Ministry Resources

Luke 2:41-52 – My Father’s Business

Author: Dr. George Flattery


The aim of this message is to encourage people to believe in Christ and to be committed to His business. The text, Luke 2:41-52, gives us the first recorded public words spoken by Jesus. What Jesus said here, at age 12, has an impact on all of our personal lives and our family relationships.

Each of the points of the message is applied to our own lives. First, we have noted that children, no matter how intelligent, should obey their parents. Parents, on the other hand, should make room for the uniqueness of their children. Second, Jesus alone was the unique divine-human Son of God, but we have a strong sense of identity as human sons of God. Third, like Christ, we can have a strong sense of destiny. We know that God has a plan for our lives. Fourth, we must be obedient to the commands of Christ. We must be about the Father’s business.


Many people today are wearing bracelets with the letters WWJD, which means, What would Jesus do? It’s an important question. In finding the answer, the best source of information is the words of Jesus Himself. Today, we will discuss the very first recorded words spoken by Christ. His first words have to do with who He is and His relationship with God and His family. These words tell a lot about Jesus and challenge us to be like Him.

Our text is Luke 2:41-52. We will focus mainly on the words of Jesus that are recorded in verse , but the full passage provides the context. The New American Standard version reads as follows:

41 And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
42 And when He became twelve, they went up {there} according to the custom of the Feast;
43 and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it,
44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they {began} looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
45 And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him.
46 And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.
47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
48 And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.”
And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be [en tois tou Patros] in My father’s {house?”}
50 And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
51 And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all {these} things in her heart.
52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

It is important to understand the context of this passage. Joseph and Mary regularly attended the Passover festival in Jerusalem. Every male was expected to attend Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed the Passover and together occupied seven days. When Jesus was 12, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to observe the Passover festival. We do not know whether or not this was the first time for Him to attend the Passover. In any case this visit turned out to be very memorable.

According to William Hendriksen, “Jewish sources reveal no unanimity with respect to the exact age when a boy became a ‘bar mitzvah’ (son of the law), that is, when he attained the age of maturity and responsibility with respect to the keeping of God’s commandments. The prevailing opinion may have been that at the age of 13 a boy should fully shoulder that responsibility but that in order to become prepared to do this it would be wise for the parents to take him along to the temple even earlier.”

Whether at age 12 or 13, the time arrived when a boy would bear greater responsibility. As John Nolland says, “vows became binding, parental punishment would become more severe, and fasting could be expected to be sustained for a whole day.”

Jerusalem, of course, was the headquarters of the Jewish religion. Many famous Jewish teachers would have been present for Passover and Unleavened Bread. No doubt some of them stayed over to teach in the Temple. This was a great opportunity for Jesus to sit as a student among them. He would not have had this opportunity in Nazareth. When His parents left Jerusalem, He stayed and visited the Temple.

My message will focus on the words of Christ. His words tell us a lot about Him and about His relationship to His family. Both young people and parents can learn much from this text.

The Reaction of Jesus

When Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind. His parents were not aware that He stayed. The absence of Jesus, the search of his parents, and their finding him resulted in a moment of tension. We’ll observe the concern of Joseph and Mary and then focus on the reaction of Jesus.

Parental Concern

Joseph and Mary were anxious. We cannot blame them much for this. Have you ever lost track of one of your children? Any parent who has looked for a child he or she couldn’t find will understand this. Sometimes it results in sheer panic. Usually there is both consternation and joy in finding the child. The consternation is born out of concern for the person. Often the parents blame the child for being lost or away. Sometimes a momentary rebuke is given. Then the joy comes!

Jesus Surprised

Mary’s question seems normal enough. Keep in mind that Joseph and Mary found Jesus on the third day of their search. In verse 48 we read: “And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” Mary, the mother spoke, but she specifically included Joseph, his father. They were both anxious.

Although Joseph and Mary knew much about Jesus, full understanding had not yet dawned. Jesus was both human and divine. According to Luke 1:26-35, the angel Gabriel announced that Jesus would be called (v, 32) “the Son of the Most High.” When Jesus was just eight days old, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the Temple (Luke 2:25-33) in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Simeon who recognized that salvation would come through Jesus. Luke writes (v. 33) “And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.”

When His parents found Him, Jesus was totally preoccupied with His interest in spiritual matters. He was surprised by the anxiety of His parents. He asked, “Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be [en tois tou Patros] in My father’s {house?”}

Jesus was surprised by the concern of His parents. No doubt His own understanding of His identity was well ahead of the insights of His parents. Clearly, He thought that they ought to have known why He was in the Temple. Obviously, His they had not thought of this moment as a time when Jesus would be involved in doing His Father’s will. In this moment of tension, He expressed surprise.

Jesus was a model child. He was perfect for each stage of His growth and development. To some degree tension arose between his role as the son of Joseph and Mary and his role as the Son of God.

Family Life

Sometimes, in family life, tension arises between parents and children. The tensions would not be the same as with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but would be important to us nevertheless.

We raised two boys. Sometimes, no doubt, we as parents were not as understanding as we should have been. It was our duty to be as prayerful and sensitive as possible to their needs. On the other hand, the boys were obligated to be obedient to us until they reached maturity. Now, they are raising their own families. We as grandparents smile a bit when they face some of the same tensions.

New tensions arise with each generation. Steve Roemerman called my attention to a book entitled Growing Up Digital. The author, Don Tapscott, writes about the newest generation coming up. He calls this generation the Net Generation or N-Generation. Children and young people today are growing up using the Internet as an integral part of their lives. Children are becoming authorities.

As he wrote the book, Tapscott interacted with 300 N-Geners and recorded some of their comments. Some give their real names; other go by nicknames.

Puttputt, age 10, writes, “My Mom doesn’t let me e-mail, so I’m busy contemplating a scheme.”

One 14 year-old called WWIII, writes: “Tech stuff is natural for me, it takes me a minute to set up a computer. It takes my parents an hour.”

Burn, a 14 year old Free Zoner, says, “I am making my dad’s business home page. He knows zippola about HTML. He knows how to go places (on the Net) but that is not hard.”

Loren Verity, age 16, from Victoria, Australia, says, “My father hates having to get me to show him how to do things on the computer now, but he does ask because he has to.”

Dectire, age 12, from New Zealand, writes: “My mother can’t even enter Windows without step-by-step instructions.”

· Rufo Sanchez, just 11 years old, from Rochester, New York, states, “I can solve a lot of computer problems with ease, but it tends to tick people off when I give them an exact description of the problem at hand. Most of the answers they give me I have already tried and when I tell them this, they act as if I shouldn’t know as much as I know. It seems to me that a lot of people on tech-support lines have not as much experience as I’d like them to have.”

Today, young people, please note the attitude of Christ. He was the Son of God. He was different than any of us. If anyone had a right to overrule His parents, He did. But what did He do? After expressing surprise, He resolved the tension by returning with His parents and being obedient. Luke writes (v. 51) “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them.” The will of the God, the Father, was for Him was to grow, develop, and mature under the guidance of His parents.

The Sonship of Jesus

Now, in this very human situation, the Sonship of Jesus emerges.

Jesus was both divine and human. We see how this works out in an everyday setting.

Parental Understanding

As we have seen, Joseph and Mary knew the identity of Christ, but this was still a moment of revelation for them. After all, they had taken care of baby Jesus, changed his diapers, clothed Him, nurtured Him, disciplined Him, and taught Him. They had seen Jesus do all the normal things that children and young boys do. In all these things His life was normal. As a model boy, he was obedient to His Mom and Dad. Given all this, His identify as the Son of God might have faded a bit into the background for them.

Now, unambiguously, clearly, Jesus talks about God as His Father. He had recognized Joseph as His earthly father and would continue to do so. But now, His emphasis is on Father God. This brings everything into focus for His parents and, to some extent, advances their understanding of Jesus.

Christ’s Understanding

Did Jesus fully understand, at age 12, what it meant that God was His Father? We know that Jesus (v. 52) “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (NAS) Certainly, He came to know more fully in an experiential way what Sonship meant. Intellectually, as well, His knowledge may have grown.

However, we can only speculate about the fullness of Jesus’ knowledge. Alexander McClaren declared, “We are not warranted in affirming that the Child meant all which the Man afterwards meant by the claim to be the Son of God; nor are we any more warranted in denying that He did.” We do know that Jesus knew enough to be in complete harmony with the will and plan of God for His life. Later, in His ministry, His proclamations make the point very clear.

Mary’s Response

Sometimes, parents have the unique problem of having precocious children. They have a young person in their home who is exceptional. Their child is very bright or talented far beyond his or her years. It is sometimes difficult to understand such children.

When Jesus spoke, Joseph and Mary (v. 50) “did not understand the statement which He had made to them.” However, Mary sets a good example for parents. Luke says (v. 51, compare Luke 2:19) “and His mother treasured all {these} things in her heart.” (NAS)


Throughout the ministry of Jesus, His Sonship would be challenged. This was the most controversial aspect of His life. The controversy over this fact would lead Jesus to the cross. Even today, this is the great point of controversy in the world. Many will accept Him as a prophet or teacher, but not as the Son of God. Despite controversy, no fact is more central to the gospel. Jesus is God. He is the Son of God. Today, we must accept Him as the Son of God. This is crucial to all that we are and do.

Your Decision

The fact would become full blown at the midpoint of his ministry. Jesus gave His disciples an exam. Matthew (16:13-17) writes:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He {began} asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 And they said, “Some {say} John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal {this} to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (NAS)

Many people claim that all roads lead to God. My wife, Esther, and I were watching Larry King Live on CNN. His guest was Madonna. He asked her, “Do you believe in God.” She replied, “Yes, I do. I study all religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and others. I believe that all roads lead to God.” Clearly, Madonna does not know who Jesus is. Because she does not know Jesus, she does not know God.

We do not hold that Christianity is unique because of pride of place, our loyalty to our background, or for other such reasons. Christianity is unique because Christ is unique. He is the Son of God, the only One worthy to die for our sins. It was God who was in Christ dying on the cross. The apostle Paul writes (II Cor. 5:18-19):

18 Now all {these} things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (NAS)

Our Sonship

Many young people, and even older people, struggle to find their identity. I have a friend who is over 60 who says he is still asking, “What am I going to be when I grow up?” Fortunately, we as believers can who we are in Christ.

God is the Father of all men, but there is a special relationship with those who believe in Christ. We are sons of God as believers in Christ. We, too, can be sons of God through Christ. Paul (Gal. 3:26, NAS) writes: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (NAS)

Christ is unique, the only begotten Son of God, but through Him, we become sons. We are brothers of Christ and heirs with Him. Whatever else we may be, we can live with confidence because we are children of God.

You may feel that you don’t count, that you lack talent, that you can’t relate well at school, that you are not liked. Just remember that you are a child of God. And God will help you overcome all the other problems.

The Destiny of Jesus

The presence of Jesus on earth was not an accident. He came to fulfill a very definite plan and destiny for His life. Throughout His ministry, He did what was in harmony with that plan.

Necessary Actions

Jesus declared that He “must” be doing what He was doing. He had the inner sense of compulsion born of the Spirit of God. There was a sense of destiny about it. In Luke’s gospel (compare John 3:14; 4:4; 9:4; 10:16; 20:9) we note the following:

Jesus must (dei) preach (4:43),

Must (dei) suffer (9:22),

Must (dei) go on his way (13:33),

Must (dei) stay at the home of Zacchaeus (19:5),

Must (dei) be delivered up, crucified, rise again (24:7),

Must suffer these things and enter into his glory (22:37 (dei); 24:46),

Must fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies with reference to himself (24:44).

Our Savior

The destiny of Christ was to become our Savior. Inwardly, He had that compelling sense of love and duty to seek us out, to search for us. That destiny would cost Him greatly. Even Christ seemed to be taken back by the intensity of the suffering.

At about the ninth hour, when Christ was dying on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? “that is,” My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (NAS) The Lamsa edition, translated from the Aramaic, says: “My God, My God, for this I was spared!” And a rendering in the margin says, “This was my destiny!”

Our Destiny

Many leaders have a strong sense of destiny. Ordway Tead states: “The greatest of leaders have been sustained by a belief that they were in some way instruments of destiny, that they tapped hidden reserves of power, that they truly lived as they tried to live in harmony with some greater, more universal purpose or intention in the world.”

Many of the great Biblical leaders were chosen and destined of God for their roles. As examples, We think of Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Paul. Typically, they came to their ministries in humility and uncertainty about themselves. Then, God would make it clear what their destiny was.

A sense of destiny is sometimes connected with a strong sense of the mercy of God. For example, let us consider the attitude of John Wesley.

John Wesley’s father, Samuel, was a dedicated pastor, but there were those in his parish who did not like him. On February 9, 1709, a fire broke out in the rectory at Epworth, possibly set by one of the rector’s enemies. Young John, not yet six years old, was stranded on an upper floor of the building. Two neighbors rescued the lad just seconds before the roof crashed in. One neighbor stood on the other’s shoulders and pulled young John through the window. Samuel Wesley said, “Come, neighbors, let us kneel down. Let us give thanks to God. He has given me all my eight children. Let the house go. I am rich enough.” John Wesley often referred to himself as a “brand plucked out of the fire” (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11). In later years he often noted February 9 in his journal and gave thanks to God for His mercy. Samuel Wesley labored for 40 years at Epworth and saw very little fruit; but consider what his family accomplished! Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, W. Wiersbe, Moody Press, 1984, p. 251

We need not be in the category of the great leaders to have a sense of destiny. As believers, we know that God has a plan for each of our lives. We can all have a sense of destiny. We are His servants. We are all sons of God and are being led by the Spirit. The Spirit will guide us faithfully to fulfill the plan of God for our lives.

The Duty of Jesus

Jesus was concerned about His Father’s business. His main desire was to do the will of His Father and to accomplish His purpose. He makes this clear in what He says next.

The Question

Seeing the concern of His parents, Jesus asked two questions. The second question literally asks (Vincent), Did you not know that I had to be “in the things of my Father.” Translators differ as to what “the things” are. The main translations are “in my Father’s house” or “about my Father’s business.” Others translate this phrase with the words “in the affairs of my Father” or “among the relatives of my Father.” Actually, the Greek text does not specify any of these things. According to John Nolland (Word), one approach to interpreting this phrase is “to opt for multiple layers of meaning through the use of a deliberately ambivalent expression.” This approach includes all the others.

With regard to the two main translations, there is not a big difference between “in my Father’s house” and “about my Father’s business.” It is the Father’s business that is conducted in the Father’s house. So today I will highlight the King James approach which is “about my Father’s business.” It was Christ’s duty to be about His Father’s business.

Father’s Business

Jesus claimed that He must be about His “father’s business.” What was His Father’s business? When His parents found Him, He was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.”

Jesus was in the Temple as a thoughtful learner, not as a teacher. When the rabbis taught, they asked a lot of questions. Students would answer and ask their own questions. It was very interactive. At the time, the business of the Father for Jesus was to be a learner.

The full nature of “Father’s business” would become clearer later in the ministry of Jesus. We have previews in Luke 1:30-35 and 2:26-32. Jesus Himself made a strong and comprehensive declaration in the synagogue at Nazareth. Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, he proclaimed (Luke 4:18-19):

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (NAS)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, He healed the sick, He cast out devils, He proclaimed release to the captives, and He set free those who were downtrodden. The more political aspects of this proclamation will be fulfilled in a greater way when He returns to rule over the earth. The ultimate consummation of His Father’s business is still ahead.

Our Task

We are often challenged to valiantly do our work. Sometimes, however, we are not clear on what that task is.

Robert Orben asks, “Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.’ It sounds exactly like our family vacation.”

However, we need not be unclear. Jesus has given us specific commands. What is our task? Today we have focused on the first recorded words of Jesus. As we continue to read His words, His heart and vision become clear. He desires that all people everywhere hear His gospel. He has given the command to “go” and we must obey.


We have talked about: (1) the reaction of Jesus to the concerns of His parents, (2) the Sonship of Jesus, (3) the destiny of Jesus, and (4) the duty of Jesus. We have applied each of these points to our own lives. First, we have noted that children, no matter how intelligent, should obey their parents. Parents, on the other hand, should make room for the uniqueness of their children. Second, Jesus alone was the unique divine-human Son of God, but we have a strong sense of identity as human sons of God. Third, like Christ, we can have a strong sense of destiny. We know that God has a plan for our lives. Fourth, we must be obedient to the commands of Christ. We must be about the Father’s business.

If you have not yet accepted Christ, I invite you to come to Him today. You can then build your life on a relationship with this Jesus, the unique Son of God. Many of you are believers. As believers, we must bow again and again at the foot of the cross. It is there that we learn most about who we are, why we should be grateful, and why we should commit ourselves to the business of the Father. Let us commit ourselves again today.


Your comments on this message are welcome. You may wish to ask a question, tell what was helpful to you, discuss a point further, or comment in some other way. If this message has led you to accept Christ as Savior, please let us know. We welcome the opportunity to interact with you.

George M. Flattery, Ed.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.

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