The Time In Between

Luke 2:41-52

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / December 28, 2003


            Each of the four Gospel writers presents us with the highlights of Jesus’ earthly ministry and, each author spends considerable time recording the events of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, record for us important details surrounding the birth of Jesus. But, what about the time in between?


            We know nothing about the childhood of Jesus apart from these few verses found at the end of Luke 2. By virtue of the fact that this is the only biblical account of His childhood, we conclude that what Jesus did as a child was less important for us to know than what He did as an adult. However, by the same token, since Luke felt compelled to include this one childhood incident, we must regard it as being important for our edification.


            This tiny section of Scripture, provides us with the only glimpse of Jesus in the time between His infancy and His ministry.


            ‘The Time In Between’ may initially strike us as a mundane phrase describing an uneventful period of time. Yet, to even employ such a phrase implies the presence of, at least, two significant events. And, so as I pondered this theme of ‘The Time In Between’, I began to think of the different ways human beings respond to such an interim period.


One response to the time in between is boredom, or indifference. Many times, people don’t care very much about what takes place between two important events. For example, think of the intermissions in a hockey game. The time in between periods is often used to obtain another beverage; it is a time to stretch the legs or make a sandwich. For the hockey fan, what takes place in between periods is of little consequence, and so we approach this time with indifference.


            Another response to the time in between is anxiety. We see this, for example, when someone is diagnosed with a serious condition that requires surgery. It is often the case that a person has to wait a number of months between the time of diagnosis and the surgery. Because of the uncertainty of what lies ahead, this time in between often produces tremendous anxiety.


            A third response to the time in between is diligence. We see this in the example of a student who uses the time in between the assigned exam date, and the writing of the exam, to study. The student could conceivably respond with indifference, and subsequently fail. The student could respond to the assigned task with anxiety, but this often leads to procrastination. But if the student wants to ensure a positive result, the best response is diligent study.


            Here, in Luke chapter 2, we see how Jesus uses the time in between. I’m not simply thinking of the time in between His birth and His ministry, but more precisely, I’m thinking of the time in between His existence in eternity and His earthly ministry.


            In eternity, the Son of God had an exhaustive understanding of His mission and, by the beginning of His earthly mission, He demonstrated that He had a sufficient understanding of His mission. But the time in between was a time for preparation.


            Our text then, has important implications for understanding the Divinity of Christ. This text helps us to understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be clung on to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6,7).


As a human being, Jesus needed to learn, He needed to rediscover the mission He understood exhaustively in eternity. This is one of the implications of the Incarnation. By virtue of being both God and man, certain divine qualities had to be laid aside. The Son of God lays aside His omnipotence, His omniscience, and His omnipresence in order to appropriate His human form.


As a result, Jesus must now relearn what He knew from all eternity. And for Jesus to recover what He previously knew in eternity, He would need to become a student of the Scriptures. We should not be surprised then, to find Jesus in the Temple at age twelve seeking out individuals to teach Him the Scriptures.


            What is difficult to comprehend, however, are the circumstances that led to Jesus’ parents discovering Him in the temple.


            We begin this passage in verse 41, where we learn that Jesus’ parents “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Jesus, who was twelve years of age at the time, accompanied His parents to Jerusalem in preparation for the fact that next year, at age thirteen, He would be a full member of the Synagogue, and His presence would then be obligatory.


            This account takes an unusual turn when “after spending the full number of days (in Jerusalem), the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances”(2:43,44).


 It likely seems odd to us that Jesus’ parents could travel for an entire day without noticing the absence of their son. Scholars, however, are not the least bit surprised by this, noting that the caravans to Jerusalem were typically quite large and that the women and young children often traveled separately from the men and older boys (Morris, Luke, 100). Knowing this, it is not difficult to imagine Joseph and Mary saying to one another, ‘I thought Jesus was with you!’


Before we return to this theme of ‘The Time In Between’, it is worth noting an allegorical interpretation of this event. Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem motivated by devotion to God, but in the process they manage to leave the Son of God behind! The allegorical lesson is that when we go in search of fellowship with God—whether that be at church, or in the quietness of our home, or in the peacefulness of nature, we must be careful not to leave Jesus behind. If our search for God neglects fellowship with Jesus, we have a problem.


            Beloved, leaving things behind is a perilous practice. As a child, I recall showing up at the hockey arena only to find that I had left parts of my hockey equipment behind. I recall the frustration of my father as he had to dash home and retrieve the missing items. As a sixteen year-old I recall going on one of my very first dates with a girl, and recognizing halfway through the meal that I had left my wallet at home.  Yes, leaving things behind is a perilous practice, and those who would wish to find favour with God must make certain to not leave Jesus behind.


            Having been separated from Jesus for three days, and after a lengthy search, Mary and Joseph find Jesus “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard (Jesus) were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (2:46, 47).


            It appears, however, that Mary and Joseph were not among those amazed with Jesus at that moment. Luke records that Mary and Joseph “were astonished”, but not in the positive sense. Mary says to Jesus, ‘Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You’” (2:48).


            Jesus, apparently oblivious to the reasons why His absence would have caused such anxiety in His parents, responds, “’Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?’” (2:49).


These words are very interesting because they are the first recorded utterances of our Lord. I have no doubt that Jesus said many wonderful things as a child, but the Holy Spirit has not seen fit to record anything except these two questions.


This answer that Jesus gives to His mother and father should not be regarded as the belligerent reply of a twelve year-old boy to His parents. The reply Jesus gives Mary and Joseph is His earnest response to ‘The Time in Between’.


Having laid aside aspects of His divinity, having compromised His exhaustive understanding of His divine mandate, Jesus is attempting to recover His understanding of His mission by exploring the Scriptures with the teachers of the temple. Jesus is using ‘The Time In Between’ to prepare for His earthly ministry. And for Jesus, preparing for ministry involved spending time in His Father’s house, in fellowship with His Father’s people, and studying His Father’s Word.


Beloved, should this not be our compulsion as well? Jesus says, “I had to be in My Father’s house”. There is no sense in which Jesus thinks that time in His Father’s house was optional. Yet, neither does say, ‘I should be in My Father’s house.’ Jesus is not speaking about obligation here either.


Jesus is articulating an irresistible longing to have fellowship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus is expressing the deep longings of His heart. Jesus is not moved by pragmatism, or mere duty, but rather, an inner compulsion drives Him to be in His Father’s house.


Beloved, have you thought about what motivated your attendance here this morning? Some people come to church out of a sense of duty. Many people attend church out of sheer habit. Some of our children attend because their parents told them they have no choice in the matter. Others attend service in order to diminish a measure of guilt they feel. But here, the example of Jesus calls for something else.


The example of Jesus is that we would long to be in fellowship with the God of the Universe. The example of Jesus is that we would have an inner compulsion to worship the One who made us.


Friends, we too, are in the time in between. We have been created by God to live on this earth, but only for a season. Our dying day draws nearer every day. How are we approaching the time in between?


There is no justification for delaying our preparation. We should not say to ourselves, ‘I have many years left on this earth, I will wait before I increase my devotion to God.’ There is no procrastination in our Lord’s example, He does not say, ‘I am only twelve years of age, my ministry is almost two decades away, I will do as I please for the time being.’


If we are to follow Jesus, we must follow Him now. In His house, with His people, studying His Word. This is our preparation as we continue in the time in between. Amen.