Up among the hills of Galilee, in a basin surrounded by swelling eminence, which shut it in on every side, lies the little village of Nazareth. Its name does not occur in Old Testament history. Josephus never mentions it, though he speaks of places lying all around it. Its inhabitants were not worse than their neighbors, nor exposed on account of their character to any particular contempt, yet Nathaniel, himself a Galilean, could say, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? so small and insignificant was the place. It was here, as in a fit retreat, that the childhood, youth and early manhood of our Lord passed quietly and unnoticed away. These thirty years of the life of the Son of God upon this earth, how deeply hidden from us do they lie. How profound the silence regarding them which the sacred writers preserve—a silence all the more remarkable when we consider how natural and strong is our desire to know something, to be told something of the earlier days of anyone who, at some after period of his life, has risen to distinction. But all that here is told us of the first twelve years of our Savior’s life is that the child grew, waxed strong in spirit, was filled with wisdom, and that the grace of God was upon Him. Had any of these wonders which attended His birth been renewed, had anything supernatural occurred in the course of those years, we may presume it would have been related or alluded to. Nothing of that kind, we may infer did happen. Outwardly and inwardly the growth of Jesus under Mary’s care at Nazareth, obeyed the common laws under which nothing could ruffle, that simple truthfulness which nothing could turn aside; beyond that love which was always ready to give back smile for smile to Mary and the rest around, and to go forth rejoicingly its little errands of kindness within the home of the carpenter; beyond that wisdom, which, wonderful as it was, was childlike wisdom still, growing as His years grew, and deriving its increase from all the common sources which lay open to it; beyond the charm of all the graces of childhood in their full beauty and in their unsullied perfection—there was nothing externally to distinguish the first twelve years. So we conclude from the absence of all notices of them in Scripture. Of the void thus left, however, the Christian Church became very impatient. Many attempts were made to fill it up. In the course of the first four centuries numerous pseudo-gospels were in circulation, a long list of which has been made up out of the references to them which occur in the preserved writings of that period. Some of these gospels are still extent, two of them entitled the gospel of the Infancy; and it is very curious to notice how these succeeded who tried to lift the veil which covers the earlier years of Christ. One almost feels grateful that such early attempts were made to fill up the blank which the four evangelists have left. They enable us to contrast the simplicity, the naturalness and the consistency of all that the Evangelists have recorded of Christ, with such empty and unmeaning tales. They do more. These gospels were written by Christians, by men who wished to honor Christ in all they said about Him; by men who had that portraiture of His character before them which the four gospels supply; and yet we find them narrating, as being in what seemed to them entire harmony with that character, that when boys interrupted Jesus in His play, or ran against Him in the street of the village, he looked upon them and denounced them, and they fell down and died. It was said by some, that the conception and delineation of such a character as that of the man Christ Jesus, by such men as the fishermen of Galilee, would have been a greater miracle than the actual existence of such a man. In these apocryphal gospels we have a singular confirmation of that saying; we have the proof that men better taught, many of them, than the apostles even when they had the full delineation of the manhood of Jesus in their hands, could not attempt a fancy sketch of His childhood without not only violating our sense of propriety, by attributing to Him the most puerile and unmeaning displays of divine power, but shocking our moral sense, and falsifying the very picture they had before their eyes, by attributing to Him acts of vengeance.

Joseph and Mary “went to Jerusalem every year of the Passover.” The Mosaic law required that all the male inhabitants of Judea should go up three times yearly to the capital, to keep the three great festivals of the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. A latter Rabbinical authority had laid an injunction upon women to attend the feast of the Passover. Living as they did in so remote a part of the country, it is probable that the parents of our Lord satisfied themselves with going up together once yearly to Jerusalem; Joseph thus doing less, Mary more than the law required. When Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph and Mary took Him up with them to Jerusalem. He had then reached that age, when, according to Jewish reckoning, He crossed the line which divides childhood from youth, got the new name of a son of the Lord, and, had He been destined to any public office, would have passed into the hands of the Rabbis for the higher instruction which their schools supplied. Jesus, however, had received no other instruction than the village school, attached to the synagogue at Nazareth, had supplied, and was destined to no higher employment than that of the trade His father followed. The purpose of Joseph and Mary in taking Him up with them to Jerusalem was not that He might be placed at the feet of Gamaliel, or any other of the great distinguished teachers of the metropolis, but simply that He might see the holy city, and take part with them in the sacred services of the Passover.

There a new world opened to the boy’s wondering eyes. With what interest must He have looked around, when first He trod the courts of the temple, and gazed upon the ministering priests, the altar with its bleeding sacrifice and rising incense, the holy place and the sacred shine that lay behind the veil. The places, too, of which we shall speak immediately, where youths of His own age were to be found, would not be left unvisited. What thoughts were stirred within His breast by all these sights, it becomes us not even to attempt to imagine. The key is not in our hands with which we might unlock the mysteries of His humanity at this stage of its development. He has Himself so far unveiled His thoughts and feelings as to teach us how natural it was that He should linger in the holy city, and under the power of a new attraction feel for a day or two as if the ties that bound Him to Nazareth and to His home there were broken.

The seven days of the feast went by. It had been a crowded procession from Galilee, which Joseph and Mary had joined. Galilee was then, as Josephus informs us, very thickly populated, studded with no less than two hundred and forty towns, containing each fifteen thousand inhabitants or more, sending forth in the war with the Romans an army of no less than one hundred thousand men. The separate companies which this crowded population sent up at the Passover time to Jerusalem would each be large, and as the youths of the company consorted and slept near one another in the course of the journey, it is less surprising that, on leaving Jerusalem to return to Nazareth, Joseph and Mary should during the day have missed their son, who had stayed behind, nor have become aware of His absence till they rested for the night. The discovery was a peculiarly distressing one. What if some oversight had been committed by them? If they had failed to tell their son of the time of the departure, if they had failed to notice whether He was among the other youths before they left the city? They had such confidence in that child, who never before in a single instance had done anything to create anxiety or distrust; they were so sure that He would be where, as they thought, He ought to be, that they had scarcely felt perhaps an ordinary degree of parential solicitude. And where could He now be? What could have happened to Him? Their eager inquiries would probably soon satisfy them that He had not fallen aside by the way, that He had never joined the returning travelers, that He must have remained behind at Jerusalem. But with whom? For what? He knew no friends there with whom to stay. Had some accident befallen Him? Was He detained against His will? Did anyone at Jerusalem know the secrets of His birth? Were there any who still sought the young child’s life? Herod was dead; Archelaus was banished; the parents themselves had not been in Jerusalem since the time they had presented the infant in the temple. It was not likely they should be recognized; none of their friends at Nazareth knew about the mysteries of the conception and the birth. They had thought there was no risk in taking Jesus with them, but now their hearts are full of dark forebodings; someone may have known, may have told; some sacred design may still have been cherished. Where was their child, and what had happened to Him?

You may imagine what a night of sleepless anxiety followed their discovery at the first nightly resting place of the caravan. Mid-day saw them back in the city. It is said to have been after three days’ search they found Him, if we count the day of their return as one of these three, there would still be one entire days’ fruitless search. There may have been two such days—days of eager inquiry everywhere throughout the city, in the house where they had lived, among all those with whom they had had converse or connection. At last they find the lost one, not in the courts of the temple, not in any of those parts of the edifice consecrated to public worship, but in one of those apartments in the outer buildings used as a school of the Rabbis. Among the Jews at this period, each synagogue had a schoolroom attached to it, in which the rudiments of an ordinary education were taught. Besides, however, these schools for primary instruction, wherever there were ten men in a position to devote their whole time to this purpose, a room was built for them in which they carried on their pupils in all the higher walks of the sacred learning of the Jews. These constituted the schools of the Rabbis, and formed an important instrument in the support and extension of that system of Rabbinism which became after the ruin of the temple, and the extinction of the public worship, a new bond of national union, and the great distinctive feature in the character of modern Judaism. There were three apartments employed in this way attached to the temple. It was in one of these that Joseph and Mary found their son. He was sitting in the ordinary attitude, and engaged in the ordinary exercises of a pupil in the middle of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions—the Jewish method of education being chiefly catechetical—the pupil himself sometimes answering the question put, and astonishing His hearers with His wisdom. When this strange, rude-looking, bright-looking, solemn-looking, Galilean boy first came in among them, was it the wisdom He showed which drew the hearts of some of these Rabbis to Him, and let them, as if anxious to gain a scholar who might turn out to be the chief ornament of their school, to take Him in and treat Him tenderly? Was it with them, in the room they occupied in the outer temple buildings, that the two nights in which Jesus was separated from His parents were spent? The tie, whatever it was, between Him and them, is now destined to be broken, never to be renewed.

Joseph and Mary find Him in the midst of them. Joseph is too much astonished to say anything, nor is it likely that Mary spoke till He had gone with her apart; but now her burdened mother’s heart finds utterance. “Son,” she says to Him, “why hast thou thus dealt with us?” words of reproach that were new to Mary’s lips. Never before had she to chide that child. Never before had He done anything to require such chiding. But now, when it appears that no accident had happened, no restraint had been exercised, that it had been of His own free will that Jesus had parted from His parents, and was sitting so absorbed by other persons and with other things, she cannot account for such conduct on His part. It looks like neglect, and worse; like indifference to the pain which He must have known this separation would cost them. “Son,” she says, “why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”

Innocently, artlessly, childishly, in words which, though not meant to meet the reproach with a rebuke, yet carried with them much of the meaning and effect of the words spoken afterwards at the marriage-feast at Cana, Jesus answers, “How is it that ye sought me?” ‘could you Mary believe that I would act under other than heavenly guidance; could you allow the idea of my being liable to any risk or danger simply because I was not under your eye or care; do you not know, were you not told whose Son I truly am; and should not that knowledge have kept you from seeking and sorrowing as you have done: wist ye not, that wherever I was I must have been still beneath the Father’s eye and care—whatever I was about, I must have been about that Father’s business? Mary, you have called me Son, and I acknowledge the relationship; you have called Joseph my father; that relationship I disown; my own, my only Father is He in whose house you have now found me, whose will I came on earth to do; about whose matters I must constantly, and shall now henceforth and forever be engaged.”

It is this consciousness of His peculiar relationship to God, now for the first time, perhaps, fully realized, that we catch the true meaning, and can discern something of the purpose of this early, only recorded incident in the history of our Lord’s youth. Mary we are told, understood not the answer of her son. With the knowledge that she possessed, we can scarcely imagine that she had any difficulty in at once perceiving that Jesus spake of His Father in heaven, and comprehending in so far at least the meaning of His words. But there may have been a special reason for Mary’s surprise here—the difficulty she felt of comprehension and belief. It cannot readily be imagined that she herself had told her child during the first twelve years of His life, or that anyone else had told Him, of the mystery of His birth. From the first dawning of conscious intelligence, He must have been taught to call Joseph father, nor had it outwardly been communicated to Him that he was only His reputed father, that He had no earthly parent, that His true and only Father was God. If that were the actual state of connection between Mary and Jesus up to the time of this incident in the temple; if she had never breathed to Him the great secret that He was none other than the Son of the Highest; if there had been nothing as she knew there had not been, in the quiet tenor of the life which for twelve years Jesus lived, to afford any outward indication or evidence, either to Himself or others of the nature of His Sonship to God—then how surprised Mary must have been when in the temple and by that answer to her question, Jesus informed her that He knew all, knew whence He was, knew for what He came, knew that God was His Father in such a sense that the discharge of His business carried with it an obligation which, if the time and the season required, overbore all obligation to real or reputed earthly parents.

But whether it came upon Mary by surprise or not, was there no object in letting us and all believers in the Savior know as the record of this incident does, that Jesus was thus early and fully alive to the singularity of His relationship to God? Conceive that it had been otherwise; that these thirty years had been veiled in an impenetrable obscurity; that not one single glance had been given of how they passed away; that our first sight of the man Jesus Christ had been when He stood before John to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan, and to receive the Holy Ghost descending upon Him. How natural in that case had been the impression that it was then for the first time, when the voice from heaven declared it, that He knew Himself to be the Son of God; that it was then, when the Spirit first descended, that the divine associated itself in close and ineffable union with the human.

Then had those thirty years appeared in a quite different light to us; then had we conceived of Him as living throughout their course the simple common life of a Galilean villager and craftsman. But now we know, and we have to thank this narrative of St. Luke for the information, that if not earlier, yet certainly at his twelfth year, the knowledge that He and the Father were one, that the Father was in Him, and that He was in the Father, had visited and filled His Spirit, had annuated and regulated His life. With what a new sacredness and dignity do the eighteen years that intervene between this incident, and that of His public manifestation to Israel become invested, and what new lessons of instruction do they bring us! At the bidding of a new impulse, excited within His youthful breast by this first visit to the temple, He broke for a day or two all earthly bonds, and seems lost amid the shadows of the sanctuary, observed with the higher things of Him who was worshipped there. But at the call of duty his hour for public service, for speaking, acting, suffering, dying, before all and for all, had not yet come. He yields at once to the desire of Joseph and Mary, and returns with them to Nazareth; becoming subject to them, burying, as it were, this great secret in His breast; emscruting to wail, submitting to all the restraints of an ordinary household, putting Himself once more under the yoke of parental authority, taking upon Him all the common obligations of sin, a brother and a neighbor, a friend, a Galilean villager.