Twelve years passed by, and concerning this whole period two things only are mentioned. The first is, that "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him"; and the second is, that "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover." This is another testimony to the piety of Mary and her husband, and it may be that it is on this account the fact is noted; for it is not even said if Mary took the child Jesus with her on these occasions. Not a word is added to gratify human curiosity; only that is given which is requisite for the object the Spirit of God has in view. All is divinely perfect, because every word of Scripture is the expression of divine wisdom; indeed, the fact stated in verse 41 is but the introduction to the incident which follows, and it is this we now proceed to consider, in so far at least as it relates to Mary.
The first two verses will prepare our way - "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." It would seem from Jewish records that twelve was the age when Jewish youths were considered sufficiently mature to take upon themselves their individual responsibilities before God. A boy who had reached this age was termed "son of the law," and then first incurred legal obligations.* Be this as it may, the fact is here given that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem when He was at the age of twelve, and it cannot be without significance that it is especially notified. What transpired at the feast is not recorded; our attention is directed rather to the circumstance that, on the return of Joseph and Mary with the caravan,** Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem. It was but natural that they should have supposed that He was in the company, and that therefore they should have made a day's journey without anxiety. But then, failing to find Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance, they turned back to Jerusalem seeking Him. For three days they were anxiously and with distress of heart occupied with their search. This was undoubtedly divinely arranged, for until the "child Jesus" had done His Father's will it could not be that He should be interrupted. At the end of this time "they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions." Let the reader here notice how the Holy Spirit, before recording the words of Mary, calls attention to the wisdom displayed by this holy wisdom so strikingly manifested, "that all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers." How true it is that God delights to occupy us with the perfections of His beloved Son! Mary and Joseph - humble people that they were, though Joseph was the son of David (Matt. 1:21) - were amazed at the sight, and Mary, with the impulse of a mother's heart, at once interposed and said, "Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing."
*See Alford's Greek Testament, in loco, vol. i. page 418.
**It is said that all who went up to Jerusalem for the feast from the same district travelled together for convenience and security. It is possible that an allusion to this custom is found in Psalm 84:7.
Before entering upon the reply of Jesus, these words of Mary must be considered. More than twelve years had now passed since the marvellous communications of Gabriel, and almost as long since the prophetic utterances of the aged Simeon. These years, interrupted only by the journey to Jerusalem on the recurring festival of the passover, had been quietly passed at Nazareth in the ordinary duties of domestic life. It is not inconceivable that, whatever the perfections of her Son, ever more manifested with His growth in years, Mary was partially blinded by the naturalness of His daily life, or at least that she was sometimes forgetful of the destiny that awaited her Son. We may not speculate, or go beyond Scripture, but there are two things in this address to Jesus which seem very distinctly to justify the above suppositions. The first is the implied reproach conveyed in her words, "Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us?" and the second is her use of the term, in including Joseph with herself, "Thy father." We need not mark these things as failures, though we cannot doubt that they sprang from purely natural feelings and relationships. On the other hand, it is as evident that the manner of her speech was the offspring of her intense affection for her perfect Child.
The answer of Jesus to His mother was the declaration of His consciousness of His divine relationship, together with the announcement that He had come to do His Father's will. Mary had said of Joseph to Jesus, "Thy father." The answer was that He had remained in Jerusalem because, as He said, "I must be about My Father's business." His Father's will was to be the supreme law of His life, and it was His joy to acknowledge it; and in its acknowledgment He fully answered Mary's question and removed at the same time her unconcealed reproach. We cannot be surprised that they "understood not the saying which He spake unto them."
Thereupon we read that "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." His reply to Mary in the temple throws a flood of light upon all these years that came between His first passover and His baptism, because He had by it clearly defined His position. He was here to be "about His Father's business"; and consequently, in being subject to Joseph and Mary, He was doing His Father's will in like manner as when He tarried behind in Jerusalem. There was not, there could not be, any divorce between His daily life and what men term the more sacred duties. Every breath, every feeling, every thought, every word, and every deed were but the fruits of His entire devotedness to His Father's will, for He always did the things that pleased Him. (John 8:29.) What a spectacle passed daily before the eyes of Mary and Joseph in that humble abode at Nazareth!
"His mother," we are told in conclusion, "kept all these sayings in her heart" - the sayings at Jerusalem and the sayings surely at Nazareth; and as she guarded and meditated upon them, we may be certain that the Spirit of God gave her some perception of their meaning, to sustain, to guide, and to comfort her in the coming years. No, of all the women who have ever lived, there is not one who had such a blessed privilege as Mary; she was indeed "highly favoured." But as we write these words we again recall the Lord's reply to the woman who cried out from among the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked." "Yea, rather," He answered, "blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." This blessedness is open to every one of God's people.
The more we magnify Christ, the more we are in communion with the mind and heart of God.