The Boy Christ Among the Doctors
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”—Luke 2:41-52
It does not please God to give us very much information in regard to the early life of His beloved Son, as man here on Earth. Uninspired writers have tried to fill the gap by producing imaginary stories of the childhood, and youth, and manhood of Jesus. There are weird myths stating that He went off to India as a young man and there sat at the feet of Hindu yogis, and learned the art of healing, and such like rubbish. We may be sure none of these things are true. Our Lord Jesus lived a normal life as a boy, growing up in a beautiful Jewish home where the word of God was adored and loved.
As a young man He worked at the carpenter’s bench with His foster father, Joseph, and inasmuch as Joseph disappears from the picture in a little time and never seems to appear again, we are forced to the conclusion that he must have died while our Lord was quite a young man. That would bring Him to the place where He would be the head of the family, and caring for His mother and his younger brothers and sisters, for the Scriptures speak of His brothers and sisters. God never seeks to gratify curiosity.
We would like to know more of those hidden years at Nazareth. We would like to know more of the early days of our blessed Lord. We just have enough to let us know that He was a subject child, and that His heart was always open to the voice of God, His father. Here we get a little light on the habits of the family that help us to understand just what kind of a group it was. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of Passover. Long years before God had commanded in the law that His people should go up to the place where He set His name from year to year, to keep the Passover feast, and it was His thought that every Passover might be a lesson to the children.
You remember that when the children asked, “What mean ye by these things?” they were told how they had been slaves in the land of Egypt, and how God had delivered them and brought them out of the house of bondage. They were to explain the meaning of the Passover lamb and though, perhaps, they realized it not, it was a picture of redemption.
One can think of our blessed Lord as a mere child taking the place of a little Jewish boy in that home, looking up into the eyes of His dear mother and saying, “What mean ye by these things?” Then as Joseph went on to explain, He knew far beyond what Joseph did the real meaning of the Passover rites. He knew that He was the true Passover lamb. He had come from heaven in order to give His life a ransom for many. He knew that the blood of the Passover lamb typified His own precious blood soon to be shed for the world’s redemption, and yet, perhaps all this knowledge did not come to Him as a child immediately, for we are told that Jesus increased in wisdom as He increased in stature and in favor with God and man. The mystery of His incarnation is beyond our keenest comprehension. As the eternal Son of God we hear Him saying to the Father, “Lo, I came to do thy will, O my God. Yea, thy law is within my heart.” Voluntarily He left the throne of glory for the manger of Bethlehem. As God, of course, He knew all things and yet as man He chose to grow in wisdom as He grew in stature. It is a mystery. We can’t understand how He, who was the eternal wisdom, could yet learn from the word of God. When we turn back to the prophet Isaiah we hear him say, “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” Our Lord Jesus, as a little child, grew and studied the word of God. Later He fed on the word of God. It was His constant delight and joy. All these different circumstances must have spoken to His heart as He knew He was the one who had come to fulfill every one of the types and shadows of the Law.
It is wonderful to contemplate that lovely family on its way to Jerusalem year after year, and that little child Jesus toddling along beside, or His mother cuddling Him in her arms as she rode upon an ass.
Then, when He was twelve years old, the visit to Jerusalem had special significance for Him. When He was twelve they came up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. It was the rule in Israel, when a child reached the age of twelve, to bring him to the temple and there he went through certain ceremonies something like that of confirmation in some of our churches. From that time on he was recognized as the son of the law. A child was not supposed to be on his own responsibility until he reached the age of twelve. His parents were responsible for him until that time, but when he became twelve years of age he accepted his own responsibility, and it was now put up to him that he was to obey God and keep His Law and seek His favor. So our Lord Jesus at twelve years of age took His place as the son of the law. He was a true Israelite and He came to fulfill everything in the law of Moses according to the will of God.
On this occasion something occurred that may have a very serious lesson for us. When the Passover feast was ended and the people were leaving the city and winding their way back to their various homes, the family to which our blessed Lord belonged and many of their friends and relatives passed through the gates of the city and took the road to the north. They never inquired whether the young lad Jesus was with them. They took that for granted. No word was told Him that they were going and He was not under responsibility to leave with them. There was something else upon His heart and mind that God the Father had revealed definitely to Him. They took the northern route and they went on a whole day’s journey, supposing Him to be in the company. Then, when they undertook to camp for the night, they sought Him everywhere and He wasn’t there.
Our friend, Gipsy Smith, has often preached a very great sermon on the subject “The Lost Christ,” and pointed out how possible it is to take it for granted that Jesus is in the company, and yet to be without Him. It is never true that the Lord Jesus Christ leaves those whom He has saved by His grace. It is never true that, having taken anyone up in His loving kindness, He later forsakes them, but it is sadly true that Christians may go on taking it for granted that they are in fellowship with Him when actually they have drifted away from Him in heart. They are not enjoying His presence, and they hardly realize their loss. I wonder if there are not some of us here today who have had that experience. It is so easy to go on in an outward form of religiousness, and not really enjoy the presence of Christ. It is possible to sit at the table of the Lord and to be conducting services for the Lord and yet not have the presence of the Lord with us, and it is possible to go on, day by day, thinking everything is all right when in reality things are very, very wrong because we are out of touch with Him. We are not enjoying communion with Him. So it was with this group, awakened at last to realize that in some way or other they had missed Him. They took the long road back to Jerusalem, no doubt inquiring of friends if they had seen Him. When they got to the city several days went by before, at last, word reached them that He was in the temple. One would have thought they would have gone there first. That was His Father’s house. There He had professed His allegiance to the Lord God, because the One in whose name it was dedicated was so precious to His youthful heart.
When the parents came they found Him sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. Now notice this: There is no evidence of undue precocity and He is not an impertinent child. He is not sitting in the midst of the doctors teaching them. He doesn’t get out of His place as a child and try to instruct these older people. He has all the marks of a humble child. He is listening to them, hearing what the elders have to say, and He is asking them questions. They too, evidently, ask Him questions. When they did He answered modestly and so wonderfully that they were amazed.
We read, “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” They didn’t know that this child was God, over all blessed forever more, who had taken our humanity in order that He might fulfill all that was written of Him in the Law. They didn’t realize that the Messiah for whom they had long waited was there in their midst. They said, “We have never seen a child like this before. He seems to know God so intimately. He knows the Scriptures so well—not merely the letter of the Law, but the spiritual meaning of it.” So they looked one upon the other in amazement as they heard His questions and listened to His answers.
In this as in all else the Lord Jesus has left young people an example that they should follow. He left us an example of a man who went around doing good. Consequently when He was reviled He reviled not again and when He suffered He threatened not. We have an example as a child, that children who have been brought to know their God and Father may follow in His steps. Young folk, let me impress upon you the importance of familiarizing yourselves with God’s blessed word. What you learn of this blessed book in childhood will abide with you through the years. Some of us have proven that. We took it as the main of our counsel in our early days when we read it over and over again, and how much it has meant to us throughout the years. In the desire to get an education and the desire to become familiar with the events of the day don’t so give yourselves to other books that you neglect the word of God. Feed upon His word. See that you get some of it every day for your own soul. Don’t be content to read a chapter at a time, but meditate when you read, and ask God to open it up to you by the Holy Spirit, and as you thus feast upon the word you, too, will increase in wisdom, and in stature and in favor with God and man. You will be able, some day, to astonish those who do not know the secrets of the Lord, by your calmness, your restfulness of spirit in the midst of all the strife of Earth, as you depend upon the living word of God.
Mary and Joseph came to the temple and there they found Jesus, the boy Jesus, sitting in the midst of the doctors, interested as they discussed together the things of the Scriptures, and when they saw Him they were amazed and His mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” You can’t blame her for the seeming reproach in her words. She had never known Him to be disobedient. He was perfect in all His ways. This was the first time perhaps that anything had occurred that had perplexed her in the bringing up of this child, this Holy One. It never occurred to Him that He should have come to her and told her, but God had spoken to Him and He was doing the thing He asked Him to do. Mary speaks of Joseph as His father because he took a father’s place, but actually God was His only Father. “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” “Did I ever say anything that would warrant your losing faith in me? Couldn’t you trust me? Couldn’t you count upon me doing the thing that was right?” I wonder if that wasn’t to remind her of that great mystery of twelve years back, when she, a virgin, had become the mother of a child who had no human father. She knew that He was the son of God. She knew that His first allegiance was to God the Father. Why didn’t she understand? There is just a gentle reprimand here that might seem unkind if we didn’t understand who it was. It was He who was both God and man in one glorious person. We read in verse 50, “And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” It was something utterly beyond their comprehension.
Then, we have all the rest of His life, up to the time of the beginning of His public ministry brought before us in just two verses. These two verses are all that God has been pleased to tell us of the hidden years before He came forth to proclaim His messiahship. “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them:” There again, what an example He sets to Christian young people of all ages. Oh, how much insubjection there is today. God’s word has said, “Children obey your parents, for this is right.” It is [a] commandment. Children are to honor their parents although sometimes the parents are not very deserving of honor, but the children at least should try to cover the failures of their parents and to give them what honor they can, but oh, how children today dishonor their parents. How much disrespect there is. How much disobedience there is. In the old days it was “Children obey your parents.” Now it is largely, “Parents obey your children.” I was in a home not long ago and the folks were getting ready to go out on a little trip. The mother was downstairs in the car and the daughter was calling upstairs to the father. I think she felt she ought to apologize to me and she said, “I hope you won’t misunderstand but you know I have the most awful time training father to do as he is told.” That is just a picture of the times. Instead of children doing as they are told, they are seeking to force the parents to obey the children. But how different the example set here by our blessed Lord, this holy youth growing up there in Nazareth. He was subject unto His parents. We are told His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. She was pondering day by day as she noticed the development of this wonderful child, as she thought of the angel’s message of the miraculous birth and of some things that had transpired since. She was trying to peer into the future, wondering what was to be the destiny of this marvelous being, of this one who was to be in her care.
In the last verse we are told, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” This gives us the end of what the Scriptures reveal concerning His early years.