Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson


Tonight I was with an Arab pastor in the heart of Nazareth. You have to find your way past the malls and MacDonald’s to the more hidden part, where the old city lies. Walking up the paved road towards the ancient synagogue, one imagines Jesus playing on this path. I can also see Jesus walking down this road after His confrontation in the synagogue, near where they attempted to throw Him off the cliff after He offended the hometown crowd.  His sermons were definitely not seeker sensitive in this place.

Nazareth has always seemed to have mixed reviews, Nathanael, at first, dismissed Jesus with the words, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The crowd in John 8 quickly rejected Jesus because everybody knows the Messiah does not come from this region. Nazarenes seem to be those on the other side of the tracks. Even today, I am told the Israeli government does not have many kind words for Nazareth.  And yet, this is where the Son of God chose to take up residence and live His childhood and young adult years. Given he was born in 0 AD, He was the first true millennial. Where did He hang out? How did other kids treat Him? What was He like as a teenager?

It’s a three hour walk to Capernaum from here, and a one hour hike to Cana. And Jesus made these trips often. Does Nazareth still have a special place in God’s heart? So much happened here, but the Gospels are largely silent. Ironically, near the synagogue today is a massive Catholic church built over an ancient Byzantine church, and over what tradition says was Jesus’ home. Ironic because most of the images showcase Mary.

Sadly, this is also a place where a Christian majority has shifted to a minority, due to a growing Muslim presence. On the same street the Muslims have put up their scriptures.

Nonetheless, being with this pastor, I was reminded that God is at work in His typical small and subtle ways. He shares his faith without hardly any effort. His gracious smile disarms everyone he comes in contact with. His desire to talk about Jesus comes natural. He uses every conversation to steer things towards Jesus and His saving work. It was really refreshing to just be alongside a man totally in love with Jesus.

We stopped in a shop, and he introduced me to the owner, Joseph, a man he was sent to visit because he was desperately ill. Only, when this pastor arrived, Joseph seemed quite well. So he shared Jesus, and the man, his wife, and his two other brothers came to Christ. When he went back to the person who sent him, the response was—I never remember sending you to a man named Joseph! As he told me, Nazareth is hungry and thirsty.

This pastor is part of 9 Jewish and 9 Arab pastors I am teaching ethics to this week. Almost everyone has an incredible story to tell. Another pastor is a man who was once the Mafia boss in Haifa. But here is what is truly amazing—these men, as different as one might imagine—genuinely love one another. We sit together and discuss Scripture and pray with one another. And tomorrow, once class is finished, they will go back to Bethlehem, Galilee, Jerusalem, and other points, back to their shepherding work, knowing that this small seed will one day grow into a towering plant.

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