A Growing Boy


A Growing Boy

Luke 2:21-52

Main Idea: We grow in wisdom and favor as we are surrounded by godliness.

  1. Righteous Parents (2:21-24)
  2. Revealed Purpose (2:25-40)
    1. Simeon’s person
    2. Anna’s person
    3. Simeon’s prophecy
    4. The gospel
    5. Anna’s preaching
    6. Passing on a revealed purpose
    7. We have women like Anna among us
  3. Responsible Parents (2:41-52)

Luke belongs to the Synoptic Gospels along with Matthew and Mark. As mentioned earlier (p. 4), the term synoptic means to “see together.” These three Gospels tell the story of our Lord’s earthly life from largely the same perspective.

But the Synoptic Gospels do not teach us a great deal about our Lord’s childhood. Almost everything we know about the childhood of Christ comes from Luke 1–2. In Luke 1:5-56 we considered the pregnancy narrative, where Mary and Elizabeth were miraculously enabled to conceive children. There we saw that Jesus was a fetus. In our last chapter we considered the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we get to know Jesus in these opening chapters, we witness the amazing humility of our Savior. The Lord of glory himself, infinite in majesty, lay in the womb of a young virgin. The one who is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3) did so while lying in a manger.

From this text we wish to get to know Jesus as a growing boy. Luke 2:21-52 covers three scenes. The first scene begins in verse 21 when Jesus is eight days old and is about to be circumcised. The second scene begins in verse 22. The reference to “the days of their purification,” according to Old Testament law, puts us at thirty-three days after Jesus’s birth. So verses 22-40 give us a glimpse of Jesus as a one-month-old. Verses 41-52 give us the third scene when Jesus is around twelve years old.

The opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel reveal nearly everything we know about our Lord’s first twelve years on earth. Luke tells us “the boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on him” (v. 40), and “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people” (v. 52).

Three factors contributed to Jesus’s wisdom and stature before God and man. I trust our children need these three factors as well.

Righteous Parents

Luke 2:21-24

Naturally speaking, how did Jesus grow in wisdom and stature before God and man? First, Jesus had righteous parents. Mary and Joseph’s obedience reflects righteousness in two ways.

First, Mary and Joseph show their righteousness by obeying the angel’s instruction to name the baby “Jesus.” That was an act of “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5).

Luke 1:26-38 records the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and announcing that the virgin would conceive a child. The saying at first troubled her (1:29), but she believed God. According to Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph initially thought Mary had been unfaithful. The Bible calls him a “righteous man” (v. 19) who planned to quietly divorce Mary to save her from public embarrassment. But then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife and that the child was conceived in her from the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20).

The angel told both Mary and Joseph independently what was to be the baby’s name: “Jesus.” Matthew 1:21 gives us the reason for the name: “he will save his people from their sins.” In Luke 2:21 we see the young couple completing their obedience to God’s will by naming the baby “Jesus.”

Could you imagine Mary and Joseph naming the baby with some other name? How would they teach Jesus to honor the Lord if they refused to honor God themselves? But because they obeyed God in naming Jesus, every time they called their son’s name, the very name itself was a reminder of their following the Lord and a reminder of Jesus’s calling to save. Each time they called Jesus’s name, Mary and Joseph remembered the angel’s visit and God’s plan. Calling their son “Jesus” reminds them God had visited his people.

Second, they show their righteousness by obeying the law of God. They respond not only to supernatural revelation of the angel but also to the written Word of God. Sometimes Christians feel certain God has “told them” something, but then they cannot square that personal “word” with the Bible. In such cases we can be sure God has not told them such a thing. Mary and Joseph have the unusual revelation from the angel but also the “regular” revelation of the Scriptures. They believe and obey God’s Word.

Verses 21-24 are rooted in the Mosaic law. Leviticus 12 gave instruction for regaining purity after the birth of a child.

He well knew how unwilling we are to be meanly lodged, clothed, or fed; how we desire to have our children decorated and indulged; how apt the poor are to envy the rich, and how prone the rich to disdain the poor. But when we by faith view the Son of God being made man and lying in a manger, our vanity, ambition, and envy are checked. We cannot, with this object rightly before us, seek great things for ourselves or our children. (Commentary, 5:257)

“When her days of purification are complete, whether for a son or daughter, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old male lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He will present them before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf; she will be clean from her discharge of blood. This is the law for a woman giving birth, whether to a male or female. But if she doesn’t have sufficient means for a sheep, she may take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. Then the priest will make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean.” (12:1-4,6-8)

Mary and Joseph carefully follow the law and timeline of Leviticus 12. They circumcise Jesus on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and take him to Jerusalem to present him to God (v. 22). Verse 23 reminds us that the baby already belonged to God. In the exodus out of Egypt, when God spared the lives of all Israel’s firstborn children, God also laid claim to the firstborn as his own. They were “dedicated to the Lord.” Mary and Joseph make their obedience complete by offering in worship what the Lord required (v. 24).

Naturally speaking, the first reason Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God was that he had righteous earthly parents. They obeyed God. We parents have tremendous influence on our children. What they regard as plausible in the faith is very often shaped by our faith. Their inconsistencies and hypocrisies are very often seen in us first, are they not? This is why believing, righteous, obedient parents are a tremendous blessing to any child. It is our obedience that creates a context for a growing child to see the need for his own obedience to the Father.

Parents, is our obedience to the word of the Lord as consistent and thorough as Mary and Joseph’s? What do our children learn about serving God as they watch us?

A Theology of Poverty

The two turtledoves or the two young pigeons were to be offered if a family could not afford to offer a lamb and a turtledove (v. 24; Lev 12:6-8). In other words, Jesus was born into poverty. What does it mean that the Savior of the world, the Son of God, was born to a poor mother and family? I think it implies at least seven things:

  1. Poverty is not a sin.
  2. Poverty is not God’s disapproval.
  3. Poverty does not prevent a person from worshiping God.
  4. Poverty does not necessarily doom a person to poverty forever.
  5. Poverty does not excuse unrighteousness.
  6. Poverty is not shameful in and of itself.
  7. Poverty is a cross that God entrusts to some people for a time.

If some teacher or preacher tries to convince you that poverty is a sin, that poverty is God’s condemnation of you, that you have to give a certain amount of money to worship God, or that poverty excuses your sin, then do not listen to that teacher. Remember Jesus. Jesus and his family were poor, and none of those things were true of him. Jesus was not in sin. God the Father was well pleased with him.

Now, poverty is hard. There are a lot of temptations and a lot of suffering in poverty. Poverty is a cross. But for many of us, that God should place us in poverty is a grace that saves us when riches would destroy us. We tend to think poverty is only a curse, but it may be God spares us things worse than poverty. Proverbs 28:6 reads, “Better the poor person who lives with integrity than the rich one who distorts right and wrong.” Or, as Ecclesiastes 4:13 puts it, “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings.”

Christian, let us be sure we never despise poor people. How easily do pride and condescension infiltrate our attitudes toward the poor? J. C. Ryle’s comments on poverty as quoted in the previous section are also appropriate here (see p. 40). If we despise the poor we show we would have likely despised the boy Jesus himself. Our Lord was poor and has infused righteous poverty with dignity and holiness.

And let us not be deceived by riches. Wealth may be our greatest trial. So let us pray the prayer of Agur: “Give me neither poverty nor wealth” (Prov 30:8). Both poverty and wealth have their own temptations. Let us beware of them both.

Parents, righteousness—even in poverty—makes a huge difference in the lives of children. It’s not about what we can give our children in material things but how we model for them faithful obedience in service to the Lord. If we give our children that example, then we will give them everything they need for life and godliness. If we teach our children the Scriptures, then it will be said that our children have “wisdom for salvation” because of the nature of the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:15). If we give our children the treasure of the Scriptures, then we give them spiritual wealth for a lifetime and eternity.

You may be thinking, I’m a parent and I’m not righteous like Mary and Joseph. I have more good news for you. While you yet breathe, you have opportunity to confess and repent of unrighteousness. You have opportunity to recognize your failings and sins. There’s nothing quite like parenthood to make us insecure about our inability. We all stumble in many ways in our parenting. Yet it is the nature of God to deal graciously with us—even parents who sin. There is no failing in our parenting life that Christ has not overcome if we will confess and repent of those sins and seek righteousness in Christ alone.

As a local church, can we follow the Lord’s pattern of incarnation? Christ lived as a poor boy among poor people. Can we plant our lives in the community among the poor as the Savior did? I realize that Jesus was the Messiah and we are not—we must not get a Messiah complex—but can we embrace this posture of service, humility, and love? Can we take a similar place among the poor, living in the neighborhood?

Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man because he had righteous parents.

Revealed Purpose

Luke 2:25-40

Simeon’s Person

Verses 25-40 introduce us to Simeon and Anna. Like Mary and Joseph, Simeon was dedicated to obeying God’s word. And he was full of faith—he was waiting for God to fulfill his promise to comfort or console Israel with a Savior (Isa 40:1; 57:18). He believed God’s word of promise. And he had that rare gift for this period in history—he was filled with the Holy Spirit. This old man was controlled by God and empowered to serve. By the Holy Spirit, God promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah (v. 26).

Anna’s Person

If you ever want a picture of true devotion and godliness, look at Anna. She’s a prophetess, which was not unusual in the Old Testament. From time to time God raised up women who spoke his word on his behalf. Anna was such a woman. Now this is a not a passage that justifies women pastors. People sometimes do that with the Old Testament prophetess Deborah, and it could be tempting to do that with Anna. But Anna, as a prophetess, was not called to lead Israel in worship—that was the job of qualified male priests even in the Old Testament. Plus, there are clear passages in the New Testament epistles that prohibit women from serving as pastors or elders. We should interpret the historical narratives in light of the teaching letters. Anna is a prophetess.

Anna is also “well along in years.” Not only that, for eighty-four years she lived as a single woman following the death of her husband. Apparently she married young and was widowed young. You’d have to think she’s over a hundred years old if she married around age sixteen.

Simeon’s Prophecy

Verses 27-35 record Simeon’s prophecy regarding Jesus. Imagine this old man’s elation. He was at home carrying on his day—perhaps in prayer or some other activity. Then, unexpectedly, he has a strong urge and leading to go to the temple. With each step the leading gets stronger until, even as an old man, he was nearly running to get there. He saw Jesus in his parents’ arms and he knew. He knew! This was the long-awaited comfort of Israel, the promised Savior. He took the one-month-old baby out of their arms and brought him close to his chest. Looking into the face of Christ, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon blessed Jesus with a prophecy.

Simeon blessed God for keeping the promise to let him see the Messiah (vv. 29-30). Imagine the peace and the deep satisfaction at seeing the promise fulfilled. Simeon’s soul found rest as the infant Christ rested in his old arms. Simeon was basically saying, “Lord, you can take me now. My work is done. You kept your word.”

In verses 31-32 Simeon reveals the purpose for which Christ was born. The consolation of Israel is also the light of the world. This babe will bring the light and glory of salvation not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. He is to be the Savior of the world! All the nations will come to him for light and life. Simeon has a 1-1-6 moment, the Gospel equivalent of Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”

Simeon is not finished. The gladness of verses 31 and 32 come also with hints of sorrow in verses 34-35. The old man turned his cloudy eyes to the parents. Simeon blessed them with strange words. This child will be a light, but he will be the kind of light that exposes. Because he exposes, he will face opposition. That opposition will be a violent piercing—a piercing that will penetrate his mother’s heart also.

The Gospel

Simeon sees the salvation from the Lord in his arms, and he glimpses Calvary as well. In time, the poor will be lifted up and the wealthy, powerful religious leaders will fall. In time, this child will grow and an entire nation—an entire world!—will have to decide to either follow him or oppose him. Hearts will be revealed. God will see. Condemnation and salvation will come in one Savior sacrificed on a cross.

Jesus still exposes hearts and provokes opposition. Perhaps you don’t know what you think about Jesus. Maybe you’re aware of your slight opposition to him, but you don’t really know where it comes from or how it got there. It could have gotten there by any number of things you’ve been taught over the years. But the ultimate source of that opposition is your sin nature. You were born that way. All of us were. In our sin we have this opposition to Christ, to his claim on our lives, to his lordship and deity. And so we rebel against him.

But that rebellion will be put down. God will not always strive with us in our sin. If we continue in it, we will fall—or, rather, be pulled down by God. Christ was sent to save us and bring us into his light, but men love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). Our deeds are evil, and we don’t want to be found out.

But God knows. He sees us in our sin. He sends us a Savior in Jesus Christ. Jesus is a Savior you either love or hate. The cross says he loves you. Unbelief and sin say we hate him. But repentance and faith say we love him. For our hate, we deserve and we receive death. For our love, we don’t deserve but we do receive life. Choose life. Choose Christ. Believe in him so that you might be saved.

Anna’s Preaching

If you believe the gospel, then tell others. What does Anna do in her old age? First, she thanks God. When you realize God has sent a Savior you ought to thank him. Don’t be like the nine lepers Jesus healed who went off with no word of thanks. Be like the one leper who returned out of gratitude (17:11-19).

The Christian heart should be a grateful heart. And as much as I want to encourage older saints, I also want to provide a respectful word of admonishment. Sometimes age has a way of making people bitter rather than thankful. There are churches filled with older saints, but they’re not like Anna. They’re hard. Their faces are shriveled in peevishness and unkindness. So my encouragement is this: Don’t let that be you and me. As we age, let us become more expert in giving God thanks for thousands of days of fresh mercy he has shown us. Anna gives thanks for her Savior.

Second, Anna starts gossiping the gospel. There were others longing for a salvation who did not know it had already come. I love Anna. She decided, I am going to go tell it on the mountain. I am going to tell it everywhere: that Jesus Christ is born. Anna becomes an evangelist. She uses her gift and call as a prophetess to declare the good news of Jesus’s birth.

She believes, and so she speaks. In speaking of Jesus, she becomes a real promoter of Jesus. She encourages others to trust in him.

Passing on a Revealed Purpose

This is Jesus’s revealed purpose: to save his people from their sin—both Jew and Gentile. He grew in wisdom and favor with God because from infancy he had people speaking this over his life. In supernatural ways and in ways as natural as his name, the Lord Jesus was constantly reminded of his purpose.

Jesus is the only Savior, so no one else has that purpose. I know you love your kids, but they’re not perfect. They can’t be the Savior; they need a Savior. That’s the revealed purpose for them.

Our kids do better when they have even a general sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Notice verse 33: “His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.” They are blown away. They don’t yet understand all that’s being said—which is an encouragement for parents everywhere. We don’t have to have all the details about our children’s future. We don’t have to have any of the details, and many things may leave us wondering. But we do know this: Our children were made to know and love God through faith in Christ. We know they were given to us so we might shepherd them to Christ.

How wonderful it is to tell our children they are loved by God—that God proved his love for them in that while they were sinners (even before they were born!), Christ came into the world and died for them. What a difference it makes to the sense of purpose, worth, and dignity of a child to know they’re loved—and loved most by God. Every parent can give a child that gift. We have reason to believe that every child who receives that sense of purpose will grow in wisdom before God.

We Have Women Like Anna Among Us

Oh, what a blessing this woman must have been! Can you imagine what a resource she would be to younger women struggling with the desire to marry? Or how she could identify with the grieving widows in the community? And what a model of fruitful old age she is! Every day she’s in the temple worshiping, fasting, praying—“night and day”! And we think we’ve served the Lord because we attended a long service on Sunday morning or got to the football game after kickoff. Doesn’t she put us to shame? Doesn’t she prove that you never age out of worshiping God?

I know we have some women like Anna among us. There are older sisters going hard after God. When we talk about planting a new church, really being rooted in the neighborhood, seeking the welfare of our neighbors, some of the first people to step up were women like Anna!

Christianity is not “a young man’s religion.” Church planting is not a young, cool, hipster activity. Christianity and church planting belong as much to old men and women like Simeon and Anna. Shame on the church for any ways we have shut out our older members. They are gifts from God meant to give the church family gravity, stability, wisdom, and faith. One wonders if the church isn’t as weak as she sometimes is because she so often has no place for older people.

What did the growing boy Jesus have that our kids need? Righteous parents. Revealed purpose.

Responsible Parents

Luke 2:41-52

We said earlier that Mary and Joseph were righteous parents. Our last scene shows that they were also responsible parents.

They were responsible in religious devotion (vv. 41-42). The boy Jesus is now twelve years old. For the past twelve years, his parents have taken him on this annual pilgrimage to worship during the Passover.

They were responsible when it came to watching over Jesus. Now, we might not think so since verses 43-44 tell us they left Jerusalem and forgot Jesus. If you’re a parent and you’ve never left your child anywhere by mistake, the rest of us say, “Congratulations!” Kristie and I have left all three of our kids at church at one time or another. Driving separately, we each thought the child was with the other. But the kids are turning out okay—except for the fear of janitors turning off lights.

Mary and Joseph are so human! They spend five days looking for Jesus (vv. 44-46): They went a day’s journey thinking he was with the group. They returned to Jerusalem—another day’s journey. They searched for him in that big, crowded city for three days! You know they were distraught! They were probably quietly blaming each other. Joseph thinks, What kind of mother loses the Son of God? Who does that? If there’s one rule, make sure the Savior is in the caravan! Mary thinks to herself, Look at him looking at me. I know he blames me. But he is the man. He’s supposed to take care of the family. It’s his son. How could he leave his son in the city? I can’t do everything. I packed up the tent, made breakfast, fixed us some lunch. The least he could have done was keep an eye on the boy.

They lost Jesus, but they did not stop until they found him again. That’s responsible parenting. Sometimes responsible parenting is better seen in how you respond to your failings than in your successes. They respond to this danger with parental care, urgency, and love.

When they find the boy Jesus, he is sitting where they always took him—in the temple for worship and teaching. That speaks to their responsibility as parents too. Young Jesus has done this so much that it’s natural instinct for him. Verse 46 says Jesus sat among the teachers, listening and asking questions. He’s holding court with his elders. Everyone was amazed when they heard his understanding and answers (v. 47). Even his parents were astonished when they saw him (v. 48). By age twelve, Jesus is the wisest person in the land.

But you know, no matter how special our children are, we still act like parents, don’t we? Mary probably has that mixture of relief and fear. Because you’re afraid, you can’t help but scold the child even while you’re trying to say “I love you.” That’s Mary in verse 48.

Verse 49 proves that responsible parenting can give our children a higher level of responsibility than we imagined. Jesus replied to Mary, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” In that sentence the twelve-year-old boy demonstrates profound understanding of his identity and purpose. He knows he is the Son of God. No one else would have spoken this way at that time. That’s why no one understands him in verse 50.

Jesus makes it clear that God is his Father. He makes it clear that the Father’s business is his business. He is not being rude. We know that because in verse 51 he humbly goes home with his parents and submits to them. He is simply making it clear that he seeks God independently of his earthly parents. Worship is not for adults only. It’s for twelve-year-olds and younger and everyone at every age.

Teenagers and Preteens

Many of you were converted at a young age. We praise God for you. That’s a wonderful testimony, and you should cherish it. God has granted you to seek him in your youth, just as the Lord Jesus sought the Father in his youth.

Many of you converted before your parents and had to learn the faith without them. That, too, is a tremendous grace from God. If your parents are not yet Christians, do not let that stop you from being about the Father’s business. Do not let that stop you from believing. Seek the Lord right now. Repent and believe.

Some of you have earthly parents who do not understand your faith. That’s a hard thing. But Jesus’s parents didn’t understand him. The Lord Jesus did not let that keep him from honoring his earthly parents as well as his heavenly Father. Do your best, with prayer and faith, to honor God and honor your parents. Submit to them as an act of submission to God.

If you’re one of those teenagers who think they know everything, then know these two things also: (1) You’re not the first to think you know everything, and (2) you don’t know everything. Many of us adults thought we knew everything when we were teens and acted the same way. Many of us found out the hard way that we didn’t know all that much. We didn’t even know something as basic as this: The main way God gets his voice into your life is through the counsel and leadership of your parents. Your parents are the authority God has placed in your life for your blessing and your protection. When you honor your parents you honor your God. They may not be good parents, so you may not be able to obey everything they say and do because you would then be disobeying God. When that happens, choose God. But resist the temptation to think you don’t need to submit to your parents. Even Jesus, the Son of God, “the wisdom from God” (1 Cor 1:24), went home and submitted to his parents.


What do growing kids need?

  • Righteous parents
  • Revealed purpose
  • Responsible parents

These things were used in our Lord’s young life to help him “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people” (v. 52). Can we ask for anything more for our children?

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How does the meaning of your child’s name remind you of your responsibility to be a righteous and responsible parent?
  2. Has your child shown that he or she is watching your obedience and compromises? Have you ever apologized for your failures? How did that affect your child?
  3. How can poverty be a blessing? How can wealth be a curse?
  4. What lessons can a parent in poverty teach a child that will be valuable when that child grows up?
  5. Have you seen opposition to Jesus and his church cause trouble in your life? How has he proven that faithfulness is worth all the trouble?
  6. Think about older people you know who are gracious and happy like Anna, and those who are angry and grumpy. How can we avoid becoming cranky and bitter as we age?
  7. How did Mary and Joseph act responsibly as parents even when they left Jesus behind?