December 6, 2010

Can Anything Good Come out of Zebulun?

Jacob’s tenth son, Zebulun, reminds me a little bit of George Washington. That is because he, like our first president, had a whole chunk of land named after him upon which he likely never set foot! But, unlike George’s Pacific northwestern namesake, the territory named after Zebulun (and lived in by his descendants) is surely more famous than the man himself!

And why is the land of Zebulun famous? Mainly because of one sentence, written centuries after Zebulun’s death, by the prophet Isaiah. Predicting the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote (in Isaiah 9.1):
“In earlier times [God] treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles”.
And what was so glorious about Galilee (the territory formerly known as “Zebulun and Naphtali”)? Well, of course, that’s where Jesus grew up; and where He performed so much of His earthly ministry. It was in these territories that He turned water into wine, and fed the five thousand, and raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, and preached the Sermon on the Mount. It was in “Zebulun and Naphtali” that He spent most of His adult life, making the town of Capernaum His home base for ministry. And it was specifically in the territory of Zebulun, in the town of Nazareth, that Jesus spent the greater part of His boyhood! Not by ancestry, but by location, Jesus grew up as a Zebulunite!

Now that, in retrospect, is surely a great honor for the man Zebulun, tenth of the twelve patriarchs! But it must also have been a great surprise to those who knew what Isaiah meant when he referred to Zebulun as a God-forsaken patch of ground! The people there were, in many ways, backwoods. Their religion there was so often a hodge-podge of false, mixed with true. And, as we always say of Bethlehem at Christmas, so we also say of Jesus’ growing-up town and district: ‘Nazareth in Zebulun surely didn’t seem like the kind of soil from which the Savior of the world would likely grow.’ So much so that one of Jesus’ future disciples (Nathanael), upon learning that this supposed Christ was from up Zebulun way, said famously: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1.46).

Nathanael must not have known His Bible very well. And I don’t just say that because he obviously didn’t know Isaiah 9.1. Surely that verse would have answered his question! But even if he hadn’t known Isaiah 9.1, Nathanael ought to have known (and so ought we) that God delights in using the weak things of the world to shame the strong; that He delights in using people and places that are more like jars of clay than they are like fine china. Doing it this way demonstrates that it’s His power, not our pedigree! And, along those lines, we ought to know, more than anything else, that God loves taking people that don’t deserve anything from His hands (like the rag-tag folks in Galilee) … and sending them salvation in the person of His Son! This way we realize that our relationship with Him is all of His surpassing grace, and none of our supposed goodness!

So of course Jesus grew up and ministered in Nazareth, Zebulun! What a perfect place to show that God is gracious to outcasts and ne’er-do-wells. And, of course, Jesus delights in coming to live in and redeem your mixed up, messed up life, too. Your failure, and weakness, and sin are the perfect landing place for a Savior; the perfect backdrop against which God can demonstrate His grace!

So take courage, all you who live in your own personal Zebuluns and Galilees! If you are in Christ, “He shall make it glorious”!

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