Jean’s Gospel: Jesus is in His Father’s House!
“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 group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for 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 his parents 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 searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:42-51)
Historians suggest that the number of residents living in Jerusalem at the time of Christ may have been in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 residents. However, during Passover that number typically swelled to as many as 250,000 people. Thus our story took place within the context of massive crowds, including a large number of foreign speaking diaspora Jews. Somewhere along the way out of Jerusalem, at some intersection, Mary and Joseph turned one way, and Jesus turned the other. In a split second, He was gone! But His parents did not realize Jesus was missing until they had gone a day’s journey back to Nazareth.
“[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
When something horrible happens to Christians, Satan looks for an opportunity to attack the conscience with lies and accusations. Satan’s objective is to arouse a bad conscience in us by accusing us of sin and condemning us as sinners. Satan’s objective is to estrange us from Christ by destroying our faith in Him at its foundation, the forgiveness of sins and our acceptance by God the Father.
“but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple” (Luke 2:44-46)
There are few things more terrifying to a parent than the fear of losing a young child. It could happen at a mall, theme park, campground, or almost any large, crowded venue. If a young child goes missing, even if only for an hour, a parent’s thoughts can quickly grow dark in fear. The parent may imagine worst case scenarios, become guilt-stricken, and/or imagine that the whole affair is some kind of punishment for past deeds.
In our reading, Mary and Joseph were separated from Jesus for three days. That would seem like an eternity to parents of a missing child. We know that Mary and Joseph suffered intensely during their search for Jesus. Mary described their pain to Jesus when she found him in the temple: “Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress [ὀδυνώμενοι].” (Luke 2:48c) The Greek word ὀδυνώμενοι “describes deep mental pain or trauma” (Darrell L. Bock). Mary and Joseph feared the loss of Jesus. Mary in particular may have despaired that she failed Jesus and God, who entrusted her with the unique honor and blessing of bearing His Son.
“And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
This issue here is not whether or not horrible things happen to or are done by Christians, because in a fallen world they surely will. The issue is how to hold fast to Christ in the midst of pain and suffering so that Satan cannot gain a toehold in our conscience to undermine our faith in our Lord and Savior.
Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus first among friends and relatives, next in Jerusalem, and finely in the temple, where after three days “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46) But when Mary attempted to scold Jesus, He responded with a gentle rebuke of His own: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20)
Jesus asked Mary: “Why were you looking for me?” The answer is: Mary never lost Jesus in the way she feared. Did she not remember the promises the Lord gave her through the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-35)? Did she not remember Simeon’s prophesy (Luke 2:29-35)? When our conscience begins to accuse us, we need to rebuke Satan’s lies and accusations and trust the Word of God, who will never fail us. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)
When our conscience is troubled, for whatever reason (but especially in the worst situations, whether or not from sin), we must seek Christ in His Father’s house. He is not among relatives and acquaintances or in Jerusalem. Of course they can comfort us with our bodily and social needs, but they cannot cleanse a troubled conscience. Relatives and acquaintances cannot forgive our sins, or give us the grace of our heavenly Father. Only Christ can provide such consolation, and He is found only in His Father’s house.
But what does Jesus mean by “my Father’s house”? Surely Jesus conducted most of His ministry outside the temple. Moreover, is not the whole world God’s? Yes, both points are true. What Jesus means is that He must be about His Father’s business. His Father’s house is wherever Jesus is doing His Father’s business.
Jesus does His Father’s business through His Word. In the Gospel Christ offers us grace, forgiveness and God as Father. In Christ there is no condemnation (Rom 8:1). Therefore, when we are stricken by suffering or a bad conscience, we must seek Christ in His Father’s house alone (i.e., in His Word and Gospel). If we cling to the Word and receive His gifts freely proffered in the Gospel, Christ will rule our hearts and give us a clear conscience before God and men. Although we are no match for Satan, Satan is no match for Christ: “One little word shall fell him.” (M. Luther, A Mighty Fortress…) Amen.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28) Amen.