What Was Jesus Like When Growing Up?

Text: Luke 2:52

Second Sunday after Christmas

Delivered by Nathan A. Burgell


I have bad news for you today: Christmas is almost over.  Many of you may be looking at me saying, “Christmas was over on December 26th.”  That would be true in one sense.  In the church year, the Christmas season lasts until Epiphany, which begins on Tuesday, January 6th.  We still have a few more days of Christmas.  I thought that I would take advantage of this and make sure that we have this one last opportunity to sing all those familiar Christmas hymns.  It will also be the last week of Jesus being a baby born in manger.


With the season changing, so also will the stories about Jesus.  Christmas is always fun with the story of the manger, watching the children reenact the Christmas story, hear the angels singing, and seeing the reaction of the shepherds who come to worship their Lord.  As we move into Epiphany we will leave behind the baby Jesus and move into the stories of the adult Jesus, which culminates in his death on the cross and resurrection on Easter. 


Before we get to the adult Jesus, we still have one more story about Jesus before He began his ministry.  One thing I have always been curious about:  What was Jesus like as a boy?  It is sometimes hard to picture Jesus as a boy growing up.  But we must always remember that Jesus was also a boy.  Being fully human meant that He grew up, much like we grow up.  However, being fully divine meant that He was more than human.  He was still the Messiah, the Son of God. 


In the Bible, we do not have much in the way of descriptions of Jesus growing up.  In fact, our Gospel reading is all we know.  The story itself is not some random choice.  It tells a lot about who Jesus is and what He will grow up to be in just a few verses.


Our Gospel reading picks up after the Holy Family settles back into Nazareth.  However, every year as law abiding Jews, the Holy Family go to Jerusalem for the Passover.  During this particular trip, Jesus is 12.  In one year, He will become an adult.


At first there was nothing too remarkable about the visit.  The Holy Family would have been one of the many families in Jerusalem.  Luke tells us nothing of what they did.  What makes the story remarkable is afterwards.  As people, including Mary and Joseph were traveling home in a caravan, Jesus remained in Jerusalem.


This was not a prank or the absent-minded behavior of a 12 year old that was caught up in the moment.  This was the Son of God discovering who He was.  He was learning about the Temple and about His heavenly Father. 


Now imagine being the parents the parents of Jesus.  Anyone who is a parent, imagine the panic you would feel when your child disappears.  Mary and Joseph had the normal human reaction.  A reaction that any parent would.  It should probably be remembered that they did not have police searching for missing persons like today.  It would be up the family and anyone else that would help who would be responsible for finding a lost person.


You can begin to imagine the hurried state of Mary and Joseph, running back into Jerusalem to being their search.  Who knows what parts of Jerusalem they searched.  After three days of Jesus being missing, they were probably worn out and maybe had given up on finding Him.  They decided to try the temple and there they found Jesus, sitting among the teachers and learning from them, as well as teaching them.


Here is the first thing that Luke wants us to know:


“All who heard Him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”  All were amazed.


When we ask the question, “what was Jesus like when growing up?”  The first answer we get is that he was already showing a broad knowledge of spiritual things, beyond those of the learned theologians who had been in school most of their lives.  Anytime we read through the Gospels of Jesus as an adult, we see that many were amazed at the knowledge of Jesus.  Even as a child, Jesus showed this knowledge of spiritual things. 


So intent was Jesus at learning and asking questions at the temple that He doesn’t seem to worry about being lost or where His human parents are.  When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, they are understandably upset.  We can probably add our own force to the statement that Luke records from Mary: “Son, why have you treated us so?”  Notice the disappointment.  “Behold your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  They may have said more, but the less said is probably most effective.  I know when I was growing up and got in trouble, the fewer words spoken were more effective. 


Notice the reaction of Jesus.  He doesn’t seem fazed by their rebuke and doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about.  “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Note that He said: “In His Father’s house.”  Wasn’t that in Nazareth?  No it was here in the temple, with His Heavenly Father.


This is the second thing we learn about Jesus when growing up:


He was already doing His Heavenly Father’s work.


Before Jesus would be baptized by John and begin His earthly ministry, He was already preparing for His adult life.  He was already preparing for His mission which was to die on the cross. 


I imagine that if there were more stories about Jesus as a youth.  We would find many similar stories as this one.  Jesus was living among us, but He was also learning.  He was learning about who we are as human beings.  Jesus was not a God who lived up in the sky, looking down on human beings and not wanting to get His hands dirty.  In Jesus Christ, God lived among us.  He grew up, just like we do.  He went to school, just like we do.  He even got in trouble with his parents, just like we do.  All this was in preparation for His mission to take away the sins of the world.  Unless Jesus is fully human and fully divine, His sacrifice would be in vane.  If fully human His death would be just another executed criminal.  If fully divine, He would not have suffered our punishment.


So the third thing that we learn about Jesus as He was growing up:


He was just like us.


All the anxieties and pain we feel in life, Jesus also felt them.  Jesus would have also experienced loss and pain.  We know that Joseph, Jesus’ earthly Father was living when Jesus was in the temple.  However, once Jesus grew up, Joseph disappears.  Many scholars believe when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30, Joseph died. 


Wouldn’t that be a great story to have in the Bible?  Knowing how Jesus reacted.  Jesus would have the power to heal, but His time had not yet come and so He didn’t.  Jesus would have felt that same basic human emotion of loss that we so often feel in our lives.  When we read the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” it occurs after Jesus’ friend Lazarus died.  Jesus probably already knew what loss was, because He would have probably experienced loss.  Jesus was just like us.


When we ask the question: What was Jesus like when growing up?  I came up with 3 answers:


1. All were amazed.

2. Doing the work of His Heavenly Father

3. He was just like us.


But there is so much more about Jesus when growing up that we don’t know.  However, the Holy Spirit preserved this story about Jesus being lost and then found in the temple.  It shows that Jesus is just like us in that He worried his parents and got in trouble.  However, it also shows that Jesus was already preparing for His mission, which was to die on the cross


As we begin this New Year, and as the Christmas season ends, we move away from the infant Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and journey towards the Easter season, where we will see the work of that infant.  See what Jesus’ life was in preparation for.  So may this year also be a blessing for us as well, as we continue to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.