Raising Questions

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“Jesus Found the Temple” by James Tissot

The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been searching for You in great distress.’ And He said to them, ‘Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:40-52).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Questions are one of the most important tools in a teacher’s portfolio. Questions asked. Questions answered.

In order to stimulate more profound thinking, Jewish rabbis often responded to people’s inquiries by posing their own questions. As we see throughout the Gospels, Jesus is a master of this technique. He’s always answering a question with a question. Usually, it’s the question He should have been asked in the first place. Already as a pre-teenager, Jesus was able to engage the best religious minds in this manner. In our text, Jesus is depicted as Rabbi par excellence, even from His youth. The composure and poise that a twelve-year-old boy would need in order to amaze the great teachers contrasts sharply with His unnerved parents.

Those of you who come to Bible class may have noticed that I sometimes like to ask tough questions, questions that make everyone struggle for a bit. I might even allow for a few moments of uncomfortable silence. It is my experience that when I must grapple with a question that I learn the most and remember it best.

One of my favorite times in Sunday School or Catechism Class is what I call “Stump the Pastor.” Each of the students get to ask any Bible question (as long as they seriously want to know the answer) and I will attempt to answer it as best as I can. Most of the time I can give a satisfactory answer because I have already been asked that question another time or have pondered it for myself. Occasionally, they’ll ask a question I can’t answer on the spot. And that’s okay. None of us know everything, but each of us can learn more. So, if I’m not able to answer the question, I tell them I will do some research and we’ll get back to it the next week.

They’re always eager to ask questions. I suspect it might be because they think the more questions they ask, the less time we’ll have for “real” class time, but my philosophy is that they’re asking the questions that are most on their mind and are therefore the most helpful to deal with. Strike while the iron is hot, when they’re most interested and vulnerable (er, I mean “teachable”).

I take the same approach in Bible class. We don’t follow a strict schedule where we have to get a full lesson done each time. We’ll usually deal with most any question even if it comes out of left field. I appreciate those who are willing to ask questions. Often, someone will remark that they had the same question but were afraid to ask.

Speaking of questions: Our Gospel raises all kinds of questions for us as readers, even as it raises multiple unanswered questions within itself. One question that we could address briefly is the glaring, “How could they lose Jesus?” The extended family and community likely traveled in a caravan and would meet up as a group at the end of the day. And I suspect that like many of you, Jesus and His young friends experienced more “free-range parenting” than “helicopter parenting” than most kids do today.

But that question is not Luke’s focus. Luke, instead, concentrates on questions about the identity of Jesus. Specifically, he centers in on questions about the identity of Jesus and how His mother experiences those questions. Most of the narrative is told from the perspective of His parents, with an emphasis on Mary.[i] “Now His parents went to Jerusalem…And when He was twelve years old, they went up… And when the feast was ended, as they were returning… His parents did not know… they went a day’s journey… they began to search… they did not find… they returned… they found… And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him…” You get the idea.

What do Mary and Joseph find Jesus doing in the Temple? “Listening to [the teachers] and asking them questions.” In verse 46, Jesus is the one asking the questions. In verse 47, Jesus answers the questions: “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Jesus is apparently quick to pick up on the rabbinical method of discourse through questions because His exchange with Mary is also marked by three unanswered questions.

First, Mary asks her question on behalf of Joseph and herself: “Son, why have you treated us so?” To which Jesus responds with two questions of His own: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” And none of the questions are answered. In fact, Luke explicitly tells us in verse 50 that Mary and Joseph did not understand.[ii]

The episode of the boy Jesus in the Temple raises many questions. It raised questions for Mary (and Joseph), and it raises questions for us. But I would guess that the questions this text raised for Mary may be the opposite kinds of questions it raises for us.[iii]

We can summarize the heart of Mary’s question like this: “What does it mean that my little boy is the Son of God the Father?”

We can summarize the heart of our question like this: “What does it mean that the Son of God the Father is Mary’s little boy?”

Some thirteen years earlier, Mary heard God’s Word of promise through Gabriel and God miraculously accomplished just what He said He would do. But from that point on, Mary and Jesus appear to have a typical mother-son relationship. “This reading begins and ends with images of a normal child developing, behaving, and relating to His parents in the normal way: Growing, learning, traveling, submitting, and increasing in wisdom and stature.”[iv]

For Mary, the odd part is when Jesus goes off by Himself, plays the part of rabbi in the Temple, and speaks enigmatically in response to a seemingly straightforward question. Up until this exchange, and immediately after it, everything was largely normal. Again, we can summarize the heart of Mary’s question like this: “What does it mean that my little boy is the Son of God the Father?”

But I suspect that for most of us today, we stumble over the opposite side of things. Once more, we wonder, “What does it mean that the Son of God the Father is Mary’s little boy?” We are used to Jesus going off and doing His own thing. “We know His propensity for parables and hidden sayings. We know He will follow His Father’s hidden will, no matter the shock it might lead to in others or the cost it would bring upon Himself.”[v]

But what does it mean for Jesus to have learned? We can go to theological categories like His “State of Humiliation” and kenosis, but it is difficult to wrap our minds around reconciling Luke 2:40-52 with Colossians 1:15-20. How does the second Person of the Trinity submit to Mary and Joseph (note verse 51 has them, including Joseph and not just her)? How could Jesus, very God of very God, increase in favor with God?

In acknowledging these difficulties and in holding these two questions in tension, you can experience a faith in Jesus which is more nuanced and truer to real life than any concise and comfortable answer would lead you to experience.

Because, despite the pastor often being put in the role of Bible Answer Man, many of you may not feel the Church is a safe place to ask your real questions, to have doubts, and to struggle with what you feel you are supposed to believe. But there is no shame in having questions or struggling with doubt. Struggle is often part of the growth process and that goes for things of faith.

Sometimes you will find that the Bible doesn’t really answer a particular question. That just means that it’s not a question that we really need the answer for. God never promises answers to our every question, but He does answer everything we need to know for our salvation and for living a life according to His will and Word. Such questions not answered in Scripture are called “open questions” by theologians.

Francis Pieper, a Lutheran theologian from the late 19th and early 20th centuries writes: “Correctly defined, open questions are such questions as inevitably arise in our study of the Scripture doctrines but are not answered by Scripture at all or at least not clearly. And Scripture enjoins us to let them remain open questions. If we presume to answer them and ask men to accept our opinion as divine truth, we would be rejecting those Scripture passages which forbid us to add anything to God’s Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 1 Peter 4:11). Every true theologian must learn not only to speak, but also keep silence. He should speak where and as far as God’s Word speaks; he should hold his tongue where God’s Word is silent.”[vi]

Unfortunately, our culture is deeply dogmatic on nearly every conceivable topic, and people often feel pressure to have a strong opinion and answer about everything.[vii] In our context, it can be deeply refreshing to hear someone in the Church express humility and acknowledge the difficult questions we have as we wrestle with our own faith. Being clear about where we have conviction. It lets us say, “Here is what I do not know. Here is what I wonder. Here is what I struggle with. But here is what I do know…”

It is in this firm transition that our confident proclamation can really shine. Because rather than pretending to know everything, which leads to a self-confidence, we can have humility in our ignorance and confidence in what God has clearly revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the One who finds the lost. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the very son of Mary who takes on our flesh, takes on our sin, and reconciles us to the Father. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Nobody comes to the Father except by Him.

In Him you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Gospel: Luke 2:40-52 (Christmas 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-240-52-christmas-2-series-c.

[ii] Gospel: Luke 2:40-52 (Christmas 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-240-52-christmas-2-series-c.

[iii] Gospel: Luke 2:40-52 (Christmas 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-240-52-christmas-2-series-c.

[iv] Gospel: Luke 2:40-52 (Christmas 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-240-52-christmas-2-series-c.

[v] Gospel: Luke 2:40-52 (Christmas 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-240-52-christmas-2-series-c.

[vi] Pieper, Francis, Christian Dogmatics, Volume 1. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p. 93-94 

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

“Bethlehem” by Vasily Polenov

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But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for Me
    One who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore He shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of His brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And He shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2-5a).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“A special memory from a pilgrimage to Palestine by one of the great American preachers of the nineteenth century led to the writing of this beloved Christmas carol. In 1865, Episcopal clergyman Philips Brooks (1835-93) took an extended leave from his congregation in Philadelphia to travel to the Holy Land. On December 24, a Sunday that year, Brooks traveled on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The journey made a great impression on the thirty-year-old, as he later reflected:

Before dark, we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it (all the Holy Places are caves here), in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds… As we passed, the shepherds were still “keeping watch over their flocks,” or leading them home to the fold.[i]

“His observance of Christmas Eve was completed at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where the service ‘began about ten o’clock and lasted until three.’[ii]

“Three years after his Bethlehem visit, Brooks wrote the carol about the “little town” he had previously visited and included it in a Christmas program for the children of his Sunday School at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. The organist at Holy Trinity, Lewis Redner (1831-1908), set the words to a new tune just in time for the hymn to be sung for a rehearsal on Sunday, December 27.

“The text of this carol combines a verbal picture of the night of Jesus’ birth with reflections on the importance of the holy birth itself and its singular association with the town of Bethlehem” (Micah 5:2).[iii]

O little town of Bethlehem,
    How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
    The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
    Are met in thee tonight.[iv]

Today we will take a closer look at this passage from Micah that celebrates this little town, a relatively insignificant village in a relatively insignificant nation.

Micah provides the historical context for this passage in the opening verse of chapter 5: “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek” (v. 1). The prophet calls upon his people to prepare for an attack and a siege, the impending siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. The enemy would “strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek,” that is, humiliate him in his office. King Hezekiah was forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians. In the near future, other kings of Judah were humiliated by the enemy. Manasseh, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah were all hauled off to Babylon in shackles. The shameful and painful exile followed as they were all led a thousand miles away from home.

Conditions did not improve much after the return from Babylon. Over the centuries, the people of Judah had to submit to the power of Persia, then to Alexander and the Greeks, and finally to Rome. The scepter of ruling power had departed from Judah. All that was left of a once great nation was a stump of Jesse, the royal family of King David (Isaiah 11:1).

That had all been prophesied, but the prophecy was not all gloom and doom. Through Micah, the Lord announced that in such a time of deep humiliation and degradation, the Messiah would come! His birthplace would be Bethlehem of the clan of Ephrathah, to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem in Zebulun, up near Nazareth (Joshua 19:15).

Bethlehem had a notable history. Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, was born near the town. His mother, Rachel, who had died giving him birth was buried there. Ruth gleaned the fields of Boaz at Bethlehem. Here David was born, tended his father’s sheep, and was chosen by God and anointed to be the next king of Israel. Yet Bethlehem had remained a small town, too small to be numbered among the more than one hundred cities belonging to the clans of Judah (Joshua 15:20-62).

In God’s eyes, however, Bethlehem was anything but small. In this little village, One would be born who would “come for Me,” that is, who would come to carry out the Father’s saving will.

Micah does not use the term “king” for the one promised in verse 2, instead, He uses another word, “Ruler.” Micah differentiates this promised figure from all the kings who have come before Him, or at least from the kings of Micah’s day. He would rule “over” Israel as her spiritual King, not just “in” Israel as her earthly king. His purpose was to establish in place of the fallen former kingdom of David (Micah 4:8) the new Kingdom of David’s descendant, the Messiah. Therefore, He would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. Unlike David, however, this promised King would have no beginning, because His “origins are from of old,” in the timelessness of eternity.

Micah summarizes what he had been saying: “Israel will be given up to foreign rule. Not until then will the Savior be born.” Some Bible scholars refer to “she who is in labor” to the Israelites in exile (Micah 4:9-10) and there is a certain merit to such an interpretation. But a better reference is to Christ’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14). The “return” of “the rest of His brothers” refers again to the return of the spiritual remnant to join the New Testament Church.

As Micah mentioned already in 2:12, the Messiah will rule over the Church as a shepherd tends his flock. His “strength” will be that of the Lord because He is almighty God (Isaiah 9:6). His “majesty” will be found in the name of the Lord because He is the eternal Son of God.

We know that in the end it will be Jesus Christ who titles Himself “Good Shepherd” and who thus fulfills these old prophecies. As the Good Shepherd, He knows His sheep by name, gives His life for them, and tenderly cares for them all, young and old (John 10). Therefore, “they will live securely” with Him since there is none greater than He in all the earth. With His almighty power the Messiah will defend His Church and provide for it in every way.

The phrase, “He shall be great to the ends of the earth,” is fulfilled when Jesus is raised onto the cross (cf. John 12:32). This is when Christ is glorified. This is when His greatness is on display, though hidden in the shame and curse of the cross. Now it is true that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Him] (Matthew 28:18b). Therefore His people dwell securely; nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39), and nobody can snatch them out of His hand, for He and the Father are one (John 10:29).

Our text closes with “and He will be their peace.” Only three short words in the Hebrew, but what a grand and glorious message they proclaim! Millions of words cannot exhaust their full meaning. Nor can the lifetime of a child experience their full joy. He will be our Peace, our Shalom, the One through Whom we have a relationship of complete unity, perfect harmony, and peace with our heavenly Father. The Savior’s atoning death made peace between God and us guilty sinners (Ephesians 2:14). His daily intercession with the Father gives us peace of conscience (Romans 8:33-34). His shepherd’s love and guardian care allow us to live in peace in this vale of tears (Psalm 23; Romans 8:35-39). His death and resurrection will provide peace in the hour of our death (John 11:25-26). No wonder the angels outside Bethlehem announced His birth with their heavenly chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).

Jesus Christ is peace! He is the Resurrection and the Life! He is your peace, your resurrection, and your life! His precious blood was shed for you; His innocent suffering and death was for you and in your place. It reminds us of our immortality. We will not die but live forever with our Savior. And minds and hearts that have grown weary with anxiety are strengthened with the peace that only Jesus can give.

Divine peace. It comes from knowing that Jesus has done everything for our salvation. It comes from knowing that our heavenly Father not only forgives our sins, but He forgets them as well. It comes from knowing that our suffering and dying is but a momentary affliction that isn’t worth comparing to the glory of eternal life that awaits all who trust in Jesus Christ.

As we approach the Festival of our Savior’s birth, may we do so with hearts and minds filled with peace. May our prayer be that of the closing verse of our hymn.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
    Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
    Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
    The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
    Our Lord Immanuel![v] Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Phillip Brooks, letter to his father, December 30, 1865, in Phillips Brooks, Letters of Travel (New York, 1893), 69.

[ii] Phillip Brooks, letter to his father, December 30, 1865, in Phillips Brooks, Letters of Travel (New York, 1893), 69.

[iii] Lutheran Service Book: Companions to the Hymns, Volume 1. Edited by Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p. 84-86.

[iv] Lutheran Service Book. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, #361.

[v] Lutheran Service Book. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, #361.

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