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The ABCs of Salvation

Luke 2:41-52

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.


There are few things in all this world more important than the religious training of children. We are given some insight as to the importance of that in the life and the ministry of our Lord. In the New Testament we are given great detail concerning the birth of Jesus. Then, for the remainder of his life until he enters his public ministry as a full-grown man, there is almost nothing said about those years, except that which is given to us in Luke.

Chapter 2 in the gospel of Luke is worth our careful investigation, as it tells us that Jesus reaches the age of 12 and goes to the Temple in Jerusalem where he listens to and responds to the religious leaders of Israel. In that chapter we find those first recorded words that Jesus spoke: “Don’t you know,” he said to his mother, “that I must be about my Father’s business?” That one experience and that one statement by Jesus give us tremendous insight concerning the ABCs of salvation.

The background to those words and to this experience is tremendously important. Mary and Joseph went annually to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. That was in obedience to the law of the Old Testament that said that every Jewish male should go to the city of Jerusalem each year to celebrate the three major feasts of their nation: the Feast of the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of the Tabernacle.

Following the exile, when the children of Israel were taken into captivity and then scattered all over the world, it became practically impossible for the Jewish men to keep this law. That is, they could not return to Jerusalem three times a year. In fact some of them could return to Jerusalem only once in their lifetime. Only those who lived in the land of Palestine could return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. And by the time of Jesus, it was only the Feast of the Passover that was strictly observed by all of the devout Jews. 

Every year Joseph made a trip from the little town of Nazareth in Galilee down into the city of Jerusalem to observe this religious holiday and this celebration of the Jewish Passover. It was not required by the Jewish law that women participate in this, but often they accompanied their husbands on these pilgrimages. Sometimes they even brought their children. Other times large families including all of the relatives—the uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and other people in the villages—would get together and travel as a large group from their cities down to Jerusalem to celebrate this most holy of days among the people of God. They traveled that way for the sake of fellowship and for the sake of safety. It must have been an exciting and delightful experience to make such a pilgrimage as they traveled in large caravans.

The city of Jerusalem usually had a population of 25,000 people, but about a million people a year poured into that city so that they could celebrate these three religious feasts. At Passover time, there would be thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world gathered in this little city of Jerusalem to celebrate.

The central point of all the activities was the Temple. It occupied 20 acres of land. It could hold as many as 210,000 worshippers at one time. You put 210,000 people in the Temple and scatter hundreds of thousands of people throughout that city and it would be a time of excitement, a time of fellowship, as well as a time of worship. This particular year that is mentioned in the book of Luke was especially meaningful because it says that Jesus had reached 12 years of age.

When a Jewish boy turned 12, he became what they called a son of the law, which meant that in the eyes of the Jewish community, he no longer was a boy—he had become a man. Up until that time his religious life was the responsibility of his parents, but now he assumed responsibility for his own religious life. It was his responsibility to participate in the fast, it was his responsibility to offer up the prescribed prayers, it was his responsibility to wear the garments of an adult male, and it was his responsibility to make the annual pilgrimages to the city of Jerusalem to observe these feasts. He became a man in the eyes of the Jewish community.

Jewish people still practice that custom. When a young Jewish boy is between the ages of 12 and 13, he has what is called his bar mitzvah. This is the same practice that went on in the days of Jesus. The word bar means “son,” and the word mitzvah means “commandment.” When a Jewish boy has his bar mitzvah, he becomes a son of the commandment.

Jesus had reached the age of 12. He had gone to the elders of the synagogue in his community. They had examined him and blessed him, and he had become a man in the eyes of the Jewish community. This was the first Passover to be observed after Jesus had become a son of the law, so it must have been an especially exciting time for Jesus and his family. It may have been the first time he had ever traveled down to Jerusalem. When he saw the beautiful Temple with its marble and its gold, and when he saw all of those thousands of people in their various clothing from all over the world, it must have been a thrilling experience for Jesus our Savior. 

When the families had completed the activities of the Passover, they headed back home, and the scriptures say they accidentally left Jesus behind.

We must not think that Joseph and Mary were neglectful in so doing. It was customary on such a pilgrimage with such a caravan that the women would leave several hours ahead of the men. They traveled more slowly, so they just started out on the journey and the men who walked faster would start several hours later. By nightfall, they would catch up with the ladies, make their camp, spend the night, and then get up and start on the journey the next day. 

In all probability Mary and the ladies started out several hours early, and she thought that Jesus was still with Joseph. Joseph and the men who stood around and talked and visited thought in all probability that Jesus was with Mary. Besides that, there were many relatives, uncles and aunts, cousins, and children. So it is perfectly natural that they might not have noticed that Jesus was not with them. But nightfall came and they pitched camp. As the families began to assemble, someone realized Jesus was not there. Frantically, Mary and Joseph began to go around to their brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles, and aunts, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. The same kind of anxiety that would fill any parent’s heart filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and as soon as possible, they turned and started on their journey back to Jerusalem. They had traveled all day. Now they were going to travel another day in order to get back there, so a couple of days had passed. They looked around and found Jesus in the Temple talking with the religious experts of the day.

It was not unusual for a thing like this to happen. At the Passover season, these religious teachers would come down to the Temple and they would expound on the law of God. The amazing thing is that Jesus, as a 12-year-old boy, had such an intense interest in the things of God. He had been so captivated by their teachings on the law that he had lost track of time and forgotten about getting back to his parents. 

The leaders were amazed that this young man should know so very much about the Word of God and the will of God. They were astonished by Jesus’ religious interest and his understanding. When his mother found him, her reaction was perfectly natural. She asked, “Son, why have you done this to us? Don’t you know we have been out of our minds with worry about you?” And Jesus’ response was, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

Somewhere in all of this experience, there had come to Jesus an awakening—a new awareness of his special relationship with God, and God’s claim upon his life. No doubt he had a good deal of knowledge of God that had been passed on to him through his training as a young boy. But suddenly it seems that a new awareness comes upon him, and he realizes that he has a unique relationship with God that other people do not have. He has a deeper understanding that God is expecting him to get on with his work, so he responds to his mother by saying, “Mother, don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

I find in this experience some marvelous suggestions concerning every child’s relationship to God. Jesus never sinned and so Jesus did not need to be saved. However, there are still some hints and suggestions in this experience that can guide every man and woman, every father and mother, and every parent in knowing how to guide their children into a closer relationship with God. This experience presents to us—I believe in symbolic form—the ABCs of salvation.

The first step is awareness. A person must become aware of God, who he is, and what he is like. A person must also become aware of the claim that God has on his life. 

The second step is belief. People must move from being simply aware of God to putting their personal faith and trust in him. They must make a commitment of heart and life to the will and the way of God.

The third step is confession. Having become aware of God, and having put your faith and trust in him by believing in him, there must be an open and public acknowledgement of him. There must be a confession.

Awareness, belief, and confession are the ABCs of salvation that every parent and every child needs to know.

1. Awareness

It all begins with awareness. There came in the life of Jesus at the age of 12 an awareness, a new and fresh awareness of who he was. He became aware of his relationship to God and his responsibility to God, so he said to his mother, “I must be about my Father’s business.”

I believe that there comes in the life of every child at some point or another such an awareness. They become aware that God is, and not only that God is, but that God is a Father. They become aware that God loves them and God has a plan and a design for their life. I believe that there also comes in the life of every child an awareness that they are responsible to God. When that time of awareness comes in the life of a child—that God is, that God is Father, that God holds us accountable and responsible for our actions—the child has reached what we call the age of accountability. This means that from that time on, the child must assume responsibility unto God for his own relationship to God.

We do not believe and the Bible does not teach that a child is born guilty of sin. Hence a child does not need to be saved. Hence we do not baptize infants. We believe though, that there comes a time in the life of every child that they become aware of God and aware of what sin is. When that awareness of God and of sin comes, the inevitable act of every person is to rebel against God and to break the laws of God. When that time comes, that person is responsible unto God for their own sins, for their own actions, and for their own decision to turn from sin and to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We call that the age of accountability.

When is the age of accountability? The scriptures do not tell us. If you used only the Old Testament, you might get the idea that it was quite late in life. 

Do you remember the experience when the children of Israel came to the borders of the Promised Land, and God told them to take the Promised Land but they did not do it? As a result of their disobedience, God said every man and woman above 20 years of age shall die in the wilderness; only those 20 and under shall live. Seemingly in the Old Testament, God was holding everybody above 20 years of age accountable for their own actions. It may be that that’s the basis for our idea that a person becomes grown up at age 21. We are at least used to that idea and that’s probably the basis for it.

In the New Testament the age was much younger than that. As I said, among the Jews, it was 12 years of age when a boy went through his bar mitzvah and became a son of the commandment. He assumed responsibility for his own relationship to God. But nowhere in scripture are we ever told that any specific age is the age of accountability. We only know that there comes in every person’s life at some time an awareness that God is, that he is our heavenly Father, that we are responsible to him, and that we are accountable to him. When that time of awareness comes, a person must then be led to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Unless there is an awareness of God, unless there is a consciousness of sin, unless there is a willingness to turn from that sin and trust in Jesus Christ, there can be no salvation. 

Parents have the responsibility to teach and train their children to know when that awareness begins to dawn upon them. The child will know that is happening and will able to make the right kind of response to the heavenly Father.

A little girl came to her mother one day and said, “Mother, what is God like?” The mother was cooking in the kitchen and didn’t have time to talk to her, so she said, “Ask your father.” The girl went to her father, “Father, what is God like?” And he answered gruffly from behind the paper, not wanting to be disturbed, “Ask your mother.” It wasn’t long until there was an empty chair at their table. The little girl had died from a sudden illness. When they looked through her belongings, they found a notebook and it said this: “If I had lived as long as my mother and father, I would know what God is like.” 

Teach your children what God is like. He is a loving, heavenly Father, but he expects certain things out of us. We are to respond to him in faith and trust, and salvation always begins with that kind of awareness.

2. Belief

The second step is belief. We must move from an awareness of God, sin, and responsibility to belief and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Jesus said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” What is the Father’s business?

The Father’s business is redemption. The Father’s business is the saving of lost souls. We know from John 3:16 that God the Father so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life. We know from the book of Acts, chapter 16, when the jailer said, “What must I do to be saved?” that the correct response is to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” There must come a time in our lives when we cease to trust ourselves and our own ways and instead place our childlike faith and trust in Jesus. We must believe in the Lord Jesus who came to be our Savior.

Little children will instinctively come to Jesus if we do not hinder them. They know that he is the Son of God. They know he is the Savior. They know they need to trust in him. If we don’t interfere, and if we don’t put stumbling blocks in front of them, when the time is right and that awareness comes, they will instinctively come to Jesus. That’s why Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

If we could have the faith and the trust of a little child, if we could believe as simply, completely, and as surely as a child does, then we could so easily enter into the kingdom of God. The problem is that we so complicate the process and we want to come to God as a PhD instead of coming to him in the simple faith and trust of a little child. We must be aware that God is, that he is our Father, and that we have a responsibility to him. And then we must move from that awareness to faith and trust often spoken of in scripture as believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Confession

The third step is confession. Awareness, belief, confession. Listen to the Apostle Paul: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” A believing heart and a confessing mouth—both of them fit together in the totality of the Christian experience.

Listen to Jesus: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him shall I deny before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall I confess before the Father which is in heaven.” If you want God to stand up for you in heaven, you had better stand up for him on earth. If you want Jesus to claim you before God, you had better claim him before men. That confession—that open and public avowal of your faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus—is an essential part of God’s redemptive plan.

Jesus felt that imperative in his heart and soul to make that commitment open and public. “Don’t you know, Mother, that I must—as a sense of sacred duty—be about my Father’s business?” That simple process—awareness, belief, confession—constitutes the ABCs of salvation for any person, anywhere, any time. The decision is always a personal one. We must come to the place where we can speak of God as our Father.

Mary said to Jesus, “Your father and I have been so worried.” Jesus said, “I must be about my Father’s business,” as if to say, “Mother, have you forgotten who my Father really is? He has first claim. His will has priority in my life, and I commit myself to that purpose and to that will.” The same kind of resolve, and the same kind of commitment needs to be in the heart and life


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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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