Sermon on Luke 2:40-52

by Pastor Keith Graham

Please read Luke 2:40-52, and keep your Bible handy. Thank you!

It's Father's Day, and in this text of Scripture we see an adventure in parenting indeed! Not all of us are fathers, but we all have shared in the parent and child relationship, whether for good or bad. If you think your parent to child or child to parent relationship was or is peculiar, special, and unlike any other, you need to consider the amazing reality of this passage!

And that's exactly what we will do today, concentrating especially on the Divine institution of fatherhood. Mary the mother of our Lord is often called the blessed mother. And indeed, she herself rejoiced at the prospect of the coming miraculous birth of her Son, and proclaimed that henceforth all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:48). One lesson of our text is that there is also, in a sense, a "blessed father" - Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth!

Let's be diligent to first affirm, however, that when we carefully take the whole counsel of the Bible, it is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately the eternally pre-existent, unique Son of God, and that as to His humanity he was born of a virgin. Yet, verse 41 of our text refers to Joseph and Mary as Jesus' parents; and in verse 48 Mary calls Joseph Jesus' father..

A normal man, a man "of like nature with ourselves", as James might have said, a carpenter who lived in the ordinary Galilean town of Nazareth, had the extraordinary joy and privilege of having Jesus Christ in relation to him as son!

Scripture gives us a wonderful insight from this often overlooked earthly relationship into which our Lord entered by His incarnation - that sublime mystery of the Gospel which teaches us that the eternal, almighty God came in the flesh as a true Man. This insight comes in part from Matthew's and Luke's geneologies of Christ; that is, their records of His ancestry. Now you're going to need to put on your thinking caps as you follow this...

In Luke 3:23 we read - "And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly [the son] of Joseph, [the son] of Eli..."

In Matthew 1:16 we find - "And to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."

Did you catch that? The two gospel writers name two different men as the father of Joseph, Mary's husband. Uh-oh! An apparent contradiction!!! It looks like we'll have to throw away our confidence in the Bible and go home...

NOT AT ALL!!! The Bible - the HOLY Bible - is God's inspired, inerrant, infallible, fully authoritative word. Christian, you can rest confident with all assurance that it is God's Book, which shows you the way to the forgiveness of your sins and God's gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

In order that the trustworthiness of the Bible might be demonstrated yet again, and as we work toward bringing forth this insight I have mentioned, let us first note this important point: each gospel writer is very careful to affirm in his geneological record that Joseph is not the natural father of Jesus Christ!

Luke's term supposedly., and the way Matthew introduces Christ's mother Mary as the "final step" before recording Christ's birth, show that these are unusual geneological documentations.

So, there is no conflict regarding the virgin birth, but with the apparent discrepancy of Joseph having two fathers! How do we solve this, and what is God showing us by including this information in Scripture? For God says nothing in His Word which is useless. When there is a problem understanding it, the problem is with us, not with the Word! When something in the Bible seems obscure to you, dear Christian, please don't allow our crafty, prowling enemy the devil nor your own flesh make you easily doubt or despise Scripture! In humility consider your own sinful dullness and your creaturely limitations before daring to foolishly impugn the Word of God! The apostle commands that we "study to show ourselves approved". To gain the insight the geneologies offer, you must concentrate in the power of the Spirit, think Biblically, and compare Scripture with Scripture...

How, then, can it be that Joseph "has two fathers"? Enter the Levirate Law of Marriage! This ancient precept appears in Genesis 38 within the covenant family. There, Judah the son of Jacob tells one of his own sons, Onan, to "raise up seed" to Onan's deceased brother, Er. That is, Onan was to marry Er's widow and have a son by her, in order that Er might have a legal descendant. The Law of Moses, given centuries after that event, also established the Levirate Law as statute for ancient Israel:

Deuteronomy 25:5 - "When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her."

A delightful example of love triumphing through this Levirate Law is found in the book of Ruth, and its account of the courtship of Ruth and Boaz. Providence worked through the Levirate principle to allow the happy consummation of Ruth's and Boaz's tender engagement. Boaz was a kinsman-redeemer of the family into which the young widow Ruth had previously married. Boaz received a godly, faithful wife - a singular blessing from the Lord - in the bargain. On her part, Ruth's widowhood ended in new marital happiness. It was all possible through the law that designated Boaz as the man to "raise up seed" to his deceased relative.

Let's bring this back to Christ's two recorded geneologies. If we look back in Matthew's list to Matthew 1:6, we see that the man Jacob, to whom Joseph Mary's husband was born, descended from king David through David's son Solomon.

However Eli, of whom was Joseph of Nazareth per Luke 3:31, descended from king David through David's son Nathan.

Neither of the gospels is in "error", for it appears that Matthew reckons Joseph's descent by nature, while Luke reckons it by the Levirate Law! Joseph had a natural father, but was the "seed raised up" to a man who had died. Both were of Davidic lineage, a fact which makes Joseph's Davidic lineage above question.

(The original Greek text, especially of Luke's geneology, and considerations from extra-Biblical historical sources are very illuminating here. The ancient Church History of Eusebius, Book 1, includes Chapter 7, "The Alleged Discrepancy in the Gospels in regard to the Genealogy of Christ". Eusebius cites church father Julius Africanus as a source for his information.

Of course, Eusebius, Africanus, et. al. are not inspired sources, but they are helpful in understanding these matters. Christians may rest assured...even when the resolution of difficulties such as this one are less than fully satisfactory to our curiosity, God's Word remains true. God's Word will always be vindicated, often most wonderfully through passages which once seemed to contain insurmountable difficulties.)

To some up, it appears that Joseph was reckoned to be the son of one man, but was naturally the son of another.

Likewise, Jesus is the unique Son of God, but Joseph is reckoned an earthly parent to Him in His true human infancy and boyhood! Not only so, but Joseph's Davidic ancestry is reckoned to Christ, the King of kings. We might go so far as to say that Scripture has DOUBLY made Christ the heir of throne of Israel, that is through Solomon and through Nathan. Who has a clearer title to the covenant throne of David which God established (2 Samuel 23:5) than Christ Jesus? Perhaps it can even be maintained that the Lord Jesus is heir to that throne in a THREEFOLD way, if it can be shown that Mary also was of the house of David by ancestry (as well as by her marriage to Joseph). But that question is for another expedition into the inexhaustible gold mines of Scripture...

The point is that Joseph's own personal family background as a man who in a sense "had two fathers", helped to peculiarly fit him for his role in the incarnational life of the eternal Son of the eternal Father - that is, his role as Jesus' earthly dad.! And that's exactly what Joseph was. As certainly as Mary's motherhood was real, so during Jesus' boyhood, Joseph was an earthly parent to Him. Surely, Joseph showed Him the carpenter trade. Surely they had special times of fellowship together (Matthew 13:35). Surely they had in common a great love for Mary, and for the other members of their family. (For our Lord Jesus did have siblings, Mark 6:3.)

Make no mistake, it is made clear in our passage that the Boy Jesus knew that God is His Father in a way that God is Father to no one else. Verse 50 says that Joseph & Mary didn't understand when Jesus referred to His unique relationship to God, and how even at age 12, it must profoundly effect His life. However, their lack of understanding was rooted in awe-struck wonder, not in ignorance.

For how could Joseph (and Mary) have forgotten that an angel of God had revealed the mind of God to each of them? No less than three times, an angel appeared to Joseph by way of dreams to give Joseph Divine instruction about Jesus (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:19). How could Joseph forget the occasion of the presentation of the Infant Jesus in the temple according to the Law of the LORD, complete with the Divine prophecies that came through Spirit filled Simeon (Luke 2:25-27) and the widowed prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-38)? How could Joseph have forgotten the astonishing report of the shepherds who had seen a host of angels the night Jesus was born, or the star that led the magi to Him?

So again - all of this, and Joseph's personal background as one reckoned to be the son of another man through the Levirate Law, made him very able to be sensitive to this unique Boy he was raising. It is good to be careful to phrase that just so: "the boy he was raising". That way we don't lose sight of the glorious truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately the Son of GOD! He is the One of Whom John wrote, "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh..." (John 1). The majesty and glory of the Person of God's Son eclipses all of His human relationships; but more on this in a moment.

Dads, are you serving God in how you recognize and show consideration for the peculiar character & personality of your child? How does your stewardship of the life or lives God has given you to nourish compare to Joseph's Divinely given stewardship as Jesus' dad?

The same God Who chose Mary as Christ's mother appointed the carpenter Joseph as His other earthly parent. As fathers and men who occupy positions and have callings that are similar to fatherhood, what can we see in Joseph to imitate?

Joseph's consideration of Mary's welfare earns him the title of "a just man", Matthew 1:19ff. In our passage, we see his devotion and concern when it is discovered that the Boy is missing on the return home from Jerusalem. In other words, kindness and gentleness are aspects of a holy and righteous life, which is only possible for disciples of Christ. Both are included in the list of virtues called the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5. Joseph was not a dad who merely barked out orders and made due awareness of own dignity the prime directive for his lowly underlings.

In Matthew 2 and Luke 2 we see Joseph not abdicating and absent, but leading and guiding his family through difficult times. Under God, Joseph guided his family and protected them from Satan's malevolence expressed through the person of Herod by fleeing to Egypt. He obeyed his own authorities by going to Bethlehem with his family to register for a tax that was no doubt as unpopular as taxes ever have been.

Joseph obeys God even when its difficult. It was probably not good for his carpentry business to take a young wife and Infant to a strange land for an indefinite period of time! What unthinkable consequences would there have been if Joseph had delayed the departure for Egypt, deciding that he just had to work late one more night, to get this last big carpentry job done. What if that was the very night that Herod's thugs of infanticide came to Joseph's home? Oh dads and all who have a role toward others that is like that of a dad, what are the consequences to which you are subjecting your charges, and society in general, when you drop the ball here!?

Most importantly, Joseph was his family's spiritual leader and guide in spiritual matters; he served as the priest of his household. We saw how he observed the Law of the LORD regarding Christ's circumcision. This covenant obedience on Joseph's part implies that ceaseless, godly instruction followed the sign of circumcision, in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7, which instructs us as well as follows about the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the LORD: "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."

In other words, the things of the Word of God, the matters that concern His kingdom and His righteousness, are to be the subject matter of discussion, the passion, the absorption of covenant families...with dad as the one who makes it happen! Dad, you are the one God has charged with keeping your family from having the substance of feathers and marshmallows, easily blown about by the "prince of the power of the air", and easily roasted by the world! Joseph surely fostered Godly ways in his household.

Look again at our passage, at its first verse (Luke 2:40) and its last verse (Luke 2:52). In these verses we are told that Jesus Himself, Who as God was and is perfect and complete in Himself, nevertheless as a human being grew and became strong, increasing in wisdom, and continued to do so. It was in the spiritual environment which Joseph the godly dad established for his home in which even the eternal Son of God, in His human incarnation, matured and thrived!

This land of ours needs DADS and father figures of this sort in the worst way! God's revealed will is that men, not women, lead in households and in the Church. This is what God's Word says, the world's current fashionable opinion in the matter is of no importance! We will not see our families growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, becoming strong, and increasing in stature apart from God's appointed means of strong, godly fathers!!!

If the attitude, lifestyle, and accepted responsibility we've outlined here were those of the man who raised the sinless Son of God, how much more need we who have begotten sinners like ourselves have the same attitude, lifestyle and accepted responsibility!

On Father's Day in our society, almost all sons and daughters honor and recognize their dads in at least a cursory way. Let's consider this special relationship we see in the Bible, that between Jesus, the eternal God in the flesh, and Joseph His earthly dad, and apply its revealed wisdom to sons and daughters. Let's learn from what we see between Joseph and Jesus how we should relate to our dads.

Consider what is said when Jesus is found, and the caravan continues its return from Jerusalem and the Passover. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke writes that Jesus CONTINUED IN SUBJECTION to Joseph and Mary! As has been said, Jesus' unique Person eventually eclipses all His human relationships without doing violence to them. Nonetheless, there is no evidence in the Bible that His voluntary honoring of His earthly parents had some sort of "coming of age" point at which it ended. This was the posture of the Lord Jesus, the only Man Who ever lived Who could demand the honor and obedience of even His parents, who were sinners like all human beings other than Himself. How much more should it be the posture of us who ARE such sinners! How much more should we be willing to obey the Fifth Commandment, the one with a promise:

"Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you."

You've heard about what people just beyond their teenage years - those that survive - say about their folks. "It's amazing how smart you've gotten in the last few years!" During those years that begin at about the age of the Boy Jesus in our passage, we can sometimes be tempted to believe that our parents don't understand us, nor much of anything else. Now the Bible itself TELLS us that Jesus' parents didn't understand Him, but look how Jesus handles that! He doesn't rebel, does He? No, again we face that simple but amazing statement about the One Who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, though He was in reality above all. He CONTINUED IN SUBJECTION to His parents.

Young person, if the Son of God could continue in subjection to His parents, even when He was incapable of doing anything wrong, how much more just, fit, and reasonable is it for you who are often wrong to do so? Joseph and Mary were not sinless parents, they made mistakes. Jesus trusted His heavenly Father about that. God is in control, even of your parents' mistakes, and He will overrule them for your good.

In conclusion, I want to speak about the way in which all of His earthly relationships, even the special ones He had with "the blessed dad" and with Mary the blessed mother, become overshadowed by the sheer majesty and glory of the Person of Jesus Christ, as mentioned earlier. Joseph and Mary were parents who "stepped aside" for the sake of the purposes of the Heavenly Father in Jesus' life...they didn't cling to Him.

Although we see in Jesus' adult life that He continued the Passover tradition He kept as a Boy in Joseph's house, Joseph of Nazareth virtually disappears from New Testament history after this trip to Jersusalem in Jesus' 12th year. Joseph is mentioned only once in passing by Jesus' enemies (the Jewish religious leaders) after the event in our passage.

Jesus' kinsman and friend John the Baptizer gives way to the One He calls the Bridegroom, saying he is but the Bridegroom's friend, professing that "He Who comes from above is above all", and proclaiming of Jesus, "He must increase, and I must decrease!" (John 1 & 3)

Jesus Himself, when told that his relatives were seeking to speak with Him, said that whoever did the will of His Father, was His brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:50).

Hanging upon His very cross, Jesus appoints John and Mary to be as mother and son (John 19:26,27).

For each of these relationships, that to which Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 5:16 came about: "Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer."

This leads me to ask if you been overshadowed by this One Who is from above and over all, as His own closest relations and friends were. Is your knowledge of Him merely according to the flesh, a passing acquaintance with Him as a man, perhaps even a great man? Or have you been led by the Holy Spirit to know Him as Lord and God, as those who literally saw and touched Him came to know Him? Even His brothers and mother were led by the Holy Spirit to call him Lord, which no man can do, except by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). This all might seem excessively humbling to the world, but is it not absolutely fitting for the Child given unto us according to Isaiah's ancient prophecy (Isaiah 9:6)?

The greatest Fatherhood is the Fatherhood of God through His only begotten Son. The eternal Father has made known His will: that we come in repentance and faith for forgiveness, justification, and newness of life to the eternal Son Who offered Himself through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:14). This is the only way we can enter the Father's family, enjoy His protection from His just wrath which is coming on the world, and be guided by Him to heavenly pastures and the ever-flowing, crystal clear river of life. No one has a natural sonship to God any more than Christ had a natural sonship to Joseph. The apostle John says that those who receive Jesus Christ are born, "...not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God", John 1:13.

Through a securing confidence - faith - in the meritorious life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, earth's fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and friends are adopted into the one eternal family of the loving heavenly Father, and made to partake of the Spirit of God.

This message was originally preached on June 15, 1997, and again on June 25, 2006. It should be noted that some of the Biblical cross-references and comments appearing in this manuscript (e.g. the parenthetical comment pertaining to Church historian Eusebius), were not included in the "live" sermons, which were preached to assemblies of diverse persons including children.

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