Saint Luke is the only gospel writer who tells us something about our Lord between His birth in Bethlehem and His coming to the Jordan to be Baptized by John. There is a huge span of time which is simply skipped by the narratives. This means what happens at Jesus’ baptism is a big deal. It dramatically changes things about His work. In fact, that will be our focus next week. But for now, we have this one curious incident about a 12-year-old Jesus who goes to Jerusalem with His parents. It reads like a story your parents might tell about something you did as a child, getting lost in the grocery store or running away from home, or something like that. It usually serves as a window into the character of the adult we know. But the fact that Luke wants to include this is curious. It seems as if we are meant to gain something more than some whimsical story about our Lord. I think the account gives us something wonderful, something we would do well to remember.
We are told in the text that Mary and Joseph regularly went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. That is, they were faithful. They followed the commands of God. Just as they went to the Temple to offer the sacrifices when Jesus was still a baby, so we learn that the regular cycle of holy days is being honored in their home. But this is the first time Jesus has come along. He goes this time, at 12 years old, because it was the traditional age to go. In our Lord’s day this would have been the age of what we now call a Bar Mitzvah. This is when one would become a son of the Commandments. He would make the faith his own by publicly declaring he was now accountable before God for his confession and actions. It is like our practice of confirmation; where one who was raised in the faith of his parents now makes that faith his own. So, it makes sense that He now goes with them to observe the Passover in Jerusalem.
The drama starts when they head home. On their way back to Nazareth Joseph and Mary lose track of their son. There are a bunch of people making the journey back home and they figure he is in the group somewhere, perhaps playing with some friends or running ahead of the group. They know they will catch up with Him when they stop for the evening. So, imagine their horror when they stop, and they cannot find him. In fact, no one has seen Him the whole day. They rush back to Jerusalem and begin in earnest to search for Jesus. But everywhere they look, they cannot find Him. Think of their horror as they frantically search with no luck. He is missing for three days. When they do find Him, no doubt the moment was filled with tears, relief, anger, and guilt all rolled into one. They find Him in the one place you would never think to look for a 12-year-old boy. They find Him going to Church. They find Jesus in the Temple sitting with the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. He is the center of attention, though, as they are all amazed at His wisdom and understanding.
When Mary questions Jesus, she wants to know why He would simply abandon the family and cause them to worry so much. His response is profound. In fact, it must be because of this response that Luke includes the story in the first place. He says to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) He must be in His Father’s house. This was not some sort of childhood misadventure, this is necessary, this is what He has come to do. He was 12. He has become a son of the Commandments. He is making His faith His own. His Father’s house is the place He ought to be, the place a faithful son would be. Why would they expect Him to be anywhere else?
We are reminded here how the life of our Lord is one of intentional purpose. There is a reason for the whole thing, an aim and goal for His work. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says, “…all the promises of God find their Yes in Him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). All God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ our Lord. The promise of victory over the old serpent, the promise of peace, the promise of and end to war and sorrow and disease and death. All of it is answered here in this child born of Mary. Which means that all the incredible things He does are necessary to achieve this goal. His baptism by John, His temptation in the wilderness, His miracles and teaching, His transfiguration, His betrayal and agony and death on a cross, and His glorious resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. All of it is what must be done.
When we see this 12-year-old boy in the Temple we see one who is fixed on what must be done. He must love His Father. He must attend to His Word. He must be faithful, for if he is not, then the promises of God begin to wither and fade. After all, mankind was on an unstoppable fall into eternal destruction. As it is written “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… No one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). The fall of mankind, the rebellion of our sin, the transgression of His Law, means we must pay the price, we must die, and be condemned. So, what Mary and Joseph find when they find Jesus is one who must save us, for we cannot save ourselves.
This strange account in Luke’s Gospel directs us to our Lord for all that must be done for eternal life. For you, He came. For you, He grew and taught and did miracles. For you, He suffered and died and rose again on the third day. It may not be some miraculous event or some grand teaching, but it is an important reminder for us all. It reminds us that when we find Jesus, we will find Him doing what must be done. Is that not exactly the case? Think about where you find Him, where He promises to be for you. You find Jesus in baptism. You find Him in the proclamation of the Word. You find Him in the forgiveness of sins. You find Him in, with, and under the bread and wine.
The Word teaches us that when you are baptized you are baptized into Christ Jesus; you are bound to Him there as you die and rise with Him. When you find Him, what is He doing? Why, He is covering your sin in His righteousness. We are told that where two or three are gathered He promises to be there in their midst. Where forgiveness is being spoken, He is the one doing it. We find Him in the preaching of the Word and the declaration of forgiveness, and we find Him doing exactly what He said, forgiving each one of you. We find Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. He says, “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood… Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” We find Jesus in the Word and Sacraments He has given us. We find Him doing what must be done to save us.
This is why we gather. This is why the Church exists. It is not to make us better or morally upright people. It is not focused on being some sort of self-help accountability team. This is not about the power of positive thinking or effective strategies for living a more successful life. No, we gather because the gifts of Christ are here. We gather because this is where we find Jesus. And without fail, every time we search Him out, every time we come again to the gifts of our Lord, we find Jesus doing what must be done. He fulfills the promises of His Father. He sits with the sinners and has compassion. He loves you and forgives you and opens to you the gates of eternal life.