Tag: Jesus in the temple

Sermon: Favor with God and Man

Favor With God and Man
Luke 2:41-52

41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

A Story About A Boy

Christmas has come and gone, and we are now in the season of Christmastide, those days between the feast of Christmas and Epiphany, the time when the wisemen come to pay homage to the Christ Child.  But other than the story of Jesus’ birth, and the visit of the wisemen, this is the only story we have of Jesus as a boy.

Some of the ancient writings that are not in our Bible have fanciful tales of Jesus making little birds out of clay, and then breathing life into them.  And there are other stories of the boy Jesus performing other miracles.  But somehow those stories don’t ring true today, and didn’t seem credible to those who gathered the sacred texts we now call the Bible.  So this is the only story we have of Jesus as a child between his birth and his baptism as a grown man.

I always liked this story when I was a boy because it was about another boy.  When I was 10 or 12, I would sometimes disappear from my backyard, too.  I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, where my dad was minister of education at Eastern Heights Baptist Church there.  From the time I got my very own red Schwinn bicycle, I was on it as much as possible.

Sometimes it got me into trouble.  Like the time my friend, Charles, and I rode our bikes to the Columbus Municipal Airport and lay on the hillside by the runway watching the planes land and take-off.  Or the time he and I wandered over to Phoenix City, Alabama, just across the Chattahoochee River bridge from downtown Columbus.  You could buy firecrackers in Phoenix City, and Charles and I wanted some.  We were successful in buying them, but not in getting them home because a couple of older boys pushed us down and took them away from us.

So, I knew what it was like to be some place and your parents not know where you were.

Of course, I thought Jesus’ parents were way too soft on him.  Mine weren’t.  On more than one occasion I got spanked for going too far from home.  So, I was kind of jealous of Jesus in a way for getting off so light.  But then he had a great answer when his parents finally found him —

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Well, I never could come up with an answer as good as that one, plus I wasn’t at church because I was either buying firecrackers or trespassing on airport property, neither of which were particularly spiritual pursuits.

But I always liked the story, nevertheless, just because it was about Jesus as a boy.  And I liked the verse that said in the King James Version —

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

My mother had explained to me what that meant when I was younger.  Jesus grew wiser, he grew taller, and he found favor with both God and other people.  I am sure she encouraged me to do the same.

The growing in stature part was pretty well beyond my control, or I would have made myself taller.  But my mother pointed out, I am sure, that I could grow in wisdom and in favor with God and others.

The Point of the Story

Of course, most of the time the point of this story is the almost other-worldliness of Jesus.  He knew even as a kid what he was supposed to do.  And even as a 12-year old boy he was about his Father’s business.  We’re also pretty impressed, along with the teachers in the Temple, that a 12-year old was sitting with the teachers, the religious leaders, listening and talking.

This story then becomes a spiritual story for us, and we lose sight of the 12 year old boy sitting there.  Not to take anything away from the way we have traditionally understood the story, but I could identify with Jesus sitting and listening to the adults talk.

When we went to visit my mother’s family in south Georgia, the cousins would play outside all day in the hot Georgia sun.  We’d kick off our shoes and run in the sand road that passed by my grandparents’ farmhouse.  But in the evening, we’d all gather for supper — dinner was what you ate at lunchtime — and then after the supper dishes were cleared, everyone went out on the front porch.

There were two porch swings and several rocking chairs and all the adults would sit in the chairs or swings, while the kids played around the front porch steps.  But while we were playing, we were also listening.  And as we listened we heard stories about the neighbors, who was sick, or who had just had a baby; and we heard stories about the price of beef, or what corn was bringing, or how fertilizer had gone up.  But, we also heard stories about our relatives, some already gone to their reward.

It was sitting on that front porch on a Sunday afternoon that I heard my older cousin, Johnny Kitchens, talk about going to South America as a missionary, and what he was going to do down there.  That was the only conversation I remember because Johnny got polio in South America and died.  The little chapel at the First Methodist Church of Douglas, Georgia was dedicated in his memory later.

So Jesus was doing something kids have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  But, of course, he was also asking questions, and apparently answering them as well because all the teachers were amazed at his answers.  I had some teachers amazed at my answers in school, but not always because they were correct or profound.

The point of the story is to give us a clue that this 12 year old wasn’t just any 12 year old.  Even his parents were amazed at his response to them.

Favor with God and Man

Once we’ve told the story of Jesus in the Temple, and after we’ve read the last verse, we usually think about how we can grow in favor with God and man.  Which is a good thing to think about.  But we don’t get anymore clues about how Jesus did it — how he grew in favor with God and man.  There are no more stories about Jesus as a boy.  As a matter of fact, the next time we see Jesus, we see him at his baptism.  And, we hear God his Father saying,”This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

So, Jesus kept growing in favor with God at least.  Man would be a different story because eventually some of the same teachers who were listening to Jesus in wonder that day might have been present when the cry went up, “Crucify him.”  But he continued to grow in favor with God right up until his baptism.

Which always made me wonder how I could do the same, and that usually was the point of sermons taken from this story.  Of course, it was a lot easier to explain how to fall out of favor with God.  There are a lot of ways you can do that.

This week I read Eli Weisel’s first book, Night.  Weisel is a Jew, and the Noble Peace Prize winner who survived the Holocaust.  I had read Weisel’s book, All Rivers Run To The Sea, but Night is his first book, the book that shocked a generation after World War II.

In Night, Weisel tells the story of how his family, and all the families of his small village in Transylvania, were forced from their homes, stripped of their possessions including their gold teeth, and taken in cattle cars by rail to a Nazi concentration camp.

Weisel recounts the horror of filth, degradation, genocide, and deprivation in this book of barely 100 pages.  His tone is not shrill or panicked, but he quietly tells the story of how his father and mother, and his sister and he are taken to an extermination camp.

One woman on the train appears to have a nervous breakdown.  Separated from her husband, she despairs to the point of madness.  Periodically during the train ride through the night, she stands and cries out, “Look at the fire! Look at the fire!”

The occupants of the cattle car strain to see through the slats, only to see the dark night outside.

Several times she jumps to her feet to shout the same message — “Look at the fire!”  Finally, two men gag and tie her up to keep her from disturbing everyone.

But as the train pulls into the concentration camp platform, Weisel says they were all stunned to see the giant smokestacks belching flames against the night sky.  Smokestacks that they would later learn were the crematoria where Jews were being burned.

The Holocaust stands as the epic example of how humanity can fail and fall so far from earning favor with either God or man.

The Father’s Favor

But I think the point of the story of Jesus in the Temple is just this — God loved him and, if possible, that Divine love grew.  God was more pleased each day with Jesus.

Jesus grew in favor the way a grandchild does.  Those of you who are grandparents know what I mean — when they’re born you love them, but as they grow older you delight in their learning to walk, to talk, and then in the funny things they say.  Each day, not because they do something to earn it, but each day they grow more precious to you without their having done anything.

I think that’s something of what growing in favor with God means.  Each day God loves us more and more.  Each day God’s grace shines upon us more fully than before.  Each day brings God’s delight in His creation, made in His own image, marred by sin, God takes such great delight in us that He sent Jesus to make all things new.

We think we have to earn God’s favor.  Of course, like Jesus, there are things we can do that please God greatly.  To be about God’s work, to love God’s word, to join with God’s people — these are all things that please God.  But God loves us without our deserving it.  Without our qualifying for it.  Without reservation, God loves us and Jesus is the proof of that love.

The Father’s favor comes to us in spite of ourselves, and in our worst moments.

So, how do we know when we have grown in favor with God?

I think God’s favor shows itself in the little things of life.  Do you know why we don’t have any other stories about Jesus as a boy?  I think it was because his life was so very ordinary.  He helped Joseph in the shop, went to synagogue school, obeyed his mother, played with other kids, ran the hills of Nazareth with the rest of the boys, and if they had a baseball team, threw a mean curve ball.  Of course, they didn’t have a baseball team, but they had something like it, and I’m sure Jesus was involved with the rest of the boys, whatever it was.

It’s in the little things of life that we know we have grown in favor with God.  Not the big gigantic things, not the great achievements, but in small ways God let’s us know we have found favor.

Madeleine L’Engle tells one such story.  While speaking at Wheaton College, word came to her that her 9-year old granddaughter, Lena,  had been hit by a truck while she was walking home from swimming.  The news was not good — Lena had two broken legs, broken ribs, her jaw was fractured in two places, her arms and legs had bruises and contusions, and she had a head wound that laid open her scalp to the bone.

She finished her lecture at Wheaton, and asked there for prayer for her granddaughter.  Returning to her room, she tried to call both an Episcopal clergy friend of hers in New York, and the Episcopal Sisters who ran the school her granddaughters attended. Neither of her calls went through.  Finally, after ringing and ringing, one of the sisters answered.  Madeleine told her about Lena, and the sister said that all of New York was blacked out and that she had to feel her way through the dark building to find and answer the phone.  Later, the same sister would tell Madeleine that hers was the only call that came in that night, that afterward the phones quit working altogether.

As was her custom, that night in her hotel room, Madeleine L’Engle reached for the Episcopal Book of Prayer she carried with her.  She always read Evening Prayer.   However, that night when she turned to the Psalm for that evening, a photograph of Lena stood at the page.  Taken only a few days before, L’Engle had stuck it in her prayer book hastily without thinking.

She said she could barely stand to see the photo, but as she held the prayer book, a piece of paper fell from its pages.   Given to her years before by some Catholic nuns, the card contained a quote from St. John of the Cross, a medieval Christian mystic.  The quote read —

“One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.”

And so she thanked God for Lena’s nine years of life, for their family, and for God’s blessings.  Ten days later, little Lena emerged from her coma.  Among her first words were “Read to me.”  And so they did, night and day, until little Lena recovered. — Walking on Water, p. 184-186.

God’s favor shines down on us in a forgotten photograph, a quote from another time, and the prayers of others.  The little things that make a big difference and remind us of how much God loves us.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Sermon: The Privilege of Seeing The Future

The Privilege of Seeing the Future

December 28, 2008 – First Sunday of Christmastide 

Luke 2:22-40

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 
 29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
      you now dismiss your servant in peace. 
 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
    31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
      and for glory to your people

 33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Predicting the Future


Here we are at the end of another year.  The news media has begun their standard “Best of 2008” articles and features.  We have reviewed the best electronic gadgets of 2008 – cell phones kind of led the way there.  We have also been treated to the most admired people of 2008 – Barack Obama won that contest going away, it seems. And, before the year is over, we’ll see more of the “Best of….” and “Worst of…” lists for 2008. 


Following close on the heels of the stories that look back at 2008, are those that look ahead to 2009.  Writers and producers are already picking the trends that will “change your life” is 2009.  Of course, cell phones are at the top of that list, too, so maybe 2009 is not going to be al that different from 2008.  We have a new administration that takes office in January, and pundits are already speculating on either the “success” or “failure” of the Obama administration before it even begins.  I saw a CNN article the other day asking if “America’s honeymoon” with Barack Obama was over.  And, he’s not even president yet! 


I’m old enough to remember the 1950s.  Now that was a decade that could predict the future.  We were told that the kitchens of tomorrow would do all the work of food preparation automatically.  And, while some devices like the microwave have speeded up the popping of popcorn, not too much has changed in the kitchen as far as I can tell. 


But the big promise of the 1950s was that by the next century we would all be riding in flying cars.  Remember those?  “Highways in the sky” I remember one article calling them.  Well, no flying cars. 


But, then some of the things that seemed amusing, but useless did come about.  Like Dick Tracy’s wrist radio.  Okay, not exactly, but cell phones (there they are again) are pretty close.  I actually saw a wrist-mounted cell phone with camera (remember Dick Tracy’s 2-way wrist radio got upgraded to a TV?), and the article remarked that Dick Tracy would have been proud.


Some other things have happened that no one foresaw.  Like the ability to communicate instantly around the world for free.  The internet has changed lots of things, giving us a portal into worlds we would never have visited, or been able to access before.


And, no mention of predicting the future would be complete without reference to my favorite psychic, Jean Dixon.  Remember Jean Dixon?  1960s psychic, whose track record was spotty at best.  Yet on every late December National Inquirer, there she was offering up her 10 predictions for the coming year.  And, right or wrong, she would be back the next year for another shot at getting it right.


Seeing The Future


But, our story today is not about predicting the future as much as it is about seeing the future.  In Luke’s second chapter we find two of my favorite characters in the story of Jesus’ birth – Simeon and Anna.  Both Simeon and Anna are somewhat mysterious figures.  Luke gives us only a sketch about each one:


n      Simeon, a devout righteous man who lives in Jerusalem.  The Spirit of God is upon him, and moved by the Spirit Simeon goes to the Temple and encounters Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.

n      Anna, described as a prophetess and widow.  Anna, whose husband died perhaps 60-years ago, and who has stayed in the Temple courts since that time. 


Two very old and odd characters, but they give us a glimpse into the future because God has let them see it. 


Simeon is quoted directly by Luke: 


29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
      you now dismiss your servant in peace. 
 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
    31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
      and for glory to your people


And, then turning to Mary, Simeon says:


“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


What’s in the pronouncements of this old man?  On the surface, Simeon seems like every other devout Jewish elder – he prays for the “consolation of Israel” which is a phrase understood in the first century to mean the coming of the Messiah of God, the Christ.  That was the prayer daily of devout Jews, particularly under the oppressive weight of the Roman occupation.


But there is more to Simeon than just an oft-repeated prayer.  Simeon has been told by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he sees the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah.  And, the Holy Spirit moves Simeon to go to the Temple that day, at that hour, for the most important moment of his life.


Mary and Joseph have come to the Temple to follow the ritual purification law, and to redeem Jesus as their firstborn son.  The redemption of the firstborn is first seen in Exodus 13, as Moses prepares the Israelites for the exodus from Egypt.  Moses tells them that in future they are to redeem their firstborn son, by offering a sacrifice to God, and then they are to explain to the son why they are observing this ritual.  Of course, Jesus is too young to comprehend what is happening, but as Mary and Joseph prepare to “redeem” their firstborn, Simeon sees the baby and takes him in his arms.


Can you imagine Mary’s concern?  When your children were small, did you ever have someone pick them up, or try to take them from you?  Well-intended as people are, those actions make mothers, and fathers, very nervous. 


But somehow, Simeon’s face showed his faith, and his kindness calmed their fears.  But then Simeon says very strange things indeed – quoting from the prophet Isaiah, talking about how this child will be a light for the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.  That, after all, was how the prophet referred to the Messiah! 


But then Simeon turns to Mary.  Now the future is not so grandiose, it becomes much more personal.  Jesus, Simeon says, will cause the rise and fall of many.  He will be a sign that will be spoken against.  And, a sword will pierce your heart, too, he says to Mary.  Her heart, too?  Will Jesus side be pierced?  And so the shadow of the cross falls across this firstborn male child, this son of God, this babe who is God incarnate. 


Before Mary and Joseph can recover from Simeon’s words, or fully understand them, Anna, an old prophetess appears.  Called Anna in Luke’s gospel, she has the same name as Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  Hannah means “the Lord was gracious.”  Anna runs around telling all who will listen that this child will bring about the redemption of Jerusalem, meaning the entire nation.


The Future of God Involves His People


Can you imagine what Mary and Joseph must have felt?  A strange sense of pride because two old devout Jews, a man and a woman, have told of wondrous things that will involve their son, their Jesus. 


Not too many years before she died, my mother told me the story of a woman who came to our home when my dad was a seminary student at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was about 3 or 4 at the time.  As the woman was leaving, she turned to my mother and looking at me she said, “That boy is going to be a preacher.” 


Now that might not have been such a hard guess to make.  After all, there we were at Southwestern Seminary where my father was preparing for ministry.  “Like father, like son” is an old saying for a reason.  But, still my mother cherished that moment, telling me about only much later in life after I had indeed become a preacher. 


There is something we want to believe when others tell us our children are talented, or capable, or destined for big things.  Even if we only half-way believe it, or don’t put much stock in it, we still like to hear it said about our own children.


And, so Mary and Joseph that day must have gone home with a glow inside their hearts. 


That would all quickly be replaced by their flight to Egypt to escape the terror of Herod who was killing all the boy babies.  And so Mary must have thought about the second part of Simeon’s prophecy, that Jesus would be a sign spoken against, and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, too. 


But still, there it was, a glimpse of the future.  A promise that Jesus would play a role in God’s salvation story, the redemption of Israel.  And, just maybe the Gentiles, too, although I am sure Mary and Joseph had little comprehension of what that might mean.  For the Jews were no missionary people.  They were not sharing their position in God’s future with anyone.  If they had a future, for that looked very dark at the time of Jesus’ birth. 


Seeing The Future Again


Looking back on the words of Simeon and Anna, we can see that they did come true.  Simeon and Anna did know what they were talking about, their prophecying was really from God.  Jesus, we now know, would cause the fall and rise of many, would be a sign spoken against, would attract opposition, suffer, and die. 


But, just as Simeon and Anna also said, Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people.  He would be the consolation of Israel, he would redeem Jerusalem spiritually. 


And what of today?  Can we see the future of God today as Simeon and Anna did?  Some can still see that future.  One such person was Sundar Singh. 


Sundar Singh was born into a wealthy and religious family in India in 1889.  As he grew, his mother especially was concerned for Sundar’s spiritual growth and enlightenment.  She not only sent Sundar to study with Christian missionaries, she also had a Hindu holyman, a sadhu, come to their home to instruct young Sundar. 


But, at the age of 14, after his mother’s death, Sundar Singh was an angry young man.  So angry that one day he brought a Bible home, called all the neighbors around, and one by one burned its pages in the fire.  His father was outraged at the disrespect showed for the Christian religion, even though he himself was not a Christian. 


That night, as a reproved Sundar lay down to sleep, he prayed that God would reveal himself to him, or if not, Sundar was prepared to take his own life by lying down on the train tracks near his home. 


In the night, Sundar Singh recounted, a strange glow came into his room.  Sundar searched for the source of the light, but all was still an dark outside his room.  As the light grew brighter, Sundar saw a figure in the light, a figure that in his words seemed “strange yet familiar.” 


Then, a voice spoke to him in Urdu, his tribal language – “Sundar, how long will you mock me?  I have come to save you because you prayed to find the way of truth.  Why then don’t you accept it?” 


Sundar said that it was then that he saw the marks of blood on the hands and feet of this person whom he knew to be Jesus.  He said at that moment he was filled with deep sorrow and remorse for his conduct, but also with a wonderful peace.  And though the vision was gone, the peace and joy remained.


A Different Future


Sundar was soon baptized by the local missionaries.  Renounced by his father for accepting the Christian faith, 33 days after his baptism Sundar set out on foot, wearing the robes of a “sadhu” – a Hindu holy man who traveled on foot, and depended on the kindness of others for his food and shelter.


Although Hindu sadhus never bathed – a sign of a true holy man – Sundar did.  And as he walked from village to village, he talked to his people in the language they understood about the Master he followed.


Word spread of the “apostle with the bleeding feet” as he was called.  Walking barefoot across rocky terrain inflicted cuts on Sundar’s feet, yet still he carried the message of Christ. 


Speaking to his people in India, and then in Tibet and other countries, Sundar Singh used common words, illustrations from everyday life, and stories familiar to those cultures to tell them of the God who created the world and sent his son to save his people. 


Sundar Singh was heralded as a great and original evangelist.  He spoke in Europe, England, and around the world.  His biography was written and rewritten, and he was called the greatest evangelist India had ever known. 


God is still in the business of showing people the future. But God shows us the future, not just for our own benefit, but for the blessing of the world.  Like Simeon, our prayer should be to see the Lord’s redemption. Like Anna, our witness should be of Jesus who is the redeemer of all creation.  Like Sundar Singh, our prayer should be a search for the truth so that we may live our lives into the future that God has prepared for his creation.