“He was subject unto them.” (Luke 2:51)
This was one of the most instructive and lovely traits in our Lord’s character — his subjection to parental authority. What period and what condition of life has he not personally impressed with his greatness and hallowed with his sanctity? As Irenaeus beautifully remarks, “He came to save all who are born again unto God; infants and little ones, and children and youths, and those of old age. To little ones he was a little one, sanctifying those of that age, and giving them an example of godliness, righteousness, and dutiful subjection.” To this latter feature of our Lord’s early life let us direct our present consideration. “He was subject unto them.” What a study for the young! what an example for the Christian youth! May the Holy Spirit unfold and impress upon our hearts and lives the holy and beautiful lesson!
The submission of Jesus to his parents was natural. Our Lord was ever true to nature, as nature was ever true to him, its Creator. Filial submission is an instinct of our being. The existence of parent and child implies the existence of a law prescribing and regulating their relative duties. Had there been no divine precept, and irrespective of all that is positively commanded, nature would prompt the child’s duty to its parents. But, what reason dimly teaches, revelation clearly and positively enjoins. When the word of God says, “This is right,” it means, this is just or equitable. Deny the obligation to obey, and you deny the authority to command; ignore the child’s duty, and you repudiate the parent’s relation. Thus, though our humanity is like a smitten and decayed trunk, the instincts and affections of our nature still cling to it as the ivy clasps with inseparable tenacity the crumbling oak around which it entwines.
The submission of Jesus to his parents was obediential — that is, he obeyed them. Obedience is the great law of filial piety — disobedience its most unnatural and unholy violation. Under the Mosaic dispensation disobedience to parents was thus fearfully punished: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.” (Deut. 21:18–21)
Is the law of the Christian dispensation less binding? Listen to the command — “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1) Again — “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” (Col. 3:20) Beware of this sin! If under the law it was so terribly marked, of how much more severe punishment shall they be counted worthy who violate this law of filial obedience under a dispensation clothed with such solemn sanctions!
Jesus’s subjection to his parents was the subjection of love. Filial affection will secure the profoundest reverence for parental authority, and the most implicit obedience to parental command, when that command contravenes no higher law, and asks the surrender of no Christian principle. Oh, how sweet and lovely to submit to the will and obey the command of a parent we deeply reverence and love! It is that invests with such surpassing dignity, holiness, and beauty the unquestioning obedience of a child of God to his heavenly Father. He obeys God because he loves him, and there is no obedience so willing, so cheerful, or so complete as the obedience of love. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) If God has removed your earthly parent, be it your aim to transfer your love, submission, and obedience to your heavenly Father, “in whom the fatherless finds mercy.”