Sermons : 2015 : January 4, And He Was Submissive to Them - Luke 2:40-52

Well Christmas is over, but many of you probably still have your decorations and lights up. It seems to be a rule that you can’t take anything down until after today. But Christmas really should last more than one day and it does – in your house and in God’s. Now in Luke’s Gospel we find Jesus at 12 years old. This is actually the only account we have of Him in between His birth and His appearance at age 30, but it’s still an important one. Jesus is doing here what we think He would be – learning the scriptures, sitting at the feet of Israel’s teachers and increasing in wisdom and favor with God.

Now normally preachers might focus on this dialogue between Jesus and the teachers or they might discuss the implications of our passage’s final words. But I actually want to focus on the next to last verse of our reading, verse 51. It says, “And He went down with them to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” The them, of course, refers to Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph.

So after Jesus is separated from the two of them for a time, Luke says He was then submissive to them. The word submissive is an interesting word, isn’t it? Well, maybe interesting isn’t the right description in such modern times. Although we find this word throughout the scriptures, we don’t find much of a place for it in our society. In the scriptures, we find the word used here, of course, in reference to Jesus obeying His parents. And this makes sense. If Jesus has come to obey the Law perfectly, He’ll need to keep the fourth commandment, which says that children should honor their father and mother.

Now we all like that use of the word, well, those of us over 5’ tall anyway. But as I said the Bible does contain some other uses. In Luke 10, the disciples tell Jesus that even the demons submit to them in Christ’s name. In Romans 8:7, Paul says the sinful mind does not submit to God’s Law nor can it do so. In Romans 13, Paul calls every person to submit to the governing authorities. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul discusses women being submissive in the churches; in 1 Peter 5, it says younger people should submit to older people; in Ephesians 5 it says women be submissive to your husbands; in 1 Peter 5, it says younger people should be submissive to older people and in in 1 Corinthians 15, it says that all things are placed in submission to Christ.

It’s quite a list and quite a range of different relationships. Some of what’s on that list we find agreeable. But some things may cause us some discomfort. Really, the word submissive in and of itself has become a complicated word for us in modern times. It tends to make us think in terms of inequality or even oppression. To submit to someone else or to be subject to someone suggests that they are in control of our lives. And in a culture like ours that emphasizes independence and autonomy, that’s just not palatable.

All we have to do is see the signs of the times for proof. The recent situations in Ferguson, MO and New York City are about a distrust towards those in authority. Many people in America have a distrust for whoever is in the White House. The rise of Atheism and secularism in our country over the last 50 years tell us that people have a distrust for the authority of the church or the authority of the Bible. And today, it’s fairly common to hear of children distrusting their parents’ decisions and guidance.

So this notion of submission to someone outside of the self is a real challenge. It’s become something that many of us fear and resist. We often times can’t bring ourselves to have that level of trust in someone because we are afraid that we will be mistreated. And so we have a lot of rejection towards this concept of submission, even if it is a Biblical one.

Now the notion that Jesus was submissive to his parents in Luke’s Gospel is important. It does reflect His keeping of the fourth commandment, which ultimately points to His keeping of God’s Law. Later on, Jesus will follow through with submission to other authorities as well—even ones that treat Him harshly like the Roman soldiers or Pontius Pilate.

Now we see Jesus doing that and we find that comforting, loving and even necessary. But we would have a hard time putting ourselves in that place. At the end of His life, Jesus submits to His enemies, who treated Him brutally. You and I have a hard enough time submitting ourselves to our loved ones. That’s how far short we fall of our Biblical calling; that’s how wide the gap is between Jesus’ ability to serve God and ours.

Now the submission of Jesus to His parents in our reading today is not primarily about Jesus submitting to His parents. It’s really about Jesus submitting Himself to God. That’s ultimately what submission conveys—a deference to the Word of God over and above the wishes and desires of the self. Honestly speaking, sometimes when we submit to others, we aren’t treated justly. In the flesh, to submit to someone is to submit to another sinner, who can be selfish and misguided or foolish and ignorant. Sinners make mistakes and this holds true when they’re given authority over others.

I’m sure even at age 12, Jesus could see Mary and Joseph weren’t doing everything right. They were sinners too. Mary heard the announcement of the angel that she would be pregnant with the One who would save His people from their sins. Of course Jesus should be in His Father’s house today. Why didn’t Mary and Joseph agree and let Him stay even longer?

But Jesus doesn’t challenge, rebel or stage an argument. He goes with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and is submissive to them. When you love someone and God presents this as a calling, it is what we do. Jesus has been called to be submissive to Mary and Joseph and so He abides by them. Jesus does so to keep the Law and He does so to earn your salvation because your rebellion incurs a charge. Your distaste for submission accrues a debt.

In love, Jesus pays your debt. While we are fearful of submitting to others, Jesus does so willingly. He trusts in God who judges justly and who will ultimately condemn the wicked and vindicate the righteous. He sacrifices His own autonomy and lets others have control of Him. He submits to them and in doing so gives Himself in service to God.

This is a part of His active obedience to God’s Law, which earns our salvation through Him being righteous. Our Lord’s submission gives us hope and builds His perfect life into one that is pleasing and acceptable to God. And we rely upon this reputation because through faith, it becomes our own. What we are unable to do because of our distrustful and autonomous nature, Christ does on our behalf. He submits Himself to human authorities, whom God has actually placed over Him in this life; authorities like His parents, religious teachers (at times) and even Pontius Pilate.

Now Jesus will challenge the religious leaders later when they misrepresent God and His truths. While He might submit to corrupt verdicts, He does preach against misleading teachings and interpretations. He does challenge corrupt practices that exploit the sacrificial system of the Temple that was instituted by His Father. But this comes later in His life after He steps into the role of prophet and is publicly identified as God’s Son which happens next week. For now, it is pleasing to God that Jesus be submissive and obedient to His parents because even here in this simple action, He is earning your salvation and reserving a place for you in the life that is to come. In His Name. Amen.