And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.…
This beautiful and only glimpse of the Boyhood of our Saviour is full of interest. It enables us to behold Jesus on this memorable occasion through the medium of others' feelings. We can often more vividly represent to ourselves a scene, and take in its meaning, when we are told what thoughts and feelings it stirred in the minds of actual spectators. By simple and natural touches the story before us fixes our thought upon Mary and others, but especially upon the mother, and the changing feelings of her heart during these few days. By the side of Mary, then, let us first approach, and study the behaviour of the Divine Child, so perplexing at the time to her, so charged with significance in the reflection of after-days, and now so full of light and holy beauty to all disciples of Jesus and students of His life.
1. The story opens with a powerful stroke of pathos. A child is lost! A mother's heart is thrown into agony. Several details left to be filled up by the imagination. Caravan had set out early in morning. A large group of relatives and friends of Joseph and Mary's house amidst the throng. Taken for granted that Jesus was among them until night began to fall, and it was time for Him to come to His parents' tent to rest. Nightfall made the discovery all the more terrible. Let us picture to ourselves the state of His mother's mind during those three weary days that followed — perhaps not to the Temple that Joseph and Mary first bent their steps. Narrative seems to hint that they were quite at a loss to imagine where the Child was. At length, however, in the course of their search, their steps are directed to the Temple. There were connected with the sacred edifice a number of halls or class-rooms, where the Rabbis met and instructed their scholars. Amongst these Rabbis there arose from time to time true and weighty moral teachers, who directed attention to something more important than the curious mystical speculations and interpretations which form so large a part of the Talmud. Of these the most famous was Hillel, whose memory was quite fresh, and whose influence was still great in the Temple schools. There is little doubt that our Lord recognized a true spirit in this eminent Rabbi; and it has been shown that there are striking points of resemblance between their teachings. To that school Jesus went, and taking His seat among the scholars, proceeded to put His questions, and to listen to the teacher's answers; for this was the customary mode of instruction in the Jewish schools; and a great part of the rabbinical books consists of the answers to such questions.
2. Here, then, a scene opens before us in the Temple school which is impressed upon us as a very remarkable one. We are invited to look upon it through the eyes of the bystanders, who, we are told, were filled with wonder and astonishment. But what was so astonishing 7 What was it that made this Child the focus of every gaze — that drew upon Him the profound attention of bearded sages, of venerable brows, that awakened the curiosity of young and old? Not, probably, the fact that a Boy of twelve was to be found in such a place and occupation; for at that age He would be regarded by the Jews as "a son of the law." It was the extraordinary intelligence of His remarks and replies, His "understanding," i.e., His mental grasp, His insight into things.
3. Joseph and Mary coming in were likewise "amazed" at the scene. In their case the wonder seems more difficult of explanation; and it is instructive to ponder the fact for a moment. Is it not often so, that parents or relatives are blind to that which is most significant in their children? Joseph and Mary must have been aware of the great destiny promised to Jesus; they could not possibly have forgotten all the Divine marks that were attached to His birth and infancy. And yet they were astonished when His destiny began to unfold itself before their eyes. Must we not all reproach ourselves with some such fault? Our eye rests so strongly on the outward, the circumstantial side of life that our interest is drawn away from the real and spiritual.
4. The contrast of the calmness of the Child with the astonishment of those around Him deepens our impression of the meaning of the scene. "Why did ye seek Me? Did ye not know that I must be about My Father's business?" or, "in My Father's house?" "Where should you have expected to find Me, but in this chosen and beloved spot?" This sense seems to us natural, suggestive, appropriate. If we take the phrase in the wider sense, a meaning is yielded only less suggestive. But either way a profound devotion to God and to His kingdom is expressed in the language of the Divine Child — an absorption in these high thoughts as all-commanding and supreme over ordinary relations and affections. His words were not understood, we are told, by those nearest to Him in earthly relation. There was in their idea of life no key to unlock the enigma of this mysterious Child. But the words were deeply treasured and pondered over in the mother's heart, till Divine Providence, gradually unclosing this bud of Heavenly growth grafted on an earthly stock, into a flower of immortal beauty, brought the long-hidden meaning of the scene to light.
5. Thus early, then, we behold our Saviour in His Divine and native relations to His Father, and to the kingdom of spirit; thus early we trace the signs of His indelible consecration to the service in which He was to spend His days and to shed His blood, and through which He was to rise to be spiritual and universal Lord. But what a completeness it gives to the picture, and how are we touched on the side of our human affections when we read that "Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them." Supremacy of His relations to His heavenly Father did not mean the forgetting or ignoring of lower relations.
6. Turn a parting glance at the scene, and read it, no longer by the light of other's eyes, but by the light which the Holy Spirit has given us through the word of the gospel. Let us be thankful for the ministry of children. All that is simple and innocent, inquiring and truth-loving in them, should remind us of the Divine Child and of His ministry to our souls. When tempted to lose ourselves in the materialism of the age, or in the busy cares or pleasures of the present world, let us think of Him as, in the Temple, He seems with uplifted finger to be saying, "I was born to other things!" And so may grace be given us to follow Him, that we may be brought in the fellowship of the Spirit into childhood to God, and to dwell in the heavenly Temple of our Father, to go no more out for ever.
(E. Johnson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.