[January 11, 2009] In today’s gospel reading (Luke 2:40-52 and 3:21-38), Jesus grows up and steps onto the stage of His role as Messiah and Savior.
Until now, Luke has introduced us to the coming of Jesus through the elderly Zachariah and Elizabeth, and Simeon and Anna, through the common shepherds near Bethlehem, and especially through the eyes of the young Mary and Joseph.
We have heard amazing things about Jesus— Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High. Elizabeth calls the unborn child, “My Lord.” Zachariah—once his tongue is loosed, speaks of the coming of the God of Israel, who would now fulfill the covenant that He made with the ancestors, and would make all that the prophets had said come true, by raising up a Messiah who would be like the rising sun “to shine upon those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The shepherds were given “good news of great joy … for all the people” and told of the birth of a Savior who brings glory to God in the highest and expresses God’s goodwill towards humankind. And Simeon spoke of the baby Jesus as the salvation that God has “prepared before the face of all the peoples” who would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.”
These words clearly connect Jesus to the hopes of the Jewish people, which are contained in what we call the Old Testament. Through Jesus God would fulfill His promises to them and, after saving them, Jesus would be “the glory of [God’s] people Israel.”But just as clearly they speak of Jesus as good news for all the people, including the common people like the shepherds. And He would be like the rising sun for the Gentiles, to give light—the light of revelation—to those sitting in darkness. From the beginning, Luke prepares us to see that Jesus has come to be our Savior, the Savior of Israel first (and last), but no less the Savior of us Gentiles, and the Savior of common people—among Jews and Gentiles.
These events took place when Mary was in Nazareth, and when she and Joseph were in Bethlehem near Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem itself.
Jesus Grows Up (Luke 2:40, 52)
Luke now tells us that the little child “grew and became strong, being filled with wisdom, and that the grace of God was upon Him, and later that, subject to His parents, He advanced in wisdom and stature and in the grace manifested in Him before God and men. Notice that both passages speak of wisdom and grace. Wisdom comes from God, but it is also something we do. It is skill and balance in applying what we know. Grace speaks of God’s favor and implies our trusting in God and depending on Him for everything. These both have to do with Jesus’ humanity and they are two virtues that we all want to cultivate. Being a Christian does not mean only wisdom—as if everything depends on us—or only grace—as if everything depends on God; but having both. We are not supposed to be passive; we will not grow that way. Nor should we act rashly. We are act with wisdom while trusting in and depending on God.
He Comes to Jerusalem for the First Time (2:41-51)
What that means in Jesus’ case has got to be interesting, because if Mary and Joseph told Jesus of the wonderful things that angels and human beings said about Him around the time of His birth, He must have had a unique sense of Himself. What would it mean for His blossoming ego? Would He be able to handle it with wisdom and grace, to keep it in some sort of helpful and balanced perspective, without it going to His head?
Mary gives Luke and us just this one picture from His childhood: probably the first trip Jesus makes to Jerusalem, a trip Jewish men were required to make three times a year. The following year Jesus would become bar mitzvah, a son of the Torah—that is, He would enter manhood. Probably this trip was in preparation for that one.
Of course, we would expect Jesus to be a prodigy, and along with everything Luke has shown us, He does not reject the Torah and the traditions of His people; rather He is the best representative of them and continues to do everything “according to the law of the Lord.”
The important thing, however, is His self-consciousness. When Mary says to Him, “Child, why have You treated us like this?” He had no intention of causing them distress but says with some surprise, “Why is it that you were seeking Me? Did you not know …” It was as though they should have been able to, and He expected them to, think what He was thinking. What was He thinking? “Did you not know that I must be in the things of My Father?” Mary had just said, “Your father and I,” meaning Joseph and herself, but Jesus speaks now of God as His Father. This is the first time that we hear Him speak this way, but it is based on what Gabriel had said to Mary before He was born. She should have known.
Maybe she had, but it seems that coming to Jerusalem, the city of David, awakened something in Jesus. Simeon spoke his words to Mary and Joseph in the courts of the Temple, near where Jesus spoke with the rabbis. And the city itself evokes the name Zion, about which Gabriel had said to Mary, “The Lord God will give to Him the throne of David His father, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” The site of the city and the Temple must have excited Jesus. But more than that: As He came into manhood, or as we would say today, as His ego or sense of self developed and He began to clearly distinguish Himself from His parents, the other words that Gabriel spoke would have begun to impress themselves on Him in a new way, that He was the Son of God, the Son of the Most High. I doubt that we can grasp what that would have done to Him. Our sense of self leads us into sin, and so we cannot grasp how Jesus could handle such knowledge without sin, without becoming attached to it, without becoming grandiose and misapplying it. We do not know how Jesus at twelve years old would have understood Gabriel’s words, aside from their biological significance, but Paul said, He “did not consider being equal with God a treasure to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave” and humbling Himself as a man.
So we read that He had no problem subjecting Himself to Mary and Joseph. He was like us, but He was also not like us. When it came to knowing that He was the Son of God, He did not know it in the same sinful way that we can only imagine we would have “known” it. He was like us, but not in our sin. So this is something we can only imagine imperfectly, with faith. Like Mary, we can keep these things in our hearts, but be wary of what our minds might do with it.
Nevertheless, there is something for us to learn here. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he explains that we too have become sons of God in Christ. He is the Son and we have become sons in Him (sons and daughters, if you like, but the point is that we have become what He is—gender is not an issue). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and we also have been conceived by the Holy Spirit, who now testifies within our spirit that we are now children of God. Can we be so bold? Of course, this could not happen before. The Holy Spirit had to be transformed along with Christ Himself as He went through death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit that we receive bears the crucified Christ who redeems us from our sin. We could not be regenerated by God unless God first dealt with our sin. This is no small thing. We are not like Christ.
Yet by God’s gift of grace, through the forgiveness of our sins, we receive the divine sonship. Some teachers do not want us to have the assurance of salvation and to be too bold in claiming this. After all, there are many who think that they are Christians when they are not. Yet the Scriptures clearly teach us that we are to know that we have eternal life, we who believe into the name of the Son of God, who love the brothers and sisters (1 John 3:14; 5:13). We do not merely hope in the forgiveness of sins but we accept God’s word that our sins are forgiven and we accept that we have been given the gift of eternal life, which is the gift of divine sonship. As long as we still think God is far off because of our sin, we are not yet on the path. We may be “saved,” but we are not yet walking. We need this assurance in order to live the Christian life, to begin walking it.
Yet we also must not think that because we have the Holy Spirit we do not need to grow in wisdom and in grace in order to grow in stature. Jesus was not teaching the teachers when He was twelve. He was learning from them. Even though He was the Son, He was a man and still needed to learn. We also need to always be learning.
His Baptism and Ours (3:21-22)
When Jesus is baptized by John, He is about thirty years old. In Matthew’s gospel the emphasis is different than in Luke. In Matthew, Jesus by His perfect obedience and identification with the people of God in their sin—thus fulfilling all righteousness—comes to the realization of the kingdom of the heavens within Himself, that He as the Son of God is the “place” or sphere of the kingdom of the heavens, into which He then invites us to be blessed.
Luke’s emphasis is not on the kingdom of the heavens but on salvation. Jesus goes before us to make the way. He is presented to us in His humanity in a way that does not come across in Matthew. (There is no disagreement between Matthew and Luke; but in order to understand each, it is important to notice how they are different.) Luke also presents Jesus in His Jewishness but even as Luke presents Jesus in His particularity, Luke is presenting Him in His common humanity. We can all “touch” Him.
For one thing, Matthew emphasized that the people coming to
John’s baptism confessed their sins. This is backward looking. For those who have been raised on Scripture, there is a need to recognize their failure. In Matthew, it is important that Jesus identifies with the people in their sin. Luke does not mention it. Instead the emphasis is on repentance, how you will live from now on.
Then, when Jesus is baptized, Luke does not mention that John baptized Him. That John does it, is no longer important, or even that it is in the Jordan. Matthew mentions both details. Also, in Matthew, Jesus is the One who sees the heavens open, whereas in Luke it is objective. Why this difference?
In Luke, Jesus’ baptism is not so much the baptism of John anymore but it is rather like a Christian baptism. Of course, we do not get to see the Holy Spirit descend in bodily form like a dove, but the apostles laid hands on the believers to receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and certainly “had” the Holy Spirit from birth (actually, the Three of the Trinity each dwell fully in each other). But as a human being, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit for the sake of His work and ministry. The Holy Spirit came upon Him to work outwardly in His life, to equip His work.
Like Jesus at His conception, we receive the Holy Spirit inwardly when we first believe. We receive the gift of eternal life by receiving the Holy Spirit, and from then on the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This is the same as Christ dwelling in us. But in addition to this, the Holy Spirit came upon the church on the Day of Pentecost to equip the church for its ministry, to work outwardly in the life of the church. What happened on Pentecost to the church is what happened to Jesus at His baptism.
It seems that in Luke, Jesus’ baptism becomes the basis for Christian baptism. When the apostles baptize people in Acts, when we baptize people, we are baptizing them into Jesus and therefore into the baptism of Jesus, Jesus’ own baptism. When we are baptized, we enter into Jesus’ own repentance and participate in it for our salvation. It was not that Jesus repented, but His obedience to the Father took on the form of the repentance required of us. We also receive the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that came upon Him in His baptism. Of course, we can only receive the Holy Spirit in this way after Pentecost. Nevertheless, when we are baptized and receive the laying on of hands to identify us with Christ’s body, the church, we enter into the baptism of the Holy Spirit that the church received on Pentecost, which is the same anointing that Christ received at His baptism.
So also the words that are spoken to Him from heaven apply in their own way to all those who are baptized into Him. We become sons, beloved of the Father, and in Christ He is delighted with us. Luke says, “You” whereas Matthew says, “This One.” In Matthew what Jesus hears is objective. In Luke what we hear with Christ is subjective.
His Common Humanity (3:23-38)
The genealogy that follows is Jesus’ natural genealogy. The genealogy in Matthew is different, because it is His legal genealogy and connects Jesus to the kings of Israel. The difference is that Luke connects Jesus to the human race rather than to just David and Abraham. He is the Savior of all, of us all.