THE NAZARENE AND THE SECT OP THE NAZARENES
“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”—Matthew 2:23
We find the Jews speaking of Paul, and they say, “We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all tle. Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Acts 24:5.
Thus it appears that our Lord and Master is called a Nazarene, and his disciples are styled, “the sect of the Nazarenes,” while Christian doctrine was called by the Jews the heresy of the Nazarenes. Our Savior, though actually born at Bethlehem, was commonly known as Jesus of Nazareth, because Nazareth was the place where ha was brought up. There he remained with his reputed father in the carpenter's shop until the time of his showing unto the people. This Nazareth was a place very much despised. It was a small country town, and the people were rough and rustic. They were some three days distance from Jerusalem, where I suppose the Jews thought that everything that was learned and polite could be found. The people of Nazareth were the boors of Galilee, the clowns of the country. More than that, you will generally find in every nation some town made the butt o( ridicule. It was a primitive place and situated in Galilee, which was thought to be quite boorish enough, and Nazareth was the most rustic of all. The name signifies, in rough words, “sprouts,” and the Jews, who were great at puns upon names, threw it as a jest at the people who came from that town We Anglicize it in a more refined way by the word “branch;” for “Netzar,” or “Nazareth” which signifies a branch.
You will begin to understand why the Savior is said to be called by the prophet a Netzar, or a Nazarene, and you will guess that Matthew refers to the passage in Isaiah, in the eleventh chapter at the first verse, where it is said that a rod shalt come out of the stem of Jesse, and ”a Netzar, a Nazarene, a Branch shalt grow out of his roots.” There is another passage in Jeremiah where we read of the man, the branch,—the Netzar,—the Nazarene; and again in Isaiah, “And his name shall be called a branch,” or Nazarene. Those are the passages, I think, to which Matthew referred when he said, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Netzar, a branch, a Nazarene.” The Hebrews made a great deal out of names, a great deal more than you and I generally do, for there was generally a meaning in the names of places. Perhaps Nazareth was called “branch” because trees flourished there, and not much else; or because they thought that the people were rather verdant, and they therefore called them “sprouts” and “greens,” making the same use of language as the vulgar do at this day when they wish to express contempt. That may have been the origin of the term “Nazareth.” Certain it is that the place was the subject of the jests of the Jews of our Lord's time, for even Nathanael, in whom was no guile, one who spoke in a simple-hearted, honest way, and had no prejudices, but wished well to everybody. Yet aid, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” As if he felt that prophets and saints were by no means likely to spring from a town so low down in the scale of progress and education. How could he of whom Moses spoke be found away down there among the country folk of Nazareth. As Nazarene was a term of contempt in the olden times, so it has continued to be. The apostate emperor Julian was wont always to call our Lord the Galilean; and when he died in his agony of death, he cried, “0 Galilean, you have vanquished me.” He was obliged to confess our Lord's supremacy, though he still showed his contempt by calling him the Galilean. The Jews to this day, when they feel wrath against our Christ, are wont to call him the Nazarene. Nazarene is not at all the same word as Nazarite. It is a different word in the Hebrew, and you must not confound the two. Never suppose that when you say, “He shall be called a Nazareue,” that it signifies that he was called a Nazarite. Nazarite among the Jews would have been a title of honor, but Nazarene is simply a name of contempt. A late traveler tells us that he had a Mohammedan guide through Palestine, and whenever they came to a village that was very dirty, -very poor, and inhabited by professed Christians, he always said, “These are not Moslems; they are “netza,” or “Nazarenes,” throwing all the spite he possibly could into the word, as if he could not have uttered a more contemptuous term. To this day, then, our Lord has the name of the Nazarene affixed to him by those who reject him, and to his day Christians are called among Mohammedans, Nazarenes. Our Lord Jesus Christ was never ashamed of this name; in fact, he called himself, “Jesus of Nazaeth” after he had risen fom the dead.
He told Paul when he smote him to the earth, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest. ” His disciples were not ashamed to call him by that name; for as they walked to Emmaus, and he joined them and asked them what they were speaking of, they said they were talking of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a name at which devils tremble, for they besought him, even Jesus of Nazareth, that they should not be sent into the deep when he cast them out. It was the name which in contempt was nailed above his head upon the cross—” Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” Oh, but it is a glorious name, as I shall have to show ere have done. But still this is the meaning of it—the meaning of Matthew when he says that the prophets declared that he should be called a Nazarene. He meant that the prophets have described the Messiah as one that would be despised and rejected of men. They spoke of him as a great prince and conqueror when they described his second coming, but they set forth his first coming when they spoke of him as a root out of a dry round without form or comeliness, who when lie should be seen would have no beauty that men should desire him. The prophets said that he would be called by a despicable title, and it was so, for his countrymen called him a Nazarene.
I want you to notice our divine Redeemer's condescension, before I plunge further into this matter. It was a marvel that Jesus should live on this world at all. lIe who inhabits all things, whom space is not wide enough to contain, dwells on this poor, dusky planet. If he must dwell in this world, why is lie born in Judea? For though I am grieved it should be so, yet the Jews are a people greatly despised, and shame on Christians when they ever join in such despising. But still if Jesus must be a man in this world, why is he not born in Rome, in the capital of the nations? Why must it be in a little miserable country like Judea? Yet if he shall be born in Judea, why must he live in Galilee—that dull province of Israel, that most despicable part of Israel? If he must live in Galilee, why not at Capernaum? Why does he choose Nazareth? Why must he go to the lowest of the low—that most despised place of a despised country? And if lie must come to Nazareth,
—follow him a step lower—why must he he a carpenter's son? Why, if lives there, can he not be the son of the minister of the synagogue, or some respectable scribe? No; but he must he reputed to be a poor man's son. And then if he must be a carpenter's son, why can he not so constrain men's hearts that they shall receive him? The deepest depth of all is that even as a carpenter's son his fellow citizens will not endure him; but they take him to the brow of the hill to cast him down headlong from the cliff whereon the city stood. Was there ever such condescension as that of the Savior? If in the lowest depth there be a lower deep, he plunges into it for our sakes. He emptied himself. Our old version says, “ He made himself of no reputation,” but the new one is in this case much better: “ He emptied himself.” Nothing was left him of honor or respect. He gave up all. “Though ho was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor”—poor to the last degree, poor in reputation. He was born a man, a Jew, a Galilean, a Nazarene. You have gone down as far as language can descend; and I invite you now to think of the way in which Jesuss, the Nazarene, is still despised.
He was despised, first, because in his person, his parentage, his state, his apparel, his language, his habits, there was nothing of grandeur, nothing of parade, nothing but what was simple, gentle, lowly. He did ride once, but it was on a colt, the foal of an ass. It was said, “Behold thy king corneth,” but his coming was meek and lowly. He might have been a king; he was very near being taken by force to be pushed up into a throne, but he withdrew himself for he did not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets. He was no popularity-hunter, or flatterer of the great. He was no man of confusion and strife, who sought to push himself forward and tread down others. Those that opposed him were weak like braised reeds; but he would not break them though he could have done it. They offended him with their weak arguments, for they were like a smoking flax to him; but he would not quench them; He left them for another day when he shall bring forth judgment unto victory. I suppose, if we had seen the Savior, we should not have thought him “altogether lovely, ”for his heavenly beauty was not of the kind that strikes the natural eye. Hence the impossibility of any painter ever being able to paint him, for though he must have been superlatively lovely, it must have been a beauty with which nobody would be charmed unless their eyes were opened to perceive the beauty of holiness. His was the loveliness of virtue, the charm of purity, and not that sensuous beauty which excites desire and kindles the passions of mankind. He was loveliness itself; but only to those who know what loveliness is. About his dress there was nothing remarkable. He wore the ordinary smock-frock of the country, a garment without seam, woven from the top throughout, a very serviceable, useful piece of work-day apparel, but possessing nothing in it of official dignity, or princely richness, to distinguish him from an ordinary person. As for the place where he lived, it was no bishop's palace, nor even an ordinary manse; for he had not where to lay his head.
He sought no dignity and no honor. As for his companionships, they were of the lowest, for it is said of him, “This man receive sinners and eats with them. Then drew near unto him all the pub licans and sinners for to hear him.” The offcasts of society delighted in his discourses, and they gathered round him to receive blessings at his hand. He lifted them up from the dunghill, renewed them, and set them among princes. He was the last person in the world to be hampered by pride. There was nothing of the kind about him. He was the personification of love. He condescended, but he did not seem to condescend; for graciousness was natural to him. He did it -so really that one almost forgot the condescension in the altogether naturalness of the way in which he sympathized with all grief, and helped all who came for succour. Hence the proud despised him. Those who looked for dress and garb, as so many do in our day; those who looked for a show of learning, quotations from great writers, continual perplexities to human minds, could not see much in him. Those who wanted a display of power, a leader bold and brave to drive out the Romans. and play Judas Maccabeus for the people, turned away and said, “He is nothing but an ordinary Nazarene.” Still Jesus is to mass of mankind the despised Navarene.
But now, secondly, our other text informs us that Christ's Followers have been known as the sect of the Nazarenes. That is to say, they must expect to bear a measure of the indignities poured upon their leader. Dear young friends, I want to press some matters home upon you who have lately become Christians. If you follow Christ fully yout fully you will be sure to be called by some ill name or other. For, first, they will say how singular you are. “Mine inheritance,” says God, “is unto me as a speckled bird. The birds round about her are against her.” If you become a true Christian you will soon be a marked man. They will say, “How odd he is!” “How singular she is I” They will think that we try to make ourselves remarkable, when, in fact, we are only conscientious, and are endeavoring to obey what we think to be the word of God. Oftentimes that is the form of contempt: practical Christians are set down as intentionally eccentric and wilfully odd. Mothers have brought that charge against daughters who have been faithful to Christ because they would not go into gaiety or indulge in vain apparel, and many a working man has said it to his fellow man by way of accusation, “You must be different from anybody else.” This difference, which God has made a necessity, men treat as a mere whim of our own. If we do not come out from among them, and be separate, we cannot expect to be housed beneath the wings of the Eternal; but if we do, we may reckon upon being regarded by those around us as strange, unfriendly creatures.
Then, again, they will say to the genuine Christian, “Why, you are so old-fashioned Look at you now! You believe the same old things that they used to believe in the days of those old Puritanical doctrines. Do you not know that the world has made great progress since those times, and we live in a new day and time? There was only one Solomon centuries ago, but we are all Solomons now, the very least of us, while the greater ones far excel a thousand Solomons rolled into one. This is another day and time. And here you are ;. you still stick to an old book that was written, half of it ages ago, and the other half is at least eighteen hundred years old! Will you never move with the times? Will you get as far as Moses, and Jesus, and John, and stick there?” Yes, exactly there. We go not an inch beyond Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We try to hold fast the faith that was once delivered to the saints. In ordinances. We hold to the olden baptism, and the ancient supper; in doctrine we abide by the truths which Paul taught among the Gentiles, for we feel that we cannot improve upon them. We would wish to exhibit the same spirit as Jesus Christ our Lord, for we know we shall never improve upon his perfections. Therefore they say, "You are so old-fashioned;” and we answer that for this we tender no apology. When that form of criticism does not take effect they laugh at our faith. They say, “You simple-minded people have great capacity for believing! Look at us, we are far too sensible to believe anything. We do not feel sure about anything. What we think we know to-day we are not certain of; we are so receptive that we may learn the reverse tomorrow. We get our faith out of our own moral consciousness, and compel even the Scriptures to plead at the bar of our inward conceptions. We don't want to have things revealed to us, and to have a book, and bind ourselves down to a book of revelation. We are our own teachers, judges, and infallible guides, and the very idea of judges, and infallible guides, and the very idea of absolutely certain truth is abhorred by us. As to this Spirit of God that you trust in, it is sheer enthusiasm. There is nothing in it, and we wonder that you should be so credulous, when instead of that you ought to be rational, and believe in the thinking of evolutionists. Do not be credulous and believe in God, but be rational and believe in those who reject the supernaturalism and miracles of the Bible. This is another sting for the Nazarene; but happily it has small power to vex us, since our reverence for the authorities of modern wisdom is not sufficient to make us fear their scoffs. Time was when Christianity was opposed by men of real ability, masters in learning, but in the present age its antagonists are men of much smaller calibre, whose lack of argument is scantily concealed by the outrageous absurdities which they invent. Instead of attempting to overwhelm us by the weight of their learning, they endeavor to surprise us with unexpected hypotheses, which we are more inclined to ridicule than to refute; and then, with mock sobriety, they assert that our bewilderment is defeat. The spears of the phalanx of reason are seen no more, but the shafts of folly stand thick upon our shields. In this, also, we shall conquer through the blood of the Lamb. Meanwhile we leave sneers of contempt to those who are such masters of them. It is for Nazarenes to receive, but not to return, contumely.
Another arrow of contempt is the assertion that Christian people have not their liberty. “Look at you, you dare you dare not drink.” “Why,” says one man, “I like a jolly drink sometimes; and if I were a Christian, I could not enjoy that great privilege.” No, friend, you certainly would lose that booze of yours. As far as we are concerned we have no ambition in that direction. Some of us know a little of what the amusements of the ungodly are, and we are astonished that you should be able to find content in them, for they do not suit our taste at all. We have no taste in that direction. We have liberty to serve God and do good, and this is the freedom which we covet. We have liberty to do as we like, for we like to do what God would have us do, and we pray that our likes may every day be more and more conformed to the liking of God. There is not much after all in the taunt, "You God-fearing people are cowardly; yon dare not enjoy yourselves.” We live daily so as to give this taunt the lie, for we are a happy people, a free people, even we who are of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Again, some turn round upon true Christians for their not being very choice in their company. If we associated only with the rich and great, whose society, as far as I know of it, is about the poorest thing out, we should then be acting properly. Keep to “society,” and society will smile upon you. If you are willing to be a true brother to one of another race, or to one who is an outcast in society, then, of course, you cannot expect to be recognised by anybody who is anybody. Listen to the world's ridicule of true Christian churches where there is real brotherly love and true fraternity. They cannot endure it. Well, they may do without it then, but this shall be my glory, that God has made of one blood all nations of men that dwcll upon the face of the earth, and that where there is a touch of grace in any man, his dress and his rank are nothing to me. True Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ, however poor or however illiterate they may be. This is the very genius of Christianity. To the poor the gospel is preached, and as soon as men enter into the church of Christ, all outward distinctions are forgotten, and they are one in the gracious family of God their Father. This, however, is the subject of contempt even among those who profess and call themselves Christians. Many of your fine ladies and gentlemen would not own Jesus himself if he were now upon earth, and as for his disciples, I am sure they would get the cold shoulder on all sides. I, for one, never expect to see saints fashionable, nor holiness popular.
And then, if God's servants will preach the truth outright, or if not being preachers they will hold it, and dare to avow it, I warrant you they will soon meet with some contemptuous title or other. Say that the Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of true Christians, and that we are not bound by prayer-books, synods, conferences, or anything of the kind, but only by the word of God, and you shall see what you shall see, for here and there and everywhere alt sorts of people will be against you. Live a godly, gracious life, and you will not escape persecution. You may be happily circumstanced so as to live among earnest Christians, and so escape persecution—but take the average Christian man in this city, and he will have a hard time of it if he is faithful, and he will be pointed at by some opprobrious name or other, something like Paul was when they said he was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.*
*This is a reproduction of a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon, a 19th
century preacher who grew to fame in London, England. He used some very stong language to those who oppose the Christian religion, but this is an excellent treatment of these two passages of scripure. I think this message deserves to live on