The Christ-Child in the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

December 31, 2017

A statement that I trust that we can all agree on, is that the single most important thing that we do in all of life, no matter who we are or what our vocation happens to be, is worship. We worship in all of life as we serve God in our respective callings and in our respective roles. And we worship God corporately, as a church body, when we gather on Sunday mornings.

Because it is that important, as we are coming into a new year, I want to spend some time looking at worship from a Biblical perspective as the Christian church.

But, with that in mind, I thought that it might be a good idea to also talk a little about the Jewish practice of worship from this one account in Jesus’ childhood given here in Luke 2.

You see, unlike modern Christian worship, Jewish worship was designed to be big, to be visual, and it was meant to engage the other senses as well — and it is worship that is highly participatory.

The home that Jesus grew up in would have also been marked by various celebrations of the Jewish year  — the gaudy celebration of Purim (a Jewish equivalent to Mardi Gras, though without the immoral elements), the excitement fo building a booth (a kind of tent or temporary dwelling) on the roof of the house and then living in it during the Festival of Booths (also called Tabernacles), the excitement and solemnity of Passover and the gravity of the Atonement. For three of the festivals, the Israelites were commanded to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:17, Deuteronomy 16:16). Other pilgrimages to Jerusalem were encouraged, but not required.

Then, at one’s arrival at the Temple, it was a sight to be seen. It was massive in its scope, encompassing about 46 acres of real estate given all of its courts and then there was the central building that housed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, which towered about 150 feet in the air with massive columns going the complete height, all of the way around.

From the Pinnacle of the Temple (which archaeologists think was the southwest corner of the temple — also the place where Satan took Jesus for one of the temptations and from where James, the half-brother of Jesus was thrown to his death by the Jewish priests according to Clement of Rome), one could see the Kidron Valley 700 feet below.

We can only begin to imagine the awe that Jesus and his brothers and sisters felt as they were brought down to Jerusalem year after year for these celebrations.

The emphasis of the Temple was on the bigness of God and it would be this idea that would inspire some of the towering cathedrals that we still see today in Europe.

Yet, what was designed to point to the bigness of God, in the Jewish world, was replaced by a sense of the “bigness of human achievement.” We can see this in the attitude of the Jews, for example in their surprise when Jesus talked about rebuilding the temple in three days (they took 46 years to build it — John 2:20) or in the disciples’ admiration for the structure (Mark 13:1).

And so, the bigness of God would be replaced by them by something that was idolatrous and with its tearing down comes the worship of the resurrected Christ, a temple far more glorious than anything man can accomplish.

And thus, for Christians, worship is no longer about big buildings nor is it nearly as visual or sensory as the Jewish worship was (though we preserve some of the visual and sensory in the sacraments). Instead, the focus of worship revolves around Christ who told the Samaritan woman that worship would be in Spirit and in Truth…both found in the Word of God. We will come to explore that idea in the weeks to come, but for now, let’s reflect on the Jewish worship in Jesus’ day…in particular that found within this account when Jesus was 12 years old.

According to Jewish custom, by the age of 13, a Jewish boy became responsible for fulfilling the Law (12 for girls). At this point, a child is considered either a Son of the Law or a Daughter of the Law — or in Hebrew, a Bar Mitzvah or a Bet Mitzvah (for girls). Prior to their 13th birthday (at the age of 12), Jewish boys were expected to be presented before the Rabbi’s for examination on the Torah.

There were three synagogues in the temple where these exams would take place. The first one was a the entrance on the Court of the Gentiles. If young men successfully examined, they could be admitted to the second of the locations, which was at the entrance to the inner courtyard. Again, if this test was passed, a third synagogue was located amongst a row of columns in the southeastern corner of the inner courts.

This third location, where Jesus is spoken of being found, took a different approach where more of a Socratic conversation on the Hebrew scriptures along with the Rabbinical teachings were dialogued upon. Questions could be asked of the Rabbis and often the Rabbi’s would respond with a series of questions designed to lead the asker toward the truth.

So imagine this as a setting. Jesus comes into Jerusalem with his extended family (one traveled in groups for safety in these times) and much like the boys in our congregation who like to sit together in the back or in the balcony, Jesus would have been spending time with the other boys his age. When the time came, the boys presented themselves at the first synagogue for examination. Jesus, clearly passed the test, but the other boys either didn’t or did not choose to go to the next set of examinations. Thus, Jesus remained while the other boys ran off to explore the big city of Jerusalem and to hang out where boys would hang out.

After the required time in the city, families gathered (again in large groups) and everyone headed toward home. Mary and Joseph likely gathered the younger children together and assumed that Jesus was with the other boys, and began pressing on, assuming all were present and accounted for. Then, at the end of a day’s journey, when immediate families would gather together for an evening meal and rest, Jesus turned up missing. Any of you who are part of a large family or who have traveled as part of an extended family, I expect, can pretty easily relate to a situation like this.

And so, the next morning, Mary and Joseph head back to locate Jesus and on the third day, they find him in the inner courts of the temple amongst the teachers — the Rabbis.

Mary’s response is pure momma: “Your Father and I have been searching all over and are distressed!” And she even plays the guilt card, “Why have you treated us so badly?” I guess that every mom is entitled to playing the guilt card every once in a while.

And Jesus’ response is pure 12-year-old (remember, Jesus is fully God and fully man). He says, “What’s wrong, didn’t you know I would be here?” Luke records that his parents didn’t understand his statement and that Jesus submitted to their authority and returned to Nazareth with them. Finally, for the second time in Luke’s Gospel, he records that she treasured things up in her heart.” Jesus grew and increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and Man. And this is the only account of Jesus’ youth that we have, but an account pointing out that he did fulfill the law when he was expected to. He was a man without sin.

So, what lessons can we draw from this account?

1) Teach your children the Law of God…Mary and Joseph did…

2) Kids are capable of taking on their own spiritual responsibilities…

3) The most valuable way we can spend our time is spending it in study and conversation on the Word of God

4) Youth, even when mom and dad do not understand, you need to submit to their authority, Jesus did…

5) This is the last we see of Joseph in the Gospel accounts. Tradition suggests that he died when Jesus as about 18 with Jesus taking over his father’s trade to support his mother and siblings. Here is an extraordinary King willing to take on ordinary responsibilities…shall we not do the same?

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