The ﬁrst recorded words of Jesus in His life on earth are a question: “Why did you seek Me?” This is followed by another question: “Didn’t you know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:50).
These questions don’t produce a clear answer. They produce confusion on the part of Joseph and Mary, but they lead to a good end result: meditation on God’s Truth. “His mother kept all these things in her heart.”
Jesus’ questions—as He purposefully taught—often are frustrating to us because they don’t yield simple answers. Often His questions produce more questions. His questions weren’t designed to produce an answer which would end the discussion. Jesus doesn’t want a quick, brief discussion with an obvious end. He wants the discussion to go on into eternity. So His questions are geared toward true meditation: pondering the truth of God, being led farther into it, continuing to speak with God, asking Him questions, and following Him farther into His Word.
We’re beginning a series of articles on Jesus’ Questions—how He taught by asking questions. This is a good place to start—with the very ﬁrst questions of His that are recorded in Scripture. But here, at the age of 12, He was not purposely teaching. We know that as true God, He could have done so. We’re tempted to think that He is being a super-smart preteen here, displaying his omniscience, and is out to teach His parents a few things.
But Jesus is not the kind of Savior who is above everybody, including His earthly parents. He not only came down from heaven, but He “came down” in the sense that He became what we are. He humbled Himself. He lived in the state of humiliation, in which He laid aside His powers as God. This includes God’s attribute of omniscience and full, perfect wisdom. As it says right after this episode in Jerusalem, “Jesus increased in wisdom.” He learned. He got some answers wrong. This includes His knowledge of God and His Word. It wasn’t a sin for Jesus to get a wrong answer or to forget a Bible verse. (There’s comfort here for Sunday School children and catechism students!)
In Luke 2, we’re told about questions He asked prior to these questions He asked of Joseph and Mary. As the Boy Jesus sat with the teachers of the law in the temple, He was “both listening to them and asking questions.” Question after question.
It may be tempting to think that the Boy Jesus was teaching the teachers something. But that isn’t what He was doing. He was an eager student of the Scriptures! He had learned the Scriptures from Joseph at home from the time He could talk. He had learned the Scriptures from the rabbi in His hometown synagogue. But very likely there were no especially learnéd teachers in little Nazareth. In Jerusalem, He has access to knowledge of the Scriptures that He didn’t have at home. So He takes advantage of the opportunity. He asks questions. Perhaps He was asking more about the Passover, since that’s the festival He had just observed. Perhaps He was asking,
“Why do so many lambs have to die?” He is eagerly searching the Scriptures from highly qualiﬁed teachers of the Word while He is in the temple at Jerusalem for a short time.
This brings us to the moment when Joseph and Mary ﬁnd Jesus. Mary confronts Jesus with His responsibility to His earthly parents and His love for both Mary and Joseph: “Your father and I have sought You anxiously!” Mary is expressing their fervent love for Him, which leads a parent to worry and worry. She’s appealing to the love she knows Jesus has for them. She expects that He’ll want to keep from doing anything that would worry them.
So what’s with Jesus’ question(s)? He has learned from Mary and Joseph that God is His Father. We don’t know when they told Him this. Perhaps on this important journey, they had told Him about His birth, the shepherds and wise men, and the words of Simeon and Anna. So now He is saying, “You taught Me that God is My true Father.” He’s learning that He is the Son of God.
He’s now with humility asking more questions about it. His question includes that it is a “must,” a “have-to,” for Him to be “in My Father’s things,” which would include doing the work of redeeming the world as old Anna had said at almost the exact same location 12 years previously. He says: Isn’t that right? You know this, don’t you? What would you say? It’s a preview of His question 20 years later posed to Peter and company: “Who do you say that I am?”
Mary kept, or pondered, these words in her heart. The answer to her worries is Jesus’ question that leads her into pondering who He is and what He would do for all mankind. She’d have to wait and see it. She didn’t need to defend Jesus. He came down from heaven to defend Mary, Joseph, His brothers and sisters, and all people of the world by becoming the Lamb who bears away the sin of the world. Keep all these things in your heart, too.
Lord Jesus, who dost love me,
O spread Thy wings above me
And shield me from alarm!
Though evil would assail me,
Thy mercy will not fail me;
I rest in Thy protecting arm.
(ELH 569 v. 5)
Rev. Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church