A Sermon By
Dr. Walter A. Maier

"As they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions." SAINT LUKE 2:43-46.

ETERNAL SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND LIGHT: So direct the hearts and minds of all who contritely search for Jesus that they may find Him in His glorious Gospel promises, ever trust Him as the sin- removing Savior, and by faith in His substitutionary death inherit eternal life! Mercifully help those who have acclaimed Christ their Redeemer to continue in the faith despite doubts and trials! Though they lose health, wealth, name, fame, may they never lose their salvation through unbelief and unrepented sin! Blessed Spirit, Thou canst change men's souls! By Thy purifying, enlightening presence in human hearts give us the rebirth and repentant reliance on the redeeming Son of God whereby we become new creatures, children of grace instead of wrath! Without Thee no one can believe Christ's atoning love. We must have Thee, Heavenly Guide, if we are to pursue and practice goodness and grace. Therefore we beseech Thee, look down on our nation, torn, as it is, by labor strife, class hatred, personal greed, and bring men to Christ, with a new desire to follow His self- sacrificing love! We entreat Thee also for the millions of ill-clad, ill-housed, ill-fed across the ocean, whoever they may be. Open our hearts and our pocketbooks to their needs! For Jesus' sake help us share with them our overabundance! Come, Holy Spirit, hear us, and help us always to live for, through, and with Christ, in whose saving name we pray confidently! Amen!

     In Rochester, New York, people like to tell the story of a remarkable rescue. A little boy had fallen into the Genesee River, which flows through the center of the city, and the current was drawing him toward the middle of the stream many times beyond his depth. A workman crossing the bridge found stunned spectators lined against its railing, and, seeing the lad waging a losing battle with the waves, he plunged into the river. It was a matter of only a few moments before he had the child safe on the bank; but can you imagine his surprise, joy, thanksgiving to God, when he found that instead of rescuing a strange lad, he had saved his own son?

     Even these smaller episodes of history repeat themselves. Last week in Brockton, Massachusetts, Harry Guttler saw a baby girl floating in a stream near his home. Plunging into the icy waters, Guttler seized the child only to learn that it was his two-year-old Natalie, who was revived and restored to her parents.

     In a less dramatic, but a vastly more vital, way, you fathers and mothers ought to realize personally that your sons and daughters are in danger of losing their souls, and that God Almighty wants you to help rescue them. We read about children said to be kidnaped, but discovered dead in a bureau drawer, little ones brutally murdered - parts of their bodies found in Chicago sewers, boys and girls burned to death while their parents play and drink, deserted infants thrown into ash cans or placed at the doors of charitable institutions, tiny ones in Central Europe starving to death while civilized governments withhold food. However, we do not hear enough about the soul-hungry, religiously neglected, spiritually murdered youth from whom the criminals and infidels of tomorrow will be recruited. Many of you American fathers and mothers, some living comfortable, carefree, respected lives in a country blessed by far-reaching policies for the protection of children's health, the advancement of their mind, the promotion of their happiness, have sons and daughters daily menaced by soul-destroying dangers; yet you - may the Holy Spirit stir your selfish hearts to repentance! - look on indifferently, sometimes amusedly while your own flesh and blood is being lost to Heaven - and you lost with them.

     To help you, parents and children, find yourself in God; to show you an unfailing source of happiness for your home and divine aid for the souls of your family, I ask you to hear the story of


and by the Spirit's direction to apply to yourself the warning and comfort you can take from one record of the Savior's boyhood preserved in Scripture (Saint Luke, chapter two, verses forty-three to forty-six): "As they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking questions."


     When the annual Passover Festival came, Joseph and Mary were not satisfied to stay home in Nazareth. Although the sixty-mile trip to the temple in Jerusalem required three days, these two children of God were ready to endure hardship for the joy of worshiping the Lord in His Temple. Today millions of Americans have a true house of God within walking distance; but they never enter it. Let a few snowflakes fall or the thermometer drop, and many members will find excuses for keeping their distance from services. As long as masses of our people have not the humble devotion required to give the Almighty a few faith-filled hours on Sunday morning and thus help increase church attendance, we have no reason whatever to expect that the heavy difficulties which burden us, increasing conflict between capital and labor, growing international issues, mounting financial problems, will ever be truly solved. More churches are found within our borders than in any other country, but, on the other hand, more people outside the church than in any other so-called Christian nation.

     Neither were Joseph and Mary ready to send the twelve-year-old Jesus up to Jerusalem alone; they took Him. Only God knows how much more blessing would rest on American congregations and families if parents and children were wholeheartedly united in true worship. Too many fathers and mothers are so utterly disinterested in religion that they refuse to have their sleep interrupted on Sunday morning to help their children attend even the scant one-hour weekly Bible training that good Sunday schools offer. The Lord holds you parents, not the state, not the schools, not the churches, not the teachers, not the pastors, primarily responsible for the unbelief of your sons and daughters! If you set the Bible aside in your home; if your boys and girls never hear a word of prayer from your lips, instead criticism and condemnation of the church, cursing and criminal opposition to the Almighty; if your young ones know that you refuse to enter God's house, but spend Sunday after Sunday drinking, cursing, playing cards, attending shows and sport events, with no time, no money, no interest, no love left for Christ; if your household constantly witnesses your willful antagonism to the Lord's way, your stubborn sneering at His will, whom but yourselves must you blame if the members of your family grow up as public and private enemies of the Lord? Whom will the Almighty hold guilty, in the first instance, when before the bar of His justice your children raise accusing voices to charge: "My father never took me to church. My mother never showed me the way to Jesus"? Hear this terrifying sentence of Scripture against him who gives offense to little ones - and if you are guilty, shudder! - "It were better," Jesus Himself says, "that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned into the sea"! How doubly damning the sin of keeping others from the Savior when committed by parents against their own children!

     Stop, then, fathers and mothers, to consider what example you are giving your own boys and girls! If they hear you quarreling, how can this example help them lead a normal, happy life? Ten years ago an American newspaper published a cartoon showing a child kneeling beside its bed and praying, "Dear Lord, please make Mamma and Papa stop fightin', 'cause it's hard to take sides when you love them both, and besides I am ashamed to face the kids." If that wistful appeal for family peace was necessary before the war, it is a dozen times more sorely needed now, after the war, when husbands and wives far more frequently lead their own selfish lives. What supervision are you giving your children's activity? Do you know that every month boys and girls in our nation read almost 10,000,000 cheap adventure magazines, about 3,000,000 with so-called "true confession" stories, the same number with detective stories which reveal the plans of the underworld, more than 10,000,000 movie magazines featuring sex-appeal pictures? Are your children included in these terrifying figures? What radio programs do your young ones hear? A few days ago in Saint Louis six boys wrecked schoolrooms in vandalism worse than our city has previously known. Without exception, these thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-year-old boys admitted that they regularly tuned in broadcasts "highlighting the activities of gangsters." The parents let these youngsters roam the streets every night until ten or eleven o'clock without knowing what they were doing. As a result of similar widespread parental indifference the United States today records its largest number of boys and girls utterly untouched by the Church.

     How thrilled Joseph, Mary and her virgin-born Son must have been when they came to the hills about Jerusalem and could look down on the city, notably the glittering Temple! It presented a magnificent spectacle with the high pillars of its porches, the snowy marble of its walls, the shiny gold of its roofs, the towering height of its terraces, rising to dominate the city. That group of buildings, with room for 210,000 people, much larger than any religious structure we know today, must have left a deep impression, particularly on a child who beheld it for the first time. Yet only a short half- century later this magnificent sanctuary, a wonder of the ancient world, was leveled with the ground in one of the most brutal and bloody assaults military annals contain. In those days armies had no flying fortresses, no atomic bombs; yet not a single church in Germany was wiped out more completely than the Jerusalem Temple, where literally no stone was left on another. The altars, the courts, the gates, the Holy of Holies, the hundreds of rooms in the sacred area, disappeared forever.

     Why? Because the Temple had ceased to be the house of God. High priests no longer were the Lord's representatives. Common priests refused to remain willing servants of God! For many the sanctuary had become a market for buying and selling, where petty, greedy merchants profanely bargained with worshipers, where even the priests sought to make money for themselves rather than help save men's souls. The Temple had become a political center, where churchmen sought to secure influence by working hand in hand with corrupt politicians, while neglecting the pleas of the penniless and oppressed. The place where the Lord had promised to reveal Himself had crowded Him out, spurned His love, opposed His will, cast His Word aside, and stressed form instead of faith, reward in place of repentance, human traditions rather than divine truth. Its priests would soon become guilty of the cruelest crime in all history, when as spiritual leaders they connived to crucify Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

     Let twentieth-century American churches learn the lesson which first-century destruction stresses! Big buildings, heavy financial reserves, large real estate holdings, elaborate outward form, close tie-up with political leaders, are no guarantee against the ravages of ruin. If congregations forsake the Almighty, withhold His Word and deny our Lord's compassion, they are doomed. All the influence, organization, riches men can mobilize, will not save Christless, faithless churches once they have exhausted divine patience. The Bible-banishing, Christ-contradicting clergy, the lazy, lukewarm laity in the United States, should take to heart the warning taught by tens of thousands of churches closed and destroyed during the past five years in Europe, and then repentantly heed the divine truth, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked."

     The Temple at Jerusalem, despite corruption and worldliness, had a strong appeal for the twelve- year-old Jesus when he first visited it at that Passover Festival. As He saw the lamb slain in the sacrifice, He could forsee the shadow of his own cross, on which He Himself would be offered as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." As He witnessed the sprinkling of the blood on doorposts and lintels (the assurance that the angel of death would pass over the believer's household without spreading destruction), He must have beheld in spirit His own blood shed on Calvary to cleanse men of sin's stigma, the blood because of which God Himself would pass over the penitent sinner on Judgment Day and give Him the title to his prepared place in paradise. As He heard again the story of Israel saved from the Egyptian taskmasters, He must have envisioned the freedom from death, hell, and damnation which His atonement would bring mankind.

     No wonder that when the height of the festival had passed, Jesus stayed at the Temple, deeply engrossed in the rites and ceremonies, which pointed to His own redeeming, sin-removing self- sacrifice! But great wonder that Joseph and Mary started their return without Christ! How, we ask, could these devoted parents leave Him and thus lose Him? They were not negligent, as some fathers and mothers today of whose utter unconcern for their children we read when a house burns down and destroys the young ones, left alone by parents who selfishly pursue their pleasures. Yet Joseph and Mary were not infallible saints, only human beings, and sometimes children are lost despite the most watchful care. - Perhaps Joseph and Mary became separated in the throng, and each thought that Jesus was with the other, the same mistake made by many husbands today who turn the training of their children over to the wives, or by many mothers who center the responsibility for church attendance on the father. Parents, don't take any part of your children's welfare for granted! Stick closely together! Meet every difficulty with a united family front!

     Perhaps the service and the sacrifices at the Passover Festival had so thrilled Jesus' mother and His foster father that they were too deeply engrossed in spiritual matters to think of everyday questions, just as some women can devote themselves so completely to church work that they often overlook their immediate duties at home - against God's Word and His will.

     After all, however, who are we to criticize Joseph and his wife? How many of you fathers and mothers can tell exactly where your children were last night, with whom they spent the evening, what they did? In too many cases your sons and daughters came home in the early morning hours after drinking in taverns, dancing in roadhouses, yielding to temptation and sin. If some of you parents who love your boys and girls actually knew just what they did on those first nights of the new year, you would be frantic with fear. The keeper of the morgue here in Saint Louis tells me that after every accident, when the newspapers report unidentified dead, he is besieged by terrified parents who, not knowing where their children were, fear that they might be the unrecognized corpses.

     In some way, then, Mary and Joseph set out on their homeward journey without Jesus. A blessed rule for you to follow is this: never start anything without Christ! The day you begin without Him may bring you heartbreaking difficulties. The business you organize against His Word may hurl disaster on your soul. The marriage you enter without His benediction, the home you found without His presence, will never give you peace and happiness. From far-off Australia, where God is steadily promoting our radio work over forty-six stations, a listener writes that among his acquaintances, Christians and non-Christians, only one of every ten, as they sit down to their tables, says grace and gives thanks to God. Is the percentage of those who begin their meals with the Almighty even that large in overblessed America? I repeat, never start anything, not even your breakfast, without Christ!

     The Nazareth caravan continued for a day's journey, about twenty miles, without Jesus. For your own life, remember: the farther we go away from the Savior, the harder it may be to find Him! That is why most converts to Christ are won in their early years. Experience shows that unbelievers fifty, sixty, seventy years old constantly grow more deeply ingrained in their self-righteousness and resistance to Gospel grace. Yet, thanks to the Holy Spirit, even old, hardened hearts can be softened! This radio mission has been marvelously used by the Holy Spirit when, after a broadcast, eighty-year- old men have been brought to their knees in repentance and reliance on the Lord Jesus. But don't risk the salvation of your blood-bought soul in false serenity by thinking that you can live a sensual, pleasure-mad life until your old age, and then think seriously of eternity! Get right with your God now, while you still have a chance!

     We read that Joseph and Mary "supposing Him to have been in the company, made a day's journey." Their troubles started by "supposing," thinking their own thoughts, instead of finding Jesus with absolute certainty. Many of you also have fallen into spiritual trouble by "supposing" instead of submitting to God's Word. All the sorrows in the Christian churches of the world, the difficulties which divide men who claim to worship the same Lord and Savior into opposing groups, may be traced ultimately to the fact that instead of surrendering to Heaven's truth, people have supposed. Don't be satisfied merely by "supposing" that you have Christ because you belong to a congregation, because your parents were outstanding believers, because you contribute now and then to the Church's work. You must do more than guess, theorize, suppose, hope. You must be assured of Christ, convinced that He is God's Son, your Deliverer. You must be sure of yourself, sure that by your own sins you are cursed and even more unquestionably certain, that Christ's mercy will save you to the uttermost. Don't suppose that the Lord is with you - be sure that He is!

     Joseph and Mary sought Jesus, we are told, "among their kinsfolk and acquaintance." They looked for Him among men, and in the beginning never realized that He might be with God in the Temple. Throughout the centuries since, masses have lost Christ because they sought Him only among their fellow men and never learned to know that He is in truth "very God of very God." Multitudes rob themselves even of a glimpse of the glorious Redeemer, since they seek for truth at colleges and universities, where too often famed leaders are brazenly atheists, and the larger part of the faculties outspoken unbelievers. Men try to find Jesus at theological seminaries where not a single teacher accepts the full inspiration of the Bible, the full deity of our Lord, the full atonement of His blood, the full assurance of salvation by faith; but all that these searchers find there is the coarse caricature of the gentle, grace-filled Savior, even farther removed from the true Christ than a scarecrow from George Washington.

     When thorough searching failed to find Jesus, Mary and her husband, instead of reproving themselves for not having guarded and protected that precious Boy, begin to take the old, old path of blaming others. Later on Mary says to Christ: "Son, why hast Thou dealt thus with us? Why didst Thou cause us such anxiety and sorrow?" From the first sin in the garden of Eden, where Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, men have followed the same tactics. A murderer in New York confessed a bloody, brutal crime. "God told me to do it!" he exclaimed. A few days ago a woman committed suicide and explained that twelve months ago she made an agreement with the Almighty that if in a year He brought her no happiness, she would end her life. Don't ever blame Jesus for anything! He is never wrong. You may not understand His ways, but that is your fault, not His. Instead of shaking your fists at the Almighty, who created you, blaspheming the name of the Savior who redeemed you, hardening your hearts against the Spirit who called you to faith, believe that God is always right!

     Since that Passover Festival, millions of others have lost sight of Christ. The world of our day has persistently pushed Him aside. But what a terrible price we are paying! The longer we lose Jesus, the deeper the terror which overtakes us. Because too many rulers today are outspokenly against our blessed Redeemer; because multiplied millions in victorious and defeated countries never think of Him, we suffer new penalties in massacre and war, with many unsolved difficulties still before us. A few days ago while America was debating what this nation should do with our atomic bomb, came the Associated Press notice that the Russians, with the aid of two German physicists, have quietly developed another bomb which, rendering ours "obsolete," can be manufactured on "a mass production scale." Only the size of a tennis ball, this new bomb can pulverize objects for fifty-three miles. Some may regard this as exaggeration. Yet a thousand unassailable facts point to this true warning: unless men accept the Christ whom they rejected, we must be prepared for unparalleled destruction, unequaled agony.

     Even more important and personal is my question to each member of this radio audience: Have you lost Christ? Were you once for Him, and are you now against Him? During the first hours as they returned to Nazareth, Joseph and Mary did not miss Jesus, but later on, when they could not find Him, Saint Luke reminds us, they were seized by sorrow. You may boast that you can get along quite well without Christ, but the time is surely coming when you will scream in terror because you have forsaken Him. Lose God's Son, and you lose pardon for your sins, companionship for your solitary ways, strength in your weakness, hope in your helplessness. Lose the Savior, and you lose the answer to your prayers, the power to overcome temptation, the promise of your protection, the pledge that He will bear your burdens. Lose Him, and you lose all! God keep you from that curse and horror!


     However, Christ was not lost to His parents forever. We read, "They found Him." Indeed, He is never completely lost to those who seek Him as their Redeemer, since He promises, "Ye shall seek Me and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart." What marvelous mercy! You can look for health and forfeit it, for money and never gain it, for happiness and miss it; but you cannot look for God's Son and your Savior without meeting Him in His mercy.

     "They found Him in the Temple," our text explains; and if you want to find Jesus, as I pray the Holy Spirit now urges you, don't look for Him only in nature, as many people today, spurning the Church, claim that they worship the Almighty on a mountainside, on the seashore, in the beauty of His snow, in the radiance of a sunset! For, while the marvels of the universe are united in telling you that there is a Creator, that this world could not have sprung into existence by chance or evolution, at the same time all the stars, the sun, the moon, the planets, this globe, cannot show you who God is nor what Christ has done for you.

     Don't try to follow your own reason in discovering the Lord Jesus! Instead, find Him where Joseph and Mary did, in God's Temple, in a true church, where His full Gospel is preached! If until this time you had the grossly mistaken practice of condemning all churches because of the mistakes by a few, stop this unholy bias. If you have sanctimoniously asserted that the pews are full of hypocrites and that you who do not attend services are better than those who do, pray Heaven to forgive this frightful error! Drop your pride and conceit! Find a Gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting church, and you will find Jesus.

     Our Lord remained in the Temple to learn. Although He was God, by the never-to-be-fathomed mystery of the Incarnation as a true man, He grew up, a normal child, yet without sin, and "increased in wisdom and stature." Lovingly He sought out the sanctuary of His Father. Does your church attendance show such reverence, or do you criticize the pastor who preaches Scripture's unadulterated truth, complain if he speaks a half hour, as if thirty minutes a week were too long for your instruction in the one way to eternity? We need fewer critics and more constructive Kingdom workers.

     When they came upon Jesus, He was "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions." He was in the Temple to study Scripture. That is why you should go to church, not to hear amateurish discussions of world politics; not to listen to sensational preaching that has no Bible text, no Bible explanation, no Bible promise; not to display your clothes, meet some of the better-class people and snub others. Think of it! An Indiana woman whose innocent husband was arrested and convicted of theft wrote me last week that twice when she went to church for Christ's comfort and solace, the people in the pew she entered immediately moved to another place. Talk about Pharisees and hypocrites! We have plenty of them today.

     Altogether our Lord had been in the Temple with these scholarly leaders for three days and more before Mary found Him. What blessed hours those must have been! At first, it seems, Jesus put the questions but gradually the learned Old Testament scribes began to ask Him, and it is recorded, "all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers." These men had devoted almost their entire lives to study the meaning of divine revelation; yet here was a mere child who gave the right explanation to problems which had long disturbed their minds.

     We cannot hope that our boys and girls will show the same divine, unfaltering wisdom; but we can be sure that if our youth could be brought and kept close to the Bible, their faith and knowledge would not only cause astonishment but would help to produce a better day, with a decrease both in the juvenile and the adult crime waves. The most urgent need for tomorrow's America is a nationwide campaign today to bring our children to Christ. To this end, churches should drop fanciful, far-away projects and concentrate constructively on our heaviest and closest difficulty, juvenile ignorance of Scripture and its resultant delinquency. In the Savior's name I ask you parents to teach your sons and daughters the Gospel truth, to show them Jesus in the prophecy and fulfillment of Scripture, the Savior who still calls out, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God." Make the study of His Word and the worship of the Lord the mark and blessing of your home! Fathers of America, teach your sons and daughters Scripture passages! Mothers of America, help your children learn to worship the Lord Jesus! Boys and girls of America, love your parents, honor them, obey them, follow them as they lead you to Christ! If, however, parents do not attend church, do not know the Savior, do not teach you His Word, you can still find Jesus. We will thank God if we can help you know the Savior. Just drop us a card, and we will stand by you!

     All of you, young and old, should consider the marvelous spiritual aid offered by Christian day schools such as the many hundreds in my Church. Conducted by those who love the Lord Jesus, they reach high standards; but in their greatest glory they teach the Bible, exalt Christ as God's Son and the world's Redeemer, systematically stress Scripture truth. These schools, which have grown remarkably in the past years, which never teach a word contrary to the Bible, are open to your children. They need this soul instruction! Write us for particulars!

     Above everything else I ask you before God: Have you found Jesus? If you have, then - blessed assurance! - you know that your Heavenly Father loves you instead of hating you; that Christ died for you instead of you dying for your sins; that God for Jesus' sake forgives your transgressions; that in the precious Savior's name He answers your prayers, helps you overcome temptation, protects you with His grace, supplies the strength for every day's task, comforts you in affliction, makes you better, truer, more self-sacrificing, more devoted to the needs of your fellow men. To find the Son of God means to find life, eternal blessing, Heaven itself.

     Why, then, do some of you hesitate, question, delay, and postpone? A few Sundays ago in one of our St. Louis Sunday schools the youngest class saw the picture of William Holman Hunt's "The Light of World," showing Christ knocking at the door. With the wisdom often spoken "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings," a little girl asked: "Does Jesus always stand outside the door? Do they ever open for Him?" I ask you, "Must the Savior always remain outside your door, an unrecognized stranger? Will you ever let Him in?" Tragedy came to a Washington household when a discharged veteran, back home for Christmas, died of heart trouble only a few moments after he had romped with his three sons near the Christmas tree and then tucked them into bed. When the authorities arrived, the seven-year-old son asked, "Are you going to take my daddy to Heaven?" Mothers and fathers, when the undertaker comes to remove your body, will your children know that you have gone to heaven because you have lived and died in Jesus? Will they be assured that through the same Savior they will meet you in the happy, everlasting reunion? If you want that blessing of all blessings, seek your Redeemer in His Word, His faith, and His Church! Then in eternity you will be able to join one of the mightiest scientists of modern times in exulting, "The greatest discovery I ever made was when I found myself a sinner and Jesus Christ my Savior." The Holy Spirit grant that today many of you will find Him your God and Savior! Keep Him forever! Never lose Jesus! Amen!

The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in January 1946