Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Nazareth Revisited


In Preparation for Public Life.

The last chapter brought us to Nazareth. Very little is disclosed of Christ's life there during the time that elapsed to the day of his introduction to the nation of Israel. We have just one or two glimpses. First, we have a general view of the years of his childhood presented in these words: "The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." (Luke ii. 40). This shows us a thriving healthy child, and a child of well marked character from the first; quiet, probably, and grave; but of clear, decided, and original mind. It must have been so in the childhood of a man like Jesus. It is said "the child is the father of the man." This is a universal truth, even in cases that may seem to be exceptions. The man is but the expansion and development of the germ existing in childhood. The pattern of "the man Christ Jesus" was latent in the child born of Mary. That pattern was the impress of the Spirit -- the impress of God -- "the power of the Highest" overshadowing her. The Spirit took this part that it might do this work; for it was in order that there might be such an one as Jesus, that the Spirit departed from natural methods, and operated directly in the begettal of a child who was not the son of Joseph, except in family relation. It was "of God," that Jesus "was made unto us righteousness, sanctification, wisdom and redemption" (1 Cor. i. 30). With such an inception to his being, it was in a sense natural that his developing childhood should exhibit the "strength of spirit," and "fulness of wisdom" recorded by Luke.

Till the age of twelve, there are no practical illustrations recorded of these mental characteristics. There was no need that there should be. The brief and chaste declaration of Luke sufficiently describes early years which chiefly became interesting from the manhood that followed. Curiosity might have been gratified by personal details: but the mere gratification of curiosity never comes within the design of the Spirit of God's communications. What we are told is enough to illustrate its work in Christ. What uninspired men would have done with the narrative is shewn by every biography that issues from the press; and most strikingly of all, by those apocryphal gospels which profess to give us particulars of the childhood of Christ. It is well for us to know that these productions have been repudiated by those having knowledge from the day they appeared. But this fact would almost have been unnecessary for us to be certain of their spurious character. The reading of them is sufficient to bring this conviction. The style of composition is weak and undignified, and the matters narrated, puerile and absurd. For example: --

"When the Lady St. Mary had washed the swaddling clothes of the Lord Christ and hanged them out to dry upon a post, the boy possessed with the devil took down one of them and put it upon his head. And presently the devils began to come out of his mouth and fly away in the shape of crows and serpents.... Then the Lord Jesus (while a baby) answered and said to his mother, when thirty years are expired, O mother, the Jews will crucify me at Jerusalem. They went on to a city of idols (in Egypt), which, as soon as they came near to it, was turned into hills of sand.... There was a leprous woman who went to the Lady St. Mary, mother of Jesus, and said, O my lady, help me.... St. Mary replied to her, Wait a little till have washed my son Jesus and put him to bed. The woman waited as she was commanded, and Mary, when she had put Jesus in bed, giving her the water with which she had washed his body, said, Take some of the water and pour it upon thy body, which when she done, she instantly became clean.... And when the Lord Jesus was seven years of age, he was on a certain day with other boys, his companions about the same age, who when they were at play, made clay in several shapes, namely, asses, oxes, birds and other figures, each boasting of his work and endeavouring to exceed the rest. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys, I will command these figures which I have made, to walk. And immediately they moved.... And Joseph, whensoever he went in the city, took the Lord Jesus with him, where he was sent for to work to make gates, or milk pails, or sieves, or boxes. The Lord Jesus was with him wheresoever he went. And as often as Joseph had anything in his work to make longer or shorter or wider or narrower, the Lord Jesus would stretch his hand toward it, and presently it became as Joseph would have it, so that he had no need to finish anything with his own hands, for he was not very skilful at his carpenter's trade."

In complete contrast to this foolishness, is the brief, pure, and comprehensive statement of Luke, that "the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." The incident of his thirteenth year shews us this process of growth far advanced. "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover." Whether Jesus accompanied them on those occasions before he was twelve years old, may be doubtful. The prevalent opinion is that he did not. This may or may not be a correct opinion. Probably it is incorrect. The law of Moses required every male to be present at the yearly passover "in the place which the Lord shall choose," and all the members of the household besides; "thy son and thy daughter, thy man-servant and thy maidservant" (Deut. xvi. 14.) It is more likely that Joseph and Mary would act literally on this command than that they should yield a partial obedience. In that case, Jesus went with them every year from his earliest infancy. If on the other hand the reduced state of the Jewish nation under the Roman yoke, was made a reason for a curtailed compliance with Mosaic requirements, then they did not take their household with them, but contented themselves with their own personal attendance -- leaving Jesus and the other members of the household at home. However, this may be, "when he was twelve years of age," they took him with them to Jerusalem to keep the feast; and it was on this occasion that we have the first recorded exhibition of the deeply marked character of Jesus in his earliest years.

According to the custom, a considerable "company" of "kinsfolk and acquaintances" journeyed together from Nazareth and neighbourhood to Jerusalem. Other companies from other districts would repair to the Holy City for the same purpose. The various roads through the country would be alive with joyous travelling companies converging upon Jerusalem for a six days' holiday observance of the feast of unleavened bread, concluding on the seventh day with "a solemn assembly." Israel in their dispersion may be seen in our great cities striving to give some effect to this beautiful appointment of the annual feasts. They may be seen on particular days of the year streaming towards their synagogues. Alas! when they get there, it is only to go through a liturgy, and listen to sermons about as vapid and lifeless as those of their Gentile episcopalian neighbours. It is all that is left meantime of the glorious institutions of the past. In the days of Jesus, though the shadows of night were hovering on the horizon, the day had not quite departed. The beautiful land of promise sustained a numerous and stirring Jewish population, who (enjoying a quasi-national independence under Roman ascendancy) were at liberty to repair annually to Jerusalem to keep the feasts of the Lord, as appointed. When he was twelve years of age (in the spring of a.d. 16, true era) he might have been found a grave and thoughtful boy in one of the companies passing along the road leading through the plain of Esdraelon and past Mounts Ebal and Gerizim towards Jerusalem. Beyond his quietness and reserve there would be nothing to distinguish him, in the eyes of a passing observer, from other lads. "Subject to his parents," he would help in this and that practical little matter as need arose on the road. Arrived in the holy city, the company would settle in quarters arranged beforehand, and duly proceed next day with the exercises of the feast, in which the boy Jesus would take a more lively interest than was ever taken by boy before; for he had a deeper sympathy with God than all that went before him or came after, and would enter with a deeper penetration and keener relish into the various associations of the passover, both as to the history it brought to mind, and as to the foreshadowing it contained of the more glorious deliverance that the Father purposed to effect by himself. The remark he presently made warrants us in believing as much as this.

The feast was finished: the concluding solemn assembly was held on the seventh day, and all preparations were then made for departure, by the various companies that had come from all parts of the country. The things brought for use at the feast would be got together: baskets would be packed: bundles tied up: clothes and utensils put into convenient form for transport on the backs of animals. All being ready, the company to which Jesus belonged started on its northward journey homewards. Jesus did not accompany it. He "tarried behind in Jerusalem." He "tarried behind" because of attractions. It was not the attraction of the "shows" that are usually to be found at all feasts and fairs, and which probably would be present in some form on those annual occasions at Jerusalem. It was not the attraction of games or sight-seeing. It was the attraction of matters above the understanding, and far beyond the sympathies of ordinary boys -- matters appealing to the interest only of the grey-headed rabbis of the temple and doctors of the law, matters connected with the work and will of God with man. He had got into contact with the heads of Israel with whom he could converse on such topics; and he "tarried behind," while the procession of his "kinsfolk" and acquaintance moved forward on the road. His absence was not at first observed. The company was numerous; and Joseph and Mary would have enough to engage their immediate attention: perhaps younger children to look after. They supposed he was in the company somewhere. When they had been a day on the road, not noticing him, they asked after him, but could not find that any one had seen him. They went through the whole company, but "found him not." They then began to be alarmed. Leaving the company to go forward, they returned to Jerusalem to seek him "sorrowing." Most parents have at some time or other experienced the pang of discovery that a child is lost, and will therefore be able to enter into the feelings of Joseph and Mary, as they vainly sought to get tidings of such a boy as this. For several days they were a prey to the agony of bootless search. They could hear nothing of him. They probably indulged in self-recrimination at not having made sure of his presence in the company at the time of starting. At last, "after three days," they found him. "They found him in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors!" They found him "both hearing them and asking them questions." A boy of twelve, listening to grey-headed men on subjects having no interest for boys in general, and asking questions in reference to them; and not only so, but answering questions put by these same grey-headed men to him, and answering them with an intelligence that filled all who heard him with "astonishment at his understanding!" Extraordinary as the incident may seem, is it not in perfect keeping with the whole surroundings? Does it not seem perfectly natural that such a man as Jesus (so entirely beyond the range of all men) should have a boyhood differing from all ordinary boyhood? and that a babe begotten by the direct action of the Spirit of God should develop into a boy with a super-human sympathy with divine things? The unnaturalness would have been in any other state of things.

When Joseph and Mary saw him in this situation, "they were amazed." The "doctors of the law" were in reverence with all the people, and Joseph and Mary doubtless shared the feeling, and would therefore experience a mixture of astonishment and fear at finding their boy right in their midst, in free and fearless converse. Their joy at finding him would be for a moment checked. It was quickly known who they were. We can imagine the relaxing of the strained attention of which Jesus had been the object, and the turning of the enquiry of the learned doctors to the agitated parents: "Is this your boy?" Mary, with a mother's impulse, was the first to respond. Addressing herself directly to Jesus (probably laying her hands on him), she said, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." This is the language of reproof. The distress that was the uppermost feeling while as yet he was lost, had given way to a sense of annoyance at having been put to so much trouble by his neglect to be in his place. Is not this true to nature everywhere? The boy answered with such a fascinating mixture of innocence, beauty and depth: "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" Apparently, he did not or could not enter into a distressed parent's point of view. Another view, invisible to most men, absorbed his eye. His Father and his Father's business filled his field of vision. The circumstances and exigencies of this ephemeral existence, which are all-controlling with merely natural men, were of small consequence in his estimation. Nothing is more prominent in his after life and teaching than this state of sentiment. It is a sentiment having reason as its basis, and that at last more or less infects and affects all true disciples of Christ, with the result of their being mis-appreciated by the people of the present world.

However, the time had not come for the complete assertion of his character and mission in this respect; and so, surrendering to the eager affection of his sorrowing and reproachful parents, "he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." The next eighteen years of his life are shrouded in obscurity nearly amounting to total darkness. There are one or two dim rays of light. The first of these consists of the words "and was subject unto them." This brings before the mind the daily routine of domestic life, with its quietness and simplicity, as the sphere of the boy Christ's upbringing, instead of in the stirring and ceremonious surroundings usually provided for those who are in training for a throne. Part of that quiet routine would consist of work at the bench when he was old enough. We may gather this from the questions of neighbours afterwards, "Is not this the carpenter?" He learnt his father's trade while "subject to his parents at Nazareth.' We all know this, but how feebly the fact impresses us, except when we happen to get a glimpse of it in its right connection. It is best seen from the point of view of Christ's exaltation. An unexciting lowly life of private manual labour was chosen by God as the right school for the training of His beloved son, for "the heirship of all things." How comforting this must be to Christ's lowly brethren of the poor of all ages, who have to earn their bread by the labour of horny hands. Rightly viewed, it will reconcile them to their present lot as the best adapted to develop true human character at its best when other conditions are favourable; and as the best preparation for the exaltation to which all men are invited who accept His Son. To think of the coming king of all the earth having been a working man! What curious thoughts it suggests. Working men are looked down upon by the children of plenty; and lo, a working man is destined to divest them of their wealth and send them empty away. The life of a working man means the full development of manhood's strength, a strong frame, a firm and kindly muscular hand, a simple and independent character, combined with humility of deportment. If to these we add the clearness of a divine intellect, the fire of a godly zeal, and the tenderness of true kindness and compassion, we get an approximation to the carpenter of Nazareth, in whom God was working out the archetype to which his family will be conformed. Such a training would give personal strength and plainness of appearance. The word of prophecy had said, "When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him;" and probably, had we seen Christ in the days of his flesh, we should have seen such a man as the children of this world would not be likely to fancy, -- plain, grave, absorbed,noble withal, but the nobility of earnestness and purity, and conscious communion with God -- not the showy nobility that makes a man popular -- not delicate and refined, but manly and strong. That he had great strength of constitution was shewn by his endurance of the incessant fatigues of a three years and a half daily ministry. He would be a Jew of the best type, with a Jewish look (the woman at Jacob's well recognised him as a Jew). The portraits of Christ that have become current are all fanciful. Most of them are after Gentile models. Some of them may resemble him on some points, but it is more likely that we shall find him a totally different looking man to anything represented by them. We shall be more than satisfied we know, and there we may rest. It is not the person of Christ, in the artistic sense, that has been presented for our love, though that will be lovely enough: it is his character, and the great things that centre in him as the truth. Still, it is well, in the exercise of a little common sense, to get rid of the conventional fogs in which the subject has become obscured.

Another ray of light shines from the remark of townsmen about Christ's relations. He was in Nazareth on one occasion, after he had commenced his public work. We are told "they were offended at him;" that is, they stumbled at his pretensions, on account of their familiar knowledge of him: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, of Juda and of Simeon, and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark vi. 2). It is no great exercise of imagination, in the light of this piece of local knowledge, to picture Jesus, between 12 and 30, mixing in a busy family circle, and, as the eldest brother of the family, taking a prominent part in various domestic matters common to them all, yet differing from them in the intensity of his character, and the gravity and earnestness of his demeanour. This difference would not be apparent to them. A stranger would have distinguished him from the rest by his reserve and seriousness, amounting to sadness: but we know that daily contact familiarizes the mind with even the extremest peculiarities. And, therefore, as a member of the Nazareth community, Christ would simply be known as the quiet pensive son of Joseph, without challenging recognition as "the greater than Solomon." The time was coming for his manifestation: but till 30, he was simply one of the inhabitants of Nazareth.

The last reliable clue that we have to his life in Nazareth is contained in a single but significant expression. We are informed that after his baptism, "he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read." From this we gather that he was a regular attendant at the synagogue, and took part in the exercises conducted there, especially that one exercise of which his whole life was a glorification -- the reading of the Scriptures of Moses and the Prophets. It was "his custom" to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, working the six days with his father (though there is a tradition that his father died while he was young and that the business and family affairs had to be carried on by him). He rested the seventh day according to the commandment, "not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words," "but calling the Sabbath a delight, -- holy of the Lord, honourable." We are not to infer from this that Jesus paid no attention to the words of God on the other days of the week. On the contrary, he was obedient in all things, and therefore carried out the other instruction of Moses to Israel, to treasure the words of God "in their heart," talking of them "when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up, binding them as a sign upon thine hand and as a frontlet between thine eyes, writing them upon the posts of thy house and upon thy gates." Jesus would have "the fear of God before his eyes all the day long." He would therefore "in everything give thanks." At his daily meals, God would thus be recognised, as well as when he came to feed a multitude and to institute the breaking of bread. Could we have followed him in his business transactions, we should have found them conducted with gravity and sincerity, and "sound speech that cannot be condemned." And in his social intercourse, we should have found no "jesting and foolish talking, which are not convenient." We should in everything have found him an example. He is the ideal to hold up before us. The ideal is blurred and defaced by popular thoughts. We get back to the original by the Scriptures, and not by the disquisitions of the schools.

"Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." God's favour never left him, but man's favour did -- not, however, while he was a private resident of Nazareth. He was liked so long as he was a passive, guileless, and obliging neighbour: but when he began to point out in public teaching that the ways of the people were wrong, aversion took the place of favour, and he became an object of positive hatred. This was not till a considerable time after "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cesar." In that year, John "came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." This was the commencement of the opening up of the way for Christ's entrance into public life, for which at thirty years of age he was ready, and for which John the Baptist was expressly sent, as we have seen in a former chapter, that he might prepare his way.

Berean Home Page