Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at the 2014 SBC
Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland on Wednesday, June 11,
Christians around the world are changing their social media
avatars to the arabic letter "n." In so doing, these Christians are
reminding others around them to pray, and to stand in solidarity
with believers in Iraq who are being driven from their homes, and from their country, by Islamic militants. The Arabic letter comes from the mark the ISIS militants are placing on the homes of known Christians. "N" is for "Nazarene," those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps it's a good time to reflect on why Nazareth matters, to all of us. The truth that our Lord is a Nazarene is a sign to us of both the rooted locality and the global solidarity of the church.
Jesus is from somewhere. Yes, the eternal Son of God
transcends time and space. He was with the Father and the Spirit
in love and glory "before the world was" (Jn. 17:5). But in his
Incarnation, Jesus identified with a tribe, with a genealogy, with
He "went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was
spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: 'He shall be called a
Nazarene" (Matt. 2:23). Some of Jesus' contemporaries rejected
him because of where he was from. Nathaniel infamously asked
Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46).
His question is entirely sensible. Nazareth was a powerless
backwater, not the sort of urban, elite center that we are told
drives cultural change. Philip's response wasn't an argument
about Nazareth; it was simply to say, "Come and see."
For some, the issue wasn't just Nazareth particularly but
rootedness itself. "But we know where this man comes from, and
when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes
from" (Jn. 7:27). They were quite mistaken. It is "the Beast"
who is from nowhere, "rising out of the sea" (Rev. 13:1),
representing humanity in its origins-denying self-exaltation
(Rev. 13:18). Our Lord Jesus, on the other hand, is from "the
land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations" (Isa. 9:1). We
know where this man is from.
Nazareth, though, reminds us that God's purposes are global,
transcending our tribal and national categories. When Jesus
preached in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he was
received with joy and awe, until he told his fellow villagers that
they really didn't understand what he was saying. Jesus
demonstrated that God's purposes had always gone "outside the
camp." He showed how God had raised a Gentile woman's son,
and healed a Syrian leper. (Lk. 4:24-27). In Nazareth, Jesus was
setting the stage for the Great Commission, as the Spirit drove
the church to all of the nations (Acts 1).
God embedded us with a need to love home. When that's absent
what fills its place is pride and ingratitude, as though we came
from no one and we are dependent upon no one. When a
hurricane warning is issued for south Florida, I pay attention.
But when one is issued for the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, my
hometown, I'm riveted. That's the way it's supposed to be.
In Christ, we have been brought into the life of Jesus. We are
hidden with him, joined to him as a body to a head (Col. 3: Eph.
5). This means that, in a very real sense, Nazareth is our
hometown. We belong to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to Nazareth.
We are connected then to everyone who is also in Christ, not
simply because we believe the same things but because we
belong to the same Body.
We are "one new man," and "fellow citizens with the saints, and
members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:15, 19). That's why
Christians in America and Australia and Nigeria ought to care,
and to pray fervently, for persecuted Christians in Iraq, in Sudan,
and everywhere else in the world where they are endangered.
The Islamic militants mean it for evil when they mark homes
with "N" for "Nazarene." They assume it's an insult, an emblem
of shame. Others once thought that of the cross. But in that
intended slight, we are reminded of who we are, and why we
belong to one another, across the barriers of space and time and
language and nationality. We are Christians. We are citizens of
the New Jerusalem. We are Nazarenes all.
The church may be hounded and jailed and even crucified. But
the church can never be beheaded. The Head of the Church is
alive, and engaged, and on his way back. In the meantime, there
will always be those who will ask, "Can any good thing come
out of Nazareth?" Our answer, from now until the Eastern skies
explode should be simple: "Come and see."