Respect for Children
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Respect for Children

Luke 2:39–52  (ID: 1475)

When Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search of Jesus, they were astonished to find Him learning in His Father’s house. Like them, we know that parents must train their children in godliness. In this sermon, however, Alistair Begg points out that it is ultimately the Father’s sovereign initiative to conform all His children to the image of His Son. With this truth in mind, Christian parents must seek Christ in humility and trust His plans for their sons and daughters.

Series Containing This Sermon

Parental Priorities

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Luke 2:39:

“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.”

“How could this possibly be?” you say. Well, this afternoon, after church, I instructed one of my children to get out of the car and go and look for another one of the children, and within the space of sixty seconds, I then drove off and left both of them behind. And I was just about to go onto the freeway when I realized, I said, “Where’s that girl?” And then… So don’t let’s get smart, you know. I hear these parents all the time saying, “Oh, I can’t believe they left the boy in Jerusalem. What were they thinking of?”

“Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 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.’”

Now, think about this for a minute. Jesus might equally well have said, “Where in the world did you go? How could you go away for a whole day and not know I was missing and then not be able to find me?” But typical parental response—blame it on the kid: “How could you possibly do this to your father and I?” In spite of the fact that they just took off without paying attention!

Jesus says, “‘Why were you searching for me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

There are little vignettes in the Gospel of Luke, which Luke records and none of the other Synoptic writers do, which actually can only have come from Mary herself. They’re a kind of little parental insights that Luke must have gleaned from conversations, and this certainly is one of them. It’s one of the few references that we have to this period of time in the developing life of the Lord Jesus.

And what I’d like to do is just focus on this fifty-second verse for a moment or two as we end our time tonight, because in it we have a pattern which is established for us. It says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and [with] men”—the fourfold development of a child. First of all, he grew in mental abilities; he grew in wisdom. Presumably, it means here that he grew in practical, spiritual goodness. That he also grew in stature—that physically the boy Jesus began to develop. He was a country boy. He lived in the home of a carpenter, and as people from the neighborhood would come around, they would say, “Jesus, you’re certainly growing. You’re a big boy now. You’re beginning to look much more like Joseph. You must be doing a lot of work around the place.” All of those comments must have been just the common grasp for Jesus as he continued through his early teenage years. He grew, we’re told, “in favor with God.” There was that spiritual development of his life. It doesn’t mean that Jesus Christ was morally imperfect and in need of something that was to be added to him in any way but simply that in this development of his perfect experience there still was expansion in his relationship with God the Father. And not only did he grow in this mental and physical and spiritual dimension, but also, in his social development, he grew in favor with men.

Now, in natural terms, we expect that younger brothers and sisters will take on something of the characteristics of their elder brothers. And Jesus is our Elder Brother. Romans 8 tells us that—verse 29. It tells us that it is God’s plan to make all his children like their Elder Brother Jesus. And for this reason, the development of Jesus as a boy provides the basic pattern of development for our own children. And therefore, as we think about how well we’re doing in rearing children, we have a kind of fourfold test to be taken: How are we doing in the moral development of our children, in the mental development of our children; in the physical development; in their spiritual development; in their socialization? And as parents, we have the responsibility of disciplining our children away from their natural inclinations to sin and training them up by our precepts and by our examples to become all that God intends for them to be.

Training children is primarily a parental responsibility.

Now, that isn’t to state anything except the obvious: training is primarily a parental responsibility. Training is a parental responsibility. In youth ministry, with adolescents, it is not uncommon for parents to phone up to speak to someone concerning their adolescent children, and they want to know—probably from a youth pastor or someone—why their boy or their girl is the way they are. Very often the response must be, as graciously and as kindly as it can be conveyed, to say to the parents, “You know, dear ones, you’re going to have to face a fact: that your son or your daughter did not emerge to be this individual in a vacuum.” And so we need to talk about the responsibility of the husband and wife and their relationships, in order that by their example and by their lifestyle, by their heartfelt relationship with God, they may be able then to instill values in their children which do not pass simply from our heads to their heads but rather from our hearts to their hearts. And all may not be the way we think it is.

In the winds the other afternoon, one of two crabapples at the entrance to our driveway blew down. I’ve always had a problem with this tree; I never thought it was right. It never seemed… It had a twin, and the twin seemed to be doing much better: flowered better, grew stronger, the leaves held for longer. And its brother on the left-hand side somehow just didn’t match up to the characteristics, but I could never put my hand on what it was. I would go into stores every so often and say, “I have this tree, and it has a brother, and, you know, there’s a big one and a wee one.” And the guy tolerated all that kind of jargon and gave me boxes of stakes, which you drove into the ground all around your tree, and these stakes would then juice up the tree, and the tree would grow up and be big and strong and beautiful like his brother on the other side. I drive those stakes all around them—nothing at all.

And the other day it became apparent. The wind blew very strongly, blowing both crabapples with great force, and the boy on the left lay down and died, while the other one remained strong. I couldn’t believe it. It snapped right off at ground level, about five inches or seven inches in diameter. And when I went up to it, I discovered the problem: that it was rotten from the core and had never developed a root structure. There was a measure of growth, and superficially glancing at the two of them, unless you turned your eye upon it keenly, you might just assume that both of them were doing okay; it was just that one was a wee bit ahead of the other. But in actual fact, one was dead, and it was only a matter of time before it became apparent.

And tonight, those of us who’ve been entrusted with children need to recognize that our children are already learning from us, whether we think we’re teaching them or not—that our children are learning more by our associations; by the way we use our checkbook; by the way we drive our car; by the things we watch on our television when they’ve gone to bed; by the things we bring home from the video stores, if ever we do; by the way we approach worship on a Sunday, no matter what we say about it. Our children are real smart, real perceptive, and we cannot evade the fact that the responsibility is ours.

By and large, the average church will have a child 1 percent of their time; the home has him or her 83 percent of the time and the school for the remainder. And the sad fact is that we are often trying to do in our churches, on a 1 percent basis, what we can’t accomplish, and we’re neglecting the 83 percent period when children are exposed to us on a dynamic, interpersonal level. The home marks the child for life. The home. And failure to understand this will find us scurrying all around, apportioning blame in every department while failing to recognize the privilege and challenge which is given to us.

What should we do with these youngsters? Hey, you tell me—or let the Bible tell us all. Hey, that’s the answer. And I stand up here and talk about this, I feel like the man I told you about before, who left university with a PhD in psychology, and he began to give a talk on twelve definitive principles for child-rearing. I think he called it “A Failure-Proof Guide to Raising Your Children.” And then he got married and had a child. He changed the talk to “Twelve Pointers for Child-Rearing.” And then, as the child began to grow, he changed the talk to “Some Generic Thoughts on the Business of Having Children.” Eventually, after seven or eight years with three or four children, he was giving a talk on “What Not to Do in Parenting.” And so I don’t want anyone to think tonight that I am suggesting anything that I’m not dealing with myself.

I came across an acronym some time ago that I want to use for any of you who care to take notes tonight. I’m going to give you this: a quote, a poem, and then we’re done. It’s an acronym on the word respect. Respect. What should we do with our children in teaching them to be respectful?

R: we need to teach them reverence towards God, his truth, and those in authority. Reverence towards God, his truth, and those in authority.

E: we need to teach them to be enthusiastic in fulfilling the responsibilities that are given to them. Enthusiastic about it. Oh, yes, our children will display the sullen side of their natures, in just the same way that we do from time to time, but we cannot just bow down and accept that. Some will be more naturally enthusiastic than others, and some will need a little bit of a pin in their bottoms to try and help them along the way. And we as parents need to know what it is that when the pin is needed and when the pat is needed and when the hug is needed—whatever it is. But we need to encourage them towards the enthusiastic fulfillment of responsibility. If we tolerate reluctance in their attack upon duty when they are wee, when they are small, then we will breed adolescents who are equally reluctant and men and women who carry that into their lives.

S: we need to encourage them to be sympathetic towards the needs of others. Sympathetic towards the needs of others. And they will not learn that by a seminar. They will learn it when they see us, won’t they? If we are cynical and cold concerning people’s need, we will breed children who are cynical and cold. If we have an empathetic heart towards those around us who are less fortunate or whose circumstances are poor in some way, if we are concerned for people in wheelchairs, if we reach out to the unlovely, if we try and take ahold of the person who seems to be lonely and helpless, then we will discover that our children do likewise. And we need to encourage them and commend them for the sympathy of their hearts displayed in their concern for other people. Children are not naturally sympathetic towards those who are less fortunate. Children will naturally make fun of people who are either too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. And it will be at our knees that they learn this.

Reverent towards God. Enthusiastic in fulfilling responsibility. Sympathetic towards the needs of others. P: prompt in all aspects of life. Prompt in all aspects of life. All of us face the great challenge of this. We try and leave things to the last minute, if we’re put together in that way. I know I do. I can go the airport in less time than anyone else, so I think. And yet promptness is a measure of our respect and sincere concern for other people. That’s what promptness is. It’s a measure of sincere respect. That’s why we’re supposed to be prompt in worship: because it is a measure of our sincere respect first for the Kings of Kings, who’s always here on time, and secondly for those around us who have begun to prepare their hearts in worship. We will never breed children who are prompt while we ourselves are always like the cow’s tail.

E: economical. Economical. Teaching children the old phrase from our mothers, “Waste not, want not.” I was telling some humorous anecdotes to someone in our home the other night of how my mother refused to allow herself or anyone associated with her ever to leave anything upon a plate where she had been given food by somebody else. She might allow us, if it were her food; there might be a measure of sympathy there. But if it was somebody else or someone else’s house, it had to disappear from the plate. I use that phrase because she was a master at making things disappear from the plate. One of my earliest recollections is of her being confronted by the most enormous breakfast she’d ever seen in her life. We were staying in a bed and breakfast. Some well-meaning lady piled sausage upon sausage on my mother’s plate. She hardly ate a thing for breakfast, but I knew she always cleaned her plate, so I sat to watch carefully. I want to see the “Waste not, want not” principle in action now. I want to see her cheeks bulge with the sausage. She cleaned her plate. She ate a portion, and the rest she put in her purse. Wrapped in paper napkins, the sausage began to disappear from the plate. And out she came with her handbag, as we called it then, and I said, “Now where are we going?” She said, “To feed the seagulls.” So, somebody ate it, even if it was only the seagulls. But you know, we live in such a wasteful environment, such a trash-it mentality that we’ll never teach economy to our children unless we’re committed to it ourselves.

C: courageous. C: courageous in standing for what’s right. Courageous in standing for what’s right. The spirit of Daniel in our young men: “Even if everybody does it, not me.”[1] It’s going to take courage.

And T: truthful in all aspects of life. Truthful in all aspects of life.

What will this involve? Well, it will involve the positive commitment that we make to developing in our children a taste and a thirst for these things. It will involve the negative dimension of showing him that he needs, she needs, to be submissive and respectful to parents, to elders, to those in authority, to God. Solomon says if you refuse to discipline your son, it proves you don’t love him; if you love him, you will be prompt to punish him.[2] Discipline your son in his early years while there is hope; if you don’t, you will ruin his life.[3]

We thank God tonight from our hearts for children’s ministry in this church. But when we’ve prayed for the Sunday school teachers and those who have our children in their care, and when we’ve thanked God for all that they’ve taught them… And one day, when I get to heaven, I’m going to look out the Sunday school teacher who showed me the way of salvation so much and so clear that I went home to ask my dad if I was too young to become a Christian. I don’t know who the Sunday school teacher was, but I know she must have made it very plain that Sunday morning. I’m going to go look for her and thank her for being so faithful with a bunch of squirming, unruly little infidels. But when we’ve acknowledged it all, we cannot evade, loved ones, the responsibility which falls to us.

The great privilege of touching children with eternal values is given to us all, not just the moms and dads.

This poem is not my favorite, but the picture is a good one:

I took a piece of plastic clay,
And idly fashioned it one day,
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It bent and yielded to my will.

I came again when days were past;
The bit of clay was hard at last.
The form I gave it still it bore,
But I could change that form no more.

I took a piece of living clay
And gently formed it day by day
And molded it with power and art—
A young child’s soft and yielded heart.

I came again when years were gone;
He was a man I looked upon.
The early imprint still he bore,
But I could change him then no more.

The great privilege of touching children with eternal values is given to us all, not just the moms and dads. The single people in our church touch our children, too, as they come around our homes and by their life and by their example instill in these tender lives things that will matter for time and for all of eternity.

Let’s commit one another to God’s care as the day draws to a close:

Dear heavenly Father, look upon us in your grace and goodness now as we face the challenge of a new week, as we look to a new day—back to school and work and the chores of family life, the responsibilities that are ours. Thank you that you are a God who is able even to break in and transform our failures of the past, that you’re a God who’s able to restore the years that the locusts have eaten,[4] that it’s never too late, with your help, to see a real and transforming change in our lives and in the lives of our youngsters. We commit us and them to your care tonight.

Thank you for this day, Lord Jesus Christ. Take us in safety. Watch over us. Fill us with your Spirit, and make us useful to you and to one another. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

[1] See Daniel 1:8.

[2] See Proverbs 13:24.

[3] See Proverbs 19:18.

[4] See Joel 2:25.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.