THE PERFECT PRETEEN
Author: David R. Reid
Luke 2:39-52 19When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they
returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was
filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. 41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for
the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to
the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed
behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled
on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not
find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple
courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who
heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When 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?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51Then
he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these
things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Every parent knows that there are no perfect preteens. In fact, many parents of pre-teenagers say that
this age can stretch a parent’s patience to the limit! Younger children are more easily disciplined, and
hopefully most older teenagers have learned some degree of responsibility. But preteens are another
story! Well, what about the Lord Jesus? Did Jesus go through the preteen years? Yes, He certainly
did, but Jesus was unique. He was the perfect pre-teenager! He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in
favor with God and with men” (Luke 2:52).
In this last section of Luke 2 we have the only recorded event from the boyhood years of the Lord
Jesus. It was His Passover visit to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary. Between His infancy and the
beginning of His public ministry, the biblical record is silent about the events of our Lord’s life, except
for this one event when He was 12 years old. Some apocryphal literature from the 2nd and 3rd
centuries purports to record boyhood acts and sayings of Jesus, but this material has never been
accepted by Christians as being historically reliable. The Passover visit to Jerusalem is the only
inspired account of any event in the boyhood years of Jesus.
However, we do know that during all those “silent” years the Lord was living a perfect life, a life that
was pleasing to God the Father. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, God the Father’s voice came from
heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This statement
was made before our Lord began His public ministry or did any miracles, and described the Father’s
absolute approval of Jesus’ life as a boy and young man. “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My
chosen one in whom My soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1).
In accordance with the Mosaic Law, which commanded that all Jewish males go up to Jerusalem three
times a year to celebrate certain feasts of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:16), Joseph and his family joined
the caravan that was traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. For Joseph and
Mary, this was a special visit to the Holy City and the House of the Lord become their oldest boy,
Jesus, was now 12 years old, and on the threshold of the “official” age when Jewish boys become men.
The boy Jesus was preparing to become a “son of the Law,” to take his place of responsibility in the
religious affairs of the community. Before the next Passover festival, He would officially become a man.
Traveling up to Jerusalem by caravan was an exciting time—especially for country folks who looked
forward to visiting the big city, Jerusalem, “the city of the Great King”! It was also a time of worship
because the congregation would sing the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) as they climbed the
roadway up to God’s chosen city. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus singing with the rest of the pilgrims?
“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem... That is where the tribes go up to praise the name of the LORD” (from
Psalm 122) Here was the perfect preteen singing God’s praises! This visit to Jerusalem was all part of
His preparation to return some years later to the same city as the perfect Lamb of God.
1. The Lord Jesus, as God, was an unusual child. In Luke 3:49 we have the first recorded words
spoken by our Lord Jesus. Obviously the Lord Jesus spoke during His boyhood, but these are the first
words recorded in the Bible. Notice that these words are a claim to His deity. When His mother Mary
said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” the Lord responded, “Why were you
searching for Me? Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s House?”
The Lord was drawing a distinction between His earthly father, Joseph, and His heavenly Father, God
the Father. Notice that the Lord did not say, “Didn’t you know I had to be in our Father’s house?” but
instead said, “in My Father’s house.” Before His ascension, the Lord said to Mary Magdelene, “I am
returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). As believers, we are
sons of God, but we are not in the same unique relationship to God the Father as is Jesus Christ, the
Son of God!
At 12 years of age the Lord Jesus was fully aware of His unique relationship to God the Father. He was
the eternal Son of God—the second Person of the Trinity. He was God incarnate. Although He grew
naturally from infancy to manhood, He was an unusual child because He was fully God. He wasn’t
unusual in appearance or in physical strength, but in His behavior He was sinless—the perfect child.
His parents never had to give Him a “time out” or a spanking. Ask any parent today and they will tell
you that such a child isn’t just unusual, but such a child doesn’t exist! No wonder verse 51 says that
“His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” He was certainly an unusual child!
Think of our Lord’s unusual behavior during the time His family was in Jerusalem for the Passover
feast. The other boys from Nazareth were probably running around the city, taking in the sights or
playing hide-and-seek games and doing other preteen activities. On the trip home they were likely
goofing around, out of the sight of their parents, at the outskirts of the homeward-bound group. Our
Lord, however, was in the Temple, discussing the things of God! Verse 46 says that He was “in the
Temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” He wasn’t
being flippant or argumentative. He was a child who loved God’s Word and wanted to discuss God’s
Word. And “everyone who heard Him was amazed at his understanding and His answers.”
After this event in Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus returned home to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary, and
was obedient to them. What an unusual statement about a 12-year-old! The fact that He was the Son
of God meant that He was the perfect preteen. The Lord Jesus, as God, was an unusual Child.
2. The Lord Jesus, as Man, was a normal child. If you had lived in 1st century Jerusalem and had seen
the caravan from Nazareth arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover, would you have been able to pick
Jesus out from the other preteens that were in the group? Would He have had a halo? Sorry, no halo!
Would He have been dressed in a white robe? Not unless you’re looking at an artist’s rendition of
Jesus! You won’t find a halo or a white robe in the Bible, not even when He was an adult. At 12 years
of age, the Lord would most likely have worn a hand-me-down, well-worn, earth-colored robe for the
long trip. Maybe He had a new robe in his pack to wear to the Temple on the great feast day, but the
new robe would likely have been earth-tone as well.
From a distance, Jesus was just an ordinary boy, indistinguishable from the other 12-year-old boys in
appearance. We probably wouldn’t have been able to pick Him out of the crowd. Why not? Because He
was truly human! He was “fully Man.” As a human child, the Lord Jesus lived a normal Jewish boy’s life
in an ordinary small town in Israel. As a normal human child, He grew and matured from infancy
through boyhood to manhood. He ate and slept and learned and grew. He grew physically and
mentally and socially, as verse 40 tells us: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with
wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” However, if we were to come closer to the group of boys
and circulate among them, it wouldn’t be long before we would recognize Jesus. He would be the
friendly, unselfish boy who always helped, who shared with others, who was responsible, who was
obedient—the boy whom everyone loved! “Jesus grew...in favor with God and with men” (v52).
Certainly the boy Jesus was an unusual child because He was 100% God, but He was also fully Man.
He was 100% human, and therefore the Lord Jesus, as Man, was a normal child.
Be a friend like Jesus!
In the last verse of Luke 1 we read about the growth and maturing of John the Baptist: “And the child
grew and become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” There’
s a significant difference between that verse and the final verse of Luke 2, where we read about the
growth and maturing of the Lord Jesus: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God
and with men.”
John the Baptist was “strong in spirit.” That is, he was spiritual and dedicated. He pleased God and
was greatly used by God, but John the Baptist was an austere person, ascetic in his lifestyle, and
probably not the kind of person we’d naturally find attractive or with whom we’d easily make friends.
Jesus, on the other hand, was not only strong in spirit and spiritual—He was friendly and sociable as
well. Jesus grew in favor with people, as well as with God! At one point during His public ministry, Jesus
spoke about the differences people noticed between John’s asceticism and Jesus’ accessible lifestyle.
“John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine...The Son of Man came eating and
drinking...a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:33-34). Jesus was open and accessible to
people. He was a well-liked person, as a boy and as an adult. “He grew in favor with God and men.”
Jesus made friends easily. He would have been voted the best-liked student in Hebrew School! He
reached out to people in a kind and loving way, and encouraged them. He helped them in their times
of need—whether a small physical need, like the need of a meal, or a great emotional need, like the
death of a loved one. As He was then, so He is now. What a Friend we have in Jesus!
Our Lord Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), and now He asks us to follow His example.
Jesus specifically asked us to serve others, following His example, when He washed his disciples’ feet.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I
have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is
greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know
these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).
Jesus wants us to be friendly, open, and accessible to people, as He was. He asks us to be humble,
kind, compassionate and gentle (Colossians 3:12-14). He asks us to come alongside people who are
in pain or distress, comforting and encouraging them (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He asks us to bring healing
and strength to people who are frail and weak (Hebrews 12:12-13). He asks us to serve others, as He
has served and cared for us. “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you”
He’s our perfect Model! Be a friend like Jesus!
Grace Bible Chapel of Springfield, Illinois