Jesus and Place

“To begin with, you could say that Jesus spent thirty of His thirty-three years fashioning a style of public ministry that was grounded in unvarnished reality. ‘He grew in stature and favor with both God and man.’ No small thing. Thirty years spent establishing credibility as a family member, a neighbor, a carpenter, and a rabbi of sorts: a kind of common man first before he ever started saying and doing Messiah-like things.

“You have to assume that He knew how to make, fix, and sell things: that He knew how to forage for a living. . . . In the streets and at the workbench, He evidenced citizenship, neighborliness, and responsibility. These values are at the root of a believable ministry. And they mark His words and sensitivities in relationship to the world about Him.”
—Gordon MacDonald, "Strange Things, Strange People, Strange Places: The Unorthodox Ministry of Jesus"

Our Navigator Vision sees everyday people who are rooted incarnationally in their local context. As I continue my series on the importance of connecting to place for the fulfilment of that Vision, I’d like to consider the incarnation of Jesus.

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary defines the incarnation as “the Christian belief that God has disclosed the divine self in human reality in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth (Lat. incarnatio, lit., ‘take on flesh’).” It’s sometimes helpful to remind ourselves of the way that Jesus took on flesh. He was born as a normal human and grew up in a village called Nazareth. He was known in that place. He was so known in fact, that when He began His public ministry, the citizens of His town liked His teaching, but stumbled because they had seen Jesus grow up among them (see Luke 4:22,23). When Jesus was baptized, He had not yet begun his ministry, but He had grown up in Nazareth, lived in obedience to His parents, and continued to develop in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with men. Maybe that’s why God was well pleased with Him.

Jesus’ ministry was marked by weddings, funerals, dinners, and a deep sense of place. When Matthew began to follow Jesus, his first act was not to invite his friends to synagogue, but to invite Jesus to a party with his friends. When Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, He invited Himself over for dinner, something that brought Zacchaeus great joy. The parables of Jesus were always rooted in context. They involved villagers, vineyards, farmers, shepherds, common men and women, fishermen, and the stuff of day-to-day life. Since God felt it was so important that Jesus was rooted incarnationally in His local context, how could He desire any less for us who follow Jesus?

The incarnation of Jesus led Him into the particularity of a village in Galilee. Where does that incarnation lead us? Where will it lead future disciples of Jesus?

At one of our Neighborhood training initiatives, Bob Adgate made this statement, “It’s actually pretty simple—follow Jesus into your neighborhood, connect with others who follow Jesus, and allow the incarnation to fuel your desire for faithful presence.” I agree with Bob that it’s not complicated, but being Jesus’ disciple requires a commitment that includes learning how to live out faith in routine, day-to-day experience, in the places God plants us.

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.