Listen to it:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ve been flipping through photo albums. No, not at the parsonage. Here. Flipping through photo albums that Matthew and Luke have put together for us. Look, there’s one of Zechariah and Elizabeth and baby John. There’s one of pregnant Mary. And there, Joseph, silent as ever. And there are lots of Jesus as a baby. Jesus in the manger; Jesus being adored by shepherds; Jesus on the way to Egypt. But as we flip the pages, there are a lot of pictures missing; in fact, there are no pictures between Jesus as a baby and Jesus standing in the Jordan with John to be baptized. No pictures, except one. Luke gives us this single snapshot, here in these few verses from chapter 2. It almost doesn’t fit. It’s as if Luke plucked a random picture and stuck it here haphazardly, sort of crooked on the page. And yet, as we examine it more closely, as we look at the details, we see that it’s not a random picture at all. If we let it, this one photograph will open up to us a picture of Jesus’ entire life. This is not the last time that Jesus will be found in the Temple. This is not the last time that people will not understand what Jesus says. This is not the last time that people will be searching for Him.
Luke’s Gospel is full of the Temple. It starts in the Temple, with Zechariah, and an angel, and a promise; Jesus is brought to the Temple when He is eight days old to be circumcised and named; He is brought again after forty days to be presented as Mary offers the sacrifice for her purification; there Simeon and Anna proclaim Him to be the fulfillment of Israel’s hope and her consolation. Later Jesus is in the Temple, clearing it of money changers and remaking it as a house of prayer for all nations; later He teaches in the Temple and astounds the crowds; and Luke’s Gospel ends where it begins: in the Temple. The very last verse has the disciples constantly in the Temple, blessing God.
And this is not the only time that Jesus will be misunderstood or not understood at all. Mary comes into the Temple, and says, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching anxiously for you?” And while Jesus respects, honors, and submits to Joseph as His earthly father, He reminds Mary of the fact that Joseph is not, in fact, His father. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know it is necessary for Me to be about the things of My Father?” But they did not understand what He said. At least twice Jesus tells His disciples about this divine necessity, that He must be betrayed, suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, and they do not understand what He says. At His tomb, when the women come to anoint His body with the perfume for burial, the angels say, “Why are you searching for the living with the dead? He is not here; He is risen. Remember what He said to you, that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and to rise again on the third day.” And then, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with two disciples and asks them what they are talking about. They say, don’t you know about everything that’s happened in Jerusalem, the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a great prophet, who suffered and was crucified by our leaders; we thought he was the one to redeem Israel. And now it’s the third day since all of this; and some of our women went to the tomb and did not find him; and then some of his apostles went and they didn’t see him either. How foolish and how slow of heart, Jesus says, to believe all that the prophets have spoken. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted all the things in the Scriptures concerning Himself.
Nor is this the last time that people would be searching for Jesus. The women at the tomb are searching for Him, the living among the dead, as the angel puts it. The men on the road to Emmaus are searching for answers as they are lost in their fog of unbelief. But significantly, the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people would search for Him, not to bring Him home, but to destroy Him, to put Him to death. And they search for Him during the Feast of the Passover, as He is teaching in the Temple. In fact, the Greek word for Passover, Pascha, appears seven times in Luke’s Gospel; besides Luke 2:41, they are all in Luke 22, where Jesus sends His disciples to prepare the Passover, where the day comes on which it is necessary to slaughter the Passover lamb, and where Jesus says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Pascha with you before I suffer.” The Greek word pascha comes from the word that means “to suffer.” Jesus says, I have longed to eat this meal of suffering with you before I suffer. The day has come when the Passover Lamb must be slaughtered. And all of this is, the Pascha, the suffering, the dying, the rising; the searching, the blindness, the foolishness, the teaching in the Temple, it is all fulfilled and completed as Jesus does what the Father sent Him to do: “Didn’t you know it is necessary for Me to be about the things of My Father?”
This is the divine necessity laid upon Christ, and which He willingly accepts, even at 12. And it is no less necessary for you and me in 2011 than it was in 2010. The more He speaks, the more He banishes our lack of understanding, the more we realize how necessary Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are for us—every year, every day, every moment. The less necessary we see Jesus’ suffering in our place, the less we will understand, and the more we will search for something else to deal with our anxiety and the overwhelming sense that our circumstances have gotten the best of us. For what are you searching? What do you not understand? To every question, to every shortcut that leaves you stranded in a mess of your own making, to every anxious question of God and what He is doing, Jesus answers: Why were you searching for Me? Here I am; I have always been here. Where I am is the Temple of God’s mercy, and the one thing needful is to be where the things of God are: His mercy and His promises and His Son, who suffered the Divine Necessity for all your yesterdays and all your tomorrows.
No matter how many times you’ve flipped through these photo albums, come and sit again with Matthew at the Table; come and see again these snapshots of salvation, as they open up the heart of Jesus for you this year. He is here, and He is still about the business of His Father: delivering the divine necessity of death and resurrection to dying sinners, feeding them the medicine of immortality, and leading them slowly but surely to the eternal City of the Father, where there is no more Temple, because the Paschal Lamb is the Temple; leading them into the house of His Father, which has many rooms, one of them prepared for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/31/10