Jesus put Nazareth on the map
Raised by a single mother in a New York City housing project, Ursula Burns worked hard at school. After graduating from high school, she earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She worked as an intern at printing company Xerox, before being hired permanently. She rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2007-2016, earning the distinction of being the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. So her background didn’t limit her career.
A change in status
Nazareth was a small farming village between the sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. In about AD 30 when Nathanael was told that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked, “Can anything good come from there” (Jn. 1:46NIV). But why did Nathanael say this? Was Nazareth insignificant, isolated, remote and outside the mainstream of Jewish life? Were most of the people poor? Or was his skepticism, scorn and derision inter-town rivalry – Nathanael was from Cana (6km north of Nazareth)?
It seems that the people of Nazareth were considered to be social outcasts. The fact that Jesus came from there shows that people’s destiny isn’t necessarily limited by their circumstances. They can rise above their circumstances and their past history. And great people (like Jesus Christ) can have a humble upbringing.
After investigation, Nathanael changed His mind about Jesus. He overcame his bias and preconceptions and realized that the best thing in all the world (Jesus) came out of Nazareth! This shows that sayings are not always true. Likewise, the Jewish saying that no prophet comes out of Galilee was also untrue (Jn. 7:52), because Jonah was from Galilee (2 Ki. 14:25; Josh. 19:10, 13).
Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before and after they went to Bethlehem and Egypt (Mt. 2:23; Lk. 1:26-27; 2:4). And Jesus grew up there until His early 30s (Lk. 2:39-40, 51). After John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus moved to Capernaum, which was a city on the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 4:13). This was after He was driven from Nazareth (Mt. 9:1; Lk. 4:28-30).
Jesus was often identified as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Mk. 1:24; 10:47; Jn. 18:5, 7). The sign on the cross said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19). And on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached about “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 2:22). And He was also called, a “Nazarene” (Mt. 2:23; Mk. 14:67; 16:6). And Jesus’ followers were also derisively called “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
So Nazareth changed from being insignificant to being well known. It was known as the village where Jesus was from. He put it on the map.
Gabriel visits Nazareth
A Jewish girl named Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, lived in Nazareth. One day the angel Gabriel visited and told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High [God]. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.” (Lk. 1:31-33).
God choose the mother of Jesus to be from a small farming village, not a palace or a capital city. And this announcement was made to a young woman in this village, not to a man or someone in authority. So although it was despised by the Jews, Nazareth is remembered by Christians.
Preaching in His home town
Jews in the synagogue at Nazareth puzzled over the source of Jesus’ knowledge and power to do miracles (Mt. 13:53-58; Mk. 6:1-6). He was the son of a carpenter, a common laborer. How could a common man like Joseph produce such an extraordinary son? It didn’t make sense. How could a local carpenter be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah? They rejected Jesus on the basis of class distinction. This limited understanding of Jesus led to their unbelief. They took offense to His claim of being the Messiah. How ironic, the Nazarenes who were despised by others, despised Jesus! Because most people didn’t believe what Jesus said, He did not do many miracles at Nazareth.
If Jesus had returned at a mighty conquering hero, they might have accepted Him more readily. But He was humble.
Jesus told them that a genuine prophet is generally more appreciated away from home. His family and friends are too close to him to appreciate his ministry. Familiarity breeds contempt. Great men are not appreciated in their own neighborhood. Despite this suffering, Jesus continued to preach elsewhere.
What Jesus taught
More detail about what Jesus taught at Nazareth is given in Luke 4:16-30. It is not clear whether this is the same occasion as described in Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6 or not.
At Nazareth Jesus declared that He was the Messiah (Isa. 61:1-2a; 58:6; Lk.4:16-21). He also quoted two instances in the Old Testament when God helped Gentiles because Israel was in rebellion and rejected God’s messengers Elijah and Elisha (Lk. 4:25-27). In these cases as the prophets were not appreciated by the Israelites, they were sent to help Gentiles. So Jesus was saying that God loved Gentiles just as much as Jews. The Jewish people were so angry about this that they tried to kill Jesus, “but He walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (Lk.4:28-30).
This is consistent with the Old Testament, which says that the Messiah will be “rejected” (Ps. 118:22), “despised” and “mocked” (Ps. 22:6-7) and “despised and rejected by mankind” (Isa. 53:3). So it is not surprising that God caused Jesus to be brought up in a town that was despised by the Jews.
Lessons for us
As God changed the reputation of Nazareth, He can change our lives as well. Our destiny is not necessarily limited by our circumstances or past history. Great people can have humble beginnings.
Common sayings are not necessarily true. They need to be evaluated.
Because Jesus was rejected by the Jews at Nazareth, it is not surprising that Christians are often rejected by others today.
Written, September 2022
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel
Many battles at Megiddo
Outsiders became insiders at Damascus
Tyre reminds us that God keeps His promises