Luke 2:39-50 “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

This famous incident is renowned for being the only account of an episode in Jesus’ childhood. There were about thirty years between the death of Herod (when the family returned from their exile in Egypt) and Jesus’ baptism by John at which time our Lord commenced his three years of ministry. While a third of the gospels deals with the last seven days in the life of our Lord just the ten or so verses before us are the one passage opening a window on the thirty years in which Jesus lived in Nazareth. In fact they are not focused on Nazareth; there is nothing whatsoever in the Bible about the three decades our Lord spent in Nazareth. This account describes one of the annual visits the family took to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years of age.

It was on this occasion, on their way back home to Nazareth that something occurred that none of the family could ever have forgotten. How often must they have subsequently spoken about it. Their beloved son Jesus got left behind at Jerusalem, and they had gone on for a whole day’s journey without him, and it took three of the most terrible days in their lives to find him. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached about this incident of losing Jesus in Bethlehem, Sandfields in March 1933, saying, “Isn’t this a perfect picture of the life of the majority today? Watch these people as they go down from Jerusalem to their home in Nazareth. There they were going with the other people in the caravan, and as they journeyed they talked. Nothing seemed to worry them. Maybe they were discussing together the services they had just been attending at Jerusalem, commenting perhaps on the addresses they had heard. No doubt also the political situation was mentioned and the whole question of the Roman domination was raised and freely discussed. Quite likely also the relative strength of the various groups and parties of priests — the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. — was considered and debated. Probably also the women in particular had their discussions as to the various things they had seen in the shops and bazaars of the city, the various purchases they had made and the whole difficulty and problem of life and living. On they went, so concerned about this, that and the other, and not thinking at all about the one thing that was really of greatest importance; not thinking at all as to whether the boy Jesus was with them or not. There, I say again, is a perfect picture of life and of the masses. On and on they go in life’s journey, concerned about anything and everything and everybody, except the one thing that matters most of all and the one Person who alone really counts” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Evangelistic Sermons, “False Assumptions,” Banner of Truth, 1983, p. 164). So in our passage, what is placed before us is the possibility of losing God the Son.


If Mary the mother of Jesus could lose him, and lose him in Jerusalem, then we must all face up to the possibility of losing God. The old evangelist Gypsy Smith preached a sermon on this passage, and it had two headings; first that the experience of losing Christ happened in the most unlikely place, and secondly, that the experience of losing Christ happened to the most unlikely people.

i] Think of the place where Jesus was lost. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “I never lost my Master’s company at a funeral; but such a thing is more than possible at a wedding. I never lost my Saviour’s presence in the house of mourning, by the bedside of the sick and dying; but I have sometime felt suspension of fellowship with my Lord when the musical instruments have been sounding in my ear, and when joy and gladness ruled the hour. Our happy moments are our most perilous ones” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 45, “A Lost Child Found,” p.99).

We are told that, “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover” (v.41). A curious fact is that this is the only place in the New Testament where the phrase ‘every year’ occurs. Emphasis is being laid on the total commitment this family made to keeping the Passover every single year without fail, and that unique phrase ‘every year’ is underlining the family’s dedication. Joseph, Mary and the children never missed celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. It was a kind of convention cum adventure cum holy holiday cum friends-reunion that was their high spot each year, leaving that dusty group of houses where they lived for the vast city, its impressive buildings and the bustle of Jerusalem.

The Old Testament insisted that the head of the household be present at the feasts in Jerusalem, but Mary was devout; she loved to accompany Joseph and bring her children with her to the feast. Now we know that the great reason the little Lord Jesus went with his father to Jerusalem observing the feast was in order to keep the ceremonial law of God perfectly on our behalf. In other words, he was there because of me, to obtain my salvation by fulfilling all righteousness on my behalf. But the story is not about any misdeeds of Jesus when he got away from Nazareth but on the fact that his parents lost him in Jerusalem. They didn’t take their eyes off him when they were refugees in foreign, unknown Egypt, that dangerous pagan place, but it was in familiar, safe Jerusalem, where the law of God was revered and atonement for sin was being made each day, they grew careless and lost him. This was Jerusalem packed with thousands of devout pilgrims gathered for the feast, with a highly charged religious atmosphere, the sound of psalms being sung coming from rooms on every narrow street. There were thousands of Passover feasts being celebrated solemnly everywhere with the odour of roast lamb hanging over the entire city. Surrounded by earnest religion somehow they mislaid Jesus, even leaving for home unaware that he was no longer with them.

If this could happen to Mary and Joseph in a place like Zion city of the living God, you or I can certainly lose the sense of Christ’s presence in church, even in conferences or conventions, wherever we are a part of the fellowship of God’s people. No place of blessing can guarantee, “You will never lose Jesus here,” if Mary lost him in Jerusalem during the Passover. It is possible to find yourselves drifting spiritually under mighty gospel preaching and miracles as did Judas, and also Ananias and Sapphira under apostolic preaching, growing cold and entering a period where all that once seemed satisfying fades away – as happened to the members of the church at Laodicea. The fiery darts of doubt start to hit home as the shield of faith drops. “Has all my religion been a delusion?” you ask yourself. Has it been real? There is scarcely a Christian who has not experienced such attacks. One Christian famously expressed it like this, ‘Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?’ and he cries for God to return to him. You have lost a sense of Christ; Joseph and Mary lost their son Jesus in Jerusalem during the Passover. Think of such a place and occasion to be losing Jesus, and watch and pray.

ii] Think of the mother who lost him. Was there ever a stronger and healthier bonding between a mother and a son than between Mary and Jesus? Luke tells us that Jesus wasn’t a sickly child. He was bonny. We are told, “the child grew and became strong” (v.40). Jesus had energy; he could keep going, running errands, playing and working day after day. He was rarely sick, if at all. He had resilience and vitality. He could have carried a heavy water pot to Mary’s kitchen from the well by the time he was twelve. He could have brought a load of wood home for his father and Joseph might have blinked at him with amazement at what he could carry! Jesus was strong, but more important, he knew why he was strong. He knew himself – who he was – from his very childhood. He had a sense of self-identity. He always knew himself to be the Son of God as well as the son of Mary. In other words, he knew he had two natures in his one person, the divine nature and the human nature, and he always operated in terms of both natures. For him it was utterly natural and easy. He was man and he was God, and he knew the contrast between having fellowship with his heavenly Father and then seeing the cruelty and hearing the curses and the weeping in the world around him where Joseph lived. He lived all his days as the God-man in this groaning, fallen world.

Even at a tender age he understood with increasing clarity why he had been sent into the world. His mother Mary would have told him everything that had happened to her when Gabriel appeared. The angel of the Lord had announced that she was to be with child of the Holy Spirit. She told her son Jesus that he was different, he was the Son of the Highest. She told him what Simeon cried to God when she had carried Jesus into the Temple, “My eyes have seen your salvation!” She told him that Simeon also said that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel. She kept nothing back from Jesus of all the words of men and women and angels who had spoken before and after his birth all saying that Jesus would be great and God would give him the throne of his father David and he would reign for ever. “My dear son, Gabriel said that your throne would know no end.” This is what Jesus was told by his mother as soon as he was old enough to receive it. She answered his questions honestly as far as she could. He was filled with wisdom so that from the earliest age he could understand her as well as the Scriptures she taught him.

Jesus knew that he had come into the world to be made the sin-bearer, and that is the great reason why he was made strong in body and strong in spirit from the youngest age, because there was such a burden that he would have to bear alone, and even as a twelve year old boy he was beginning to bear it. He was made strong to love his neighbour as himself every minute of his life, strong to love his childhood enemies, strong to be without any sins of omission. Yet though there was such bonding between mother and son as this world has never seen, this mother lost this son in Jerusalem, and I am warning you who have been raised in a Christian home, and sat under biblical ministry, and enjoyed the company of Christian friends and so have known something of the fellowship of Jesus Christ in many rich ways to take heed lest you lose the Saviour. Is it this the one loss you dread most of all, above every other loss, of losing Jesus Christ the Saviour? Anyone can lose the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of Bob Dylan beginning to attend the Vineyard Church in Reseda, southern California in early 1979, “getting a vision and feeling and presence in a room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus” and professing faith in Christ, and soon releasing two albums celebrating his religion, Slow Train Coming and Saved. He wrote a song called “Gotta Serve Somebody.” John Lennon, hating an old idol becoming a Christian, issued his reply to that in a song he called “Serve Yourself.” But Christ warned us in the parable of the sower of the stony ground hearer whose faith grows rapidly and dies just as rapidly. By 1983 Bob Dylan was saying, “Whoever said I was Christian? Like Gandhi, I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, I’m a Moslem, I’m a Hindu, I’m a humanist.” Bob Dylan lost Jesus.


We are told about Joseph and Mary that “Thinking he was in their company they traveled on for a day” (v.44). They assumed he was there with them. The Authorized Version translates it, “Supposing him to be in their company . . .” They took it for granted as they walked back to Nazareth in the caravan discussing all they had heard and seen and comparing it to other Passover Feasts that Jesus was nearby though out of sight. Why did they take his presence for granted?

i] They had seen him a little time ago. They had had breakfast together. He was there then. So they presumed, because of a sight of him in the past, that he was still with them, but he wasn’t. Yesterday’s blessing of Jesus’ presence is a day late for today.

ii] They had made this journey and come to the Passover for twelve years and nothing like this had happened in the past. They presumed that things would go on as they had always gone on, but they don’t. They never do. Remember what James wrote, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:13-17)

iii] They thought they knew Jesus, that he was someone who never got into trouble, that he was strong, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him. He was a blameless child, utterly reliable; they could give him his freedom. They forgot that every relationship is two way, and this relationship especially so. He was their son, yes, but he was also the Son of God. He was under their authority, but they were also under his authority that of the eternal Word made flesh.

iv] They were taking Jesus for granted. They thought of him as predictable, but one thing about Christ is that he is never predictable. When his mother sat near him at a wedding feast where the host was embarrassed at running out of wine she said to him, “They have no more wine.” He replied, “ . . . woman, why do you involve me?” (Jn.2:4). Once when he was teaching and then his mother and brothers turned up and a message was passed on that his mother was waiting for him outside, “Who is my mother? The one who does God’s will is my mother,” he said. When a Gentile mother asked him to heal her daughter his first response was to tell her that it was not right to take the children’s food and give it to dogs. He could call Herod a fox, and the religious leaders of his day a nest of vipers. He said that one day he would separate all mankind into sheep and goats and he would tell many to depart from him that he never knew them. It is this Lord who gives a thorn in the flesh to his greatest follower. This is the one of whom Job spoke, “The Lord gave and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” This is the Lord who says he will spit out of his mouth a lukewarm church. Sometimes he causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. You can never take Jesus for granted.

As Lloyd-Jones says, “The whole fallacy is to think that our Lord must accommodate himself to us and not we to him. We expect him to come, we assume he will come. We think that we can come and go as we please and do anything we like, but that he will always be there when we need him. So we talk glibly and blasphemously about ‘taking Jesus with us’ to various places – we leading, and Jesus Christ the Son of God, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, following us. Oh the blasphemy of it all” (D.M.Lloyd-Jones, Evangelistic Sermons, “False Assumptions,” Banner of Truth, 1983, p. 171).

v] They lost him by their own carelessness. Parents automatically think about who is caring for the children. It is part of marriage. There is no day when a husband decides he is going to Cardiff to the rugby and the wife decides she is going to Shrewsbury shopping and off they go that morning. First they talk together about their plans, and they determine who is going to look after the children. “Can your mother look after the children?” one of them says. All the time you have to plan for the children whom God has given you. This is the enormous change parenthood brings. Where are the children? What are the children doing? This is especially the case if the oldest is merely twelve years of age. Yet Mary and Joseph were so obsessed with the Passover in Jerusalem, all they had seen and heard, that they never discussed who was keeping an eye on Jesus.

Here is the body of Christ, the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, and our paramount concern is that Jesus is at the heart of his worshipping congregation, that he is not outside standing at the door and knocking for admission. We can have so many schemes, speakers, and special meetings. Everything is done in the name of ‘evangelism.’ We can discuss until the cows come home what we might do to pep up worship, what new electronic devices we can introduce into the church. We can talk of the people, the students, the different countries they come from and our plans for the future, but what about Jesus? Where is Jesus? Is he reigning in every heart? Are we all saying, “To me to live is Christ”? And if not why not? Have we brought Jesus with us as we came? Do we sing his praise? Do our hearts go out to him in prayer? In the preaching do we hear about him and insist that we hear more of him Sunday after Sunday? We have him, but we want more and more of him. We want to hear of him as our prophet and our priest and our king. We want to know him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings and be made conformable to his death.

In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true.
Crown Him as your Captain in temptation’s hour.
Let his will enfold you in its light and power.
(Caroline Noel 1817-77)


They had traveled for a day without a sight of him and then they got worried. Where was little Jesus? They searched for him everywhere in the caravan asking everyone if they had seen him or when they had last seen him, but he was not there and it became clear that he had not been with this company for the whole twelve hours’ journey. Then, through the night they had to walk back alone to Jerusalem with the other children, and there at dawn as the slumbering city awoke they began to search for him, in the place where they had been staying, in the places they had been to. They followed up every lead for a whole day, but they found no trace of Jesus. After a sleepless night they began on the second day to look for him going to outlandish places, and searching where they had been before but at the end of the second day they still had found nothing. How desperate they were, and then on the third day again they looked for him everywhere but could find no trace until one of them said, “We haven’t been to the Temple.” Isn’t that the oddest thing? They knew who he was. They knew of his love for the Temple. It dominated the city. Why had they not begun there? We can say with the wonderful wisdom of hindsight that that is where we would have gone immediately, but Joseph and Mary never thought of that. It was veiled from them I suppose. Jesus needed to have those three days in the Temple. God had a purpose even in that horrible, fruitless, desperate search. Don’t we all experience fruitless searches for things that are really important crying, “Lord, help me . . . Lord, help me.”

Let me encourage you who consider yourselves to be in a living relation with Jesus to seek his presence and to seek it earnestly. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1&2, A.V.). For those of you who are not Christians I don’t urge you to seek for God. God is seeking you, and a proof of that is that he has brought you here today as he seeks for you to save you and keep you. To you I say, “Submit to this great Shepherd. Bow to him, turn from other lords and follow him.” I know of a man named Fred on the Merseyside who heads a demolition company. A few years ago a great longing to know God came over him; it was the beginning of grace and he began to search for God. What did he do? On his day off, which was a Saturday, he went from church to church thinking he would find God in one of them. He said, “I went out looking for Jesus,” but he discovered to his frustration that they were all closed, and he couldn’t understand why. Then he searched on a Sunday; he went to the church in London where his sister worships, a church pastored by a friend called Gerard, and there Jesus Christ found him under the preaching of the word, in the lives of the people of God, and in the Lord making himself known to him in that gathering. What a change has taken place in his life. What zeal he now shows on every demolition site in encouraging those tough men whom he knows so well to bow to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I say to you who have known Jesus in the past then seek him anew with all your hearts. You may have lost his presence with your soul for far longer than Mary and Joseph, three months rather than three days, or even three years. You can think of the years that the locusts of vanity and pride have eaten, years without a happy thought of Jesus. People are so odd. They will fail to go to the one place where they are likely to find Jesus, in the house of God, where his word is loved and preached. They will go to the oddest places, as Mary and Joseph did, before finding him in the place they should have started.

I will tell you a wonderful truth. Jesus is not hiding. He is here to be found. You have come to the right place because he is in our midst. He is still saying to you what he said long ago, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” However far you have strayed, and however long it has been if there is a spark in your heart kindling some little light of longing to be with him again then fan it into a flame. You will find that he is the same gracious, loving, merciful, wise and sovereign Saviour he has always been.

Go back to where you last met with him, in the heart of the worshipping company of God’s people. In the congregation in Florida at which R.C.Sproul preaches the church puts on its bulletins each Sunday these words; “When we enter this building we are moving across a threshold, making a transition from the common to the uncommon, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the secular to the sacred, from the profane to the holy.” I believe that, although God is everywhere, and though all we do is to be done to his glory, there is the assembly of God, where people gather in his name, bread is broken, believing sinners are baptized, God’s word is preached by recognized gifted men and Jesus is present there in a special way in a form he is not present in a shop, or factory, or golf course. It is a holy place where the church gathers in Jesus’ name.

Jesus, where’er Thy people meet
There they behold Thy mercy-seat;
Where’er they seek Thee, Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.
(William Cowper, 1731-1800)

Where was the last place the Lord dealt with you? In church, under his Word; there your heart burned within you and you met him. You heard of his death as the Lamb of God making full atonement for your sin. You were assured that there is no condemnation to those who are in him and you trusted in him. Believe on this Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Where did Mary and Joseph find Jesus? Not far from the mercy-seat, near the sacrifice offered on the altar for the forgiveness of sins. It was in the house of God that they found his Son, and that is still where we find him, not in a yoga class, not in a meditation course, not in a journey in and into your own spirit, but where atonement has been made, a holy God propitiated and redemption accomplished by the Saviour. There at Golgotha you will find him!

Remember another two men going from Jerusalem who thought that they had lost Jesus but they found him as he met with them and explained the Bible to them. He showed himself to them in all the Scriptures, and in the breaking of bread, revealing to them that it was necessary that he should suffer and die. Through the Bible they found the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.


Jesus’ parents found him in the Temple courts where he was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them question. There was a crowd of people standing, observing this scene and they (and the teachers also) had goose pimples as they saw Jesus’ understanding and heard the answers he gave to questions the teachers directed at him. His parents were astonished coming across this scene, finally finding their son there, and that he was the centre of people’s attention.

Significantly enough they strike the pose of being the victims. There is no word of apology that they had gone off and left him, but rather, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (v.48). How does Jesus respond? In the response you find what sort of Saviour he is. He is surprised after all they knew about him from prophets and angels at his birth, and from having lived twelve years with him that they could be as ignorant as they were. His first recorded words in this gospel of Luke are a question, “Didn’t you know?” Were they ignorant of something as elementary as this? “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v.49). Why didn’t they come straight there? Where else would a boy be but in his own home? When we find this Jesus how will we know him?

i] The real Jesus was a man with a mission. “I had to be in my Father’s house,” (v. 49) he told his parents. He was conscious that he was a man under constraint; he had a calling to fulfil and was hemmed in to complete that task. Once in Samaria his disciples had been shopping and they brought him some food and they urged him to eat it. He said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (Jn. 4:32). They thought someone else had brought him food, but he told them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:34). Again he told his disciples, “As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me” (Jn. 9:4). The Lord Jesus felt he was walking with destiny. He was conscious that God had a reason for giving him life. He is a model for every single Christian. What are you doing with your life? It will go by like a weaver’s shuttle. Do you have a purpose in living? Come to Jesus Christ and learn what your goal in life is. What is man’s chief end? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. The duty of man is to glorify God. The destiny of man is to enjoy God. Doesn’t that lift you up from the mud of this world? Doesn’t it give you a single vision?

I was reading a review of the biography of the most famous ballet dancer in the world, the late Rudolf Nureyev, and ballet was his passion, and he said these words, “I’ve tried to reject everything in life which doesn’t enrich or directly concern my single dominating passion.” That single mindedness was wonderfully enriching. He went to St. Petersburg and spent all his time in that wonderful museum, the Hermitage. “I need it like food,” he said. He was desperate for knowledge and sought the company of people who could educate him. That is like the Christian, in creation, in relaxation, in exercise, in reading, in music, in conversation he brings everything under this magnificent obsession of doing the Creator’s will and finishing the work God has given him to do.

ii] The real Jesus was more conscious of his heavenly Father than his legal earthly father. “I had to be in my Father’s house,” he said. He was pulled two ways, Joseph’s house in Nazareth and his heavenly Father’s house in Jerusalem. There was the pull both ways, but there was no choice for him. Always his heavenly Father came first.

What is my being but for Thee, its sure support, its noblest end?

Thy ever blessed face to see, and serve the cause of such a Friend.

See his life, his sublime teaching, his self-denial, the way he redeemed the time, the absence of luxury and self-indulgence, his overcoming temptation, his journey as one always involved in his Master’s business, the high tone of his conversation, his patience, his submission to God’s will, his submission to drink the bitterest cup God gave to him, his humility. Here was a man to whom his heavenly Father was more real than any earthly relations. And ourselves? Is God and his kingdom our chief end? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26).

iii] The real Jesus owed prior obedience to his heavenly Father over his earthly parents.

He was later to say, “I always do what pleases him” (Jn. 8:29). That is the real Jesus and that will always mark his real followers. Do you remember how that came home to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones when as a brilliant doctor in London in the 1920s he was thinking of leaving the medical world and becoming a preacher? He was being pulled two ways and this tension came to a head one night in a dramatic way. One night his wife to be, Bethan and some friends of theirs wanted to go to a theatre in Leicester Square and they persuaded him to go with them. He says, “I have no idea what the play was about at all, but they were very excited about it. What I remember is this: as we came out of the theatre to the blare and glare of Leicester Square, suddenly, a Salvation Army band came along playing some hymn tunes and I knew that these were my people. I have never forgotten it. There is a theme in Wagner’s opera Tannhauser, the two pulls — the pull of the world and the chorus of the pilgrims — and the contrast between the two. I have very often thought of it. I know exactly what it means. I suppose I had enjoyed the play. When I heard this band and the hymns I said, ‘These are my people, these are the people I belong to, and I’m going to belong to them’” (Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, Banner of Truth, 1982, p. 93). The Doctor knew he owed prior submission to the will of his heavenly Father, more than to anyone else on earth, even his own parents. That is the challenge of the supreme Lordship of Christ, and many converted Muslims have paid for that obedience to the Saviour with their lives.