Download or listen to The Second Sunday of Christmas, “Different Kinds of Necessary” (Luke 2:40-52)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are different kinds of “necessary.” You can tell what kind it is by how easily you can get away with not doing it, or how long you can go without it. So there’s a kind of necessary that’s like a dentist appointment. It’s necessary because you made the appointment, but you can easily change it or not even go, and there probably aren’t going to be major consequences. Then there’s the kind of necessary like getting out of bed in the morning. You may be able to get away with it once in a while, but you probably shouldn’t try it too often. Then there’s necessary like eating and drinking. You can go for a while without food or water, but not very long. And then there’s breathing, and you can’t go very long at all without breathing. You can tell how necessary it is by how long you can go without it. But you can also ask, necessary for what? A dentist appointment is necessary for making sure your teeth are healthy, and for getting them cleaned once in a while. Getting out of bed is probably necessary for you to keep your job, or for taking care of your children, or whatever else you need to do that day. And eating, drinking, and breathing are necessary for life itself. Different kinds of necessary.
So what kind of necessary is it when Jesus says in Luke 2: “Didn’t you know that it is necessary for Me to be among the things of My Father?” Mary and Joseph are on their way back from Jerusalem to Nazareth after the feast of the Passover. Apparently they go up every year, and in the year when Jesus is twelve years old, they are almost back when they realize Jesus isn’t with them. They assumed that He was among their relatives or friends who are also traveling between Jerusalem and Nazareth. They spend two days looking, and they finally find Him on the third day in Jerusalem, in the Temple, sitting with the teachers of Israel, listening to them and asking them questions. And Mary says to Jesus what any parent would probably say, “Child, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching for you anxiously, with anguish and panic.” Jesus says, “Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be, that it is necessary, for Me to be among the things of My Father.” Not Joseph, but His real Father. It is necessary. Didn’t you know?
What kind of necessary? Necessary for Jesus? Maybe in one sense, according to His flesh. Since He is fully man, He grows and learns as any other child. He hears the Word and learns it, meditates on it, memorizes it; it shapes and forms Him. But in the other sense, according to His divine nature, He doesn’t need to hear the Word. He is the Word, made flesh. He doesn’t need teachers; He is the Teacher of Israel. In fact, the other fifteen times that the word “teacher” is used in Luke’s Gospel, it refers to Jesus. This is a mystery that is not unraveled for us, but as God Jesus doesn’t need anything. And yet, this necessary is a divine necessary. Necessary according to God’s Will, which Jesus joyfully does. This is not the last time that Jesus will say something is necessary. Actually, in Greek, “it is necessary” is just one little, three-letter word. It is necessary. Jesus says, here, “It is necessary to be among the things of My Father.” He says, “It is necessary for Me to preach the Gospel in other towns, also” (4:43). “It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected and die and rise” (9:22). “It is necessary (edei) for the Christ to suffer these things and enter His glory” (24:26). “It is necessary for all the Scriptures to be fulfilled concerning Me” (24:44). These things are not necessary for God, as if He Himself needed them. If they did not happen, God as God would not change. But they are necessary for us. And in that sense, God could not be otherwise than who He is in Jesus for us. These things are all divinely necessary.
But what kind of necessary are they for us? Are they necessary like a dentist appointment, that you have to go to once in a while to make sure everything is okay? Get cleaned up and checked out, and then you don’t have to go for another six months? Are they necessary like getting out of bed? Something you have to do to avoid serious consequences, but you don’t really feel like it? Or are they necessary like eating and drinking and breathing, necessary for life itself? Let’s hear Jesus as He talks to Martha a little later in Luke’s Gospel.
Martha has a long list of necessaries, of cooking, cleaning, and serving—perhaps what many of you have been doing the past two weeks—and she’s a little annoyed and frustrated with her sister, Mary, who is just sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. But Jesus says, “Martha, you’ve got a whole list of necessary things. But there is really only one thing needed; Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (10:40-42). Mary knows that, finally, there is only one thing necessary: to sit at the feet of Jesus and receive His words of eternal life. She knows, like Peter, that there is no where else she could go, because He alone has the words of life. He alone is life.
You’ve got your whole list of necessaries, for tomorrow, this week, this new year. So do I. But which of them is the one thing necessary? Which of them is needed above all? About which of them, when you are lying in your casket, will you say, “I need this.” We must follow the example of Mary, and sit at the feet of Jesus to receive what He has to give us. Nothing else is as absolutely necessary as Jesus and His Word of life. Jesus is the bread from heaven which alone gives life to the world. And probably, if anyone asked us which of the things on our long list of necessaries is the one necessary thing, we would say, Jesus. Especially since we’re here on a Sunday morning! Of course we’d say Jesus! And it’s all very holy and pious to say it here in this place. But what about tomorrow morning? Or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, next Sunday? It’s one thing to say “Jesus,” it’s a whole other thing for our lives and actions to show it. We’re very good at putting Jesus at the top of any list on Sunday, but we’re also very good at shuffling our list of necessaries when it suits us. But you can tell what your one thing necessary is by how easily you can go without it, how long you can go without it, by asking, for what is it necessary?
What is the one thing for which you’d move everything aside? What is the thing you will do your best not to miss, no matter how hectic things get? What can you not go very long without? For what is it necessary? We could call that one thing your “it is necessary.” We could also call it your god. The gods we make have a way of getting their due, even when we say or know that something else is more necessary. Repent, people of God. Repent of all those other so-called necessaries. If they are not Jesus, they are not life. And, in the end, they will, like all idols, turn to dust and blow away.
But Jesus knows what is necessary, and He does what is necessary, not for Himself, but for you. It is necessary for you that He be a child learning and living the Word of God. It is necessary for you that He preach the Gospel here also. All His suffering, dying, rising, ascending is necessary. His fulfillment of the Scriptures is necessary. His giving, and your receiving; the washing and the eating and the drinking; the breathing of the breath of life, His Holy Spirit, into you. All of it is necessary, and He does it all. The will of His Father, as He says in John’s Gospel, is that He lose none of those whom the Father has given to Him, and that He raise them up on the last day—that He raise you up on the last day. His work is necessary, and He will continue to do it until the day it is no longer necessary, when He comes and raises His own from the dead. “This one thing is needful; all others vain—I count all but loss that Christ I may obtain!” (LSB 536:1, 5). And He will lose none of those whom the Father has given Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/4/14