Three Days of Being Lost
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search 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. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The gospel story for today is the only canonized account of Jesus’ childhood. The primary reason why we do not have any other stories is that no one really cared about kids at this time in history. A child’s every move and milestone was not tracked in a baby journal or documented in real time on Instagram. Truth be told, the reason why we have so few stories of children in scripture, Jesus included, is the same reason why we have so few stories of women in scripture. They just were not important in that culture.
If you recall the story of Jesus’ birth we read on Christmas Eve, it might have struck you as odd that Mary is barely mentioned. There’s all the background about which male rulers were in charge at the time, the male shepherds hear the good news from the angel, there’s no room in the inn, and then we have passing mention that Jesus was born. No labor, no appreciation for Mary’s hard work. Jesus just shows up and he might as well have been carried in and dropped off by a stork.
Now, there’s much more to be said about the absence of women and children in scripture; however, for our purposes this morning I will simply acknowledge that reality and then ask, “Why, then, was this story included?”
It’s worth pointing out that this is not a story about parenting. We can’t get stuck on the thought, “How could Mary and Joseph, those awful parents, lose track of Jesus for over three days?” Sure, it’s not a great look; it is, however, understandable. People journeying to Jerusalem for Passover would do so in a caravan. Kids, as they are want to do, move at their own speed and there would have been an assumption within the group that the care of the kids was everyone’s shared responsibility, not just the immediate parents.
One reason why this story of a 12 year-old Jesus is included because it is an account of a child being exceptional. Sure, all parents thinks their children are exceptional; but in order to really be someone special in this time and place, it helped to have a legend of an exceptional experience as a child.
The great leaders in Roman history were the only ones whose childhood stories were told. After all, the Caesars claimed to be divine, and divinity isn’t just something you stumble into as an adult; rather, one has to show signs that there was something special the whole time. For example, Caesar Augustus, at the age of 12, is told to have delivered a public funeral oration for his grandmother that impressed the nation.
If the only story about a child you hear is about your Lord, Caesar, demonstrating academic skill as a 12 year-old, imagine how your attention would be peaked when you hear of another 12 year-old who taught rabbis in the temple and amazed them with his insight. Could this person be divine, like the Caesars are divine?
This phenomenon of being drawn to stories of exceptional children has persisted through the centuries. There are stories of Mozart playing harpsichord at age 4, composing melodies at age 5, as well the account of him hearing an a performance at the Vatican at age 15 and going home to copy the whole orchestration down on paper by memory. Then there’s French mathematician Blaise Pascal who, despite no formal education, published a paper at at 15 that drew the attention of René Descartes.
The achievements of these men are impressive on their own, but the addition of their remarkable stories of childhood do seem to add something special and unique to their mystique.
The story of the amazing 12 year-old Jesus not only adds to his aura, but on a more practical level, the story gives encouragement to Luke’s original audience, itself a community of faith very much in its adolescence. Imagine you are a part of the first wave of Christ followers. You have very likely been separated from your family as a result of your belief in the Messiahship of Jesus. Nevertheless, you left your family to pursue God’s claim on your life. You hear the story of Jesus who also felt comfortable leaving his family in order to pursue God’s claim on his life. Not only that, but the adolescent Jesus has something valuable and instructive to teach the existing church; just like you and your movement of Christ followers. This story is very much an allegory for the life of Luke’s initial audience.
And finally, there’s the connection with what would come to mark the end of Jesus’ life. How many days did it take Mary and Joseph to find Jesus? Three. Yes, after three days of being lost, Jesus returned to his family and friends. What he was doing in those three days was something incredible, unique, powerful, and divine. In much the same way, Jesus, having been crucified, was gone for three days, doing something incredible, unique, powerful, and divine.
This was a story for a particular group of people to encourage them to claim their authority as followers of Christ. While much has changed today, the church is still very much in a period of adolescence. What never changes, however, is that true authority resides within God’s Word, and pursuing God’s Word will lead us to make sacrifices. There will be times when, in obeying God’s Word, we find ourselves separated from everything we thought we knew or held dear; but we will be found again. Our lostness is never permanent. And our proverbial three days of lostness will allow us to accomplish something incredible, unique, powerful, and divine.