By Pastor Glenn Pease
On Columbus Day 1992 American scientist launched the greatest search in history. NASA called it Search For Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI for short. Frank White in his book The Seti Factor tells us this project using radio scopes and newly developed computer technology was designed to scan the sky for signals that may be sent by any civilization beyond our solar system. It is estimated that in 25 years man will know if there are other intelligent beings in our universe.
They began by searching the thousand sun-like stars within 80 light years of earth. They had hoped to pick up signals that may come from a star that has a planet like our own sun has. The amazing computer is able to process an entire encyclopedia full of random noise per second. It is 10 billion times more comprehension than the sum of all previous searches. They began this search on Columbus Day in honor of a man who went searching for a new world and found it. Man is a searching being by nature. God made him as curious as the cat, but with more tools to search with, and the result is that man has searched the microcosm and the macrocosm for life invisible to the naked eye.
This literal star search is fascinating to scientists and theologians as they speculate about life on other planets. My only problem with the search is that it is another of man's efforts to find the meaning of life by searching in all the wrong places. Man has searched the planet for a paradise and has not found it in materialism, hedonism, or any other ism. Like the Prodigal Son, man has wasted his substance in riotous living, and instead of going home to the Father he is hoping to find an elder brother somewhere out in space who will give him a lift, and give him the hope of finding meaning without going home.
Man continues to side step the one search that God wants all men to get into, and which He reviewed through Jeremiah the prophet. God says in Jer. 29:11-14, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you declares the Lord." Wow! Here is a search guaranteed to succeed and put you into communication with the most intelligent life in the universe.
Many are the stories that parallel that of the Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine. She was sickly from birth and spent her life searching for health. Her stepfather was a military man who had all of life regimented, and with no warmth and affection. She spent her life searching for love. All her success and riches and fame never met her need. It was only when she found Christ and joined the body of Christ that she felt her search was completed, for she finally felt that she belonged.
If we expect the coming year to be a good one, then we have to be committed to be searchers. Only searchers find the best. All of the lost and hidden stuff in the world is found by searchers. That is why God is Himself the Sovereign Searcher. As soon as Adam and Eve fell God came searching for them in the garden. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. None are wiser than those who seek to be found by the searching Savior. And for those found and saved there is still the need to be searched by the Lord's laser light so they can be cleansed. Psa. 139 begins, "Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me." And it ends with, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." This is a prayer, not only for every New Year, but for every new day as we call on God to do a sin search and get it out of the way so we can see the way to go to please Him.
While man is searching the heavens for a sign of intelligent life heaven is searching earth for a sign of intelligent response to God's communication. In Jer. 17:10 God says, "I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve." God has a scanner going at all times trying to pick up signals from everyone of His children that would indicate that they long to know and do His will. Paul writes in Rom. 8:27, "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."
What kinds of signals will God pick up from our hearts and minds in the coming year? Will they be strong signals of obedience, or dying signals that reveal we have joined the secular search for the meaning of life in other realms? It is possible for Christians to lose their way and get off the track of God's will, they can become weary in well doing. It is possible for the best of people to get so preoccupied with other things that they lose Christ, and this brings us to our text, for here in Luke 2 we see a literal example of the best people losing Christ. We hear often about the lost sheep, but seldom to never do we hear of the shepherd being lost, but here is a case where Jesus, The Great Shepherd, is lost, and His parents who lost Him are frantically in search for Him.
I don't know if you have ever lost one of your children, but it is one of the most frightening experiences of life. I know, for Lavonne and I lost our first son Steven for several hours. Jesus was 12, and so He could take care of Himself, but Steve was only 3. We were boarding on hysteria. I ran across a field in back of the apartments where we lived. My heart was pounding as I looked over the cliff in fear that I would find him at the bottom. Lavonne had gotten neighbors to help scan the neighborhood. Kidnapping didn't seem logical since I was a student and could barely keep my car running. It was a total mystery as to where he could be. But finally we found him playing inside a public phone booth on the corner. He was on the floor with the door shut and so no one could see him. It was not as noble a place as the temple where Jesus was found, but we were so happy and relieved when that search was over.
Many of you could tell stories about a lost child because it happens frequently, and even to those who are in the center of God's will. Mary is the only woman in history to conceive by the Holy Spirit, and yet she lost that sacred child. Mary is the only woman ever to give birth to the Word made flesh, and yet she lost Him. Mary is the only woman ever chosen by God to raise His only begotten Son, and yet she lost this precious child. This would not look good on anybodies resume, but here it is on Mary's record. Would you hire her to run your childcare center? She is the least likely person to ever loose her child, but she did it, and she demonstrates for all time that even the best can blow it. They can make mistakes by being too preoccupied and by taking too much for granted.
Verse 44 says, "Thinking He was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends." They assumed Jesus was with some friends of the family, and so they went a whole day and never even gave Him a thought. We cannot throw any stones here, for Joseph and Mary were not being neglectful parents. They just forget to check out their assumptions. They made this trip every year to Jerusalem, and this was not the first time Jesus had been off with friends or relatives and not hanging around His parents all day. At 12 years old it was even more likely He would not stay at His parent's side. It was a normal thing for Jesus to be gone all day. They just did not check to see if it was the case that time. They made the common mistake of taking too much for granted. It cost them a great deal of emotional anxiety as well as 3 lost days.
Theirs was a search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, for Jesus had His origin from outside of our universe. Jesus was the very form of life that NASA was looking for. If you read the motive behind the expensive search of the stars, you will discover that the scientists are really looking for a Savior. They hope to find beings who have made it through the dangerous technological state that man is now in. Man has the capacity to eliminate life on this planet. If they can find a civilization that has reached this state and survived, that will give hope that we too can survive. Man is looking for an intelligent mind with great power who does not use it to destroy, but uses it to save and benefit others.
This is the very person that Mary and Joseph were looking for. They did not fully grasp all that He was to be, but He was the one who would have all power in heaven and on earth, but who longed to use that power to save rather than destroy the earth. Jesus was and is the very being that man is scanning the stars to find. The Christian Gospel is the good news that there is intelligent life in this universe beyond our earth. It is friendly, and it will come to our aid and save us from our sin and folly, and our inability to use power wisely. Jesus has already come and made the way into the kingdom of heaven possible for all who trust Him as the Way. Man is spending a fortune seeking for a Savior in the heavens, and the fact is He can be found freely in Jesus Christ.
This means that in reality Jesus is still lost to millions, and unfortunately they are not searching for Him as was Joseph and Mary. They were bad examples in losing Jesus, but they were good examples in that they began to search for Him as soon as they knew He was lost. They were soon searching for the Savior, and that is the key to everyone's happy New Year. None will be as happy as those who spend the New Year searching for Jesus. Even for us who have trusted in Him need to keep searching, for Jesus is infinite, and no believer has begun to find all that there is in Jesus. He dwells fully in us when we ask Him into our lives, but we have not found all of Him. There is ever more to learn and to experience of Him.
When they found Jesus He was in the temple among the teachers. He was listening to them and asking them questions. Most 12 year olds who are lost are not found in school. Whoever heard of a run away who ran away from home to go to school? But that is what we see here. Jesus was a lover of learning, and He was searching of more understanding of the Word of God. Even the Savior was engaged in searching for more light. That is a key to the happy life, and the life that is pleasing to God. God was pleased with His Son, for He was ever a seeker to know and do His will. A happy New Year is not determined by whether or not all goes smooth. From God's point of view a happy New Year is a year in which you search for and find more knowledge of God and His will.
We had lost Jesus again if we do not make this coming year one in which we listen to the Word of God, and ask questions to seek more understanding. Jesus was ever searching for more knowledge, for truth is infinite and so the search is never complete. Who are we who see through a glass darkly to ever stop searching for more light? Spurgeon was one of the most brilliant theologians and preachers, and he said, "Although we may understand enough to be saved by the truth, yet the full depth of the truth is understood by no man, and if, therefore, we make it the rule to limit our faith by our understanding, we shall have an extremely limited range of faith."
Listen to Acts 17:11: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and searched the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true." Not all Christians are equal in their wisdom. The wisest are those who never cease to search for more. When God quits sending signals you can quit searching for more light, but until then a happy New Year and a happy life depends on being a searcher. Some years back a group of boys were making a shack on Mystic River. They dug up some old coins from the 17 and 1800's. It was only a stones throw from the historic Craddock House of Revolutionary fame. The news brought out an army of men who dug up the whole river bank looking for more buried treasure. They only found 35 dollars worth of additional coins. God expects us to want wisdom like these people wanted treasure.
Prov. 2:3-5 says, "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." That is what Jesus was doing in the temple, and He was so thirsty for knowledge He just let His family and friends leave town as He stayed on alone to soak up more of the Word of God. He was lost in searching, and that is why they were searching for Him. To be Christ like means a lot of things, but as we see here, it means to have the humility to admit you do not know it all. Even as a grown man Jesus had the humility to admit He did not know it all. He said in Mark 13:32, "No man knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Only those who know they do not know become perpetual searchers for more truth. Those who think they know enough stop searching, and they lose Jesus, for He is back with the searchers as they move on preoccupied with other things. David McKenna writes about Chuck Colson after his conversion. He knew it was genuine when this hatchet man of the White House, who had all of the answers, admitted that he did not understand his theology. He began to search diligently, however, and he became a man of wisdom and a spokesman for evangelical Christianity. His happiness was found in searching, and that will be the case for all of us who become searchers.
In verse 49 we read the first words of the Word become flesh-that is the first words that were recorded. Jesus asks, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" These first words of Jesus are a hint of what is to come. Jesus is always asking questions and making people think. His first words are two questions to His parents? Unfortunately they were not true or false questions, but essay type questions, and Joseph and Mary did not pass this test. In fact, verse 50 says, "But they did not understand what He was saying to them." Here are the first recorded words of God in flesh, and they were not understood.
Language experts expect the same problem in the SETI program. They may pick up signals that are a language of intelligent beings, but which we do not understand. Intelligent beings can form a multitude of ways for communication. Here we see Jesus speaking in their own tongue, and yet they could not grasp His meaning. They lived with Jesus and raised Him, and yet they could not always understand Him. They had to be perpetual seekers seeking for a deeper grasp of the mind and purpose of the Christ.
Here in this story of Christ and His parents we see the universal problem of all relationships. It is a breakdown in communication. Mary was unhappy with Jesus for what He put them through, and Jesus was frustrated with her for not understanding. Most problems of parents and children, husbands and wives, and friends with friends are due to a lack of understanding. That is also the fear of those seeking contact with life on other planets. What if they think we are invading their space, and they have superior weapons to destroy us? The Bible begins with a breakdown in understanding between God and man, and here we see it again in the beginning of the New Testament. This just confirms the point all the more that we have to be searchers seeking for more understanding of the will of God and the mind of Christ.
You would assume that raising the perfect child would be a piece of cake, but you would be wrong, for we see tension, heartache, and misunderstanding even in the ideal family. Maybe on another planet we will find it, but on this planet there is no problem free family. There is no such thing, and this one incident in the life of Jesus illustrates that. We get one glimpse of the entire youth of Jesus and it is a picture of family tension. It takes patience to raise a family, and a constant search for better communication. We tend to be like the little boy who had some baby teeth extracted. The dentist said, "Don't worry Bobby, they will soon grow back again." Bobby asked, "Will they be up in time for supper?" We wish that good things would happen quickly, but they just take time.
Jesus had to go home with Mary and Joseph and patiently grow to be ready for God's work. They all had to patiently learn what God's plan was. Life is a perpetual search for understanding. It seems strange that man spends a fortune to find life on other planets when there are millions who have not even found life abundant on this planet. That is the life that Jesus brought into this world. In I John 5:12 John writes, "He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." Jesus is lost to masses of people, and the result is that the extraterrestrial life man so longs for is right at his fingertips, and it is free, but he does not know it.
For those who have lost Christ by being preoccupied with other things, like His parents were, take note of how it was three days of searching before they found Him. Here they were as key actors in God's plan of salvation, and yet they had no providential guidance that took them right to Jesus. They had to sweat it out. They had lost Him and they had to find Him. The point is, it may not easy to get back into a pattern of giving Jesus priority in your life. If by neglect and preoccupation Jesus has been lost in your life, it may take some long hard searching to find Him and Him back into His proper place. Not everything we do that is wise and right, and according to God's will, is easy. It was hard for Joseph and Mary, and it may be hard for you to get Jesus back as the top priority in your life. But it is worth all the pain it may bring, and so I challenge you to make this a year that you be a star searcher, and make Jesus the star you are searching for.