Immanuel, God with us. Not just near us, in some nice palace somewhere. But with us, like ‘in Nazareth’ with us. Jesus of Nowhere, Galilee. He came to be with us, so that He could be for us. And He is forever with us, for He still carries the lowliest of labels. It was all part of God’s plan, that He should be called a Nazarene.
Would you carry the label, Nazarene? For some, it is just one of the more obscure labels for Jesus or His followers. Actually, it should prompt us to consider the One who invested the label with such profound significance.
Matthew’s infancy narrative ends with Joseph taking Mary and Jesus back to Nazareth, “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23) Is this a low-key transition to the rest of the Gospel, or is it a fitting climax for the whole birth narrative?
Moving Back To Nazareth
Joseph’s flight to Egypt was short-lived. The tyrant Herod died shortly after the massacre in Bethlehem. So God directed Joseph back to the land, specifically to Nazareth. Joseph knew of the challenges facing the family in the town that thought it knew Joseph and Mary all too well.
How could Joseph rebuild his business when everyone doubted his word on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conception? How would Mary face the comments as she returned, ‘the virgin’ with her baby boy?
Perhaps Joseph planned a fresh start in Bethlehem, but Herod’s replacement made that difficult. Maybe Galilee made sense after all. Still, it took divine direction for Joseph to go back to Nazareth.
Joseph was directed to Israel, the land of the Jews. Then he was directed to Galilee. Still Jewish territory, but Galilee had a high number of Gentiles and was scorned by the ‘better Jews’ of Judea. This Messiah was not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles too. In fact, by growing up in Nazareth, we will see that He was for all of us.
The Place of No Good Thing: Nazareth
Matthew mentions Nazareth three more times. After a passing reference in 4:13-16, then comes 21:11. Jesus’ triumphal entry so stirred Jerusalem that the locals asked the crowds who He was. The visiting Galilean crowds replied that this was the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth. Probably not what the locals wanted to hear!
Finally, in 26:71, Peter was in the courtyard of Annas’ house when he was identified as an accomplice of Jesus of Nazareth. Was there venom in that label? Probably, since Peter was again confronted due to his Galilean accent. To be from Nazareth was not a positive thing in Judea. In fact, it was not a good thing, even in Galilee!
Nazareth was five miles from Sepphoris, the strongest military centre in Galilee. It was on a branch of the great caravan route to Damascus. For traders, soldiers and travellers, Nazareth was just a rest stop on the way to somewhere better.
Essentially, Jesus grew up in Nowhere, Galilee. Was this the next best thing since God’s plan A (Bethlehem) had been thwarted by troublesome Herodian rulers? Not at all. God directed Joseph so that Jesus was brought up in Nazareth. This meant that the Messiah born in Bethlehem would always be called the Nazarene.cally appended to His name.