You know how every culture uses references and definitions that give words new meanings? In New Testament class in Seminary one of the most interesting lessons and exercises we had to do was to learn how word meanings change from century to century, and how new words emerge. Basically we studied how dictionaries are written. At the time, the concept of ‘writing a dictionary’ was foreign to me. What I learned is that most of the time the new words in dictionaries do not ‘drive’ word usage in the culture. Instead, word usage in culture ‘drives’ new words in dictionaries. Honestly, I had never given much thought to how dictionaries are written. (Of course that could be because I was asleep during sixth period English class when I was in 7th Grade!)
The Gospel writer for the book of Matthew in Matthew 2:23 (NKJV) wrote, “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Jesus was from Nazareth and that made Him a Nazarene. The interesting part of verse 23 is found in the last part of the verse when he said, “that is might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Why is that interesting?
There is no direct prophecy in the Old Testament stating the Messiah would be a Nazarene.
So, why did Matthew say there was?
While in today’s translations of scripture there is no direct prophetic reference to the Messiah being from Nazareth, there are language references Isaiah made (at least) twice in chapters 11, 53, and one was made by David in Psalm chapter 22 that described the characteristics of how the culture ‘described’ a Nazarene.
Isaiah 11:1 (NKJV)
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”
What the prophets DID say was that out of the house of Jesse (King David’s father) a BRANCH would grow. Jesus was born into the tribe of Judah, in the line of Jesse/David. That was an essential description in the Hebrew culture at the time it was written and at the time when Jesus was born.
Today Gentiles do not describe our characteristics based on who our ancestors are. I remember all but one of my great-grandparents. One died the year I was born, so I do not remember her. But I do not describe myself based on my family roots, even back three generations. At the time of Isaiah, David, and Jesus naming who your descendants are was essential. Matthew knew including that was important to the culture at the time. I believe it’s important to us today as well. It gives us history and context.
Likewise, in Isaiah 53, the prophet described what people thought about a Nazarene. They were not well thought of at the time Jesus was born. They were despised.
When Jesus’ disciple Philip wanted Nathanael to meet Jesus in John 1:45-46 (NKJV), we read, “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.”And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
The phrase, ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ pretty much says it all! It describes what the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53:3 (NKJV):
“He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
That’s because he was from Nazareth.
It also describes what King David wrote in Psalm 22:6-8 (NKJV),
“But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.
All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
The reference in verse eight uses the same words spoken by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders as they mocked Jesus in Matthew 27:43 (NKJV) when He was nailed to the cross, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”
Psalm 22 described Him. Matthew 27 also described Him.
The point is, the prophecies were fulfilled, but the word usage was different. In the Old Testament, the prophets described the Messiah as being from a specific branch, being despised, and being mocked. Jesus was from the branch of Jesse, and He was from the town of Nazareth, which was despised.
As I studied these passages, I realized that God knew all along (after all He is God) that Jesus would not be well received on earth. One big reason is because He was from Nazareth. From the very beginning, Jesus was fighting an uphill battle.
That did not deter Him.
We know from scripture (Luke 2:41-52) that when He was twelve years old, Jesus referred to ‘God as His Father.’
Jesus knew who He was. He was a Nazarene, despised and rejected. None of that mattered.
He was, is, and will forever BE the Son of the Most High God.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: meditate ON who you are.
As you go throughout your day, spend time meditating on who God called you to be. Regardless of your background, your perceived standing in life, your income, or your occupation, YOU are a child of the Most High God!
In Jesus of Nazareth, Deborah