Our next stop on this devotional tour of the Holy Land is a city that wasn’t known as one of the hot spots of Israel. In fact, the Bible quotes Nathanael as saying,
“Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46).
But something good did come from there. To hear what happened there, take a look at this short video that I shot while at the Nazareth Village in Israel, a re-creation of what the city might have looked like back in Jesus’ day. Then read on below to find out how God can work in your life through even the most difficult situations to accomplish His plans.
So what happened in Nazareth? This is where Jesus grew up. It was also the hometown of Mary and Joseph and the place where the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).
But Jesus wasn’t born in Nazareth. In fact, His route to ending up here seemed rather circuitous.
Because of the Roman census, Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. Then after Jesus’ birth, Herod found out that a new “King of the Jews” may have been born in Bethlehem and began a killing spree of all the newborn boys there, so Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt. After Herod died, Mary and Joseph returned again to Israel and went back to their hometown of Nazareth.
It may have seemed like Jesus and his parents were being yanked around by governments and kings, making their lives difficult at critical times. I try to imagine Mary being nine months pregnant, having to ride on a donkey to Bethlehem, then finding no place to stay and give birth to her child. I try to imagine their having to flee that city because a crazed king wanted to kill their young Son. I try to imagine their having to move to a foreign country when Jesus was small, with all the changes such a move from family and friends must have entailed.
Yet I’m encouraged to think that each stop along the way was not random. Each move was part of God’s divine plan for both Jesus and His parents. Hundreds of years earlier each stop along the way had already been foretold.
Getting to Bethlehem was the first stop in fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah. When the chief priests and teachers of the law were asked where the Messiah was to be born, they replied:
“In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel’ “ (Matthew 2:5-6).
The trip to Egypt fulfilled the next stop. As Matthew said:
“And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ “ (Matthew 2:15).
And the return to Nazareth fulfilled the third stop. As Matthew said about His return:
“So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:23).
So rather than a seemingly random chain of events moving Jesus from place to place, God had a plan and a way to use all of those events to bring about His will.
How does all this relate to you and me? I take encouragement from the fact that even when it looks like our lives are being pushed and pulled in various directions by people, governments, or difficult situations, that it may actually be God doing the pushing and pulling to fulfill His plans for our lives! And if it’s not God doing the actual pushing and pulling, at least it’s no surprise to Him what we’re going through. If God was able to foretell and use all of the events and situations that would surround the birth and life of His Son, then He is able to foretell and use all of the events and situations that we’ll face in our lives as well.
Rather than being upset at others who sometimes seem to be in control of our lives—whether it’s a boss or a job, a government official or a family member, a friend or an enemy—we can trust that God is the one who controls them all. And even if He doesn’t control them directly, for He has given each of us free will as well, God does know the hearts of men and women and He can work all things together for good.
Although Nazareth wasn’t a hot spot in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day, God wasn’t bothered by its reputation. It was here where God chose to raise His Son and it was here where the Bible says,
“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Your life is not random and the places where you live and work and eat and sleep are not arbitrary, regardless of the reputation they may or may not have. God has a plan for you, for your life, and for the situations that you’re facing even right now. He wants you to trust Him fully with that plan and follow Him wherever He leads—whether that’s staying where He wants you to stay or going where He wants you to go.
Trust Him with every aspect of your life and let Him take control of the direction it takes. It’s good to make plans for our lives, but it’s also good to let God take control of those plans when He has a better one. As it says in the book of Proverbs:
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Father, thank You for taking the random events of our lives and giving them purpose and meaning in ways that go beyond what we could think or imagine. Lord, we commit to trusting You again today, giving You full control over the course of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.