The Passover Visit
AMONG the Jews the twelfth year was the
dividing line between childhood and youth. On completing this year a Hebrew boy was called
a son of the law, and also a son of God. He was given special opportunities for religious
instruction, and was expected to participate in the sacred feasts and observances. It was
in accordance with this custom that Jesus in His boyhood made the Passover visit to
Jerusalem. Like all devout Israelites, Joseph and Mary went up every year to attend the
Passover; and when Jesus had reached the required age, they took Him with them.
There were three annual
feasts, the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, at which all the men of
Israel were commanded to appear before the Lord at Jerusalem. Of these feasts the Passover
was the most largely attended. Many were present from all countries where the Jews were
scattered. From every part of Palestine the worshipers came in great numbers. The journey
from Galilee occupied several days, and the travelers united in large companies for
companionship and protection. The women and aged men rode upon oxen or asses over the
and rocky roads. The stronger men and the youth journeyed on foot. The time of the
Passover corresponded to the close of March or the beginning of April, and the whole land
was bright with flowers, and glad with the song of birds. All along the way were spots
memorable in the history of Israel, and fathers and mothers recounted to their children
the wonders that God had wrought for His people in ages past. They beguiled their journey
with song and music, and when at last the towers of Jerusalem came into view, every voice
joined in the triumphant strain,--
"Our feet shall stand
Within thy gates, O Jerusalem. . . .
Peace be within thy walls,
And prosperity within thy palaces."
Ps. 122: 2-7.
The observance of the
Passover began with the birth of the Hebrew nation. On the last night of their bondage in
Egypt, when there appeared
no token of deliverance, God commanded them to prepare for an
immediate release. He had warned Pharaoh of the final judgment on the Egyptians, and He
directed the Hebrews to gather their families within their own dwellings. Having sprinkled
the doorposts with the blood of the slain lamb, they were to eat the lamb, roasted, with
unleavened bread and bitter herbs. "And thus shall ye eat it," He said,
"with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye
shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover." Ex. 12:11. At midnight all the
first-born of the Egyptians were slain. Then the king sent to Israel the message,
"Rise up, and get you forth from among my people; . . . and go, serve the Lord, as ye
have said." Ex. 12:31. The Hebrews went out from Egypt an independent nation. The
Lord had commanded that the Passover should be yearly kept. "It shall come to
pass," He said, "when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this
service? that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's passover, who passed over
the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians." Thus
from generation to generation the story of this wonderful deliverance was to be repeated.
The Passover was followed by
the seven days' feast of unleavened bread. On the second day of the feast, the first
fruits of the year's harvest, a sheaf of barley, was presented before the Lord. All the
ceremonies of the feast were types of the work of Christ. The deliverance of Israel from
Egypt was an object lesson of redemption, which the Passover was intended to keep in
memory. The slain lamb, the unleavened bread, the sheaf of first fruits, represented the
With most of the people in
the days of Christ, the observance of this feast had degenerated into formalism. But what
was its significance to the Son of God!
For the first time the child
Jesus looked upon the temple. He saw the white-robed priests performing their solemn
ministry. He beheld the bleeding victim upon the altar of sacrifice. With the worshipers
He bowed in prayer, while the cloud of incense ascended before God. He witnessed the
impressive rites of the paschal service. Day by day He saw their meaning more clearly.
Every act seemed to be bound up with His own life. New impulses were awakening within Him.
Silent and absorbed, He seemed to be studying out a great problem. The mystery of His
mission was opening to the Saviour.
Rapt in the contemplation of
these scenes, He did not remain beside His parents. He sought to be alone. When the
paschal services were ended, He still lingered in the temple courts; and when the
worshipers departed from Jerusalem, He was left behind.
In this visit to Jerusalem,
the parents of Jesus wished to bring Him in connection with the great teachers in Israel.
While He was obedient in every particular to the word of God, He did not conform to the
rabbinical rites and usages. Joseph and Mary hoped that He might be led to reverence the
learned rabbis, and give more diligent heed to their requirements. But Jesus in the temple
had been taught by God. That which He had received, He began at once to impart.
At that day an apartment
connected with the temple was devoted to a sacred school, after the manner of the schools
of the prophets. Here leading rabbis with their pupils assembled, and hither the child
Jesus came. Seating Himself at the feet of these grave, learned men, He listened to their
instruction. As one seeking for wisdom, He questioned these teachers in regard to the
prophecies, and to events then taking place that pointed to the advent of the Messiah.
Jesus presented Himself as
one thirsting for a knowledge of God. His questions were suggestive of deep truths which
had long been obscured, yet which were vital to the salvation of souls. While showing how
narrow and superficial was the wisdom of the wise men, every question put before them a
divine lesson, and placed truth in a new aspect. The rabbis spoke of the wonderful
elevation which the Messiah's coming would bring to the Jewish nation; but Jesus presented
the prophecy of Isaiah, and asked them the meaning of those scriptures that point to the
suffering and death of the Lamb of God.
The doctors turned upon Him
with questions, and they were amazed at His answers. With the humility of a child He
repeated the words of
Scripture, giving them a depth of meaning that the wise men had not
conceived of. If followed, the lines of truth He pointed out would have worked a
reformation in the religion of the day. A deep interest in spiritual things would have
been awakened; and when Jesus began His ministry, many would have been prepared to receive
The rabbis knew that Jesus
had not been instructed in their schools; yet His understanding of the prophecies far
exceeded theirs. In this thoughtful Galilean boy they discerned great promise. They
desired to gain Him as a student, that He might become a teacher in Israel. They wanted to
have charge of His education, feeling that a mind so original must be brought under their
The words of Jesus had moved
their hearts as they had never before been moved by words from human lips. God was seeking
to give light to those leaders in Israel, and He used the only means by which they could
be reached. In their pride they would have scorned to admit that they could receive
instruction from anyone. If Jesus had appeared to be trying to teach them, they would have
disdained to listen. But they flattered themselves that they were teaching Him, or at
least testing His knowledge of the Scriptures. The youthful modesty and grace of Jesus
disarmed their prejudices. Unconsciously their minds were opened to the word of God, and
the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts.
They could not but see that
their expectation in regard to the Messiah was not sustained by prophecy; but they would
not renounce the theories that had flattered their ambition. They would not admit that
they had misapprehended the Scriptures they claimed to teach. From one to another passed
the inquiry, How hath this youth knowledge, having never learned? The light was shining in
darkness; but "the darkness apprehended it not." John 1:5, R. V.
Meanwhile Joseph and Mary
were in great perplexity and distress. In the departure from Jerusalem they had lost sight
of Jesus, and they knew not that He had tarried behind. The country was then densely
populated, and the caravans from Galilee were very large. There was much confusion as they
left the city. On the way the pleasure of traveling with friends and acquaintances
absorbed their attention, and they did not notice His absence till night came on. Then as
they halted for rest, they missed the helpful hand of their child. Supposing Him to be
with their company, they had felt no anxiety. Young as He was, they had trusted Him
implicitly, expecting that when needed, He would be ready to assist them, anticipating
their wants as He had always done. But now their fears were roused. They searched for Him
throughout their company, but in vain. Shuddering they remembered how Herod had tried to
destroy Him in His infancy. Dark forebodings filled their hearts. They bitterly reproached
Returning to Jerusalem, they
pursued their search. The next day, as they mingled with the worshipers in the temple, a
familiar voice arrested their attention. They could not mistake it; no other voice was
like His, so serious and earnest, yet so full of melody.
In the school of the rabbis
they found Jesus. Rejoiced as they were, they could not forget their grief and anxiety.
When He was with them again, the mother said, in words that implied reproof, "Son,
why hast Thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee
"How is it that ye
sought Me?" answered Jesus. "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's
business?" And as they seemed not to understand His words, He pointed upward. On His
face was a light at which they wondered. Divinity was flashing through humanity. On
finding Him in the temple, they had listened to what was passing between Him and the
rabbis, and they were astonished at His questions and answers. His words started a train
of thought that would never be forgotten.
And His question to them had
a lesson. "Wist ye not," He said, "that I must be about My Father's
business?" Jesus was engaged in the work that He had come into the world to do; but
Joseph and Mary had neglected theirs. God had shown them high honor in committing to them
His Son. Holy angels had directed the course of Joseph in order to preserve the life of
Jesus. But for an entire day they had lost sight of Him whom they should not have
forgotten for a moment. And when their anxiety was relieved, they had not censured
themselves, but had cast the blame upon Him.
It was natural for the
parents of Jesus to look upon Him as their own child. He was daily with them, His life in
many respects was like that of other children, and it was difficult for them to realize
that He was the Son of God. They were in danger of failing to appreciate the blessing
granted them in the presence of the world's Redeemer. The grief of their separation from
Him, and the gentle reproof which His words conveyed, were designed to impress them with
the sacredness of their trust.
In the answer to His mother,
Jesus showed for the first time that He understood His relation to God. Before His birth
the angel had said to Mary, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the
Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His
father David: and He shall
reign over the house of Jacob forever." Luke 1:32, 33. These words Mary had pondered
in her heart; yet while she believed that her child was to be Israel's Messiah, she did
not comprehend His mission. Now she did not understand His words; but she knew that He had
disclaimed kinship to Joseph, and had declared His Sonship to God.
Jesus did not ignore His
relation to His earthly parents. From Jerusalem He returned home with them, and aided them
in their life of toil. He hid in His own heart the mystery of His mission, waiting
submissively for the appointed time for Him to enter upon His work. For eighteen years
after He had recognized that He was the Son of God, He acknowledged the tie that bound Him
to the home at Nazareth, and performed the duties of a son, a brother, a friend, and a
As His mission had opened to
Jesus in the temple, He shrank from contact with the multitude. He wished to return from
Jerusalem in quietness, with those who knew the secret of His life. By the paschal
service, God was seeking to call His people away from their worldly cares, and to remind
them of His wonderful work in their deliverance from Egypt. In this work He desired them
to see a promise of deliverance from sin. As the blood of the slain lamb sheltered the
homes of Israel, so the blood of Christ was to save their souls; but they could be saved
through Christ only as by faith they should make His life their own. There was virtue in
the symbolic service only as it directed the worshipers to Christ as their personal
Saviour. God desired that they should be led to prayerful study and meditation in regard
to Christ's mission. But as the multitudes left Jerusalem, the excitement of travel and
social intercourse too often absorbed their attention, and the service they had witnessed
was forgotten. The Saviour was not attracted to their company.
As Joseph and Mary should
return from Jerusalem alone with Jesus, He hoped to direct their minds to the prophecies
of the suffering Saviour. Upon Calvary He sought to lighten His mother's grief. He was
thinking of her now. Mary was to witness His last agony, and Jesus desired her to
understand His mission, that she might be strengthened to endure, when the sword should
pierce through her soul. As Jesus had been separated from her, and she had sought Him
sorrowing three days, so when He should be offered up for the sins of the world, He would
again be lost to her for three days. And as He should come forth from the tomb, her sorrow
would again be turned to joy. But how much better
she could have borne the anguish of His
death if she had understood the Scriptures to which He was now trying to turn her
If Joseph and Mary had stayed
their minds upon God by meditation and prayer, they would have realized the sacredness of
their trust, and would not have lost sight of Jesus. By one day's neglect they lost the
Saviour; but it cost them three days of anxious search to find Him. So with us; by idle
talk, evilspeaking, or neglect of prayer, we may in one day lose the Saviour's presence,
and it may take many days of sorrowful search to find Him, and regain the peace that we
In our association with one
another, we should take heed lest we forget Jesus, and pass along unmindful that He is not
with us. When we become absorbed in worldly things so that we have no thought for Him in
whom our hope of eternal life is centered, we separate ourselves from Jesus and from the
heavenly angels. These holy beings cannot remain where the Saviour's presence is not
desired, and His absence is not marked. This is why discouragement so often exists among
the professed followers of Christ.
Many attend religious
services, and are refreshed and comforted by the word of God; but through neglect of
meditation, watchfulness, and prayer, they lose the blessing, and find themselves more
destitute than before they received it. Often they feel that God has dealt hardly with
them. They do not see that the fault is their own. By separating themselves from Jesus,
they have shut away the light of His presence.
It would be well for us to
spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it
point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As
we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more
constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit.
If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the
foot of the cross.
As we associate together, we
may be a blessing to one another. If we are Christ's, our sweetest thoughts will be of
Him. We shall love to talk of Him; and as we speak to one another of His love, our hearts
will be softened by divine influences. Beholding the beauty of His character, we shall be
"changed into the same image from glory to glory." 2 Cor. 3:18.