Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 10. Signposts
Lk 2:4,5 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
I have this feeling that when we get to heaven the Lord might show us the reality of the life we’ve lived and perhaps show us His word and say, “Did you see this? Did you see that?” and all we will be able to say is, “Oh, my goodness, I just didn’t see it.” I say this because there are ‘signposts’ in scripture that point to significance and one of them is this matter of where Jesus was born.
Isaiah prophesied, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit,” (Isa 11:1) and the long prophecy that followed showed that this ‘Branch’ would be a mighty ruler. Jesse, of course, was David’s father and they lived in Bethlehem (see 1 Sam 16:1, 17:12 etc.) The Jews were thus expecting their Messiah to come from David’s family.
Now the interesting thing, of course, is that both Joseph and Mary were from the line of David, regardless of where Jesus was born, so he too would be of that lineage, so why having to go to Bethlehem (apart from the fact of the Roman emperor requiring it)? Well this is where the seeker goes a step further and will see an amazingly clear prophetic word that came from the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (or from days of eternity)” (Mic 5:2) Indeed, when the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for the recently born “king of the Jews” (Mt 2:2) when Herod got upset and sent for his religious leaders, and “he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:” (Mt 2:4,5) and they cite this Micah 5:2 reference, so it was clearly well known where they expected their Messiah to come from.
The next interesting thing to note is that throughout the Synoptic Gospels whenever Jesus was referred to, he was called “Jesus of Nazareth” because that was indeed where he had lived throughout his life. For some this was a stumbling block as the apostle John showed: “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.” (Jn 1:45,46) Later, the Pharisees, arguing with Nicodemus, expressed the same thing: “They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that the Prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (Jn 7:52)
So why this apparent confusion, why was Jesus from Nazareth? Well Joseph took his family back there in Galilee to flee possible persecution when Jesus was still a baby and they were in Egypt. (Mt 2:21-23) That reference concludes, “he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Mt 2:23) Although this does not appear as a quote from the O.T. some suggest a) ‘Nazarene’ in Jesus’ day was virtually a synonym for ‘despised’ or b) the Hebrew word for it is similar to that for ‘Branch’.
What is the significance of all this? Well it is clear from Scripture that there were all these Old Testament prophecies clearly stating details of the coming Messiah, acting as signposts, but John’s Gospel in particular points out that signs from God are only picked up by those with eyes to see, hearts that are open. We might ask ourselves, do our hearts yearn to know the truth, do we have eyes to pick up the wonders within God’s word, or is the Bible just dry text? If it is the later, perhaps we need to ask yet again, “Lord open my eyes….”