Have You Seen Jesus?

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“And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been searching in great distress’” (Luke 2:48).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Have you seen Jesus? He’s been missing for three days! We’ve been looking all over for Him. We’ve left no stone unturned. Where could He be? He’s only twelve. A small town boy lost in the big city, with hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Passover. I hate to even say these words aloud for fear that they might come to pass, but for all we know, He might be dead!
Oh, I know what you’re probably thinking: “How could you let Him out of your sight?” That same thought has been plaguing me. You can’t imagine the guilt I feel for failing to keep a closer watch over the son the Lord entrusted to my care. You must think I’m the worst mother ever!
We came to Jerusalem, just like we do every year, to observe the Feast of the Passover. We came to celebrate the redemption of God’s people, Israel, from the bondage of Egypt. When the Feast was ended, we left with our fellow pilgrims for the journey back to Nazareth. It wasn’t until we had traveled a full day that we realized that Jesus was not with us! Let me explain. We were traveling in a caravan with family and friends. The children belong to everybody, and everyone watches over them. The older boys enjoy many adventures as they keep their own company along the way. We just assumed Jesus was with them and we’d meet up with Him at nightfall. We had no reason for concern until we discovered that Jesus had not been with any of them all day. Not finding Him, there was nothing left for us to do but commend Him to the protection of God’s angels and head back to Jerusalem.
Have you seen our Jesus? Please help us find Him!
When something or someone is lost, it is often helpful to retrace your steps. Where did we last see Jesus? That’s right! He was in the temple. In last week’s Gospel, the verses preceding our text, Jesus was in the temple for His presentation. In today’s text, Luke continues that emphasis on the presence of God and the temple, with his account of the only event recorded in Scripture of Jesus’ life between the days of His infancy and baptism at the age of thirty. Out of all of the incidents that Mary might have told Luke when he interviewed her, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write this story as representative of Jesus’ childhood.
At twelve years of age, Jesus is about to take His place in the Jewish community as “a son of the Law.” Scripture indicates that Joseph and Mary were faithful in their religious duties, and participated in all the required rites and ceremonies, including the annual Passover festival in Jerusalem. But, as we tell our youth at their rite of confirmation, the time comes in which each of us must take responsibility for our own spiritual growth, and that is just what Jesus is doing according to His human nature. After being “lost” for three long days, Jesus is “found” in the temple courts. The child who was presented here at forty days of age now takes a seat among the teachers of the Word of God. And all who hear Him are amazed at His understanding and His answers.
Where did Jesus get this understanding and answers? It’s so easy for us to assume that He just knew these things from birth. He is, after all, the eternal, all-knowing God. But in taking on human flesh, Jesus set aside His divine attributes. He hid them, if you will, and never used them for Himself, but only for those things necessary for His work of salvation and for works of mercy. But our text provides us with the answer: “[Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” Jesus got this understanding and answers in much the same way as you and me—from hearing and studying God’s Word—though not held back by sin, Jesus’ intellect and will grew at a much faster rate than yours or mine.
It is impossible for us to penetrate the mystery of this development in Jesus—His body and soul and mind untouched by sin, unchecked by any result of sin, His mind and His soul absorbing the wisdom of God’s Word as a bud drinks in the sunshine and expands. Jesus’ mind and His soul, which are truly human, grew in strength and wisdom, but in perfection and in power beyond anything that is possible to sinful mortals. Yet Jesus’ development was absolutely normal. It is the development of all other human beings since the Fall that is abnormal and stunted.
Twelve-year-old Jesus makes quite an impression on the crowd. Mary and Joseph are also astonished—and a bit perturbed—when they find Him. This is evident from Mary’s words: “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for You in great distress.”
We might expect parents in this situation to be very stern. But the Greek softens Mary’s complaint by having her call Jesus “child,” instead of “son.” Perhaps this softening has something to do with the place where they finally find Him—in the temple courts. If a twelve-year-old boy were missing today, probably the last place we would expect to find him would be in church. And if we did, we probably would not expect to find him sitting in on a Bible study.
Certainly over the years, Mary and Joseph had brief moments when they were reminded that Jesus was not an ordinary child. When the angel announces His conception and birth. The shepherds repeating the angel’s good news of great joy. Simeon’s song telling that this child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. The visit from the Magi who come to worship the Baby King. Each of these instances provide a glimpse of the uniqueness of Jesus’ and His work. But in their everyday living as a family, most of the time, things probably seemed rather normal. Then situations such as this would awaken again their sense of the deep responsibility that the Lord had placed upon them. That, more than anger and frustration, must have been their feeling as Mary rebuked Jesus.
Jesus’ response to His mother is His earliest words recorded in any of the Gospels. Mary had addressed Him with a question. As He would often do as an adult, Jesus calmly replies with His own question, two questions, in fact: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?”
Though spoken respectfully, there is a gentle rebuke to His questions. Mary is tempted to think of Jesus as an ordinary child, one over whom she has control. But in contrasting His “My Father” with Mary’s “Your father” Jesus shows that He while He remains obedient to His earthly parents, He is bound to follow the will of a higher authority—His heavenly Father.
What Jesus does is not an act of rebellion against his parents. His perfect obedience to them continues to be demonstrated on their return to Nazareth. But Mary and Joseph have to learn and be reminded often that Jesus is directed by a greater will, the will of the heavenly Father, in a way in which no other child is directed. This was something they do not naturally understand. Like any other parents, but with a much higher learning curve, they have to learn “on-the-job.” For Mary this incident adds to the treasure stored in her heart. Already she is learning the meaning of Simeon’s words: “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke closes out this story by telling us, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men.” Today we would say that Jesus grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially. In His life as a child, a teenager, a young adult in Nazareth, Jesus basically lives the life of a typical Jew of His day. So seemingly normal that He will catch His parents off guard. So normal that when He preaches in His hometown, the people of Nazareth marvel and wonder where He gets “these things.” So normal that they refer to Him as the carpenter, or Mary’s son, or the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, Simon, and His sisters. But Jesus’ personal growth and His experiences in the human family are all equipping Him for His ministry as Teacher and Messiah.
I think we easily miss this point, so let me reiterate: Jesus is learning! The eternal God, all-knowing even at age 12, is nevertheless learning through His creatures, actually increasing in wisdom, the text says. Realize what this means! Jesus doesn’t always use His omniscience, but instead chooses to learn from the same source we have—the Bible. And consider what that means: When Jesus goes to the cross, it isn’t made easy by His omniscient understanding that He’ll rise again. No! He goes to the cross trusting that God will raise Him—because God has promised in Scripture to do so. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus willingly put sit all on the line to save us, just on the promise of God’s Word. And we have the same source of confidence!
This will not be the only time that Jesus will be found in unexpected places, doing unexpected things. In a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. Eating and drinking in the homes of sinners and tax collectors. In the temple court, preaching and teaching, turning over tables, and driving out the moneychangers. Hanging on the cross at Calvary for your salvation. Risen from the tomb, giving His disciples peace, and sending them with that same message. Yes, Jesus shows up in the most unusual places. But all of them have one thing in common: they are all “things of His Father.” They are all part of His plan of salvation.
Even when the twelve-year-old Jesus is found in the temple court sitting with the teachers, He is about the things of God, working for your salvation. Jesus is subjecting Himself to His Father in heaven and to His human parents, but not for the reasons we might expect. Jesus does not do this to be a role model, to show you how you can do this, too. Jesus does not do this out of fear, because they are more powerful or greater than He. Jesus submits Himself to His Father—even though they are equals—out of love. Jesus submits Himself to Mary and Joseph—even though He is far greater—out of love. Love to God and love to neighbor.
And love to you. You see, when Jesus submits Himself to His Father and to His earthly parents, He is fulfilling God’s holy Law for you. Where you have failed to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind, He does! Where you have failed to take seriously the reading, hearing, and study of God’s Word, He does! Where you have failed to honor the authorities that God has placed over you, Jesus does! And He does it all for you—for you and every other man, woman, and child—that His perfect obedience might be credited to you.
All of Jesus’ life, from Mary’s womb to the Easter tomb, has one purpose and point—your salvation. When the shepherds find Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger, He is doing so for you. When Jesus goes into the homes of “sinners” to seek and save the lost, He is looking for you. When Jesus parades through the streets of Jerusalem, turns over the tables of the moneychangers, and drives them from the temple, He is fulfilling all of Scripture for you. When Jesus hangs on the cross, He is suffering and dying for you. He is taking on the Father’s wrath for your sins, and crediting with His righteousness to you. When Jesus rises from the dead and appears to the women and His disciples, He does so for you, that you might know the certainty of your own resurrection.
The Son of God has a mission to fulfill, one that trumps every other concern. He comes down from heaven not to fit in the God-box we have crafted for Him, not to fit the messianic job description we might have written. He knows what He has to do, is resolved to do it, and does it. Nothing can stand in His way. Even the best, if misguided, intentions of those closest to Him will not keep Him from accomplishing His mission—the salvation of us all. And that’s why Jesus shows up in the most unexpected places, doing the most unexpected things.
Perhaps that is also why so many people today seek but fail to find Jesus. And I’m not talking about just unbelievers, I’m talking about people who are very familiar with Jesus, people who love Jesus, people who should know better, people who should know Jesus best! Far too often, even they have a difficult time finding Jesus. They have their own misconceptions about what He should be doing. And they get all distressed and confused—just like Mary and Joseph.
The problem is that people look for Jesus in all the wrong places. They look for Jesus in the fleeting and vacillating emotions of their hearts. They look for Him in “relevant” worship filled with entertaining music and messages of self-help and pop psychology. They look for proof of His presence in their own health, wealth, and prosperity. They have the wrong expectations of what Jesus will be doing for them. Setting a good moral example. Helping them live a purpose driven life. Giving them practical tips for living their best life now. But Jesus has not promised to be in any of these places. He has not promised to be doing any of these things.
Where do you find Jesus? What will He being doing? You will find Him in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s things. In the water and Word of Holy Baptism, He washes away your sins and makes you a child of God. In the mouth of His called and ordained servant, He absolves your sins. In His Word of Law and Gospel, He shows you your sins and brings you salvation. In the Sacrament of the Altar, He is truly present with His body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. In your daily vocation, He provides you opportunities to serve Him by showing love to your neighbor. In the trials and struggles of life, He refines and perfects your faith, which is of more value than silver or gold.
Have you seen Jesus? Yes, most certainly you have! He’s right where He has promised to be—in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s things. Working for your salvation. Speaking this Good News: “You are forgiven of all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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