Home > Anfechtung, Epiphany > Losing Jesus. First Sunday after Epiphany, 2015

Losing Jesus. First Sunday after Epiphany, 2015

1st Sunday after Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:41-52

January 11, 2015

“Losing Jesus”—heavily indebted to Tilemann Heshusius

Iesu Iuva

The first thing to notice in the Gospel for this first Sunday after Epiphany is the diligence of Mary and Joseph in keeping the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”  Because every year they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

Now God had instituted three holy festivals in which all the males in Israel were to appear before God’s presence at the temple.  These were the feast of tabernacles, the Feast of weeks (which we know as Pentecost), and the Feast of the Passover, which occurred at our Easter.  As you can imagine, it was not easy to do this.  It was several days’ journey on foot from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and if it is difficult for us to get all the kids into the car to go to church on Sunday morning, or to get aching bones to make the treacherous walk up steps and across parking lots into our church, you can imagine how it was difficult to take young children and old bones on a several day journey into a strange city to worship the Lord.

Yet the Gospel tells us that the Holy Family made this journey every year.  Why did they do it?  Because it was the law of the Lord.  But it was a joyful duty, just as going to church is a joyful duty.  Because there the were gathered together with all the people of God to hear His word and rejoice in His salvation.  Every Passover, before the presence of God in the temple, the story of the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in Egypt would be proclaimed, and they would eat the Passover lamb which died so that judgment would pass by the Israelites and they would become God’s redeemed people.  They were redeemed with the blood of the lamb.  And in the same way we also gather together with God’s people on Sunday and eat the true Passover lamb who was slain for our redemption from sin—the body and blood of our Lord Jesus who redeemed us in His crucifixion on the tree at Calvary.  So it is not simply a commandment of the law that we fulfill because God threatens us with punishment if we don’t.  It is a joy to hear God’s Word, because in it He gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

So first from this Gospel we should take to heart the example of Mary and Joseph and cling with diligence to the public preaching of God’s Word.  Many people ignore and treat lightly the preaching of God’s Word.  They figure they know already what the pastor is going to say.  Or they may say, “I can read the Bible at home.  Why do I need to go to church?”  Sometimes people are blessed to have a gifted preacher as a pastor, but more often the pastor’s gifts at preaching are average.

But we should not regard the preaching of God’s Word in this way, according to human reason.  God highly exalts the public preaching of His Word.  Through the public preaching of His word He wants to be active through His Holy Spirit in convicting us of our sins and in working faith in Christ in our hearts so that we are saved and also living and active in good works.  God has highly exalted the preaching of His word and the ministry of the word and sacraments.  He says of His preachers in Luke chapter 10: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me.”  As a result whenever a minister is preaching faithfully, no matter how humble his skills at speaking, he is speaking as Christ’s own ambassador and messenger, bringing Christ’s own message, which is a powerful word that brings with it the Holy Spirit and works faith and eternal life.  Thus we should cling to the public preaching of the word and regard it highly, as Mary and Joseph did.  We should not despise it but regard it as God’s own word, this preaching, and seek to hear it as often as we can, while at the same time reading the word in our homes and learning the catechism diligently.  That’s the example the Holy Family sets before us, and if we follow it and treasure preaching and God’s Word our homes will be blessed.

They will be blessed, like Mary and Joseph’s house.  But being blessed does not mean that they will be without affliction, suffering, and hardship.  In this Gospel reading we also see that Mary suffered a great and terrible affliction even though she was living a godly life of hearing the word of God and being faithful in her calling.

Her affliction was that she lost Jesus, who was 12 years old at the time.  The story is short, so it’s easy to miss the seriousness of this.  Imagine if one of the mothers in our church lost a 12 year old child of theirs for 3 days.  The parents wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep.  They would drop everything and think of nothing except finding the lost child.  And the parent’s hearts, particularly the mother’s, would be torn in two.  There would be crying and grief that would cut to the heart anyone who heard it.  And it wouldn’t just be the parents.  All the loved ones and relations would be worried and upset.  The whole church would share in the parents’ grief.

This was the grief and agony Mary had when Jesus turned up missing during the journey back to Nazareth.  But her grief was still worse.  This was no ordinary child who was missing.  Mary had heard from the angel that this child was the Son of God.  She knew He had been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she knew from the shepherds who had visited her and from Anna and Simeon’s prophecies that Jesus was the Savior of the world.  Can you imagine, not only losing your beloved only son, but also losing the world’s Savior?  Mary was not only burdened with the grief of her own loss but with guilt at having lost the only Son of God who was to bring salvation to the world.

Sometimes Christians experience Mary’s sorrow.  They seem to lose Jesus.  For unbelievers the sorrow a Christian experiences at seeming to have lost Jesus is incomprehensible.  But to a Christian it can be the most severe pain imaginable.

How do we lose Jesus?  We can’t really lose Him, can we?  We can indeed lose Christ and salvation through willful sin, but I’m speaking of another kind of loss.  This is when a Christian wants to believe in Christ and be comforted by Him but their faith is shaken.  Perhaps they are assailed by doubts about the truth of parts of the faith or the Scriptures even though they don’t want to be.  Perhaps they are overwhelmed by temptations to sin or renounce Christ, even though they fight against them.  Perhaps suffering or death has driven out all the comfort they once experienced from believing in this child Jesus.  Perhaps the devil confronts us with the magnitude of our sins or our repeated falls and holds before our eyes the picture of God’s wrath with such clarity that we begin to despair of being saved.

There are innumerable ways that the world, the devil, and the flesh have of driving the comfort of Christ and the feeling of faith from our hearts.  At those times Christians feel like they have lost Christ and can’t find Him anywhere.  This is a terrible affliction.  It is the feeling of hell pressing in on us while we are still alive in this world.

If we experience this, we should remember this Gospel.  It shows that we are not the first to feel like we have lost Jesus.  Mary, the mother of God herself, had the experience of losing Jesus, and it seemed to her like all the grief and terror in the world had closed in on her.  But God brought her consolation again.  And this experience was not unique to Mary, but is common to saints, that is, to believers in Christ.  Time does not permit listing all the examples.  The disciples had this experience more than once.  They thought that they were doomed in the storm on the sea of Galilee when Jesus was sleeping in the boat.  Then when they had denied Christ and He lay hidden from them for three days in the tomb, they were sure that they had lost Jesus.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that God allowed him to have a messenger from Satan in his flesh to torment him.  And David tells the story in the Psalms repeatedly of feeling like he had lost Christ.

What are we to do when this happens to us, and we feel like we have lost Jesus?  The first thing Mary did was look for Jesus among her friends and relatives.  However she did not find Him there.  Sometimes if we are experiencing depression or some other earthly affliction, we can be helped by seeking advice and comfort from family, friends, doctors, and so on.  But Mary didn’t find Jesus there, where reason and human nature would think to look.  She found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers.  Jesus was found in the things of His Father.  He was found where God’s Word is.

This is where we will find Jesus when we feel we have lost Him.  When this happens we shouldn’t sit still and simply despair or hang our heads or give way to spiritual depression.  We should look diligently for Jesus in the things of His Father.  We should cling to the preaching of God’s Word, because there the Father reveals Jesus, makes Him known, gives Him to us, kindles love for Him and comfort in His salvation.  We should receive the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, because that sacrament is instituted for the strengthening of weak faith and the comfort of those who are distressed by sin.  We should diligently pray and read God’s Word and not give up.  And we should seek out the consolation of experienced Christians, particularly the pastor, whose office it is to speak God’s Word to comfort us.  Especially the pastor can pronounce the forgiveness of sins to you personally, which is of great comfort in spiritual afflictions.

Jesus is found where God’s Word is.  When we feel that we have lost Jesus, we look for Him in the word and sacraments.  There He will restore comfort to those who fear that they have lost Him, just as He did to His mother Mary.

For He is the true Passover lamb who was slain to redeem us from all our sins.  Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him.  This is a trustworthy saying, says 1 Timothy chapter 1—that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

When Mary found Jesus in the temple they were probably discussing the meaning of Passover.  Jesus was learning God’s Word, learning from it about His work to redeem sinners.  So when we feel that we are lost sinners who cannot find Christ, we should look for the Lord Jesus where He is to be found—in His Father’s things, in the preaching of the word.  There the Father gives His son to us as our Passover lamb who was slain to redeem us from all sin and make us God’s own people.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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