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Beyond Bethlehem 3 - Missing!

Beyond Bethlehem 3 - Missing!

Ref: Luke 2:41–52

The event we come to in Luke 2:41-45 is much more than a sentimental lost-and-found story. It is a Messianic demonstration as pivotal to the gospel as Jesus' later miracles, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Join Stephen now to find out why.



Luke 2:41-51

There wasn’t any Jewish calendar, in any home that didn’t have a circle around the dates that marked the Feast of Passover.

Jewish law actually required all the men, from 13 years of age and up, to attend three feasts in Jerusalem – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  Custom allowed men who lived far away to attend only one of the three and Passover was typically the favored feast. / Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Compassionate: Luke 1-13 (Victor Books, 1989), p. 32

The ceremonies would last 7 days. 

It’s at this very moment in the Jewish calendar, which would have been late March and early April that Luke gives us another glimpse into the boyhood of Jesus.

Take your Bibles and turn to the Gospel by Luke, chapter 2 and verse 41. 

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feat of the Passover.  42. And when He became 12, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast.

Let me hit the pause button for a moment.  I could deliver a sermon on this one sentence alone.  You’re thinking, “I know you could, but please don’t . . . it’s Christmas!” 

Let me at least let you look through this window into the devotion of Joseph and Mary to God.

You see, the law allowed any Jewish male who lived beyond 15 miles of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in his own village and not have to make a lengthy and expensive journey. / William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 29

Nazareth is about 65 miles north of Jerusalem so Joseph is well outside the 15 mile perimeter that would have required him to attend Passover in Jerusalem.  It would have taken several days of travel – away from his business and responsibilities.

You also need to know that the law did not require women to attend any of the feasts in Jerusalem; in this culture they would stay behind and keep the children and tend the livestock and the crops.

But it would have been the desire of every godly man and woman to travel to Jerusalem – the heart of their nation and their worship and enter into these celebrations of national life and faith.  We know from history that every faithful Jew wanted to celebrate the Feasts in Jerusalem at least once during their lifetime.

With all that in mind, go back to verse 41 again;  Now His parents (both Joseph and Mary) went to Jerusalem – when? – every year at the feast of Passover.

What insight into their dedication to the worship of their living God.

Every year!

And this year is especially significant – Jesus is 12 years old.

He’s only months away from full membership into the synagogue.  The modern custom is called a bar mitzvah.  The word bar – mean’s son. 

You’ve read Jesus saying to Peter in Matthew 16:17, “blessed art thou Simon barJona.”  That means Peter’s father’s name was Jonah. 

Bar mitzvah means, “son of – the law . . . son of the commandment”.

According to the Mishnah, (a commentary of every aspect of Jewish living during the days of Christ) it suggested that fathers should include their sons in the observance of the Passover “one or two years before they are of age” – which for them was 13 – the year they became sons of the law – responsible to keep the law for themselves.   / R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1 (Crossway, 1998), p. 99

So here is 12 year old Jesus, overflowing with energy and curiosity, accompanying Joseph and Mary as they fulfill their annual custom of celebrating the atoning work of God through the Passover lamb.

What irony . . . they are bringing the eternal Deliverer to Jerusalem as they celebrate an earlier deliverance from Egypt through the Passover lamb.

What a moment . . . Mary and Joseph are bringing the final Passover Lamb to celebrate the feast of Passover lambs.

Jerusalem would be packed with pilgrims – merchants have lined the streets with their booths to sell their wares; the most intense activity was at the sheep stalls where the Jewish pilgrims bartered for sheep to sacrifice at the temple.  / Hughes, p. 100

Joseph, Mary and young Jesus would have gone to the stalls to choose their lamb . . . maybe Joseph let Jesus pick him out.

There were still shepherds living who had been keeping the Temple sheep – the paschal lambs in Bethlehem – when the angels had appeared with the good news of Christ’s birth.  The sheep they’ve been tending are now led to Jerusalem and by the time Jesus and Joseph and Mary go to pick out their lamb for the festival feast, one historical record indicates that more than 250,000 sheep have been driven into the city.

There are perhaps as many as a million pilgrims stuffed into Jerusalem as the sun rises on Passover day.  All 24 divisions of priests are serving in the Temple instead of just one division – they’ll be busy every single moment.  Jesus would watch as his step-father killed the lamb, and a priest catch the blood in a silver or golden basin and then douse the foot of the altar with the blood.  Joseph would have prepared the lamb as the Levite choirs sang Psalms 113-118 – arrangements we’ve never heard, but will one day, I believe, in the millennial kingdom.

Then Joseph would have put the lamb over his shoulder and walked with Jesus and Mary to wherever they were staying and prepare for the meal.  Jesus would have asked his step-father the ceremonial question that night, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”   And Joseph would have answered with the story of the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt, led by Moses their deliverer. 

The night would end late and many people would take to the streets for reunions with friends and family, joyful celebration and still others would wait for the opening of the doors at midnight on the temple mount where they could go for further worship and prayer. / Ibid

This went on for an entire week.  Most Jews would have come for the significant 2-day portion of the ceremony which included the Passover meal.   / R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Luke’s Gospel (Augsburg Publishing, 1946), p. 162

Not this family.  Notice verse 43.  And as they were returning, after spending the full number of days – in other words, they stayed the entire week – they’re not going to miss a moment.

And Jesus couldn’t get enough either; notice further, 43b, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  But His parents were unaware of it but supposed Him to be in the [mini-van].

That’s not exactly what it says, but it’s the same idea.  They supposed Him to be in the caravan.

Same difference.

It was the custom for women and children to travel in the front of the caravan and the men to travel behind them, making sure no one got lost along the way.  The two sections would meet up in the evening as they camped out.

Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary and Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph.

That night they realize Jesus wasn’t with either one of them – he wasn’t with any of the other families either.

It finally hit them – “We left Jesus in Jerusalem.”

You ever left your child somewhere?  And you’re willing to admit it?  You ever get home from church and realize your one kid short?

But this wasn’t just any kid . . .

“Honey, do you know where the Savior of the world is?”

“No, I thought He was with you!”

            “Me?  I thought you had him!”

“Oh no, we’ve lost the Messiah!” 

CBS online ran a story about a mother forgetting her to take her son home after a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  I can understand this . . . have you ever been to Chuck E. Cheese?  You can lose an elephant in there! 

What made this all the more dramatic was that it was his birthday party. 

The news story said that the party went just fine.  The problem came when all the children and adults climbed into three different vehicles and headed home.  Everyone got in but Michael.  Apparently the 6-year-old returned to the play area and was left behind.  Employees found Michael wandering around the restaurant when they closed up at 10:00.  Michael’s mother had assumed that her son was staying with his grandmother and didn’t even know he was missing until the next morning. / “Mother Forgets Child at 6th Birthday Party,” (6-05-06)

Now it’s one thing to lose your child and not know it until you get him back.  It’s another thing to lose your child and know it and not know where he is.

That’s Mary and Joseph.

That realization grows into a 3-day search. Look at verse 45.  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.  46.  Then, after three days they found Him in the temple . . .

Now there are some that think this reflects poorly on Joseph and Mary as parents.  I don’t think so.  In fact, it may be nothing more than the fact that they had perfect confidence in Jesus that they didn’t ask him who he was planning to travel with back to Nazareth . . . they were sure He would be where he was supposed to be. / G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1931), p. 44

But this will lead others to believe that Jesus sinned.  That he ran away to join the circus, so to speak.

That would contradict the clear record of scripture:

  • He was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15)
  • Hebrews 7:26 – He was holy, blameless, pure and set apart from sinners
  • Peter wrote that our Lord committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22)
  • John wrote, “And in Him is no sin (1 John 3:5)

The point is, Jesus was capable of unknowingly causing his parents to panic, but as a sinless being, he was incapable of knowingly doing it. 

Jesus was both fully God the Son and fully a 12 year old boy.  The Holy Spirit in concert with Christ’s divine nature would protect him from sinning, but as a normal 12 year old boy he was able to fully embrace the human experience and emotion and learning curve which included making mistakes and stubbing his toe and not thinking through consequences as 12 year olds sometimes do not do. 

Was Jesus ever silly?  Did He ever do something dumb or dangerous?  Did He make mistakes?  Was he ever immature before He was mature?  Was He ever unaware and naïve? 


Listen, being silly or dangerous or immature and unaware and naive and even dumb are not the same things as being sinful.

More on this in our next discussion – but between now and then, how would you answer these questions?  Did Jesus ever get a spanking?  Was He ever given time out?  We’ll answer that next time.

For now you need to understand that something major is happening in this pre-bar-mitzvah-ed-Son-of-God.

And we have every reason to believe that it was during this Passover celebration, there was enough spiritual revelation provided to Jesus that by the time Mary and Joseph found him, He knew He wasn’t just any 12 year old boy with a mom and a dad and a little house and carpenter shop in Nazareth.

For starters, when Mary and Joseph find him, notice 46b. [He was] sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  47. And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

One author pointed out that Passover season was a time when the Sanhedrin – Jewish leaders of renown and scholarship – would meet in public to discuss religious and theological questions.    / Barclay, p. 29

That has led many to believe Jesus is captivating the highest court of Jewish law and liturgy with His questions. 

Jesus wasn’t faking anything here.  He wasn’t demonstrating omniscience – those attributes will be demonstrated when he is older.  He has legitimate questions, but He also has a quick, well-studied mind.  And His perspective is unique as we’ll see in a moment.

And Luke says, “they were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”  You could render that “they admired His insight and wisdom”.   / J. Reiling & J.L. Swellengrebel, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Luke (United Bible Society, 1971), p. 151

In other words, Jesus was wise beyond His years. 

So what you have here in this scene is a sinless, intelligent, well studied in the Scriptures, perceptive, and most importantly, illuminated by revelation from God the Father – 12 year old Jesus.

Right in the middle of the leading rabbi’s surrounding young Jesus, Mary and Joseph arrive. 

They’ve looked everywhere – but here.  48.  When they saw Him, the were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way?  Behold, “Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.”

I love this . . . Mary is a normal mother.  Never mind Jesus is surrounded by the highest ranking officials in the nation – never mind He’s evidently holding them spell-bound.  Never mind any of that.

Mary basically says, “What in the world are you doing?  We’ve been looking all over for you – what in the world got into you, young man?”

Now, I’m not Jesus, but that sure sounds familiar!

Would you notice what Mary didn’t say, you know, with a halo around her head and with perfect composure, “Oh there you are, Son – in the Temple of course – we’ll just sit over here until you’ve finished your Q & A and then we’ll go home.”

Oh no . . . “Your father and I have been looking all over for you . . . and we’ve been worried sick.”

The word anxiously can be translated, “with anguish.” / Ibid, p. 152

And by the way, we would have done the same thing – or worse.  They had lost their son in who knows where – back in a city with hundreds of thousands of travelers and for three days and she and Joseph probably hadn’t slept or eaten a bite.

Now get ready for the first recorded words – in fact, the only recorded words of Jesus prior to his ministry 18 years later.  Back up a phrase into verse 48 where Mary rebukes Him saying, “Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You?”  49. And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Fathers’ house – literally, involved in the things of My Father?”

He knows . . . He knows!

One author illustrated the growth of His understanding was like glowing rays of light spill out more and more at the dawning of a new day. / Ivor Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel (Kregel Publications, 1965), p. 79

It seems clear that this Passover – in the City of His father David – God the Father revealed to Him He was God the Son.  The sun rose while He was in Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ was human and divine.  These two natures were not separate within Him but intertwined in mystery to us.  His human nature – his human mind and heart grew to understand His divine nature.

And in these first recorded words of Jesus, He literally blows everyone’s mind with His personally possessive reference to God as His Father.

Notice again, “the things that belong – not to ours, but to – My Father.”

No one spoke of God as Father.  In the entire Old Testament collection of 39 books, God as “Father” appears only 14 times and always in reference to the nation.  God was referred to as Abraham’s Father, but Abraham did not speak of God as “my Father”.

Nobody talked like that.

So here, at the age of twelve, Jesus now clearly knew that God was His father in a way in which He was not Father to anyone else./ Lenski, p. 167

He is now conscious of His Person, His relationship to His Father, and His mission. / J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, (Zondervan, 1981), p. 76

And it’s intriguing the way he innocently and naively said to Mary and Joseph – effectively, “I thought you knew this?  You of all people should have seen this coming.”

But the text is clear – notice verse 50.  But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.

And why would it be a surprising, confusing announcement?   The implication is that their son had never said anything like this before.  And He’s now speaking a different language than they can even imagine.

Listen, Mary and Joseph have been to some degree confused since the conception of Christ.

Think about it!

The Holy Spirit is only so named, “The Holy Spirit” three times in the entire Old Testament – that name had only appeared twice in Isaiah and once in Psalms and none of the verses were descriptive or explanatory.

So here comes the angel came to Joseph, effectively saying, “Go ahead and take Mary to be your wife because the child she is carrying is conceived of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:20) 

Well, that explains it!

Gabriel went to Mary and said, “You’re going to have a baby.”  And Mary said, “How can that happen when I’ve never been with a man?  And Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. . .”

They were both wondering, “Who in the world is that?”

And now, shocking as it was to their Jewish ears in the Old Covenant, Jesus says He’s in the temple involved in the things of HisFather.

Let me pause long enough to commend Mary and Joseph once again.  Don’t miss the fact that they were obedient to God in spite of being, for the most part, in the dark!

How many times have you said to God, “I’ll do whatever You’re asking me so long as you clear up some questions.” 

We have confidence in the will of God when it’s understandable.  We would rarely say, “I’m in the middle of  God’s will and is it ever confusing!”

But the parents of Jesus will remain confused, along with their later born children.  In fact they will be unbelieving of Christ’s claims – considering Jesus at one point to have lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

That is, until after the resurrection of Christ from the grave.

Now some would say there is no way a 12 year old could grasp his mission in life.  That is too young to formulate a personal identity and mission. / Charles R. Swindoll, The Origination of Something Glorious: Luke 1:1-6:49 (Insight for Living, 1992), p. 67

Not true.  Anyone who thinks that needs to read a few more biographies of distinctive leaders both inside and outside the church..

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced in my study to the life of Allen Gardiner – the founder of what became the South American Missionary Society – a society used by God in the 1800’s especially to reach South America with the gospel.

One night in December, a little more than 200 years ago, Mrs. Gardiner entered her little boy’s bedroom and found him sleeping on the cold hard floor.  She woke him up and put him in his bed.  He protested and informed his mother that one day he was going to be traveling the world one day and he needed to begin getting used to hardship.  He was 6 years old.

He spent his life traveling throughout South America distributing Bibles and Christian literature . . . he was not received well wherever he went; often narrowly escaping with his life.  Throughout Chile, Argentina, Bolivia he plodded on.  On one occasion he trekked 1,000 miles overland by pack mule from Buenos Aires to Santiago distributing the word of God.  He had few converts and even fewer church plants.  In his late 50’s he and his missionary teammates died while attempting to reach a new field filled with hostile Indians.  He was found next to his boat, with his journal still in his hand in which he had written his last words, “Let not this mission fail.  I beg Thee to raise up others and to send forth laborers into this harvest. Let it be seen, for the manifestation of Thy Glory and Grace that nothing is too hard for Thee. / E. Michael & Sharon Rusten, The One Year Christian History (Tyndale, 2003), p. 680

And it all began to burn in his heart at the age of 6.

Jesus Christ was 12.  And He spoke with determined intentionality.  “I have to be involved in my Father’s business.”  I have to be.  This is what I must do.

  • I must preach the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43)
  • We must go through Samaria (John 4:4)
  • The Son of Man must suffer (Luke 9:22)
  • Zaccheus, I must stay at your house (Luke 10:5)
  • I have other sheep . . . I must bring them also (John 10:16)
  • The Son of Man must be lifted up that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

In a gracious but mild rebuke, Jesus responded to Mary’s complaint with the message, “Don’t forget, Joseph isn’t My father . . . God is My Father.”

After saying all of that you would never imagine reading this next verse in Luke’s Gospel – verse 51 of Luke chapter 2, And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them –

You would expect to read, “They went down to Nazareth and they subjected themselves to Him.”

Or you would expect you read something like, “And Jesus moved into the Temple and became the youngest priest in the history of Israel.”

No . . . He goes back to Nazareth and remains under the authority of His parents.

The tense of the verb in verse 51 indicates that Jesus continually responded to the authority of His parents.


He’s still growing . . . still preparing.

By the way, knowing who He was didn’t create pride or a condescending air toward His peasant parents. 

Listen, the dawning of this truth did not make Him less obedient to them, it profoundly highlighted His obedience to them.

The same should be true of us.  Because we belong to God as His children – that also should profoundly mark our relationships with humility and deference and grace.

Because the truth has dawned in our hearts that God is our Father, by faith in His unique Son, we should be better spouses; we should be more honest employees; we should be more diligent students; we should be more gracious people.

Because of this revelation, the obedience of Jesus to His parents becomes a model for us all.

His earthly relationships will be the fruit of his primary relationship – so also, our earthly relationships should bear the fruit of this truth dawning in our own hearts that we happen to have a relationship with our Father as sons and daughters. 

Who we belong to should affect everything that belongs to us! 

And when it doesn’t, we know it, don’t we?!  We know how far from the Model we muddle through.

I’m often reminded of what a Christian leader – an older man – told me one day; he said, “The Christian life was not a lot of decisions, but only one.  That decision was, I will live my life for the glory of God . . . no matter when, no matter where, no matter what.”

 One decision but with ongoing determination.  One decision but with daily application.

There in the temple, in this life-altering scene, young Jesus makes a profound discovery and a godly decision – I must give my life for the glory of my Father.

And that meant – go back to Nazareth and be an obedient child.  Nothing glorious about that.  Nothing grand or splendid – there were no fireworks or claps of thunder.

It meant chores . . . homework . . . growth spurts . . . the difficulty of waiting and learning and growing.

It was one decision with ongoing determination.  Perhaps on this Lord’s day we must make a fresh commitment to that decision today – you might be 6 or 16 or 36 or 56 or 76.

I will devote myself to the things of my Father; I will live to please my Father – no matter when, no matter where, no matter what.

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