Nazareth, the Place God Left
The atmosphere was electric with expectation the day Jesus returned to His home town. The whole surrounding region was alive with talk of His extraordinary powers and now He was back, in their own synagogue. Every eye followed closely as He took up the scroll to read from Isaiah. Every ear strained not to miss a word. Every heart beat in excited anticipation of what would surely be a day to long remember.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
The passage was a familiar one but what He said next was unheard of. “This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In their hearts many knew it was true. There was an air of authority in His manner and graciousness in His way of talking that surely only God’s Spirit could endow. Others, however, scoffed. “He is only the carpenter’s son for I know his family. Does he think he’s someone special coming here and preaching as if he were different to us?”
“Even so, they say He has the power to heal and to perform signs” others said. “He has done so in the other towns and He will surely do even more wonderful works here in Nazareth. He owes us that as His home town. After all, His heritage is here. We are the ones who have nurtured Him and provided Him with shelter all the years He was growing up. Our traditions are His traditions. We are not like the other towns because He belongs to us.”
And on that point all agreed.
But the people of Nazareth did not see what they wanted that day. Instead, Jesus offended them by revealing their unbelief and reminding them of times in Israel’s history when God had sent prophets to the gentiles to perform miracles. Enraged at His audacity the townspeople turned on Him, physically forcing Him to a cliff face with the intention of pushing Him over and stoning Him.
And there Jesus did show them a miracle. He passed through the middle of them, unseen, untouched. And so He left them.
Some of us have passed through Nazareth denominations on our spiritual journeys. You know the places: there’s a strong emphasis on tradition and a ‘we have need of nothing’ atmosphere. Ritual and form are sacred and there is an unspoken culture of entitlement due to heritage and history. External things like costume, ceremony and buildings have replaced the glory of God and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, but no-one seems to have noticed that God has come and gone. Having not found a suitable resting place with them, He has passed through their midst, barely noticed.
Personally, I’d rather not be found anywhere God has left.
Capernaum, the Place God Visited
Jesus was welcome in Capernaum. He delivered the Word of God with authority, with signs following, and the people loved it. He taught in the synagogue on the Sabbaths and received the sick and the demon possessed, laying hands on and healing them. Capernaum had never witnessed anything like it.
“We are not like Nazareth” said the people. “Here we have done all in our power to make this prophet welcome. We have opened up our pulpit to Him and listened intently to the word He brings us. The people have flocked to Him and great signs have been done among us. Surely we have provided everything He needs and He will stay and make His home with us.”
But soon came a day when Jesus withdrew Himself from them to prepare for the next stage of His journey. Capernaum also had not proved to be the place He sought. The townspeople found Him, and begged Him not to leave them. They held on to Him, crying, pleading with Him, asking what more they could do to make Him stay forever with them.
But Jesus remained steadfast and set His face. Speaking of a Kingdom, He moved on.
Many of us have also spent our fair share of time among the ‘signs and wonders’ crowd. The placard out the front might say “in our umpteenth week of revival” but the atmosphere inside is more hype than heavenly. Apostle or Prophet so and so resides over a loyal army of ‘switched on’ followers who just know they are not like the other denominations because they’ve managed to bottle God and now they are marketing Him for all they’re worth. God did perhaps come and visit them once and even stayed for a while, but He soon got tired of being loved for what He can do instead of who He is, and He moved on out. When they finally noticed He wasn’t there any more they didn’t follow Him. They just tried to keep Him in the place they themselves knew and felt comfortable.
I’d rather be on the lonely road with Jesus than living in a place He once visited.
Bethany, the Place God Called Home
It was neither Nazareth or Capernaum, but Bethany, a small village located just outside Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, that was to become the closest thing to a home on earth for Jesus. Bethany was the place He returned to again and again, a place He lodged and rested, a place He dined, a place where He could freely relax among those closest to Him.
From Bethany He rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, fulfilling the ancient prophecy: “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9). At Bethany He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, foreshadowing His own imminent resurrection. In Bethany He was anointed for burial. And from Bethany He ascended to the Father.
Bethany represents the Kingdom. It’s the place Jesus is comfortable, the place He can be more than a prophet, more than a healer, more than a teacher, and more than a miracle-maker. At Bethany, Jesus is King without any conditions. Bethany is also the place the Bride is warmly welcomed by the Beloved, pouring out her fragrant oil on Him (Mark 14:3-9)
Christ’s Kingdom is not the church, nor is the Kingdom divided into denominations, movements or networks. The Kingdom is far greater than all these. The Kingdom makes room for and is bestowed on all those who truly seek the living Christ. It’s where Heaven meets earth. I’d rather seek the Kingdom first.