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The First Recorded Words of Jesus

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 2:41–52

Jesus Christ is not only Lord and Savior. He is also our perfect example. He is our model for how to relate to God and to people. The twelve-year-old Jesus offers some relationship lessons for both adults and children.


In the Jewish culture, every calendar hanging on the wall, so to speak, had a circle around the seven days that marked the Feast of Passover. Jewish law required all the men, from the age of thirteen and up, to attend three annual feasts in Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Allowances were made for men who lived far away to attend only one of the three, and Passover was typically the favored feast.[1] It is at this very moment in the Jewish calendar, which would have been late March or early April, that Luke gives us a glimpse into the boyhood of Jesus.

Our Wisdom Journey brings us again to the Gospel of Luke, where we read this in chapter 2:

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. (verses 41-42)

This verse acts like a window into the home of Joseph and Mary, through which we can see their devotion to God. Jewish law allowed any Jewish male who lived beyond fifteen miles of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in his own village and not have to make a long and expensive journey.[2]

Nazareth was about sixty-five miles north of Jerusalem, so Joseph is well outside that fifteen-mile perimeter. And by the way, the law did not require women to make the journey to any of these feasts in Jerusalem.

With that in mind, let us go back and read verse 41 again: “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” They went every single year. They did not want to miss this opportunity to worship God, as a family, in the city of Jerusalem.

Now this particular year is significant because Luke tells us Jesus is twelve years old. He is just months away from full membership in the synagogue. The modern custom recognizing this milestone is called a bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah means “son of the law,” or “son of the commandment.” At age thirteen, the boy becomes a son of the law, which means he is responsible to keep the law for himself.[3]

So, here comes twelve-year-old Jesus and His parents to follow their annual commitment of celebrating Passover. This annual feast celebrated the atoning work of God through the Passover lamb, when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt centuries earlier.

Note the irony here—Joseph and Mary are bringing the Deliverer to celebrate Israel’s earlier deliverance. They are bringing the final Passover Lamb with them to celebrate the sacrifice of these Passover lambs.

At Passover, Jerusalem would be packed with pilgrims and merchants. Joseph, Mary, and young Jesus would have gone to the stalls to choose their lamb. Perhaps Joseph let Jesus pick one out that year. One historical record indicates that more than 250,000 sheep may have been sacrificed in Jerusalem during the Passover festival.

Jesus would watch as his stepfather killed the lamb and a priest caught the blood in a silver or golden basin and then doused the foot of the altar with that lamb’s shed blood. Joseph would then have put that lamb over his shoulder, walked with Jesus and Mary to wherever they were staying, and prepared the meal. The night would end late, and many people would take to the streets for joyful reunions with family and friends. Others would wait for the opening of the doors at midnight on the temple mount, where they could go for prayer.[4]

The Passover celebration went on for an entire week. Most people would come for just two days, when the Passover meal would be eaten.[5] But not Joseph and Mary and young Jesus. Luke specifically tells us in verse 43, “They were returning, after spending the full number of days” (NASB). In other words, they stayed the entire week—they were not going to miss a moment of this.

And Jesus couldn’t get enough either, evidently, because He decided to stay behind:

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. (verse 43)

People traveled in caravans to and from these feasts. The women and children traveled in the front of the caravan, and the men traveled behind them to make sure no one got lost along the way. The two sections would meet in the evening as they prepared to camp out.

Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary, and Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph. That night they realized Jesus was not with either one of them. It finally hit them: “We left Jesus back there in Jerusalem!” Imagine, losing the Messiah!

I remember going out to eat with my family and some friends from church one Sunday; and because I got to church earlier on Sunday morning than my wife and children, she drove the minivan, and I drove my old pickup truck. When we got home from the restaurant, she said to me, “Where’s Seth?”—that was our six-year-old twin son. I said, “I thought he was with you,” and she said, “I thought he was with you.” I had left him at the restaurant. I raced back and found him sitting up on a stool, watching a ball game on a big screen. He didn’t miss me at all.

It’s one thing to lose one of our children at a restaurant, but can you imagine realizing you lost your child back there in the bustling city of Jerusalem? In fact, can you imagine searching for Him for three days, as verse 46 tells us? What a relief to Joseph and Mary to find Him at the temple:

[Jesus was] sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (verses 46-47)

He had not missed them at all. We are not given any details about whom He stayed with and how He had food to eat; all we are told is that they found Him in the temple.

And Mary—a very typical mom—interrupts the question-and-answer session and says in verse 48: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Mary is a normal mother reacting liking a normal mother. “What in the world are You doing? Do You know what You’ve put us through?”

The response gives us the first recorded words of Jesus in verse 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?’”

As one author puts it, this response seems to clearly indicate that at this point in his life, twelve-year-old Jesus is “fully conscious of His person, His relationship to His Father, and His mission.”[6] I can imagine the stunned silence that must have taken place after that statement.

With that, you might not expect what you read in verse 51: “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” You might expect instead to read, “They went to Nazareth, and they subjected themselves to Him.”

But, no, Jesus still has a lot of growing up to do. He is the Son of God, but He is also fully human and under the authority of his earthly parents.

By the way, knowing who He was did not make Jesus proud or stubborn toward his ordinary, peasant parents. It did not make Him less obedient to them either; rather, it highlighted His obedience to them.

The same should be true of us as well. The fact that we belong to God as His children means our relationships with others should be marked by humility and grace. We know that God is our Father, by faith in His Son, and that should make us better spouses, better employees, more diligent students, and more gracious people.

Knowing we belong to Him should affect everything that belongs to us.

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Compassionate: Luke 1-13 (Victor Books, 1989), 32.

[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster Press, 1975), 29.

[3] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1 (Crossway, 1998), 99.

[4] Ibid., 100.

[5] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Luke’s Gospel (Augsburg Publishing, 1946), 162.

[6] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 77.

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