NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It is not insignificant that the Empowering Kingdom Growth task force led Southern Baptists to look first at the Kingdom family. Tom Elliff provided us with wonderful biblical material to look at the seven pillars of a Kingdom family. That material continues to be of great value to our local churches. We cannot lose sight of the truth that we will not be able to develop Kingdom churches until we first establish Kingdom priorities in the home.
Last year I partnered with Richard Ross to co-author a book entitled “Parenting With Kingdom Purpose.” It is not the traditional parenting book but serves rather as a primer for developing Kingdom purpose in the home. This study was mandated by studies indicating that youth ages 13-19 now form the largest unreached people group in America. Further, we are challenged by research indicating that a large number of youth, who grow up in homes where parents are involved in local churches, do not return to church once they leave the home for college. We must address these critical issues. This material, which focuses on age-appropriate Kingdom activities, is a wonderful companion to the material Tom has provided for us.
I think we would all agree that Jesus was a man with clear Kingdom focus. But have you ever asked what transpired in His earthly home that helped to shape this focus? In this article I want to look at a familiar biblical story in a new light and see what we can learn from Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus.
— Parents model a Kingdom priority.
Luke tells us that when Jesus was 12 years old, His parents took Him to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. I would encourage you to read the account in its entirety in Luke 2:41-50. At age 12, Jewish children celebrated a rite of passage we refer to as their Bar (Bath) Mitzvah. It was at this time that Jewish children became spiritually accountable. This was a spiritual mile marker! It is important that our children have mile markers in their lives that become anchors for their faith. Parents can help children experience and remember these events.
Did you notice the emphasis at the beginning of verse 41? “Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.” This was not an exceptional event, but a customary one. Mary and Joseph had provided a climate in which spiritual development was the norm, not the exception. A closer look at the larger context of this passage will reveal this lifelong focus.
In verses 21-24 we encounter the story of the circumcision and presentation of Jesus. If you read these verses carefully you will notice the repetition of an important phrase — “according to the law of Moses” (v. 22) … “just as it is written in the law of the Lord” (v. 23) … “according to what is stated in the law of the Lord” (v. 24). In verses 25-35 we read about Simeon’s prophetic praise of Jesus. This event occurred because the parents of Jesus had brought Jesus to the temple to perform what was customary under the law (v. 27). Verses 39 and 40 serve as somewhat of a summary for this entire section. “When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.”
Did you notice the pattern? Jesus’ earthly parents had followed the dictates of Scripture at every point in their nurture of the son God had given them. It is important that the Kingdom-focused parent study God’s Word to discover all the principles He has provided for the nurture of those children He has placed in our care. Further, it is critical that we present them to the Lord and constantly remind our children that we believe them to be both a gift and a stewardship from the Lord.
We often skim right by verse 40 without considering the role of the parents. Jesus’ balanced development did not occur in a vacuum; it occurred in a home where parents focused on physical, intellectual, social and spiritual development. Do your children know that you are as concerned about their spiritual development as you are about their physical or mental development? Is there any evidence of this concern?
Consider a few questions. Do you spend more time helping your children with memorization of multiplication tables or Scripture? Which wins out: ballet lessons or Wednesday night Bible study? Youth camp or soccer camp? Are you more concerned with their physical diet or their spiritual diet?
I was preaching on this text recently in a local church. After the service, a young mother came up to me and tearfully confessed, “When you asked the question about spiritual diet, my pre-teen daughter asked me a penetrating question: ‘Mom, why do you ask me every morning if I have taken my vitamin, but you never ask me if I read my Bible?'” The signals we send are subtle, but important ones.
— A Son’s focus on Kingdom business.
Pilgrims in that day traveled in large family groups. Women and small children often went ahead while the men and larger boys followed along behind. Each group was discussing the topics most relevant to them, and the children would often play as the caravan traveled at a leisurely pace. You might want to develop the mental picture of a traveling family reunion. When evening came they would reassemble in family groups for the evening meal and sleep. It was at this point that Mary and Joseph discovered their son missing. The very next morning they headed back to Jerusalem and began the search in a city still crowded with pilgrims.
Verse 46 is telling: “They found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” We don’t need to guess His whereabouts. He was in the Temple sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. Have you ever wondered where Jesus developed such a hunger for God’s Word? His parents had nurtured Him in a context that promoted a thirst for spiritual knowledge.
But wait, don’t miss verse 47: “And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.” The tables have turned! The learned biblical scholars were so taken by Jesus’ knowledge of Scripture they were asking Him questions. When you read this, don’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus was a fully human 12-year-old boy. How had He developed such a depth of understanding? His parents had taught Him God’s Word in such depth that He astounded the theologians of His day. Of course, we cannot discount the factor of His deity at this point, but neither should we ignore the supporting influence of His parents
When His parents finally speak to Him about the anxiety they had experienced in searching for Him, His response is clear. “‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked them. ‘Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?'” (v. 49). Here is the Hemphill paraphrase: “Why are you surprised to find me here? You taught Me that My purpose was to advance My Father’s Kingdom and accomplish His will. Where else would I be?”
— The obedient Son.
Verse 51 is not incidental to the story. “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” While it is clear that Jesus has some sense of His unique relationship to God the Father, He willingly submits to His earthly parents. He knew that it was the will of His Father in Heaven for Him to obey His earthly parents.
Kingdom parenting and obedient children go hand-in-hand. In Ephesians 6:1-2, Paul instructs children to honor and obey their parent, because it is right to do so and the commandment to obey contains a promise. Don’t forget that in this same passage Paul tells parents they must parent in such a manner that they don’t stir up anger in their children, but rather “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” We stir up anger when we teach one thing with our words and another with our actions. Obedience follows when parents guide their instruction by God’s Word.
— Balanced development.
It is not insignificant that verse 52 virtually repeats verse 40, even though they are separated by nearly 12 years of development. Mary and Joseph had parented the infant and the developing pre-teen in a balanced manner so that He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with people. Many parents pressure their children to develop in one or two of these areas of life but often neglect the others. They push their children to develop sports skills and get into the right clubs at school but neglect intellectual and spiritual development.
“Wisdom” involves the ability to apply knowledge. All that Jesus learned was viewed through the prism of God’s Word. As parents we must ensure that our children develop a Christian worldview. Their intellectual development must be based on the understanding that all truth comes from God.
“Stature” indicates that Jesus developed physically. The carpenter’s trade required both physical strength and stamina. If you have ever been to the Holy Land, you will be awed by the physical stamina required to travel by foot as Jesus did. We must help our children understand that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and must be given to God in service.
“Favor with God” indicates that Jesus had been parented in such a manner that He had a passion to please the Father and accomplish His will. When you read the Gospels, don’t lose sight of the role of Joseph and Mary in the nurturing of Jesus.
“Favor with people” tells us that Jesus knew how to relate to others. We can see this throughout His ministry. Children flocked to Him. He felt equally at home with the outcasts and the upper castes. This tells us His parents had ensured that He had social skills.
The ultimate goal of all parenting is that we raise children who know that their purpose in life is to advance God’s Kingdom, by His power and for His glory! I want my children to make an impact for the Kingdom.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the Southern Baptist Convention’s national Empowering Kingdom Growth strategist.