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He Was Called a Nazarene (St. Matthew 2.13-23)

The Second Sunday after Christmas

“He Was Called a Nazarene”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

St. Matthew 2.13-23

03 January 2021

 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

The Christmas Gospel begins in humility: A virgin named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph; a rugged trip to Bethlehem for pregnant Mary to pay taxes; a birth in an animal stable; an unplanned escape from murderous Herod to Egypt; an exile in a foreign land; and a secret return to Nazareth in Galilee because of a murderous despot. All of this fulfills what was spoken by the prophets. We locate those prophecies easily in the Old Testament. But the very last verse of our text remains an enigma to this day because we cannot make the usual correspondence of chapter and verse from the Old Testament. We simply cannot find such a citation, and this has troubled biblical scholars for ages. Not much seems to fit linguistically.

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. [Matt. 2.23]

One searches vainly for a solution to the prophetic location for Matthew’s citation, even though Matthew says that Jesus being called a Nazarene is spoken by the prophets [plural]. But it seems to some scholars best to look at this not in geography but at our Lord’s utter humility..

Joseph intended to settle in Judea but an angel warned him in a dream not to settle there but in a town in Galilee. That was Nazareth, from which both Joseph and Mary came. Nazareth was a real backwater place. It was about as far from the center of political power as one could get in Israel. Today some would call it “fly over territory.” The town of Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament at all and that presents the problem of connecting this to any direct prophecy. Ironically, that tiny town still exists to this day in Israel.

Against all expectations the Christ was to come from such a place. Why? The prophet Isaiah comes to the rescue, not from chapter 11 but from chapter 53. [Is. 53.1-3].

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah paints a portrait of the Messiah who is utterly despised, even by his own townspeople. If Jesus had come from Bethlehem he could have boasted of his ancestor David—”house and lineage of David”—having been born in the clan’s city, Bethlehem. Yet, that does not happen.

That Nazareth was an unfavorable place is evident when Philip tells Nathanael that they had found the Messiah. Nathanael’s response says it all:

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1.46]

It was the kind of place that Jews laughed about. The Messiah wouldn’t come from such a place! Later on the followers of Jesus would be referred to as Nazarenes, a pejorative term for hayseeds, hicks, yokels, or worse. Perhaps we in Indiana have our own Nazareths to which we refer. Some in our state believe that Terre Haute is such a place.  The Elites in the power areas such as New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and others often speak contemptuously of people from the Midwest. In their eyes we are not sophisticated enough for them to think of us as having higher thoughts! Most of them have never been to our backwater towns and villages. The other week I was speaking to some of you and someone mentioned Worthington, Indiana, as a real “no place.” I replied that Worthington has a rather famous son. “Who?” you wanted to know. None could identify this famous son. It was Herbert O. Yardley who was the father of the first codebreaking organization in the United States, The Black Chamber, which would eventually become the National Security Agency, our nation’s Signals Intelligence agency. “What is more,” I said, “his mother lived on S. 24th St., not more than 5 blocks from our house.” Yardley worked in Terre Haute in his early years as a railroad telegrapher. He was considered a genius, and he was from a very humble town. Much of this information can be found in the Vigo County Historical Museum archives.

“He shall be called a Nazarene” should be understood by us as “He shall be despised,” just as Isaiah wrote. Even in his own hometown of Nazareth Jesus was despised. When he claimed to be the Messiah in a sermon in the synagog, the people became so enraged that they tried to thrown him over a cliff [Luke 4.16-30]. So much for being a home town hero! Throughout the Gospels we hear our Lord addressed as “Jesus of Nazareth,” by those seeking healing as well as those who opposed him, such as the demons he cast out. “Jesus of Nazareth” was not an honorific title nor simply a reference to his home, it was just the opposite. It was a title of contempt.

The contempt which the world has toward Jesus was on full display at our Lord’s arrest and trial. Those identified with this Jesus of Nazareth suffer the world’s derision. Witness Peter standing in the courtyard of the high priest and the maid identifies him,

“You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” (Mk 14:67).

Peter’s Galilean accent betrayed him. She might well have said, “You’re a hick from the sticks, too!” The Evangelist John records the inscription Pilate had placed on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” [John 19.18]. Ironically, could anything have been more accurate?

And yet this title “Jesus of Nazareth” became part of the announcement of our Lord’s victory. The angel at the tomb identifies him as the “Jesus of Nazareth” whom the women were seeking. Throughout the Book of Acts our Lord is identified as this Person. When Paul was brought before Felix to stand trial he was accused of connection with this Nazarene, clearly a derogatory charge. Those who followed Jesus were derided by calling them a “sect of the Nazarenes” [Acts 24.5]. When our Lord confronted Paul on the Damascus road, calling him to faith, Luke records Paul’s account of the incident:

And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 22.8]

“Despised, rejected by men” is what Isaiah wrote. Being labeled the Nazarene means those who confess him as the Christ will be despised and very likely persecuted. So you heard in our Epistle reading:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. . . 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. [1 Peter 4.12-17, 19]

God the Holy Spirit has made you a follower of Christ. You have been baptized into his death and resurrection. The disciple is not above his Master. If they have done these things to Christ, they will do them to you. Your life under the cross is a call to live in humility and to give a wide berth to the world’s glory. That glory is passing away! The “Woke” crowd lives in utter darkness. They speak contemptuously of Christians as naive fools, Nazarenes, if you will. So the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are indeed “fools for Christ’s sake.” [1 Cor. 4.10]. He says further to the Corinthians:

We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. [1Cor. 4.13]

I firmly believe that we shall see some sort of further persecution in our land because we are identified with this Nazarene. Even now reports of the persecutions of Christ’s disciples throughout the world increase. Nigeria witnesses the mass slaughter of Christians often. Intolerance is the standard operating principle of the Woke crowd. Many in our nation have been on the receiving end of their animus.

Yet, there is good news because this Jesus continues as our “Immanuel,” God-with-us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He continues to come to us in humble, despised things: the Word, water, bread and wine, these things which even many Christians consider nothing but symbols or empty acts. Some who call themselves Christians say that nothing good comes from Word and Sacrament because they are offended by these humble means. Yet, Christ’s Word holds true and always will. Your Almighty Savior accompanies these common things to bring you, forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.

To him belong all the kingdoms of this world, including our own nation. The rulers of this world, the Psalmist reminds us, will die. We should not put our trust in them [Psalm 146]. The Holy Spirit calls us to put our trust in the humble things he has chosen, Word and Sacrament, not in the flashy, trendy things the world follows. God has never worked through such things to bring about his kingdom. He has never been impressed by numbers nor public opinion. He chose a humble Virgin to be the mother of the Christ. Our Lord was born in a stable, not in a king’s palace. He pursued no political power but proclaimed that God’s kingdom doesn’t belong this present age. He was shamefully treated and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Yet, through this humility, this “Nazareneness,” came his exaltation, that is, his mighty resurrection from the grave, his ascension to the right hand of the Father where he controls all things for the benefit of his holy Bride, the Church. And he will come again to our earth in glory to judge the living and the dead, ushering in the fullness of his eternal kingdom. And we shall be partakers of that glory.

But for the present time we live in humility, experiencing the world’s hatred. Luther’s words of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God seem particularly appropriate:

The Word they still shall let remain

Nor any thanks have for it;

He’s by our side upon the plain

With His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life,

Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone,

Our vict’ry has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth. [LSB 656.4]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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