KNU International English Church
December 30, 2007
Sometimes people say that we need to read the Old Testament “through the lens” of the New Testament. But I think the opposite is more often true. We need to read the New Testament “through the lens” of the Old Testament. We need to interpret the New Testament in the light of what the Old Testament says. We will only understand the New Testament when we really understand the Old Testament and ancient Jewish culture. Today’s text in Matthew 2 is a perfect example of this.
We’ve been talking for all of December about how the Jewish people longed for a Messiah. For most of their history, the Jews seemed to be at the bottom of the food chain. Sure they had their moments of glory: Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and a few others. But for the most part they were small, struggling to survive, oppressed or on the verge of being oppressed.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, they maintained hope. They maintained hope because the prophets delivered messages from God. These messages were that God would fulfill his original promise to his “chosen people:” “I will bless you, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (See Genesis 12:1-3.)
The prophets got pretty creative when they described this Messiah. They used many different images to explain the Messiah, but they used one that is particularly important for us today because it is used in Matthew 2. The Messiah would be a Branch (in Hebrew Nazar). The prophets expressed this image using various words: branch, shoot, root, sprout, young plant. But the idea was always the same. The Jewish people were a small plant, and God would make a new leader (a Branch, a Nazar) grow up to give healing and justice and righteousness to God’s people. And this Branch, this Nazar, would draw together people from all over the world.
Listen to the words of the prophets:
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. …
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people …12 He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of
2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 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. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. …
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
6 Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal
10 This is what the Lord says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of
14 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of
So the Messiah would be a Branch, a Nazar, who would grow “out of dry ground,” from the most unexpected place. The Messiah would be a “tender green shoot,” just a little twig, a baby Branch, at the beginning. The Messiah would grow up out of a “stump,” a people who have been cut down like a tree. The Messiah would be shamed and rejected, yet he would come to a people who were shamed and rejected. The Branch would bring them healing and justice and peace, and not only them. This Messiah Branch, the Nazar, would be a gathering point for the nations, where everyone would receive healing and peace and glory and righteousness all together.
The Jews who kept the faith believed in this Branch, the Nazar. They held out hope for the Nazar. At some unknown time in
But this little town of
When we read Matthew 2 in this context, through this “lens,” Matthew’s words start to make sense. Listen to the end of Matthew chapter 2:
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in
21 So Joseph got up and returned to the
Matthew seems to be saying, Jesus is the Messiah, the Branch, the Nazar, so God sent him to live in
Jesus was forever known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus the Nazarene. The first Christians were called “the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
“Can anything good come from
Jesus is the living Branch. Jesus is the Nazar, the Nazarene. Jesus is the one who brings greatness from smallness. Jesus is the one who brings honor out of shame. Jesus is the tender, baby Branch, who grew into a great tree giving life and healing to the world.
But this word, nazar, is used in one more way in the Old Testament. It’s quite amazing really. See if you can catch the meaning. In Isaiah 60, God says these words to his people:
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. …
15 Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. …
21 Then will all your people be righteous, and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot [the nazar] I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.
22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.
Who is the nazar in this passage? The people are the “shoot,” the nazar, God has planted, the work of God’s hands, to show God’s goodness to the world. When the Branch comes, his people will be little branches. The Messiah’s people will be like little Messiah’s. They will become a blessing to the world to show God’s goodness to the world.
Hmm, that sounds like what Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit,” (John 15:5).
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to follow Jesus the Nazarene? It means to be a Nazarene. (No, I’m not saying that every Christian needs to be a member of the Church of the Nazarene or that only Nazarenes are Christians, although I’d say that’s a good way to go.)
Being a Christian means living like Jesus the Nazarene. Being a Christian means being nazar-like. Being a Christian means being living proof that hope and healing can come in the most unlikely places. Being a Christian is helping God bring life out of dry ground. Being a Christian means never giving up hope on anyone. Being a Christian means bringing honor to those who are shamed. Being a Christian means following Jesus into the Nazareths of our world and finding the rejected outcasts and bringing them acceptance and new life.
Being a Christian means giving up on being cool, letting popularity go by the wayside, forgetting about being successful or powerful, not worrying about becoming rich, letting go of fashion. Being a Christian means claiming our spot with the weak and broken. Being a Christian means accepting that we are also the broken down stumps and dry ground out of which God has brought life. Being a Christian means accepting shame and humiliation and outsider-ness and littleness as a part of the process of the Branch coming to produce fruit in our lives, because the Branch, the Nazar, grows in
Church, let’s follow Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s be a true church of Jesus the Nazarene. Let’s show his compassion and healing and humility to our world.
I have to be honest with you, though. It will take a miracle for us to fulfill this calling. The truth is that we are not very Nazar-like. We are rich. We are proud. We are selfish. We are addicted to fashion, addicted to success, and addicted to our stuff. You might even call us “dry ground” for this kind of Nazar mission.
But the Nazar is all about. The Nazar, Jesus the Nazarene, grows out of dry ground and gives hope to the world through dry ground people. Be encouraged. Jesus, the life-giving Nazar, can grow in the most unlikely of places, even here. And the “tender green shoot” has already begun to sprout among us.
[[By the way, one resource I found very helpful for this sermon was "Nazareth and the Branch" by Dennis Bratcher.]]