Sermon 12-14-14: “Amazed, Astounded, and Astonished”

December 23, 2014
This is the third part of my Advent series, which draws upon themes from Hamilton's new book.

This is the third part of my Advent series, which draws upon themes from Hamilton’s new book.

Much of this message is aimed at parents. In Luke 2:52, we’re told that Jesus “grew in wisdom” and in the “favor” of God. Among other things, this means that God’s plan was for Jesus to grow and learn and develop much like other children. If even Jesus—God from God, light from light, true God from true God—needed godly parents to shape him into the faithful person that he became, how much more do our children need us! 

Another part of this message relates to making Christ our highest priority in life.

Sermon Text: Luke 2:41-52

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

In his new book about Christmas, Not a Silent Night, pastor Adam Hamilton shares a frightening experience to which many of us parents can relate: the experience of losing a child temporarily in a crowded public place. For him it happened at Disney World. They were at a gift shop inside a Disney resort, waiting for the bus to take them to one of the parks. When the bus came, Hamilton and the rest of his family got on—or at least he thought they did. The bus pulled out and went about a half-mile down the road before they realized that their six-year-old daughter was not with them. Hamilton’s wife screamed. The bus driver stopped the bus, and Hamilton said, “I jumped off and ran like an Olympian back to the store to look for our daughter. There were thousands of strangers all around and I had left my little girl behind!”[1]

He said he found her in the gift shop, “totally oblivious of the fact we weren’t there.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and said, “What were you thinking? Didn’t you hear me say, ‘Come on let’s go’? Why are you still here? Don’t you know what could have happened? Don’t you ever do that to me again.”[2]

Of course, he’s the 30-something-year-old parent; she’s the six-year-old child. Should he be the one upset? But as I am myself a “yell first, ask questions later” kind of person, I can totally relate to Hamilton’s words!

And in today’s scripture, I imagine that Mary and Joseph were feeling those same, contradictory emotions: a profound sense of relief, mixed with joy, mixed with intense anger when they found their missing child. Talk about panic! This wasn’t, as in the case of Adam Hamilton, being separated from your child for a few minutes. They had to travel a full day’s journey back to Jerusalem, and then they spent a full day looking for him once they got there—amidst the 300,000 people or so who were in this large, crowded, dangerous metropolis!

It’s no wonder that when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers of the law and amazing them with his wisdom and insights, they were understandably upset and astonished. Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”[3] And Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And Luke says they didn’t understand what he meant.

And why would they? This might have been the first time that they’d ever heard Jesus refer to God as “my Father.” There’s much mystery here: we can’t know for sure how or when Jesus first became aware that he was God’s Son. But most Bible scholars believe that Luke included this one story of Jesus as a child in order to show us that from an early age, Jesus was aware that God was his true Father, and that he was the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah.

Hamilton says that Jesus’ words must have reminded Mary once again of the events surrounding Christmas, when the angel Gabriel came to her and told her that she was going to give birth to the Savior of the world and Son of God.[4] And while I’m sure they did, I’m more interested in what Joseph thought of Jesus’ words.

As many of you know, I was adopted. Mom told me once that during those first couple of years after she took me home, she lived in fear that one day, out of the blue, there would be a knock on the door. It would be a social worker from the adoption agency. “I’m sorry, Mrs. White. There’s been a mistake. We’re going to have to take Brent away from you. He’s going to live with his mother—you know, his true mother and his true father.”

Can you imagine? If you’re an adoptive parent, you probably can! Now imagine being Joseph, and having raised a child for twelve years, only to be reminded that, oh yeah I’m not this child’s true father. He doesn’t belong to me. He belongs to someone else.

As Joseph pieced together what Jesus was saying in the temple, surely he, too, was reminded of the events surrounding Christmas—and how the angel told him in a dream that this child was special, that he was going to be the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Son of God. And that Joseph needed to trust, first of all, that, despite all appearances, Mary hadn’t cheated on him and slept with another man, and that he needed to risk ruining his own reputation by marrying this girl who—as far as anyone could tell—got pregnant out of wedlock. And then he’d have to take his life and his family’s life in his own hands, uproot his family, leave his own kinfolk, and flee to a foreign land to escape the murderous clutches of King Herod.

That’s a lot to ask of someone who wasn’t the child’s true father. And here in today’s text, perhaps he’s reminded once again, “Oh, yeah… Jesus isn’t really mine. He doesn’t belong to me. As much as I might want for my son to follow in my footsteps, to follow my vocation, to take over the carpentry shop, to settle down in my hometown, to marry a woman and have kids here among my people, to be a chip off the old block… as much as I might want that, God’s plans are for Jesus are not my plans for Jesus. He has a higher calling.”

So Joseph had to surrender this precious gift of his adoptive son back to God. But when you think about it, this kind of surrendering is what we all must do with our kids—not to mention every other gift that God gives us!

But right now I want to focus on our kids. And I want to say a special word to our parents: We’re not so different from Joseph or Mary. Our children, surely one of the most precious gifts from God that we can receive, don’t belong to us—not really. We have an awesome responsibility over them, but ultimately they—like all the gifts God gives us—are only ours on loan. We are stewards. Ultimately they belong to God. We are doing nothing less than the Lord’s work in raising them, teaching them, mentoring them… From a secular point of view, we’re often told that a parent’s job is to make sure that they raise their children to be “productive members of society,” to be independent of us, to be good citizens. And of course these are good goals, and that’s a small part of a parent’s job. But we Christian parents have a far, far more important job than that: we are trying to raise our kids to be nothing less than productive citizens, not merely of any nation or earthly kingdom, but of the very kingdom of God!

If we are Christians, there is nothing more important that we can do in life!

Look at it like this: In verse 52, we’re told that Jesus “grew in wisdom” and in the “favor” of God. But what does that mean? Among other things, it means that Jesus wasn’t born automatically knowing and understanding everything! God’s plan was for Jesus to grow and learn and develop much like other children. Again, there’s much mystery here, but clearly, based on verse 52, God chose Mary and Joseph to play a crucial role in shaping Jesus into the man—including the Messiah, the Saviorthat we read about later in the gospels!

Think about it: God’s own Son was without sin; fully God; God in the flesh; yet even he needed godly parents to shape him into the godly, faithful person that he became.

Our kids are great and we love ’em and all, but I hope it goes without saying that they’re not Jesus! How much more do our kids, sinners that they are, need us Christian parents to do our jobs and help them become godly and faithful people? Being a faithful Christian doesn’t happen automatically. And it doesn’t even usually happen by simply taking our kids to church regularly—or especially dropping them off at church for Sunday school and worship while we go and do something else with our Sunday mornings! Our kids are learning more about the Christian faith from our example than anything we say about it—or anything else they happen to hear about it at church!

What are they learning from our example about the Christian faith? Are they learning from us that Christianity is something for kids—maybe like Santa Claus? Even if some of us grown-ups are lucky enough to have Santa bring gifts to us, it’s not like us grown-ups are waiting in line at the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what we want for Christmas! Because why? Because Santa is for kids! Are we communicating the same thing about Christian faith: that once you become an adult, going to church and practicing the faith isn’t something you have to do? It’s optional? And that God, before whom we will one day stand in judgment, is somehow O.K. with that?

Are your kids seeing you pray when they’re at home? Are they seeing you read your Bible? Are they seeing you worship and love and serve Jesus through your local church? Are they seeing you make Jesus and God’s kingdom and your Christian faith the number one priority in your life?

Brothers and sisters, our young people need to see us, not simply being affiliated with church, or being a member of the church, or volunteering at church—they need to see us actively loving, worshiping, and serving Jesus! They need to see a heart on fire for Lord. They need to see us committed not simply to the church but to Jesus Christ! They need to see us make Jesus Christ the number one priority in our lives!

Because Jesus himself says that unless or until we do, we cannot be his disciples! Jesus says that! Not me! In fact, in today’s scripture, he’s even living out the truth of some words about discipleship that he will later teach to his disciples. What does he say? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”[5]

Now he’s intentionally exaggerating here. It’s a part of his method of teaching called hyperbole. He doesn’t literally mean we hate father and mother. But he does mean that when our allegiance to God is tested by someone or something other than God, we follow God.

Jesus knew, for example, that his parents didn’t approve of his staying behind at the temple in Jerusalem. And he loved his parents, respected his parents, and usually obeyed his parents—but not more than he loved, respected, and obeyed his heavenly Father. So the choice was clear: he obeyed his heavenly Father. The point is exactly this: God must be number one in our lives. We must make God and the things of God’s kingdom our number one priority!

If we don’t, we are disobeying Jesus, failing as his disciples, and failing to make him Lord of our lives! And we need to repent!

Well, since C.S. Lewis usually says things better than I do, I’ll let him say the following, from his book Mere Christianity:

Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”[6]

Christ demands everything from us—our life, our possessions, our will, our all. These are tough words, I know. But what God asks us to do is infinitesimally small compared to what God has done for us. Let me explain…

You see in this passage how badly Mary and Joseph wanted to find their lost son. Guess what? Jesus says that God is like that too! God is like a shepherd who has a hundred sheep and loses one. Just one little insignificant sheep, right? Who’s going to miss it? This shepherd misses it. He leaves the 99 and goes off, searching high and low, risks his own life to find this one lost sheep. And when he finds it, he’s so overjoyed that he throws a big party: “Rejoice with me,” he tells everyone. “I’ve found my sheep that was lost.”

When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God our Good Shepherd wanted so badly to rescue us, his lost sheep, from sin and Satan and death that he came into this world, and he became one of us! He became one with us. And if you repent and place your faith in Jesus, it’s as if God were throwing a party because he’s so happy that now you’re going to spend eternity with him! He loves you that much!

But there’s even more to God’s love than that…

In his book, Adam Hamilton says that when he thinks of God as “Father,” he thinks of his own experience as a father to two daughters. He writes:

As they were growing up, every night that I was home I would pray with them at bedtime. Often after they went to sleep I would tiptoe into their bedrooms and whisper in their ears, “Daddy loves you.” I loved, and still love, my girls more than I have ever loved anyone else in my life. I would, without needing to think about it, lay down my life for them.[7]

I would, without needing to think about it, lay down my life for them. Parents, do you know what he’s talking about? I do! That’s what a good father is willing to do. That’s what a good mother is willing to do! And, praise God, that’s what God did for us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, knew that the only way to save us was by taking upon himself our sin, and suffering the punishment for our sin—which was death and hell—for us.

Here’s one difference between what God did in laying down his life for us and what we human parents would do in laying our lives down: See, I would take a bullet to save the lives of my own kids, my wife—and maybe even members of this congregation. But let’s not put it to the test, all right?

But guess what? Whereas I would take a bullet to save my children’s lives, I wouldn’t take a bullet to save the life of an ISIS terrorist who has just beheaded a Christian child in Iraq. Wouldn’t do it! I would rather shoot and kill that person, if I could. Yet the Bible says that God loves us enough to take a bullet to save even that ISIS terrorist. Paul says that we were God’s enemies—not his friends, much less his flesh-and-blood family—yet God saved us through Christ’s death.[8]

Jesus Christ didn’t die for us when we already his children, but when we were his enemies. Doesn’t that prove God’s love for us? And when we “confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead,” we become sons and daughters of God—adopted into the family, but still every bit God’s beloved children.

God is our Father, Christ is our brother, and as such we do what we see Christ doing: As the King James says, like Jesus, we must be about our Father’s business. Amen?

[1] Adam Hamilton, Not a Silent Night (Nashville: Abingdon, 2014), 67-8.

[2] Ibid., 68.

[3] Luke 2:48 NRSV

[4] See Luke 1:30-32.

[5] Luke 14:26

[6] C.S. Lewis, “The Christian Way” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1076-77.

[7] Hamilton, 78.

[8] Romans 5:10

 

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