Nazareth is now home to more than 60,000 Israeli Arabs, as well as thousands more Jewish residents. It is situated inside a bowl on the top of the ridge of hills or mountains north of the Jezreel Valley. However, in the time of the Lord Jesus, it was a relatively isolated village with a population in the hundreds, possibly no more than four to five hundred. The purpose of this article is to consider what scripture records of this place and what lessons we might learn from that record.
Matthew chapter 2 presents us with a remarkable paradox. Chapter 1 details the credentials of the King, 1. 1, and in chapter 2, there is a recognition of His claim to be King, 2. 2. Yet at the end of chapter 2, we note the contrast, v. 23. The Son of God was identified with despised Nazareth of Galilee.
We are all familiar with Nathanael’s assessment of the place, John 1. 46. He could not imagine that the promised Messiah would have anything to do with such a place of poor repute. Surely, and perhaps thinking like the wise men from the east, Matt. 2, 1, 2, the Messiah would come to Jerusalem. The King would be associated with the administrative capital of the land, and the centre of religious worship. But man’s ways are not God’s ways! He did not come the first time to subdue His foes and restore the land to the people. He came as one ‘meek and lowly in heart’, ready to seek and to save that which was lost. What condescending grace that the One who ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God’ should make ‘himself of no reputation’, Phil. 2. 6, 7. What amazing love that the creator and sustainer of the universe should humble Himself and be ‘found in fashion as a man’, v. 8.
At the beginning of Matthew chapter 2, we have mentioned the visit of the wise men from the east. They declared to Herod, ‘we … are come to worship him’, v. 2. The view of the nation of Israel was, in the words of Isaiah, ‘He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not’, Isa. 53. 3. Literally, they esteemed Him as nothing! How instructive that Gentiles who had travelled from the east recognized what the nation had failed to see, and they worship Him. In prophetic terms, we live in a dispensation when, in the words of Daniel Whittle, the hymnwriter, the Lord is
And by the world disowned,
By the many still neglected,
And by the few enthroned’.
But it is our privilege to worship Him. Like the wise men who brought their gifts, we can bring what the Lord has given us and offer it in appreciation and recognition of His worth.
We have thought, briefly, of the condescending grace of the Lord Jesus. One who stepped from the throne of glory to be associated with despised Nazareth and to be called a Nazarene. But we know and appreciate that the Lord of glory went further than that.
Luke chapter 2 gives us a remarkable statement, ‘he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them’, v. 51. The One who spoke and brought the worlds into being, who upholds all things by the word of His power, is subject here to His earthly parents. Have we grasped the wonder of it?
Let us note that His subjection was not just on this occasion. The verb ‘subject’ is a present participle denoting an habitual or continuous subjection. In essence, the Lord behaved as any true and perfect child should. He obeyed His earthly parents and did so as a matter of course.
But we might notice another point in these verses. In verse 42, Luke tells us that ‘when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast’. In Jewish terms, this was the point when the Lord became a ‘son of the law’ and was expected to obey its ordinances. It was, in many respects, part of His transition into adulthood. Thus, and we should note it, it is at this point that the Lord ‘was subject unto them’, v. 51. When the Lord said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’, Matt. 5. 17, this was true from the very outset of His personal responsibility for its keeping and fulfilment. The law said, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’, Exod. 20. 12, and the New Testament confirms that, ‘Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord’, Col. 3. 20. This is what the Lord obeyed, voluntarily and humbly.
As we come to verse 49, ‘wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’, it is important to note that these are the first recorded words of the Lord Jesus. Here was a life devoted to accomplishing the Father’s will. This was His priority. We come to the penultimate cry of the Lord Jesus from the cross and it relates, in part at least, to the same cause and purpose - the Father’s will - and the Lord cries, ‘It is finished’, John 19. 30. That which He set out to accomplish here, Luke 2. 49, was fulfilled there.
But, notice His words, ‘I must’. Although this was a choice, the Lord states that it is a necessity that He obeys the Father’s will and accomplishes His purpose. There is a far higher purpose to be achieved. On a practical note, Paul reminded the Romans, ‘even Christ pleased not himself’, Rom. 15. 3. Here is the challenge for the life of every believer. Are we prepared to sink our own desires and ambitions in pursuit of the Father’s will for us? Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God’, Eph. 5. 21, and subjection or submission is the hardest action to obey, yet one perfectly displayed by the Lord. He has, indeed, left us an example.
As always, it is important to note the context of this event. Although Luke does not always follow a chronological approach to the narrative of his Gospel, it is instructive as to the position of this account. The chronological position may well be given at the end of Matthew chapter 13.
Here, following the Lord’s testing in the wilderness where He overcame the devil, we read, ‘Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee’, v. 14, and ‘he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up’, v. 16.
Note what the custom of the Lord was - ‘he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day’. Although the passage is speaking of the sabbath and the synagogue, the application might be made of the responsibility of us all to ensure that we are present at the gatherings of the Lord’s people. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his readers, ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another’, Heb. 10. 25.
We come, then, to the passage read by the Lord from Isaiah chapter 61 and His comment on the passage, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’, v. 21. Although it is not the subject of this article, it is an interesting study to see how many scriptures the Lord fulfilled. It is particularly evident at Calvary, and we can refer to John chapter 19 verse 28, ‘Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst’ [emphasis added]. From the outset of His earthly ministry through to its close, the Lord fulfilled scripture. As He said Himself, ‘the scripture cannot be broken’, 10. 35.
Thus, as the Lord concluded His reading and His statement, they ‘wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth’, Luke 4. 22. How remarkable it is to hear gracious words. Clearly not the language that was normally heard! Those present realized that all the rumours they had heard of the Lord Jesus were not exaggerations but had foundation - the fame mentioned in verse 14 signified that here was someone wholly different. Indeed, here was someone unique!
However, this was the challenge to their preconceptions. How could this one who had grown up among them and had been identified as Joseph’s son be who He claimed to be? As the Lord continued His message, so the anger of the synagogue members began to grow. It finally boiled over as they thrust Him out of their midst.
You will appreciate, I am sure, that here is a clear illustration of John chapter 1 verse 11, ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not’. How sad that those who ought to have known Him best, actually knew Him least. Is it not a sad fact that here the Spirit of God is at work, the Lord is the preacher, and conviction is effected, but men and women rise up in anger at the message? There could be no greater opportunity for blessing, but the message and the messenger are rejected.
Have we ever experienced something similar? Have we felt the Spirit of God at work in the gathering, the power of the word of God as it has been preached? There have been those present to hear the message, but the response has been one of indifference or direct opposition and anger. The Lord acknowledged, ‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house’, Matt. 13. 57. Nazareth was a place of rejection. Says the writer to the Hebrews, ‘Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach’, 13. 13.
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