name is “The Word of God” could scarcely have done less. Day by day, by a continual process, the Word was being made flesh, and the gold of godliness was being intricately worked into the very fabric of his life. Of him David spoke prophetically: “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:7,8).

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

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