Thursday, December 4, 2014
how could anything good come out of nazareth?
If you were living in the 1st century and had a big plan to do something really great and important in the world, and were looking at all the cities and towns in the Middle East to use as your base of operations, the last place you would think of using was the village of Nazareth in Galilee.
Nazareth was a tiny village of no account at that time with probably only around a hundred people living in it. Nothing much was going on there. But just 5 miles away was the brand new Roman city of Sepphoris. Sepphoris had a population of 30,00 people, and had a Roman temple, Roman baths, paved streets, beautiful mosaics, and an amphitheater. Sepphoris was the place to be in Galilee. Nazareth was probably just a bedroom community to Sepphoris with all of its great opportunities for employment, commerce, culture, education, and recreation. Actually, it's quite possible that Joseph and a young Jesus would have worked in Sepphoris at some point. For they were tektons you see. Not just carpenters, but builders, who would have used wood and stone in their work. With a new city like Sepphoris being built, you can bet there would have been many opportunities for tektons - builders like Joseph and Jesus.
They have found remains of large homes and villas in Sepphoris that had marble pillars and beautiful mosaic floors. One of these floors has the wonderfully preserved image of a beautiful woman - it is called the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. In Nazareth on the other hand, most of the people who lived there had very small houses, and some of them even lived in caves. Some Bedouin shepherds still today live in caves during portions of the year, using them to guard and protect their sheep.
So Nazareth was a village of no account - literally. When Josephus, the great Jewish Roman Historian made a list of all the towns in Galilee, he didn't even mention Nazareth. And he was from Galillee! When the Hebrew Talmud listed 63 towns in the region of Galilee, it did not list Nazareth. This is an insignificant town of no account.
And you know what? That's just how God likes it. He loves to make something out of nothing. He loves to make alive those things that are dead.
That's why God sent the Angel Gabriel to the village of Nazareth, and not the big city of Sepphoris. To a poor young peasant girl named Mary, and a common blue collar laborer like Joseph.
So now, as we read the account of Jesus' birth in the Gospel of Luke - it begins with Nazareth. Sepphoris isn't even mentioned. It doesn't need to be. In Gods economy, the important places are the little podunk places like Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Capernaum, Bethany, and Emmaus. Those are the famous places now. Sepphoris is dead and gone. Only now are they beginning to excavate there, finding remnants of this formerly great and grand city. But most people have never heard of it. Nazareth is the important town in the region now. And all because of what God chose to do there - in sending His own Son to be conceived of a virgin named Mary, betrothed to a carpenter, a tekton, a builder named Joseph.
The root word for Nazareth is netzer - It means branch, root, or shoot. Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zechariah all used this word netzer as a symbol for Israel. When the Assyrians and later the Babylonians came to destroy Israel, they cut the nation of Israel down like a tree is cut down at the stump. But God promised through the prophets that a shoot from that old stump would grow back, and that Israel would be reborn.
That was the Hope of Israel - even in the tiny little village of Netzer-eth. Little did the people who first named the town know that the very Branch that was foretold by the prophets would grow up right underneath their very noses - right there in their own little town. He would grow up to be the Great King, not just the King of Israel, but the King of the whole universe.
Nazareth? How could anything good come out of Nazareth? Because it was God who did it. And it was something good alright - something really good. Something (and Someone) greater and grander than they could have ever imagined.