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The latter part of 
Sermon XII. Obedience the Best Sacrifice
by Isaac Williams 
(From Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for The Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Volume I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week, Rivingtons, London, 1875)

(for the first part on the Epistle)

And now let us consider in detail, the Gospel itself for this week.  It is one of peculiar interest, as this account which it gives is the only circumstance mentioned of our Blessed Lord from His childhood till He was thirty years of age.  And while it contains much matter for deeper reflection, it bears at once on the surface this information, that He was living in strict obedience to the Law of Moses, and in wonderful lowliness and meekness was being brought up as any child of human parents might be. 

Now His parents, it is said, went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.  For the law had required that every male should appear before God at the feast of unleavened bread.  And this was a part of the burdensome service or yoke of the mosaic Law, for the distance which they had to travel from the Galilean village of Nazareth to Jerusalem, could not have been much less than a hundred miles, by the way they had to go, and all this probably for poor persons was on foot.  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, i.e. the seven days of the Passover, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; even as we may suppose a holy child might have done, forgetting himself as it were, and lingering in devout meditation about the holy City of God and the Temple.  It  was the kind of accident which might have occurred to any child with no more than ordinary watchfulness and care.  As all faithful Jews went up to Jerusalem at this season, going and coming away together, they travelled in very large caravans or pilgrim companies, and those of the same country, the same neighbourhood or village, and especially relatives and friends, would naturally be more or less in smaller parties among themselves.  And they sought Him, it is added, among their kinsfold 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.  It was the custom among the Jews to resort to the Temple to pray, even for the purpose of private prayer and devotion, and it seems not improbable that His parents in their distress had gone for that purpose to the Temple; and not from supposing that a child by himself would have gone thither; for it appears as if to their surprise they found Him there.  That they did not expect to find Him in the Temple, or at all events not so engaged, appears from what is afterwards added, And when they saw Him they were amazed; it is a very strong expression: and His Mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.  The words convey an impression not of astonishment only, but something also of complaint.  How often do they find an echo in our own hearts, when in God’s dealings with us we seem to have suffered sorrow without cause, as if He knew not or cared not for our troubles!  Yet the grief of love is a sacred grief; and in all these things, what we need is the strengthening of our faith in Him Who is out of sight. 

And they found Him, it is said, in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  St. Luke had before said of Him, that “He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.”  And the Prophet Isaiah, that “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him; and make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” [Isa. xi. 2,1]  That is, when the Prophet is speaking of Him as born “of the stem of Jesse,” and of His human soul, wherein as a child He grew in wisdom and in favour with God.  And such is He now, in meekness as a child, not teaching the doctors, but listening to their instructions, and asking them questions.  There was the same lowliness in this as when He performed the humblest duties for Joseph and His Virgin Mother at Nazareth.  And all that heard Him, it is said, were astonished at His understanding and answers.  Not, we may suppose, from any manifestation of His Godhead, but as a holy child attentive to Divine things becomes wise, as it were, beyond his years; “of quick understanding,” as the Prophet says, “in the fear of the Lord.”  “I have more understanding than my teachers,” says the Psalmist, “for Thy testimonies are my study.”  “I am wiser than the aged, because I keep Thy commandments.” 

But at the same time, while He condescends to act with unspeakable humility as man, as a poor man, ministered unto by others for His temporal wants, and as a child needing instruction, yet on every occasion there is something which bears witness to His Godhead.  And this seems to be the case now, in His answer to His Mother, And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me?  Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? or as it might be translated “in My Father’s house.”  And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them.  When He spake to them as man, they understood; but when He spake to them as God, they understood not.  This is the case on many occasions.  But His Mother kept all these sayings, and pondered them in her heart. 

After the account of this short incident He is again altogether removed from our sight; for all that we now learn of our Blessed Lord until the season of His Baptism is contained in these few words:  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.  And then it is added, as it might be of other children or another child, almost indeed in the very words in which it was said of Samuel, and Jesus increased in wisdom, and in stature, and in favour with God and man. 

Surely all this is worthy of our deepest wonder and adoration.  Our Blessed Lord does not appear before us in the Temple, removed from the ways of common men; nor as John the Baptist, living alone in the wilderness; nor as David when a youth, remarkable for great deeds of might, when feeding his father’s flock he slew the lion and the bear; but He is disclosed to us in very great humility in the ways of common life, as ordinary children are brought up, in subjection and retirement, differing only in that quick understanding in things Divine which arises from the love and the fear of God.  Of this, perhaps, one reason was that our Lord has called upon us to imitate Him more especially in meekness and lowliness; and humility is best secured and guarded in the most ordinary stations of life, and in the most common circumstances of obscurity and poverty.  To be different from other men is a temptation to pride; subjection and obedience to natural and lawful superiors is in itself a great exercise of humility, and under the cover of these, holiness and the love of God is cherished in the heart.  Another reason for our Blessed Saviour’s thus taking upon Himself this ordinary condition as a child may be this; in order that all men in their station in life may be able to imitate and follow Him, which they could not do so well if He had appeared as one set apart from other men, like some of His own prophets and servants had been.  For there is no child who may not show obedience to his parents; and attentive hearing of his instructors; and yet at the same time so great a zeal and love for God’s house, as to forget everything else in comparison with that; so that his very love and subjection to his parents should be seen to be nothing else but the fruits of his love and obedience to Almighty God; the faint shadow of it; and that while he surpasses all other children in dutiful obedience and affection to his parents; yet even that love when it came in comparison with the love of God, should vanish away like the light of a candle in the full blaze of the noonday sun. 

And, again; there may be also a further reason in this circumstance, of our Lord’s being pleased to take upon Him this state of ordinary children; that He thus learned, as man, to sympathize and have a fellow-feeling with the lot of mankind; in all their infirmities, in all their trials; to be as a child among children, in a condition not differing from theirs, this was the choice of His love for them.  To be rich and at ease, to be admired and cherished by others, to be known and talked of as a child,--this can be the lot of a few only among mankind, even were it good for them; very different from this, therefore, was the state which our Blessed Saviour chose for Himself; one that differed, it may be, in nothing else from that of ordinary poor children, except in extraordinary piety and goodness. 

For this is the circumstance which, I think, must strike every one on hearing or reading the Gospel which we are considering to-day, viz. how like it is to common life.  His parents, it is said, went up to Jerusalem, as it was customary among the Jews to do, in obedience to the law, and the Holy Child, being now twelve years of age, went with them.  And so much was He as other children are wont to be, that they had left Jerusalem to return home, and had proceeded some considerable way, before they perceived that He was not with them, and even then they supposed Him to be among some of their own party of friends and relatives.  They missed and lost Him, and sought for Him, and that with much trouble and sorrow.  Of so little account in that company, and in that city, was the Son of God when He appeared among men.  And then when found, still as a child, engaged with religious teachers, and fulfilling all that Solomon had said in the Book of Proverbs, of listening to the voice of Wisdom: “My son, attend to my words, write them upon the table of thine heart; so shalt thou find favour with God and man.” [Prov. 3:3,4; 4:20]  And the Psalmist: “Whereby shall a young man cleanse his way?  even by ruling himself after Thy Word.”  [Ps. 119:9]  And thus did He teach us as a Child, but in the same kind of manner as any child might do who was filled with the Spirit of God.  But it is especially to be noticed, as the one great and chief point in all this, that while He taught us throughout His whole childhood obedience to parents, by this one incident He has combined with it another lesson also, without which it is of no value, of no avail, namely this—“He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” 

Now the great stumbling block to our faith as Christians is this: it is difficult for us to understand that men engaged in the little affairs of this poor unsatisfying life on earth, with all its petty concerns and troubles, are what Scripture reveals to us, heirs of immortality intended for Heaven, to be made equal to the angels, and to dwell for ever with God.  And yet our Blessed Saviour would not only have us deeply impressed with this truth ourselves, and always acting under this impression, but also to look upon others in this light, as fellow-heirs of the grace of life.  This consideration raises the case of a poor and most ordinary child to a condition, in our sight, so high and precious, that all earthly distinction is lost in the sense of it. 

But now all this is made to us easy of acceptance and belief, so far as we in faith behold God Himself in this Child, of Whom we read in this day’s Gospel.  We hear nothing more of our Lord’s childhood, but it is quite enough if we know and receive this.  It at once raises the common life of us all, especially of all children, up to Heaven.  If God was, then, so wonderfully present and hiding Himself in that lowly condition, in things that appeared outwardly like those of other children and the usual ways of life, He may be now also spiritually present in the hearts and lives of children who are born again in Baptism as the sons of God, although the world knows nothing of it.  His Mother, it is stated, pondered in her heart these mysterious intimations of Godhead; this of itself intimates that others did not so.  Is not something of this kind the case now? there are some who, in the ways of Providence, and in the Kingdom of Grace, notice at all times the Presence of God, and meditate on such things; while, to men of the world, He passes by, and they perceive Him not. 

To apply once more this practical conclusion.  On other occasions Christ is manifested to us in the great offices of His Mission, in His Baptism, Temptation, and His Ministry, in working of miracles and proclaiming His Gospel; and, therefore, in all those circumstances He is necessarily more removed from the daily condition and situation of us all, than in this most impressive incident of His early youth. 

Our Blessed Lord on more than one occasion, when He would teach His disciples humility, took a little child and set him before them; He took a child to His side; He took a child up in His arms; He put a child in the midst of the Twelve Apostles; and thus He proceeded to instruct them in this lowliness and meekness of heart which He was inculcating.  That is to say, He thought this sight, this gracious action of his, and the child they say, and His own demeanour and love thus shown, would be more expressive in teaching this duty, than any words of themselves alone could do.  Now something of this kind, but infinitely higher and better, and more graciously condescending, is this sight which is vouchsafed to our eyes in this most touching narrative of the Gospel.  It is a Child set before us, and that Child—Oh, the inconceivable mystery of lowliness!  Oh, the wonderful depth of love! words may speak it, but heart of man cannot comprehend it worthily—that Child is our God! 

St. Paul says, “Be not high-minded.”  “Let each esteem other better than himself, in lowliness of mind.”  Our Lord Himself says, “Blessed are the meek.”  But how far do even Divine words themselves, fall short of this sight; this beholding “with our eyes,” as St. John says, the Son of God Himself, manifested to us as a child, lost among the throng, a poor child of poor parents, and as an unnoticed wanderer gone from them; submitting to learn, and lost, as it were, to others in the love of Divine wisdom; sitting as a disciple at the feet of them who were in the seat of Moses, and then returning home to a poor village, to spend years in subjection and obedience; and that, not to parents only, but to Joseph, who was His reputed and supposed parent.  For even this is found among men an additional trial of patience.  Thus did He live, known to God His Father only, until this, His long obedience, was sealed at His Baptism by that Voice from Heaven, which said, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”  This is the Sacrifice, acceptable, well-pleasing to God.  And when He was seen again in the sight of all men upon the Cross, this was but the perfecting of that patience which He had practiced from a child. 

What, therefore, is the one great weekly lesson which we are to learn from this Divine narrative?  If we look around us and in ourselves, we find “trouble about many things,” because many are the objects which men desire, and therefore many are their fears and hopes, which are crossed every day, and gather strength and increasing disquietude, till the courses of men are quite hampered by various temptations and a multiplicity of wants.  Every wind that blows is loaded with trifling fears and cares, covetous and envious fears, unprofitable cares, and unabiding pleasures, which, passing away, leave no trace behind, but a heart more and more entangled and deceived by the world.  But if for this one week we will meditate on this short lesson, which the Church of all ages and countries has connected with it, we shall learn the very opposite to which the world teaches, both from within and from without; namely this: That there is nothing worthy to be loved but God; nothing to be dreaded but sin.