"Jesus Among the Doctors" by James Tissot, ca. 1890.
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
What was Jesus like as a boy?
This paragraph offers us the only glimpse we have into Jesus’ growing up years. The biblical record moves from his infancy to the beginning of his public ministry at the age of 30 with only this one episode in between. While there are many things we would like to know about Jesus as a young boy and as a teenager, this is all we are given.
It’s fairly easy to imagine that in the great crowd of family and friends making the long journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth, a child might disappear for a few hours, only to reappear at supper time. That part of the story is understandable. It’s also conceivable that a mischievous boy would hide or even run away.
But that’s not what Jesus did.
He stayed behind in Jerusalem so he could discuss weighty matters with the “doctors of the law,” the scribes and priests who spent a lifetime studying the written law and the oral commentary.
In our day we could imagine a boy spending hours playing video games. But this would be like a 12 year old boy spending hours discussing the minutiae of constitutional law with the partners at a big law firm.
Jesus’ reply to his worried mother reminds us about the higher priorities of life: “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?" (Luke 2:49). We aren’t surprised when the next verse tells us they didn’t understand what he was saying.
It was a solemn reminder that even as a young boy Jesus was conscious of God’s divine call on his life. We need not inquire into how much Jesus understood about his future destiny at this point. On the divine side, he certainly knew all things. On the human side, he grew in knowledge as he grew up. But he knew even at the age of 12 that he was not like other boys. He was called to his “Father’s business,” and that must be attended to, even if his parents did not understand.
We also must be about our Father’s business. Here is a good question we should ask from time to time: “Am I busy doing my Father’s business? Am I walking in the steps of Jesus?” Questions like that may humble us and even shame us. But they are useful to the soul. “Never is a church in so healthy a condition as when its believing members aim high, and strive in all things to be like Christ” (J. C. Ryle).
Lord Jesus, help me to follow your example and be doing my Father’s business today. Amen.
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