There was once a young man in Palestine—a strong, vibrant, intelligent youth—whose destiny it was, in the prime of His life, to die on a Roman cross, crucified for the sins of the world.
We know Him as the Son of God, the only perfect person who ever lived. And we marvel at the miracles He wrought, the truths that fell from His lips, and the power and wisdom that He manifest in the days of His ministry.
But what of His maturing years? Was He like other Jewish lads, subject to pain and sorrow and disease and to all the ills of the flesh? Have you ever wondered:
—Where and under what circumstances was Jesus born?
—What did He do as a young child, as a Jewish boy, as a maturing man?
—Was He like all the other young men of Galilee and Judea and Perea, or did He live some kind of a sheltered and hallowed life?
—Who were His friends and what kind of an association did they have with each other?
I can tell you a great many things about Jesus and His life that are not generally known. They are things that are not found in the scriptures, but they do grow out of certain verities that are found in the canon of holy writ. By applying these principles to the social and cultural circumstances in Palestine, we can come up with a reasonably clear picture of what is involved.
Before we turn our attention to what the mortal Lord was like, let us note—rather carefully and thoughtfully—two things written by Paul: Jesus, he said, “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philip. 2:7–8).
Now, let your mind go back to Palestine in the days of that evil wretch Herod. Then it was that Caesar Augustus took a census to use in imposing taxes. Herod, to humor his Jewish subjects, let them assemble in their homelands, there to be counted along with their kindred.
Hence Joseph and Mary, both of the house of David, traveled the 80 long miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the City of David. Mary was heavy with child. Their travel, along with that of their friends and family, was slow. They probably used donkeys to carry their food and bedding, and they camped at the regular caravanserais used by all the travelers of the day.
These caravanserais were square or rectangular campgrounds in which there was a courtyard for their animals, and, on a raised platform surrounding the courtyard, a series of rooms with doors opening toward the center. Each of these rooms was called a Katalyma, and in them the weary travelers made their beds on rugs or bedding placed on the dirt floor. Their beasts of burden were left in the courtyard. Always there would be a nearby spring to supply water, and when the caravanserai was near a city or village, as in the case of Bethlehem, some enterprising person, for a few pence, would sell provender (dry food) for the animals and a few vegetables for human food. Meals were prepared over an open fire, and a spirit of hospitality, helpfulness, and camaraderie always prevailed among the overnight campers.
On this night of nights the Galileans with whom Joseph and Mary traveled arrived late. All of the Katalymas were filled. There is no English translation for this word. It is found twice only in the New Testament. The nearest thing to it is a hostel of the sort found in Europe. In the New Testament passage it is translated as guest chamber. In this case the account says there was no room for them in the inn, or, better, as the Joseph Smith Translation has it, in the inns. The Katalymas were filled and so Joseph and Mary bedded down among the beasts in the courtyard—in the stable as it were. There, among the animals, among the yelping dogs and lowing cattle, among the braying asses and bleating sheep, the Son of God was born. Mary’s friends and kinswomen served as midwives as the Son of the Highest drew His first breath and began His mortal life.
When Jesus was eight days old, either in a house in Bethlehem or in the temple in Jerusalem, He was circumcised and named. When He was 41 or more days old, He was presented in the temple and the sacrifice was offered for Mary. Because she and Joseph were too poor to afford a lamb, they were permitted to offer two young turtledoves or pigeons.
Later, probably when the young child was two years old, the wise men from the East came bearing gifts; then came the sojourn in Egypt, and a return to Bethlehem and to Nazareth.
We do not know all that Jesus did or said as He grew up, but we do know what life was like in the Jewish homes in Bethlehem and Nazareth. He lived in what we would call a peasant home. It could have had a dirt floor. There were brothers and sisters. They ate at the same table, slept together on rough mattresses, perhaps several of them in the same room. Their food was the rough, plain fare of the poor, and their clothes were of homespun wool and were like those of all the young Jews in the area.
Jesus learned to crawl, to walk, and to run. He cut His first tooth, learned to talk, climbed trees, and played games. He rode on donkeys and camels, milked goats and cows, plowed fields, planted seeds, pulled weeds, and harvested crops. He learned to read and to write; He went to school in the synagogue, memorized the Shema (the Jewish confession of faith), and was taught to pray and observe the Sabbath. He roamed the hills of Galilee, listened to the cooing doves, saw the holes of the foxes, watched the birds of the air, gazed on the lilies of the fields, and guided the sheep beside still waters. Joseph taught Him to saw boards, drive nails, carry timber, and build houses.
When He was 12 years of age, He went with His family to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, where He confounded the priests and rabbis in the temple. By this time He knew God was His Father and that His was to be a life like none other on earth.
Of His developing years, with particular reference to learning divine truth, the scripture says:
“Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.
“And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.
“And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh” (JST, Matt. 3:24–26).
Even during the days of His ministry, His brothers and sisters still considered Him to be as other men. He was hungry, thirsty, and tired, as occasion warranted. He ate figs, and fish, and barley bread. He went to banquets, slept in the homes of friends and under the friendly stars of heaven. He was cold during the snows and storms of winter and hot when the summer sun burned the grass in the fields.
He winced and suffered in pain as the sharp pieces of bone and the lead weights in the Roman scourge cut His flesh. The crown of thorns caused rivulets of blood to flow down His face, and the same pangs of pain surged through His hands and feet when the crucifiers’ nails tore His flesh as was the case with any mortal.
He is our pattern and our friend, our fellow sufferer and our fellow laborer. He was born as we are born; He grew up as we grow up; He was subject to the same ills and pains that afflict us. He was tired and hungry and thirsty, even as we are. Jesus had to overcome the world and work out His salvation the same as we do. He was called to labor as a missionary even as we are. The cause of truth and righteousness was uppermost in His mind as it should be in ours.
We are called to follow Him, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
Jesus said: “Come unto me, … learn of me” (Matt. 11:28–29). If we learn of Him and live as He lived, we will be privileged to go where He is and live in His house forever. What greater reward could we possibly receive?