John 1:45-46 says:
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Nazareth. Can anything good come from there? Some translations say, "Nothing good comes from Nazareth." As the disciples were beginning to find their way to Jesus, or Jesus to them, John includes this bit of negative commentary as part of Nathanael's experience. Here is Nathanael's friend, excited about the much awaited Messiah and Nathanael doesn't even hear the words, "We found him!" He hears only, "Nazareth".
Think of a place you detest. Perhaps there is a small, podunk town your family and friends make fun of or is the punchline of many jokes. There hasn't been one significant individual or contribution to society from this town. This is Nazareth. A tiny, detestable agricultural town sitting in the shadows of a bustling business district. The kids at Nazareth High would have wanted to graduate and ditch that place to move on to bigger and better things. Yet, the Messiah, the one they have been looking for, came from Nazareth.
Maybe you come from such a place. Your place of origin is humble or insignificant. Perhaps your beginnings aren't about geography but you have a history of which you aren't proud. Sometimes we think about our past or even where we find ourselves right now and we are like Nathanael and we say, "Nothing good can come from this."
Maybe your heritage includes sexual abuse, addiction, lawlessness, failed marriage or deceit. Not a zip code to boast about. We're often wearing these labels around our necks or they're stamped on us like some sort of postmark of where we've been. Whether someone knows about these labels does not matter. We can be just like Nathanael, judging our world and experiences from a negative point of view. We often judge Jesus from this point of view.
I think the reason why I love God's word so much is that God shows us very real people with very real problems. The attitudes and experiences are timeless. The list of labels I mentioned before are just a few of the problems found in Jesus' family line. Jesus didn't just come from a little town of poor reputation; He came from a family with some baggage. If you were able to go to an ancestry research site for Jesus, you'd find liars and prostitutes. You would find financial and political failures. You would look at Jesus' family tree and say, "Can anything good come from this?"
God's answer is a resounding, "Yes!" God brought a teacher from a place or poor reputation to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 43. "See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." The Jews had been waiting for centuries for salvation and deliverance.
Note that Philip said, "The one we were looking for." They were looking, listening and waiting for a miracle. Aren't we all? But what is your response when that miracle finally makes His way to your front door? Do you look at Him and say, "What good is He?" Or, do you look at yourself and say, "What good am I? I don't even deserve this."
You're right. You don't deserve Him. You aren't good enough to receive Him. That's the point. There's nothing we can do to earn His love and favor. All of the saving and redeeming is on Christ's shoulders not yours. The disciples themselves were a motley crew. Not one of them and not one of us could ever follow God's law to the letter. We've messed up and we're messed up. Our family trees are full of rotten fruit.
Today is the first day of Lent. Different denominations recognize this time differently. Some fast and some pray. It's a time to prepare for Easter when we celebrate the completion of Jesus' purpose. He set us all free from sin by dying on the cross and was resurrected to live in Heaven, to show us there is in fact, eternal life. Jesus came to identify with us completely. His life started out in a no-name small town and ended in a city's trash heap. He came from a place no one would be proud of and from a family everyone gossiped about. He came to show you that no matter how you feel about your beginnings, something good can come from lowly places.
In the next 40 days, you might not fast or find yourself praying. Spiritual practices can feel awkward and difficult to start. You might focus on simply saying, "Something good came from Nazareth" and then watch for Him to show up. Check out what happened after Nathanael's presumption. John 1:47-49 says:
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus already knew Nathanael. Before Nathanael wrote Jesus off as being worthless, Jesus knew him. He even spoke kindly of him. He knows you and speaks kindly of you, too. Even if you have written Him off or believe your life is too far gone to be redeemed.