And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)
He shall be called a Nazarene. Why? What was point of this prophecy?
The origins of the specific prophecy have been debated. Nazarene shares consonantal sounds with the Hebrew word neṣer, meaning branch. While no direct reference can be cited for “He shall be called a Nazarene,” there are several pointing to a neṣer that was to come. Isaiah 11:1 is one of the more prominent: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Neṣer carries with it the connotation of an insignificant beginning. Surely this was the case for our Savior, born in a lowly manger to inconsequential parents. But Nazarene also could be a reference to the Nazirites, a devout group separated or consecrated for God. This too surely applies to our Messiah, the humble servant of God.
Our place of origin says something about who we are, and such is true of Jesus. It would be fitting that He grow up in a lowly–even despised–city such as Nazareth. Nazareth was the center of Roman power for the northern regions of Galilee, and so would be despised by the Jewish people. To be called a Nazarene would be similar to being labeled a traitor to your people, one who sympathizes with the enemy. It helps us understand Nathanael’s sarcastic remark, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” in John 1:46 and the reticence on behalf of the religious leaders and people to hear and accept the Good News of grace in Christ.
So Jesus appears on the scene of history and begins preaching a difficult message, a message contrary to the prevailing expectations about who the Messiah would be. He comes from lowly, inconsequential beginnings. He grew up in a despised town. Is it surprising that the people missed the message of hope? After all, can anything good come from Nazareth?
Have you missed it too? Sure, you know who Jesus is. You know what He did. You teach about Him. But do you know Him? Do you know the Neṣer of Jesse, who came to save a world that would despise Him? Are you chasing your own idea of who Jesus should be, rather than walking with Him as He is?
Published January 2012