The Baptist Came, Preaching.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 2:23a (Holman) Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth. . .
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and did His public adult ministry out of Capernaum. He grew up in Nazareth, 55 miles north of Jerusalem. Nazareth was secluded on a hill, but due to the highways that ran in the valley below it, it was not remote. World travelers passed close by, but rarely stopped in.
The Way of the Sea (Via Maris), from Damascus to Egypt, a much used international trade route, passed by. Alexander travelled it. Also passing nearby was the Roman Road from Acre on the Mediterranean Sea to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, and on to the easternmost frontiers of the Roman Empire. Roman Legions often marched by, with their bloodcurdling tramp. It was said they could be heard before seen. As traffic from all parts of the world passed by, news from everywhere came through Nazareth, making it a perfect spot for One whose kingdom is for people of all nations.
Matt. 2:23b . . .to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that
He will be called a Nazarene.
Our text directly quotes no Old Testament passage, but summarizes how the prophets felt the Messiah would be received. “Nazarene” was a title of reproach. The prophets believed the Messiah would be looked down on.
Nazareth, not mentioned in the Old Testament, was umimportant and unknown before its three famous citizens. To call someone a Nazarene was to scorn them. Nathanael, of Cana, close to Nazareth, sneered, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” (JN 1:46)? The name “Jesus of Nazareth” was nailed over Christ’s head on the cross to scorn Him. Jerome (347 to 420 AD) said in his day in synagogues the Christians were cursed as Nazarenes.
It’s like the slur I grew up with due to my neighborhood. I lived on the last street before the slum of Cape Girardeau, Smelterville, where shanties had cardboard on the walls. We all went to May Greene elementary school.
For the rest of my school days in Cape, I never let it be known I went to May Greene. I hoped the subject would never come up. The full load of it all didn’t come crashing in until after I began preaching. During a youth revival in St Louis, the piano player, having heard I was from Cape, where she was from, asked what grade school I had attended. I said May Greene.
She gasped out loud, and said her parents forbade her to ever go south of Morgan Oak Street, which was a long ways north of Smelterville. It didn’t hit me till later what had just happened. Driving away I thought, “We beat your little rich school 55-0 in football; we skunked you in basketball; you were worried about grades, we cared about earning real money as athletes”. To this day I’m glad none of those thoughts were ever verbalized.
Say “Smelterville”, which is now gone, to any longtime resident of Cape and they will know exactly what you are saying. It was a wellknown often used term of derision. Similarly, Matthew’s first readers knew exactly what he meant by “Nazarene”. They had all tasted their fair share of scorn.
Jesus taught us how to handle derision. He wore His enemies’ taunts as badges of honor. Jesus scorned their scorn. During His ministry, He did not emphasize He was “Jesus of Bethlehem”, though it was David’s city; He did not highlight “Jesus of Jerusalem”, though it was the Holy City.
After His resurrection, He called Himself “Jesus of Nazareth”. When He confronted Paul, He called himself “Jesus of Nazareth”. He described Himself, using the derisive term, Nazarene. “Shall we not be willing to be Nazarenes for the Nazarene?” (Spurgeon). I struggle with scorn, and being made fun of. I am a people pleaser. Going against the current is hard for me.
We need to learn how to do a better job of this in our culture. Our opponents seem more strident against us. They scorn us, because scorning Jesus would be futile. Pilate repeatedly said, “I find no fault in Him.” No one else can either. On the other hand, Jesus’ followers are far from perfect.
But I wonder why are we persecuted more than other religious people who are worse? Maybe because our critics know we won’t shoot them.
Peter defended God’s people on Pentecost. Let me do the same. We may not be as bad as our detractors think. Our foes said easy divorce and cohabitation would make things better for women and children. They said no absolutes and no sexual boundaries would make life better. As I look around I don’t see “better”. Christianity has one huge advantage. It is right. It works.
Matt. 3:1a In those days John the Baptist came,. . .
Thirty years separate chapters two (4 BC) and three (26 AD). Matthew assumed the reader would know the time period he was referring to. He was saying this event is real history; a real person lived in real time at a real place. Nothing here is imaginary or made up.
The voice of the prophets had been silent in Israel for 400 years. Then suddenly, the trumpet of God sounded. Without introduction, John appeared, as if he had fallen from Heaven itself. He came out swinging, fully gunned, sounding like the prophets of centuries ago. John was the hinge connecting the Old and New Testaments. He would be the only prophet who knew the One the other prophets predicted would come.
Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, had said Elijah would come before the Messiah did. Jesus said this prediction was fulfilled in John, who showed up suddenly, as Elijah did in Naboth’s vineyard.
John (God is gracious) was a common name due to the popularity of John Hyrcanus (died 106 BC), Judah’s most revered intertestamental leader. He was loved due to his being a Freedom Fighter and conqueror.
Matt. 3:1b . . .preaching. . .
Preaching was his job, his mission, his self-defining activity. Baptizing was prominent, but was at best an offshoot of his preaching. My dad named me for John, and at my ordination, preached about the marks of a great preacher, using John the Baptist as the ideal. He sets the standard for us. He pointed people to Jesus, and called them to holiness.
Indulge me a moment. In seminary I was taught the four greatest centuries of Christian history were the 1st, 4th, 16th, and 19th. Down the hall I learned the four greatest centuries of Christian preaching were the 1st, 4th, 16th, and 19th. Pray God will set our pulpits on fire. John Wesley claimed, “I set myself on fire, and people come to see me burn”.
Preaching is how many of us Ministers define ourselves. Most of us were called to preach before we we were called to do anything else.
I plan to preach until this cold lifeless body lies silent in the grave. At my viewing, I want my sermons playing in the background. On my grave, I want an electric eye that will cause my preaching to start if anyone walks by. Preachers want to preach, whether to 25, 100, 500, or 1000. Just clear us off a spot and let us preach. We were born to do this.
Preachers have to preach. This is why a preacher who leaves the ministry is miserable until he returns to the pulpit. We were made for the pulpit, the “sacred desk” as it used to be called. This helps explain why younger preachers are having trouble finding a place to preach.
Older preachers are living longer, and refusing to give up their pulpits. Also, what church wouldn’t want to give part-time pay to an older retired skilled Pastor rather than pay a young untrained preacher who needs a full-time wage and health benefits? This is a reason why we must keep starting churches. Young preachers need places to preach.