Are We Victims of Circumstance?

by Joe Crews

Nazareth of Galilee was situated in one of the loveliest physical settings in all of Palestine. Nestled amid the natural beauty of rolling hills and lush, fruitful vineyards, it would seem to be the perfect place for the Son of God to manifest His sinless life. There, at His mother's knee, Jesus could be exposed to the holy influences of the book of nature as well as the inspired writings of patriarchs and prophets.

But things are not always what they seem to be, and this was especially true of Nazareth. History adds a sad footnote about the hometown of Jesus, the carpenter son of Mary. It was distinguished by its depravity and evil reputation. All over the Near East it had become a byword for sin and iniquity.

No wonder Nathaniel responded as he did when Philip urged him to get acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth. "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). You see, Nathaniel was well acquainted with the ill-repute of that particular little Galilean town, and he could not in his wildest imagination associate it with the expected Messiah. If Philip had said "Jesus of Jerusalem," there would have been immediate acceptance. Surely the Holy One would appear at the beautiful capital city of peace where robed priests ministered in the gold-domed precincts of the temple. But Jesus of Nazareth? No way. Certainly not for one who was current with the latest scuttlebutt from South Galilee, at least. Philip, finally, had to say, "Just come and see and taste for yourself that this is the Saviour who has been prophesied."

Why Nazareth?
I want you to think of this for a moment. Why did Jesus choose to live in one of the most wicked cities in the world as a child and youth? There were hundreds of other towns where the environment was near perfect. Why expose Himself to the unruly elements of a place like Nazareth? The answer to that question should strike a chord of interest within every person who is compelled by circumstances to live in an urban environment.

I believe Jesus chose Nazareth because He knew there would be other cities in the future where other youth would have to live-cities just as dark and depraved as Nazareth. By choosing to overcome sin under the worst possible conditions, and by being tempted in all points as we are, Jesus proved that every other person can do exactly the same thing, regardless of the circumstances.

You see, Christ did not call upon any strength for overcoming temptation that is not also available to every one of us. He trusted His Father in the same manner we can depend on Him. His victory can be our victory. He lived in Nazareth to give encouragement and assurance to every member of Adam's fallen race. There can never be another excuse for sin regardless of the heredity or the environment.

Living in Sin City
All of us know, of course, that Nazareth is not dead today. There are still ghettos and pockets of violence and immorality. This entire fractured planet could be compared to the darkness of sin that enveloped that ancient town in Galilee. We have been compelled by birth to live in Sin City, U.S.A., just as Jesus was exposed to the rude elements of rough-and-tumble Nazareth. How thankful we should be that He has proven beyond question that total victory is possible, whether we live in Chicago, Dallas, Washington, or Nazareth.

Are we saying that it will be easy to prevail over the excesses of an urbanized society? Not at all. But we are saying that all grounds for making exceptions of our case have been removed. The promise of the Bible is that "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Apparently Moses drew on this principle while living in the home of Pharaoh's daughter in Egypt. What worse spiritual circumstances could he have lived under? But did he whine and plead for special consideration because of the pagan conditions he had to overcome as a child and youth?

Joseph, also, had to withstand the entrenched wickedness of his situation, and so did Daniel and his friends in the dark land of Babylon. Yet, they all stood firmly for truth and principle in spite of horrendous opposition. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, and they overcame their Nazareth just as Jesus did-through faith in their heavenly Father.

What About Heredity?
Some people tell me, "I have inherited so many strains of weakness that it is impossible for me to resist temptation." In fact, they seem able to resist anything except temptation! Are those people without hope? Is it true that genetic weaknesses predispose certain individuals to certain sins and God will have to make an exception for them in the judgment? Under such circumstances, can moral lapse and failure be justified in some cases? Don't you believe it. No one can choose their ancestors, and God will not allow that uncontrollable factor to doom anyone to defeat or final destruction.

When God reaches into the life with His saving, sanctifying power, miraculous changes are instantly effected. No one has been able to analyze the exact nature of the new birth experience. We can easily see the result, but know little about the process. Is it a transformation in the genes, in the atoms of the cells, or possibly in the neural programming of the brain? Does it involve physical, mental, or spiritual alterations? Or all of the above? No one has been able to answer these questions. But we do know that a "new creation" results, and that is probably all we need to understand about the experience.

We also know that the liabilities of every inherited and cultivated defect are erased so that the born again person is delivered from the pre-existent bondage of sin imposed by those defects. Only in the light of this liberating truth can we explain how Ruth the Moabitess and Rahab the harlot came to be included in the messianic ancestry of Jesus Christ.

When we consider the genealogy of those two women, our minds boggle at the possibility that they could ever be progenitors of the sinless Son of God. How could they ever qualify for such a holy lineage? Ruth was born into a tribe of apostates who settled on the east side of the Jordan River. Her family was noted for its rebellion against God. Her life as a child had been permeated with everything alien to the God of Israel.

Yet, when the call came to her, she responded gladly and crossed over Jordan to settle among God's people. By faith she claimed the victory over all those hereditary factors in her Moabite background, and that is why her name is found among the earthly ancestors of our Lord. She was lifted up into that royal line of individuals who constitute God's special family on earth.

Rahab, as we know, was an abandoned woman of the streets in the little city of Jericho. Could we have seen her plying the prostitute trade just before the walls fell down, we would have seen no grounds for her salvation. But when confronted by the evidence of God's power, she responded immediately and was removed from the evil environs of that doomed city. Today, we find her named as an overcomer in the chronology of Christ's human ancestry.

What an encouragement for every one of us today! Few of us have as much evil to overcome as they did. If God could grind all of those deeply rooted dispositions to sin from those hapless souls, what is He able to do for us? We can read between the lines that there is nothing too hard for our God to accomplish.

Miraculous Transformations
Let me tell you about meeting Kata Rogoso a few years ago. He had been brought up in a cannibal home on a South Sea island. Depraved by feeding on human flesh, this heathen boy was apparently beyond all hope of spiritual redemption. Yet, when I talked to him, he was serving as the president of a large mission area in New Guinea. God had lifted him out of pagan darkness and transformed him into a powerful evangelist. His life radiated with the virtues of purity and true righteousness. Whatever had bound him by birth or circumstances was totally canceled by the miracle of conversion.

Some time ago, we featured an interview in the Inside Report with Dr. N. Jacob, the director of a worldwide philanthropic ministry for Third World children. He and his wife administer a program providing free education to deprived children in various countries of the world. Both have their doctor's degrees; yet, when I first met Jacob in Bangalore, India, he lived in a hut with a cow dung floor. From the poverty of that Hindu background Jacob attended my evangelistic tent meetings and accepted Christ as his Saviour.

Later, he attended Spicer College in Poona and married a lovely Christian girl from Ceylon. Today, they travel the world as education specialists setting up orphanages and overseeing scores of schools where Christian principles are taught to more than 10,000 boys and girls. Every time I talk to Dr. Jacob, I have to look hard, past the obvious marks of his dignity and culture, to see him for what he was when God found him. His life has never been the same since, nor will it ever be again. He never ceases to praise God for the grace which has made him all that he is today.

Free At Last
One great truth emerges from all these stories, and that is that we are not to be enslaved by hereditary or cultivated tendencies. Instead of being held in bondage to the lower nature, we may rule every appetite and passion. God has not left us to struggle helplessly in our own strength. In the same way that Jesus overcame, we also may triumph over every adversity. Our hometown may be just as wicked as the little town where Jesus grew up, and it is very likely that our ancestors were as weak and hopeless as Ruth and Rahab.

But those factors are immaterial in the glorious light of His power to save to the uttermost. Where you were born and how you were brought up is not an issue any longer. It hasn't been for almost 2,000 years-not since Jesus lived in Nazareth. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Yes, indeed. You and I may come out of our Nazareth darkness clad in the armor of our Lord's mighty victory, and He will declare us worthy to sit with Him on His throne. Thanks be to God!

 

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