See Lenker – Luther’s Works Sermons/Gospels vol.11 – 1st Sunday after Epiphany
The Sunday after Christmas December 30, 2018
Text: Luke 2:41-52 ILCW Series C 18:2102
Theme: Jesus in the Temple: An Example of the Cross and Divine Comfort
Part I: God may take away our joy for a while.
What a thrill it must have been for Mary to give birth to the Christ-Child! Such a privilege and honor! Like any mother she found great joy and delight in her child.
But the Lord governed things in such a way that she also experienced a good deal of sorrow. People call her blessed, but Mary was a weak human being, suffering the consequences of sin like all others. Her true blessedness would not be complete until she entered heaven. She would have many temptations and sorrows, pain and anguish to suffer here on earth, even though she was blessed to be the mother of our Lord.
Already, right after Jesus’ birth, the cross hit her hard. Her first great sorrow was this – she had to give birth to this royal son in Bethlehem. It was a little town where they found no room for him except in a stable. Hardly the place to lay a new-born let alone the Son of God! What disappointment she must have felt. What mother would lay such a son in a feeding trough?
Her second sad experience took place soon after that. They were compelled to flee to Egypt for Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus. Egypt was enemy territory. It held bitter memories of slavery and oppression for a Jew. While there she undoubtedly experienced many more trials as a stranger in a foreign land. Hardly what a mother, let alone the mother of God, would desire for her family.
Then came the account in our text when she lost him at 12 years old. Lost a child! Have you ever lost a child? What anxiety and suffering that causes. She lost Him due to negligence on her part; she left Him behind. Frantically she and Joseph searched for him. This child was more than just her son. In a very real sense He belongs to us all; He is the Christ! And more, He is God’s Son. God had entrusted Him to her safe keeping and she lost Him. After 3 days of panicky searching and no child, might a person wonder if God had taken the child away because of negligence? Her pain and suffering were great. She expressed it when later she cried, “Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you!”
Mary and Joseph were responsible for Him. But they lost him on the way home. How could parents travel home from the big city with no idea where their child was? They had not guarded him very well. Perhaps God would consider them unworthy to continue watching over His Son and take Him away.
Do you see the cross she endured? Surely, Mary gloried above all mothers in this son for whom He was. Surely, her joy was great. Yet, how deprived of happiness God left her. So this is what Simeon meant when he told the young parents that a sword would pierce their hearts too (2:35).
In like manner the Lord God may take away our joy, if He so desires. He can cause us great sorrow with the very things that delight us. But if He takes them away, He does it for good, loving, and saving purposes. It’s hard for us in our humanity to understand.
And none of us will fully understand the suffering which Mary endured as she frantically searched for her child. Yet, we profit for our faith from her example of the cross as we see God work in it. Likewise we must not despair when such trials come upon us. For in like manner, if He so desires, God may take away our joy for a while to carry out His good and saving purposes in our lives.
Part II: But then He delivers us and we have comfort.
If God should have us endure the cross and permit our hearts to ache and be discouraged…if He should allow us to tremble and doubt that He still cares for us, He only does it out of His superabundant grace and goodness. For His purpose is to make all things turn out for our good. We rarely see it that way. But God is kindly and loving. He deals with us and tries us with all manner of crosses in life so that we may be humbled and our faith may develop and become stronger. He does this to guard us against a greater danger that otherwise could threaten us.
The danger is that we become too strong in our own thinking – arrogant in our own self and abilities. In such a state we would be tempted to depend upon ourselves and believe that we are able to accomplish all things because of our own strength and ingenuity. We might even go so far as to think that God cannot do without us and our abilities in order to accomplish His purposes. And so God allows us to endure crosses so that we see how helpless we are without Him and confess our great need.
You see, our sinful human nature will always look to itself, boast of its gifts, and depend on them. What a bad state that would be for us. So God graciously leads us to see that it is He who does all, and that we produce little on our own. As Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn.15:5). So it is that the omnipotent Lord humbles His saints and prostrates them under the cross so that they might not become presumptuous and overconfident in themselves. In doing so, they become examples for the eternal good of others.
You see it in Mary, after the birth of her son. If in Scriptures we had no examples of the cross and God’s deliverance, we would find no comfort and would be unable to bear our trials, thinking that we are left alone to suffer such great afflictions. Then we would despair. But when we see the Virgin Mary and others suffer, even our Lord Jesus Himself, we have comfort – not in their pain, but in the Lord’s great deliverance of them. The psalmist encourages: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we shall not fear….” (Ps.46) “Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He shall give thee the desires of your heart” (Ps.37).
God may take away our joy for a while, but then He delivers us and we have comfort.
Part III: So go nowhere else for comfort in distress than to His “Temple.”
The frantic parents first sought the boy Jesus among their relatives and friends. But he was not with them. So they returned to the city and spent 3 days searching. 3 days! I wonder where they looked for Him. Obviously they looked in the wrong places. After 3 days of frantic searching, the Lord Jesus was found in the Temple. When they asked His reason for being there, the divine youth calmly replied: “Why were you looking for me? Did you now know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business?”
About His Father’s business in His Father’s House, that’s where the Lord Jesus’ attention was drawn. That’s also where frantic Mary’s and negligent Joseph’s comfort was found. For despairing parents, Christ is found in the temple – in the house of God.
It’s an example, dear friends, of the cross and divine comfort. If you wish to find comfort in your time of distress….if you wish to find relief when you feel you have lost the Son, you need only go to His House to find Him. For He says, ”wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The “temple” for us is where God and His Word are found.
But so often we are more like Mary. When she despaired of her cross and felt like she had lost Christ, she went everywhere else first – to kinfolk, to friends, to the market, to the playground in Jerusalem – to wherever one might think a boy would be found. But she did not go to the right place, and she did not find Him until she did. She went to God’s House. There she found Him and in faith was comforted. For years to come she treasured in her heart the wondrous mercies God had shown her through His Son.
Let us go no place else for our comfort in distress but to the place where God dwells. He dwells where His Word is present. If Mary did not find the Savior elsewhere but there, and if Mary did not find comfort elsewhere but there, how should we expect to find Christ and our comfort outside of His Word? So, go nowhere else for comfort in distress than to His “Temple.”
God grant it to us in faith in the days of the New Year that lie ahead! Then we too shall grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with men for Jesus’ sake. Amen.