“And He Shall Be Called a Nazarene”

 

Matthew 2:19-23

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

To start this morning, I am introducing the beginning of a four-part series I originally called “The Lost Books of the Gospels.” Today we were to start “The Lost Books of Matthew.” Since introducing this, however, I have caused much anticipation, if not a little nervousness about the topic. “Did Matthew write other books we don’t know about?” “Is this some kind of apocrypha like book?” “Would our Lutheran fore-fathers approve?”

Well, for those who were concerned, 1) You fell into my trap. It’s all about the marketing. And 2) I really named it wrong.

In this four-part series, I am going to preach on chapters within each of the Gospels I have yet to teach in. This might be because they’re not included in our 3-year rotating pericope schedule (That’s the pre-scheduled Bible readings for each Sunday that every church is encouraged to follow and base their sermon from). It might be because when they were in the pericope, I decided to do the sermon from a different lesson than the Gospel lesson. I might have just been gone every time that certain pericope came up. But for whatever reason, in going through the pericope schedule 6-years in a row, I never spoke on the chapters I will cover, this morning being Matthew chapter 2.

So, as you might have now guessed, I thought it better to change the title to “The Lost Chapters of Matthew” instead. Not as yet unknown, just as yet untaught. Hope this clears everything up. No, I have not lost my mind….yet.

And today’s Gospel lesson is fitting because it’s a continuation of the Christmas story. This after-Christmas story begins in Egypt, where Joseph has recently taken His family to avoid the wrath of Herod, who wishes to kill the Christ child fearing the prophecy that the Child would be born to be the King of the Jews.

By now, Joseph is getting more comfortable with these angelic visions. It is now the third time that the angel has come to him in a dream and this time he tells Joseph that its time to return home.

You might remember in Matthew 1:20, Joseph is first visited by an angel with the assurance that all that Mary was telling him about her pregnancy was true. Then he is visited again with the warning about Herod and the encouragement to flee to Egypt. Finally, here in our Gospel lesson for this morning, he is visited two more times. First with the order to go to Israel and then again to flee to Galilee, specifically Nazareth.

This not only diverted them from danger, but it took them to a place people would least expect a king to live.

It would be easy to compare Nazareth with places like Deming or Arco. Not a lot of people lived there. The people of the bigger cities kind of looked down on them because they were considered by many to be not of the proper stock.

Now, all sane people know better about the people of Deming and Arco around here. They know that many of the best kind of people come from our rural communities. But, back then, Nazareth was not so fortunate.  It was Nathanael who made it known in John 1:43-46,

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 

This is a rather disappointing first impression on Nathanael’s part and all because Jesus was a Nazarene. And Nathanael should know, because he himself came from Nazareth. As I think of it, maybe this was some kind of self-deprecating humor on Nathan’s part.

Not only that, but Nazareth was part of Galilee, a gentile settlement on the edge. John tells us in chapter 7 of His Gospel that Nicodemus reminds Jesus that “No prophet arises from Galilee.”

So why Nazareth? Why such a nowhere town outside major Jewish settlements. Why a town so looked down upon? So despised? I mean, if some Iranian grew up and lived his whole life just outside Iran, I’m not sure he’d be received well even today if he came proclaiming things that the born and bred people of Iran needed to do to find salvation. I’m sure that even today it would put that person in great danger.

When Jesus first started His ministry, people were noticeably torn on whether to receive Him and His teachings or to reject them.  Back to John 7:25-31

Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me. So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” 

One side is saying, “this cannot be,” while the other side says, “How can this not be?” From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had an uphill battle to fight and much because on one fateful night, His family is led to Nazareth in Galilee.

But, in taking a step back, it really makes perfect sense. It was in Nazareth that Jesus would learn first hand about the down-trodden and despised. It was in Nazareth where He would learn that to get anything done you must be persistent and willing to go the extra mile. It was in Nazareth that he would learn what it felt like to be rejected and alone. In all this He would be prepared to face His own life of rejection, hate and condemnation. He was already battle tested because of where God had chosen Him to live and learn.

In many ways, the fates of Nazareth and of Jesus were a perfect match. Both were just out of the mainstream, away from the direct influence of the church but very much a part of it. Just as Nazareth was rejected so was Jesus, even by the people of Nazareth ironically. Just as Nazareth was an afterthought in the minds of many, so was Jesus in the eyes of the Pharisees, more an irritation than anything else.

So, Jesus would always and forever be a Nazarene for better or for worse. It would be the title He would wear at the beginning of His ministry, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” It would hang as a title over His head at His death, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

It was in humility that Jesus was raised and it was in humility He was killed yet He became the most important man to ever live because in that Humility He found His strength.

So it is fitting that the man of sorrows should come from a town of sorrows. Everything He had ever learned would prepare Him for the day His ministry would start in earnest. It’s almost as if God the Father knew what He was doing all along.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson Matthew affirms that it was no mistake that Jesus was from Nazareth. In fact, it was part of God’s salvation plan. In fact, this little tidbit in history also fulfilled a prophecy saying that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

Now, there is no place in the Old Testament that this prophecy can be found but it was well known enough that people of Jesus’ time would recognize it. This title would prove to be important throughout Jesus’ ministry because it was more proof to who He claimed to be. The title, “Jesus of Nazareth” is used 15 different times in the Book of Acts not because it pointed out where He was from but because it pointed out who He was, the prophesied Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.

He was the one who would be born in humbleness to give His people strength. He was born in the worst conditions so that one day all believers in Him would find themselves in the very best of conditions.

He was born among people lost in the darkness of sin so that He might shine a light to freedom and salvation. He was born for you and me so that we might escape the limitations and disappointments of worldliness to a better life free from anguish and sorrow. Jesus was raised a Nazarene, so we could find ourselves one day to be citizens of heaven.  Isaiah 9:1-3:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 

Jesus had a very special calling and to fulfill it, His path led Him through Nazareth to learn and to grow. And, while our calling could never match His, we also have been given our paths in life. Some of us were born to privilege and some of us were born to struggle. Some of us found life easy while others found it hard and unforgiving. But, in a way, we have all been given our own Nazareth to live in and learn from and each path leads, eventually, to the same glorious place, though many lessons are to be learned along the way.

I believe Christ was to live in Nazareth as an example to all of us that no way is easy, not even the way of the Son of God. And, just like Jesus, He needed others to help Him along the way.

The things He would learn in Nazareth allowed Him to make His bigger mark in the world. Just like Jesus, we are to set out with the lessons we have learned, both good and bad, so that we might also make our mark as Christian believers in the world. I am convinced that nothing happens by accident. I was born and raised in Minot, North Dakota for a reason and I’m certain it was for more than learning how to live in cold. But if, one day, I am sent to save souls in Siberia, then I know I can do it well.

Embrace your own Nazareth. Look back to those places and events that shaped you to be who you are. Some memories will be joyful, others will fill you with pain and regret, but they can all serve for the greater good in the path God has set for you.

You don’t have to be Jesus the Nazarene, that parts already been accomplished, but you can be Corinne the Bellinghamite or Don the Lyndenite or Ron the Ferndalian. Spiritually grow where you have been planted. Use your own unique skills to continue the ministry that Jesus through the Holy Spirit has begun in you. In your own way you can be the rest of the story. May God use us all in exciting ways just like He used so many before us. Amen.

 

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