The Nobody Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth and Messianic Expectations

“and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)

When Herod the Great died there was great confusion about what should happen because he had drafted several wills, many of which were in conflict with one another. It was not until the conflicted family members appeared in Rome that Caesar divided Herod the Great’s rule amongst three of his children.

Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan, who received the largest portion and highest title within the realm of Judea. Archelaus ruled as ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea (biblical Edom). His two brothers, Antipas and Philip were given less desirable portions of the territory and lower titles as tetrarchs. After roughly nine years, in response to Jewish unrest under Archelaus’ cruelty and also as a means of bringing the province of Judea directly under Roman rule, Archelaus was deposed by Roman Emperor Augustus.

Joseph and Mary avoid Archelaus by heading far north into the area known as the Galilee to a town called Nazareth. The region of Galilee was governed by Archelaus’ brother, Herod Antipas, who also controlled the Transjordan territory of Perea. Antipas, or Antipater, is the Herod we hear about later in the gospels, who arrests John the Baptist and later has John executed at the request of his wife, Herodias.

Nazareth was a small town of only about 500 people during Jesus’ day. Its obscurity only increased as Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, another city only four miles away, as the capital of Galilee. Its growth in size and Gentile influence made it a very different place than little, old Nazareth.

Matthew tells us all of this to explain how it could be that the Messiah of the Jewish people could arise from Galilee of all places. Matthew mentions that this serves to fulfill “what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” This obscure statement is not clearly pulled from any one Scripture, but is most likely a combination of two different portions of Scripture.

The first of those is from the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

The Hebrew word for ‘branch’ here is nēser. Quite probably, Matthew is referencing this Messianic branch that would spring up from the stump of Jesse, something echoed in other portions of Isaiah, such as 4:2-3.

The second of the Scriptures woven in here is likely Judges 16:17, where Samson speaks of his dedication unto the Lord at birth:

“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb.” (Judges 16:17)

Thus, in a bit of wordplay, Matthew brings together imagery of the Nazirite dedicated to the Lord with the Branch springing up from Jesse’s stump, and connects that with the geographical location of Nazareth. All of this serves to basically say, “This Jesus is dedicated to the Lord but it shouldn’t surprise you that He came from nowhere-Nazareth to bring salvation…God is doing a new thing in bringing life where it seems as if no life could ever be. And it will exceed your wildest imaginations.”

Jesus is a refugee Messiah who springs from nowhere to bring salvation, blessing, and deliverance.

Refugee Messiah

This past weekend we continued our series “Power in Preparation” at Eastbrook Church. This is the second part of our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew. This week’s message looks at Matthew 2:13-23 and Jesus as the refugee Messiah.

You can view the message video and outline below. The video begins with a time of prayer for our nation that you can see the written form of here. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:14-15)

Seeking Refuge in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)

  • Another dream for Joseph
  • Jesus flees south to Egypt
  • Scripture fulfilled: Hosea 11:1
  • Scripture fulfilled: Jeremiah 31:15

Returning Home (Matthew 2:19-21)

  • Another dream for Joseph
  • Jesus returns to the Land of Promise

Seeking Refuge in Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23)

  • Another dream for Joseph
  • Jesus flees north to Galilee, specifically, Nazareth
  • Scripture fulfilled: Isaiah 11:1/Judges 16:17

Jesus the Refugee Messiah

  • Jesus the new King (Bethlehem – Son of David)
  • Jesus the new Exodus (Egypt – Moses)
  • Jesus the new return (Ramah – Exile)
  • Jesus the unexpected, expected One – “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the contrast between Jesus and Herod in one or more of the following ways:

This week dig deeper into the contrast between Jesus and Herod in one or more of the following ways:

  • Set aside some time this week to read Matthew 2:13-23 again. Then write, draw, paint, or pray aloud your own response to this series of events in Jesus’ life.
  • Read Matthew 2 in light of Moses’ life by comparing it to Exodus 1-4.
  • Look at a map of Jesus’ journey with his family to Egypt and back again here
  • Consider watching the BibleProject video, “Messiah

What Has Your Heart?: Jesus, Herod, and the Temptation toward Idolatry

William Blake, Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf

We become what we worship.

This idea is something we encounter throughout Scripture. What grips our hearts—what holds our attention at the center of our lives—motivates us, moves us, and leads us wherever it desires.

We see this clearly in the sharp contrast between Herod the Great and Jesus, which I preached about this past weekend at Eastbrook. Herod is motivated by power. It grips his life with such ferocity that he willingly executed one of his wives and several of his children to secure his grip upon that power. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) was but one example of Herod’s disturbing use of violence to secure his position at any cost. The scary reality is this: Herod thought he had a hold on power, but it was actually the idol of power that had a grip on him. It motivated him, moved him, and led him wherever it desired.

Sometimes when we see an extreme example of the ruin brought by idolatry, it distances us from the ways that idolatry has a hold on our own lives. We see someone like Herod the Great, or some other renowned ‘sinner’ or ‘evil person’ from our own time, and may think, “Thank God I’m nothing like that!” But the truth is rather different. We all have a proclivity toward idolatry. There are many things that vie for our heart’s affections. There are many passions, aims, people, and objects that seek to set themselves up in our lives in order to motivate us, move us, and lead us wherever they desire. We all become what we worship.

What we see in Herod the Great’s terrifying actions is merely the fruit of a heart that is disordered through idolatry. Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). For Herod all of this started many years before the events we read about in Matthew 2. The small beginnings of idolatry, if left unchecked, expand over time. This is the way idolatry works within all of our lives. Through small decisions and apparently insignificant actions, we increasingly give our hearts over to the grip of idols. Eventually, numbed to smaller wrong decisions and actions, greater and more distorted words and actions are normalized under the spell of the idol that grips our lives.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot countenance idols. We have one center of our lives—one hold on our heart—and that is the Living God. We do well to take stock of ways that idols have come to grip our lives. I have found four questions helpful for such an inventory as suggested by Tim Keller in his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170). Consider them with me as we begin this year:

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Keller again writes: “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

We become what we worship, so may we worship the Lord our God only. May we shed our idols, tear them down to the ground, and, like Joshua entering the Promised Land, declare, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

The Way of Jesus and the Way of Herod

This past weekend we began a new series “Power in Preparation” at Eastbrook Church. This begins the second part of our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew. This message is a study in contrasts drawn from Matthew 1:18-25 and Matthew 2:1-18.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Matthew 2:16)

A Conversation about Ways

  • What it means to choose a “way”
  • The consequences of certain ways (Proverbs 14:12)
  • Jesus: “I am the way…” (John 14:6)

The Way of Herod

  • disturbing power (2:1-8)
  • knowledge and deception (2:4-8)
  • controlling through violence (2:16-18)

The Way of Jesus

  • incarnate power (1:18, 20)
  • grace and truth (John 1:14)
  • saving through humility (1:21)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the contrast between Jesus and Herod in one or more of the following ways: