Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:19–23
The root word for nursery is obviously ‘nurse’. It refers to someone who looks after or watches over something. Broadly, a nursery is any place where something is bred, nourished or fostered. For children, a nursery is a facility that watches over pre-school children. For plants, a nursery is a place where plants are propagated and grown to usable size. This message will look at how young things or young children, tender and fragile as they are, are cared for and prepared.
The understanding of a nursery will set the scene and the tone for this study. We can ask ourselves the following questions: Which nursery, pre-school or childcare centre did Jesus go to as a toddler? Was He home-schooled? How was He raised and prepared for His assignment? What was the environment, exposure and experience of Jesus in His growing up years?
Observations and Context
Overview of Matthew 1 and 2
The Matthew 2:19–23 passage ends the entire introduction of the Messiah by Matthew. Matthew 1:1-17 we are presented with the ‘Genealogy of Jesus’. Matthew 1:18-25 we read about the ‘Birth of Jesus’ and Matthew 2:1-23 gives us a record of the early years of Jesus from toddler to nursery age. The next time we read about Jesus in Matthew 3, we are introduced to Jesus as a full-grown adult being launched into ministry. We have to factor in a 20-year gap or so in the life of Jesus.
The last verses of Matthew 2 are also like a third part of a miniseries from Matthew 2:13-23. These 3 portions should be read and studied together. However, we have split them up to get into more detail. In Part 1, Jesus was taken into Egypt and we are told that He would be later taken out of Egypt, but it does not happen yet. Meanwhile, Part 2 features a scene back in Israel, where babies are being killed (cross reference to Matthew 2:13 “for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him”). In Part 3, Jesus returns to Israel (cross reference to Matthew 2:25 “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”) which fulfills Biblical prophecy.
Whilst verses 19-22 provide the context, verse 23 is the key verse that is the focus of this study. It shows us a prophecy that is fulfilled in that point in time. The context shows us Joseph’s obedience and concern. As Joseph beholds, awakens and arises, and obediently comes back into the land of Israel, he has concerns of the danger that awaits him, the threat in the region of Judea, that is Archelaus.
Archelaus had as bad a reputation as his father of being brutal and cruel, if not worse. After Herod died, Archelaus was given half of the kingdom (an ethnarch) and he ruled it with an iron fist. The other part of the kingdom was given to Herod Antipas and Herod Philip (they were called tetrarchs). After nine years, he was removed by Caesar, causing Judea to become a Roman province administered by Rome. The Herod that reigned during Jesus’ ministry was not Herod Archelaus but Herod Antipas, the one who looked after the region of Galilee. In this context we also discover God’s direction and protection through another dream, warning Joseph not to go into the region of Judea. Joseph instead finds himself in a place in lower Galilee in this place called Nazareth. In this context we also see God’s foreknowledge in play again, using Joseph’s emotion and concern to fulfill prophecy. This further magnifies God’s sovereignty and control over all, however we feel and whatever we do. The focal point of this study is in verse 23: “And he came and dwelled in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
At this point of the study, let’s focus on Nazareth. Jerusalem and Bethlehem are very close together, but as Joseph brings the family out of Egypt, he does not stop there but detours and goes up further north to Nazareth, a city in lower Galilee. It is south of Cana, not far from Mt Tabor, with a population of about 3,000 inhabitants. It is a place that abounds with brushwood and shrubs. For that reason, Nazareth gets its name from ‘netzer’ – the Hebrew word for a branch or a shoot.
Nazareth was also a military post, with soldiers living in the region. Bars and prostitution must have been commonplace, making it a town of loose morals and ill-repute. The locals would also trade with the Roman conquerors, bringing about a culture that is frowned upon. Galilee is also known as Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15). Its location is part of the main trade route where people outside of Israel enter to do business; and they end up staying there as immigrants. All these factors contribute to Nazareth being a place that is not well-respected. It is at the bottom of socio-economic scale and became a household name for anything to be despised or scorned. If the word Nazarene was used on someone, it was a term of insult. We get a hint of this in John 1:46, where Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, when he was being introduced to Jesus. Nazareth became the symbol of lowliness and humility and rejection.
Joseph was directed to bring his family back to this place in Nazareth. Let’s consider how Matthew 2:23 was a prophetic fulfillment. This prophecy is said to be taken from a collective reference of prophets; and is not a direct Old Testament quote from any particular prophet. In other words, various prophets would have something that alludes to this phrase, and as a collection of references, Matthew states that this is fulfilling all that they have said. What then did these prophets declare about the Messiah? Let’s look at 4 things about the Messiah that have been grouped according to the prophecies.
For the first declaration, the Messiah would be one that would bring about new hope and new life. A young shoot or plant that is coming up will be green and fresh, full of life and with a newness of hope that is coming forth. In Isaiah 4:2, the prophet declares, “In that day the Branch (Nazareth and Nazarene means branch) of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious; and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped.” This was a prophecy that speaks of a coming time where there will be a branch that brings hope. This was because Israel in the prophecies were always spoken of as being taken out of the land.
In Isaiah 11:1 the prophet says, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Here a Branch is mentioned as coming out from the stem or stump (NIV) of Jesse. In other words, this tree has been cut off, it is a stump and looks like it is dead already. However, once again there is a promise and a hope that life is coming. A branch will come out of this stump, this is an allusion to the Messiah.
The next declaration that calls for our attention is the rule and the reign of the Messiah, because the word ‘Rod’ in Isaiah 11.1 is symbolic of a scepter. The word ‘Rod’ can also be symbolic of a branch. This scepter will come out, this King and His rule will come out of the stump of Jesse, the son of David. This Branch will grow out of His roots. And how will He rule and reign? As we read onwards in Isaiah 11:2 “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” He will rule by the power of the Holy Spirit. He will be anointed with the Spirit of God. He will also rule with righteousness. Isaiah 11:4-5 reads, “But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.” This scepter is one of righteousness. The prophet Jeremiah says the same thing in Jeremiah 23:5-6, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness (YHWH Tsidkenu).”
A few chapters down in Jeremiah 33:15-16, he repeats it, “In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” In the OT, we will always see these two words going hand in hand – Salvation and Righteousness. We are unrighteous and we have to be saved into the righteousness of God. We would need to have His Righteousness placed upon us, and because we are people saved by Him, we now live by His ways in Righteousness. We cannot divorce these two words.
Zechariah says the same thing in Zechariah 3:8, “Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch.” This Branch will not only rule and reign, He also plays the role of a priest as spoken in Zechariah 6:12–13, “…Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch. From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord ; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord . He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” As such, this Branch is not an ordinary branch, this is a picture of the Messiah.
There is also another aspect of the Messiah which is about coverage and extent. In Zechariah 6:12, the prophet declares “…Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch. From His place He shall branch out…”. If we have seen a picture of a branch, it looks like a map, with tributaries and little lanes reaching out. From His throne and rule, this kingdom will branch out. There will be coverage and extent that will be far-reaching, covering the earth as the waters cover the seas. We have the same kind of picture as we read Genesis 49:22, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall.” He does not stay where He is, His branches will reach out and be a blessing to the people out there – the King and His kingdom.
The last declaration of the Messiah is about His fruitfulness, which is something very close to God’s heartbeat. In Isaiah 5, God will pronounce against Israel that they have been an unfruitful vine, when they were supposed to bear fruit to His glory. But the Messiah that comes as that Branch will be a fruitful vine. In Genesis 49:22, we read that “Joseph is a fruitful bough…by the well”. He is planted by streams of water, which is the picture of the Holy Spirit. He draws from the water and will be fruitful. He reaches out and the impact of His kingdom and the King would be experienced and tasted by all.
From Matthew 2:23, we see these 4 aspects of the Messiah and the declaration of their fulfillment. However, before we start celebrating the Lord’s Name as Jesus the Nazareth, we must be aware that it is a term of insult and contempt. In Mark 14:67, a servant girl says to Peter, who is watching Jesus on trial from afar, “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.” It is as if she identifies Jesus as a ‘scumbag’, so Peter must be a ‘scumbag’ too. In John 18:5,7, the soldiers entered the Garden of Gethsemane to seek for ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a title not to be revered but is something repulsive to these people. In John 19;19, we see Pilot finally allowing Jesus to be crucified, sentencing him to death. Only criminals are ‘worthy’ of such an execution, and the charge or their crime against them was written on a board and nailed over them. This is so that everyone around them can see the crime for which they are being punished. Pilot writes ‘Jesus Of Nazareth. King Of The Jews’, accusing him of being the lowest of the low (Nazareth) when he is trying to be the highest of the high. This is the picture of Jesus of Nazareth.
In Isaiah 53:3, we see that, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” In Psalm 22:6–8, a Messianic declaration reads, “But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.” Jesus of Nazareth was similarly despised and scorned.
The early believers were also given negative labels. The first of which we see in Acts 11:26, where the disciples in Antioch were first called ‘Christians’. At that time, this was a derogatory term that literally meant ‘followers of the Christ’ or those belonging to the Christ. As Christ was crucified, rejected and despised, His followers were looked upon like ‘the crazy ones’. They were also called ‘People of the Way’ because Jesus said “I am the Way”, and they were following that Way. They received the same scorn and the same insult.
The next description of the church, we see labelled on to Paul, where Tertullus made a speech to Felix, accusing Paul as ‘the leader of the Nazarene Sect’. These were not good names. Are labels being given to Christians today? If we take a stand for some issue, we may be called bigots or intolerant. We are called arrogant for our claim that we are the only one who know the way to the Father. We are called hypocrites and judgmental. Anything that we say out of love, the world takes it as hate-speech.
When ISIS went into Iraq, they spray painted the sign of the Arabic letter ‘nun’, the mark of the Nazarene, on the homes of Iraqi Christians. This is not a good thing, because it indicates that in this house there are people who follow the Nazarene. The threat is either they convert or they get ready to meet their Maker. If we want to follow Jesus in our day and age, we must be prepared for any or every eventuality and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, this letter ‘nun’ is the 14th letter of Semitic Abjads (writing systems). As we end with this last word called the Nazarene, it hearkens to how Matthew grouped the genealogy into groups of 14 generations, and how 14 is the number of David (4 + 6 + 4). Is this God’s little hint for us that everything falls into place? Even Jesus being called a Nazarene has a number 14 for him.
Jesus as a Nazarene returns to Israel. How did He grow up and how did He prepare? He was put into Nazareth, a military outpost and a place of loose morals filled with Gentiles. He worked with His Father as a carpenter. That was His training ground from His nursery days to adulthood. All those silent years in between, God was quietly training His Son through the place of Nazareth, and around Galilee.
Jesus had many assignments lined up for Him. But He too went through a process of alignment for His assignments. God allowed Him to come in the frailty of humanity, to grow up in that system – to observe, to be exposed, to experience, to grow up, to learn and understand and to get to know people. The Nazarene went to nursery.
It is important to examine ourselves as we ask God for our kingdom assignments. At times, we may miss the significance of the things we go through, and the experiences that the Lord allows us. The following are notes that can help us apply to our own lives. God might want to use us to impact someone else in their experience and discovery of their assignments.
The Critical Need for Spiritual Parenting
Our government is in a rush to build more childcare centres, because they want to make it easier for mothers to get back to work, and entice couples to have more children. However, they cannot find good teachers. The problem is that more people are farming out their children for others to look after. Let us not miss the spiritual parallel here. We must recover and bring back spiritual parenting. We cannot afford to farm our children out and hope for people to spiritual parent them. Are we doing what the Lord wants us to do? Look at Jesus’ parents. Joseph was a carpenter; a blue-collared worker and Mary was a young stay-at-home mother. We have already seen that they were Godly parents and great examples, both sensitive to God’s voice and His word. They exemplified simple faith, they showed trust, had devotion for the Lord and moved with immediate obedience. They lived out Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses said you will teach your children, and they taught Jesus.
We need spiritual parents and disciple makers today, to fulfill this assignment. We need to have capacity and the desire to sow into the lives of the next generation. Our children need us. Our young people need us. Archippus Awakening seeks to move into this quickly and more intentionally. When we meet up with others, have meals together and serve with each other, that is where discipleship takes place. Are we walking with someone else, or just walking for ourselves, and in it for ourselves?
Rooted in the Word: The Critical Need for God’s Word
The religious leaders may have known the Word but were largely indifferent to the Word. They searched the Scriptures for eternal life but missed the One who is eternal life Himself. As a young Jewish boy, Jesus would have learnt and memorised the Torah by a very early age. His very first test after being sent into assignment would involve the Word the God. If we desire to be on assignment for the kingdom, are we aligned and equipped with the Word of God?
Bible study sessions are good but it cannot replace the personal encounter with the Living Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that brings the Word alive. God’s work must be done God’s ways, according to God’s word. There is no shortcut. Today we hardly see Bibles being carried, most are carrying digital Bibles. When we cannot find Bible verses, we google them or we use the search function. One day if we are stranded without Wifi, where then is our spiritual Wifi to the Holy Spirit? Do we know the Word or not? Today we do not preach from the word, we preach around it. People are weak because they do not know the Word. We will get more deeply into this point when we study the testing of Jesus in the wilderness.
Places of Insignificance and Hiddenness
The third point of Jesus’ upbringing in His nursery days as a Nazarene, is that He was placed in a place of insignificance and hiddenness. Young shoots must be nurtured and grown for them to be strong. Too much sunlight and heat can kill a young shoot. Similarly, too much attention, limelight and exposure can kill us. The truth is that our immaturity and pride cannot handle it. Young Christians who are eager, talented and on fire may not be ready. They need a place of insignificance and hiddenness so that they can grow well and be strengthened until the right time for them to be assigned.
Joseph might have been thinking that since Herod was dead, he should bring Jesus back to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel where the seat of power is. Especially since Jesus was going to be the King of the Jews. We may want our ‘Jerusalems’. But God may need us to be in Nazareth first. At times we may even desire a Bethlehem over a Nazareth. It is next to Jerusalem, with a better district, and closer to where the action is. God may still want us to be in a place of insignificance for a season.
Some real-life examples are like working in a big company as opposed to starting out on your own, and you suddenly find no one gives you the time of day. Or being a pastor in a church, as opposed to being called out to start your own ministry. The Lord wants us to learn insignificance and hiddenness. Let’s look at our Biblical giants – Joseph was taken into prison, Moses was driven into the wilderness, David hid in caves and Paul, after his encounter with Jesus, went into the desert. This is where we will struggle with identity, with significance, with who we are and what we crave for. However, this is where we learn reliance, trust and submission. This is where we will learn to hear the voice of God.
When all things are around for us, we do not have to listen to God. When all things are prepared for us, we do not have to wait upon Him. We just have to wait for someone to tell us to do something and we will be alright. However, there is a season where we must learn to appreciate the tasks that are menial, the unseen tears, the quiet obedience, being totally unnoticed and unappreciated. That is the season of preparation. We cannot experience this, until we go through it ourselves. Take the example of mothers and caregivers who stay at home and no one looks at them. Many women who make the transition from the corporate world struggle with this because they used to call the shots. However, now when they are at home the baby calls the shots. God may want us in hiddenness and insignificance because he may be preparing us for something.
When we are down and out, needy, and helpless and we are wondering what is happening. God has you in the right place. The questions we will need to ask ourselves is: Will we be faithful in this season? Will we be faithful in the small things? Will we be like Jesus who had to simply hammer nails into furniture, clean the shavings off the floor, or pack up the tools after Joseph had finished the day? Our Messiah did all these.
Environment and Experiences
Our experiences and environment prepare us for our assignments. Jesus grew up in an environment of lowliness and humility and He could identify quickly and readily with the brokenness and oppression of the people. He spoke their language, felt their pain and sensed their struggles. In recent years the complaints against the government and our ministers is that they are all scholars and they do not understand, they have to come and mingle with the people. Jesus mingled with the people and he could understand them. He saw the soldiers, the prostitutes and the poor. He saw their oppression and their injustice. Whatever our exposure, God can use these for His glory. Not everyone is called to minister to prostitutes, or drug addicts, or the divorcees, or LGBTs. However, we can each be used to reach those we understand best, because we have gone through the same experiences, struggles and brokenness. God will heal us and use us. Be aware of what is around us and what has God brought us through previously. Nothing is wasted with God.
Scorn and Shame
If we have not been put down or betrayed, at times, it is hard to fully identify with Jesus and appreciate what He went through for us. All we have is theory and a bunch of nice principles. But when we go through our times of hurt and pain, and we cling to Scriptures, that is when you begin to appreciate what the Lord went through for us and we can draw strength from His example. If we are struggling make use of this situation and do not waste it. If we have a wrong perspective we might waste it. As we cling to Scripture, that is when He ministers to us and we grow stronger in Him, that is if we do not allow our own hearts to be hardened. In turn, our hearts become softened towards others, especially if we are going through a similar journey or situation, and we become less legalistic and judgmental towards others. To be broken and brought low is all a part of the process of growth. In the kingdom economy, the way down is the only way up. That is what it means to “die”, when we realise all we have is the life of Jesus, and Christ is enough – our all in all. We either humble ourselves or we are humbled by God. Humility is a good thing because it is then we have the right perspective of ourselves and of others. Humility is not about pushing ourselves down. God exalts the humble but resists the proud.
It was shared earlier that Israel was an unfruitful vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). That is why God had to raise Jesus who identifies with Israel as the New Israel, and is called the Branch. From 1 Corinthians 15:20, we learn that Jesus was not only the Branch but also the first fruit. This Branch bore fruit. That He is the first to be raised from the grave, and was raised on the day where they celebrated the Feast of First fruits. 7 weeks later, on Shavuot called Feast of Weeks, Jesus then brought in the harvest of 3000 souls on the day of Pentecost. Jesus was fruitful as the Branch. Jesus now calls us the branches, and He is the Vine (John 15:1-15). As He was fruitful, we are expected to be fruitful. As He fulfilled His assignments, we go fulfill our assignments. The idea of finishing our assignments is not that it is a task that is done but that it bears fruit. If we understand assignments and alignment, we want to be abiding in Jesus. He says in John 15:5, “…apart from Me you can do nothing”. To do nothing means we cannot bear fruit. In fact, we can do a lot of things, but those things will not be fruitful. As we look at Jesus raised up and prepared for His assignment, He was fruitful. We too desire to be fruitful. No point being leafy but fruitless. We can look good, big and bushy, but when people look in, there is just no fruit. We are alerted that fruitful branches will be pruned, so that they will bear more fruit. Finally we will bear much fruit that it brings the Father glory. If we want to glorify the Father, bear fruit. Similarly, we must be warned that unfruitful branches are broken off and cast into the fire.
A new thing springs forth (Isaiah 43:18)
The last note is about hope and springing forth (like the Branch). The key scripture verse is Isaiah 43:18–19, “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
We can be encouraged that all hope is found in Jesus Christ. When all hope seemed lost for Israel, God brought forth a new Branch in Jesus, from the stump of Jesse. Whatever we are going through, however dry it might appear to be, God is able to bring new life out something that seems dead or hopeless. As we are recounting and looking back at our experiences, this point is to remind us not to allow the things of old to hold us back. Remember that our exposure, our experience, our hiddenness, our rejection and our pain – God can take these and use them for His assignments. But if we keep looking back and reflect and are stuck in there, then we are not going anywhere. Which is why in Isaiah 43:18, God says, “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.” There are times where God requires us to reflect so that we do not make the same mistake. However, in this passage God is saying do not get stuck because He has already moved on. There is a new Shoot that is springing forth, a new Branch that is coming out already. In our hearts He has placed a new hope and new assignments and new tasks. Stop saying that we are not good enough, stop saying I have failed before because in Christ all things are possible now. There is a new beginning and the Bible tells us it is NOW. Now it shall spring forth. It is now.
Be careful of the comfort zone, some of us stay in the comfort zone. Joseph with his family could have stayed on and settled in Egypt and enrolled in a Nursery by the Nile. He could be concerned about not losing his space by the Nile. But there are times God will uproot us for His purposes because a new thing is springing forth. Are we ready for it?
As we look back, learn to look ahead. As we review our experiences and exposures, ask God how we can use these for His glory. Whether positive or negative, these could be preparing us for our assignments. As we want to be on assignment for the Lord, we may be discovering that insults, betrayals and disappointments are to be expected. Do not hope to serve in the church and hope that no one is going to offend us. We need to know this so that we do not try to please men or gain their approval. Seek to please God. Walk with someone, or have someone walk with us because spiritual parenting is so important. Be content with insignificance and hiddenness. It is only for a season. Use the time to ground ourselves in the Word of God. Use the time to be faithful in the small things. Be ready to be uprooted anytime. God is always doing a new thing.