(This article was to be the first in a series, but, due to ill health, brother Flanigan was unable to continue.)
JESUS OF NAZARETH
The names and titles of the Saviour are legion, and every single one is needed to portray in some little measure the greatness, grace, and glory of His Person and work. It was this greatness that caused Isaac Watts to write:
Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That mortals ever knew,
That angels ever bore;
All are too mean to speak His worth,
Too mean to set our Saviour forth.
This lovely title has rightly earned a place in the affections of the Lord’s people and has been enshrined in many of their well-known hymns. It is a title which is used in such a variety of circumstances, being found some 20 times in the New Testament, 13 times in the Gospels and 7 times in the Acts of the Apostles, including that one occasion where it is rendered "Jesus Christ of Nazareth" Acts 3.6. In these references it is used in connection with our Lord’s humility, His Deity, His ministry, His agony, and His glory.
Paul writes, "He humbled Himself" Phil.2.8, and a large part of that humbling was His choosing to be brought up in Nazareth, Lk.4.16. Nazareth is a mean town in lower Galilee, about 70 miles north of Jerusalem. It is theologically obscure, being never mentioned in the Old Testament writings. It is generally poor and the Saviour was a carpenter and the Son of a carpenter. It had a name too, for being morally corrupt, being a stopping place for merchants, soldiers, and traders coming down from the north. Their night-stops in Nazareth made it a veritable den of iniquity. Nathaniel, who knew it well, living as he did only but a few miles distant in Cana, said, when told that One Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Jn.1.46. To this rather undesirable place the Son of God came, and here He lived for the most of 30 years, to become known as "Jesus of Nazareth".
It may seem strange that such an apparently inglorious title should be associated with confessions of the Saviour’s Deity, but in one of its earliest usages it is so. In a confrontation with demons the demon-possessed man exclaims, "Let us alone; what have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God" Mk.1.24. Demons knew better than mortals. They could see beyond the guise of the carpenter and recognise that the humble Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Holy One of God. Then there was that almost involuntary recognition of His Deity in the garden of Gethsemane. A crowd had come to arrest Him and He went forward to meet them, asking, "Whom seek ye?" They replied, "Jesus of Nazareth." "I am He", He answered, and they shrank backward, falling to the ground. He might indeed be but a Nazarene but He was Deity incarnate, He was the "I AM" in Whose presence they could not stand and they fell before Him. Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, Jehovah of eternity!
The men of Galilee knew the miracle worker as Jesus of Nazareth and the circumstances have been incorporated in one of our sweetest gospel hymns. He was travelling their province in a gracious ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing.
Jesus! ’tis He Who once below
Man’s pathway trod, ’mid pain and woe;
And burdened ones, where’er He came,
Brought out their sick, and deaf and lame;
The blind rejoiced to hear the cry -
"Jesus of Nazareth passeth by."
How many would rise up to call Him blessed! With what joy many would remember the day that they met Jesus of Nazareth in His ministry. Some heard His voice and were healed by His word; some felt His touch; one poor helpless soul reached out and touched only the hem of His garment and was healed instantly. Even the dead were included in His blessed ministry. There was a 12-year-old girl in Capernaum who had just died; there was a young man from the village of Nain on his way to be buried; there was a man in Bethany who had been dead for four days and had already been entombed. He raised them all, the men and the child. Jesus of Nazareth was superior to all, and the miracles wrought during His gracious ministry were evidences of His Deity.
During that ministry the Saviour wore the titles of Deity, as we see. He exercised the prerogatives of Deity; He accepted honours that were due to Deity alone, so that after His death and resurrection one who had been with Him in the days of His flesh could exclaim, "My Lord, and my God" Jn.20.28. Others, while He was alive, proclaimed Him to be the Son of God, which was an acknowledgement of His Deity.
In several ways the title, "Jesus of Nazareth," is associated with our Lord’s sufferings. How it must have pained Him on that last long night of sorrow to hear Peter’s response to the challenge of a girl. Peter denied, and in a later challenge his denial was the more vehement, for "he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of Whom ye speak" Mk.14.66-71. Poor Peter! The man who had vigorously protested, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I" had miserably failed. When eventually the Saviour died, it was this very title that they wrote above His head on His cross. Only John however, includes the words "of Nazareth," writing, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" Jn.19.19. How interesting that it is only in the Gospel of the glory of the Son of God that we should be reminded that the crucified One is "Jesus of Nazareth".
The angels used the title at the empty tomb, saying to the women, "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen" Mk.16.6. But perhaps the most striking example of the title being used in glory is in Acts 22.8. Paul is recounting his experience on the Damascus Road. He had been stricken down, blinded by the glory, and had asked, "Who art Thou Lord?" The answer was "I am Jesus of Nazareth." Notice that it is not, "I was" but "I am". Even in the glory, the risen, exalted Saviour was willing still to be known as "Jesus of Nazareth".