Despite the speculations and legends through the years, we know little of the boyhood of Jesus. One of the few things we do know is that Jesus grew up in the city – a village, really – of Nazareth. Matthew said this was so “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)
After Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt to escape the murderous jealousy of Herod, Joseph did the unexpected – “he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth” (Matthew 2:23), their hometown. It was remarkable because Nazareth was an unremarkable town, and because it was the place where everyone knew Mary and Joseph and the strange circumstances surrounding their birth of their son.
Nazareth was an unprotected town with a somewhat bad reputation; Nathaniel wondered if anything good could come from Nazareth (John 1:46). Every region has some place that is somewhat despised and made fun of. There is always some city or town where the people are mocked by others, made the objects of jokes and scorn. The people of these cities and towns are thought to be uncultured, behind-the-times and not very smart. That was the kind of place Nazareth was.
Would it not be better for the Messiah to grow up in Jerusalem, in the shadow of the temple and surrounded by the smart and suave people of His day? Yet in God’s plan, Jesus came from small, insignificant place that, if it had any reputation, it was a bad one. This is where Jesus grew up and matured into adulthood.
Think about it: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” In the plan of God the Father, inspired by the God the Spirit, and embraced by God the Son, the Messiah grew up in the somewhat despised town. Indeed, Jesus would become known as “Jesus of Nazareth” and His followers “Nazarenes.”
When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus – obviously after His resurrection and ascension and seating at the right hand of God the Father in glory – He introduced Himself to Paul saying, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8). He was still the Nazarene.
In Acts 24:5, the prosecutors of Paul said this to his judge: “We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” They were still identified by their association with the Nazarene.
Growing up in Nazareth, Jesus would mature in boyhood and then in His young adulthood. He would fulfill the responsibilities expected of an eldest son; and then at some time Joseph disappeared from the scene and Jesus became the man of the family. He worked His trade, supported His family, loved His God, and proved Himself utterly faithful in a thousand small things before He formally entered His appointed ministry.
Yet no one would be intimidated to meet a man from Nazareth; the tendency would be to immediately think one’s self better than a person from Nazareth. So that you and I and everyone would freely come to Him, He took a despised title and made it something glorious in its humility: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”