This sermon is part of the sermon series "More Than a Holiday". See series.
This sermon is part of the “More Than a Holiday” sermon series. See the whole series here.
I’m excited to kick off our Advent series that we’ve called “More Than a Holiday,” because in this series, we’re going to learn that Christmas is much more than a holiday. Christmas is the celebration of God becoming a man, the incarnation, but how should the incarnation, how should Jesus’ humanity change and affect our everyday lives? That’s the question that we’re going to consider this Christmas season. And it’s going to be a good balance for us as a church because we’ve been studying the Gospel of John, and John’s emphasis is on Jesus’ divinity. He presents Jesus as the Son of God, whereas Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man and emphasizes his humanity. And it’s important that we keep the two natures of Christ together because, frankly, we tend to view Jesus sort of like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was more than human but not totally human. He was almost human but not quite human, and that’s sort of how we can view Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t almost human. He was totally human. He was and is both fully God and fully man, and as man he showed us what it means to be truly human in this world.
As a human, he shows us how to grow in wisdom. That’s the first aspect of Jesus’ humanity that we’re going to look at in this Advent series. How do we do it? How did Jesus grow in wisdom?
[Read Luke 2:41-52]
Jesus grew in wisdom the same way we are to grow in wisdom. He learned and applied God’s truth to real life. That’s wisdom: the skill of applying God’s truth to real life. And two times here Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom. Once at the end of the story in verse 52 and another time at the beginning of this story in verse 40, Jesus grew in wisdom. Luke wants us to see, in this story, how Jesus grew in wisdom and how we should grow in wisdom as well.
This little story is extremely important because in our Western individualistic culture, we’re tempted to believe we gain wisdom in isolation. I have to retreat by myself with a bunch of books and read a lot and then I’ll be wise, or I’ll grow in wisdom by doing life my own way, or if I can only avoid pain and suffering, I’ll be able to grow in wisdom. But what Jesus teaches us here is actually the very opposite. In this story, Jesus teaches us that true wisdom grows in community, obedience, and trials.
Wisdom grows in community
Jesus didn’t grow in wisdom in isolation. Of course, he took time to study alone, but what Luke emphasizes here is that Jesus grew in wisdom because of the theological communities that he was a part of. And the first thing I want to point out is that these communities—his family community and his faith community—were both challenging communities.
If we are to grow in wisdom, we need to be part of communities that challenge us. Notice it says that every year, Jesus’ parents would travel with him from Nazareth to up to Jerusalem. That’s 80-something miles on foot. And we learn that Jesus’ parents were very poor, but it didn’t matter. Every year, they made this very challenging journey. Why? Because devotion to God and being with his people were worth the challenge.
Jesus grew in wisdom because he grew up in a family that was faithful to God no matter what the challenge. We learn that when he stays back at 12-years-old, where is he? He isn’t sitting by himself in a tree reading the Bible. He isn’t playing kick the can with the boys. Where is he? In the most challenging theological community discussing the Bible at 12-years-old.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with personal study or playing games, but we do not do our young people any service by underestimating their ability to be wise at a young age and removing them from communities that challenge them. That’s one of the main ways that we grow.
In Dostoevsky’s classic novel, Crime and Punishment, the main character, Raskolnikov, thought he was very wise. He thought he was very smart, but he kept pushing the people who loved him and challenged him out of his life. All throughout the book, he kept telling people, “Leave me alone. Just let me be.” But at the end, he realizes that he can’t really live and be wise on his own, and he finally tells this woman, Sonia, who has loved him and challenged him, “I need you! I need you.”
You see, that’s it. Just like Raskolnikov, we can tend to think that we can grow wise on our own and that what we need is for people who challenge us to leave us alone, but we need others. We need to be in communities that challenge us. But we don’t just need to be a part of a challenging community; we need to be a part of humble community.
Jesus stayed behind so he could be a part of a community group. But we see it’s not enough to be in a community group; the attitude that you bring to that community group matters. How did Jesus approach the group? It says he listened and asked questions. And this isn’t Jesus trying to stump the teachers. This is Jesus learning from the teachers. You see Jesus wasn’t a know-it-all, and that’s how he grew to know it all. That’s how he grew in wisdom. This is one of the great themes of Proverbs: that a fool only enjoys expressing his opinion, but the wise man listens and asks questions.
I was talking with a guy from our church recently about how to understand the Bible, and I asked him if he was a part of one of our community groups. He told me he was, but he told me that he’s afraid to ask questions because he doesn’t want to look ignorant: “I feel like I should know these things, but I don’t.” And I asked him, “Do you know what the word disciple means?” It means learner. And the way a disciple learns is by listening and asking questions. Asking questions is not a sign of ignorance; it’s a sign of wisdom, and it’s actually how you grow in wisdom.
We need to be part of humble communities where we’re humble enough to listen and ask questions, but also humble enough to hear questions asked that we already know the answer to and not look down on people for asking them. And we see here that a humble community is a learning community.
We read in verse 47 that it wasn’t just questions. Jesus gave answers. There’s a type of false humility that believes we should just all get together as pupils and ask questions, but there’s no teachers and there’s no answers. Just discussion. Good discussion is all that matters. But that’s not what we see here. We need to be part of learning communities where there are more than questions; there are actually answers that are learned.
And so we see that wisdom doesn’t grow by itself, it grows in community: challenging communities, humble communities, and learning communities.
Wisdom grows in obedience
When Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus in the temple, they ask him, “Why have you treated us like this?” Behold, your father and I have been worried sick. Look at his answer, “And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’”
You see, the emphasis is on who is Jesus’ Father. Where does Jesus’ ultimate loyalty lie? And what Jesus is saying here was that in some way, staying behind was a matter of obedience to his heavenly Father. That’s why he says, “I must be in my Father’s house.” It was necessary. His will comes first.
Jesus teaches us that wisdom is not the accumulation of knowledge. A wise person is not someone who knows a lot of information about the Bible. A wise person is someone who actually applies what they know about the Bible. A wise person is someone who not only knows God’s truth but applies God’s truth no matter what. Because wisdom is not just displayed in obedience; it grows in obedience.
We all love candy, right? But you don’t really know the sweetness of a piece of candy until you taste it. You don’t really know the wisdom of your coach until you put their strategy into play. Likewise, you don’t really know the sweetness of obedience and the wisdom of God until you put his Word into practice.
This past week, I was talking to the people at staff meeting—we’re going through Hebrews in our devotion time—and at the end of Chapter 5, he says, “By this time, you should be mature but you still need milk.” He explains why: because solid food is for those who’ve learned to put in practice the things they’ve learned, and the word there is gymnasio. It means to work it out. You see, you don’t grow your muscles by just reading a lot of books on weightlifting. What do you eventually need to do? Lift some weights. You need to hit the gym. That’s how your muscles grow, and it’s the same with wisdom. The way we grow is applying what we already know.
Friends, what do you already know that you need to apply in order to grow?
This is why Jesus, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, says, “Those who hear my words and” what? “do them is like a wise man who builds his house on a rock.” A wise person doesn’t just know God’s truth; they build their life on it. In other words, a wise person doesn’t just hear a sermon, they put it into practice throughout the week. They seeks to change where necessary and apply the truth to life. Not just obedience to God in isolation, but through the different authority structures that God puts in our lives.
Luke shows us that when Jesus left with his parents, he was submissive to them. His emphasis here is on the submissive obedience of Jesus to both fathers, his heavenly Father and earthly father. The path to true wisdom is not doing what you want; it’s doing what God wants even if no one else understands. I must pray, I must serve, I must read, I must … Submissive obedience is the path to wisdom.
Wisdom grows in trials
What we learn here is that we grow in wisdom by going through trials. But we don’t like to hear that, do we? We go out of our way to avoid suffering. That’s why so many people have winter homes in Florida and summer homes in Maine. But growing in wisdom is like any successful team: The only way they can grow into the team they need to be is through the pain of the drills. And now who goes through the pain of a trial in this story? It’s Mary and Joseph, right? Moms can you imagine not knowing where your child is for several days. This is a major trial for them, and we can’t help but read this story and think, Man, it sure looks like Jesus was being the most disobedient and at the least very inconsiderate of his parents. Why did he just stay behind and not tell anyone? But I think that’s why Luke emphasizes Jesus’ understanding in verse 47 with his parents’ misunderstanding in verse 50. Jesus wasn’t the only one growing in wisdom in this story. Mary and Joseph are growing in wisdom. Jesus is not just learning here; he’s teaching here, and he realizes that Mary and Joseph can only grow in wisdom by going through this trial.
You see their question: “Why did you treat us so?” Why? Why Jesus? That’s always the question we ask, isn’t it? Why did my business have to fail? Why did my child have to die? Why are you treating me like this God? What we often forget is that sometimes the only way Jesus can teach us is by taking us through a trial. Wisdom grows in trials. See, the problem of losing Jesus is actually meant to be a learning opportunity for Mary and Joseph. They were learning who Jesus really is. He’s ultimately not their little 12-year-old boy. He’s their Lord and Savior who has come to do the will of the Father.
How we view the problems we face in life makes all the difference. One of the things we often think is, If I can just get past all these problems, then everything will be fine. But that’s not how God works. What happens when you get through the problems of second grade and move on to third grade? What do you get in third grade? Third-grade problems. And why do you get third-grade problems? Because you’ve been prepared for them.
When a student gets handed a test with a bunch of problems, it may feel like they’re being punished, but they’re not. They’re growing up. They’re being taught. The teacher takes them through the problems to work out not because they don’t like the student. It’s exactly the opposite; it’s because they like the student and want to teach them and grow them.
We don’t just solve the problems of life with God’s wisdom. The problems of life are the way we get wisdom.
I think it was a Puritan who said that our trials are God’s classroom, where the greatest of lessons are learned. Trials are not meant to be desirable, they’re meant to be profitable. We’re going to be continually frustrated with God if we think that it’s his job to keep us from going through problems. God’s desire is not to keep us from problems. His desire is to mature us and grow us through the problems. Suffering and trials are things that we are meant to walk through in order to grow in wisdom.
We all know, don’t we, that it’s the people who have gone through a lot and who come out on the other side who have a lot to teach us. Why? Because wisdom grows by going through trials. And, you see, it’s the immature person, the foolish person, who wants progress without a price. They are waiting for the easy break, the quick payoff. They want to be an eighth grader, but they don’t want to handle the problems that get them there.
What Mary and Joseph are facing is a second-grade problem, and it’s meant to get them ready for the eighth grade. See, Mary and Joseph came with Jesus to the feast of Passover. The feast celebrated God’s delivering his people from their enemies through the blood of the Lamb, but they leave the feast without Jesus and they’re worried sick. What if something happened to him? But three days later, they find him alive and well, only to learn more and more who he really is. You see Jesus is preparing them for the eighth-grade problem, on the day when he would be the true Passover lamb, to die on the cross for our sins. Mary and all his disciples would leave that feast without Jesus and think that Jesus was lost forever, but three days later, they would find him alive and well! And when they did, they would learn more and more about him—that when it doesn’t seem like he’s in control, that he really is, that when it seems like he’s treating us badly, he’s actually teaching us and saving us completely.
What we’ve learned from Jesus this morning is that the fruit of wisdom grows on the branches of community, obedience, and trials. What aspect of your life needs to change so that wisdom can grow? Do you need to invest more in a humble learning community that challenges you? Do you need to begin applying God’s truth more in day-to-day obedience? Applying what you already know. Do you need change the way you look at trials and see them as God’s classroom that’s meant to grow your wisdom?
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA.