Can Any Good Thing Come From Nazareth?

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
And Nathanael said unto him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Philip saith unto him, “Come and see” (John 1:45-46).

Location factors heavily into our assumptions and judgments about people. Imagine you are told about a group of people: one person grew up in Appalachia, another in Manhattan in New York City, another in south Alabama, another in Texas, another in Wisconsin, and another from rural Nevada. In all likelihood you have already come up with some concept of who these people are based on their location of origin and raising. Yes, there will be times when those assumptions will prove false, yet how much more often do they prove true?

This tendency is nothing new; it went on in first century Israel as well. People would be judged based upon whether they grew up in Judea, Samaria, or Galilee (cf. Acts 2:7), whether in more urbanized areas or more rural areas. And, then as now, the more remote and less urban the location, the more likely people were to look down on those who came from there.

So it is with Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee itself was seen as remote, away from the epicenter of Judaism in Jerusalem, not known for erudition or much civilization. Within Galilee itself, Nazareth barely registers, receiving no mention from Jewish sources before the third century of our era. This insignificance led some skeptics to doubt whether Nazareth existed at all in the first century CE, but archaeological evidence does indicate the place was inhabited. It is now believed that Nazareth was a village of no more than 500 in the days when Jesus grew up there. Nazareth is about 16 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee; it is not near the Mediterranean Sea and would not be on a lot of travel routes. It is evident why Nazareth would easily be despised in the eyes of others: it is in the backwoods or out in the sticks, a small village. In the eyes of more educated and urban Jews, the Nazarenes would have been judged as ignorant at best and perhaps as simple-minded sinners at worst.

Philip is a Galilean whom Jesus had called, hailing from Bethsaida on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:43-44). Based upon what he has seen and/or heard, he is immediately convinced regarding who Jesus is: he finds Nathanael and tells him how he has found the “him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote,” otherwise known as the Messiah, which was the hope of all Israel in these days. We can imagine how excited Nathanael would be at the prospect of meeting the One whom God had promised! And then Philip identifies who He is: Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:15).

For Philip, “of Nazareth” is not meant to be degrading or demeaning, but simply a way of identifying which Jesus is being described. Both “Jesus” and “Joseph” were quite popular names among the Jews of the first century; therefore, to say then that Jesus is the Messiah would likely prompt the response, “Which Jesus?”. “Jesus the son of Joseph” would likely accurately describe many other Jewish men of the day. Yet “Jesus of Nazareth” was unique: if nothing else, no other Jesus in Nazareth was known for doing anything that might make him to be considered a possible Messiah.

Nevertheless, all Nathanael now knows about Jesus is that his friend Philip thinks He is the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote in the Hebrew Bible, and that He is from Nazareth. And so he asks his famous question: can any good thing come out of Nazareth (John 1:46)?

Nathanael’s reaction is honest; perhaps such is what partly prompts Jesus’ declaration that Nathanael is an Israelite “in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). There is some dispute as to whether Nathanael asks the question on account of Nazareth’s relative insignificance or possibly because Nazareth has a reputation for sinfulness or immorality. The answer depends on whether “good thing” should be understood in a “moral” sense or in a more “qualitative” sense. He also might have the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem in view as well (cf. Micah 5:2, John 7:40-52): how can such a good thing as the Messiah come out of Nazareth or even Galilee, since the Messiah is to come from Bethlehem and ostensibly grow up in the environs of Jerusalem? Since we do not know a whole lot about Nazareth’s reputation in the first century, we cannot know for certain, but we can see clearly that Nathanael is judging the situation based upon the stereotype and/or geographic prejudice.

But Nathanael does not allow that prejudice to get in the way: he does not dismiss Philip’s claim out of hand, and he quickly ascertains how special Jesus is, to the point of making similar declarations regarding Him as Philip did (cf. John 1:47-51). Nathanael learned quickly that yes, a good thing can come from Nazareth; in fact, the greatest thing of all has come from Nazareth!

Nathanael’s story provides good reminders for us about judgment. It is easy to fall prey to snap judgments about people based upon many factors, including geography and the culture inherent in geography, but geography need not be destiny. It remains true that stereotypes exist for a reason, but not everyone fits the stereotype. Imagine if we had been in Nathanael’s place so long ago: if we strictly judged everyone by their place of origin, we would have rejected Jesus the Christ, confident in our misguided assumption that no good thing could come out of Nazareth. How terrible would have been our fate!

Jesus warns us about judgment (cf. Matthew 7:1-4), encouraging us not to judge by appearance but to render right judgment (John 7:24). We may not be able to resist every caricature or stereotype, but we have no right to condemn the lot of a group of people on account of superficial factors. Let us maintain a spirit like Nathanael’s, willing to judge on the merits and character of a person, and so honor and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Can Any Good Thing Come From Nazareth?

Mistakes

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake” (1 Samuel 26:21).

The quality of a person’s character is not nearly as visible in moments of success and exaltation as it is during moments of error, fault, and humiliation. If our efforts succeed, or if we are proven right about our view on some person, event, or other matter, we feel at least somewhat good about ourselves. But what will we do if we fail? What happens if events do not take place as we had thought, or if everything we thought about someone or something proves to be wrong? What then?

King Saul faced such a situation in 1 Samuel 26. He was convinced that David intended to kill him and his children so as to take over the throne over Israel. Therefore, he hotly pursued David in an attempt to kill him. David is given an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not do so, and publicly demonstrates this fact, showing that he had no intention of killing Saul (1 Samuel 26:4-20). Saul had been proven wrong. Faced with these circumstances, Saul was willing to humble himself publicly and declare his error. He admitted that he had sinned, acted foolishly, and had made a great mistake (1 Samuel 26:21). A good argument could be made that Saul was only putting on a show, and internally still wanted David, his rival, dead. We are not in Saul’s head; we cannot know for certain. Nevertheless, we can see that Saul was willing to at least profess that he had erred and was wrong.

Recently a gentleman made a prediction that the “rapture” would come on a certain day. He declared that the Bible guaranteed his prediction. And yet that day came and went. But did he admit that he was wrong? No; he would go on to declare that the day was “an invisible judgment day” involving a “spiritual judgment,” and expects the end of the world to come in a few months.

The assertion, no doubt, is quite ridiculous. It is quite evident that what was predicted did not happen. As opposed to just coming clean and admitting his error, however, he instead took the easy way out, attempting to dodge the force of the disappointment and the public humiliation and degradation he brought upon himself because of his previous proclamations.

Such disappointing behavior is not new or specific to that gentleman. If we are honest with ourselves, we can reflect upon many times in our own lives when we have been proven wrong but refused to admit it, or things have happened that do not fit into the way we see people or events and therefore have tried to dismiss it. The temptation is very strong to indulge in our own private fantasy land in which we are pretty much always right and very rarely wrong.

Yes, there are times when things may not be exactly as they seem– we might actually have a point, or our views, on the whole, are accurate. Yet the majority of the time we are being tempted to let our pride get in the way, since we always want to be right, and we never want to swallow the bitter pill of our own errors, insufficiencies, and weaknesses.

This is when we ought to remember the example of Saul: when confronted with evidence that shows us that we are wrong, it is always better to admit the error, confess the mistake, apologize, and move on. The bitterness of the humiliation during that painful moment is real, but to pile on error after error in order to justify the original error only extends that humiliation and directs us away from reality toward our idolatrous fantasy land. We must remember that the Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10, 1 Peter 5:5b-6).

It is always easier to duck and run from responsibility. Anyone can make a denial. It demands integrity in character to be willing to take up the courage to admit when we are wrong, to apologize, and to be willing to correct our views and actions accordingly. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it seems scary. Yes, it might mean that we have to entirely change the way we look at people and/or things. But is it not ultimately better to come to grips with reality than to believe the delusion and be condemned for it (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Let us be willing to to admit our mistakes and our error when it is exposed, as Saul did, and remain humble, so that the Lord may exalt us in due time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Mistakes

Jesus, Meek and Lowly

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Humility is a virtue to which society pays lip service but does not really value. People who exalt themselves get exalted. Aggressiveness and assertiveness, with some discretion, are better rewarded than humility. Humility is very often viewed as weakness.

This is not different from the first century (cf. Matthew 20:25), and this is precisely what makes Jesus’ humility all the more astounding. After all, if there ever were a man who could be justifiably arrogant, exalted, pompous, and the like, it would be Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14)! He had great power and spoke with authority (Mark 4:41, Matthew 7:28-29). He had twelve legions of angels at His disposal, if need be (cf. Matthew 26:53). Who else could boast of such things?

And yet Jesus does not boast. Instead, Jesus is meek and lowly. As if humbling Himself by taking on the form of a man was not enough, He also lives a humble life, proclaims humility, and dies a most humiliating death (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus provides the ultimate example of humility.

Jesus’ message was similarly unambiguous: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). Those who would follow Jesus must humble themselves if they desire to be saved (Matthew 18:4, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

What does this humility require? We must recognize, as uncomfortable as it may be, that we are no better or worse in the sight of God than anyone else (Romans 3:23, Galatians 3:28). We are not superior to anyone for any reason. We all have different talents and different levels of ability, but that is not reason for boasting or deprecation– instead, we are to work together to serve God with all our might, with each of us standing or falling before Jesus (Romans 12:3-8, 14:9-12, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

It is easy for us as believers in Christ to treat humility the same way the people of the world do: pay it lip service and go on as before. It is easier to maintain our old prejudices and to think rather highly of ourselves (cf. Galatians 6:3-5, James 1:22-25). It is easier to maintain the walls that we build around ourselves and justify our prejudices against those who are different from us for whatever reason, be it race, class, education level, form of employment, or even level of spiritual maturity.

Yet, when the disciple looks toward his Master, how can any such prejudice or arrogance be justified? If Jesus of Nazareth humiliated Himself by becoming a man and dying on a cross, how can any form of arrogance or high-mindedness be excused by a disciple of Christ? Who among us has ever been humbled, or ever could be humbled, as much as Jesus of Nazareth was humbled in His life and death?

Humility is a most challenging virtue– there are always temptations to exalt oneself or to denigrate others, and if one begins to think highly of one’s own humility, it is immediately lost! It is extremely uncomfortable to recognize that we are not better than anyone else. Even when we consider our own righteousness, we must remember that but by the grace of God we would be no better off than all of those “nasty sinners” out there, and God desires their salvation as much as our own (1 Timothy 2:4).

In the end, all we need to do is look toward Jesus, our example and model of humility, and realize that if He was able to humble Himself by becoming a man and dying for our sins, we also can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Let us humble ourselves so that we too may be exalted!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Meek and Lowly

What is Man?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

For generations man has looked upward toward the heavens and have marveled. The stars seem to go on forever! Not a few ancient cultures considered the moon to be divine. Many believed that the stars represented divinized ancestors. The night sky has always been a source of myths and wonder.

David also looked up into that night sky and marveled at the mighty hand of the One True God. That night sky caused him to reflect on his own existence and he is struck by his relative insignificance. He marvels that God would even give pause to consider such a little creature as man since He created such massive and distant objects.

That feeling is entirely understandable, and for many people, extremely uncomfortable. We do not like being reminded that we are insignificant and small– we like to think of ourselves as something significant, important, and meaningful, and have done so since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). But all it takes is one look back up into the heavens to bring us back down to earth. We are small. We are insignificant. We do not deserve the time or the attention of the most holy Creator of the universe.

And yet, as David understands, God has considered our estate. He has granted us glory and honor even though we do not deserve it. We have been given the opportunity to rule over the earth and all that lives in it (cf. Psalm 8:6-8). We have been made a little lower than God, having the ability to think and reason and create (cf. Genesis 1:27-28).

Unfortunately, sin has devastated that relationship and has marred our ways of thinking (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 5:12-18). Too many are willing to arrogate for themselves the position of the “greatest in all the universe” after attempting to remove God from the equation. As opposed to realizing how small and insignificant we are, and therefore to give thanks for the opportunity to even be recognized by God, too many are willing to stand and believe that they are the masters of the present universe and refuse to humble themselves.

The creation around us, however, manifests the power of its Creator, as David confesses here and Paul in Romans 1:19-20. We have not deserved any of the blessings God has given us– life, stature, salvation, and even association with Him (cf. Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:3). God has done all these things for His glory and His praise, and it is right to honor and glorify Him for His wonderful work. Let us remember who we are and praise the God who gave us life and stature!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What is Man?

The House of Mourning

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

The Bible exposes the vast gulf between the perspectives of human beings and God. Humans tend to focus on the short-term and that which seems beneficial in the short-term: pleasure is always preferable over pain, and that which is easy and comfortable is valued over what may be more difficult and painful. Humans also tend to forget that their perspective and views are limited and, to at least a small extent, self-delusional. God, as author of our present reality, takes the longer view, fully understanding the limitations of mankind. We always do well to learn more from Him.

This gulf is evident in the ways people look at feasting versus mourning. If you asked most people which was better, to go to the house of feasting or the house of mourning, the answer would be the former. Feasting is fun– it provides all kinds of short-term benefits, can allow one to at least temporarily forget the future, and to enjoy the good life for at least a little while.

The house of mourning, however, is much more painful and difficult. In the house of mourning, we must confront our own mortality. In the house of mourning, we come face to face with human limitation and weakness: we are not as strong as we would like to think we are, and there is not one person among us for whom it would be impossible to be dead in a matter of moments (cf. James 4:14). In the house of mourning, we have to come to grips with the pain of separation and losing those whom we know and/or love. In the house of mourning, all of our pretensions are stripped away from us. We can feel like Adam in the Garden, trying to hide his shame/nakedness from God (Genesis 3:8-10).

The house of mourning, therefore, is extremely uncomfortable. It is little wonder why many people avoid the house of mourning at all costs– it can really put a damper on the “good life”!

If we stop and think about it, however, we can see the wisdom in the words of the Preacher. Even though man has attempted to fend off his weakness and mortality for generations, man remains weak and mortal. And this creation, which God declared to be “very good,” (Genesis 1:31), has been corrupted by man’s sin (Romans 8:20-22). Therefore, this world is fundamentally in “dis-ease,” for things are not exactly right with the world. This world is not an easy and comfortable place.

Therefore, it is good for us to become uncomfortable with our present existence. It is not a bad thing for us when we are confronted with our own weakness and mortality. It is good to be reminded that we are as a vapor and will not last. The pain of separation, while difficult. reminds us that this world should not be our home (cf. Philippians 3:20-21, Hebrews 11:14-16).

Man in his arrogance and self-delusion attempted to build the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-4); Jesus, the God-man, in His humility and love died on a cross so that man could be reconciled with his God (Romans 5:1-11). Man, in his arrogance and self-delusion, thinks he is the greatest power in the universe and serves the works of his hands. God, in His love and mercy, created all things and has allowed us to participate with Him in His eternal plan in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:11). But we cannot participate in that plan while constantly living in the house of feasting– we must come to grips with the house of mourning and our own weaknesses and limitations. When we can learn the humility that comes from the awareness of our fragility and complete dependence on God, then we can become most effective servants of God for His Kingdom.

There is a time for the house of feasting and a time for the house of mourning, but indeed, it is better to go to the house of mourning. Let us come to terms with our own weakness and mortality, serve the Living God, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The House of Mourning