Reinventing yourself is one of the privileges of growing up. You don’t have to be the awkward adolescent with braces and a lazy eye forever. One day, the braces come off and the contact lenses go in, and you metamorphose. You leave that person behind – the loser, the dork, the late bloomer – and you become someone new.
We reinvent ourselves over and over, and with practice we do it better and better, except that every now and then there’s a reminder – a photograph, a memory, the liminal edge of a dream. We feel the ache of the forgotten person, and with it, the nagging sense that perhaps we haven’t reinvented ourselves, so much as hidden our truest selves.
Like Russian dolls stacked inside each other, we are every version of “self” we have ever been. Some of the dolls make us proud. They’re the faces we post on social media – throwback pics of the grinning track star or beaming bride. Some of the dolls aren’t so shiny, and these are the ones we bury. The quiet child who felt unseen by her parents. The insecure adolescent who was always small for his age. The kid from the broken home. The troubled teen.
Did you know Jesus had His own “skeletons” in the closet? They weren’t secret sins. They were just the true and embarrassing realities of His origin. Jesus came from Nazareth. Here in the 21st century, it’s an innocuous piece of information. But in Jesus’ time, it was the stigma He could never escape.
Why Was Nazareth Despised?
In John 1:46, when Philip rushes to tell Nathanael about “Jesus of Nazareth,” Nathanael infamously responds:
“Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
This is actually the only time in the gospels when a disciple refers to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth.” It’s a title Jesus Himself never uses throughout the gospels. In fact, barring this one instance, the only people in the gospels who refer to Christ as “Jesus of Nazareth” are skeptics, crowds, and demons.
They say things like, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” (Luke 4:34). When He’s killed on the cross, Pilate actually nails this inscription above Him: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
It’s not a title. It’s a taunt.
Nazareth was nowhere-ville. It was so insignificant the Old Testament never even mentions it. In fact, when the gospel writers finally mention “Nazareth,” they have to clarify that it’s a town in Galilee, because outside of Israel, no one had even heard of it (Matthew 2:23, Mark 1:9, Luke 1:26).
A few verses after Nathanael’s cringey question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus identifies Nathanael as a man without deceit. It’s a startling insight because it means Nathanael’s prejudice doesn’t stem from a hard heart. He was just stating the obvious. It was the commonly held belief of his day:
Nothing good comes out of Nazareth.
The Shame of Nazareth
Two thousand years later, we still believe it. We hide the embarrassing parts of our stories because surely nothing good can come out of them, right? Nothing good can come out of my failure as a parent. Nothing good can come out of the abuse, rejection, and shame of my past. Nothing good can come out of the greatest sorrows, injustices, and inadequacies of my life.
I love the way Philip answers Nathanael. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asks.
“Come and see,” Philip says.
It’s the shortest invitation ever issued, and yet it captures the scope of the entire gospel. COME. Get up and take a step of faith. Show up. God rewards those who seek Him, and if you seek Him, you will SEE Him (Jeremiah 29:13; I Chronicles 28:9). You will see who Jesus really is. You will see what Jesus can really do.
The Triumph of Nazareth
After the cross, everything changes. The moniker that once rank of obscurity now sings with glory. For Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the Savior of the world.
In Acts 2:22-24, we see Peter stand up at Pentecost and cry:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Later, Peter invokes the same name to heal a man born lame. “I have no silver and gold,” Peter says in Acts 3:6, “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
The name the demons once spat in derision, becomes the war cry of triumph. It is the name that overcomes death itself. The name by which we are healed, freed, and made whole.
Do you know Jesus of Nazareth?
He knows every single “Russian doll” version of you, from the beautiful to the broken. None of it scares Him. None of it disgusts Him. And if you doubt His ability to redeem the darkest parts of your story, then the only invitation you need to accept is the one Philip issued long ago. Can Jesus of Nazareth transform your life?
Come and see.
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