The King, Jesus, was holding court with His people in the holiest of buildings, the Temple, conversing with the teachers of the Law, answering their questions and asking them questions. These rabbis “were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:47 NKJV). You see, this was no ordinary King; He was just 12 years old at the time and would grow and be the Savior of the world.
What made the Temple so holy? God filled it with His presence both in its liturgy and sacrifices and later filled it with His physical presence in Jesus Christ, the Savior. And where Jesus is, there’s the Temple. It’s the very presence of Jesus that makes any place holy. That’s why the house of the Lord is holy; He makes it holy, gracing it with His presence as we gather in His Name.
This holiness and the presence of God was lost on Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, as they did every year. As they left, they did so without Jesus, “supposing Him to have been in the company” of their fellow travelers (Luke 2:44). Days after they left, they returned to find Him in the Temple, amazed to see Him there. Mary asked Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (Luke 2:48). For a moment, they forgot who this Jesus is all about. But it’s hard to blame them; they were faithfully living their God-given vocations as parents. They worried about this Boy. Mary and Joseph searched diligently for Him out of love, care, and worry.
They found Jesus in the Temple, and He answered Mary’s question with not one but two questions: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? (Luke 2:49). But they didn’t understand Him, their emotions likely ruling the moment for them. Jesus knew. But how could He know, for He was merely 12 years old? Jesus knew because He’s the Son of God — because He is God, God in human flesh. The Boy Jesus knew where He belonged: in His heavenly Father’s house. Jesus knew He needed to be there to be about His Father’s business, His holy things. But for that moment, for whatever reason, Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Him; they just didn’t get it.
But we don’t get Him, either. Our finite minds cannot comprehend an infinite God. Our sinful hearts do not want to behold a holy God. So we try to make God fit our understanding of Him: we seek to quantify Him, stuff Him in a box, and pull Him back out when it’s convenient. We “play God” with God. We want Him to deal with us on our terms. We expect Him to affirm us in our fears, even though He clearly and plainly says, “Fear not!” We believe the devil’s lies, as if Jesus, who has overcome the world, cannot overcome our fears of the coronavirus, as if Jesus, who gives the peace that the world cannot give, cannot give us peace during this time of national strife, as if Jesus, who defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, cannot come to His house with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We want Him to tell us it’s okay — “watch church” from the comfort of our homes at the expense of being in church, where He’s present and giving His gifts, as if we can shut Him off when we don’t want to hear Him anymore. We live in fear, not just because of COVID-19 or because tensions are high in our nation but because we do not want our sins exposed.
But I have good news for you. God already knows all about your sins; that’s why He wants you in His house. He wants you there so He can hear you confess your sins and give you His forgiveness. He gives you His forgiveness in Holy Absolution, as His Word is read and proclaimed in your hearing, and in the body and blood of His Son Jesus. Yes, He wants you to be with Him — in His house! — because He loves you. He loves you so much that He sent Jesus to bleed and die for you on the cross to take away your sin. The temple of the Boy Jesus, who spent three days in His Father’s house, would later be destroyed by the chief priests and teachers of the Law, for He was crucified — dying on the cross in all His glory for the world to see. He was in His glory because He was taking away the sin of the world, including your sin. Jesus, the Temple in the flesh, was in His glory because He who knew no sin became your sin and died for it — for you! — on the cross on Good Friday allowing that temple to be emptied through the pouring out of His blood for you!
But that’s not the end of this Temple. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He wasn’t talking about the building the Jews worshiped in. He was talking about the temple of His body, which He Himself raised on the third day, at Easter, that He would give you eternal life — the temple restored for you!
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.