"Joseph, sprung from the line of king David, I have come to tell you, that Mary, the young woman whom you are to marry, will have a son, sent by the Lord God. You shall call his name Jesus, which means 'salvation,' because he shall save his people from their sins."
God's people had had several kings. Some of them had been selfish and cruel, but Jesus was to be a new kind of king, one who would save, not destroy men.
Soon after Joseph and Mary were married in Nazareth, a command went forth from the emperor Augustus Caesar through all the lands of the Roman empire, for all the people to go to the cities and towns from which their families had come, and there to have their names written down upon a list, for the emperor wished a list to be made of all the people under his rule. As both Joseph and Mary had come from the family of David the king, they went together from Nazareth to Bethlehem, there to have their names written upon the list. For you remember that Bethlehem in Judea, six miles south of Jerusalem, was the place where David was born, and where his father's family had lived for many years.
It was a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; down the mountains to the river Jordan, then following the Jordan almost to its end, and then climbing the mountains of Judah to the town of Bethlehem. When Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem they found the city full of people who, like themselves, had come to have their names enrolled or written upon the list. The inn or hotel was full, and there was no room for them; for no one but themselves knew that this young woman was soon to be the mother of the Lord of all the earth. The best that they could do was to go to a stable where the cattle were kept. There the little baby was born, and was laid in a manger, where the cattle were fed.
On that night, some shepherds were tending their sheep in a field near Bethlehem. Suddenly, a great light shone upon them, and they saw an angel of the Lord standing before them. They were filled with fear, as they saw how glorious the angel was. But the angel said to them:
"Be not afraid; for behold I bring you news of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, the anointed king. You may see him there; and you may know him by this sign: He is a new-born baby, lying in a manger, at the inn."
[Illustration: They were filled with fear]
And then they saw that the air around and the sky above them were filled with angels, praising God and singing:
"Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace among men in whom God is well pleased."
While they looked with wonder, and listened, the angels went out of sight as suddenly as they had come. Then the shepherds said one to another:
"Let us go at once to Bethlehem, and see this wonderful thing that has come to pass, and which the Lord has made known to us."
[Illustration: The baby in the manger]
Then as quickly as they could go to Bethlehem, they went, and found Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, and his young wife Mary, and the little baby lying in the manger. They told Mary and Joseph, and others also, how they had seen the angels, and what they had heard about this baby. All who heard their story wondered at it; Mary, the mother of the child, said nothing. She thought over all these things, and silently kept them in her heart. After their visit, the shepherds went back to their flocks, praising God for the good news that he had sent to them.
When the little one was eight days old, they gave him a name; and the name given was "Jesus," a word which means "salvation," as the angel had told both Mary and Joseph that he should be named. So the very name of this child told what he should do for men; for he was to bring salvation to the world.
THE STORY OF THE STAR AND THE WISE MEN
For some time after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary stayed with him in Bethlehem. The little baby was not kept long in the stable sleeping in a manger; for after a few days they found room in a house; and there another visit was made to Jesus by strange men from a land far away.
In a country east of Judea, and many miles distant, were living some very wise men who studied the stars. One night they saw a strange star shining in the sky, and in some way they learned that the coming of this star meant that a king was soon to be born in the land of Judea. These men felt a call of God to go to Judea, far to the west of their own home, and there to see this new-born king. They took a long journey, with camels and horses, and at last they came to, the land of Judea, just at the time when Jesus was born at Bethlehem. As soon as they were in Judea, they supposed that every one would know all about the king, and they said:
"Where is he that is born king of the Jews? In the east we have seen his star, and we have come to worship him."
[Illustration: THE SHEPHERDS IN THE FIELD -- "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.... And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.'" -- (Luke 2: 8-10-11.)]
But no one of whom they asked had ever seen this king, or had heard of him. The news of their coming was sent to Herod the king, who was now a very old man. He ruled the land of Judea, as you know, under the emperor at Rome, Augustus Caesar. Herod was a very wicked man, and when he heard of some one born to be a king, he feared that he might lose his own kingdom. He made up his mind to kill this new king.
He sent for the priests and scribes, the men who studied and taught the books of the Old Testament, and asked them about this Christ for whom all the people were looking. He said: "Can you tell me where Christ, the king of Israel, is to be born?" They looked at the books of the prophets, and then they said: "He is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the prophet, 'And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah are not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth one who shall rule my people Israel.'"
Then Herod sent for the wise men from the east, and met them alone, and found from them at what time the star was first seen. Then he said to them:
"Go to Bethlehem; and there search carefully for the little child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, so that I also may come and worship him."
[Illustration: The wise men went their way]
Then the wise men went on their way toward Bethlehem; and suddenly they saw the star again shining upon the road before them. At this they were glad, and followed the star until it led them to the very house where the little child was. They came in, and there they saw the little one, with Mary, its mother. They knew at once that this was the king; and they fell down on their faces and worshipped him as the Lord. Then they brought out gifts of gold and precious perfumes, frankincense and myrrh, which were used in offering sacrifices; and they gave them as presents to the royal child.
That night God sent a dream to the wise men, telling them not to go back to Herod, but to go home at once to their own land by another way. They obeyed the Lord, and found another road to their own country without passing through Jerusalem where Herod was living. So Herod could not learn from those men who the child was that was born to be a king.
And very soon after these wise men had gone away, the Lord sent another dream to Joseph, the husband of Mary. He saw an angel, who spoke to him, saying:
"Rise up quickly; take the little child and his mother, and go down to the land of Egypt, for Herod will try to find the child to kill him."
Then at once Joseph rose up in the night, without waiting even for the morning. He took his wife and her baby, and quietly and quickly went with them down to Egypt, which was on the southwest of Judea. There they all stayed in safety, as long as the wicked king Herod lived, which was not many months.
King Herod waited for the wise men to come back to him from their visit to Bethlehem; but he soon found that they had gone to their home without bringing to him any word. Then Herod was very angry. He sent out his soldiers to Bethlehem. They came, and by the cruel king's command they seized all the little children in Bethlehem who were three years old, or younger, and killed them all. What a cry went up to God from the mothers in Bethlehem, as their children were torn from their arms and slain!
[Illustration: He took his wife and baby and went down to Egypt]
But all this time, the child Jesus whom they were seeking was safe with his mother in the land of Egypt.
Soon after this king Herod died, a very old man, cruel to the last. Then the angel of the Lord came again and spoke to Joseph in a dream, saying: "You may now take the young child back to his own land, for the king who sought to kill him is dead."
Then Joseph took his wife and the little child Jesus, and started to go again to the land of Judea. Perhaps it was his thought to go again to Bethlehem, the city of David, and there bring up the child. But he heard that in that part of the land Archelaus, a son of Herod, was now ruling, and who was as wicked and cruel as his father.
He feared to go under Archelaus' rule, and instead took his wife and the child to Nazareth, which had been his own home and that of Mary his wife before the child was born. Nazareth was in the part of the land called Galilee, which at that time was ruled by another son of king Herod, a king named Herod Antipas. He was not a good man, but was not so cruel nor bloody as his wicked father had been.
So again Joseph the carpenter and Mary his wife were living in Nazareth. And there they stayed for many years while Jesus was growing up. Jesus was not the only child in their house, and he had many other playmates among the boys of Nazareth.
THE STORY OF THE CHILD IN THE TEMPLE
Jesus was brought to Nazareth when he was a little child not more than three years old; there he grew up as a boy and a young man, and there he lived until he was thirty years of age. We should like to know many things about his boyhood, but the Bible tells us very little. As Joseph was a working man, it is likely that he lived in a house with only one room, with no floor except the earth, no window except a hole in the wall, no pictures upon the walls, and neither bedstead, nor chair, nor looking-glass. They sat upon the floor or upon cushions; they slept upon rolls of matting, and their meals were taken from a low table not much larger than a stool.
Jesus may have learned to read at the village school, which was generally held in the house used for worship, called the "synagogue." The lessons were from rolls on which were written parts of the Old Testament; but Jesus never had a Bible of his own. From a child he went with Joseph to the worship in the synagogue twice every week. There they sat on the floor and heard the Old Testament read and explained, while Mary and the younger sisters of Jesus listened from a gallery behind a lattice-screen. The Jewish boys of that time were taught to know almost the whole of the Old Testament by heart.
It was the custom of the Jews from all parts of the land to go up to Jerusalem to worship at least once every year, at the feast of the Passover, which was held in the spring. Some families also stayed to the feast of Pentecost, which was fifty days after Passover; and some went again in the fall to the feast of Tabernacles, when for a week all the families slept out of doors, under roofs made of green twigs and bushes.
When Jesus was a boy twelve years old, he was taken up to the feast of the Passover, and there for the first time he saw the holy city Jerusalem, and the Temple of the Lord on Mount Moriah. Young as he was, his soul was stirred, as he walked among the courts of the Temple and saw the altar with its smoking sacrifice, the priests in their white robes, and the Levites with their silver trumpets. Though a boy, Jesus began to feel that he was the Son of God, and that this was his Father's house.
[Illustration: Sitting in a company of the doctors of the law]
His heart was so filled with the worship of the Temple, with the words of the scribes or teachers whom he heard in the courts, and with his own thoughts, that when it was time to go home to Nazareth, he stayed behind, held fast by his love for the house of the Lord. The company of people who were traveling together was large, and at first he was not missed. But when night came and the boy Jesus could not be found, his mother was alarmed. The next day Joseph and Mary left their company and hastened back to Jerusalem. They did not at first think to go to the Temple. They sought him among their friends and kindred who were living in the city, but could not find him.
On the third day, they went up to the Temple with heavy hearts, still looking for their boy. And there they found him sitting in a company of the doctors of the law, listening to their words and asking them questions. Everybody who stood near was surprised to find how deep was the knowledge of this boy in the word of the Lord.
His mother spoke to him a little sharply, for she felt that her son had not been thoughtful of his duty. She said: "Child, why have you treated us in this way? Do you not know that your father and I have been looking for you with troubled hearts?"
"Why did you seek for me," said Jesus. "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
They did not understand these words; but Mary thought often about them afterward; for she felt her son was no common child, and that his words had a deep meaning. Though Jesus was wise beyond his years, he obeyed Joseph and his mother in all things. He went with them to Nazareth, and lived contented with the plain life of their country home.
As the years went on, Jesus grew from a boy to a young man. He grew, too, in knowledge, and in wisdom, and in the favor of God. He won the love of all who knew him, for there was something in his nature that drew all hearts, both young and old.
Jesus learned the trade of a carpenter with Joseph; and when Joseph died, while Jesus was still a young man, Jesus worked as a carpenter, and helped his mother take care of the family. And so in the carpenter shop, and the quiet life of a country village, and the worship of the synagogue, the years passed until Jesus was thirty years of age.
THE STORY OF THE WATER THAT WAS TURNED INTO WINE
A few days after Jesus met his followers or disciples at the river Jordan, he came with these men to a town in Galilee called Cana, to be present at a wedding. In those lands a feast was always held at a wedding, and often the friends of those who were married stayed several days, eating and drinking together.
The mother of Jesus was at this wedding as a friend of the family; for Nazareth, where she lived, was quite near to Cana. Before the wedding feast was over, all the wine had been used, and there was no more for the guests to drink. The mother of Jesus knew that her son had power to do whatever he chose; and she said to him; "They have no wine."
Jesus said to her: "O woman, what have I to do with thee? My hour is not yet come."
But his mother knew that Jesus would in some way help the people in their need, and she said to the servants who were waiting at the table:
"Whatever he tells you to do, be sure to do it."
In the dining hall were standing six large stone jars, each about as large as a barrel, holding twenty-five gallons. These jars held water for washing, as the Jews washed their hands before every meal, and washed their feet as often as they came from walking in the street, since they wore no shoes, but only sandals. Jesus said to the servants:
"Fill the jars with water."
[Illustration: "Fill the jars with water"]
The servants obeyed Jesus, and filled the jars up to the brim. Then Jesus spoke to them again, and said:
"Now draw out some of the water, and take it to the ruler of the feast."
They drew out water from the jars, and saw that it had been turned into wine. The ruler did not know from what place the wine had come; but he said to the young man who had just been married, the bridegroom:
"At a feast everybody gives his best wine at the beginning, and afterward, when his guests have drunk freely, he brings on wine that is not so good; but you have kept the good wine until now."
This was the first time that Jesus used the power that God had given him, to do what no other man could do. Such works as these were called "miracles"; and Jesus did them as signs of his power as the Son of God. When the disciples saw this miracle, they believed in Jesus more fully than before.
After this Jesus went with his mother and his younger brothers to a place called Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But they stayed there only a few days, for the feast of the Passover was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem to attend it. You remember that the feast of the Passover was held every year, to keep in mind how God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt long before.
When Jesus came to Jerusalem, he found in the courts of the Temple men who were selling oxen and sheep and doves for the sacrifices, and other men sitting at tables changing the money of Jews who came from other lands into the money of Judea. All this made the courts around the Temple seem like a market, and not a place for the worship of God.
[Illustration: "Take these things away"]
Jesus picked up some cord and made from it a little whip. With it he began to drive out of the Temple all the buyers and sellers. He was but one, and they were many; but such power was in his look, that they ran before him. He drove the men and the sheep and the oxen; he overturned the tables and threw on the floor the money, and to those who were selling the doves he said: "Take these things away; make not my Father's house a house for selling and buying!"
The acts of Jesus were not pleasing to the rulers of the Jews, for many of them were making money by this selling of sacrifices and changing of money. Some of the rulers came to Jesus and said to him: "What right have you to come here and do such things as these? What sign can you show that God has given to you power to rule in this place?"
Jesus said to them: "I will give you a sign. Destroy this house of God, and in three days I will raise it up."
Then said the Jews, "It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and it is not finished yet. Will you raise it up in three days?"
But Jesus did not mean that Temple on Mount Moriah. He was speaking of himself, for in him God was dwelling as in a temple, and he meant that when they should put him to death, he would rise again in three days. Afterward, when Jesus had died and risen again, his followers, the disciples, thought of what he had said, and understood these words.