Where to Find Jesus

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 2:49

And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49 RSV

What person in world history would you most like to know about? Which human career, among all others, would you enjoy studying in the most complete way possible? If you could become an expert, an authority on one figure in all of human history, which one would you choose?

For me, that choice is easy, almost immediate: Jesus of Nazareth. To me, His is the utterly incomparable life. No one else, in all the drama of the ages, even comes close. Whether from the standpoint of His admirable character or profound wisdom or for His positive contributions to the human race, Jesus, for me, stands supreme.

If it were possible, I would love to hear with understanding every word He ever spoke, to know about everything He did during all the time He lived among us. The writers of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, haven’t given us, of course, biographies like that. Think how long a book it would take, what an extensive audio production, how many miles of video tape it would require to capture Jesus’ entire career!

What we have in the gospels (and we’re especially thinking about Luke now) is not in the strict sense biography. Each of these writers is highly selective in what he records. There’s a good deal in Luke, for example, about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, quite a bit about His three years of public ministry, and extensive detail on the last week of His life, leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. But for the thirty years or so from His birth until His public ministry began, we’re told almost nothing. We find a couple of general comments in Luke, chapter 2. They run like this: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him . . . and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with man.” But for actual events that occurred in His life during that thirty-year period, and words He spoke then, we have – think of it – only one brief paragraph!

I’m going to read that to you now. This is the one concrete incident preserved to us from Jesus’ early years. Listen. I’m reading from Luke 2, beginning at verse 41: “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 company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking 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 they 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 looking for you anxiously.’ And he said to them, `How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”

That’s it, friends. That’s all we know from a period of almost three decades in the life of Jesus Christ. Now because I treasure every bit of such information, this account is fascinating to me. Think with me about it now, about these ordinary parents, this extraordinary child and what it all means for us today.


How do Mary and Joseph appear in this record? I find them quite believable, both in their limitations and in their trusting hearts. They have been visiting with their family in Jerusalem. It was the custom for devout Jews to make at least one pilgrimage to the Holy City during each year. If possible, all the males were to come also for the feasts of Pentecost and of Tabernacles, but it was the Passover feast that everyone was sure to attend. The family probably stayed for at least two days and then began their journey back to Nazareth. They must have been traveling in a larger company, the men journeying together and the women behind them with the small children. A boy of Jesus’ age, about twelve, might have been with either group. As it turned out, when Joseph and Mary got the family together at the end of the day, He was found to be with neither. There was nothing to do but return to Jerusalem seeking Him. That took another full day. By the time they could begin their search, it was the morning of the third day.

When they found Jesus in the courts of the temple among the religious teachers, they were “astonished.” There He was, conversing with these learned rabbis, seemingly not at all disoriented or afraid. Mary spoke for both when she said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” They couldn’t understand why Jesus would have done this to them. Didn’t He realize the anguish of worry they had been caused? This was not necessarily a reprimand, but it surely expressed hurt feelings and considerable bewilderment. They didn’t know what to make of the situation.

Jesus answered, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” That apparently didn’t help Mary and Joseph much. Luke comments: “they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.” The whole experience left them confused.

That, it seems, ended the conversation. Jesus then went back with them to Nazareth and continued to be an obedient, dutiful son. But Mary didn’t forget what had happened. As Luke puts it, “She kept all these things in her heart.” She pondered what had happened and the strange things her young son had said. Many years later she must have reported all of this to our historian friend, Luke. This was her major recollection during all of those years.

Questions have been raised at times as to whether this account is genuine, whether or not it actually happened this way. If Mary had been told when she was expecting her child that He would indeed be the Son of God, why would she be surprised at things like these? And further, if Jesus were truly virgin-born, why would Mary say to Him, “Your father and I have been looking for you.” Well, think about those objections for a moment. Even if Mary had been told about her son’s unique destiny, would that keep her from being somewhat overwhelmed when the first signs of that uniqueness began to appear? She was, after all, an ordinary mother.

And as for the word “your father and I,” what else would she have called Joseph in speaking to Jesus? Don’t adoptive parents customarily refer to each other in conversations as “Mother” or “Father”? Of course. Mary was doing what any other mother would do in a situation like that. As I say, their conduct in this incident seems to me quite normal and believable.


As for Jesus, His behavior is admittedly extraordinary, but not in the way we would expect if this were a manufactured account. In later so-called records of Jesus’ life, which are universally considered apocryphal, the holy child is said to do amazing things, fashioning birds out of clay and giving them life so that they fly away. There’s nothing of that sort in this account. Jesus doesn’t even appear as a child who instructs His elders, confounding them with esoteric knowledge. He simply asks intelligent, penetrating questions. Again, He responds to those put to Him with deep understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. The scene is remarkable, but it’s not fantastic. Jesus appears as an unusual twelve-year-old, certainly, but not as a kind of wonder-child.

Look now at His response when Mary questions Him. He seems genuinely surprised that she and Joseph would have any trouble finding Him. Perhaps He had been so engrossed in what was happening there in the temple that He had lost track of time. He wasn’t blaming Mary and Joseph here for their feelings – just registering amazement that they would have looked for Him anywhere else but in God’s house. Didn’t they know that that was where He had to be?

Jesus uses the word must here: “It is necessary.” When that expression is found in the gospels, it always has to do with God’s purpose, with the divine mission Jesus has been given. These things have to take place, He argues, if God’s loving design for His people is to be accomplished.

This is the first hint we have that the astonishing things that were said about Jesus at His birth had come to register in His own consciousness. At the age of twelve, Jesus is aware of His unique mission, the vast imperative that lies upon His life. He knows that He must be involved in the study of the Scriptures. He knows that He belongs there in the temple of God. And, most significantly, He knows that He stands in a special, unique relationship to God. He says, “my Father.” This is what I truly find extraordinary. And yet this awareness is arising in a young man who later goes back home with His parents and lives in obedience to them through all the years that lead up to His public ministry. He knows Himself to be the Son of God, yet models for us of what life should be as a child in a human family.


What does all this mean for us? Why did Luke decide to include it in His gospel? Perhaps He wanted to show what limited human parents Mary and Joseph were. That certainly appears here. But it can’t be the reason for the record. The great theme of the gospel, its central figure, is Jesus Himself as the true human being, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Luke is writing a gospel which is designed so to record Jesus’ words and works, His suffering, death and resurrection, that readers will be led to faith in Him and inquirers will come to full assurance. This record from Jesus’ youth is a kind of pattern for us of what it means to be a genuine human being. That is, for one thing, to honor, respect and obey one’s parents. It’s to treasure the family relationships into which we have been born or placed.

Luke is also showing us how, early in Jesus’ life, the consciousness began to form, that God in a unique sense was His Father. He was at age twelve. The next year, at thirteen, He like all Jewish boys His age would take His place as an adult member of the religious community. Yet even before that time had arrived, Jesus had known from the witness of the Scriptures and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within Him that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was His Father, the One whom He called “Abba.”

Now if all we had on that subject were the feelings and statements of a twelve year old, that would be one thing, hardly authoritative for us. But this accords with what Jesus would later say about Himself and with the way He actually lived. So this little paragraph from the past becomes a confirming witness to Luke’s major theme, to what Mary carried in her heart: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Now I come back to that intriguing question Jesus asked, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Or literally, “in the things of my Father?” There’s a clue to Jesus’ whole ministry. He was always about His Father’s business, walking in communion with the Father, listening to the voice of the Father, sharing His love, doing the Father’s will. In the last week of His life, He was in the temple again to protest against its misuse, to claim it for the Father’s purpose. And when the Father had said that that awful cup of forsakenness was not to depart from Him, Jesus was about His Father’s business to the end, bearing our sins and sorrows, dying as a ransom for many, so that the Father’s loving will to save could be accomplished. Where the Father’s presence is to be enjoyed, where His purpose is to be fulfilled, that’s where we’ll always find Jesus.

The wonder of the gospel is that we who believe in this Jesus as Son of God and Savior become ourselves children of God, beloved sons and daughters. We may appeal to the Lord of heaven and earth as “Abba, dear Father.” And following Jesus, it is our privilege too to do the Father’s will and serve His cause on earth. People will know where to find us too – right in the midst of our Father’s business. May that be true for you and me, through Jesus Christ our Lord!