No matter how careful one is as a parent, there will be that moment when the location of a child is in doubt. I experienced the worst panics of my life when shopping with a toddler in tow. Looking at the clothing rack for just an instant to try to find my size, not even taking time to consider the color, only to turn around to find the toddler had vanished. My grey hair was earned in those moments. Thankfully, I was always able to find my child. He or she would be in the clothes rack amongst the clothes or in the next isle looking at Legos, Barbie dolls or the new Map of Middle Earth autographed by Gandalf. During those panicked moments of desperate search, I would imagine all the ways I would dismember the little imp for causing me such distress. But, by the time I found him or her, I was so happy that he or she was alive and unharmed I would forget about retribution.
In Luke 2:41-52, Luke tells of an incident from Jesus’s youth. He was 12, not a toddler, and his parents were not shopping. But, they were panicked. Their panic lasted for 3 days.
Every year they traveled to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. They did this as a family, and from Luke 2:44 we gather they traveled with relatives and friends. Not having a mini-chariot or buggy, they walked. It was at least a five-day walk assuming the roads were dry and there was light traffic. During a festival time and traveling with a group, it took longer.
It sounds like fun. Walking and talking with relatives and friends, and camping along the road with the same. What child would not love it! Not only was there the adventure of the trip to Jerusalem, there was also the fun and excitement of the return trip. (Could you imagine the mess the children would have been if it rained?)
By the age of 12, most children are fairly independent, and are expected to do many things for themselves. Since the 13th century, the Jewish practice of Bar Mitzvah has recognized a 13-year-old as being old enough to be spiritually responsible for their choices. There are historical references that indicate that the tradition is much older.[i] (This is only speculation, but perhaps this is the significance of Jesus being at the temple at the age of 12.) We see from this that at least in one culture a 12- to 13-year-old is considered fairly independent.
Because of His age, Jesus’s parents were not worried about Him when they left Jerusalem for the return trip to Nazareth. Jesus would be with His relatives and friends doing what they did every year when they traveled together. Luke tells us, “They assumed he was among the other travelers.” (Luke 2:44) When Jesus did not show up that evening, then the panic began to set in.
Luke tells us Mary and Joseph traveled the full day back to Jerusalem (which I imagine they covered in half the time), and they searched for Jesus for three days.
Now, I have never had to search for my kids for 3 days, and I pray I never do. Others have had to search for their children that long and longer. Only they know what kind of panic Mary and Joseph were experiencing. When they found Jesus, Mary said, “Your father and I have been frantic.” (Luke 2:48)[ii] “Frantic” is a significant word.
Sometimes there are words that are hard to translate from one language to another. Various English translations have used words like anxious, distress, sorrow to translate the word that Mary used. The word being translated properly defined means:
to experience intense emotional pain, i.e. deep, personal anguish expressed by great mourning. This root (ody-) literally means "go down" (as the sun in a sunset) and refers to consuming sorrow.[iii]
We all experience moments of panic. We all experience intense emotional pain. Because of this, we can identify with what Mary and Joseph are going through.
There are many kinds of distress. The distress of a soldier in a foxhole is not the same as the distress of a parent seeking a lost child. Neither does a person facing a disease, a death, a bankruptcy or a prison sentence feel the same distress as the parent seeking a child.
The thing common to all these distresses is their tendency to drive us to seek God.
We never pray like we pray when we are in distress.
Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s prayers while they were seeking for Jesus?
Actually, probably not too different from prayers we might pray today.
The lesson for us to learn today from this event in the life of Jesus is, "Jesus will be found by the seeking heart.” (Matthew 7:7)
Two truths will help us shorten the search time.
The first truth is:
We assume Jesus is where we are.
Jesus’s parents assumed Jesus was traveling with the rest of the group.
If I can draw a spiritual parallel, we assume Jesus is traveling with us.
In one sense, He is. He has promised never to leave us. However, two people can travel in the same vehicle and not be together. In this sense, we can assume Jesus is with us and be miles apart.
Ancient Israel had this problem. In Psalm 50:20-21, God addresses the problem with these words:
You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Psalm 50:20-21 ESV[iv]
The problem shows up in verse 21 where it says, “You thought that I was one like yourself.”
We get in distress and seek God, but the problem is we think God is like ourselves.
We are not offended by the television shows we watch, so they must be okay with God. We are not offended by the way we choose to live, so it must be okay with God. In fact, we go to great lengths to explain why it is okay.
Miniskirts were once an abomination. Now, our culture laughs at such prudishness. Bikinis were once unthinkable. Now, they are common. Alcohol, smoking, abortion, homosexuality and other issues fall into this category. Our culture changes its opinion about these things and our feelings/beliefs about them change.
Our thinking on these issues changes with the times, but does God’s thinking change with the times? God tells us, “The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Jesus asked His parents a probing question. He asked, “Why did you need to search?”
The unspoken answer is, “because of assumptions.”
The solution is found in the next words of Jesus:
“Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
We must seek Him where He can be found. He does not move or change. The starting place is the word of God. Rather than assuming God is like we are, we must pray and seek to understand what God has revealed about Himself. This is why the Psalmist says, “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
This covers the first truth that will shorten our search time. We assume Jesus is where we are. The second truth is like it. The second truth is, “We search where we think He should be.”
The first place Jesus’s parents looked was among their friends and relatives. The next place they looked was around town in Jerusalem.
Jesus rebuked them for this. He said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
The angels rebuked the women for looking for Jesus in the tomb. They said, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” (Luke 24:5)
A good example of looking for God in the wrong place is the account of what happened to the prophet Elijah. 1 Kings 19 verses 11-13 contain this account.
And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
We might look for God in smashing rocks or earthquakes, because this is where we think He should be.
We might look for God in good health, peace in our family or plenty of money, because this is what we want from Him. We must have the humility to acknowledge that God’s ways are not the same as ours.
God spoke to Elijah in a whisper.
The angels reminded the women of what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead.
Jesus reminded His parents who He was according to what they had been told at His birth.
They could not find Jesus, because they were looking in the wrong place. They were looking with eyes of flesh instead of eyes of faith. He was not out playing around like a child. He was about His Father’s business.
Not only do we assume that Jesus is where we are, we forget what He has told us. Our faith is weak and we do not remember His word. He is not limited like us. He is not playing around or taking a vacation. He is God and is able to do all things. We must never forget His word. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” ESV
Referring again to Psalm 119 the way to solve this issue is given in verse 11. “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
We can find comfort in all our distress in knowing what He says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1) How do we trust in God if we do not know what He says?
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9, ESV)
[ii] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.
[iv] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.