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Jesus the boy preacher

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

In the reading options for today, there are three readings that focus in on the life of Jesus after his birth, beyond the nativity, until he was twelve.  Two are from Matthew, and are the stories of the wise men stopping to inform King Herod why they are in Judea – to see the newborn King of the Jews, – and of Joseph having a dream where he was told to take baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt, because Herod was planning to kill the newborn.

Today it is the choice from the Book of Luke that I want to talk deeply about.  That selection is when Jesus was twelve years old and he gets left behind in Jerusalem, after Passover, by mistake.

In that story, Jesus is found in the Temple, surrounded by elder rabbis.  The rabbis are amazed at the level of knowledge such a young boy has.  Jesus listens, he answers questions accurately, and he asks the right questions as well.

boy jesus in temple

When Joseph and Mary find Jesus, he has a somewhat immature response, by saying, “Where else should I be but in my Father’s house?”

Now, in the book The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not a canonical book) there are several stories about Jesus as a growing child.  Some tell how this immaturity glimpse given in the Luke Gospel is supported.

Think about this concept for a moment.

Jesus was born as the image of God in the flesh.  We most regularly see him as an adult having amazing abilities.  Those were abilities that were available to him from the beginning, but his body had to grow and develop, including his brain, so he could learn to master those special talents.  As the Son of Man, Jesus possessed the same free will we all are given by God; but free will AND amazing powers at his disposal … that took some harnessing.

We truly begin to see the adult Jesus developing in this account in Luke.   We have moved beyond his birth as a baby, and see him as a pre-teen, when he was accidentally left behind.  In a way, it is at his “coming out party,” when we first encounter the focus and purpose Jesus had, through the Holy Spirit.

Prior to beginning his full-time ministry, Jesus was an attendee at a wedding banquet.  The host ran out of wine.  Jesus did not volunteer to turn water into wine.  He was content just sitting back, enjoying the event, and taking everything in as it came.  Instead, Marty, his mother, tells Jesus, “Fix the wine shortage problem, son.”

Again, we see a wee bit of that edge, the hint of an attitude.  “Woman, mind your own business,” he says, or something of that nature.  The same type response as we read today in Matthew, “Where else should I be other than in my Father’s house?”

Still, after turning water into wine, Jesus did not begin his ministry right away.  He spent 40 days in the wilderness first, preparing himself for what he knew lay ahead of him.

be prepared

In other words, Jesus had the power when he was a toddler, something akin to Superboy, before Superboy grew into Superman.  Scholars who have looked deeply into The Infancy Gospel of Thomas say that Jesus acts much like a mythological hero – a half-human / half-god entity – who knew he had powers unlike the other boys in the neighborhood.  He was, at times, impish and insolent.

That is where good parenting comes into play.

In the Gospel reading today, and for the one back on Christmas Eve, we twice feel how Mary took delight in Jesus.  When the shepherds came and told Joseph and Mary how angels had told them that a Messiah had been born, Luke wrote, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  Again in today’s reading, after Jesus leaves Jerusalem with his parents and goes back to Nazareth.  Luke wrote, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Jesus was tempered by his mother’s love.  His Father, God, would have disciplined Jesus if he ventured too far and abused his special talent – like Icarus flying too close to the Sun, he would have learned lessons of failure – life lessons. But by having loving parents, Jesus was shaped into a fine, young thirty-year old, who was then ready to begin a world-altering ministry.

I think back to when I was in my youth, going to a Pentecostal church.

Occasionally, we would have travelling evangelists come visit.  They would stay for some length of time, usually a week, preaching multiple times while there.  For instance, they probably drove in on Monday, because the church offered services on Tuesday and Friday evenings.  Then, they would stay for the two services offered on Sunday, in the morning and the evening.

One traveling evangelist I remember was a boy my age, who came with his family, all of who sang and preached.  He was a red-headed ten-year old, bible-thumping, fire and brimstone preacher.  He wore a powder blue suit, with a tie that he would loosen mid-way through the sermon.  He would pace the altar, yell and point at the audience, all of which got the congregation moved.  The boy was quite animated.

boy preacher 2

Not too long ago, I watched a boy that was four years old doing, basically, the same thing; although, I will give that ten year old boy credit for preaching a better sermon.  The four year old that I saw on TV did not yet have an advanced vocabulary, which that traveling ten year old had.

boy preacher 3

Not to burst any bubbles, but I believe those child ministers are fakes.  As sad as that is to say, there are no 4-10 year old preacher boys who are going to guide you to salvation.

After one of the services that the ten year old preacher boy preached in our church, he invited some of us kids to the mobile home the family travelled in.  It was parked in the church parking lot.  All we local boys were in awe of him, so we gathered around, like he was a celebrity of merit.

This boy lit up a cigarette.  He told us it was all fake.  His dad (himself a preacher) taught him to act that way.


empty balloons

All the air went out of that balloon then.  That bubble was forever burst.  I wanted to believe, because my mother wanted me to grow up and be a preacher … and I wanted to please my mother.

Now, that boy and I were the same age.  Hopefully, he grew up into a true preacher, actually believing what he said, rather than putting on an act – putting on a show that the people want to see.  I can’t say what happened in his case.

The point is this: A ministry of truth takes time to develop.  Jesus took thirty years to learn his religion, to find self-control, to test God’s power, and to pray to his Father, before he ever began to take his “act” on the road.

Take, for example, the disciples of Jesus.  They all spent three years following Jesus around, seeing to his every need.  They were given a temporary commission, and some came back amazed at how the power they were given made others kneel before them.  That power left them, after their commission; and, up to the Last Supper, they were what I call “dumb as stumps.”

“Where did you say your father lived again?” they asked, while getting drunk after the Seder meal.

It was not until after they had their own 40 days in the wilderness, with a resurrected Jesus, before his Ascension – boot camp with the Messiah – that their training fully hit them; and then, like a rush of wind, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

In comparison, you do not apply for a CEO position for some Forbes 500 company, simply because you think that would be a good job to have, when you have yet to even work in a mail-room.  Experience matters.

Jeremiah sang about what it takes to reach Heaven.  You have to be a remnant of Israel.  That means you have to know what having lost everything means, before you can know the motivation of gaining something.

You have to wail from sorrow, before you can get the most from laughter and dance.  You have to be alone and cold, before you can appreciate the warmth of a shepherd taking you into his arms.

Paul put it beautifully in his letter to the Ephesians.  He wrote, “I have heard of your faith, and your love toward all the Apostles who have died for Christ, as saints.”

Paul then prayed for those Apostles-in-training, saying, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation.”

He went on to say that he prayed, “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

You do not fake that.

You do not flip a switch and begin acting like an Apostle.

You know that is true as soon as you see the first hungry lion rushing towards you, in an arena filled with non-believing Romans.  That’s when you start yelling, “I was only kidding!  I’m not really a Christian!”

Paul had maturity.  Paul had experience.  Paul saw the spirit of Christ and he was possessed with the Holy Spirit.

Paul was beaten for his new found beliefs.  Paul was stoned and left for dead because of his new found faith.  Paul was imprisoned multiple times because he believed in Jesus Christ, because the Holy Spirit was with Paul.

Paul had the Holy Spirit for the purpose of leading many others to the same eternal source of power.  All who were so filled, through Paul, found the life of an Apostle required total commitment.

From that experience, Paul wrote to his fellows in Ephesus, saying “[there] is immeasurable greatness [from] his power, for us who believe.”

Jesus had to learn how to let that power shine, without misuse.  Paul had to learn the same thing.

As a twelve year old boy, Jesus knew things.  He knew power.  Still, he had to learn love is the greatest power of all.

When you have the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, disappear in the middle of a mob, and even walk on water, it takes maturity to let someone kill you.

Because Jesus experienced love, from Joseph and Mary, who protected him and provided for him, and disciplined him, Jesus was prepared to let his powers be set aside, so that his love could be released to fill so many others.

Patience.  Prayer.  Practice.

Then … receive the spirit.

Deep breath.

Hold it in.


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