49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Luke 2:49-52 (NIV)
The question, “What would Jesus do?” came to prominence through the writing of Charles Sheldon, whose book, In His Steps, was an American best seller just before the dawning of the 20th century. In the book, a town was revived by devotion to the single standard that actions be Christlike. Almost a century later, the question again took center stage through republication of the book and the widespread production of bumper stickers, bracelets, board games, and study-group materials with the label, “WWJD.” Through it all, the obvious assumption was that the Jesus in question was an adult, but there is one passage that sheds light on His behavior as a boy. It too is instructive.
Though apocryphal writings presume to report a number of deeds from Jesus’ youth, the New Testament offers only this one between the time of His baby dedication at the temple (Luke 2:22) and His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist (Luke 3:21). The year before His bar mitzvah at 13, his parents took him to Jerusalem during Passover. Upon departure, they lost track of Him, assuming, quite reasonably, that He was somewhere in the group with which they were traveling. When, though, they could not locate Him in the camp, they headed back to Jerusalem in search of their boy.
Though His parents knew Him to be the Messiah, they were still indignant at his choice to remain with the teachers. Like contemporary Christians, they were susceptible to irrational anxiety, questioning the Lord’s judgment and actions at one point or another. In this case, Jesus was dialoguing respectfully with teachers of Scripture. Mary was exasperated, asking how He could treat them that way. She spoke of the imposition on Jesus’ father (little “f” – v. 48), and He responded that He needed to be in the house of His Father (capital “F” – v. 49).
Here things could have broken down. The parents had misread His nature and were dismayed at what they perceived to be a misdeed. The youth was involved in an edifying project, consonant with His highest calling. He could call on resources to survive and prosper on His own. So what did He do? “[H]e went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (v. 51, italics added for emphasis). He literally chose to be “arranged under” them (from hupotasso).
How remarkable that the Lord of the universe would submit Himself to earthly parents. Of course, it is no less odd than a sinless man’s submission to baptism, as in Jesus’ case at Jordan. But in both instances, Christ honored institutions that we must honor—baptism and parenting.
Consider the authority that the young Jesus gave to parents of all times by His example in Nazareth. Mothers and fathers have not seized their basic prerogatives; they are a gift from God, as was demonstrated and validated by the Savior’s behavior in His youth. Accordingly, the use of this parental authority is a matter of sacred stewardship, to be exercised with the utmost care. For parents, the question is more particularly WWJHYD (“What would Jesus have you do?”) The answer is obvious—to raise children scripturally for the glory of God.
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