Gospel Reading: Luke 2:42-52
But they supposing him to have been in the company went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem seeking him. And it came to pass that after three days, they found him in the temple.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
This story just goes to show that even good, godly, holy people, even the Saints–Joseph the Protector, and Mary the Theotokos, the Mother of God–even good people can lose place of just where Jesus is. For three days, Mary the Mother of God didn’t know where to find Jesus. How ironic is that?
We know many, many people don’t know where Jesus is, but we usually assume that it’s due to sin. We usually assume that it’s because there’s some fleshly, vain, evil pursuit. And because of their sin, they’ve turned their backs on God and that’s why they can’t find Him. Most of the time that is the case. But it’s not the case here. It doesn’t say that Joseph and Mary went to get sloshed at the bar and therefore they couldn’t find Jesus. It doesn’t say that they went to some wild party and then they couldn’t find Jesus. No, these are good, holy, godly people. And for three days they couldn’t find their twelve year old son.
Two big questions that I want to ask are:
Number one – How did they lose him?
And number two – How did they find him?
I think the answer to those questions can help us today as we ask ourselves the same question as we walk with Christ. Well, how did they lose him?
Well, in that day you didn’t really have SUV’s, mini vans, and highways. If you were going to Jerusalem, you didn’t just take you and your spouse and your son, hop in the car and drive in the car a day or two to get where you were going. You went by foot, or by donkey, maybe by horse. It was slow going, and quite often you didn’t want to travel alone or in a very small group like that because there were robbers out there. There were people along the highway that might rob you, that might hurt you. And so there is safety in numbers.
It was very common especially for the Feast of the Passover, because everybody was going to that! Everybody was going to Jerusalem. So huge, extended families: you’d have thirty, forty, fifty, maybe a hundred people all traveling together. They might have wagons and supplies, they might have different pack animals. They would have multiple tents to set up on a multiple day journey. And no different than today, all the kids and the cousins loved playing with each other, staying over in each others tents.
And so, on the way there, that’s exactly how it worked. Joseph and Mary traveled with siblings, cousin, aunts, uncles . . . and Jesus is twelve years old. And he has other cousins. He has other people out there that he likes to spend time with, and so he wasn’t always at the side of Joseph and Mary. Say, sometimes he’d be off over here with his aunt, with his uncle, with his cousins. They basically kept track of him and they arrived in Jerusalem, and it was a success. They took this whole journey, I don’t know how many hundreds of miles. They traveled for several days and Jesus was with them when they started. Jesus was with them for the journey, and Jesus was still there when they arrived at their destination. And so you know what they did on the return journey? They assumed that it would work the same way. And one of the biggest troubles you can get yourself into is to assume.
They thought, “Our son traveled with us, he stayed with us. This is the way it worked all the way there. Well, we’re ready to go, so we assume he’s still with us and he’s going to stay with us all the way until we get back.”
Just because God does something one way, one day, that doesn’t tie His Hands so that he’s incapable or unwilling to do things another way a different day. Moses got into big trouble for assuming. He was a holy man, but he committed one sin that kept him out of the promised land. You see, the first time, God told Moses to strike the rock with his staff, and then water would flow out of the rock to nourish, to quench the thirst of the Israelites. But the second time, God did not say that! The second time God said, “Just raise your staff up and then the water will flow.” What did Moses do? He assumed, “Well, God did it this way the first time; therefore it has to be identical. I have to strike the rock just like I did the first time.”
Well, it says in Corinthians that that Rock was Christ. The manna that they took was their Eucharist. The water that flowed from the Rock which was Christ, that was their communion wine, so to speak. And the striking of the Rock, that would be the crucifixion. Well, to strike it once is true. To strike it a second time messes up the whole analogy, because he didn’t die twice. And so when Moses disobeyed God’s word, God said, “This is a serious sin. You can’t go into the promised land. You’re going to die at the age of 120, seeing the promised land but not putting your foot into it,” because he assumed, instead of listening to God that second time around and saying, “Oh, this time God told me just to lift my staff up.” He wanted to totally base it on the past. He wanted to totally base it on, “Well, here’s how God told me to do it the last time, so I’m just going to keep doing it the same way every time.”
What kind of trouble would King David have gotten himself into if he had used the same strategy? Instead of listening to God and going out into battle with his sword, or leading the armies of Israel to victory, what if David as an adult had said, “Well, last time I ran into a big bad dude, I killed him with rocks.” Can you see adult King David with a sling? You think that would have worked for him? As a young boy, he tried on Saul’s armor and it just didn’t fit him; it was too heavy. As a child, it was fitting for him to use a sling. But as an adult, now he could wear the armor of an adult. And that, God said it was time for him to put that on. It was not time for him to go back to what God had done when he was a child, and to assume that that same thing was going to work every time.
God appeared to Jacob. Jacob had this vision of a ladder from heaven, coming from heaven to earth, and angels ascending and descending upon it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that that’s Him. “You shall see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” And if you think about it, what’s the foot of that ladder where the ladder actually touches earth? Well, that would be Mary. So she’s often called “Jacob’s Ladder”. And Jacob, at that point, he doesn’t go off into the woods and say, “Well, I’m going to build a temple here.” He doesn’t go to some high mountain and offer a sacrifice. He says, “No, this is the point on earth where God chose to make the ladder touch. God chose this place, so right here–this is where I’m going to offer a sacrifice.”
What if, for the rest of the history of the world, if we only worshiped God wherever we saw a ladder coming out of heaven and touching earth? We’d be waiting around for a long time. That was the way that God showed Jacob where to worship. But as time went on, God prepared a tabernacle. And God prepared a temple. And then finally, God prepared His Church and He dwells within us.
It’s dangerous to assume that just because God worked in a special way through this one particular group that you were with, or this one particular person that you were with, or this one particular author–God can get a hold of you through any route, through any device–but you don’t want to turn around and say, “Oh, well, there’s nothing more. There’s no greater fullness, there’s no higher up, there’s no further in. Whatever God did with me when I was twelve years old, whatever God did with my when I was twenty, He has to do it the same way every time.”
Even in Jesus’ miracles He didn’t do it the same way every time. He would heal one just by speaking, He would heal another by touching the eyes of the blind. He’d heal another by spitting into the dust and making mud and then anointing the person with that. Never assume that God gets in a rut. Never assume that because God works one way at one time, that His hands are now tied and that He has to continue doing things identically thereafter.
So they just made a simple assumption. “We traveled to Jerusalem and he was with us the whole time, so we think that if we leave and we travel back, He’s still going to be with us.” And then suddenly they looked around and they said, “Wait a minute. Where’s Jesus?”
Now, they did the right thing. They were godly and holy people. The moment they realized they didn’t know where He was, they stopped. Have you ever been at a point in your life where you know without a shadow of doubt that you’ve been following Christ? You’ve been walking with Christ, you’ve been doing the right things. And then for whatever reason, not because of any evil intent in your heart, but you just look around and say, “Oops, wait, wait, wait,” [stammering] “wh..where’s Jesus? Something’s different. Wherever Jesus is, that’s not quite where we are.”
Now, what some people do is they spend years just assuming that He’s with them. “Well, I know He was with me from the time I was ten until I was twenty, and I know He was with me from the time I was twenty until I was thirty…And here’s what I did during those twenty years. And I’m still doing the same thing now, going to the same place, talking with the same people, reading the same books, so…I know that He’s still with me.”
It’s up to us to follow Him. It’s not up to Him to follow us. So we always need to be vigilant, no matter how godly that person that you talk to has been their whole life, no matter how wonderful every book by this author has been before. Always be vigilant. Always be seeking and looking and just making sure that you are still with Him and that He is still with you.
And if you even have one day go by that you say, “Something’s not right. I don’t feel like I’m quite where Jesus wants me to be. I don’t feel like I’m quite with Him,” STOP! And figure that out before you take one more step. They didn’t just keep going back to Nazareth and say, “Oh, He’ll catch up eventually. He’s God after all. I know He’s twelve, and He’s our son, but He’ll figure it out.” That would have been sin. No, the moment they realized they didn’t know where he was, they stopped. And nothing else mattered. They put a stop to their journey, and the only thing that mattered at that point was, “Let’s find Him. Let’s seek him.”
I’ll tell you, if Mary the Mother of God needs to seek to find Jesus, how much more do you need to? How much more do I need to? No matter how long you’ve walked with Him, no matter how long you have faithfully served Him, there’s not a day that goes by that you don’t need to continue seeking Christ to make sure that you find Him, to make sure that you are with Him. So that’s the right response: Stop, and seek Christ freshly. Seek Him again. Do not arrogantly assume that because you have known Him so well in the past that you have no need of seeking Him today.
But then there’s the second question. How do you find Jesus once you’ve lost Him, once you look around and He’s nowhere to be found, and He’s not in your tent?
They checked their family’s tents, they looked under the wagons, they checked to see if He was riding out on a mule somewhere. He wasn’t anywhere. He was gone. Now, they could have sought anywhere in the world at that point. I mean, where are you going to find a twelve year old boy, especially in a big city like Jerusalem? Was in the video arcade? Was He out shooting pool? Was He out cow-tipping? Who knows what twelve year old boys do for fun, especially when you get a bunch of them together and there’s no parents around?
Now, of course they were a little more pious than that. They didn’t worry about Jesus being involved with cow tipping and video arcades. But where will He be then? He’s godly. He’s holy. Maybe He’s up on a mountain meditating somewhere. Maybe He’s off in a corner somewhere by Himself just reading the Bible. They knew to look for Him in a particular place. They found Him in the temple. Think about that. They found Jesus in the temple. God has always been interested in where He wants us to worship, and how He wants us to worship.
Right here in southern Illinois, I can’t tell you how many people I have met and talked to just within the past few years, recently. And they’ll say, “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus as the only way to heaven. I believe in the truth of the Scriptures. But, God is everywhere. You want to see my church?” And they’ll point to the woods, because we have beautiful forest around here in southern Illinois. I think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of this part of the country, the woods and the trees. And I have had more than one person from more than one family recently tell me that that’s where they find God. That’s their “church”. They’ll just walk around in the woods. They’ll walk around outside. They’ll hear the waters in the brooks, they’ll hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees, they’ll see the forest animals, they’ll look at the sky, and say, “Now, this is a real cathedral right here. God created this!” Did God create that? Yes. Is it beautiful? Absolutely. Should it even bring us to a point of worship? Absolutely. It says in Romans that creation itself tells us of the glory of God. It tells us in Psalm 19 that His handiwork declares His glory. So there’s a lot of truth in what these people are saying. I can agree with them to an extent.
But, what they’re trying to sell is nothing new. People in southern Illinois in the 21st Century are not the first people to think that the forest or a mountain or a hill is just so beautiful, that that’s where they need to go to find God, that’s where they need to go to worship. I can rewind 3000 years and find the same thing in the Old Testament, throughout the whole history of Israel.
God told Jacob where He wanted to be worshiped. Jacob saw the place where the ladder touched the earth, and that is the place where he worshiped God. God finally gave Israel a tabernacle in the wilderness. And after that tabernacle, God gave them a temple in Jerusalem. And yet for centuries, for hundreds of years, how often do you read through the books of the Kings in the Old Testament, that yeah, there’s a tabernacle there. There’s a temple there. But the Israelites, they are not in the temple. They’re not in the tabernacle. They’re out in the groves! They’re up in the high places. What are the high places? It’s hills with trees. So some places in the Old Testament you see the phrase “high places”. And in some places it says “the groves,” the groves of trees. You had Israelites; they were going up to these high places building their own altars and sacrificing to God.
Now obviously, it was totally evil if they were doing this to Baal, or to Ashtoreth or to Molech. Some of this went on, and it was an abomination. But many times in the Old Testament when you read about this, the Israelites were not worshiping some other god. Read it for yourself. In many cases they would go to these high places and worship Yahweh. They would worship Israel’s God. And throughout the entire Scriptures, there is not one time that God has anything good to say about that. Not once! He said, “This is my temple; this is how I want to be worshiped.” And they are up in the trees, they’re up in the hills, they’re up in the high place worshiping God in their own way. God gives them the temple of Solomon and then later Herod’s temple. And the people are out in the groves, they’re out in the trees worshiping God in their own way. And they would tell you, “Well, we’re worshiping the same God you are, the true God. We’re worshiping Yahweh. We’re not worshiping Baal, or Ashtoreth or Molech. And these trees – I mean, God created these trees, God created the sky. Why do I need this man-made building when I could be out in God’s creation, in a true cathedral?”
You read in Scripture that the way Moses built the tabernacle was not by accident. Was it man-made? Yes, but it was not man-architected. It was the hands of men that fashioned the gold, and the skins, and the leather, and the fabrics. But the architecture was by God. For it says in Scripture that when Moses was up on the mountain, that God showed him a pattern. God showed him a pattern. It’s as if Moses got to peek his head into heaven itself and see the countless myriads of angels, worshiping day and night before the throne of God, with the clouds of incense, the prayers of His people rising up before Him, not unlike Isaiah Chapter 6 when it says, “And I was lifted up and I saw the King in His glory and the train of His robe filled the temple.” And you see the angel, and you see the censer, and you see the hot coal the angel pulls out of there, and he touches his lips with it as an early prophecy of the Eucharist. Having touched his lips with this hot coal he says, “Your sins have been cleansed.” We see these glimpses throughout the Old Testament. And from this heavenly worship, God gives Moses a pattern of what worship is supposed to look like on earth. Think of the Lords prayer, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
However worship is done in heaven, is correct. God wants it done the same way here. So God shows Moses a pattern of heavenly worship. And then in the New Testament, the very end of the New Testament in the book of Revelation, the veil is pulled back. And after the Cross, after the Gentiles have been brought into the Church, after passing from the old covenant into the new, in the New Testament we look up and we get to see worship in heaven. And in the book of Revelation, what is worship in Heaven? There is a Liturgy with millions of people speaking in concert with one another, praying as with one voice, the angels, Christ incarnate, and the incense of our prayers rising up before Him, and the robes of the Saints. These white robes are the righteousness of the Saints.
They found Jesus, not at a high place.
They found Jesus, not in the groves.
They found Jesus, not in the temple of Dagon.
They didn’t find Him in some temple of Baal, some ancient Hindu temple where a cow is being worshiped. They didn’t find Him in places of entertainment. They didn’t find Him off in some solitary place.
When these godly people were seeking for Christ, they found Him in the temple, in the place that God chose for worship, where worship was being done according to His direction.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.