What would it be like to be the mother of God? He was a perfect Son. That means He never sinned or did anything wrong…ever. How did Mary and Joseph feel when they sinned in front of Him? If they lost their temper at each other or the kids…if they wanted to waste a little money or gossip? What was it like to be a broken human in the presence of perfection?
But Christ’s perfection wasn’t the rigid version that we might imagine. Our understanding might come from what we have experienced with others, which is often the broken pride of humanity. That was the way of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and He wasn’t a fan. It is true that His perfection was holy. But it was also a perfection of love, grace, gentleness, humility…all flowing from the deep goodness of His Father. Jesus was living a life that cast a new vision for how to live and how to love. It might change the way we think about the task God gave to Mary and Joseph as they raised His beloved Son. It might also change our understanding of how Christ is loving us now.
Joseph and Mary were good Jews. They obeyed the commands of God and lived their life in a way that honored His instructions for His holy nation. Every year, there was a very special Jewish celebration called the Feast of the Passover. This feast celebrated the night when God brought salvation to His people when they were slaves in Egypt.
It was a dark moment in the history of God’s people. Pharaoh’s malice was so extreme that he ordered the murder of all the male infants born to the children of Israel. Imagine the horror and fear of living under such vicious tyranny. Moses went to the Pharaoh again and again, giving him the command of God to let His people go. Over and over again, the Pharaoh refused. And so the Lord sent plague after plague on his nation. Millions of locusts and flies and frogs infested the land. There were mighty storms of hail and the Egyptian’s bodies were cursed with boils. It was a mighty showdown between the most powerful man in the world and the glorious power of the Mighty God of Israel. God gave the Pharaoh chance after chance in intensifying judgment, and still he refused to let the Israelites go free. So the Lord prepared a final, devastating judgment that would strike directly at the heart of the proud king. The Pharaoh was going to get a taste of his own medicine.
God declared that He was going to take the life of the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. Compared to the brutality of the Egyptians, this was actually merciful. They had been putting to death all the sons born to the Hebrew people for many years. Moses himself had to be hidden so that they didn’t take his life as an infant.
Now the Egyptians were going to reap what they and their terrible ruler had sown.God warned that an angel of the Lord would come in the dark of night and draw the life He had given from their sons. But God wanted to protect His own people from this grief, so He gave Moses special instructions. Each Israelite family was to take the blood of a firstborn lamb in the place of their own son. They were to mark the doorposts of their house with the blood so that the angel would know to pass over that home.
Imagine the silence and the waiting of that long night. Imagine the wails of grief that pierced the silence as the Egyptian people faced the pain that they had so willingly allowed for their Israelite neighbors. No Egyptian was safe from this judgment. Somewhere in the middle of that dark night, the Pharaoh lost his son as well. The future king of Egypt had lost his life because of the deeds of his arrogant father, and now his father was utterly broken. In his terrible grief and shock, the Pharaoh told Moses to go and take his people with him.
As the Israelites gathered their things to leave that very morning, God moved in the hearts of the Egyptian people. They sent the Israelites away with great gifts of gold and silver and treasure. Wars often lead to the plundering of the losing side, but when God plundered the most powerful nation on earth, it looked very different indeed. It was far more riches than these Jewish slaves had ever held before. One day, it would be used to craft the ark and the instruments for the tabernacle of the Lord.
What a magnificent day of freedom this was for the children of God. They watched their Lord move for them in astounding ways. Their Lord had protected and provided for them in ways they could have never imagined.
The Lord longed to continue in close relationship with His people. He wanted them to keep depending on His protection and provision, so He commanded them to remember the Passover every year with a great feast. All the men of Israel and their families were to journey to Jerusalem. They were to celebrate the sacred festival for an entire week as a nation. The remembrance of God’s faithfulness would help them remain loyal and depend on Him through the hundreds of years that would follow.
These stories of God’s salvation were the ones that Jesus grew up learning as a child. At the age of twelve, He arrived at the Jewish age of adulthood. When the celebration of Passover came, He and His family made their annual trip to Jerusalem. It was three-day trek by foot, down dusty roads from Nazareth to the city of Jerusalem.
Imagine the long walk every day with your whole family, cousins and aunts and uncles, all hiking alongside. Imagine the evening meal where the stories of the Old Testament were shared around the fire. All of your neighbors would be making the same journey. The whole nation of Israel would be bustling and preparing for the feast.
The great national party included worship, the sacrifice of animals to Yahweh in honor of His commands, and feasting in enjoyment of His grace and provision. As Joseph and Mary walked among the celebrations, what did they think in their hearts about the child they brought to Jerusalem? Did they understand that they brought God with them to His city? Did they know that the Child they were raising was the same One whose presence was in the Holy of holies in the magnificent Temple? As they made their sacrifices, did they understand that the Lord they made offerings to was standing right beside them? Did they know that He would end up being the real sacrifice? We don’t know exactly how much Mary and Joseph understood about their Son. Little did the rest of nation understand that the God they had come to worship was walking in their midst!
After the feast was over, the family packed up their things. There were thousands of people preparing to go home, and Mary and Joseph were surely surrounded by friends and family heading back up to Jerusalem together. As they headed out, they didn’t even realize that Jesus wasn’t with them! They assumed He was somewhere in the crowd of loved ones. For a whole day they journeyed on with no idea that He wasn’t there. Imagine Mary’s horror as she realized her beloved firstborn Son was missing! She had lost the Son of God!
They hurried back to Jerusalem to find Him. For three terrifying days, they searched and searched for Him. They couldn’t imagine where He had gone! Finally, they went to look for Him in the Temple. There He was, sitting with the religious teachers of the nation. As the teachers and the temple worshippers listened to what the boy had to say, they were amazed at the things He could explain.
His parents were shocked, too, but for a different reason. Mary began to question Him. “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’”
Jesus looked at His mother, “‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” How hard it must have been for them to understand all of what it meant to have a child who was the Son of God!
Jesus went back up to the town of Nazareth with His parents and continued to obey them as a faithful Son. Meanwhile, Mary stored up all of these memories in her heart and treasured them as she watched her Son grow in wisdom and stature. As He developed into a man, He had the favor of God upon Him, and His godly life earned the favor of men.
This story happened when Jesus was twelve. The next story about His life comes when He began His ministry of preaching and healing when He was thirty years old. There are eighteen years in between. We know that in that time, Jesus became a carpenter, just like His father. He worked with His hands crafting things out of wood. He would mend his neighbor’s furniture and plows, serving in His father’s workshop.
Jesus was the oldest son, but Mary and Joseph had many more children. We are fairly sure that at some time in those eighteen years, Joseph died. It fell on Jesus to support the family and watch over His brothers and sisters. These important responsibilities were the faithful obedience of Christ until His heavenly Father called Him to begin His public ministry to the House of Israel. And that is where the next stories begin.