Monday, January 28, 2008


Our tour group from Texas visited Nazareth this weekend, and I’m always amazed at the changing nature of the city. We visited a remarkable Christian site called “The Nazareth Village” which is a recreated Biblical village that portrays what buildings looked like and how people lived and dressed during the time of Jesus. It was well researched and presented in an interesting and educational way.
In the New Testament, Nazareth is the place of two earth-shattering announcements – one private and one public. First when a young virgin girl named Mary was visited and given an announcement by the angel Gabriel. She heard the announcement that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah. That was such an important announcement that there is a huge Catholic Church built over Mary’s home called The Church of the Annunciation (the white building in the background of this photo).
The second big announcement was made publicly and it never resulted in a large church being built. It happened in Jesus’ home synagogue of Nazareth, when a 30-year-old homegrown carpenter, and a son of a carpenter, made a sensational announcement to the people who had know them for most of his life. At this time, Nazareth had a population of about 400, so everyone knew Jesus.
He had already been traveling around doing a little teaching and there was even word that He had done a few miracles in Capernaum. His family and friends were anxious to hear gossip about what He had been doing.
Jesus was invited to teach that day. As is the custom to this day, He stood to read a section from the scroll of Isaiah. When the Torah or Prophets were read, the members of the synagogue stood (that’s one reason we stand to read the scriptures at our church). Jesus chose this particular passage from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then He rolled up the scroll and gave it to the attendant and sat down to teach. (The older I get the more I enjoy sitting on a stool to teach sometimes – hey, it’s the way Jesus taught at His church!) He didn’t beat around the bush with a few jokes or promote an upcoming trip to Jerusalem. Instead He made an announcement – and it was a bombshell: “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE IS FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.” Only eight words in English, but those words shook the world. Every good Jew knew that the prophecy in Isaiah 61 was for the MESSIAH only. And hometown boy Jesus simply says, “Today (not next week, or next year) this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Meaning; “Pay attention, I have a very important ANNOUNCEMENT: I AM THE MESSIAH.” (mumble, mumble, mumble among the synagogue crowd).
At first the audience wasn’t too upset because they thought surely Jesus was just trying to get their attention, but the more He talked, the angrier they became. Jesus went on to make the revolutionary, blasphemous claim that the God of Israel also wanted GENTILES in His family. Jesus used two illustrations. One, during the famine when Elijah was God’s man, there were many Jewish widows in need of food, but God sent Elijah to a GENTILE widow – the widow of Zarephath in Sidon (mumble, mumble mumble within the crowd). Then Jesus said that during the ministry of Elisha there were many JEWS suffering from leprosy, but God chose to cleanse only one – Naaman the Syrian.
At this point, the crowd grew furious and rushed upon Jesus, grabbed Him, and they planned to throw Him off a cliff and stone Him on the spot. But it wasn’t the right time, nor the right mode for Jesus to die, so He just walked through the mob and walked away from Nazareth.
Today, Nazareth is a teeming city of almost 100,000 people. It is the largest Israeli Arab city in Israel – yes, there are Israeli Arab citizens (in fact 17% of Israel’s population are Arab). For much of its history since the resettlement, Nazareth has been a stronghold for Christians in Israel (3% of Israel’s population are Arab Christians.). About 20 years ago, Nazareth’s population consisted of 70% Christian and 30% Muslim). Today the ratio is reversed with Nazareth having a population of 66% Muslim and 33% Christian (the 2006 photo shows Muslims in daily prayer in front of the Church of the Annunciation).
It’s worse in Bethlehem – only 20 years ago Bethlehem would have been 90% Christian and 10% Muslim. Today you’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find 5% Christians in Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is within the Palestinian-controlled territory, the persecution and removal of Christians has been deliberate and often brutal. Lands belonging to Christians for generations were “claimed” by the Palestinians.
It’s sad to see how the Muslims are replacing Christians and taking over Nazareth as they did Bethlehem. In answer to the question of this blog: IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ANYTHING IS GOING TO COME OUT OF NAZARETH IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
But the good news is that something good HAS come out of Nazareth – actually Someone good! Jesus Christ. Once a teacher asked Jesus, “Good teacher ….?” Before Jesus answered his question, He had one of His own. “Why do you call me GOOD? There is none GOOD but God.”
Indeed, Jesus is GOOD because He is God! Pray for the Christians in Nazareth as they deal with the encroaching spread of Islam in their city.