Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 5

Little Sprout

Read Matthew 2:19–23, Luke 4:16–32

We just drove past the shepherd boy, and already our sleepy group is struggling to stay awake during this first jet-lagged afternoon in Israel. I look around and watch everyone sway, half-lidded, as our diesel bus grinds up a steep grade to the top of Mount Precipice.

As I drowsily glance to the east I see stunning views down into the agricultural Jezreel Valley — and then suddenly the scene becomes very urban. Brick walls and telephone wire flash in front of the bus window. We have turned a corner, and are right in the middle of a modern city.

I realize we have just driven up the famous cliff of Nazareth. This is the spot where many believe Jesus was nearly thrown to his death by villagers from his own hometown. They felt insulted by him — just minutes after he started his ministry! He sure didn’t waste any time before he ticked people off.


Most tour groups roll right through Nazareth on their way to more colorful locations. Although it’s developing some interesting new sites, the town has a somewhat lackluster reputation as a destination today — and in Jesus’ time, it had a similar identity.

During much of the first century, Nazareth was a tiny village with a big P.R. problem. One of Christ’s own disciples expressed shock that Jesus called it his hometown: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

On the day before Christmas 2009, archaeologists announced the discovery of some small dwelling places here, the first that have been conclusively dated back to the time of Christ. The clues they discovered “suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around fifty houses on a patch of about four acres.” 9

The Bible says Jesus’ family settled here when he was a small boy. They’d been living in Egypt, where they’d fled to escape the wrath of Herod. Why move to Nazareth?


The Gospel of Matthew says “When Herod died…”

Now stop there for a second.

That’s Herod the Great, the father of all the other Herods in the Bible. He was the mad genius who built the Herodium we saw earlier outside Bethlehem, along with other spectacular monumental structures that were known as wonders of the ancient world.

He also killed most of his own family because he suspected them of treason. And in a failed attempt to kill the Messiah, Herod murdered all the babies in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

Back to the verse:

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead….” But when Joseph learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Matthew 2:19–20, 22 NLT

Joseph’s fears were well-founded. Archelaus was the most bloodthirsty of Herod’s surviving sons. He once killed three thousand men just for suspicion of treason, without a trial. When fifty of Jerusalem’s leading citizens complained to Caesar about this, Archelaus had them all killed too.

So Joseph wisely decides to go right past the powerful city of Jerusalem and its small suburb of Bethlehem, and he takes Mary and the child Jesus all the way up north to the sleepy, seedy little town of Nazareth. He has relatives there, and because it’s so tiny and so unimpressive, it’s very much off the radar of anyone in Jerusalem. It’s a great place to hide out and raise a family quietly.

And by so doing, Joseph is fulfilling prophecy.


Scholars believe the ancient town name Nazareth came from the old Hebrew word netzer, which means a sprout or little branch. So Nazareth literally means “Branchtown” or “Sproutville.”

In Isaiah 11:1 there’s a prophecy of the Messiah:

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot — yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. NLT

The word there for branch is the Hebrew word netzer.

In this section of Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet is promising that after the destruction of Israel by foreign armies (which happened in 586 BC) there will still be hope — because out of a remnant of King David’s family will come a netzer, just a little sprout that no one really notices — and out of that little shoot, a whole new olive tree will grow.

To understand what Isaiah is saying you need to know that olive trees have amazing longevity, much like the redwood trees we enjoy in California. The whole tree can seem to die, but if just a little sprout remains from the stump, an entirely new tree can form.

That’s why olive trees can grow to be as old as redwoods. There are olive trees in the Holy Land over two thousand years old. They might get cut down or burned in a fire, but as long as they produce a little netzer, they’re okay.

Jesus was that sprout! Descended from King David, he grew up unnoticed, in a land ravaged by war.

And the branch grew up… in Branchtown.

One of the many things I love about the Bible is that God is so poetic. You don’t have to see the poetry to understand the message, but it’s there at so many levels if you look for it.


Fast forward through time. It’s about thirty years after the birth of Christ. People gather for the weekly synagogue meeting. Hometown boy Jesus gets up to read, and turns to Isaiah 61, one of the messianic passages the Essenes popularized in his day.

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”

The word “anointed” is important. That’s the way kings were crowned in Israel: Not with a circlet of gold, but with the anointing of oil. That’s what “Messiah” means, the anointed one. In Greek, the word for Messiah is kristos, from the Greek verb krio, which means to anoint. That’s where we get our word “Christ.” It’s not Jesus’ last name! It’s his title: Christ, Messiah, Anointed one. They’re all just different words for the same thing.

But let’s listen as Jesus reads on…

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. Luke 4:18b–19 NLT

Then he sits down.

And says, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

That Messiah character? Yeah. It’s me.

I imagine a brief pause as the worshippers take in his audacious claim. And then all pandemonium breaks loose. People get upset, fast. The favor Luke says Jesus had enjoyed with his fellow villagers evaporates in an instant.


Why would they be so upset with him? Well, it’s interesting to look back at Isaiah 61 to see what Jesus leaves out. He stops right in the middle of the sentence. The rest of Isaiah 61:2 reads, “…and the day of vengeance of our God…” But Jesus chops off the verse just before this line. Because the judgment of God was to come later.

I suspect that, for the people listening, this omission was a big problem. They knew the whole verse. Probably had it memorized. Remember, we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the expectations of the time were that the Messiah would start with the vengeance part — some good old-fashioned smiting! That’s what they wanted. Not grace to the Gentiles. Smite the Gentiles.

But grace to all is what, Jesus goes on to clarify, he is offering. In fact he boldly says he will do miracles for Gentiles, just as the other Jewish prophets did!

When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Luke 4:28 NLT

There was massive tension going on at the time between Jews and Gentiles — especially in little villages like Nazareth.

It was a poor place, yet all around it during the life of Christ, the Gentiles, and Jews in league with them, were erecting amazing monuments full of the latest technology — cities like Caesarea and Sepphoris were gorgeous towns even by our standards today.

How do people in impoverished neighborhoods today feel when rich foreigners come in, buy up the land, and build their lavish homes and shopping centers?

These Jews felt they were being humiliated by foreigners who were bulldozing their country and disrespecting their heritage. Saying nice things about Gentiles is not going to provoke a positive reaction.


They erupt into a riot, and the enraged mob tries to push Jesus off a cliff just outside town. In those days, you could stone someone in two ways. Throw stones at the person. Or throw the person at the stones. That’s what they try — but Jesus slips away.

He starts a pattern here. For the rest of his ministry, he consistently confounds everyone’s expectations of what a Messiah should do.

And of course it’s still true today in all of our lives. When Jesus’ agenda surprises us, we’re sometimes ready to throw him off a cliff. We find ourselves saying things like, “I don’t know if I believe in a Jesus who would act like that.”

On some level, Jesus disappoints everyone. Jesus is an equal opportunity disappointer. He disappoints not only the people of Nazareth who tried to throw him off a cliff because he wasn’t the Messiah they wanted, he disappoints his own disciples at times too. — John Koessler 10

Jesus came for us, but that does not mean he came to please us. He will not subject himself to our agenda, no matter how good we may think that agenda is. The little sprout grows undeterred right through our thickest walls.

Where does Jesus go, now that he is kicked out of his hometown?
A spot so strategic that he becomes an international name overnight.

Meanwhile, down in the Judean desert about ninety miles south of Nazareth, Jesus’ cousin John is attracting a crowd.


Where in your life have you been outraged that Jesus hasn’t been following your script? It’s always a lot more interesting to follow Jesus as he works off his script.