When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival 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. 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. (Luke 2:42-47)
I love thinking about the life of Jesus, especially when He was a youngster. We read in the Gospel of Luke that when Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem. He had outgrown His parents’ teachings, and it was time to enter His next phase of life to have immediate connections with the law, knowledge of His requirements, and personal responsibility for His own learning. I remember taking one of my youth confirmation classes to a Synagogue in our community, and the Rabbi spoke lovingly about the Jewish confirmation process. I still have this from an email he sent me as we prepared to teach together about why Jesus would have been in the Temple as a 12-year-old:
“The rite, which is still in existence, consists of the preparation by the candidate of certain passages of the law, which are to be recited, and his presentation to the rulers and elders, that in conversation with him, they may ask him questions, testing his knowledge, and he may submit to them questions arising out of his training. It was to this ceremony of confirmation that Jesus would have been brought to at the age of twelve.”
From a young age, Jesus was cultivating His mind. Sitting at the feet of priests and rabbis, He was a sponge for knowledge. He wanted to know everything. If there had been a University in his town, He would have been the star student! Though the knowledge was already imbedded into His being, he continued to ask questions and interact with His elders. No doubt, when he spoke and asked questions, he astonished the leaders and caused them to shoot silent glances of wonder at each other. But I don’t think He was doing it to “show them up.” I think He was gradually moving into new and larger experiences and using this time to process the gravity of the coming years.
Reading Mark Noll’s books – Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind – brought Jesus’ personal learning life into real-time context for me. It came with a realization that “coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning.” The Shema commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength. This includes the whole mind and the whole being. Jesus invites us into a relationship with Him, and that involves all of our senses, including the mind. He does not invite us to simply read a book, or sit in a pew. He invites us to engage Him. He invites us to reach into history and pull out the foundations of our beginnings, to interact with scholars and teachers, to question and conquer, and to stretch the boundaries of our thinking. Unfortunately, as Noll argued, “Evangelicals do not, characteristically, look to the intellectual life as an arena in which to glorify God.” Through his books, Noll isn’t simply encouraging individual evangelicals or congregations to take up this life of academia; he believes we should cultivate an evangelical scholarly ethos, an intellectual tradition distinctively ours, to carry these goals forward. Like Jesus, it is not to “show others up,” it is to have a deeper thinking, deeper connection to the world in which we live.
This reminded me of another favorite passage. Deuteronomy 4:29 reads, “But if from there you will seek (inquire for and require as necessity) the Lord your God, you will find Him if you [truly] seek Him with all your heart [and mind] and soul and life.” The principle is that if we want to know something, we must not only think about that something, but actually experience it. It must be a part of each limb of our lives. “God may be able to think His way to reality, but we cannot. If we know God by experiencing him, so also do we come to know the world.”
Seeking involves engaging. Seeking involves experiencing. This idea is present in so many things we do as a church. We live in the midst of right here, right now. Problem solving is imperative. How can I give a quick fix and be done with this? Isn’t this the problem with so many of our cross-cultural relationships? We, Westerners, want to drop in for one week, see a community, do a project, check a box, and board a plane, boasting with accomplishment. Instead, as Noll proclaims, relationships take time. We must observe the people, learn the history, study cultural habits, live amongst our partners, walk in their shoes, and only then may we begin to grasp the highlighted points of their lives.
Jesus began at a young age, studying and kneeling at the feet of his parents and Jewish teachers and scholars. He immersed himself in the learning experience. He engaged with the intellectuals around him and asked meaningful, thoughtful questions. His priority was not to leave with his parents and remain on a particular plan or schedule, but to quietly remain behind to delve deeply in those matters about which he cared deeply. Should we, too, pursue mission, community, and even, dare I say, academia, with this same spirit of total commitment and investment, like Him?
 Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), Loc. 22.
 Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), Loc. 882.
 Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Loc. 638.