“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.
“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 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 for You in great distress.’And He said to them, ‘Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:39–52).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
There’s a cartoon that makes the rounds occasionally. Two clean-cut men in dress pants, short-sleeve white shirts, and ties are standing at the open door. They ask, “Have you found Jesus?” The woman who answers the door replies, “We’re Lutherans. We never lost Him.”
But Mary and Joseph did!
It was the annual feast of the Passover, the feast that celebrated the redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt. It was the most important of the Jewish festivals, and the Law required all males to attend. Mary and Joseph and Jesus went up to Jerusalem as was their custom.
At the conclusion of the Passover feast, Mary and Joseph headed back to Nazareth, evidently thinking that Jesus was among the group of pilgrims traveling together. But at nightfall the boy was nowhere to be found. A frantic search began for their missing son, one which ended three days later when Jesus was discovered in the temple courts. These courtyards surrounded the temple sanctuary and were used as a place for instruction and study of God’s Word.
Jesus was making quite an impression on the crowd that had gathered. Here was no ordinary boy; His questions and answers showed superior knowledge and understanding. Mary and Joseph were also astonished—and a bit perturbed—when they found Him. This is evident from Mary’s words: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”
Any parent who has suffered the trauma of a missing child can well imagine what Mary and Joseph experienced. How guilty Mary must have felt for failing to keep closer watch over this son entrusted to her care by the Lord.
The words Jesus speaks to His mother here are the first recorded in any of the gospels. Mary had asked Him a question. He responds with a double question: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” In other words, “I wasn’t lost. I was right here, where I was supposed to be, at My Father’s house. You were just looking for Me in the wrong places.”
And isn’t that true for you and me, as well? The times when it seems we can’t find Jesus, isn’t it always because we’re looking in the wrong places? Places He has not promised to be?
Some look to Mysticism, the belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your emotions.
You know the problem with that. Emotions are volatile and unreliable. One minute you’re on the top of the mountain; the next, in the bottom of the deepest, darkest valley. Emotions can be manipulated and manufactured with savvy marketing and psychological tricks. Mysticism says you will find Jesus in your heart. But all you ever end up finding if you look there is yourself—your own sinful desires, your own insecurities, your own self-justification.
Emotions are a wonderful gift of the created world. God made them for us. They are part of being human. But there is an enormous difference between believing feelings are a gift from God and believing feelings are God. Feelings can be good, but feelings are never the Gospel. Rules and traditions, methods and disciplines that teach that your emotions are the source of God’s revealing of Himself to you confuse Jesus Christ with you. As exciting as those kinds of promises might sound, ignore them.
Another avenue to which people turn to look for Jesus is Moralism, the belief that access to God can be achieved through self-improvement. The fascinating strategy of Moralism is that he does not tempt you with evil. Instead, he tempts you with good. With your own fondest dreams, with all your best aspirations for a more perfect world, Moralism promises that you hold in the works of your hands the power to make it all come true. No future possibility is too great. There is nothing you cannot achieve.
Eventually, you’ll find yourselves falling into one of Moralism’s two dangerous ditches. Realizing you can never measure up to your own standards (let alone, God’s standards), you may fall into despair, give up trying altogether. Or, perhaps even worse, you may fool yourself into thinking you’re getting along quite well. But even if that were somewhat true, Moralism means you’re trying to clean the outside until it is spic-and-span in the hopes that a shiny exterior will help you forget that on the inside you are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:14).
Moralism promises you will find Jesus in the works of your hands. But God is never found in what you do. God is found in what Jesus has done for you with His birth, His life, His suffering and death, with His glorious ascension, and with the current preaching of who He is and what He has done for you.
Another place people mistakenly look for Jesus is Rationalism, the belief that contact with God can be found through the clarity of your observations or the consistency of your logic. Rationalism, then, is nothing more than the worship of reason. It is the belief that the ritual of test and trial will lead to an Enlightenment of all mankind.
We see this today in the elevation of science. “Trust the Science,” we are told. “Don’t be a Science denier.” Now, don’t get me wrong. Science is a good gift from God. The pursuit of knowledge has provided many advancements in quality and length of life. But science is not the answer to all questions. And it makes a poor god, when Science is elevated to the be-all and end-all to all our problems.
Rationalism pushes aside any question of good and evil for pragmatic answers that serve its own purposes. The sad reality is, all science aside, Rationalism will believe anything so long as God did not say it. Postmodern people are willing to believe human life was seeded on earth by aliens billions of years ago. They are willing to say that boy are girls or girls are boys if that’s what they want to be, that life in the womb is only a human baby if it is wanted. They tell stories about how one day man will merge with computer and overcome the grave altogether. Postmodern rationalists will even believe the “secret” that the universe is made up of an energy field holding all things together, which you can manipulate by focusing the thoughts of your mind.
Rationalism, in the end, is anything but reasonable. All these outlandish things are believed, taught, and confessed in the human search for a reasonable explanation for our problems. On this quest, we are no longer merely discoverers but creators. We are the shapers, the makers of our identities, the authors of the future that ought to be, the definers of the image of God. But see. Now, we’re not talking about reason, logic, or science at all. Now, we’re just making stuff up and calling it “true.”
Many seek Jesus in Prosperity. Prosperity is the belief that the way God feels about you is measured by how good your life is right now. Prosperity, then, is nothing more than worship of health, wealth, and success—what was summed up in the New Testament by the name, Mammon (a Greek word for money), a symbol for all forms of idolatry, which is rooted in the coveting of the things of this world.
Given all the bad press of Mammon, we’ve dressed her up and changed her name to Prosperity. And she is more dangerous than ever!
Where Moralism, Mysticism, and Rationalism have certainly wreaked havoc on society, not to mention on authentic Christian spirituality, they were never quite free within the confines of churches. For every Christian scholar whom Rationalism convinced to dismiss biblical inerrancy or the historicity of the Bible, there were five good men who refused to allow such rubbish to be preached from their pulpits. But today, it no longer so. Prosperity has waltzed right into the churches and pastors and laity alike have rushed to embrace her.
Prosperity, is the devil’s same old lie, only packaged more seductively. If she came out and preached, “You can find God in all the many material things of this world,” most people would look at her like she was crazy. “Of course, you can’t find God in stuff. That’s silly and superstitious. My iPhone is metal and plastic. If God exists, He is somewhere else, cheering me on and planning how to help me get the next iPhone as soon as it comes out.”
Outright lies never work as good as half-truths. So, Prosperity doesn’t have to come out on national TV and say something as audacious as “Give Jesus a try for forty days and see if He doesn’t give you health, wealth, and purpose” before you can know she’s taken the lead. You can spot her even when she’s playing it cool and saying nothing more than “Hey! Look at me. Don’t you want to be like me?” It’s always the same enticing tease that, against all odds and contrary to all human history, you can find total, unlimited, safe, health, wealth, and positive energy right here, right now. You can live your dreams. You can make it last.
“That’s right. The Bible says so. You can do all things through God who strengthens you,” her disciples say, twisting Scripture so much out of context that you need to look for a chiropractor.
It should never be a surprise to Christians when we see the world going after such things. What other hope do the children of this age have than to get as much out of this life as possible? But what should surprise us—what should upset us—is to see a vast majority of American “Christian” churches preaching this same utopian quest as if an abundance of wealth and success in this world was the central message of Jesus and His Scriptures. Even the best secular PR agents in the world couldn’t honestly spin that kind of message out of the Man who taught His disciples that friendship with this world is enmity with God (James 4:4).
The lust for Prosperity does funny things to people, and churches are no different. Caught up in the desire to enjoy her company, we imagine that once we get there, once people see us with her, we’ll be even better at winning friends for Jesus. Our congregation will grow like gangbusters!
“It’s all for Jesus and His mission,” we tell ourselves. For even the best of us, this means doing anything we can to hang around with her. If it means selling out an old conviction here or a cherished notion there, then so be it. With a few vague words about “the Spirit’s leading” and “having a heart for Jesus,” an entire congregation—even an entire church body—can willingly jettison their whole history and system of beliefs in hopes of being the one Prosperity smiles at next. Infatuated with dreams of a better experience in this life now, we forget why we are here in the first place. We forget we aren’t here to fit in. We are here precisely because we do not fit in. We’ll never be the popular guys.
We are aliens and strangers (Ephesians 2:19). We will never fit in. If we ever see that we’ve started doing the same things everyone else is doing, and saying the same things everyone else is saying, then we’ve done anything but become all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). We’ve become nothing to no one but ourselves, a shadow cast by the image of the world, when we were supposed to be a city of light set high on a hill (Matthew 4:14).
All human attempts to find Jesus on our own, all of our experiences, all of our studies, all of our sociology and strategy, every new or old measure and excitement, every single thing in this world cannot bring an unbeliever to Christ. Only Christ can bring a man to Christ, and Christ has spoken about how He plans to do that.
Do you want to find Jesus now? Then don’t look for Him within yourself or the things of this world. Believe His words: I baptize you (1 Peter 3:21). Take, eat. Take, drink. I am here (1 Corinthians 10:16). I am the Word made flesh (John 6:55). I am the source of living water (John 4:10). I am the Bread from heaven (John 6:51). I am your root, your portal, your rebirth (John 15:1; 10:9; 11:25). I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am among you (Matthew 18:20).
Have you found Jesus? He’s never been lost, you know. He’s right here where He has promised to be. In His Word, preached and heard. In Holy Baptism, the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. In His Holy Supper, where He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace Jesus comes to you with His gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.