“The Day They Lost Jesus” (Luke 2:41-52)

By | January 18, 2015

2nd Sunday after Epiphany


     Did you ever have a child get separated from you at some event? Or did you ever get lost or accidently get left behind as a child? As a parent it’s a horrible feeling. I was about 6 or 7 and got separated from my Mom in a grocery store. I couldn’t find here anywhere. So, I did like she said and went to the manager’s station. Remember those raised square office sections where you could buy stamps and cash a check? What I remember most is the manager saying, “Attention please, we have a boy whose mother is lost. Would Billy’s mom please come to the manager’s station, it’s near the front of the store at the end of aisle 10.” He didn’t say I was lost, he said Mom was lost.

     I’ve got a seminary friend, Joe, who experienced being left behind. Joe was about 8 or 9. They were all on a family vacation, three carloads of aunts and uncles and cousins galore. They were all headed down the highway together. They made a pit stop for gas and other stuff. Joe was the last one to use the restroom and just as he was coming out of the restroom, he saw all three cars pull out.

     Now this was over 50 years ago, so there weren’t any cell phones, not even CB radios. At that time, there were still people who didn’t have phones. Joe said, he walked into the station to give the manager the bathroom key and told him they’re gone. The manager asked, “Who’s gone?”

     And Joe said, “My whole family, they’re gone.” Joe got left behind.

     The manager called the police hoping they could catch up to the family but all he could remember was that there were two dark sedans and a station wagon. He didn’t have any license numbers or anything and they’d paid cash. The gas station manager gave Joe a coke and a bag of potato chips. And the officers decided they need to take Joe to the station.

     Joe said, they asked him where his family was going and all he knew was they were going to see his Aunt and Uncle. He didn’t know their address or their phone number. Joe’s family didn’t find out that he was missing until about 2 and half hours later when they made another pit stop. Everybody thought Joe was in the other car. It was almost 6 hours before he was reunited with his family.

     Joe said the first hour or two was sort of fun because he got cokes and candy and chips. But after that, he just sat in a chair worrying whether they’d come back for him.

     If you’ve ever had a child get separated and spent time frantically searching for them, you know that there is this messed up emotional moment where you’re so happy to find them you want to pick them up and hug the stuffing out of them and never let them go. But there’s also that intensely frustrated part of you wants to shake them to death because they put you through so much emotional turmoil.

     That’s what being a parent is like. And that’s exactly what Mary and Joseph felt on The Day They Lost Jesus.


     Let’s look at the passage from Luke 2:41-52.

[41] Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.

[42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

[43] When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

[44] 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.

[45] When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

[46] After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

[47] And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

[48] 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.”

[49] He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

[50] But they did not understand what he said to them.

[51] Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

[52] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

     Did you know there is phenomenon going on right now that only seems to be getting worse, it’s called the Forgotten Baby Syndrome. As our lives become more frenetic and hurried more and more parents are experiencing it. Their minds are wrapped so tightly around their work or their schedule that they honestly think they left their child at the nursery or day care only to discover that they’ve left their child at home, in the back seat or even on the roof of the car for hours.

     A Chuck E. Cheese reported two forgotten kids in one week; a five year-old one day and three year old two days later. Kim Kardasian, has been accused of forgetting her baby in a Paris Hotel.

     The results of a recent survey, published on the SafeKids.org website stated that:

     14 percent of parents have intentionally left their children in a parked car.

     11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car.

     Nearly 1 in 4 parents of a child under age 3 has forgotten the child in a car.

     This Forgotten Child Syndrome is the basis of at least 2 of the Home Alone movies.

     Someone has suggested a simple cure. When you travel with your baby, take your left shoe off and put it in the back seat. You can’t really go anywhere with only one shoe on and it will remind you to check on the baby.

     As we look at the day Jesus got left behind, I think it’s sort of refreshing to see that Jesus grew up in a normal home. And that Mary and Joseph experienced normal life.


     A. I agree with William Barclay who said this is an extremely important passage of Scripture, not just because it’s the only glimpse into the childhood of Jesus that we have recorded in the Canonical books of the Bible but because it gives us an insight into life in Jesus’ family.

     It was decreed that every adult male within a 15 mile radius, must attend the Passover in Jerusalem. It was the intent that every adult male attend Passover in Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. Now what’s so important about this passage is that a Jewish boy became a man when he was 12. So, Jesus, by law, was obligated to attend Passover in Jerusalem. It was one of the most anticipated times in a young boy’s life. To take on the mantle of manhood and to enter the Temple and be able to talk with the Rabbi’s was a time of high excitement.

     It was during this visit that Jesus would have been given his Tallit, his Prayer Shawl which would be worn outside his clothes during morning prayers, which he could be a part of now. The Tallit would have the traditional twined and knotted fringe (called Tzitzit) on the four corners. It was and is an important symbol of his faith and his manhood.

     During the day, the Tallit was draped over the shoulders, sometimes it was worn under the outer robe. But during times of prayer, one covered their head with it. And a Rabbi would cover his head with the Tallit when he was teaching. The stoles clergy wear with their robe are a holdover from this idea. The Tallit and the stoles also tie to the mantle of authority Elijah passed on to Elisha before Elijah rode off in the chariot of fire.

     It was a big deal; a really big deal. And while women and children weren’t required to make the journey to Jerusalem for Passover, because it was such a big deal for Jesus, the whole family went; at least two sedans and a station wagon full. Then there were all the other travelers in the caravan. Friends, neighbors and families all traveled in large groups for companionship and protection.

     B. The major mode of transportation back then was perambulation or walking. It was possible that some might ride in a cart or wagon. If there was a donkey, it was used as a pack animal to carry the bedding, food, water and clothing. Little children might ride occasionally. Mothers carried babies. But generally speaking, everyone walked. At a decent pace most people can walk about 3 miles an hour but together, with a bunch of other people, children running off to pick up something they saw along the road; making pit stops or stopping for a meal, they probably averaged about 2 miles an hour. This made their trip a full day’s journey.

     It’s said that there were Caravansaries or Inns with large courtyards every 12 to 15 miles along every major road. So, once Jesus was finished with his ritual of manhood and had explored the Temple and everyone had had a chance to go to the market and see all the sites. They loaded up and then all headed home. All except for Jesus. The verse says, he chose to stay behind and his parents didn’t know it. Sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is permission right.

     It’s nice to know that families back then weren’t much different than families today. Nobody missed Jesus. Everybody just assumed he was with another one of the groups, hanging out with his friends and relatives. It wasn’t until they stopped that night that Mary and Joseph and the whole family realized that Jesus wasn’t there. No one had seen him all day.

     Can you imagine how frantic Mary felt? They couldn’t leave then, it was night and it wasn’t safe to travel at night. They needed their rest. They had to make arrangements for the rest of the family. But you know that at the first sign of morning light, they took off. It was another full day’s journey back to Jerusalem. This time they were like salmon going upstream, they were going against the flow of people leaving the Passover celebration. But they finally made it and the next morning, they started their search, retracing all the places they had been.

     And then they came to the Temple. Lo and behold, there he was, conversing with the rabbis and elders of the Temple as if he had been doing this for years. It was obvious that something in Jesus had changed. His becoming a man ritual had sparked something in him; it awakened his own spiritual journey. And it awakened a portion of his own self-knowledge that had lain unexamined until God deemed the time was right.

     You sort of get that from his response when his frantic mother said, “Do you have any idea how worried we were? Do you have any idea how much anxiety you caused the whole family? What were you thinking?”

     At that moment, Jesus didn’t get it. I think he was so consumed with the revelation of his true identity, the Son of God, that at that moment he truly felt the Temple was where he was supposed to be. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I have to be in my Father’s House?”

     Scripture says that just like most teenagers, his parents didn’t understand him.

     So, what can we learn from this passage about a back talking, rebellious teenage Jesus?


     A. Well, the first thing we learn is that his family cared deeply for him. They both came searching for him when they thought he was lost. They dropped everything and came searching for him. And that says a lot about the family relationship and dynamics. Mary just didn’t send Joseph, they both came.

     B. It also points to the fact that Jesus’ family was deeply religious. Jesus was part of a larger community of faith (Mary, Joseph and the rest of the family) who honored the religious traditions of their faith, even in the hardest times. Remember, on the eighth day, they went for the ritual of purification for Mary. They were faithful parents and they raised Jesus to be faithful as well. And we find out later in all the gospels that He was. Over and over again we read things like, “And as was his custom,” Jesus went to the synagogue or to the Temple or he went off by himself to pray. Jesus learned that at home.

     C. Third, believe it or not, Jesus’ answer made perfect sense. He wasn’t being defiant. He wasn’t being rebellious. He’d just discovered a large portion of who he truly was. He knew at some level that he was more than just a boy and that he’d been born for a purpose. But He didn’t know what that was. Once he became a man, though, even if it was just the ritual which made him such, he began to grasp the deeper spiritual nature of his purpose. He wanted to soak and steep himself in it; and what better place to do that than the Temple.

     And like most teenagers, he didn’t even think about anyone else. It wasn’t and isn’t an act of rebellion; it’s just fact that the body, mind and spirit of teenagers haven’t made all the same connections which the body, mind and spirit of a mature adult has made. The wiring isn’t complete yet. And that’s where this lesson fits in. It did make perfect sense to Jesus even if Mary and Joseph didn’t get it.

     D. Fourth, it points to Jesus’ obedience. Mary and Joseph, at least according to what’s in Scripture, didn’t berate him or belittle him. They didn’t constantly bring up the day he got lost. He may have gotten grounded but, whatever the case, Jesus honored his earthly parents’ wishes. So, as a teenager, Jesus is a great role model for all teenagers. It’s what God expects; just like God expects parents to treat their children with honor and respect and to love them unconditionally, especially their teenagers who are growing into their own self-knowledge and faith. Jesus is a perfect example of a teenager honoring and obeying their parents.

     And finally, this passage teaches us to continue to grow and mature in our faith. One of the reasons Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph was because He realized just how much he still had to learn. And that’s the first step to maturity. But Mary and Joseph had much to learn too.

     Maybe a better title for this sermon would be, “The Day They Lost ‘the Baby’ Jesus.” It was through this situation that Mary, at least, realized that bittersweet moment when a mother realizes her baby is no longer a baby. It’s tough to let your kids grow up, it really is. But it’s a joy, too.

     It’s the same way with our faith. We know we have to let our faith mature. We can’t keep an infantile faith or a childish faith and expect to make it in a world as hard as ours.

     That doesn’t mean we can’t come with the same trust and openness of a child as Jesus said, but our understanding of God, of Jesus and our mission in the world has to grow and mature just like Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus had to grow and mature, as well. That’s why I said, this was the Day They Lost “The Baby” Jesus. Now He truly had become a man. Mary and Joseph’s job description changed, now they had to prepare their son, not their baby, their mature son for ministry.

     For John Wesley, this passage provides practical teaching regarding progress our in holiness. He says that Jesus, though perfect, continues to grow in perfection, and thus “it plainly follows” that even “pure” Christians “have room to increase in holiness” and “in the love of God.” Wesley was right. This passage teaches us that we all have room to grow.


     It’s not easy being a parent. It’s not easy raising children of any age. But it’s especially difficult to raise teenagers because the rules (if they were any) all change; everything changes. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it just happens. It’s part of life. It’s part of parenting.

     A teenager who had just received her learner’s permit offered to drive her parents to church. After a hair-raising ride, they finally reached their destination. When mom got out of the car she said emphatically, “Thank you!”

     “Anytime,” her daughter replied with a smile.

     As her mother headed for the church door, she said, “I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to God.”

     It’s not easy being a parent. Especially of a twelve or thirteen-year-old.

     One woman talked to her doctor and said, “Doctor, I’d like you to evaluate my 13 year-old son.”

     “OK,” said the doctor, “He’s suffering from a transient psychosis with an intermittent rage disorder, punctuated by episodic radical mood swings, but his prognosis is good for full recovery.”

     The woman was surprised and asked, “How can you say all that without even meeting him?”

     The doctor said, “I thought you said he’s 13?” (1)

     It’s not easy being a parent. And it’s not easy being a young person. Nature has constructed us so that young people go through sometimes radical hormonal and physical changes as they enter puberty. They start distancing themselves from their parents and they begin establishing their own identity.

     The writer Adair Lara has an interesting way of describing these changes. She says young children behave like dogs. That is, they’re affectionate and love being around you. But when they hit the teen years, says Ms. Lara, they start acting like cats distant and finicky. They make you feel unneeded. (2)

     Jesus’ family didn’t always understand him, but they were always committed to him and he knew it. That’s what was important. Parents and young people need one another. Young people particularly need to know that their parents are committed to them and that nothing will ever break that commitment.

     And that’s what The Day They Lost Jesus teaches us. 

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. www.mikeysFunnies.com.

2. http://www.allprodad.com/pod/playoftheday.php