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The Day Jesus Was Lost And Found

Luke 2:41-51

Jesus of Nazareth is the most talked about, the most investigated, the most researched, the most studied figure in all of human history. Yet in spite of that, we have only one recorded incident from His childhood. It is that incident I want us to look at today…

Mary and Joseph and Jesus, together with some friends and relatives, left Nazareth and journeyed to Jerusalem for the religious festival known as the Passover. When the festival ended, they began the return trip home to Nazareth. Now, as was the custom in that day, the women and the children in the party would leave first, early in the morning. The men, able to walk at a more rapid pace, would depart later in the day, carrying with them the luggage and supplies. Toward the end of the day, the men would catch up with the women and the children, and they would spend the night together, continuing their journey in the same fashion on the next day.

So this was the way they started out that day from Jerusalem, headed home to Nazareth. Mary was aware of the fact that Jesus was not with her and the other women and children. But Jesus was now twelve years old—the Scriptures specifically inform us of that fact—and in ancient Judaism, when you were twelve years old, you were considered to be a man. So Mary, noting Jesus’ absence, simply assumed that since He had reached the age of manhood, He would be traveling with Joseph and the other men, and would be along later. Joseph, on the other hand, realized that Jesus was not with him, and therefore assumed that because Jesus was still quite young and because the journey would be long, He had more than likely gone ahead with the women, as had been His habit up to that point. So you see, Mary assumed that Jesus was with Joseph. Joseph assumed that Jesus was with Mary. In fact, He was with neither of them. They lost Him. It was a breakdown in communication; and as a result, they lost Christ. No one loved Jesus more than Mary and Joseph did. They loved Him with all of their hearts. Yet still they lost Him. And if Mary and Joseph could lose Jesus, anyone can. That’s a point worth our pondering.

Ponder just the situation in which Mary and Joseph lost Jesus.

As we noted earlier, it was the custom then to travel in groups with family and friends. That was for purposes of both fellowship and security on long and hazardous overland journeys. So Mary and Joseph and Jesus were traveling with a large group of people. That was good. It was good to be with family and friends. It was good to be celebrating the religious festivals. It was even good to be part of the general laughter and confusion that would have marked the beginning of the journey home when all of those people were trying to gather themselves and their provisions together. I know only too well the complete chaos that surrounds my family when we start packing up to go on a trip. Perhaps you know the feeling, too. Imagine then what it would have been like with all of those parents and all of those children trying to pack up to leave. So it was an exciting time with good people. Yet it was in the midst of this good fellowship that Mary and Joseph lost the best. They lost Christ.

It is clear then, that as strange as it may seem for me to say it, it is possible to become so involved in what is good that we lose what is best. Here, for example, is a teenager who enjoys being a teenager and who seeks the acceptance of other teenagers. There is nothing wrong with that. It can be very good. Unless of course being accepted involves forsaking Christian moral standards and ideals. Or here is a businessman who gives himself to the success of his business and he does quite well. But somewhere along the way he gets the idea that the successful, self-assured businessman doesn’t need the benefits of prayer and worship so his church attendance becomes a matter of casual convenience at the very best. Or here’s a scientist who has a paper published and takes upon himself all of the trappings of scientific prominence. He convinces himself that science is the be-all, end-all of life, so he closes the door on faith. Now there’s nothing wrong with being an enthusiastic teenager or a successful businessman or a capable scientist. Those things are good unless those things, good as they are, crowd out that which is best—Jesus Christ. And that can happen.

I would suggest that it is even possible to lose Jesus in the pursuit of religion. I think here of a lady in an earlier pastorate who appeared to be an ideal Christian. She had tremendous energy and she expended that energy in a whole host of church activities. She not only had her finger in every pie in her local church, but she was heavily involved in work for the denomination as well. Yet after years of giving herself to more than she could adequately handle, her sense of devotion to Jesus Christ died. It was very sad to behold.

I must say it again. It is possible for us to become so involved in what is good that we lose what is best. We lose Christ. It happened to Mary and Joseph. It can happen to us.

But ponder, secondly, the fact that at first Mary and Joseph did not know that they had lost Him.

Verse 43 of this passage in Luke says quite clearly: “The boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem but his parents did not know it.” There’s a lot of wallop in that verse and it moves me to speak to you in great earnestness now. I must ask: is it possible that you have lost Christ and are unaware of it?

I suppose that in my life I have read more than a hundred books about the subject of faith. And I have encountered there more than a hundred definitions of faith. But I think the definition which has come to mean the most to me is that of John Henry Newman. He wrestled with faith both as a young man and as an old man. He fought his way through all the temptations and difficulties of belief. And finally one day, he sat down and tried to capture in a single sentence what faith really is. I think he did it—and he did it in just seven words. He wrote: “Faith is the habit of the soul.”

In other words, faith is the deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ which becomes in our lives so constant and so consistent that our every living, breathing moment is lived in continual reference to that Jesus. It is that abiding sense of closeness to Jesus that becomes so basic to our living that it is nothing less than the daily habit of our soul.

But in practical terms, what is it that gives you the greatest joy and happiness in life? Is it your work, your family, your friends? Or is it Jesus Christ? Don’t take these questions lightly. What is it that gives you the greatest sense of security in life? Is it your paycheck, your Social Security, your insurance, your home? Or is it your belief in Jesus Christ? What gives you the greatest sense of fulfillment in life? Is it the things you buy, the things you get, the honors which come your way? Or is it your service to the Lord Jesus Christ? You see, when anything else in life gives you greater joy and security and fulfillment than Jesus, then you have made for yourself an idol, a false god. It may mean that you have lost Christ and do not know it. Is faith the habit of your soul?

One of the saddest stories to come out of the second World War had to do with the death of the noted French author and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry was flying a reconnaissance mission for the Free French. He was shot down by a young German pilot, and he died in the crash. Sometime later, it was discovered that the German pilot who had shot down Saint-Exupéry had been working on his Ph.D. before the war. He was writing his dissertation on the life and work of Saint-Exupéry. In the course of his study, he had come to idolize the great French author. When this young German pilot then learned that he had been the one who shot down to flaming death the man he most admired in the world, he went insane. He could no longer speak, except to repeat over and over again these words: “I have killed my master and I didn’t know it”.

Is faith the habit of your soul? Are you living your life in constant reference to Jesus Christ? Or have you allowed other things or even other people to come between you and Him? Don’t ever get to the point where you will be whispering to yourself: “I have killed my Master and I didn’t know it”. It is so easy to lose Him and not know it. It happened to Mary and Joseph. It can happen to us.

Then ponder, thirdly, the words Jesus spoke when at last they found Him.

Luke sets before us here an absolutely priceless moment. For do you understand that the words Jesus speaks here are the very first words of Jesus which the Gospels record? His parents said to Him: “Son, we have been looking for you anxiously.” And Jesus replied: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Catch that, please. Twelve years old and already He was completely caught up in the truth that God was His Father. The more I study the life of Jesus, the more convinced I am that the one lesson which Jesus wanted most to get across to us—the one lesson which was at the center of His living and His dying and His living again—that one lesson is that God is our Father and that He loves us as His own children.

That is why this very first word we hear from Jesus is: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And the very last word we hear Him speak in this incarnate life before He was raised to glory—the very last word is: “Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” At the beginning, “Father.” At the end, “Father.” It was the love of God the Father that was the driving, compelling force in Christ’s life. It was the love of God the Father that injected power into the dry veins of His obedience. It was the love of God the Father that so filled His days with meaning and purpose that they became something beautiful to behold. It was the love of God the Father that gave the deepest color to the flower of His faith. That was the great secret of Jesus’ life. And that’s what Jesus wants you to know in your life today: that you and God belong together as Father and child, with all of the love and all of the beauty and all of the tenderness that can be captured in these words. Yes, God is your Father and He calls you to be His child in Christ Jesus.

So …

I cannot step out of this pulpit today until I say this last word. All of life all of it ends only in darkness and death. All of the living of these days leads only to dying. Oh, to be sure there are lifting, lilting moments along the way, moments of deep inspiration, moments of profound joy. But in the end it all comes to the darkness of death, unless…unless you know the Christ who says: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He, and He alone brings dignity and hope to the living of our days. He, and He alone, is the foretaste of heaven’s hoped-for glories. He, and He alone is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Give Him first place in your heart.
Give Him your strength.
Give Him your devotion.
Give Him your love.
Give Him your life.

For then the lost shall be found ..

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