At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. (Luke 2:1–5 NLT)
It wasn’t just Jesus’s family – a lineage with as many questionable characters as notable ones – that could be seen as a detriment to his future ministry and reputation. His place of birth and hometown weren’t doing him any favors, either.
Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, a place on the outskirts. As Micah 5:2 notes, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.” Bethlehem was known for two things: agriculture and the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel as she gave birth to Benjamin. It was by no means a place of renown.
Even Nazareth wasn’t a village of reputation. Outside of the New Testament, the earliest mention of Jesus’s boyhood home was roughly two hundred years after his birth when Greek historian Eusebius makes mention of it in passing. Even then, it was only noted as being important because of its association with Jesus’s family. The Gospel of John takes note of the local disdain for anything out of that part of Israel: “‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” (John 1:46).
If Jesus could have claimed for his hometown a more populated or respected city, such as Jerusalem, he might have had an easier time building a following once he started his years of active ministry. But Jesus was not concerned with popularity. Better to gather a smaller following of people truly hungry for the Kingdom of God than attract large crowds who are simply eager for a show. In fact, during his years of ministry, Jesus generally left town once the crowds became too large.
God, in his infinite wisdom, chose not to harness our all-too-human tendency to ascribe importance to that which is popular. In fact, as one prophet describes Jesus, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2). Instead, Jesus sought to draw to himself all those who were hungry and thirsty for the Good News of salvation and the redemption of all creation.