A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, GA on January 16, 2011.
One of the greatest curses of a religious people is the shallowness of their knowledge concerning the very foundation of the faith. The great radical movement in the Christian church is not going to come when and if churches ever get their liturgies in the currently fashionable argot, nor will it come when they finally organize their bureaucracies into efficient corporate structures. It will come only when children and adults begin to learn about Jesus Christ and the church and world he served and saved, with the blinders off.
–Peter J. Gomes in Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living
We have arrived at the middle of January and Christmas is now nothing more than a fading memory. Perhaps a stray decoration or two remain around the house or a favorite Christmas card is still applied to the refrigerator with a magnet. The stores have all moved on to Valentine’s Day. I think they did that the day after Christmas. Even in church, the story of the shepherds, the announcement to Mary and Joseph, the visitation of the Heavenly Host on the hillside, the worship of the shepherds, the journey of the Wise Men, and the star in the sky are now faded.
Matthew and Luke are the only two Gospels that tell about the birth. Then there is virtually nothing in the Gospels until Jesus appears at what we think must have been age 30 to begin his ministry by coming to be baptized by John in the Jordan River.
The only thing we do have is the story when Jesus was 12. We are vaguely familiar with it. It says that every year, his parents went to the Passover in Jerusalem. This particular story happened when Jesus was about 12. They went and celebrated the Passover. In that caravan of family and friends from the same village, they all started home. Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought he was with a cousin. They were a day’s journey away when they realized every parent’s nightmare—Jesus was not there. They had left him in Jerusalem.
It reminds me of a story when our girls were small. We had an activity at church. I had gone early. Cherry came later and brought the girls. I arrived home first and Cherry drove into the driveway with Rachel. I said, “Where’s Jordan?”
Cherry said, “With you.”
I said, “No, I thought she was with you.”
In that moment of panic, you realize you have left your child somewhere. Fortunately, about 30 seconds later, before either one of us could have a heart attack, someone came driving into the driveway, got out and said, “We’ve got your daughter here.”
You can imagine how Mary and Joseph felt. They made the journey back by themselves. They retraced their steps, and found Jesus in the temple.
I think we have remembered this story incorrectly. We tend to think of it as Jesus showing up the gray beard. We tend to think Jesus is there instructing all the teachers of the law and he is tutoring those who would teach the law in the ways of God. But that is not exactly the way it is. He is there engaged in conversation. It says, “They marveled at his insight and the answers to the questions. This is not a confrontational scene in which Jesus is exerting himself, but it is an appropriate scene. It is a scene where 12-year-old Jesus, who is at the border of childhood and manhood in the Jewish custom of his day, is there and learning who he is.
When we are afraid as parents, it often comes out as anger. Mary asked Jesus, “Why did you worry us this way?” I think it is the worry of parenthood and the frantic nature.
The translators express this different ways. Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house? Didn’t you know that I would be about my Father’s business?” Luke adds as commentary, “and Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all of his relationships.”
In this passage, we who are parents and who have responsibility for children are reminded about the importance of what it means to have that spiritual component in the lives of raising our children. Physical: “Jesus grew in stature.” We know he grew up. He was not the same size at 30 as he was at 12. He grew up in wisdom. It was not simply that he got straight A’s in whatever the equivalent of school would have been for him. There is a spiritual component that he grew in awareness of what it was that God wanted from him. He grew in awareness of what God would have him do.
Some people are bothered by this. They think he was the Son of God and that surely he knew all of these things. At age six, would Jesus have understood what it meant to be the Messiah? Would he have already been talking to his elders about what it was going to mean to die on the cross? I think not.
The human component—fully divine and fully human—shows Jesus is growing every step of the way. He is growing physically but he also grows spiritually. If Jesus does this, then why not our children? I think we have the physical part down. We take them to the best instructors. We change gyms to make sure they get the best gymnast instruction. We change pitching coaches and batting coaches. We change travel teams to make sure they have the best shot at Olympic development in soccer, basketball, and all the other things our children do. But what effort and direction do we put into the spiritual part?
Do you remember later when Jesus said, “What does it profit a person if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” What does it profit our children if they make 36 on the ACT, all-state in whatever activity they think is the most important, but they have a stunted soul? What does it profit them? We recognize that if our children are to grow like Jesus there is some responsibility on the part of parents, grandparents, and families to provide them with the opportunities that they need.
Some people think this will simply take place over time, but it does not take place because time passes. It takes place because of the way we use time. It takes place because in the appropriate times, we exposure our children to the things of God. We instruct our children in the things of God. Jesus grew in wisdom, in that spiritual understanding component, in stature, and in favor with God and all people.
Another thing that would be related to those of us who have responsibility for children would be the expression, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Are you familiar with that? What does that mean? Doesn’t it mean that children are often similar to their parents? But, typically, it means more than that. Have you ever heard it used in a positive way? Do you ever see a beautiful child and say, “O, look how beautiful she is! You know her mother is beautiful. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I have never heard it used like that. It is usually used in a negative way. What it usually means is that, in some way, the limitations of the family get visited on the child. Isn’t that what it means? Families who lie and cheat often turn out children who lie and cheat. It is used in other ways. In families where there is a great sense of entitlement who thinks the world owes them a living and that things should turn out the way they expect them to, often breed children who expect the same thing.
We all know very sadly that, typically, abuse is not a one-generation thing. If there is a family where abuse takes place, very often it will continue into the next generation.
The Bible has another proverb for this. It says, “The parents ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth were set on edge.” The parents ate the sour grapes and it was the children who wound up with the foul taste in their mouths. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
In our context today, the word for us would be that the limitations of our faith can wind up being the limitations of our children’s faith. It is very hard to give a faith to our children or grandchildren that we do not already have. Therefore, wouldn’t it be best if we, too, were to continue to grow. Growing in faith does not stop once our stature is complete. A shallow faith in an older generation very often results in a shallow faith in a younger generation. True?
Sometimes we are blessed in that our children are not limited by this, but do we really want to run that risk?
If you read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke, Luke is very pointed about the faith of Mary and Joseph. Everything that Mary and Joseph do is because of their devoutness as believers in God. After the birth of Jesus, on the appropriate day, they went to the temple for the right of purification—part of the Jewish cleanliness laws—so that they might make the appropriate sacrifice. On the right day, they took Jesus so that he might be circumcised, an indication that he was a part of the community of Israel and that he was a believer. Every year, they took Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. In this year, when he would be at the appropriate age of crossing over from childhood to adulthood, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem to observe the Passover.
Later, in chapter 4, Jesus was going into the synagogue to preach his first sermon and Luke said, “He went to the synagogue as was his custom.” When did it become his custom? When he was 16, 18, 21, or 28 or the year before he began his ministry or did it begin when Mary and Joseph regularly took Jesus to be a part of the worshipping community?
I may have mentioned this book before. It is a book I bought a couple of years ago. The title turned out to be a whole lot better than the book, but it was entitled, Lord, I Was Happy Shallow. When you think about it, that is the way a lot of us approach our faith. It is just a whole lot happier to be shallow than to really do the work that it requires for us to grow in our faith so that our children not only hear forgiveness taught but they see forgiveness practiced. Our children should not only hear someone say, “You ought to pray,” but be led in prayer. They should see the importance of worship and participating in ministry to the church lived out in front of them. May we grow so that our children may grow.
Mary asked Jesus, “Why did you worry us so?” and Jesus said, “Did you not know that I would be about my Father’s business?” What is the business of God? When we think about later in Jesus’ earthly ministry when he performed the tremendous acts of compassion, how he healed and helped people, how he taught about God’s grace and told the wonderful parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan and all those other stories that welcomed people back into the arms of God, he was actively calling people to be reconciled to God and to know God’s love. In all of these things, we know the work of God, but on this day, when Mary and Joseph come back to find Jesus in the temple, the business was growing. The business was understanding God better. The business was preparing his heart in order to be the man that people would call the Messiah.
When we read our church covenant as a part of baptism, we remind ourselves of the things that we hold important as a congregation, particularly the statement that we seek Christ’s heart and we attempt to be Christ’s hands in this world. We do very well at being the hands of Christ, but I don’t know that we always seek the heart of Christ as we should. I don’t know that we put as much effort into it. Maybe being the hands of Christ is limited by how much of the heart we have found. I have no idea how we would measure this. I have no idea how we could somehow quantify these things, but what if 10% more in our lives we applied scripture to the decisions we have to make into the relationships that we encounter. What if we prayed 10% more about the important decisions in our lives? What if 10% more we trusted in God’s presence and God’s walking with us in those difficult moments in life? What if 10% more we practiced grace or 10% more we practiced giving that we might have the blessings of the generous in our hearts? If we had just 10% more of the heart of Christ, how would that translate into what we do as the hands of Christ? Would we see evidence that there has been a change?
“I must be about my Father’s business.” Some days, that means feeding the hungry and some days that means sheltering the homeless. Some days it means whatever act of Christian compassion we can do in Christ’s name that others might know that there is grace in Christ. Some days, it means growing our hearts so that we might gain a new understanding of what it would mean to be the hands of Christ.
Jesus grew. Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with all people. What if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? What if we grow in all ways, expanding our 401K, get a new degree, and do all of these things that indicate our lives are in some way expanding, improving, and excelling in all things but our soul is stunted? What if we were to gain the whole world but lose our soul? All the rest would mean nothing.
In this new year, for the sake of the ministry of the kingdom, for the sake of children whom we want to grow up and have an influence on the world for Christ, let us all covenant together that however it might be, if there is only one thing that we might do to grow closer to Christ, to increase the heart of Christ within us, then let us do it.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.