In 2011 I was asked to speak to our local congregation on Christmas Day. In preparing the sermon, I was struck by the fact that we know so little about 95% of the Savior’s life. Here’s what I said
Life Between the Nativity and His Baptism
I have wondered if at times we don’t find it difficult to related to the Savior and his life, particularly as youth. His life was so different than ours. He was our exemplar in all things, and yet at times that seems hard to believe because our lives were so different.
For example, I recently realized that at times, because we talk so much of the Savior’s Atonement—the act that we rightly commemorate in this meeting—we might be inclined to think that the Atonement was his life. Certainly his life was critical to being able to work out the Atonement, but the Atonement itself was not His life. It was accomplished in less than 24 hours. It was an event within his life.
Likewise, because over 95% of what we have recorded of the Savior’s life is his ministry (89 total chapters in Matthew through John, divided by 4 chapters, 2 chapters each from Matthew and Luke = 95.5%), we similarly think that his life was full of public miracles and teachings. But he began his ministry at 30 years of age, and it lasted approximately 3 years. It was not 95% of this life. It was approximately 10% of his life. His ministry was like a mission at 30.
If we add the amount recorded about the Nativity, we have approximately 98% of everything recorded about his mortal life. We are left with a small incident about His visit to the temple at age 12 and five additional verses (three of which are from modern revelation in the Joseph Smith Translation). If we are to learn of the rest of his life, we must do so very careful, so as not to “create” truth where none is given, and likely not given for a reason. The absence of details may well tell us a great deal about this time.
Frederic W. Farrar in his book “The Life of Christ” says of this time period:
There is, then, for the most part a deep silence in the Evenagelists repecting this period; but what eloquence in their silence! May we not find in their very reticence a wisdom and an instruction more profound than if they had filled many volumes with minor details?
In the first place, we may see in this their silence a signal and striking confirmation of their faithfulness. We may learn from it that they desired to tell the simple truth, and not to construct an astonishing or plausible narrative. That Christ should have passed thirty years of His brief life in the deep obsurity of a provincial village; that He should have been brought up not only in a conquered land, but in its most despised province; not only in a despised province, but in its most disregarded valley; that during all those thirty years the inefffable brightness of His divne nature should have tabernacled among us, “in a tent like ours, and of the same material,” unoticed and unknown; that during those long years there should have been no flash of splendid circumstance, no outburst of amazing miracle, no “sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies” to announce, and reveal, and glorify the coming King—this is not what we should have expected—not what any one would have been likely to imagine or to invent (Frederick W. Farrar, “The Life of Christ” pp. 70-71, emphasis in the original).
Because he was the literal son of Mary, a mortal, he experienced life as a mortal. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written in your day:
As a babe he began to grow, normally and naturally, and there was nothing supernatural about it. He learned to crawl, to walk, to run. He spoke his first word, cut his first tooth, took his first step—the same as other children do. He learned to speak; he played with toys like those of his brothers and sisters; and he played with them and with the neighbor children. He went to sleep at night and he awoke with the morning light. He took exercise, and his muscles were strong because he used them. During his ministry we see him walk long dusty miles, climb mountains, drive evil men—with force—from his Father’s House.
We cannot do other than believe he was subject to disease and illness on the same basis as we all are. We know he was hungry, weary, and sorrowful; that his eyes were keen, his ears alert, and his tongue fluent. We know he seemed to his enemies as but another man, that he had to be singled out and identified with a traitor’s kiss, and that he felt the stabbing pain of the Roman nails in his hands and feet the same as any mortal would. We cannot state too plainly that as a man he felt what other men feel, did what other men do, had the same appetites and passions as others have—all because he had been sent into mortality by his Father to be a mortal.
He grew, played, learned, and had experiences just like every other child. His cousin, John the Baptist, who knew Jesus as a boy, recorded in D&C 93:12 that Jesus grew “grace for grace”. Luke records that “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)
And yet, he more rapidly that everyone else. After the incident in the temple, Luke gives us this statement:
51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:51 – 52)
His mother pondered a great deal upon him. He was subject to his adopted father, as a dutiful young man. Joseph Smith restored these lost verses from the record of Matthew chapter 3 verses 24 through 25:
And it came to pass that 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. (JST Matt. 3:24 – 25)
Again, quoting from Elder McConkie:
It seems perfectly clear that our Lord grew mentally and spiritually on the same basis that he developed physically. In each case he obeyed the laws of experience and of learning, and the rewards flowed to Him. The real issue of concern is not that he grew and developed and matured—all in harmony with the established order of things, as is the case with all men—but that he was so highly endowed with talents and abilities, so spiritually sensitive, so in tune with the Infinite, that his learning and wisdom soon excelled that of all his fellows….
Further: In his study, and in the learning process he was guided from on high in a way that none other has ever been. Being without sin—being clean and pure and spotless—he was entitled to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle, the Spirit that, conversely, always and everlastingly dwells with the righteous. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.369 – p.370)
The Savior lived a life that is much more like our lives during these periods than we might have ever thought. He lived life for the most part in obscurity.
Miracles as a Child
In this talk I was not given adequate time to expound upon a singular insight though, that perhaps dawned upon me more through the coming months. In my prepared materials, I had written:
The first recorded miracle is when at a wedding Jesus turned water into wine. He was about to begin His three year mission, thus telling Mary “mine hour [meaning his mission] is not yet come.” In other words, He would continue to do as she asked him to do.
Mary’s response shows that she was aware of his special powers from pervious experiences. She must have known he was capable of fixing the situation. She would have been aware of this from quiet family experiences. He must have been very careful to not make a public show of his abilities. But He could not help responding to the empathy that was within Him, and this at times produced miraculous results, including at times healings. Mary was aware that as the “Sun [or Son—see 3 Nephi 25:2] of righteousness” he had “healing in his wings;” even as he was growing up “as calves of the stall.” (Mal. 4:2).
Only a God, a perfect person, could have the miraculous powers that he had, and not use them inappropriately; to have hidden them perfectly from the world.
How did they become clear? As a young child, did he come upon a bird maimed or killed in some way, and with his perfect compassion did his mother watch him heal it or bring it back to life?
Was there a need, someone hungry with no food, and his mother saw him provide food when she knew he had none to give?
Did she learn that as he had faith in his abilities, and as her motives were pure and righteous, she could call upon him for divine assistance, and he would listen to her?
Her actions at the wedding feast indicate in some manner these things must have happened.
Our Social Concerns
The Savior didn’t only use his powers for those purposes we most often think of, such as healing the sick or raising the dead. In turning the wine into water, it appears he cared about much smaller things.
It would be interesting to contrast this story with the story of choosing the better part. The Savior could have fixed Martha’s problem too, but some things, it appears, are not “requisite”
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. (Mosiah 4:27)
The Savior must have demonstrated his abilities to care for more transitory issues in some way prior to his public ministry; else why would his mother mention the wine to him and by her response to the servants demonstrate that she knew his simple response meant he agreed to correct the situation.