Introduction: One of the central passages of the New Testament concerning Jesus’ obedience is found in Philippians 2. In it the Apostle Paul sets forth Jesus as our example of obedience:
NKJ Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Here Paul says that believers are supposed to have the same mind as Jesus had when He obeyed His heavenly Father even to the point of death. This means that we are supposed to have the same obedient attitude in our hearts that Jesus had. But, due to His having taken on humanity, Jesus had to learn this kind of obedience just as we do. This is what the author of Hebrews tells us when he writes:
NKJ Hebrews 5:8 … though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
In the context of this statement, the author of Hebrews has Jesus’ suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross primarily in view, but we know He began to learn obedience and to suffer long before that, in part because the passage before us today tells us so. In this passage we can see how Jesus is an example of obedience for us both toward His earthly parents and toward His heavenly Father. We will examine each of these aspects of obedience, but we shall do so with a particular emphasis upon the importance of believing children seeing in Jesus Christ a special example for them.
I. Jesus Sets an Example of Diligent Obedience Toward His Earthly Parents vs. 51
This can be clearly seen in the first part of verse 51:
NKJ Luke 2:51a Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject [ὑποτάσσω, hupotássō] to them ….
The Greek word Luke uses here to describe Jesus as being subject to His parents can be used of involuntary obedience, where someone is forced to submit to someone else and do what they say. It is later used this way by the 10:17 when the seventy disciples return from their preaching mission “with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject [ὑποτάσσω, hupotássō] to us in Your name.’”
But here in Luke 2 this Greek word is used to describe voluntary obedience, where someone submits to someone else because he wants to. In other words, Jesus willingly obeyed His parents. He didn’t do so begrudgingly and with a sinful attitude like the demons who obeyed the seventy disciples! Sadly, however, there are many children who obey their parents like the demons obeyed instead of like Jesus obeyed. They have a bad attitude and only obey because they have to instead of obeying because they want to honor their parents as Jesus honored His parents. In this way He obeyed one of the Ten Commandments that God spoke directly to all children. It is the same one that the Apostle Paul later commanded children to follow:
NKJ Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey [ὑπακούω, hupakoúō] your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 ‘Honor [τιμάω, timáō] your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise….
You see, when you obey your parents as Jesus obeyed His parents, you honor them. This means that you show them respect and treat them as though you think highly of them.
Notice also that the commandment tells children to obey both of their parents, not just their fathers or their mothers, but both their fathers and their mothers. And this is just what Luke says that Jesus did. He says that Jesus was “subject to them” (italics mine), meaning both Joseph and Mary.
Sadly, there are many children that don’t do this. For example, maybe their mother has to tell them that they will be in big trouble when their father gets home in order to get them to obey. But this should never happen! You should never have to be threatened by punishment from your father in order to obey your mother. When this happens it just shows that you do not honor your mother as you should, as Jesus honored His mother Mary by obeying her just as he obeyed Joseph.
But what about when your parents do something wrong or treat you unfairly? Or what about when it is hard to obey them because they don’t seem to understand your point of view? Well, I think you can find encouragement from Jesus’ example here as well, because you can see that He understands what you are going through when it is sometimes hard to obey your earthly parents.
We see in verses 48-50 that Jesus knows what it is like to be misunderstood by His parents.
NKJ Luke 2:48-50 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Mary was not being fair when she scolded Jesus for staying behind and talking with the teachers in the Temple. She and Joseph should have known that He was supposed to be about His heavenly Father’s business, but they clearly did not understand this. Nevertheless, Jesus went back home with them and obeyed them anyway.
But this leads to another way in which Jesus understands what you might sometimes go through as young people who are called to obey your parents, for Jesus knows what it is like to be midway between following God’s will for His life and that of His parents.
Again, Jesus’ parents ought to have understood that He must be about His Father’s business. After all, they both knew who His true Father was! But we have seen in this passage that Jesus had to learn to balance His desire to follow His heavenly Father’s will with His obligation to obey His parents who struggled to understand. This is a part of what it means when Luke later says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (vs. 52). This leads us to our next main point.
II. Jesus Sets an Example of Diligent Obedience Toward His Heavenly Father vs. 49, 51-52
We have already seen how diligent Jesus was to obey God even as a child. This is what He was talking about when He responded to his parents as He did in verse 49:
NKJ Luke 2:49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
He clearly expected them to know that His Father’s business was the top priority of His life. But, as we have seen, in the face of their misunderstanding, He graciously submitted to them and obeyed them, and in doing so obeyed His heavenly Father in continuing to learn as a dutiful and loving earthly son ought to do.
In fact, I would submit to you that Jesus learned obedience to His heavenly Father even better through learning obedience to His earthly parents. As a child, Jesus had to grow just like the rest of us. And, even though He never sinned or disobeyed His parents, He still needed to learn as He grew more and more about what it meant to obey His parents, and sometimes this even meant that He had to suffer being treated unfairly by them.
Conclusion: As we conclude our examination of this passage, remember again the verse from Hebrews:
NKJ Hebrews 5:8 …though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
The ESV Study Bible notes give a good explanation of the meaning of this verse:
Jesus, though fully divine, was also fully human. he learned obedience through what he suffered. Though always without sin (4:15; 7:26) and thus always obedient, Jesus nevertheless acquired knowledge and experience by living as a human being (cf. Luke 2:40, 52), and he especially came to know firsthand what it cost to maintain obedience in the midst of suffering (see notes on Heb. 2:9; 2:10; 2:18; 4:15). As Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52), successive temptations were no doubt more difficult to deal with (cf. Luke 4:12), and as he obeyed his Father in the face of each temptation, he “learned obedience,” so that his human moral ability was strengthened. (BibleWorks)
Do you want to learn to obey your heavenly Father as Jesus learned to obey Him? If you do, then you must start with learning to obey your earthly parents just as He did. In doing so He left you a good and encouraging example. But if you struggle, then pay attention to what it says in verse 40:
NKJ Luke 2:40 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
Even though you will never be perfectly and sinlessly obedient as Jesus was, through His saving work you can have the same grace of God upon you that was upon Him! And you, too, can increase “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (vs. 52).