The region just west of the Lake of Galilee was a land of broad fields and gently rolling hills. In the lovely sunny land away from the teeming cities of the lake, grapevines hung heavy with fruit and the wine was generous and rich. Grain sowed in the fall grew during the mild winters to a harvest of bounteous proportions. Fruits of this region were plump and tasty, particularly the Plain of Gennesaret lying on the northwestern shore of the lake.
Life was good in Galilee. In the active and thriving towns many artisans labored; while shepherds, farmers, and the keepers of vineyards worked busily in the surrounding countryside. From high hills of Nazareth, the eye could look westward to the Great Sea (Mediterranean) with its busy harbors and watch the many-oared vessels plying between them. Smoke rose from dozens of potteries and from furnaces where sand was melted into glass which Phoenician blowers expanded into delicate vases and other articles to be sold in the markets of the world. Weavers, dyers, and workers in wood and metal were always busy, for the excellence of their craftsmanship was widely known and the caravans moving westward to the market at Ptolemais on the seacoast were eager to purchase their products. In the distance to the northeast, more than fifty miles away, the snowy heights of Mount Hermon towered above it all.
Jesus was about two years old when Joseph brought his family back to Nazareth and resumed the trade of village carpenter in his shop that opened on the village street. At the end of each days work, Joseph took time to be with his son and let him play with the tools. When he became old enough, the future carpenter would learn how to make small wooden items; then, as an apprentice, advance to more complicated tables and stools, looms for weaving, plows and yokes for oxen, and repairs of other items.
God selected this home from all others as the best possible place for the instruction of his Son. Because he was born in Bethlehem, the Nazarenes did not know the miraculous circumstances surrounding his birth, and his parents were still trying to understand them. It was extremely important for the Savior to be surrounded by unaware people, so he could grow up in a normal Jewish family and have a natural childhood. If he had been treated as a pampered prince with all the privileges of royalty, he never could be called the Son of Man.
Jewish home life was warm and pleasant; ties that bound parents and children were very strong. The early years passed quickly and almost before Mary realized it, her son was an active growing boy able to run and play with the other children, eager to explore the wonders of a childs world.
On his lonely walks he gathered experience and wisdom from everyday life that would later illustrate his teachings. He had an eye for the beauty of the lilies of the field, provision for the birds of the air, maternal affection of the hen gathering her chicks under her wing, labor of the sower or vinedresser, loving care of the shepherd and his sheep, and mystery of the habits of the fox in its secret lair. On his visits to the marketplace he saw the play of the children, marriage and funeral processions, wrongs of injustice and oppression, pitfalls of creditor and debtor, palaces and luxury of princes and courtiers, poverty of the widows, and plight of the sick.
From the first days of his birth, a religious atmosphere surrounded the child Jesus. Like all Jewish children, from the time he was able to speak he took part in the daily prayers of the family and the enjoyment of the Sabbath, which was a time of rejoicing and praising the Lord. As Gods Son grew older he learned to read from the writings of the prophets, the torah, and the Law with considerable aptitude. He was taught to write using lampblack ink, reed quill, and parchment scrolls or dried skins. Most of his education was instruction in the Jewish law and his own history, most interestingly the future and the part the Messiah will play. As he studied the Scriptures and as the Holy Spirit revealed their meaning to him, one wonders what thoughts are kindled by their light.
Passing of the seasons also taught Jesus about the religious holidays and feasts: Feast of Dedication celebrated at the beginning of the winter season, Feast of Purim in the spring, and Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) near the beginning of autumn. Most solemn of all was Passover, held on the fourteenth day of Nisan (April), the first month of the religious year. Occurring in spring, it was a time of thanksgiving for the mercy of God in passing over the first-born of the Children of Israel in Egypt when the angel of death had warned Pharaoh to let the people go. In the future it would hold a far greater meaning for the Son of God and for all people.
My Fathers House
While the years passed, Christ grew in stature and knowledge like any other intelligent boy. At age twelve he was approaching youth, and in another year would take the ritual step from boyhood to young manhood by becoming bar mitzvah, literally Son of the Commandment. But the legal age could be anticipated by two years, or at least by one. In accordance with this custom, after Jesus had passed his twelfth year, his parents took him with them to Jerusalem to celebrate his bar mitzvah and first Passover in the Temple.
Times had changed politically. The weak and wicked rule of Archelaus had lasted only nine years, then he was banished to Gaul. Judea, Samaria, and Idumaea were now incorporated into the Roman province of Syria under its governor. At the time when Jesus went up to the feast, Quirinius was Governor of Syria, Coponius was there as procurator, and Annas ruled in the Temple as high priest.
Traveling to Jerusalem was a thrilling event for a boy at any time, but during religious festivals it was an exciting celebration. Many children of his own age, including friends and relatives, were also going to the Temple. Allowing enough travel time for the hundred mile journey, the families from Nazareth left a week before the beginning of the Passover feast. They followed the course of the Jordan River southward. On the way they joined with other travelers and the crowd became a long caravan with the children running ahead to see every new sight, playing games, and leaving the road to explore whatever struck their fancies.
Coursing with serpentine curves in its narrow valley, the Jordan dropped steadily. All along the river flourished date palms, fig trees, and broad fields of wheat and flax. At Jericho, the travelers headed west toward the hills of Judea. From the deep rift of the valley, they climbed a steep road to the hill country around Jerusalem. It was the most difficult part, but the reward was worth the all discomfort, thirst, and aching feet from the long trip.
After finally reaching the Mount of Olives, the view of Jerusalem lying across the Kedron valley was breathtaking! With the Temple roof shining in the sunset like purest gold, no Jew could fail to be moved by this sight. The mount itself seemed like an island, abruptly rising from deep valleys surrounded by a sea of walls, palaces, streets, and houses; and crowned by a mass of snowy marble and glittering gold, rising terrace upon terrace. Here was the center of his faith, a golden monument to the glory of his God!
Glorious as this view of Jerusalem must have seemed to a child coming to it for the first time from a Galilean village, he who now looked upon it was no ordinary child. His one all-engrossing thought would be of the Templehis Heavenly Fathers house. As Jesus helped set up camp, his eyes were constantly drawn toward the holiest place in the world to worship the Most High. When darkness fell, hundreds of campfires began to glow on the surrounding hillsides. His heart was filled with thanksgiving to the God to whose commandments and service he would soon be dedicated. He was so excited about what would happen the next day he couldnt sleep.
Rising before dawn, the family from Nazareth went inside the city to a synagogue. After Jesus ceremony of bar mitzvah, they went to the Temple mount and entered the broad Court of the Gentiles, the only place on the grounds where non-Jews were allowed. In the surrounding colonnaded portico were money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. It was very crowded and noisy. Weaving their way through it they climbed a low flight of steps into the Court of Womanso named because women were not allowed any closer to the Sanctuary. This smaller court was well known as a social gathering place for all Jews. People could meet, become reunited, and exchange news.
On regular days, members of the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious leaders) held a court of law from the close of the morning sacrifice until the beginning of the evening ceremony. During the Sabbath and feast days, however, it was their custom to teach and expound the Law to anyone who listened. Scribes, scholars, and preachers also met here to discuss religious issues and debate points of law. Crowds always thronged the court to hear them, for discussions were allowed even from boys Jesus age. Jews could speak openly of their hopes and longings for the promised Messiah.
Since he was now a Son of the Commandment, Jesus was allowed complete liberty of questioningat any time and place. Here, all together, were the finest minds in Israel and he could learn far more than he ever would in school back home. It was an irresistible magnet! He had waited twelve long years for this moment, and eagerly visited the Temple every day spending most of his time in the courts and public colonnades listening to the teachers, speaking and asking questions, and taking a full part in their discussions. They were all amazed at his wisdom and understanding.
Knowing their sons studious nature and deep-seated love of God and worship, Joseph and Mary werent surprised. When the festive season was over, they left Jerusalem early one morning in the group returning to Nazareth, assuming he was among the boys who raced ahead eager to be on the way.
At the end of the first days journey they were almost to Jericho, and Joseph and Mary did not begin to worry until Jesus failed to appear for the evening meal. They started looking for him, but the camp was large. It was late that evening before his parents knew he was not with them, and the next day they returned to the city anxiously searching for him.
Jerusalem was a large city in which to find a boy of twelve, and at first their efforts were fruitless. Distraught with worry, Joseph and Mary finally came to the Temple on the afternoon of the third day. There they found himwhere they should have known he would belistening to the teachers of the Law. It had drawn Gods Son back. Time had no meaningonly satisfying his insatiable hunger and thirst of knowledge of his Heavenly Father.
Mary did not understand his passion, Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been searching for you everywhere and we were desperately worried!
When he turned to look at her, for a moment it was as if looking at a stranger and seeing her for the first time. Her son was genuinely surprised that they were worried. Why did you search? Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Fathers house? In that statement was awakening of the Christ-consciousness, the growing awareness of who his Father was, and that nothing must deter him from his purpose on earth.
Neither Joseph nor Mary understood what he meant and did not question him concerning it; their relief at finding him was too great for further reproof. The God-Man returned obediently with them to Nazareth, continuing the natural and needful process for true human development. It was best for the learning of Mary herself, and for the future reception of his teaching.