Focus on Christ Meditations: 18. From Nazareth?
Jn 1:45,46 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
From the dizzy heights of the Logos, ‘the reason behind all things’, John drops us right down to earth as he recounts an incident the other Gospels either knew nothing about or simply missed. Some of John the Baptist’s followers now follow Jesus and one of them, Philip, finds his friend Nathaniel and tells him about Jesus who they have just met for the first time. Somehow or other Philip, perhaps asking directly or getting it from John the Baptist, has found out who Jesus is and in those days a person was identified with by his father or by his home location or both.
Thus we now find this description of Jesus as ‘Jesus of Nazareth.” Now we have to admit that in John’s Gospel the next time this designation is used is not until chapter 18 at Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.” (Jn 18:4,5) This is how the arresting crowd designates him. In Luke’s Gospel (and Mark’s), intriguingly, the first person to identify him as such is a demoniac in a synagogue: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” (Lk 4:34) The fact that Jesus silences him probably is more about not yet wanting to be heralded as the Son of God or the Messiah, rather than about his home town.
It is clear that later in his ministry he is still known with this designation, by some at least: “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (Lk 18:35-37) At the end of Luke’s Gospel in the Emmaus Road incident, the two mourning disciples designate him thus and to ensure there is not mistake recount all that has happened: “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:18-21)
So in this search for the Christ in Scripture, as we have passed through the events surrounding his birth, we have now moved on to the time of his ministry, some thirty years later. From years after that ministry has concluded John had described him (with years of reflection behind him) as the Logos, the Word, the ultimate reason behind all things. But now, turning to his actual ministry we see the Gospel writers recognising this particular designation – from Nazareth and the son of Joseph.
What is significant about this? Well in any history book that covers the lives of great people, they always cover their origins and here is no difference. Yes, but what is significant about this? Well, remember the early Isaiah prophecies spoke both about Galilee and about the greatness of this Coming One and yet later Isaiah was to say of him, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2b) i.e. he appeared as just an ordinary person. This is the significance of the “of Nazareth”. Yes, on one hand we are going to see the designation, “Son of God” and on the other, “Son of Man” and we will examine them both separately. On one hand there is divinity and on the other humanity and, to the surrounding world at least, it started with the humanity. He is merely the son of a carpenter and for some that was a problem: “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mt 13:54:54-56)
We didn’t pick it up earlier, but why was Nathaniel so disparaging about Nazareth? Well, it was a rather obscure town, nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. Yes, Matthew declared, “He will be called a Nazarene,” (Mt 2:23) but that probably refers to Isaiah’s words that the Messiah would be despised for in Jesus’ day “Nazarene” was virtually a synonym for “despised”. However, the greater reality was that Nazareth was not named in the Messianic prophecies. Here, indeed, is another mystery.
Why? We aren’t told and so we must just speculate. In an earlier study I referred to all this “cloak and dagger stuff” indicating that although God clearly was declaring the arrival of His Son, He still largely kept it a secret, only revealing it to those whose hearts He knew would be open to Him. So, from the glory of the Logos we descend to the obscurity of Nazareth. Thirty years before Herod had gone searching for him in the area around Bethlehem. Now God has located him in the north, well away from the hotbed of religion in Jerusalem. It is almost as if the Father wants his Son to be raised in a ‘safe house’ away from prying eyes. Yes, he is still the Son of God, the same as he had been in heaven, in many respects, but for the moment he is hidden away. Again, Isaiah had prophesied, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.” (Isa 53;2a) A tender shoot coming up in dry ground; what a description of Galilee in those days.
There is another practical application in all this. It doesn’t matter what your origins are when it comes to being a child of God. You and I came from dry, ungodly beginnings. In one sense it doesn’t matter what those beginnings were. It doesn’t matter whether our parents were poor or rich, single or married. We are what we are today because we have been born again and are children of God. What you rise to do in the kingdom of God has nothing to do with how famous your parents are, or where you were born, or how clever or smart you are, or how handsome or beautiful you are (or aren’t); it is all to do with being God’s child and how open to your Father you are.
Jesus came as a carpenter’s son, not the son of a ruler, not the son of a priest, not the son of a rabbi. It was almost as if God was making a point: this is my Son, hidden away so all those who ‘measure’ people will miss him – until he comes and does My works. Then you can start adjusting your thinking!
To reflect upon: do we, in fact, measure ourselves by our background or upbringing or simply by being children of God and all that that means?
(Apologies, until the end of the week we will probably be out of Internet contact)