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APRIL 2024


The title for my message today is “What do you mean you've lost Jesus?” I was walking down the street with a young man several years ago who had a tremendous anointing as a worship leader but got involved in some stuff he shouldn't have. When he returned to the church, he said, “Pastor, I've lost Him. I've lost Jesus.” I told him he hadn’t; maybe he’d lost sight of Jesus. Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” This fellow only lost sight of Jesus in a season of transgression.

Revelation 2:1–5 says, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”’”

The passage begins with a phenomenal commendation and ends with a phenomenal warning. Doing religious works, getting involved in the church, and studying scripture cannot replace walking with Jesus. Jesus is the first love. Remember, because of the people's disobedience, the Lord told Moses, “I'll send a messenger with you, but I'm not going with you.” Moses said, “If you don't go with us, then don't take us to this new place because the only thing that makes us different from the people around us is your presence.”

Ephesus lost the presence of God in great measure, and they don't know it. The messengers are still there, and they're great doctrinal preachers. They're standing in pulpits, exposing lies and expounding on truth. We have many churches like that in America today; the doctrine is okay, but there's a strange dryness among the people. The presence of God doesn't seem to be in the midst of the religious activity. The people of Ephesus walked away from Jesus—He didn't walk away from them. He was still where He always has been.

Maybe you've got a background in the church: You went to Sunday school, somebody in your family knew about Jesus Christ, and perhaps you even opened your heart to Him as a child. People walk away from a living relationship with the Son of God all the time, even those born of revival. How do those with such fervor and a fire for God eventually lose their way? They meet and discuss the good old days when God was in their midst.

The United States is a nation founded on prayer in Plymouth in 1620 by people emaciated and starving, without a strategy to go forward. They had a promise in their heart that they would be given a place to worship freely according to conscience and where Jesus Christ could be honored. They had absolutely no resources, but they prayed. There were only 51 people left alive from the 103 that landed a year before a great nation. One of the greatest nations in the history of the world was born from a little prayer meeting on what is now called lot number one in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Luke 2 is the story of Mary and Joseph, where we find another example of walking away from Jesus. Luke 2:40–45 says, “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.”

The Passover feast is where they celebrate God's past mercy. It's when He passed over the children of Israel in Egypt when the firstborn of Egypt died because of the rebellion against the will of God. Where there was blood on the doorposts, this angel of death passed over and delivered them out of 400 years of bondage. In this passage, we have the mother and stepfather of Jesus Christ—God Himself incarnate in the flesh—not knowing the whereabouts of their boy. What a textbook case of “You left me.” Jesus didn’t leave them; they walked away.

When Mary and Joseph did not find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him. It was three days on the journey back. You can imagine how they felt. God gave this ordinary couple His plan of redemption for the world, and they lost it. How would they explain it to God? Maybe they thought they’d better not go into the prayer closet until everything was sorted out. Perhaps God checked in with them to the response, “Everything’s fine here!” They probably hoped God didn’t ask them if they’d seen His Son. Verses 46–47 say, “Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”

Jesus was Mary and Joseph's first love. Imagine Mary and Joseph saying, “He ate with us every day. We knew He was the Son of God. We understood that there was something divine about this child.” They couldn't comprehend the gravity of the situation, but they knew God had placed His plan for humanity in their hands. He grew up in their home and hearts, and they lost Him. What an awful feeling it must have been. It’s terrible to be on the road looking for Jesus when all you have is memories and fears. Ironically, while celebrating God's mercy in Passover, they lost sight of the God of their mercy.

Churches today celebrate Christmas and feast days, all events from the past. As they celebrate, they lose sight of the reason for everything—the Son of God Himself. Mary and Joseph went home, supposing Jesus was with them, only to discover their boy was gone. What makes me love God even more is that when we leave Him behind, He hasn't left us—He's still waiting for us. Isaiah 49:14–15 says, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.’”

When I was a young Christian, I turned to God for the forgiveness of my sins and recognized that Jesus Christ paid the price for my sins when He died. When I opened my heart, He came into my life and became my Lord and Savior. The apostle Paul in the New Testament says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He no longer dwells in a physical building made with human hands; He is now in us as the people of God called His church. In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple.

When I was a police officer, I was driving through a neighborhood, and I went by an old stone church and began to weep. It was such a strange thing. The emotion was unfamiliar to me, and I only recognized later that it was God's heart within mine weeping for what probably one time went on in that building. There were once prayers, devotion, love, sons, daughters, and families in that church. Yet, somewhere along the line, the building became a museum of the past. Those people lost heart for Jesus, but He never lost heart for them. God does not forget labors of love; He doesn’t forget His people.

Mary and Joseph did what we need to do as a nation. If you once knew Jesus, or if you’d like to know Him as your Savior, get up and return to the last place you saw Him. This return is what Ephesus and Revelation are talking about. Mary and Joseph turned around and headed back. Luke 2:48–49 says, “So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.”

Jesus was inside the temple for those three days, sitting and listening, asking questions, and giving answers. He was dissolving doubts, speaking about the Kingdom of God, and answering the deep questions of people's hearts. Jesus still answers. For those who think they've lost Jesus, He's still in the temple, and you're the temple. When He's telling Ephesus to return, it's not to a physical place. It's returning to the understanding that I loved you before you loved me. Return to the knowledge that I came into your life when you opened your heart and became your Lord and Savior. Jesus says to return to that place where you didn’t know doctrine, but you loved me. The temple is where Jesus has always been and will be.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to counsel many pastors who've fallen into despair or worse. I’d sit with David Wilkerson, and we’d advise these people. When they’d say they had lost touch with God, David only had two questions for them: When did you stop praying? When did you stop reading your Bible? The answer would be the same: they got busy. Ephesus got busy exploring the evils of others and forgetting their own lives.

The only hope now for the country is the church—there’s no revival without us. It starts with our living relationships with God. Don’t be fooled; there is no substitute. If we leave that relationship and continue with the doing, everything gets dry fast. We take a long journey and realize we don’t have Jesus. A booming ministry cannot take the place of a relationship with God. I was with Leonard Ravenhill once, and he said it’s foolish to spend so much money on a plane ticket when you can just go into your prayer closet. You'll lose your testimony if you don't return to your first love. It's dangerous to get old in the Kingdom of God; we can end up celebrating Passover and lose Jesus.

It's dangerous to think that without a living relationship with God, we have the power to go forward and somehow finish the race in victory. If the mother and stepfather of Jesus can lose Him for a few days, we can lose Him, too. The beauty is that even though Jesus’ parents lost sight of Him, He's still their family. There's a blood relationship there that is not going to be destroyed. Jesus might seem far away, but we're still blood-related—that’s how I know we can come home. Thank God. It's in our hearts to come home. It's in our hearts to say, “God, I don't want some perfunctory, repetitious, religious thing in my life. I want a living relationship with your Son.” Hallelujah.

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