Honor Your Father(s) and Your Mother
Passage: Luke 2:40–2:52
Children of God get their identity and mission from God. Let God tell you who you are and what to do.
I want to start by telling you a story about the first time I swore. From an early age, I knew that swearing is bad. I think I have sworn 2 or 3 times in my entire life. One of those times was in the 4th grade. I don’t remember the exact word I said, but I think it was the f-word. I was in the hallway with one of my friends. He kept pressuring me to say it. I kept refusing. But he kept pushing me to do it. Finally I said it. I swore. And my immediate response was to say: “I bet this person wouldn’t say it.” I felt validated in my friend’s eyes. I had done something bad. And now I felt superior to someone else. I had compromised my “clean mouth”. And I quickly took on the identity of someone with a “bad mouth”. My friend approved of me. Then I turned my focus to someone else who wouldn’t be courageous enough to swear. This other person now had my disapproval even though a couple seconds earlier, I was a non-swearer like him.
I tell you this story as an example of peer pressure in action. This peer pressure pushed me to do something that I believed was bad and didn’t want to do. But as soon as I did it, my identity changed. My sense of who I was changed. I was now someone who has the courage to swear and I looked down on others who probably wouldn’t have that courage.
Have you ever been pressured into doing something you didn’t want to do? Have you ever been pressured into doing something that you knew was bad? Have you ever been pressured into not doing something that you wanted to do? Have you ever been pressured into not doing something that you knew was good?
What would it be like if you always did what you knew was good even when others didn’t want you to do it? What would it be like if you never did what you know is bad even when others want you to do it? There’s a term in the therapy and counseling profession that describes this. It’s called “differentiation.” Differentiation is “the ability to remain connected in relationship to significant people in our lives and yet not have our reactions and behavior determined by them” (Resilient Ministry, 123). Differentiation recognizes that in any relationship, there is a tension between “separateness” and “togetherness”. Togetherness means you remain connected to others but separateness means your reactions and behavior are not determined by them. You have your own beliefs, goals, and values which you don’t compromise because of the people with whom you are connected.
What does it look like? Here’s a couple quotes about what differentiation looks like in action:
“Differentiation involves not being afraid of others, not avoiding them and not being overly influenced by them. It means remaining connected to people with different opinions, yet not forming our beliefs or making our decisions based on the voice of our parents, the voice of a church officer or even the voice of our spouse.” (Resilient Ministry, 124-125)
“[D]ifferentiation refers to a person’s capacity to...define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them. The degree to which you are able to affirm your distinct values and goals apart from the pressures around you (separateness) while remaining close to people important to you (togetherness) helps determine your level of differentiation. People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them. They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress, or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think intelligently.” (Emotionally Healthy Leader notes section, 325).
This is so important because if we aren’t differentiated, we will do one of two things: 1) we will look to other people to tell us who we are and what we are supposed to do or 2) we will disconnect ourselves from those who aren’t like us and only hang around with people like us.
How do we become the type of people who aren’t peer pressured? How do we become people who aren’t tossed about by what other people want, do, think, or feel? And how do we do it while still remaining connected to them, caring for them, and loving them?
Today we are continuing a sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and To Save”. This series is going to give us an up-close picture of who Jesus is and an inside look into his teachings and what it means to be his disciple.
If there was ever a person who didn’t give in to peer pressure, it was Jesus. Jesus lived a differentiated life. He remained deeply connected with many people while not letting his actions or behaviors be determined by them. Jesus faced opposition, pressure, and hostility toward how he was living and what he was teaching, but he never let that change what he was doing or what he was saying. This actually enabled him to love people because he didn’t let them influence his actions. He could say and do what needed to be said in any situation and circumstance. He could tell people difficult words that they needed to hear. He could stick up for the vulnerable and oppressed even when it wasn’t popular to do. He could love people and hang out with people that everyone said he shouldn’t be loving or hanging out with.
In the passage we are looking at today, we will see the foundation for Jesus’ confident and courageous living and how he was able to love everyone even if how he loved or who he loved was going to upset others. And Jesus’ foundation can be our foundation too. We can live confident and courageous lives and love like Jesus loved.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 2 verse 40.
The Trip to Jerusalem for Passover (2:40-42)
Let’s begin reading at verse 40:
40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. (Luke 2:40-42)
The story is bookended by summaries of Jesus’ growth. Both include comments about “wisdom” and “favor.” Jesus’ wisdom is demonstrated in his interaction with the teachers in the temple. In 2:40, we are told “the favor of God was upon him” and in 2:52 that he increased “in favor with God and man”. God’s presence and approval rest on Jesus. These two summaries show a progression in Jesus’ growth. Jesus is the divine Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, which means he is fully God but he is also fully human and he grew as one.
In the last passage, Jesus was about 40 days old. Verse 40’s description of Jesus’ growth fast forwards the story to when Jesus is 12 years old. The setting for this story is the family’s yearly trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. There were three festivals which required pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Passover (sometimes called the Feast of Unleavened Bread because that festival immediately followed Passover), Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Because many Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, the custom of many was to travel to Jerusalem for only one of the festivals.
Passover was celebrated at the beginning of the Jewish calendar, which would be March or April on our calendar. Men were required to go but it was optional for women. The fact that both Mary and Joseph go continues to demonstrate their obedience to God. The trip from Nazareth would be about 80 miles which would take about four days, traveling 20 miles a day. Many would travel in caravans for protection from highway robbers.
The bar Mitzvah practice that we see in Jewish families today developed much later than the 1st century. But in the 1st century, Jewish boys became responsible before God at the age of thirteen. This trip occurs when Jesus is twelve and he may have been in training to prepare for turning thirteen when he would need to obey the commands of God for himself.
This was a 4-day, one way trip to Jerusalem every year. Including the time spent in Jerusalem, the whole thing would have been about 16 days. This trip was time-consuming and probably costly and Mary and Joseph didn’t have a lot of money. but they took a 4-day, one way trip to Jerusalem every year. And they were likely preparing Jesus with this trip and before this trip for when he would be responsible before God.
Are you willing to let obedience to God and worship of God cost you something? How much are you willing to do in order to worship and obey God? Mary and Joseph’s example again challenges us to not let inconvenience or discomfort get in the way of obeying and worshiping God.
After this yearly trip, a problem was soon discovered on the return trip. Look at verse 43.
The Search for Jesus (2:43-45)
43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 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, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. (Luke 2:43-45)
Since they stayed until the feast was ended, that means Jesus and his parents were in Jerusalem for the one-day celebration of Passover and the seven-day celebration of the Feast of Unleavened bread immediately following it, so eight days total.
Like I said, it was common for people to make this journey with a caravan of others for protection and possibly to experience it together. They went a day’s journey and didn’t see Jesus during it but it would have been natural for him to be with family or friends in the group as they traveled. When everyone came together at night after the first day of travel, Jesus was nowhere to be found. So they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. This is starting to feel more like a Home Alone movie.
Jesus Is Found (2:46-50)
After three days they find Jesus. These three days include the one day of travel from Jerusalem, the one day to travel back, then one day searching in Jerusalem. They are a bit surprised at where they find him. Look at verse 46:
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. (Luke 2:46-48a)
Teachers in the ancient world often sat with their students and they’d have a time of questions and answers. Jesus’ parents find him sitting with the teachers of the Law asking questions and giving answers. Jesus’ parents are astonished. This word has the sense of being surprised to the point of overwhelm. Perhaps they thought the worst when he was missing. Perhaps they expected to find him somewhere scared and crying. Instead, they find him amazing people by his understanding of God and his Word.
Upon finding him, Mary lightly scolds Jesus. Return with me to verse 48:
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.” (Luke 2:48b)
If we were in Mary’s sandals, we might say something like, “Don’t do that again. You almost gave me a heart attack.” Mary makes their distress and suffering apparent.
Then Jesus responds. These words we are about to read are the first words spoken by Jesus in Luke’s gospel account. Look at verse 49:
49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. (Luke (2:48b-50)
The English translation is 18 words. In the original Greek, Jesus speaks 15 words. Jesus’ response is short but significant because in these words he is introducing himself to us - his identity and his purpose. He’s telling us what the whole orientation of his life will be.
Jesus’ question to them expresses surprise. In his mind, they should have known where he was. But it isn’t so much a matter of geographic location as if he just really likes the temple so that’s where they should have looked first. But what’s more important is why he would be found in the temple. The second question makes that clear.
He asks, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The word “must” translates a Greek word that will come up at other key times expressing Jesus’ purpose and mission. Jesus says he must preach the good news (Luke 4:43), he must suffer many things and be rejected and die and rise again (Luke 9:22, 17:25, 24:7, 24:26), that Scripture must be fulfilled in him (Luke 22:37, 24:44). Jesus’ sense of what he must do or what must happen shows how he is in tune with God’s plans and purposes. What are the “musts” in your life? And who determines them?
In Jesus’ question to his parents, “must” shows his relational priority and his purpose flowing from that relationship. They searched for Jesus in Jerusalem wondering where he was. Perhaps they went to the house where they stayed and asked, “Is Jesus here?” Maybe they went from house to house. But they should have known at whose house he’d be: his Father’s house. His mom says, “Your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Jesus answers, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Who defines Jesus’ identity? Who determines Jesus’ actions? Jesus gets his identity and purpose from his heavenly Father. Jesus listens to God the Father to know who he is and what he should do. Jesus didn’t go with his parents but stayed behind in Jerusalem to be in his Father’s house.
Jesus is aware that his primary relationship in life is his vertical relationship with God. That relationship matters the most. What God thinks of him matters the most. What God says is true of him matters the most. What God wants him to do matters the most. Jesus wakes up saying, “Who am I? I am the Son of God. What should I do? The will of my Father.”
Our big idea for today is this: Children of God get their identity and mission from God. Children of God get their identity and mission from God. Jesus is the Son of God and he gets his identity and mission from God. When we trust in Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family. Through Jesus, we become God’s children - his sons and daughters.
Here’s the application of that: Let God tell you who you are and what to do. Everyone you meet is going to have some sort of idea about who you are: funny, smart, hard worker, kind, caring, pretty, handsome, good friend, responsible. You can work hard to get an identity from them. You can let them tell you who you are. “I am smart. I am a hard worker. I am responsible.” You will do things to get them to think that of you. You are building an identity from what they think of you by your actions and performance. The person whose opinion we care about the most will determine our actions. We let that person tell us who we are, what we are worth, whether we are loved. That person defines us. They give us our identity. And whoever gives us our identity is who we are living for.
In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer states that all of Jesus’ teaching on Christian discipleship is about how to live as children in God’s family. He writes, “just as the knowledge of his unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living of his own life on earth, so he insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too” (Knowing God, 210). The fact that we are God’s son and daughters once we trust in Jesus should change how we see all of life and how we live it. One example is prayer. How do you talk to God? Do you talk to him as a far off supervisor who is too busy for you and is just checking to see how good of a job you are doing? Or do you talk to him as a Father, who loves you, cherishes you, and is guiding you? Another example is how we think about our daily needs. Do we look to God as our Father to provide for the needs of his children?
Return to Nazareth: Jesus Is Submissive and Grows (2:51-52)
Verses 51 and 52 wrap up the story:
51 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.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)
Throughout Jesus’ life, people will be trying to understand who he is and what he has come to do: his identity and mission. If they don’t understand who he is, they won’t understand what he does. Mary shows us the proper response to what we don’t understand. Though Mary does not understand, she doesn’t dismiss what Jesus says but she treasures up all these things in her heart. She doesn’t let go of them but holds onto them and continues to ponder them.
Jesus is not a rebellious pre-teen. He leaves with them for Nazareth and “was submissive to them.” Jesus obeys the fifth commandment to honor his father and mother in more ways than one: he honors his heavenly Father, he honors his earthly father and mother.
The question for you is: who is going to have primary influence over your life? Who gives you your identity - your sense of who you are? Who determines your actions, your mission, and purpose in life? Who are you living for? Who’s going to be at the center of your life?
We can look to three other sources to find out who we are. First, we can say “I am what I do.” We define ourselves by being good at something. I am a good athlete. I am a good teacher. I am a good student. I am a good son or daughter. I am a good wife. I am a good husband. I am a good employee. I am a good Christian. I am a good parent. Or we define ourselves by being a certain way. I am competent. I am responsible. I am smart. I am funny. I am pretty. I am respectable. Is there something that you feel you need to keep doing or keep being and if you stopped you wouldn’t know who you are?
Second, we can say “I am what I have.” I am the job I have. I am the money I have. I am the relationship status I have. I am the house I have. I am the car I have. I am the clothes I have. We use what we have to say something about our value, significance, and status. We get our sense of who we are from the things we have. “I don’t know who I’d be without this job. I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t married to this person.” Is there something that if you lost it, you wouldn’t know who you are anymore? You’d be lost?
Third, we can say “I am what others think of me.” Our value, worth, and significance come from what others think of us. If they think good things about me, then I am worth something. If they don’t, then I’m worthless. We don’t do something because of how someone else might react or how they might feel because of what we say or do. We try to manage other people’s emotions and responses to us by changing our actions.
This one combines with the other two to create an equation:
who I am = what I do + what others think of me
OR: who I am = what I have + what others think of me
But there’s another option. You can let God tell you who you are and what to do: who I am = what God says of me
If God tells you who you are, then you will let him tell you what to do. Your identity and mission come from him. Every morning we ought to wake up saying, “Who am I? I am a child of God. What should I do? The will of my Father.” J.I. Packer says it like this: “Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true” (Knowing God, 228)
Let’s go back to the idea of differentiation. Differentiation is “the ability to remain connected in relationship to significant people in our lives and yet not have our reactions and behavior determined by them.” How is that possible? Because God tells us who we are, not them. Our sense of self is not defined by the appreciation, criticisms, evaluations, affirmations, or approval of others. If your identity comes from God, it floats above what you do and what others think of you.
For us, differentiation isn’t: “I’m going to do what I want and it doesn’t matter what others think.” No, we don’t create our own identity and purpose. We receive it from God. We do what God wants because we belong to him as his child.
If your identity comes from God, you can remain deeply connected with people - even people who have completely different beliefs, lifestyles, and opinions or who don’t approve of how you live. Notice that Jesus still obeys his parents. He is defined by God but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t listen to anybody. In fact, it frees him to listen to people because those people don’t define him. His identity is not formed by them and he isn’t at risk of losing his identity. It’s been given to him.
Make a list of people you are afraid of. You can tell who you are afraid of because they influence your actions. They influence what you do and what you don’t do: boss, coworkers, parents, spouse, neighbors.
What do you do because you are afraid of them?
What would you do if you weren’t afraid of them?
You could also make a list of people you are afraid to talk about Jesus around. You are afraid to share your faith with them. There is possibly no greater area where we need to apply this than to talking to people about Jesus.
Write above the list: What they think matters less than what God thinks.
I want to give you an image that has helped me. It comes from a quote in a book I read about pastoral ministry but it applies to everyone. The book said: Pastors “need to become secure in the love of the Father, practically working his love into the fabric of their lives and the foundation of their work” (Resilient Ministry, 31). Everyone needs to do that, not just pastors.
The image that came to mind as I reflected on this is of a cascading waterfall or fountain. You’ve all probably seen fountains that you can buy where they have several pools of water and as the water comes out of the top of the fountain, it fills the first pool, then the water flows down into the next pool, then into the next pool. I almost bought one of these fountains to put in my office to remind me to be filled up with God.
Imagine each of those fountains is a relationship or something you have to do and the water is God’s love for you. His love for you as his child is to fill every aspect of your life. First it fills you and then as you go into every area of your life, you go into it with that love. But if the fountain is turned off and you aren’t living from God’s love for you, you will go into each of those areas of your life empty and living for love in whatever form that may come in. You will be looking to those things to tell you who you are.
It can be overwhelming to think: “Ok, what do I need to do as a parent, as an employee, as a neighbor, as a coworker, as a friend to live for God.” But it’s much simpler if you think: in all of these relationships or situations, I am to live from God’s love and not for it. As a beloved child of God, I parent my kids. As a beloved child of God, I love my neighbors. As a beloved child of God, I do my work. As a beloved child of God, I tell others about Jesus.
What if you went into those relationships with a clear and deep sense that you are God’s beloved son or daughter? What if you went into every situation with a clear and deep sense that you are God’s beloved son or daughter? What if you went into every situation and relationship living from God’s love and not for his love or other people’s? How would that change how you engage in your relationships and responsibilities?
We need both God and a God-centered community speaking into our lives so we can live our identity and mission as God’s children. This also means we open ourselves to people who can help us discern and do what God wants and who will support us in that.
This doesn’t mean that no one’s opinion matters to us or that we never listen to people. The one extreme is letting other people determine all of your actions. The other extreme is to totally plug your ears to what other people have to say. It’s not good if someone tells you how you’ve hurt them or someone tries to correct you on something and you say, “I don’t care what you think of me. It only matters what God thinks”
We live in relationships with other people and the Bible is very clear that God uses our brothers and sisters in Christ to mature us, guide us, teach us, and correct us. It’s ok to care what people think of you to a certain degree. That just means they matter to you. What’s not ok is constantly managing what they think of you.