Message preached on Sunday, March 15th
LAYOVER IN NAZARETH
When we came to Lucknow in 1974, it wasn’t easy to travel South. Twice a week, a bogey was attached to a train that went from Gorakhpur (Eastern UP) to Gwalior (MP). Sometime after midnight, when the train reached Jhansi, the bogey would get detached and wait for another slow train going from Delhi to Madras. It took a long time for us to reach Madras this way. But Roshini and I preferred to do it this way, instead of getting off at Jhansi, waiting for a few hours on a platform, and then going through the hassles of boarding a fast train going south. We preferred to do our layover sleeping in the compartment instead of doing it on a station platform. Layovers are not very pleasant.
When our Lord came on His mission to Planet Earth, He had a 30 years’ long layover in Nazareth.
Sometimes people describe some places as “God-forsaken.” They are not really God-forsaken, but that is an expression people use to indicate that the place is absolutely bad and hopeless. We try very hard to not have to live in such places. Those in the South think that the North is a terrible place to live in. People in UP think Bihar is worse.
The place that Jesus did His layover was like that. It was sort of God-forsaken. That region was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matt.4:15). That’s like saying that it was outside the Covenant of God.
And in Galilee, Nazareth itself was a tiny village of about 35 families living on approximately 2.5 hectares (according to Dr Stephen Pfann of Jerusalem’s Centre for the Study of Early Christianity http://www.uhl.ac/nazareth.html)
If each family had plots of equal size, they would each have had about 7,700 square feet. Our home in Lucknow is on 1800 square feet. Thus the Nazareth plots were approximately four and a quarter times larger than our middle class city homes. The entire village was not more than one block in one of our Indian cities. That is how small and inconsequential the village was where Jesus spent most of His life.
Matthew said in his gospel that when Joseph and Mary returned from Egypt, because son of the Herod who tried to kill Jesus was king after the cruel Herod, the Great, they went to live in Nazareth. But he also added that the behind-the-scene reason for going to Nazareth was to fulfill the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. On cross checking it will be discovered that there are no prophecies that say that specifically.
The term “Nazarene” was obviously a derogatory term. Like calling someone “illiterate villager”. Matthew may have been referring to the prophecies that said that the Messiah would be despised:
But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! (Ps. 22:6, NLT)
He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care (Isa.53:3, NLT)
When Phillip told Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah and that he was Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel is famous for his response, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:45-46).
God on a mission, and yet had layover in Nazareth for 30 years. What happened? Was that according to plan or was that a diversion? But Nazareth was not the sort of place one could have a decent diversion.
One family that I know, decided to buy air tickets on a low cost airline. They got tickets to London at half the usual cost. After they did the journey, they swore that they would never do that again. They had a 20 hours’ layover in Moscow—and that too in the days when the Soviet Union was there with all of its restrictiveness. Everyone who heard of what had happened to them, were sorry for them.
The layover in Nazareth was worse—at least by our assessment. What a dreary place to be stuck in! And in a period when modern facilities and amusements were not there. At least if the layover was in a place and time when fantastic things happened!
The thing that happened during Christ’s layover of 30 years was that He learnt obedience. The first twelve years after His birth are summarized in just two verses:
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him (Lk.2:39-40)
There’s no record of the first word said, the first step taken, or the first tooth that fell out. No record of His Bar Mitzvah. Though Jesus was the one and only Son of God, there are no records of His life having been out of the ordinary. It was an ordinary life.
Three things marked His early life: he grew strong, he was filled with wisdom and God’s grace was evident in His life. These were not special blessings. After His birth there were no miraculous signs surrounding His life. He was just an ordinary boy living a life of ordinariness. By the way, parents, these are the things you should ask God for your children: a strong physical constitution, a sharp mind and evidence of God’s grace in your child’s life. Not wealth or position. They do not define your child’s personality or character. But if they have health, wisdom and grace through life, they can go through life with peace in their hearts.
An Escapade at Twelve
At the age of twelve, Jesus had a minor escapade (Lk.2:41-52). For eleven years, Mary and Joseph had been taking their family up to Jerusalem for the Passover. All those years, Jesus had gone with them and come back with them. But when He reached the age of 12, He stayed on in Jerusalem without telling His parents. On their part, Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus, knowing the routine, was with the Nazareth group when they started back. Probably when travelling together in a band, kids played with friends along the way and it was only when nightfall came that they returned to their own family’s sleeping arrangements. Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus missing only at the end of the day. They had to wait till daybreak to retrace their steps because it wasn’t safe to travel after sundown. Scripture tells us that they found Jesus after three days. They didn’t imagine that Jesus would be in the Temple. They just assumed that He was lost having wandered off to take in the sights at Jerusalem during the Passover season. The Temple was the last place they looked in and there He was among the teachers. What was astonishing was that the boy was holding His own among those old scholars:
They found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers (vv.46-47, NASU)
He was listening to them intently, asking intelligent, challenging questions, explaining His own point of view and answering the questions raised about His viewpoint. In a word, Jesus was insightful about God’s Word.
Mary reacted on the spot. She scolded Jesus. She asked Him,
My son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you (v.48, GNB).
Though He was God Almighty, this public reprimand didn’t annoy Him. He answered gently that they should have known where He would be:
Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house? (v.49)
Christ’s answer was puzzling to Mary and Joseph. For 12 years there had been no signs of divinity in His life. Possibly, they had dismissed their angel visits as fantasies of their imagination. Or, maybe they thought that God had changed His mind about Jesus. They just couldn’t understand what Jesus meant when He said that He had to be in His Father’s house. They didn’t argue with Him, they just took Him home.
As with His life from birth to the age of 12, about His life from 12 to 30 years is described in just two verses:
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (vv. 51-52, NASU).
The King James Version describes what Jesus did more actively: He was “subject” to them. All the other modern translations use the word “obedient.” But the word “subject” has a stronger connotation. It suggests that one is “under” another. It says that one is “ruled” by another. It is a word that implies subordination. You must remember that this is the Creator God who is being subject to creatures made by Him. How awesome and incredible!
Luke said that while Jesus manifested physical strength, wisdom and the grace of God during the years before He was 12 years old, after this episode of the boy Jesus asserting His independence, there was another aspect of growth that was added to His life. He began to grow in the area of relating to people. Until 12 Jesus was just a boy. He was not expected to get along with grownups. He just had to be a boy and spend His time like all children learning things and playing games.
When Jesus returned with His parents, that phase of His earthly life was over. He was the eldest son. He had to be taught a trade to be able to earn a living. And so Jesus started to learn carpentry from His father Joseph. He came to be known “the carpenter’s son” (Matt.13:55).
At some point of time, Joseph died and Jesus Himself came to be known as the carpenter (Mk.6:3). Mary learnt to depend on Him, like she had depended on Joseph while he was alive. That is why, when the wine ran out at her friend’s wedding in Cana, Mary expected Jesus to fix the problem (Jn.2:3).
Imagine that! The Creator of the worlds, spent 18 years in His earthly father’s shop learning to make poor people’s furniture and farm tools. Nobody from palaces of kings and governors or the large houses of nobility came to their shop to place orders for drawing room furniture. If we were living then, we wouldn’t buy furniture made in the shop that Joseph and Jesus ran. If God was on a mission, surely making crude furniture was a waste of time, we would think.
All of us have a bit of a “do you know who I am attitude”. What Christ’s layover in Nazareth teaches us is the importance of learning subordination from Him. We need to learn humility from the Lord Jesus. Subordination is very hard. Two thousand years after Jesus subordinated Himself to His parents and later on also washed His disciples’ feet, we still have trouble following Him down this path. Almost all of the troubles among Christians can be traced to an inability to subordinate oneself.
Layovers are tiresome and annoying. But our Lord was willing to take a layover and spent that time learning. It will do good to our ego. We will learn subordination while we wait for God to say, “Your time to work for me starts now.”