The Sunday after Epiphany

January 10, 2016

“Church, Christ, Catechism”

St. Luke 2:41-52


His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously."  And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.


Christmas celebrates God joining the human race.  He, who was begotten of the Father before all worlds, became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.  St. John writes,


The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14


Here the apostle joins Christmas to Epiphany.  God became flesh is Christmas.  We saw his glory is Epiphany.  Epiphany means shine upon.  The prophet said:


Arise, shine, for your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.

The Son was begotten of the Father in eternity.  In time he was born of the Virgin Mary.  God took upon himself our nature.  Jesus was true God and true man from the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb.  He will be true God and true man forever.  As we sing:


God is man, man to deliver

And the Son now is one with our blood forever.


What a wonderful mystery!  Jesus is God.  That means everything that Jesus ever did God did.  Jesus is a man.  That means everything Jesus ever did a man did.  There is a personal union between God and man.  Jesus is one person and he is both God and man.  As God he has a divine nature.  As man he has a human nature.  His human nature shares in all of his divine powers.  But he became our substitute to set us free from our sins by his obedience and suffering.  So from the time he was born until he died, he chose, in his human nature, not always and fully to use all of the divine powers in which his human nature shared.  Jesus, in his human nature, chose to grow, to learn, to hunger, to thirst, to face sorrow and pain, and finally to die on a cross to suffer for the sin of the world.  He was and is and will ever be God.  But because he was intent on fulfilling the law for us and dying for us he didn’t grasp onto his prerogatives.  He humbled himself.


This is how Jesus could grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men, as St. Luke writes.  He matured.  He grew.  From the time he was a baby until the time he was baptized at age thirty he grew as a boy and a man.  He learned the things a child learns.  He learned how to walk, how to talk, how to read, and, presumably, how to help Joseph in his carpentry work.  We know very little about his childhood.  Joseph was still living when Jesus was twelve years old, but there is no mention of Joseph when Jesus reappears on the scene at the age of thirty.  The Gospels don’t give us an entire biography of his life.  The Holy Spirit saw fit to record in the New Testament Scriptures only one event in Christ’s life from his infancy until he was thirty years old and that is this episode recorded for us by St. Luke, recounting how Jesus stayed behind in the temple when his parents left Jerusalem when the feast of the Passover. 


Why did God choose to record for us this event?  He wants us to pay attention to it.  God deliberately keeps us ignorant of Christ’s life on earth for most of the thirty three years he walked among us.  But he chooses to reveal this particular event.  It is to teach us.  It is to teach us about the Church, about Christ, and about the Catechism.


This event teaches us about the Church.  The Church is symbolized by the temple.  The temple is like the church.  It’s not that the church is a building because it isn’t.  The church is a people, not a building.  But the temple was where God met his people.  The temple was where God’s glory dwelt.  The temple signified God’s presence.  God’s Word is what sanctified the temple to make it holy.


God’s Word, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament is all about Jesus.  Jesus referred to his own body as the temple.  The church is Christ’s body.  Of course, Jesus is in the temple.  Where else would he be?  Jesus is where his Church is. 


But Mary did not know.  Jesus’ own mother did not know where he was.  She and Joseph looked for him for three days before they found him in the place they should have looked in the first place.  Now learn from Mary.  If the mother of God could not find Jesus apart from his church, which is his body, why do you think you can?  Do you excuse your neglect of church, that is, your neglect of God’s Word because you think you can find Jesus in your own pious thoughts, your own spiritual meditations, or somewhere else other than God’s Word and Church?  If Mary was befuddled, so will you be, regardless of how spiritual you may think you are.


You cannot find Christ while neglecting his Church and his Word.  Just as the pure preaching of the Word of God and the right administration of the sacraments of Christ are sure and certain marks of the Church which, if you have them, you will have the Church, just so the purely preached gospel and rightly administered sacraments are infallible signs of Christ’s gracious presence.  Find the Church and you will find Christ there.  Ignore the Church and you will be ignoring Christ.


American Protestantism comes up with all sorts of excuses for showing disrespect to the Church, which is the temple of the living God.  They sneer against what they call churchianity and contrast it with what they call Christianity – as if there is any Christianity apart from the holy Christian Church!  “He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his mother,” so said St. Cyprian way back in the third century.  If Mary couldn’t find Jesus except when she sought him in the temple, neither can you or I or anyone else.


Second, this event teaches us about Christ.  It was no accident that it was the feast of the Passover.  The Passover was rooted in an historical event: the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt by the miraculous crossing over the Red Sea.  You will recall that the Exodus of Israel from Egypt was preceded by a number of plagues that God inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to let his people go.  The final plague was the Passover.  God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family of the Egyptians.  He commanded his people to kill a lamb and put some blood of the lamb above the doors of their homes so that when the angel of death saw the blood he would pass over that house and spare that family a visit with death.


The blood of the Passover lamb was God teaching his people about the blood of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.  Hundreds of years of observing the Passover couldn’t take away sin.  Only the blood of the God-man could.  Have you ever wondered what the conversation was between Jesus and the teachers at the temple on that day when at the age of twelve he astonished them with his understanding and answers?  It was the festival of the Passover.  That was the topic.  Jesus was learning, at the tender age of twelve years, what he would do, how he would suffer, how he would bear in his own body the sin of the world, shedding his blood to ward off the angel of death.  He would pay sin’s wages with his own life.


Third, this event teaches us about the Catechism.  I’m not talking about that blue or burgundy colored book of about one hundred and fifty pages that has a couple of hundred questions and answers and Bible passages.  The Catechism is the six chief parts of Christian doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, the Keys and Confession, and the Lord’s Supper.  This is the Christian catechism.  This is not a textbook.  Textbooks are used only to pass a course.  The Catechism is the summary of Christian doctrine that feeds our faith throughout our lives.  God wants you to know and believe the Catechism.  He wants you to love its teaching.  He wants you to be guided and strengthened by it.  He wants you to teach it to your children.  He wants you to commit it to memory.  Why?  Because he loves you, that’s why.  The Catechism, especially with Martin Luther’s short explanation, teaches us right from wrong exposing our sins, and beautifully expresses the saving teaching of God’s Word by which we sinners are rescued from sin, forgiven by Jesus’ innocent suffering and death, and brought to faith and sustained in the faith by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.


Jesus as a twelve year old boy placed the learning of God’s Word above all other matters.  It was the most important thing he could do.  Our text tells us that when he went home he was subject to Mary and Joseph.  He honored his father and his mother.  But honoring his Father’s house was more important than honoring his human parents.  The Third Commandment trumps the Fourth Commandment.  To love preaching and God’s Word, and gladly hear and learn it is more important than any other kind of activity in which we are engaged, whether we are twelve or eighty. 


Some years ago, it was my privilege to teach at a seminary in western Ukraine to young men studying to be pastors in the Lutheran Church.  These men grew up when Ukraine was ruled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  The Lutheran Church was illegal under the Communists.  The Lutherans had no pastors, no church services, and no church buildings.  All they had was the Catechism.  The Communists could kill their pastors and burn their churches, but they couldn’t steal their Catechism because it had been committed to memory.  From fathers to children the Catechism was passed down from 1918 to the fall of the Soviet Empire over seventy years later.  After the fall of the Iron Curtain, when a Ukrainian American pastor by the name of John Shep visited Ukraine to try to locate the Lutherans there and help provide them with pastoral care, he found that they had been sustained through their captivity by the Catechism.


Let Jesus teach you how precious the summary of God’s Word that we have in the Catechism is.  See him in his temple.  Learn from him that where the Word is he dwells with his Church by his Spirit.  And as the Catechism teaches us, in this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers and will on the last day raise up me and all the dead and give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true. 


Rolf D. Preus


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