Great Texts of the Bible
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.—Mark 6:3.
Jesus had gone up to the city of Nazareth. Once before He had visited it, immediately after His baptism and at the very beginning of His ministry, only to be angrily rejected with furious violence. This time His fame, which was being spread through the land, led them to receive Him with a greater show of welcome. They were eager to hear His words and to see His works. But a second time they turned from Him scornfully. “Whence hath this man these things?” The words may have in them that dark and dreadful meaning which the Pharisees did not hesitate to express more plainly when they ascribed His miracles to the power of the devil. At any rate, the people of Nazareth were offended in Him and went muttering, “Whence hath this man these things? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?”
“Is not this the carpenter?” This is an illuminating question. It throws light; and it throws the light in two directions. When you hold up a lamp or lantern in order to see the face of some one approaching you in the dark, you light up, not only the face of the person approaching you, but you light up your own face as well. When these people ask the question, “Is not this the carpenter?” they light up their own faces and also the face of Jesus.
Jesus was a Workman
The word translated “carpenter” is a more generic term than our English word. It conveys something more than the specific handicraft designated by the latter, and implies generally a fashioner of articles in wood. Jesus the carpenter was a maker of all such utensils as were useful in the house and in the field. Justin Martyr, who lived near to Christ’s own times, tells us that He made ploughs and yokes, as well as the articles we include within the scope of carpentry. He was the fashioner of whatever tended to stability, order, and productiveness. Surely we may see something more than an accidental significance and appropriateness here! His calling was the symbol of the constructive and productive, as opposed to the destructive, principle in the world.
That Jesus, before He began His prophetic career, occupied the lowly state of a carpenter, is of universal, permanent, and, one may add, ever-increasing significance as a symbolic revelation of the genius of the Christian religion. It is by no means a merely outward, indifferent fact, too trivial for mention in even the fullest account of the life of so great a Personage. It has distinct and great ethical value, both as a biographical fact, and as a means of propagating Christian faith. How much that humble, yet not ignoble, occupation signifies as an element in the education of Jesus! What possibilities it provided of keen insight into the heart of human life, and what protection it afforded against the unrealities and insincerities attaching to more favoured social conditions!1 [Note: A. B. Bruce.]
There is a beautiful tradition, that Joseph, His reputed father, died while Jesus was yet a child, and so He worked, not merely to earn His own living, but to keep the little home together in Nazareth, and Mary and the younger members of the family depended upon His toil. That is a beautiful tradition. It may be true, but I do not press it. But this one fact is of utmost importance—He worked for His living. Oh! that we may derive the strength and comfort from this fact which it is calculated to afford. Business men, you who have been at work all the week, and have been harassed by daily labours, and are weary and tired, and seeking for new inspiration, this Jesus, whose name has become a name of sweetness and love, was not a king upon a throne; He was not for the better part of His life a teacher, with the thrill and excitement of public life to buoy Him up. No; the long years ran on, and He was doing what some of you speak of as “the daily round, the common task.”2 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]
1. Jesus, as a workman, is brought into sympathetic relations with the masses of mankind.—His gracious purpose, when He came to earth, was to fathom all the depths of poor humanity, that He might sympathise and succour to the uttermost. Not to be the Redeemer only, but also the Brother and Friend of man, was the mission of the Son of God. Now, where can a more impressive instance of this be found—a clearer proof that Jesus did actually make Himself like unto His brothers than when we are told, as in the text, that He became a carpenter? Here He is seen not merely “in fashion as a man,” but passing down to man’s most tried and toilsome state, that, proving that, He might implicitly experience every other.
He who said, “Be not anxious for the morrow,” often needed to trust His heavenly Father for the morrow’s bread. As in the wilderness, when ready to perish of hunger, so in the precarious position of a village tradesman, Jesus wrought no miracle to provide bread, or to relieve His own mind, for His first miracle was that in Cana of Galilee. Condescending from the throne of universal providence to live a life of faith for our sakes, the Son trusted the Father before He stood up to preach, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”
Probably all of Jesus’ apostles were manual labourers except Matthew. We are told expressly that Paul, the greatest of them all, earned his living by working with his hands. Again and again in his letters Paul calls attention to the fact that he has earned his own living by manual labour. Nor was he ashamed of it. He seems to have been proud of his hands because the haircloth had blackened them and the thread had left its marks on them. Listen to him as he says to the elders of Ephesus, who met him down on the sea coast at Miletus: “Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” The sight of his hands drew them to him, and made them love him all the more. After he had prayed with them they fell on his neck and kissed him—strong men sobbing because they were to see his face no more. These are two facts, then, never to be forgotten, that Jesus, the founder of the Christian religion, was a manual labourer, and the pierced hands into which He will gather the lives of nations and men are hands that have been disciplined by toil. Paul, the apostle, who did more for Christianity than any other man who has ever lived, also was a manual labourer, and the hands with which he grips the heartstrings of the world are hands that have been stained by toil.1 [Note: C. E. Jefferson.]
It is a significant fact that not a few high-minded thinkers of modern times, repelled by that insidious blight which works in scenes of frivolity and pomp, have gone forth to live in communities where all take equal share in tilling the soil, shaping the plough and loom, and putting the hand to tasks which are accounted mean. The names of Robert Owen, Laurence Oliphant, Count Tolstoi, together with many men and women who have entered settlements to cultivate rural simplicity, stand for a movement which may yet change our chaotic civilisations. Not only is there an instinctive desire for the keener vitality which comes from strenuous, wholesome physical toil, but the restless sense of race-relations is appeased by such a programme of life. Under these primitive conditions some who have been born to luxury and unearned ease find themselves in more vivid sympathy with the rank and file of their fellow citizens.2 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
There is a pretty story told by Martin Luther of a good bishop who earnestly prayed that God would reveal to him something more than the Bible tells about the childhood of Jesus. At last he had a dream. He dreamed that he saw a carpenter working with saws and hammers and planes, just like any carpenter, and beside him a little boy picking up chips. Then came a sweet-faced woman in a green dress, and called them both to dinner, and set porridge before them. All this the bishop saw in his dream, himself standing behind the door, that he might not be perceived. Then the little boy, spying him, cried out, “Why does that man stand there? Shall he not eat of our porridge with us?” Thereupon the bishop awoke. This charming little dream-fable carries with it a beautiful and an important truth. It is the carpenter’s child who wanted all the world to share His porridge with Him, who has conquered the heart of humanity.3 [Note: J. Halsey.]
2. He obliterated the distinction between the sacred and the secular.—No more effectual and impressive method could have been devised for abolishing the false distinction between the sacred and the secular than that of sending the great Messiah to spend the opening years of His manhood in a workshop. The official priesthood at one time put a huge barrier between the sanctuary and the work-a-day world, that needed to be broken down before the prophecies could be fulfilled. The Temple courts at Jerusalem had been hallowed by many a supernatural vision of the Divine Glory, but the new theophany was to be in a scene of common toil. To make One who had wrought with His hands the all-commanding personality of His age, was to prepare men, by an ascending scale of amazement and faith, for the great mystery of His origin and of His after-reign of mediatorial power.
The necessity of secular work is sometimes spoken of among Christians as if it were an evil—a kind of degradation to them—at least a burden and a hindrance—something in spite of which they may retain their Christianity, but which can surely not be helpful to it, or form any part of it. Under the influence of such a feeling, some—especially fresh converts—would fain abandon their secular engagements altogether, and give themselves wholly to what they call a religious life—to meditation, and prayer, and preaching, and duties such as these. But does not the clear daylight of the text dispel such shadows and delusions of morbid or mistaken minds? Jesus is here seen to set His holy seal on worldly work—to make it no more worldly—but Christian, Heavenly, Godlike. Was not His whole life like His seamless robe—of one perfect piece—all of it religious—all of it devoted to God—all of it gleaming alike with the fair colour of holiness? Yet thirty years of it were expended in learning and doing the work of a carpenter, and only three in the sacred office of the Ministry.
As you gaze upon the earliest Christian pictures in the Roman catacombs, you cannot fail to recognise that the conception of Christ which was conveyed to the simple minds of the men of the second and third century by the gay and winsome figure of the Good Shepherd, with the happy sheep nestling on His shoulder, with the pastoral pipes in His hand, blooming in immortal youth, must be very different from that of the men of a later age, for whom the gracious and gentle Pastor has given place to the crucified Sufferer, depicted in countless aspects of misery and woe, from the gaunt and ghastly Crucifixes and Pietas and Entombments of the early Florentines, to the sublime dignities of Michael Angelo and Tintoret and Corregio.1 [Note: Bishop Stubbs.]
3. Jesus the carpenter has ennobled manual labour.—It may be said that this is a truism, and that the Gospel of “the dignity of labour” has become almost a cant. It is true the sentiment has been heard before, but how many of us are sufficiently superior to the conventional and artificial distinction of modern society really to believe in the honourableness of handicraft? If people believe in it, why are they so anxious to escape from it? Why is it that apprenticeship in all trades is dropping out of vogue, and that nearly all the youths who leave our schools prefer to seek a miserable clerkship rather than to earn an honourable maintenance by manual toil, and that girls prefer almost anything to domestic service?
In the north of Holland, and about five miles from Amsterdam, there is a shipbuilding and manufacturing town called Zaandam; and in that town a very humble old house is carefully preserved in which a carpenter lodged for a time more than two hundred years ago. Visitors to Zaandam go to see that old house; it is on record that in the year 1814 it was visited by Alexander i., the Czar of Russia. That Emperor went to see it because the carpenter who had lived in it in 1697, and for whose sake the house is still preserved, was no less a personage than one of his own predecessors—Peter the Great, the creator of the modern Russian Empire.1 [Note: C. Jerdan.]
4. Jesus the carpenter is an example to all good workmen.—The conviction cannot be too forcibly urged that the only dishonourable employments are immoral or dishonest ones. The man who makes an honest plough or table is as honourable as the man who makes a poem or a sermon, and he may be as much of a gentleman. “No work can degrade you unless you first degrade your work.” It is not work, but bad workmanship, that is disgraceful. We know the kind of ploughs and tables, windows and doors, the Carpenter of Nazareth made; and unfortunately we know, only too well, the kind of thing many a modern carpenter puts into suburban villas, and calls it a door or a window-frame. Such carpentering is degrading, but it is the scamping and not the work that is low. You may not know much of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ; but every bit of honest work is an imitation of Christ.2 [Note: J. Halsey.]
A recent writer on Japan says: “If you visit Kyoto to order something from one of the greatest porcelain makers in the world—one whose products are better known in London and Paris than even in Japan—you will find the factory to be a wooden cottage in which no English farmer would live. The greatest maker of cloisonne vases, who may ask you fifty pounds for something five inches high, produces his miracles behind a two-storied frame dwelling, containing perhaps six small rooms. The best girdles of silk made in Japan, and famous throughout the empire, are woven in a house that cost scarcely one hundred pounds to build.” Robes of immaculate righteousness, delicate and radiant character, and miracles of goodness at which other worlds marvel, are still produced in some of the mean byways and obscure surroundings of the world. “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
5. But His work was not only good; it was the work of self-sacrifice.—A famous English painter, Mr. Holman Hunt, gave to the world in 1873 a great religious picture, representing Jesus in the workshop at the close of the day. When we look at it, we see that the earthen floor is well covered with shavings, which have come from the planing bench near where Jesus stands. Close by the bench is a trestle of native form; and the large hand-saw has been left in the wood, not yet cut through. Jesus has thrown out His arms as He yawns in weariness; and His shadow formed on the wall in the level evening sunlight, as it is seen with alarm by His mother Mary, looks like that of a man crucified. Mr. Holman Hunt has called this picture “The Shadow of Death.”
Jesus had Brothers and Sisters
Are there not some of us to whom it never occurred before that Jesus had brothers and sisters just as we have? Indeed, everything that is human in the life of Jesus is to some of us more or less unreal. We accept the statements of theology concerning His humanity, but with a certain mental reserve. Even when one of the sacred writers himself tells us “He was tempted in all points like as we are,” we doubt whether he quite meant all he said; and to some of us, it is to be feared, the temptation in the wilderness is little more than a scenic display. We cannot think of Jesus as boy and man, as son and brother, entering like others into ordinary human relationships. We must needs picture Him with a halo of unearthly light about His head, and, as Professor Rendel Harris has recently pointed out, even a writer like Dean Farrar cannot speak of the “boy” Jesus without printing the word with a capital B, as if to suggest that He was never like other children. The truth is, many of us are Apollinarians without knowing it.1 [Note: G. Jackson.]
Assuming, as we reasonably may, that Joseph died some time before Jesus was thirty years old, we may find in this fact some new points of contact with the sympathy of Christ. The father being dead, Jesus as eldest son would become the head of the household. On Him would now devolve the charge of supporting Mary and those who were still children, and He would become the guide and counsellor of those nearer to Him in age. How blessed, then, in all our hours of lonely anguish, to remember that Jesus lived as a son with the widow, and as a brother with the fatherless, and that all their griefs were mingled in the cup He drank on earth!2 [Note: T. V. Tymms.]
1. This is the consecration of the family.—We have often been told that the first thirty years were the long and patient training for His life-work. Is it not rather that these thirty years were the patient doing of that work? Was it not as a lad of twelve that He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” And from that hour assuredly He ever did His Father’s business. We see Him in that little home. Rising early He hastens to help His widowed mother with such household service as He can render. He hurries to bear the pitcher to the well. All day He seeks to bring into the home some bit of sunny brightness, some cheery confidence, some holy peace. And in His work He is able to make things such as every carpenter makes—things that minister to the pleasure and service of men. Thus is He doing the business of His Father in heaven day after day and year after year through all those thirty years. For us the great lesson is this—that the only religion a man has, is what he has always, not sometimes—what he is in everything, not just now and then.
In this connection another thought occurs. As stepping into Joseph’s place, Jesus would become not only the chief bread-winner and comforter of the family, but on Him would fall the duty of conducting the daily worship which was never omitted in the home of devout Jews. We may think of Him, therefore, as reading the Scriptures, offering prayer, and at special seasons maintaining all those religious rites which were of a private character.
We who are brothers and sisters, are we doing what we can to make the home all that it ought to be? Do we diligently cultivate what some one has happily called the “art of living together”? “Is he a Christian?” asked some one of Whitefield concerning another. “I do not know,” was the answer; “I have never seen him at home.”1 [Note: G. Jackson.]
2. It is also the creation of a larger family.—When “one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking to speak to thee, he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” He that doeth the will of my Father in heaven—he is the man who stands nearest to Christ. Others might call James “the Lord’s brother”; he called himself the “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The new relationship was deeper, more sacred even than the old. And that same fellowship, with all of Divine blessedness that goes with it, is open to us to-day. Let us come to God, let us lay our hands in His, let us say to Him, “Lo, I come to do thy will,” and even of us Jesus will say, “Behold my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Jesus was a Cause of Offence
“They were offended in him.” What was the cause of offence?
1. He could not be measured by the stature of His family.—The question shows us that these men in Nazareth thought that one can account for a man simply by knowing his parents and brothers and sisters. There was nothing wonderful in Joseph nor anything extraordinary in Mary, and therefore there could be nothing great in Jesus. But in reasoning thus these people were mistaken. There was nothing wonderful about the parents of Muhammad, or of Luther, or of Goethe, or of Shakespeare. You cannot tell what a man is, simply by knowing what his parents were. God has something to do with the making of a man. These people in Nazareth supposed that under equal circumstances characters must be equal. They adopted the principle that one child must be as bright as another, and that one boy must be as good as another if they grow up in the same home. All of which is of course an error. These people overestimated the importance of circumstances, and forgot that God has something to do with the making of a man. Their great mistake was that they left out God.
One does not look for a bird of paradise to be hatched in the nest of crossed sticks built by the rook, and these critics scarcely expected to see the brilliant Deliverer who had been the subject of prophecy for twenty centuries emerging from a cottage. The Hindus compare a pretender to a crow which has stuck a pomegranate flower into its tail. The murmurings in the synagogue, bandied from lip to lip as the assembly poured forth into the street, implied that Jesus had no hereditary genius or refinement, that He belonged to an average stock, and that He was attempting a task too big for His antecedents.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
2. He had begun to teach without having had the special training of a teacher.—It is much easier for a worldly soul to pay homage to the trained scholar, however superficial his insight, than to an artisan who claims to know the mind of God, and to find prophetic foreshadowings of his own work in the Old Testament Scriptures. But over-specialisation may sometimes involve intellectual or spiritual suicide, and God has to go outside the caste to find a fitting instrument of His will. Michael Angelo did not spring from a family of sculptors; Shakespeare was not reared in a cloister of learning; nor did John Bunyan illustrate the law of hereditary genius. Jesus Christ began the work which culminated in the Sacrifice of the Cross as a layman, and it was resented,
“Who would do the scullion work in the great household of humanity if there were no slaves?” This was the question that perplexed the great philosophers of antiquity. This was the question which Christ answered by making Himself the slave of mankind and classing Himself among the scullions.1 [Note: C. W. Stubbs.]
“Is not this the carpenter?” Yes, thank God! It was the carpenter, and something more. For you can be a carpenter, and something more. Lowliness of station is not exclusive of the highest gifts, nor incompatible with the highest culture, nor inimical to the highest usefulness. You may be carpenter and prophet, carpenter and poet, just as you can be house-drudge and angel.2 [Note: J. Halsey.]
In the Louvre in Paris there is a famous painting by Murillo. It is entitled, “The Miracle of San Diego.” A door opens and two noblemen and a priest enter a kitchen. They are amazed to find that all the kitchen maids are angels. One is handling a water pot, another a joint of meat, a third a basket of vegetables, a fourth is tending the fire. The thought of the artist is that it is in toil and drudgery we develop qualities which are celestial.3 [Note: C. E. Jefferson.]
The great Gods pass through the great Time-hall,
Stately and high;
The little men climb the low clay wall
To gape and spy;
“We wait for the Gods,” the little men cry,
“But these are our brothers passing by.”
The great Gods pass through the great Time-hall
With veiléd grace;
The little men crowd the low clay wall
To bow the face;
“But still are our brothers passing by!
Why tarry the Gods?” the little men sigh.
The great Gods pass through the great Time-hall;
Who can may see.
The little men nod by the low clay wall,
So tired they be;
“’Tis weary waiting for Gods,” they yawn,
“There’s a world o’ men, but the Gods are gone.”4 [Note: A. H. Begbie, The Rosebud Wall, 19.]
3. But the chief cause of offence was the claim that He made for Himself.—This is the earliest offence given by the Gospel; and it is deeply suggestive, because it is still the earliest offence taken by each individual soul. What is the ground of complaint here spoken of? Briefly stated, it is the homeliness of Christianity. Men refused to recognise a thing which grew amid such mean surroundings. Had Jesus claimed anything else than a Divine message there would have been no objection to His mean surroundings. Had He claimed merely the inspiration of human genius no one would have seen any contradiction in the poverty of His environment. For all human conditions the Jew prescribed toil; he desired that every man should learn a trade, should live as if he had to earn his bread. But when he came to speak of man’s relation to God, that changed the spirit of his dream. To him the attitude of God was ever one of rest. His God lay in the secret place of His pavilion, with the curtains drawn, and the doors shut, and the windows deafened! He could work only through His angels; He must not soil His hands with mundane things. He who professed to be a Son of God must be a child of mystery. He must have nothing homely about Him. He must be all soul, no body; all wings, no feet; all poetry, no prose; all heaven, no earth. And is not this also our first ideal of the Divine Life? In our moments of religious awakening we deny that morality is evangelical. We are offended when a preacher cries, “Salvation is goodness, work is worship, integrity is the service of God!” We say, “These are common things, homely things, things for the exchange and the market-place; you will see them in Nazareth every day.”1 [Note: G. Matheson.]
Jesus has drawn very near to us in our generation. We have been made to feel Him as a Brother, as a living, breathing man, touched with all the feeling of our infirmities. Back in the Gospels in their primal form we have gone, to let the old tale tell upon us in its simplicity. All this has been for the good. Jesus has become alive to many to whom He has been only a theological mummy. Thank God for that. Only remember the nearness of neighbourhood had its own peculiar perils of old when He was on earth, and that these perils exist still. It is just because they knew Him so familiarly and felt Him so close in ancient Nazareth, that they rejected Him.1 [Note: Canon Scott Holland.]
Robert Hichens, in one of his books, tells the story of an artist who desired to paint a picture to be called “A Sea Urchin.” Says the painter in one place, “I had made studies of the sea for that picture. I had indicated the wind by the shapes of the flying foam, journeying inland to sink on the fields. I wanted my figure. I could not find him. Yet I was in a sea village among sea folks. The children’s legs there were browned with the salt water. They had clear blue eyes, sea-eyes; that curious light hair which one associates with the sea. But they wouldn’t do for my purpose. They were unimaginative. As a fact, they knew the sea too well. They were familiar with it, as the little London clerk is familiar with Fleet Street or Chancery Lane.… These children chucked the sea under the chin.” He goes on to say how he searched for a child who was unfamiliar with the sea. In the heart of a London slum he found what he sought. He took the child home with him, told him of the voices that cry in the sea, of the onward gallop of the white horses, of its unceasing motions, its calm and its tempests; he played music to him in which the sound of waters could be heard. And at last he was rewarded by beholding the wonder of the sea itself dawn in the eyes of the London street Arab. The spirit of the ocean had entered into him, and he was all a-wonder.2 [Note: J. Steele.]
Campbell (J. M.), Bible Questions, 77.
Clifford (J.), The Dawn of Manhood, 34.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 4th Ser. 437.
Davies (J. P.), The Same Things, 168.
Farquhar (J.), The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, 61.
Halsey (J.), The Beauty of the Lord, 213.
Jackson (G.), The Table-Talk of Jesus, 19, 37.
Jefferson (C. E.), My Father’s Business, 147.
Jerdan (C.), Pastures of Tender Grass, 44.
Laurie (E.), in Christ and His People, 121.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, ii. 220.
Matheson (G.), Thoughts for Life’s Journey, 143.
Morgan (G. C.), The Hidden Years at Nazareth.
New (C.), The Baptism of the Spirit, 231.
Pearse (M. G.), The Gentleness of Jesus, 29.
Purves (P. C.), The Divine Cure for Heart Trouble, 89.
Selby (T. G.), The Divine Craftsman, 1.
Stubbs (C. W.), in Lombard Street in Lent, 164.
Tymms (T. V.), The Private Relationships of Christ, 73.
Christian World Pulpit, v. 232 (Dorling); x. 85 (Johnston); xii. 124 (Palmer); xlv. 129 (Stubbs); li. 118 (Pearse); lxvii. 264 (Tymms); lxxi. 17 (Holland); lxxvi. 40 (Steele).
Church of England Pulpit, xxxvii. 241 (Stubbs); lxii. 90 (Holland).
Expositor, 5th Ser., iii. 95 (Bruce).
Homiletic Review, v. 220 (Jones).
Preacher’s Magazine,  60 (Pearse).
20th Century Pastor, xxvi. 65 (Kelly).