God Grew Up in a Forgotten Town

The Old Testament never mentioned Nazareth.

How remarkable that our Lord, being fully God and perfect man, didn’t make for the big city first chance he got, or insist he dwell where all the action was. Rather, he gave nearly the entirety of his life and public ministry not grasping for Jerusalem, but humbling himself in Galilee — in a man-forsaken town called Nazareth.

 

The Old Testament never mentioned Nazareth.

Think of all the genealogies and historical accounts, and what seems, at least to us today, like unusual attention to land, geography, and place. So many proper names — and not one single mention of a rustic settlement tucked away in a region known for its obscurity.

Nazareth was an uncelebrated, forgotten town, off the beaten path, even for Galilee. When guileless Nathanael queried a friend about Jesus, he expressed the common Jewish sentiment in the first century (John 1:46): Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Yet here in this sleepy town, his father’s and mother’s story began, and returned. They were Nazarenes. And it was only a matter of time before it would be the moniker that his enemies, and the demons besides, would use to throw shade on his credibility.

“Jesus of Nazareth.”

Thirty Years in Obscurity

His parents came to Bethlehem as census travelers. He was born in noble Bethlehem, but this is not where they would stay. Mary and Joseph returned to their hometown (Matthew 2:23). And after they took their child up to Jerusalem to dedicate him, “they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” (Luke 2:39).

So also, after his memorable visit to the temple at age 12, Luke tells us Jesus “went down from Jerusalem” with his parents. Indeed he did. To leave Jerusalem was to “go down” — not just geographically but socially. And yet, as a glimpse into the self-emptying pattern of his incarnation, the Son of God “went down with them and came to Nazareth” (Luke 2:51).

Outside the New Testament references, we know very little, if anything reliable, about ancient Nazareth — because it was so obscure. Eminent first-century figures didn’t know or speak much about it, at least not in prominent enough publications to be preserved.

Still, in God’s wise, world-shaming plan for his Son, part of his life of humility, and submission to his parents, was leaving the buzzing, big-city temple, the very nexus of the nation’s activity and excitement, and “going down” to small-town Nazareth, to live thirty years in obscurity. Here he would remain until John the Baptist’s arrest (Matthew 4:13). And Nazareth not only meant a more out-of-the-way, rural, even backwater life than “up” in Jerusalem, but “Nazarene” would be a stigma he would carry the rest of his life.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

‘They Came to Nazareth’

Among Jews, Nazareth’s reputation was poor enough, but outside Israel, the town wasn’t even known. Which is why each of the Gospel writers had to explain what Nazareth was — a town in Galilee — when they first mentioned it (Matthew 2:23Mark 1:9Luke 1:26).

Today we sing about the little town of Bethlehem, but Bethlehem, humble as it was compared to Jerusalem, had a name that dwarfed Nazareth’s. Bethlehem was a city, with a history, and at that, “the city of David.” Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

During his earthly life, so far as we know, Jesus never self-identified as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Only rarely did his followers call him that (John 1:45). Typically, it was crowds unfamiliar with him (Matthew 21:1126:71Mark 10:47Luke 18:37). Or his foes: demons (Mark 1:24Luke 4:34), false witnesses (Acts 6:14), and the soldiers who came with the traitor to arrest him (John 18:57). And while many despised him for his hometown, even his fellow Nazarenes soon rejected him, drove him out of town, and threatened to throw him off the cliff (Luke 4:28–30).

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