God’s word for us today is Matthew 2:19-23.
This is final message in a sermon series in the Gospel of Matthew called Promises Made, Promises Fulfilled. In just the first two chapters, Matthew mentions five ancient prophecies that come to undeniable fulfilment in the providential circumstances surrounding Jesus’ earthly life.
So far, we have witnessed the birth of Jesus. We have welcomed the visit of the Magi and been horrified by Herod’s massacre, which led Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to seek refuge in Egypt.
What takes place in today’s passage is the fulfillment of the fifth prophetic promise of God in these two chapters as Jesus is called back home to the land of Israel and settles in a town called Nazareth.
If you will look at the map, you will get an idea of where Nazareth is in proximity to other towns in the region.
The red circle shows where they began in Bethlehem, travelling to the blue circle in Egypt, and finally up to the yellow circle in the top right corner, northern Israel.
Here is a closer view to give a perspective on exactly where Nazareth is in Israel.
What we are going to discover today is that there are people and places that, while despised in the eyes of the world, are precious in the sight of God.
In other words, God prizes what the world despises.
When I am honest, there are parts of me that I despise—really despise.
This is one of the main reasons I want to get to heaven. I am so sick of my flesh—what we call the sin nature! In the new heavens and new earth, I will not even be able to sin anymore. Praise God!
I served under a pastor who said to the church, “If you really knew the depths of my sinful heart, you would not want me as your pastor.”
I know what he means. Our elders know me that way. They have seen my flesh monster. Our staff has seen it. So has my family.
It’s bad. It’s ugly. In fact, my flesh is so condemnable, that it required Jesus to be executed in order for me to be forgiven.
God knows me at my very, very, very worst.
And he loves me.
That is grace. That is the gospel. That is why we gather on Sundays – to remember that Jesus isn’t primarily a teacher of the righteous; he is a Savior of sinners.
God should despise me. Instead, he prizes me. That is
- unfathomable kindness,
- unthinkable love, and
- immeasurable grace.
I want us to experience that today.
To believe that God prizes what the world despises.
Let’s start in verses 19-20.
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
We are not sure how long Joseph had to live in his Egyptian exile with Mary and Jesus, but it wasn’t too long.
Not too much time had transpired between the genocidal massacre of children in Bethlehem and Herod’s own death.
21 So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
He had to be emotionally exhausted.
Knowing that a murderous tyrant was seeking to kill your child would have to rank as a top three life stressor. Then add in other primary stress events such as moving to a new country, with no advanced notice and no packing company. Then getting a new job to provide for your family. On top of that, not even knowing exactly where you are going or where you will to live upon arrival.
Eventually they get settled somewhere in Egypt, but soon after are told again, “It’s time to go back to Israel.” Back to the place from which they had run for their lives.
This was not the life Joseph had envisioned. I can imagine him saying, “I didn’t ask for this! When we got engaged, I just wanted a simple life as a carpenter—not this. Nothing has unfolded as I planned.”
Some of us have said the exact same thing. “I didn’t ask for this? I didn’t sign up to have a special needs child. I didn’t plan for my spouse to develop clinical depression, or to have a stroke or get cancer. I didn’t ask to have children who would push me over the edge of my emotional capacity.”
I can imagine Joseph pushing back. “No, I just can’t right now. I’m too tired. I just need some me time.”
But what does he do. He “got up and went.”
I suppose this is because, along the way of his spiritual journey, he had come to trust God’s voice spoken through the angel in the same way that we are called to trust God’s voice spoken through the Scriptures.
This makes me think Joseph must have known and meditated upon Proverbs 3:5-6, “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
However, being on the right path doesn’t mean that it will be an easy path.
Look at verse 22.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
After King Herod’s death, his territory was divided among his sons, Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip.
Archelaus was assigned rule over the southern portion of Israel, Judah, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem are located. But Archelaus quickly proved himself to be as cruel and heartless as his father.
This is why Joseph is re-routed past Judah and Samaria, all the way up to the northern region of Israel called Galilee.
Look at the map again. You will notice that Galilee was “an out-of-the way province, far from the centers of religious and political power in Jerusalem.”
23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Nazareth would have been a natural choice for a couple of reasons. 
First, Joseph and Mary originally were from Nazareth, a village of probably a few hundred inhabitants. If you recall from Luke’s gospel, they had travelled from that small, out of the way town to Bethlehem during Caesar’s census just a few years earlier.
Not only was Nazareth familiar, but it also was well off the beaten path. If you went to Nazareth, it was because you wanted to go to Nazareth. You’d never pass by on accident, making it a great place to live if you didn’t want to be noticed or found.
As such a obscure place, it was not on any “best places to live in Israel” list. For some reason, it seems to be uniquely looked down upon among cities in Palestine. 
Stuart Weber reminds us that “by the time Matthew wrote his account, the word Nazarene had become a household adjective describing anything despised and scorned. When Christ’s followers were called members of ‘the Nazarene sect’ by their enemies (Acts 24:5), the term was intended as an insult.”
In John 1:45-46, soon after Philip has been called as one of Jesus’ original disciples, we read, 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael responded, 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Nazareth and Nazarene were synonymous with that which is despised.
Of the 13 prophetic promises that Matthew shows were fulfilled in his gospel, the prophecy in Matthew 2:23 that refers to Jesus being a Nazarene is the only one that is not linked to a specific Old Testament.
What Matthew is doing is this: rather than quoting a specific prophet, he is referring to the general tenor of prophetic expectation for how the Messiah would be viewed and treated. 
Just like Nazareth was despised, Jesus also would be despised. 
For example, one of those Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, foreseeing the ministry of Jesus, said, “He [Jesus] was despised and rejected, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
The older 25% of the congregation may remember that Johnny Carson was the original host of NBC’s Tonight Show. During one segment, he read a number of lost and found advertisements from newspapers across the country.
One posting read, “Lost dog—brown fur, some missing due to mange, blind in one eye, deaf, lame leg due to recent traffic accident, slightly arthritic. Goes by the name, Lucky.”
We have to laugh, because Lucky seems to be the most inappropriate name that a dog was ever given. Mangy. Blind. Deaf. Lame and arthritic.
But Lucky wasn’t misnamed at all.
If any dog were truly Lucky, it was that dog. For a pet in that condition to be sought out… to be wanted? Most people would despise a dog like that. But to his owner, that dog was not despised. It was prized.
What if you were loved like that? Loved like Lucky?
Morally mangey, spiritually blind, deaf, and lame.
Some of us know that is what we are. We see our sin and despise it. We may even despise ourselves with self-hatred.
We so desire to change but are incapable of changing. We feel hopeless… Not only do we feel unloved, we feel unlovable.
Yet, that is not just your condition; this is the human condition.
If you can’t see yourself like that then you desperately need the gift of self-awareness. Rather than focusing on the moral mange of everyone else, you would do well to see how spiritually lame you are… and hard-hearted.
We need to be broken.
Being broken is painful. But it is also liberating.
Knowing that my Abba, Father has sought me—wanted me—in that mangy condition.
When that nickel drops, you and I can be freshly rocked by the grace, kindness, and love of God—that what should be despised by God is prized by God.
We know this prizing is possible because Jesus was born to become the lost dog. Upon a cross of judgment, he was covered in my moral mange. He became spiritually blind, deaf, and lame, so that I could see, hear, and be covered in his moral perfection.
At the cross, Jesus was despised so that I could be prized, because all that could be despised about me was absorbed in the body of Jesus in his crucifixion.
And all that is prized about Jesus has been credited to me as a gift.
This means that I’m longer seen by my Abba as the wretched man that I am in the flesh, but am seen as the righteous son whom he has declared me to be in Christ.
Yes, I am loved like Lucky.
Are you ready to be loved that way?
If you are, let me invite you to pray with me and receive the incarnate, crucified, and risen Jesus as your Savior-King.
Abba, Father, we thank you for sending your son and our Savior, Jesus.
Even in our moral mange, you sought us and wanted us – to make us your own – to know your love, grace, and immeasurable kindness that was expressed in the cross.
I confess my need for a Savior and receive Jesus now. I am no longer despised but prized as your own child – fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, treasured and unconditionally loved in Christ Jesus.
 John Peter Lange and Philip Schaff, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 64. “The town was situated in Lower Galilee, in the ancient territory of the tribe of Zebulon (Lightfoot, Horœ Hebr. p. 918), to the south of Cana, not far from Mount Tabor. It lay in a rocky hollow among the mountains, and was surrounded by beautiful and grand scenery. The modern Nazareth is a small, but pretty town. According to Robinson, it has three thousand inhabitants (see Schubert iii. 169; Robinson, 3:421, Eng. ed. 2:333; and other books of travels). Compare also the article in Winer and other Encycls. The name of Galilee was derived from גָּלִיל, which originally signifies a circle,—hence Galilee, the circuit or surrounding country.”
 John Peter Lange and Philip Schaff, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 64. “The conclusion at which we have arrived is, that the title Nazarene bears reference to the outward lowliness of the Messiah; accordingly, the נֵצֶר in Isa. 11:1 is analogous to the expressions used in Isa. 53:2, and to other descriptions of the humble appearance of the Messiah. In other words, the various allusions to the despised and humble appearance of the Messiah are, so to speak, concentrated in that of Nezer. The prophets applied to Him the term branch or bush, in reference to His insignificance in the eyes of the world; and this appellation was specially verified when He appeared as an inhabitant of despised Nazareth, “the town of shrubs” (Leben Jesu, vol. ii. 120 ff.).”
 Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 22–23. “Matthew uses the formula ‘in order to fulfill’ thirteen times in his Gospel. Among them, Matthew 2:23 is unique. It refers to the prophets. This plural usage is helpful in explaining that this statement is not found verbatim in any one prophet in the Old Testament. Rather, it seems to be an indirect quotation summarizing the tenor of more than one prophet. What Matthew intended to communicate was not a word-for-word quote found in a specific location, but a theme supported in multiple locations in the Old Testament.”
 Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 23. “Matthew might have had the Hebrew word netser (“branch”) in mind from Isa 11:1, where it is used to describe a messianic figure descended from Jesse, the father of David. ‘Branch’ is the Hebrew word neṣer, which has consonants like those in the word ‘Nazarene’ and which carry the idea of having an insignificant beginning.”
 Isaiah 53:3