The twelve-year-old God who is our Passover Lamb
Luke 2:41 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.
“Did you see his face?” Mary bit back a sob as she continued trudging up the rocky slope.
Joseph shook his head. “Mary, every boy looks like that the first time they see the lamb slaughtered. There is a stark contrast with the red blood on the white wool. They don’t realize what death is yet. They don’t realize what it is to sacrifice a lamb. And it was his first Passover, Mary. Of course he looked like that.”
“No. No. Joseph, it was something more than that. It was like … it was like he was seeing his own death.”
Joseph and Mary had spent the past seven days in Jerusalem celebrating the high festival of the Feast of the Passover. This feast celebrated the redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt and was observed in the spring of the year. It was the most important of the Jewish festivals and the law required all males to attend.
Joseph and Mary continued up the rocky slope toward Jerusalem. Scrambling. Hurrying. Searching. Their son was missing. They had gone to Jerusalem just like every year, but this was the first year … the first year they could bring their boy Jesus.
Mary didn’t speak her fear – she couldn’t. But that voice from so long ago from that old man in the temple continued to haunt her: “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too,” he said (Luke 2:35). It stuck in her mind like a refrain, and she couldn’t get rid of it. What if it was this? What if this was the sword? What if Jesus was already taken from her? What if whatever destiny God had in mind for His Son, had already happened? He was only twelve!
Their whole village had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Holy Family followed the custom of the day that the women and little children were in the front on the way home, followed by the men, while the older children stayed with either parent. So it wasn’t uncommon for the teenagers to not necessarily be seen during the first day travelling home.
It was only after Joseph and Mary had traveled for a day and were ready to camp for the night that the panic set in. They began searching for their eldest son among their relatives and village neighbors. But He was nowhere to be seen.
So they hurried their pace on their return trip to Jerusalem the next morning. They looked for Him along the way. When they arrived in Jerusalem late in the day, they began their search where they had lodged during the Passover. Still … they didn’t find Jesus.
And Mary’s fears grew.
The next day, with the Passover crowds beginning to diminish, they searched again. The markets? Some of the other relatives? The tourist attractions set up specifically for the Passover? Where could He be? Where would a twelve-year-old boy go?
Another day of fruitless searching, and Mary’s worries grew. Finally, on the third day Joseph suggested, “Well, why not the temple?” They knew their Son to be a thoroughly godly boy, but they did not expect to find Him in the temple.
So the third morning Joseph and Mary went up to the temple mount to continue their search for their Son. They looked through the various side courts around the temple sanctuary, which were used as places for instruction and study of God’s Word. They had expected to find their Son playing with other boys, not sitting among the religious teachers and rabbis.
But that’s where He was.
Mary ran over to Him and exclaimed, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!”
Jesus searched His mother’s face, a look of confusion in His eyes. He had meant no disrespect. He was being directed by a greater will, the will of His heavenly Father. Even as a twelve-year-old, Jesus was fully conscious that He was the very Son of God, and not only the Son of Mary. He understood that He was here on earth to be about and carry out His Father’s mission, a “business” the Father had put into His hands. “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn't you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”
Mary and Joseph did not understand. They were tempted at times to think of Jesus as an ordinary child, one whom they had complete control over. But Jesus was no ordinary boy. He was the perfect Passover Lamb. When Jesus saw His earthly stepfather slaughter the lamb, He foresaw what would happen to Him. His true and heavenly Father would slaughter the Lamb of God near that same temple mount twenty-one years later during the Passover Feast.
When Jesus felt any tension about the suffering He would endure at the hands of His own Father, He naturally went to talk to His Father about it in prayer. So He stayed in His Father’s house to talk to Him about His Father’s business. He stayed there to ask questions and gain insight into His role in humanity’s salvation.
Jesus watched the Passover Lamb being slaughtered in place of the people of Israel. At the tender age of twelve, Jesus already understood how He was, in reality, the perfect Passover Lamb. He would be slaughtered on the altar of the cross in place of the sins of all the peoples of humanity.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is the friend of sinners, the companion of the outcast, and the lifter of those who have been brought low by God’s Law. He has come to be this world’s Savior from sin.
We don’t like to talk about sin very much in our culture. Many churches today prefer instead to talk about how to improve your life. People become offended when you point out how they have offended you, offended others, and especially offended God. But don’t be fooled! Sin is really the problem. The guilt you carry, the skeletons piled up in your closet, the bad habits that you can’t break. Those are all sins. They are sins that break up marriages, divide families and destroy churches. Sin causes you to do and be what you don’t want to do or be.
We’ve been trying to take all this away for a very long time. We have attempted to remove sin and the effects of sin with our own efforts for thousands of years. Through laws, through psychology, through counseling or motivational speaking, we have tried to get rid of our guilt and feel better about yourselves. Our spiritual ancestors even tried sacrificing lambs on altars. But we can’t do it. Sin, and the pain and hurt and guilt is causes, is still here.
There is only one way to deal with sin – that is to have it taken away. Since we can’t do it, we need it to be done for us. The blood of bulls or goats or even lambs could not remove sin or its effects or guilt. The blood of those animals pointed ahead the the perfect Passover Lamb of Jesus. It would be His job to really remove sin.
It would be eighteen years before Jesus would be pointed out by His cousin John to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Though that proclamation and fulfillment were years away, the truth remained. Jesus already was that Lamb of God. He would come to Jerusalem in the spring of His thirty-third year to celebrate the Passover Feast with His disciples. Except, the Passover lamb wouldn’t really be taking away people’s sins. Jesus would replace the Passover Lamb and He would actually take people sins away.
The words “take away” in the Greek mean to “lift up and carry to another place.” This means the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin upon Himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with Christ. Blood flows. The Lamb is slaughtered. The Savior is sacrificed. The Substitute takes our place and takes our sin away.
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Sin which has plagued and plundered the creation since the Fall of Man is removed. Jesus takes away sin, not just of Jews or Anglo Saxons or African Americans or Hispanics. Salvation is not restricted to the rich or poor or the young or old. There is no sin anywhere by anyone that this Lamb of God does not take away.
Jesus’ experience in Jerusalem drove home the importance of becoming His Father’s sacrificial Lamb. Our experience in God’s house drives home the importance of Jesus being the Lamb of God. Every week we sing of the Lamb who was slain. His body is laid upon the altar for us to eat. His blood is shed for us to drink. The Old Testament Passover lamb meant life for the Israelites. Our New Testament Passover Lamb of Jesus Christ is our new life – a new life with forgiveness given, a new life of faith strengthened, and a new life of salvation granted.
“Lamb” speaks of sacrifice. That’s what lambs were good for. Their throats were slit, their blood poured out on the altar, sprinkled on the ark of the covenant or painted on doorframes. Their bodies roasted in the fire, sometimes consumed entirely, sometimes shared in communion for the fellowship offering. The lamb was their substitute, their vicarious victim. The Jews owed everything to the lamb.
We owe everything to the twelve-year-old God who is our Passover Lamb.
Joseph and Mary may not have realized it that day in the temple, but we realize it. Jesus certainly realized it.
Reunited with His parents, Jesus went home. He stayed with them and was obedient to them. He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men until the time came to begin His ministry. Then He took the long walk to Jerusalem where He would be the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world. Amen.