Pastor Joel Leyrer

Text: Luke 2:41-52

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Dear Friends in Christ, a span of 30 years lies between the record of Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his public ministry.  Within those three decades we have only one incident the Holy Spirit has chosen to share with us.  It is our Gospel lesson for today.

The account of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple is instructive for us on a number of different levels, but more than anything else it is a story of human drama.  Any parent who has ever lost track of their child and then felt relief at being reunited can identify with what Mary and Joseph must have gone through.  Our text is a marked display of contrasts: the anxiety of searching over against the elation of finding.

This morning we’d like to pick up on Mary and Joseph’s parental emotions toward Jesus as their twelve-year-old son and apply them in a spiritual sense to our personal relationship with Jesus as our Savior.  In both cases, it is a story of


We’ll begin by retelling in a little more detail the events of our text:  “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.”

Passover commemorated the flight from Egypt and escape from death through the blood of a perfect lamb.  Along with Pentecost (a beginning-of-harvest festival) and the Feast of Tabernacles (an end-of-harvest festival), it was one of three great religious festivals Jewish believers were obligated by Old Testament law to attend.  

As Jewish believers began to disperse throughout the entire then-known world – as well as the reality of long distances for those living on the fringe of the Holy Land – it became the custom of many to observe all the great feasts locally, but attend at least one of them at the great Temple in Jerusalem.  We are told Mary and Joseph regularly attended the Passover festival. 

This was not a quick trip.  The distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is about 90 miles as the crow flies, closer to 120 following the conventional route.  It probably took about a week of walking.  Whether Jesus routinely went with them or this was his first time, we are not told.

At any rate, “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.  Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.”

Before we award Mary and Joseph the “negligent parents of the year” title, let’s reconstruct the scene.  The typical pilgrim caravan consisted of women and children in the front and the men and young men in the rear.  At the age of twelve Jesus could have fit into either category.

What probably happened is a scene repeated in grocery stores and shopping malls to this very day:  Mom thought the child was with Dad and Dad thought the child was with Mom, when as a matter of fact he was with neither.  But it wasn’t until the end of the day that they figured this out.  After sorting through the friends and relatives who were also a part of their caravan, no Jesus.  Now what?

“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 questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and answers.”   Mary and Joseph retrace their steps.  After three days – one day out of town (at which time they discover Jesus is gone), one day back to town, and one day in town – they find Jesus within that large area surrounding the temple itself known as the temple courts where he was conversing with a group of spiritual leaders.

While it was not unusual for young inquisitive Jewish minds to ask questions of their spiritual leaders, what was unusual was the apparent role reversal taking place.  We are told that Jesus was asking questions, but to the amazement of everyone present he was also providing answers, and answers which contained such depth of insight that they took these learned men by surprise. Not to mention Mary and Joseph.

“When his parents saw him, they were astonished [literally “knocked out of their senses”].  His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ”  Jesus replies to Mary’s emotional remarks with his first recorded words in Scripture.  He answers with a couple of questions and assertions of his own. “ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked.  ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ ”

All of us have a hard time imagining what Jesus was like as a child or young person.  We get confused when we try to blend the two natures of Christ within the limitations of our own experiences.  How much did he know about himself as true man?  As true God was there anything he didn’t know?  Maybe the reason God has chosen to leave us with only this one incident from Jesus’ youth is to spare us from such confusion.  

But what bypasses us didn’t bypass Jesus.  He recognized the unique relationship between him and the Father, as well as the mission for which he had come to this earth.  “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”   Or as it is allowable to translate in the original language (and as some of us remember it), “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business (or affairs)?” 

And what is the business of the Father?  “God would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”  writes the Apostle Paul to Timothy.  The work of the Father is the work of salvation; consequently this is the work in which the Son also “must” or “had to be” be engaged. Therefore, Jesus implies to Mary and Joseph, it is natural that they should find him here.

“But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.”    Mary and Joseph did not fully grasp the mission of their son.  Nevertheless, Jesus was the ever-obedient child.  Another example of how, as man’s perfect substitute, Christ came to sinlessly carry out all the commands God makes of us (and we break), including the Fourth Commandment (honoring our parents). 

Thus concludes the account of Mary and Joseph searching for and finding Christ.  Let’s turn our thoughts to searching and finding as it relates to Christ and us today.

Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple.  Where can we find him today?  The answer may seem simple and obvious, but it is profound.  We find him in the Holy Scriptures. 

Toward the end of his Gospel the Apostle John declares why he wrote what he wrote: “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” What he said of his specific book applies to the Bible as a whole:  Here, in the Scriptures, is where we find Christ.

And here we also learn what he does.  For the remainder of our time, let’s consider two important reasons why we, like Mary and Joseph, must continue to search for Christ through diligent and repeated study of his Word – and then having found him, firmly cling to him in faith.

Reason #1:  He alone is the one who prepares us for and provides us with eternal life.  And when it comes down to our last breath – which we’ll all take one day – nothing else will matter.  Not our bank accounts.  Not our worldly achievements.  Not the legacy we’ll leave behind.   The only thing that will count will be knowing and clinging to Christ.

There have been a lot of great men in this world, but none of them can do what the God-Man Jesus Christ has done for us by his perfect life as our substitute, his selfless sacrifice in our place, and his glorious resurrection to prove that our sins have been forgiven. 

For example, can the world’s greatest playwright William Shakespeare say: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me?”  No.  But Jesus can. 

Can it be said of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar that theirs is “the only name given among men by which we must be saved?”  No.  But it can be said of Christ. 

Can Buddha or Mohammed or Gandhi say: “He who believes in me will never die,” and then back it up by rising from the dead?  No.  But Christ can, and Christ did. 

That’s why Jesus Christ is and must always be pre-eminent in the lives of those who bear his name.  Because Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone is the One who provides us with and prepares us for eternal life.   

Reason #2:  Not only does he provide us with the assurance of eternal life, he also provides us with strength for our present life. 

Jesus did not want his followers then or us today to think of the Christian life in saccharine or sugary terms where all is sweetness and light.  Instead he speaks of the opposite.  On the night before his death he said, “In this world you will have trouble…”    That trouble comes in various and individualized shapes and forms and intensity, but it comes in one degree or another to all of us who live in this world.

However, the sentence doesn’t end there.  It goes on… but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  The promise of Jesus’ presence in our lives to help us overcome our temporary but inevitable difficulties sustains us.  So, we search the Scriptures and find all kinds of strength for the journey and power for living. 

There we find promises such as “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” or “Fear not.  I have summoned you by name, you are mine” or “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” or “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

And our spirits are lifted because we know we are never alone, but always loved and always cared for.  Our senses may tell us otherwise, but our faith knows the Word of God and promises of Christ to be true.  So we watch and wait, confident and secure in his claims, knowing that he who said from the cross “it is finished” loves us with an everlasting love.

When Mary and Joseph found their son in Jerusalem we can well believe that their emotional state changed dramatically.  Anxiety was replaced by joy.  What they had fretfully searched for had been found.  And with the finding came peace and serenity.

So it is with us. 

When the frenetic pace of this world or the crush of responsibilities or the cares and concerns of making a living or fears about the future begin to crowd Christ out of our lives or our consciousness, like Mary and Joseph, let’s go searching for him.  He is not elusive.  We know where to find him. 

Then, clinging to him in faith, like Mary and Joseph, we’ll also find true peace and serenity – now and forever.  Amen.