How He grew up as a Boy in Nazareth and afterwards worked at a carpenter's bench to support His widowed mother.
A FTER that wonderful Christmas night, when the angels had gone back into Heaven leaving their Lord behind them here to start His human life as a little baby, we see but little of the Divine Child. There is a story which I don't quite understand about Wise Men from the East following a star and coming to worship Him. They thought the new-born Child was to be King of the Jews. And the wicked King Herod got frightened at their questions, for he thought this Child might take away his kingdom.
So he tried to find Him, and when he could not he sent soldiers down to kill all the little baby boys in Bethlehem, hoping to kill Jesus. That was an awful night for the poor mothers of Bethlehem. But the Child Jesus was not there, for Joseph and Mary had warning and had fled away with Him into Egypt, and there they stayed till the cruel old King was dead. By and by they got back to their old home in Nazareth beside the carpenter's shop, and there in that little mountain village Jesus was reared up.
So we come back to Nazareth. How we should love to know the story of Jesus' childhood in Nazareth, all the delightful things that mothers tell about their children and, as He grew older, all the boy life with His comrades, the games and play and excursions together that boys love to think about. One feels disappointed that the Bible does not tell us that story. Perhaps because the writers had not known Him as a boy. Perhaps because they had so much more important things to tell. Except for one thing that happened when He was twelve years old we are only told, "the Child grew and waxed strong, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him."
And yet I feel that you are right in wishing to know about His life when He was about your own age. We like to know all we can about anyone that we really care for. And I think I know enough to picture His boyhood in my mind and help you to see it. For I know that He grew up like any ordinary Jewish boy and I know how other Jewish boys grew up in Nazareth.
So first I look at Nazareth as I saw it that day when I went up the hills of Galilee. Except for some changes in the houses of the town, the whole scene remains very much as Jesus saw it every day.
I see that little mountain town when Jesus lived there nestling white against the dark hills behind. I see those narrow, crooked streets that He saw, and the houses outside among the fields and gardens, and the vineyards on the terraced hills, and the green valleys bright in the springtime with lily and larkspur and dogrose and white anemone and all the lovely wild flowers of Northern Palestine in the springtime. There are the children playing in the streets and the girls in the evening at the village well, and out on the roads the country people in their queer dresses who, many of them, knew the Boy and were fond of Him. And the birds of the air that He often talks about; many of them birds that we know ourselves, the lark and the thrush and the robin and the crowds of common sparrows that He says God takes notice of, though He says you could buy them in the Nazareth market at two for a farthing. There I see the very mountain paths of His long walks, and the hill behind the town where on clear days He could see Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon and the mountains of Gilboa, where Saul and Jonathan died in that famous battle of Gilboa, and the highlands of Galilee spread out like a map, and far away the dark waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
That is Nazareth, His home. That is the boy world of Jesus which He thought of so often in later days. In the carpenter's cottage in one of these streets He lived, a natural human boy in a natural human family. In these fields and crooked streets He played with His comrades. On these mountain paths He walked and thought great thoughts as He grew up.
I think it must have been a wonderful time for His mother—often rather a puzzling time. You see, she knew what other people did not know. Just think of her listening to His childish talk and teaching Him His prayers and watching as He played with other boys or swept up the shavings in the carpenter's shop—and all the time with the wondering thought in her mind of the great things which the angel had told her.
Shall I tell you what used to puzzle me when I was young? I wonder if it puzzles you. How could these things be if she thought of Him as God from Heaven? How could she ever train Him up as her child and teach Him and tell Him to do things? How could He ever grow up as a natural human boy with other boys?
I can see now, as I study my Bible more carefully, that she did not yet think of Him as God. She only learned that great secret later. She knew that He came from Heaven. She knew that He was the Great One whom God had sent to help the world. But I am sure she did not understand till long afterwards the full meaning of the angel's message—the tremendous secret that He who came from Heaven as a little child was actually the Lord from Heaven Himself.
I don't think even the Child Himself at first understood who He was or thought of Himself as God. It was only as He grew up that He remembered and knew. It was meant that He should grow up as a natural human boy, that He should play with His comrades as a boy like themselves. I don't know what strange thoughts might sometimes come to Him, visions, perhaps, in His dreams of some world of light and beauty that He seemed dimly to remember. I only know that He felt Himself a natural boy like you.
All this is very hard for you to understand. But you cannot help that. The whole story of Jesus is hard to understand—that God became Man and lived with men for thirty years that they might, in some degree, get to know Him and understand Him and love Him.
N OW I am seeing pictures in my mind of that Nazareth childhood. If you shut your eyes and think hard you can make those pictures with me. I see His mother at night putting her child to bed, teaching Him His prayers, and telling Him what she knew about God, and always with that thought in her mind of what the angel had said to her.
Then I think of the Boy, six years old, going to the village school with His companions. I see them, not sitting at a school desk like yours, but seated in a half-circle on the floor, as Eastern children sit while the teacher taught the lesson. I wonder what sort of man was that village rabbi who had the teaching of Jesus. Was he a stupid old man? Was he a wise, thoughtful man, who knew and understood children?
The American poet Longfellow was once making this
picture in his mind, as I am doing now, of Jesus at
school and of His
"Come hither, Judas Iscariot,
Say if thy lesson thou hast got
From the rabbinical book or not.
And now, little Jesus the carpenter's son,
Let us see how Thy task is done," etc.
Nearly all the teaching was out of the Bible. Jewish writers tell us of children's little books, such as the Story of Genesis. The children learned by heart their "Shema" which is like our Creed. For hymns they learned the easy simple psalms just as you know them. For history lessons they had the story of what God did for their country in olden days. You can read in your Bible in the Old Testament the very history lessons that Jesus learned by heart. When He was older He learned to read them for Himself in His Bible. But you could not read them. They were in queer square big letters and He had to read them backward! Jewish books are all read backward. Here is a bit of one of His older lesson books which you can read backward as He did.
Now you can feel proud that you have learned
a lesson in Hebrew. If any of your friends are inclined
to boast of their cleverness you can quietly remark
that you have been reading part of the Hebrew Bible
After school don't you like to think of Him "playing in the market-place"? It seems to bring Him so close to ourselves. Just think of it. Jesus, our blessed Lord in Heaven, the children's Lord and the children's Friend, once was a child and played at His merry games like you. Surely He would understand the feelings of children in school or at play, in happiness or in trouble. Nobody understands a child as Jesus does. I came one day on a delightful discovery—Jesus, as a man, remembering the games of His childhood.
In the child world of long ago they seemed to play the
same sort of games and sing the same sort of rhymes as
"We have piped and ye non rakedtoon,
We have mourned and ye non arkedtoon."
And long afterwards Jesus remembered that little rhyme one day when He was preaching. He was blaming the people for their foolishness. "You are just like a set of children," He said, "playing in the market-place and calling to each other:
"We have piped and ye non rakedtoon,
We have mourned and ye non arkedtoon."
It means in English,
"We have piped unto you and ye have not danced,
We have mourned unto you and ye have not wept."
We cannot make it rhyme in English or in the Greek language of the New Testament, but it does rhyme in the language of the Nazareth children. It must have been the song of a children's game, and I shall never again hear village children singing in the market-place without thinking of that rhyme and the child Jesus at play.
I think those little memories of His childhood often came back at other times too when He was a man. In one of His sermons He told of a woman making bread and mixing leaven into three measures of meal. I have often wondered why He said three measures; probably it was because that was the amount His mother used every week for her bread-making.
So I think of that mother making her bread and a little boy no higher than the bread-board running His fingers through the meal and asking His childish questions as to what His mother was doing and why she was mixing leaven in it. I think that childish memory was in His mind when He told of the woman mixing leaven in three measures of meal. We older people have often little childish memories like that coming back in our minds.
By and by as He grew bigger I can picture Him in the older games of boyhood, or tramping over the hills with some of the more thoughtful boys. I wonder what they talked about.
I remember a little story I once heard of Jesus and the Nazareth boys. It is not in the Bible. I don't know where it comes from, but it is a true picture of what Jesus was like. We learn afterwards that He could always see any little good in people whom others thought all bad.
This story tells that the boys one day saw a little dog dead by the roadside. "What an ugly little brute," they said. "What a nasty smell!" Then young Jesus came up. "Oh, what lovely white teeth," said He. "They are whiter than ivory." You see He just saw at once the only beautiful thing in that ugly little dog. That was just like Him when He met people afterwards that other people thought were altogether bad. If there was any little bit of good in them He would see it at once. He always looked for the good in everybody.
One caution I must give you before this chapter closes. We have been thinking of Our Lord in His childhood, in home and school and play as a natural human boy like ourselves, not yet thinking who He really was or the reason why He was here on earth. But we must not make too free with our thoughts of Him. We must always keep in mind who He really was. I suppose the other Nazareth boys, His comrades whom He played with, thought of Him as just one of themselves, braver perhaps and better and more pleasant as a comrade—one who never did or thought anything mean or cowardly or unkind. But still an ordinary Nazareth boy. They knew no better.
But we know better and must always reverently keep in mind that this was really the Lord from Heaven growing up to bless the whole world for ever.
God was very close in the heart of that Divine Boy. He must always have felt happy in the presence of the Father in Heaven. In all the enjoyment of play with His comrades He would feel that the Father in Heaven was looking on them and loving them and liked to see them happy in their play. All children ought to feel that. But nobody would feel it as He did because He knew. And all the world around He would feel as His Father's world. He saw God everywhere. Everything was teaching Him His lovely happy religion.
I think of Him out on the hillside seeing God's green hills and pleasant streams, and God's sun coming to light the world and sinking at evening in crimson glory into the Great Sea; seeing the Father's birds and flowers and beasts, and delighting in them and loving them, and feeling that the Father also delighted in them and loved them. In all His teaching afterwards He makes us feel this. He tells us that God is behind it all, interested in it all. That God loves the little lambs sporting in the fields. That God watches the poor sheep going astray. God feeds the birds of the air which toil not neither do they spin. God sees the young sparrow fallen out of the nest. He clothes the grass of the field. He paints for His pleasure the wild flowers of the hillside so that "Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Surely Jesus, who knows our child-world so well, would like us all to have that same happy childlike religion with the thought of that kindly Father so near to us always. Surely Jesus was a happy Child in that free, simple boyhood in Nazareth before the thought of the world's sin and pain began to press upon His heart. So gradually humanly, as the Bible says, "the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, and the grace of God was upon Him, and daily He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and Man."
Carrying water from the well.
A RE any of you yet twelve years old? Think of some boy of twelve whom you know and like. When Jesus was twelve there comes the one only story in the Bible about His boyhood. I wonder why it was told. I will tell you my guess about the reason later on. We read that Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem every year to the Feast of the Passover, and when He was twelve years old He went up with them.
The Passover was a great religious festival like our Easter. It was to remind the Jews how God had saved their children from a great danger long ago when they were slaves in Egypt. All religious Jews all over the world looked forward to it every year and would try to come back to Jerusalem for this great festival. Children did not go. But when a Jewish boy was twelve he became a "son of the Law." It was something like our Confirmation, or what happens in any religious body when a child is received as a full member of his Church. Jesus' childhood was over and He could now go to the great festivals with the grown-up men.
Surely a wonderful day for this Nazareth boy! His first Passover that He had been looking forward to for years!
Cannot you imagine the excitement of a young country boy, who had never seen anything of the great world, starting off on this delightful excursion on the long road with the Holy City of His dreams at the end of it. Last year I travelled on that road from Nazareth to Jerusalem. I, too, had never seen Jerusalem. I was quite excited over it as we travelled over the hundred miles of Jesus' road and saw all the country that He saw that day, and strained our eyes to catch the first sight of Jerusalem on the hills. So I can almost see Him on that pleasant excursion.
I see Him that morning setting out from the carpenter's cottage with the band of Nazareth neighbors in their best clothes. I see Him travelling down the Nazareth road to the plains, watching the new groups of people that joined their procession at every cross-road, passing some of the famous places told of in His history lessons, thinking of Elisha as they rested at Shunem, passing by Gibeah, the birthplace of King Saul, joining in the chant of the Psalms about Jerusalem as they caught the first sight of the Holy City in the distance. Above all, He was going to see Jerusalem, the Capital of His nation, the City of God. Surely, for Him, a day to be remembered.
And then when He got to Jerusalem! All that week the wonder and reverence would grow. Think of His feeling as He entered the stately temple, the house of the Father, the centre of Israel's worship all the world over. Think how His young heart would be stirred as He saw the vast crowds that had come to the Passover, more than a million of religious Jews from every nation under Heaven, crowding the streets, camping like a great army along the hills and plains outside, all come together with one great purpose—to worship the Father in His Holy Temple!
Think of Him again that solemn Passover night, when each family or group of families held in some upper room their own private feast of the Passover, when the lamb that was slain and the unleavened bread were placed on the table and the youngest boy present, probably Jesus Himself, had to ask the question in their Jewish prayer-book, "What mean ye by this service?" and the oldest man at the feast solemnly replied: "It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel and delivered our houses." I don't suppose Jesus knew yet that these ceremonies had any connection with Himself, that the "lamb that was slain" at the Passover feast was to point to Him the "Lamb of God who should take away the sins of the world." But you can see how the Boy would wonder and get excited about it all.
Something else also happened that week which evidently was important. At Passover time the great Rabbis, the learned teachers of the nation, used to sit on the Temple terrace to teach. It was simple, easy teaching. Anybody might come. Anybody might ask questions. And one day the Boy, straying through the beautiful Temple courts with the wonder and excitement in His eyes, suddenly opened a gate and found Himself on the terrace! In a moment mother and friends and everything were forgotten. Here was His young mind longing for knowledge that He could not get from the ignorant old rabbi in Nazareth. There were the greatest teachers of the nation, the men who knew!
All that evening He stands eagerly listening, and at night when the Temple was closed and He set off to find His friends the little country boy got lost in the streets of the strange city. I suppose He slept that night on somebody's doorstep. I suppose some kind woman was good to the lost child and gave Him food. Next morning He is back again listening, thinking. And sometimes He asks eager questions. At last the great Rabbis begin to notice Him and get interested, and then begin to "wonder at His understanding and answers."
I wish we knew the questions that He asked. I wish we knew all that He was thinking that day. It seems that it was His mother that told this story to St. Luke, who writes it in the Bible, and she only came in at the end and did not know. She came in frightened and worried. They had been searching three days for the lost Boy, imagining all sorts of terrible things happening to Him, and now she finds Him safe and interested and excited, not thinking at all, it seems, of her and her anxiety. How little she knew of the great thoughts stirring in the heart of her Child!
"My Son," she asks, "why have You done this to us? For three days we have been seeking and sorrowing." In His answer we have the very first recorded words of Jesus. "Why, mother, how is it that you are surprised? Should not you expect to find Me in the house of My Father, about My Father's business?"
Was not that a startling answer for a young boy of twelve? I think it startled even His mother. And it sets me thinking and guessing. I told you I was trying to guess why this one story alone should be told of all the life of His boyhood. You might try to guess with me. Do you think it might be because there was just beginning to dawn on Him the thought of who He really was and why He was here on earth; that He was just beginning to feel Himself somehow different from those about Him, from the boys He had played with and the parents who had reared Him up? We are only guessing. But I know God was very close to the heart of that Boy, and I feel that all these wonders of the Passover week would set Him thinking hard. So maybe my guess is right. What do you think about it?
I think His mother must have felt something like this, for the Bible says "they understood not the saying which He spake to them. But His mother kept all these things in her heart." She could not understand. And the Boy had to think out His great thoughts alone. And He was only twelve. I think it must have been a bit lonely for Him.
Now the Passover is ended—the excitement is all over. Everybody is going home. You know how dull and flat it seems after holidays or other exciting times. You have to go back home to school and lessons and all the common everyday life. If you had had all the great thoughts and great happenings and excitement of that week that Jesus had you would probably feel it still more. It would be so much pleasanter to stay in the city, and in that glorious temple to learn great things and do great things "about His Father's business." But for Jesus at present the dull village life was "His Father's business." For you, too, at present the quiet life of home and school is the Father's business that you are to do for Him to train you for bigger things by and by.
So I read that He went home with His parents and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. He was only twelve and the simple home life was no doubt the best preparation for His future. So He was to go back to the dull village life and the home duties and the carpenter's shop. He was to grow up in that lone little mountain town, unnoticed and unknown, thinking His great thoughts, doing His common work, until the time came that He should go out into the world and do the great things for us.
So the Boy passes out of our sight down the Nazareth road on His way home and we see Him no more and know nothing more about Him for several years.
N OW we take a long step forward. Eighteen years have passed before we look again at the home in Nazareth. The Divine Boy has grown to be a man. The good Joseph the carpenter is dead, and the lonely widow has sobbed out her grief in the arms of her beloved Son. Ah, it was good to have Him near her in the day of her sorrow, good to have Him to stand by her in all the lonely years to come until as He was leaving this world, from the agony of the Cross, He gave her into the care of His closest friend and bade him take care of her in her old age as a son would care for his mother. We shall read about that later.
Evidently He had to work for His widowed mother's support at the trade that Joseph had taught Him. "Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary?" said the Nazareth neighbors when He came back one day later on a visit to His native village. So we think of Jesus as He grew to be a man, working as a country carpenter, supporting His widowed mother.
Think of the Son of God in His lowly humility. A
workman at his trade, a carpenter earning money. He
made ploughs and cattle yokes for the Nazareth farmers.
And you may be sure they were good ploughs and cattle
yokes. And so He taught mankind for ever what a fine
thing is honest work in the sight of God. In His day,
as in our day, rich people looked down on a working
man. "He is only a carpenter," said the stupid
Nazareth people. We must never think like that. For
Jesus as a working man makes one feel that all honest
work is a noble thing in the sight of God. I once read
an old carpenter's thoughts about
"I don't know right where His shed may have stood,
But often as I've been
I've took off my hat just when thinking of He
At the same work as me,
And I warrant He felt a bit proud like I've done
At a good job begun.
So I comes right away by mysen with the Book,
And I turns the old pages and has a good look
At the text I have found that tells me as He
Were the same trade as me."
I always think of that workshop as a friendly sort of place, for I am sure that His neighbors honored and liked that young carpenter, and would come to talk to Him while He worked. And I like to think that children were not discouraged from coming into that workshop among the shavings. For they surely liked Jesus. "He was in favor with God and in favor with men," says the Bible. And we are sure He was in favor with children. We know that later on He loved to have children about Him and they loved to be with Him. And no doubt He had the habit of telling them stories, for He was always telling stories in His later life, and we can hardly believe that He never did it before. And surely the children would learn from the stories in that workshop more about God's love and care than from all the religious teaching of the village school.
Now the time was coming near that He should go out to His great work in the world. We could never understand the high thoughts in His mind as He worked at His bench all day and went out for long walks in the evening on the Nazareth hills, thinking about the great mystery of His future, or staying on the hills as He used to do in later days "continuing all night in prayer to God."
So the quiet years rolled on till "Jesus began to be about thirty years old." Then at last the time was come. He must go out into the world to His great life work "for us men and for our salvation."
That year there was keen excitement all over the land. He heard everyone talking of a new prophet, a queer rough prophet in a hairy robe, who was preaching and saying strange things down in the wild country in the South. It was 500 years since any great prophet had come. So naturally they were excited about this prophet. "Who are you?" they asked him. "Are you the Christ? Are you the Great One coming from Heaven that our Bible says is to come?"
"No," he said. "I am not that Great One. I am not the Christ. But He is coming and coming soon. I am only the poor messenger before His face who shall prepare the way before Him."
Of course the Nazareth people were excited about this news. The farmers in the field, the girls at the well, the men who came into the carpenter's shop were talking about this mysterious prophet in the South and the startling things he was saying about Him who was to come. And Jesus heard and understood. One night He laid down His carpenter's tools for the last time and closed the carpenter's shop. It was the end of all His long years of waiting. "Then Jesus arose and went from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized of him."