Church of the Nazarene
Matthew 2: He shall be called a Nazarene
I like to think about the little mysteries of the Bible and Matthew’s comment that Joseph’s moving his family to the town of Nazareth, thus making Jesus a “Nazarene” is a fulfillment of prophecy is one such mystery. There’s no record of such a prophecy being stated, yet Matthew seems quite confident that pointing his readers to this is yet another proof of the Messiah-ship of Jesus. I’ve found a couple of explanations to this. Some people think it has to do with the similarity of “Nazarene” to a Hebrew word meaning “Branch.” Use of that term is found in the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. It has to do with the Messiah’s being a descendent of David. The other idea has to do with the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s being despised and rejected. The connection is that Nazareth is considered to be a backward, unimportant place that could only produce backward, unimportant people. There’s a danger in overstating the standing (or lack there-of) of Nazareth here. It’s not as though it’s thought of as a bad place. It’s more of a “no place” than it’s a “bad place.” From the point of view of the religious scholars of that day, Nazareth and a hundred other small towns don’t qualify as a place worthy of consideration. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be overlooked and rejected…a sort of “Nazarene.” Whatever the answer to this little riddle, Matthew thinks it should help people decide, along with the rest of his Gospel, that Jesus, is, indeed, the Messiah of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to solve every mystery of the Bible, sometimes they just add a bit of spice to our study of it.
Back to the future
Micah 5: Bethlehem…from you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel.
It becomes quite clear to anyone who reads through the Old Testament prophets that speaking of future events is not their job one. Most often they focus on current events, calling people to a genuine walk with God and to living just lives as his people. However, once in a while, they’re given pretty specific insights into God’s plans. You might say that they get a glimpse of the future – not as though the future is out there to be seen if you just know how, but that the Lord shares some specific part of his intentions. As Micah describes God’s plan to remake his people he gets a glimpse of the coming shepherd-leader and realizes he will come from David’s home town of Bethlehem. In the years to come, that little revelation will grow large in the minds of God’s people. And well it should, this is something concrete, a test to be applied in identifying the Messiah. Meanwhile, Micah doesn’t dwell on this juicy bit of revelation and moves on to describe the ministry of the One sent from God. Clearly, there’s a lot to think about as I read things like this but today I’m simply reminded that God doesn’t do stuff by accident. In this passage, we find the Lord planning 700 years into the future where he intends to do something connected to an event just as distant in the past. That is, he plans for the Messiah to be born in the town where the greatest King of Israel’s history was born. The Lord not only has specific plans for the future but he also has the heart of a poet in those plans.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t do things by accident.
Looking upward, seeing hope
Ezekiel 17: I, God, made the great tree small and the small tree great.
The prophet pictures the monarchy of Judah as a majestic cedar; a strong, enduring fixture on the landscape. Then the imagery changes and Judah is seen as a fruitful vine, not as majestic as before, but now under the dominion of Babylon and transplanted there. Ezekiel says that in rebelling against Babylon this “fruitful vine” will also be uprooted and then allowed to die out. It seems that this is just another gloom and doom message. That’s just what it is until we reach the final paragraph of the chapter. The illustration appears to leave us with a destroyed Judah, with no leadership, rejected by God. Then Ezekiel adds a new dimension to his illustration. Once again we find ourselves looking at a mighty cedar. This time, God, personally, takes a cutting from the very crown of the tree. The great tree will be destroyed, but out of that cutting a new monarchy, a new King, will rise to lead Judah. This new cedar will be the greatest of all. Ezekiel has given us a parable of the Messiah. This Chosen One will rise out of the line of David, but will rule as none of the old line ever ruled. He’ll be King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Take Away: The Lord always keeps his promises.
God’s plan all along
Isaiah 53: Still, it’s what God had in mind all along.
The accuracy of Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant must have amazed the writers of the gospels. They wrote of something they had seen with their own eyes, yet their words mirror that which Isaiah saw only by faith hundreds of years earlier. However, Isaiah doesn’t only tell us of the sufferings of the Messiah. He tells us why it happened. God planned it. What happens at Calvary isn’t something that’s “done to Jesus.” Instead, it’s something that Jesus “does for us.” The Lord knew that we’d never just “get over” sin. He knew that the broken relationship between us and him was broken beyond that which could be repaired by some minor patch up job. There was only one hope of redemption and that hope was that the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, would carry our sins even to the grave. It’s what God had in mind all along.
Take Away: There was only one way to salvation and Jesus, through the cross, provided that way for all.
God’s plan: my hope
Isaiah 53: We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
No one has to convince Isaiah that his people are sinners. There’s ample evidence of that. Also, no one has to convince him that sin brings death; it’s everywhere. What he needs help with is a way back out of this mess. They’re lost to the point of having no hope of returning. The way back has to be provided by God, Himself. So how can a righteous God redeem an unrighteous people? The answer is in this powerful chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy. The horrible sins of his nation will be gathered up and put on the shoulders of the holy Suffering Servant. Their sins will become his sins and as the meek lamb being sacrificed in their rituals symbolically dies for their sins, he’ll literally give his all to restore them to God. God’s plan: my hope. The message of salvation was desperately needed by those of Isaiah’s day and it’s just as necessary today. The wonderful thing is that it’s all true. In spite of my sin, my rebellion, and my “wandering off” God is providing a way back through Jesus Christ.
Take Away: God’s plan: my hope.
Preview of the crucifixion
Isaiah 53: It was our sins that did that to him.
The prophet’s description of future events is as powerful a passage as there is in the Bible. His words are so clear that we tend to just “blend” them in with the contemporary accounts from the Gospels of the crucifixion of Jesus as though Isaiah is another Gospel writer. This, though, is an amazing description of an event hundreds of years before it happens. What a picture it is: God’s chosen one, the Savior, being brutalized; ripped and torn and crushed. Isaiah’s description causes us to wince and maybe to turn the page to something else. However, if the picture of horror he paints for us is greatly disturbing, the reason for it is even more disturbing. The Messiah, our Hope, is suffering in this horrible way for our sins: for my sins. As hymn writer John S. B. Monsell put it, “My sins, my sins…oh how sad on Thee they fall.” Isaiah saw it in all its terribleness. He also recognized it for what it was. Our sins, my sins, are the reason for it all.
Take Away: Why did Jesus suffer as he did? For an answer, look in a mirror.
A strange way to save the world
Isaiah 53: Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
If the pages leading up to this portion of Isaiah contain “dual prophecy” — that is, messages that apply to Isaiah’s current situation but will also speak to some future event as well — this portion of his writings abandon all but the future. It’s the Messiah who’s clearly before the prophet now. What he sees amazes him. He knows God is showing him the promised Savior but in this vision the Savior looks nothing like anyone thinks he should look. The Man he sees writhes in agony and suffers a horrible death. Knowing the hearts of sinful man, the Lord shows Isaiah how a perfectly holy Man will be rejected and mistreated. Even with that knowledge, the Messiah will be sent to save us, not by crushing our enemies, but by allowing himself to be crushed. The words of Mark Lowry’s Christmas classic echo the words of Isaiah, “this is such a strange way to save the world.”
Take Away: Christ conquers sin, not by crushing enemies, but by being crushed.
Isaiah 49: Even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you — never.
The prophet describes the glorious reign of the Messiah, looking not only to his distant future, but to ours as well. The work of the Messiah isn’t only to provide salvation to the people of Israel, but to bring, in his words, “global salvation.” Of course, that’s good news for me, since I’m on the “global” side of the equation. Isaiah envisions some of his fellow Israelites looking at their current situation and thinking that God has forgotten them. Their lives are anything but glorious and, while they want to hear this good news, they can’t get their hearts around it. To them, Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget her own child? God has been Father and Mother to us and he hasn’t forgotten us.” Israel has messed up in every way and her sin has had real, and painful, consequences. In the darkness of those consequences she feels forsaken and forgotten. But it isn’t so. God reaches out to them with the compassion of a mother nursing her infant. Israel isn’t the only one who’s messed up. The world is filled with people who’ve had far more failures than successes in their moral lives. Does this describe you? If so, the message of this passage isn’t just for ancient Israelites; it’s God’s word to you, today.
Take Away: The Lord reaches out to us with the compassion of a mother reaching out for her infant child.
Being reconnected to God
Isaiah 49: I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me.
The man of God looks to the coming of the Messiah and his words are filled with hope. The Promised One’s coming will impact lives as nothing else could. The broken relationship that exists between the Creator and the Creation will be repaired as God comes to us in the Messiah. The greatest need of humanity is that this broken relationship be repaired. Everything that’s messed up about us is messed up because we’ve become disconnected from the Source of Life. The solution isn’t that we try harder, or figure out how to fix things, or somehow appease the Lord. While being forgiven of our sins and receiving the promise of heaven is a part of God’s intention for us, it’s only a part. We’re created to live in fellowship with God and that fellowship is broken. We broke it and in so doing, broke ourselves. Only he can provide a solution to this problem. When I receive this “Re-connecter” into my heart, cooperate with him day by day, and let him do his work in my life his mission is being completed in me.
Take Away: We’re created to live in fellowship with the Lord.
The great Deliverer
Isaiah 42: He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work — to set things right on earth.
Even as Isaiah writes words of comfort to those banished from Jerusalem by the crushing might of Babylon, he looks forward to a great day of deliverance. “One day,” he promises, “God will send the ultimate Deliverer, his prized Servant, to the world. He’ll do an even greater thing than bringing a scattered people back to their homeland.” Isaiah looks to the coming of the Messiah, a man filled with the Spirit who’ll “set everything right.” One day, in Isaiah’s distant future, a man will be baptized and God’s voice will be heard proclaiming, “This is my Son.” Here we see that proclamation being foretold as the Lord declares through Isaiah, “He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.” The prophet doesn’t have all the details. In fact, it’s unlikely that he has a vision of Calvary or of the empty tomb of Easter. Isaiah doesn’t see a cross, but he does see a Messiah. This Promised One will overcome every hindrance to accomplish his work. That’s just what happens when even a cross can’t stop this Servant of God. Know what? Neither can he be stopped by the seeming insurmountable obstacles of the world today. We Christians need to remember this and join the Messiah’s mission. Followers of his don’t sit around wringing their hands while lamenting the state of things. This Messiah won’t quit until things are set “right on earth.” That’s our mission as well as our hope.
Take Away: It’s not that there aren’t any challenges because there are. Still, the fact remains that the Son of God will, without question accomplish his mission of redemption.