When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. "Child, why have You done this to us?" His mother asked. "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You."
We now proceed to the solitary circumstance in the Child-life of Jesus which is given in the Gospels. He had been growing for twelve years in strength and in spirit, and the Lord loved him. The Child in Nazareth redeemed in God's eyes all the world. It was the one absorbing interest in the Divine outlook upon our race. And now he is taken by his pious parents to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. It is his second visit to the temple; this time he comes himself; the first time, as we have seen, he was presented. The following points deserve attention in this narrative.
I. THE PARENTAL CARE EXERCISED OVER JESUS. The pious pair, Joseph and Mary, went, as we are told, every year to Jerusalem to the Passover. And they had given the holy Child committed to their charge such advantages as Nazareth afforded. The home school especially, not to speak of synagogue services, to which he was doubtless regularly taken, evidenced their interest in the welfare of the Child. No sooner, therefore, has he reached the age of twelve, at which time little ones were deemed able to become "children of the Law," than he is taken up by them to see the Passover at Jerusalem. Their pious, consistent life was an excellent preparation for the solemnities of the great feast. Jesus came face to face with the ceremonies after experiencing most tender home care. And the history before us affords ample evidence of the parental consideration. If it was not perfect parental care, this is only to allow that neither Joseph nor Mary was sinless. Indeed, one of the German preachers bases an admirable discourse on parental duty upon this history, finding in it six separate hints upon it. But let us pause a moment over the care with which they must have explained to him all the ritual. Doubtless he saw more in it than they did, but he must have received gratefully their help in the circumstances. To them the Passover spoke of a great deliverance afforded to their fathers; to him it spoke of a great sacrifice yet to come. His insight must have been a deeper thing than they could then appreciate. And now let us pass to the oversight of which the parents were guilty. Their care was great, but it was not absolutely perfect. In the bustle of preparation for the home-going, the parents started with the caravan under the impression that he must be in the company of the boys who were in considerable numbers attached to the procession. They' should have made sure, and not left such a Child to the chances of travelling. We have no right to impute the separation of Jesus from his parents to any lack of dutifulness on his part, but solely to an oversight on theirs. What were all their bits of baggage and their acquaintances in comparison with the safe custody of "the holy Child"? And in consistency with this view, it has been suggested that underneath Mary's apparent expostulation and reproof there is a latent confession of her fault, which she and Joseph tried to atone for in their diligent search for the missing Boy.
II. THE LONELY BOY TURNED INSTINCTIVELY TO THE TEMPLE. The seven days of the Passover Feast had been a rare feast to Jesus. The priests and ritual and all the varied life which thronged the temple court must have been a revelation to him. He brought the consciousness of a Jew instructed in the Law to bear upon the temple and its services. We must look into his mind through the Old Testament. We there find the idea of God's Fatherhood in relation to his people several times referred to (Deuteronomy 14:1, 2; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20; Psalm 103:13, etc.). To the little thoughtful Boy, therefore, the temple was regarded as the home of him who was a Father to all who trusted in him. And this general idea of fatherhood became specialized in his deep, reverential musings, and he could not but feel towards God as no Jew had ever felt before. Whether he had as a Child the further revelation yet made to him of his peculiar relation to God as the Only Begotten, or reached this in the progress of the years, is what we cannot be certain of. At all events, the temple was the Father's house. To it the lonely Lad turned. He felt drawn to God irresistibly, now that his earthly guardians had gone away. "When father and mother forsake me," he could say, "the Lord will take me up." The orphan Child, so to speak, turned to the temple, as to his real home.
III. HE BECAME A HOLY LEARNER THERE. Not only was the temple the scene of the sacrifices; it was also the place of learning for those interested in the Law. Schools were established within the sacred precincts where the scribes discoursed to such pupils as chose to sit at their feet. The method seems to have been by dialogue - the question and answer which once were so prized. Here the Boy believed he would get light about the will of the great Father who dwelt there, and who had given his people the Law. As a faithful Son, he wished to get all possible light about his Father's business, and so he frequented the schools. He was a "model catechumen," as a suggestive writer on this whole passage calls him. Although he must have seen through the shallowness of some of his teachers, and had doubtless deeper insight than any, he was content to sit at their feet and get all the good from them he could. It was an instance, surely, of great diligence in embracing every opportunity of improvement which came his way. He wanted to learn all he could while he had the chance. And most naturally did his answers and questions astonish the doctors. They had never had such an apt scholar before. His insight led them along lines they never had traveled hitherto. And as for the Father's business, it at least embraces such elements as these:
1. The understanding of the terms of access to his presence. The significance of the ritual which was celebrated in the temple, the meaning of sacrifice, of bloodshedding, of incense, and of approach by the appointed priests into the Divine presence, - all this belonged to the Father's business.
2. The understanding of the meaning of his commandments. The Law as the expression of the Father's will, and read consequently in the light of love.
3. How far the knowledge of the Father was to be extended. The kingdom of God in its universal range, as distinct from a narrow nationality, - this was part of the Father's business. Hence the lingering of the holy Learner about the temple schools. His apt answers would procure him lodging and food during the season of separation his parents. Having put God first, all these things were added unto him (Matthew from Matthew 6:33).
IV. HIS RECOVERY BY THE ANXIOUS MOTHER. Joseph and Mary, on discovering at the end of the first day's march the absence of the Child, set out for Jerusalem to find him. They doubtless inquire all the way back, and then they go hither and thither through the city, and at last think of the temple. There, in the midst of the doctors, he is found and recovered by Mary. Her words are apparent rebuke, but really confession upon her part of the oversight. She had never before had any reason for fault-finding; it comes all the more surprisingly upon her now. Jesus defends himself on the ground that he was looking after his Father's business. In other words, he insists on putting God first, before Mary or Joseph. We get an insight into what godliness is. It means making God's business supreme. God claims first place, and this is what the Boy Jesus gave him. The Revised Version translates the words," Wist ye not that I must be in my Father's house?" This would simply refer to their folly in not first seeking him there. The Authorized Version is as near the Greek, and of wider import. But Mary and Joseph did not understand his meaning. These are the first recorded words of Jesus; and how they harmonize with the last, when on the cross he said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"!
V. HIS OBEDIENCE AND DEVELOPMENT. He has got all the doctors can meanwhile give to him. It would not have been profitable for him to have remained longer in their schools, and to have merely witnessed their powers of disputation. He is to have collision with them soon enough. Besides, he will be safer out of their reach in the quiet of the northern home. And so he recognizes in his mother's call the voice of his Father in heaven, and in the privacy of Nazareth his Father's business. He has to wait as well as work. Hence without a murmur he goes away with them and is subject unto them. But this subjection and reverence did not hinder, but really helped, his development. "He increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." As a person under parental authority, he found his reward in wisdom, and became beloved of all around him as well as of the Lord above. It was a beautiful example to set us of being subject under God to parents and superiors. His growth in wisdom was also so considerate. He would take wisdom as others have to get it, gradually, and pass from the known to the knowledge of the unknown. And God's favor will rest as well as man's favor upon all who follow in the footsteps of his Divine Son in this beautiful subjection. There is no truth more important at the present time than this of realizing our development in due subjection. - R.M.E.
Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us?
This question of the mother of Jesus reveals an experience of the human heart which is very common, which is most common in the best hearts and those who feel their responsibility the most. The Virgin Mary is the perpetual type of people who, entrusted with any great and sacred interest, identify their own lives with that interest and care for it conscientiously; but who, by and by, when the interest begins to manifest its own vitality, and to shape its own methods, are filled with perplexity. They cannot keep the causes for which they labour under their own care. As His mother asked of Jesus, so they are always asking of the objects for which they live, "Why hast thou thus dealt with us?" Such people are people who have realized responsibility more than they have realized God. Just as Mary felt at the moment when she asked this question, that Jesus was her Son more than that He was God's Son, so there is a constant tendency among the most earnest and conscientious people to feel that the causes for which they live and work are their causes more than that they are God's causes, and so to experience something which is almost like jealousy when they see those causes pass beyond their power and fulfil themselves in larger ways than theirs. For such people, often the most devoted and faithful souls among us, there must be some help and light in this story of Jesus and His mother.
The first and simplest case of this experience is that which comes nearest to the circumstances of our story. It comes in every childhood. It comes whenever a boy grows up to the time at which he passes beyond the merely parental government which belonged to his earliest years. It comes with all assertion of individual character and purpose in a boy's life. A boy has had his career all identified with his home where he was cradled. What he was and did he was and did as a member of that household. But by and by there comes some sudden outbreak of a personal energy. He shows some disposition, and attempts some task, distinctively his own. It is a puzzling moment Mike for the child and the parent. The child is perplexed with pleasure, which is almost pain, to find himself for the first time doing an act which is genuinely his own. The parent is filled with a pain which yet has pride and pleasure in it, to see his boy doing something original, something which he never bade him do, something which perhaps he could not do himself. The real understanding of that moment, both to child and parent, depends on one thing — upon whether they can see in it the larger truth that this child is not merely the son of his father, but is also the son of God. If they both understand that, then the child, as he undertakes his personal life, passes not into a looser, but into a stronger, responsibility. And the parent is satisfied to see his first authority over his son grow less, because he cannot be jealous of God. It is a noble progress and expansion of life when the first independent venture of a young man on a career of his own, is not the wilful claim of the prodigal, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me," but the reverent appeal of Jesus, "Wist ye not theft I must be about My Father's business?"
Who is there of us that is not aware that his soul has had two educations? Sometimes the two have been in opposition; sometimes they have overlapped; sometimes they have wholly coincided; but always the two have been two. Our own government of ourselves is most evident, is the one which we are most aware of, so that sometimes for a few moments we forget that there is any other; but very soon our plans for ourselves are so turned and altered and hindered that we cannot ignore the other greater, deeper force. We meant to do that, and look! we have been led on to this. We meant to be this, and lo! we are that. We never meant to believe this, and lo! we hold it with all our hearts. What does it mean? It is the everlasting discovery, the discovery which each thoughtful man makes for himself with almost as much surprise as if no other man had ever made it for himself before, that this soul, for which he is responsible, is not his soul only, but it is God's soul too. The rex-e-lation which came of old to the Virgin Mother about her Child — not your Child only, but God's Child, too; yours, genuinely, really yours, but, behind yours and over yours, God's. That is the great revelation about life. When it comes, everything about one's self-culture is altered. Every anticipation and thought of living changes its colour. It comes sometimes early and sometimes late in life. Sometimes it is the flush and glow which fills childhood with dewy hope and beauty. Sometimes it is the peace which gathers about old age and makes it happy. When. ever it comes it makes life new. See what the changes are which it must bring. First, it makes anything like a bewildering surprise impossible. When I have once taken it into my account that God has His plans for my soul's culture, that these plans of His outgo and supersede any plans for it which I can make, then any new turn that comes is explicable to me, and, though I may not have anticipated it all, I am not overwhelmed, nor disturbed, nor dismayed by it. I find a new conviction growing in my soul, another view of life, another kind of faith. It is not what I had intended. I had determined that as long as I lived I would believe something very different from this which I now feel rising and taking possession of me. It seems at first as if my soul had been disloyal to me, and had turned its back faithlessly upon my teaching. I appeal to it, and say, "Soul, why hast thou thus dealt with me?" And it answers back to me, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? Did you not know that I was God's soul as well as your soul? This is something which He has taught me." Then again, the true man will have one great purpose in living, and only one. He will try to come to harmony with God, to perfect understanding of what God wants and is trying to do. Let me not be trying to make one thing out of this soul of mine while He is trying to make entirely another! As Mary went back with her Son, realizing, out of His own mouth, that He was not only her Son, but God's; as she settled down with Him to their Nazareth life again, must not one single strong question have been upon her heart, "What does God want this Son of His to be? O let me find that out, that I may work with Him." And as you go into the house where you are to train your soul, realizing, through some revelation that has come to it, that it is God's soul as well as yours, one strong and single question must be pressing on you too — "What does God want this soul of mine to be? O, let me find that out, that I may work with Him." And how can you find that out? Only by finding Him out. Only by understanding what He is, can you understand what He wants you to do. And understanding comes by love. And love to God comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
The words may usefully remind us that the dealings of the Lord Jesus with those who sincerely love and serve Him are often very strange. Not only does He try them by ordinary troubles, such as loss of health and loss of friends, but sometimes He takes away from them all spiritual comfort, and leaves their souls dark and disconsolate. Once they had joy and peace in believing, but they have it no longer now. Perhaps it is that they have grown lukewarm and self-sufficient, and He withdraws Himself from them for a time, to make them seek Him with greater earnestness. Where this is the case, people must go on seeking till they find. The dryness and hardness of our minds in prayer may be a sore distress to us, but we must not give over praying: we must be content to seek Him sorrowing. Where we cannot pray as we would, we must pray as we can. We must not "faint," but determine to make ourselves heard at heaven's gate. And then it shall be "but a little," and we shall find Him whom our soul loveth. And when we have found Him, we must be careful to hold Him, and "not let Him go." One who knows the Saviour's love, and lives in habits of holy intercourse with Him, must, as it were, keep His eye upon Him constantly by Christian watchfulness and an effort to realize His presence everywhere. Let such an one lose Him by wilful disobedience, or careless self-indulgence, or by relaxing in prayer and in the effort to believe, and there will be nothing but "sorrowing" till He is found again. Most merciful is it of God, when we are living without Christ, to hedge up our way with thorns, to make conscience uneasy, worldly pleasures unsatisfactory, and even religious exercises disappointing and irksome. Anything is wholesome, however bitter, which drives us to His side, and keeps us there.
There is something at first sight wilful indeed, possibly courageous, but not manly, in a boy of twelve staying behind his parents in a strange city without their knowledge or consent; something thoughtless, almost ungracious, in the words of reply to Mary's question. The clue to this apparent divergence from the perfect manly life is given with rare insight and beauty in Mr. Holman Hunt's great picture — at any rate, the face and attitude of the boy there seemed for the first time to make clear to me the meaning of the recorded incident, and to cast a flood of light upon those eighteen years of preparation which yet remained before He should be ready for His great work. The first sight of Jerusalem and of the Temple has stirred new and strange thoughts within Him. The replies of the doctors to His eager questionings have lighted up the consciousness which must have been dimly working in Him already, that He was not altogether like those around Him-the children with whom He used to play, the parents at whose knees He had been brought up. To the young spirit before whose inward eye such a vision is opening. all human ties would sink back, and be for the moment forgotten; and, when recalled suddenly by the words of His mother, the half-conscious dreamy answer, "How is it that ye sought Me?" &c., loses all its apparent wilfulness and abruptness. And so, full of this new question and great wonder, He went home to the village in Galilee with His parents, and was subject unto them; and the curtain falls for us on His boyhood and youth and early manhood. But, as nothing but what is most. important and necessary for understanding all of His life which we need for our own growth into His likeness is told us in these simple narratives, it would seem that this vivid light is thrown on that first visit to Jerusalem because it was the crisis in our Lord's earthly life which bears most directly on His work for our race. If so, we must, I think, allow that the question, once fairly presented to the boy's mind, would never again leave it. Day by day it would come back with increasing insistency, gathering power and weight.
There has descended into Mary's humble home a treasure too great for heaven itself to contain. What wonder if she fails to understand the value of this Divine Son; if she wholly mistakes the meaning of His absence? What wonder if she applies to His case the common-place rebuke, "Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing"? Nay, but we may be told it was inexcusable in one who remembered the marvels of His birth, and all that then occurred, to chide Him for resorting to the Temple, and to be astonished that He sat with doctors and heard and questioned them. Twelve years of meek obedience in common household tasks and duties had passed since His birth. Miracles, which are meant to witness to doctrines, were not, we may be sure, performed to startle the carpenter's humble family, and she had forgotten in some measure the significant tokens of the past, and the dutiful boy was to her the future carpenter, the support of her age, the inmate of her home, or of some frugal home like hers, to the end, and the air of authority sat easy upon her, for her right had not been disputed. But other rights asserted themselves now. The light within Him breaks forth now from behind the Tell of flesh. "How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not," &c. Other claims and ties supersede, or soon shall do so, the calm family life. He shall dwell with that Father who, in His baptism, His transfiguration, His death, will attest that this One is the Son of God. He shall seek for brethren and for children in all whom the ties of a common faith in His Father unite to Him. His work shall not be with the axe and hammer in Joseph's workshop, but it shall lie in turning souls from darkness to light, from death to life, from the power of Satan unto God. What wonder if the mother after the flesh cannot at once train her ear to the full compass of this new revelation. She will acquiesce, but not till she has painfully learned the plan of God in the life of battle with all forms of evil, which He shall lead, in the face of Satan and his host, where she is not; where she shall be met, if she venture into its sphere, by words of strangeness, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" (John 2:4
). Some have entertained angels unawares; but the King whom angels serve is a sojourner under her roof; she has to unlearn the speech of a mother, and learn that of a worshipper of the adorable Son of God and her Redeemer. She must cease to command and to admonish, and kneel with the rest of us before the Cross that was raised for all our guilty race alike.
When Garibaldi saw any one looking at his mother's picture the tears started into his eyes. He felt remorse at having, by his adventurous life, been a source to her of cruel anxiety. He believed in the power of her prayers to preserve him from the effects of his own temerity, and on the field of battle, or in the storm at sea, he never lost courage, because he thought he saw her kneeling before God and imploring for him the Divine protection.
The parents of Robert Moffat were both pious, and his mother's heart was set upon his "knowing from a child the Holy Scriptures." When about to leave Inverkeithing, in Fifeshire, where he was in service in the Earl of Moray's gardens, for a situation in Cheshire, she earnestly besought him to promise, before going, that he would read the Bible every day, morning and evening. Sensible of his own weakness, and of, perhaps, his boyish disinclination, he parried the question. But at the last moment she pressed his hand. "Robert," she said, imploringly, "you will
promise me to read the Bible, more particularly the New Testament, and most especially the Gospels — those are the words of Christ Himself; and then you cannot possibly go astray." There was no refusing then; it was the melting hour. "Yes, mother," he answered, "I make you the promise." He knew, as he remarked in relating the circumstances, "that the promise, once made, must be kept. And oh," he added, "I am happy that I did make it!"
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