Luke 2:21-52, Matthew 2:13-23

Luke 2:21-52, Matthew 2:13-23

What Does a Perfect Child Look Like?

Introduction:  The Scriptures do not tell us much about the childhood of Jesus, but they do tell us something.  I want us to turn to Luke 2 and read beginning in verse 21:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. {22} When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord {23} (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), {24} and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Then in verses 25-38 we have the story of the blessings that Simeon and Anna gave to Jesus as He was dedicated in the temple, which we spoke about the Sunday before Christmas.  We pick up the reading in verse 39).  

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. {40} And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. {41} Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. {42} When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. {43} After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. {44} Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. {45} When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 

{46} After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. {47} Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. {48} When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” {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.

That, friends, is just about all we know about the life of Jesus between his birth and the beginning of His ministry, except for the brief story in Matthew about the visit of the Magi and the subsequent journey of Jesus and His parents to Egypt, which we will read a little later this morning.  

Perhaps you have heard some other stories, but if so, I can assure you they are apocryphal.  There are pseudo-Gospels which tell some rather fantastic tales about the infancy and childhood of Jesus.  There is one that tells how Mary hung the swaddling clothes out to dry, where a demon-possessed boy ran into them and was healed.  Later the bath water of baby Jesus healed a leprous girl and two sick boys.  He once made twelve clay pigeons and when He clapped His hands, they flew away.  He miraculously repaired some of Joseph’s sloppy carpentry work.  He turned some naughty playmates into goats and another one into a pillar of salt.  When a schoolmaster started to whip Him for refusing to say the alphabet, he died on the spot.  But to those who know Jesus from the Scriptures, it is immediately apparent that these stories are bogus.  

But what was Jesus like as a child?  Max Lucado penned these questions for Mary.  I want to share a few of them with you:

What was it like watching Jesus pray?

How did he respond when he saw other kids giggling during the service at 

the synagogue?

Did you ever feel awkward teaching him how he created the world?

Did you ever see him with a distant look on his face as if he were listening to 

someone you couldn’t hear?

Did you ever try to count the stars with him?

Did he ever come home with a black eye?

Did he do well in school?

Did you ever scold him?

Did he ever wake up afraid?

Who was his best friend?

What did he and his cousin John talk about as kids?

Did you ever think, That’s God eating my soup?[i]

I would add a few more:

Did He have any cavities?

How accurate was he with the slingshot?

Did he ever have a girlfriend?

How did he treat animals?

How did he react when someone told a dirty joke?

Did your relatives think He was unusual?

What Lucado and I are trying to wrestle with here is the incredible difficulty that any of us have imagining what it would be like to have a perfect child, or for that matter to be a perfect child.  Some children are certainly more compliant than others.  Some have gentler spirits and more pleasing personalities.  But none is perfect, or even close to it.  

Jesus was perfect—not just as an adult, but also as a child.  Yet he was human as well.  In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that he was just like us except for sin.  Sin is the only thing that distinguished his humanity from ours.  But that’s a lot, for everything we are and do is affected by sin.  Our motives are often sinful, our thoughts are often sinful, our actions, our reactions, our goals, our dreams—everything is affected by sin—it is part and parcel of our whole being.  And this starts very early in life, in fact, at conception.  

The church has long taught the doctrine of Original Sin.  We are not sinners because we sin but we sin because we are sinners.  King David, following his terrible sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, gave the only explanation that makes any sense: “In sin did my mother conceive me.”  He was not impugning the moral integrity of his mother when he said that—he was in effect affirming that he himself was tainted by sin from the moment of conception.  Jesus alone escaped the curse of Original Sin, for He was virgin born by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.  How did that fact make Him different?  

Let’s consider what the Bible teaches us about the infancy, the early childhood, and the adolescence of Jesus.

Even in His infancy Jesus obeyed the Scriptures perfectly.  (Luke 2:21-24, Matt. 2:13-23)

He met the requirements of the Law.  Several weeks ago we noted the circumcision and naming of Jesus.  The Covenant of Circumcision was instituted with Abraham and reiterated in the Law of Moses.  In Genesis 17:9ff we read,

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.  This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.  For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised …. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.  

Circumcision was given as a sign of the distinctiveness of God’s people.  It signified separation fromsin and separation to the Lord God.  Furthermore, it brought every Hebrew boy into relationship with the national life of the people of God.  

At the time of his circumcision a Hebrew boy was named.  In the Bible four boys were named by God before they were born—Isaac, Ishmael, John the Baptizer, and Jesus.  It was at His circumcision that His name was recorded legally in the archives.  Jesus’ name, which is the equivalent of Joshua in Hebrew, means, Jehovah is salvation.   

While circumcision and naming were done at eight days of age, dedication had to wait until the fortieth day, when purification had been achieved.  In Leviticus 12 we read these words:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven day …. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.  Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding.  She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.”  

Now these regulations on purification probably had some medical benefit, but in addition they symbolized the fact that each person is born in sin.  Since sin interferes with one’s fellowship with God, the time of purification was a reminder that a person could not just rush into God’s presence without repentance.

When the time of purification was reached, the child could be brought in for presentation and dedication to the Lord at the temple.  In Exodus 13:2 the Lord says to Moses: “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.  The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”  God’s intent was for every family to contribute their firstborn son to be a priest for that family.  Later He appointed the tribe of Levi to be priests in place of the first male offspring. But godly families continued to dedicate their children to God.

So Jesus met the requirements of the Law in His circumcision, naming, purification, and dedication.  His parents’ motive for keeping these observances was undoubtedly that they were godly people, but there was another motive from God’s standpoint—Messiah was to be “born under Law,” according to Gal. 4:4, that He might redeem those under the Law.  

He fulfilled the predictions of the prophets.  Turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2.  Matthew is the only Gospel writer who records the trip Jesus made to Egypt in His infancy.  You will recall that the Magi had been encouraged by King Herod to go and make a careful search for the child in Bethlehem.  “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  But after visiting the child and presenting their gifts of gold and of incense and myrrh, they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their country by another route.

We pick up the story in Matthew 2:13:

When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”  

The visit of the Magi took place when Jesus was between 40 days and two years old.  It can’t have happened before His dedication because Matthew tells us the family left for Egypt immediately after the visit and didn’t return until Herod died.  And the Magi’s visit can’t have occurred after Jesus was two because of Herod’s decision to kill all the boys in Bethlehem two and under.  

We return to the story in Matthew 2:19: 

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”  

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus (one of Herod’s sons who was not much better than his father) was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.  So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” 

Now Herod died in 4 B.C.  We know that from secular history.  Of course, you’re wondering, “If Herod died four years before Christ, how could he have died after Christ was taken to Egypt?”  It’s possible only because the calendar we use is inaccurate.  Jesus Himself was born in 5 or 6 B.C.  What this does tell us, however, is that Herod died soon after Jesus was taken to Egypt.  My best guess is that He was there less than six months, but long enough, however, for a prediction from the Old Testament prophet Hosea to be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  

A second prophecy, this one from Jeremiah, is mentioned in Matthew 2:18: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”  The murder of the innocents in Bethlehem fulfilled this prophecy, according to Matthew.

And then a third prophecy is mentioned in verse 23: “He went and lived in a town called Nazareth.  So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”[ii]  

These three prophecies are only a taste of the literally hundreds of prophecies which Jesus fulfilled.  They are important in that they demonstrate that He was constantly fulfilling prophecy from His very infancy.  

As a young child Jesus experienced both normal and unusual growth.  (Luke 2:39-40)

Luke 2:39-40 summarizes the childhood of Jesus: “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.  (By the way, the visit of the Magi and the sojourn in Egypt must fit in the middle of that verse).  And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”  He experienced physical, mental, and spiritual growth.  

His physical growth is mentioned first.  I think we can be sure that Jesus was quite normal in His physical development.  The Christmas song says, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”  I doubt it.  Is it a sin for a baby to cry when hungry?  No.  Then I would suppose the baby Jesus cried when hungry.  Is it a sin for a young child to spill his milk?  No.  Then I would suppose Jesus spilled his milk.  He undoubtedly had to learn how to walk like the rest of us, learn to play ball, and learn how to work with the tools in Joseph’s carpentry shop.  

His mental growth, too, I suspect was quite normal.  He had to learn the Hebrew alphabet, the multiplication tables, and the names of the animals.  You say, “But He created those animals when He existed from all eternity with His Father.”  Yes, I know.  But that’s part of the mystery of the incarnation and of the great emptying He experienced, according to Phil. 2.  In order to become one of us He had to empty Himself of the independent use of some of His divine attributes and prerogatives.  He didn’t become less than God, but His deity was veiled so that He could be fully one of us. 

His spiritual growth, however, was unusual“He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”  It’s normal for children to grow and become strong and learn; it is not normal for them to be filled with wisdom.  Jesus had a sensitivity to His heavenly Father early on, and He was spiritually precocious.  While part of that is attributable to the fact that He had a divine nature, I think part is also attributable to the fact that He had godly, loving parents who took seriously the OT admonition found in Deut. 6:6: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

The clearest evidence of the fact that Jesus was not just your average child is seen when we come to the third segment of His life.  

As a young adolescent Jesus revealed a profound glimpse of His unique nature.  (Luke 2:41-52).    

Earlier we read the story about the boy Jesus at the temple.  Interestingly, Luke 2:41-50 offers us the only information we have about 90% of Jesus’ life—from early childhood until His early 30’s.  Brief though it is, it gives us significant insight into His transition from childhood to manhood.  

The occasion of this trip to Jerusalem was that all male Jews were required to attend the Temple three times in the year:  Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.  On other sabbaths it was sufficient for them to attend the synagogue in their hometowns.  Women were exempted from these requirements, but Mary was an extraordinarily sensitive woman spiritually speaking, so it is not surprising that she accompanied Joseph on this trip.  Some have suggested his parents took Jesus to prepare Him for His bar mitzvah, the time when He would be recognized as “son of the Covenant,” which would take place the next year.

At any rate, when the family headed back to Nazareth, Jesus remained in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to his parents.  You say, how could that happen?  Well, it can happen.  When I was a little boy, I was always the first one up in the morning, but I was also the first one to bed in the evening.  Still am.  Rarely did I make it through an evening service at church without falling asleep, even though my Dad was the pastor. 

One Sunday night after church my Dad waited until everyone was gone, then he locked up the church and went home.  Mom was already putting the other kids to bed when Dad arrived and she asked, “Where’s Michael?”  Dad said, “I thought he was with you.”  So back to the church he went, and there I was—right where I had been from the start of his sermon—sound asleep in the back pew.  

I suspect something like that happened with Jesus—not the sleeping in church but the confusion as to which parent he was with.  Clearly the family had gone to Jerusalem with a large group of relatives and friends.  It was customary for the women and smaller children to walk in the front of such a procession, while the men and bigger boys would follow.  At age 12 Jesus would fit in either group.  Apparently his mother thought he was with Joseph and Joseph thought He was with Mary.  They were a day’s travel from Jerusalem before they noticed He was missing. 

The return trip to Jerusalem was successful in finding Jesus in the Temple.  The Sanhedrin was in session and Jesus was debating the learned theologians.  Luke focuses our attention on the attitude of the teachers, the reaction of Jesus’ parents, and the response of Jesus to their subtle reprimand. 

The religious teachers were amazed at His understanding and at His answers to their questions.  They do not appear to be angry or defensive, so apparently Jesus was not acting arrogant or impudent.  He was just sharing spiritual insights like no 12-year-old they had ever met.  

His parents were astonished to see Him holding His own with these learned scholars.  But Mary seems to be more irritated than proud.  There is reproach in her voice as she questions Him and refers to their anxious search.  

His own response is also one of surprise—surprise that they should be astonished.  He was where he belonged: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  These are the first recorded words of Jesus in the Bible.  They are a recognition of His unique relationship to His Father.  Even his most intimate earthly relations must be subordinate to His relationship with His Father.  

The lack of understanding which His parents demonstrate is seen in verse 50: “But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  This leads us to believe that Mary learned what Jesus’ Messiahship meant only bit by bit.  She was often surprised by Him.  You would have been as well if you were in her shoes.  

The next 20 years of the life of Christ are summarized in verses 51 and 52: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.  But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  He kept developing as God’s Ideal Man—mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. 

He continued to grow in wisdom.  I suggest that the primary tool for this growth was the Old Testament Scriptures, which He studied diligently and applied to His life just as diligently. 

He continued to grow in stature, or physically.  I would suggest that the main thing that would stand out concerning Jesus’ body is that it was not disfigured because of sin.  No scars from fights, no fingernails chewed to the quick because of nervousness, no shortness of breath because of smoking. Yet, on the other hand, He no doubt had a Jewish nose, and perhaps He had zits as a teenager.  

He continued to grow in favor with God, i.e., spiritually.  I suspect that means He faced temptations and triumphed over them.  He prayed; He worshiped. 

And He continued to grow in favor with men, i.e., socially.  His entire personality was without defect.  Think of any individual you know really well, like your spouse.  Make a mental list of the irritations, bad habits, and idiosyncrasies of that person.  One page only, please. 

She’s never ready on time.

He’s overly sensitive.

He always leaves glasses and cups in the family room. 

She is so controlling.

He drives like a maniac.

Friends, Jesus would have no entries on his list—nothing to cause irritation, anger, or antagonism.  Yet, we should never view Him as a freak in His humanity.  He was normal—He is what God intended every man or woman or child to be.  It is only sin that prevents us from reaching God’s ideal.

Now I have a question I would like to raise after our examination of Jesus’ infancy, childhood, and adolescence.  

Why did Jesus spend thirty quiet years in Nazareth when He had come to save the world?

Or maybe the better question should be, “When God decided to send Jesus to save the world, why didn’t He send Him as an adult?”  I think there are several reasons we could appeal to, and they all have to do with example. 

To provide for His family.  The real man of God does not despise earthly ties; in fact, because he is God’s man, he discharges his human duties with supreme fidelity. 

To act out the principle of Matt. 25:23: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”  It was essential that Jesus carry out with utmost fidelity the more limited tasks of family and community life before He could be entrusted by God with the universal task of saving the world.  

To live what He preached.  It gave him the opportunity to live out His own teaching.  Had He always been a homeless, wandering teacher with no human ties or obligations, people might have said to Him, “What right have you to talk about human duties and human relationships—you, who never fulfilled them.”  Jesus could legitimately say not only “Do as I say,” but “Do as I have done.”  

Tolstoi was a man who always talked about living the way of love; but his wife wrote poignantly of him,

There is so little genuine warmth about him; his kindness does not come from the heart, but merely from his principles.  His biographies will tell of how he helped the laborers to carry buckets of water, but no one will ever know that he never gave his wife a rest and never—in all these thirty-two years—gave his child a drink of water or spent five minutes by his bedside to give me a chance to rest a little from all my labors.[iii]

No one could ever say that of Jesus.  He lived at home what He preached abroad.  

Conclusion:  The quiet years were for Jesus more than the time of preparation for His work; they were in a deeper sense the actual commencement of it.  You see, we cannot separate the death of Christ from the life of Christ.  The reason His death was effective in accomplishing our salvation is that His life was without sin.  We needed a perfect sacrifice in order to have our sins atoned for. Jesus provided that.

I think there’s a real sense in which we needed those first 30 years more than He did.  Were it not for those years His deity might overpower and obscure His humanity.  Were it not for those years we would have difficulty accepting the absolute truth of Hebrews 2:17,18: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  

If Jesus was to be our merciful and faithful high priest, He had to know how men lived.  He did.  He had to know the problems of making a living, the haunting insecurity of the life of the working man, the trouble of dealing with the ill-natured customer or with the man who would not pay his debts.  He did.  He had to know what peer pressure was like in Junior High and what it felt like not to be invited to a party as a teenager.  He did.  It is the glory of the incarnation that there is no problem we face in life which Jesus did not also face, including pain and sorrow, and even death.  


Original sin

Messianic prophecies

Family responsibility

[i] Max Lucado, God Came Near, chapter entitled, “Twenty Five Questions for Mary.” 

[ii] There is no specific prophecy that Jesus would be born in Nazareth.  However, Matthew may have intended a wordplay connecting the word “Nazareth” to the OT messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, since “Nazareth” sounds like the word for “branch” in Hebrew, which was a designation for the Messiah.  This explanation is offered by the ESV Study Bible in the footnote to Matthew 2:23.  


Luke 3:1-20