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We have all enjoyed the anticipation of another Christmas, and we are still in a celebratory moment—a Lord’s Day celebration the day after Christmas. But we don’t ever want this celebration to drift off point—this is not the armistice day of a long-forgotten war. This war is on-going, and we celebrate this decisive point in the war as a means of continuing the faithful battle.
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:25-35).
Summary of the Text
After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to the Temple to do for Him what the law required (v. 27). There was a just and devout man there named Simeon, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (v. 25). He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and it had been revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen this consolation, the Messiah himself (vv. 25-26). The Spirit brought him into the Temple, and he came up to Joseph and Mary, took the baby in his arms, and blessed God (v. 28). His first word considered what God had promised to him (vv. 29-32), which is that he would see God’s salvation, a light for the Gentiles and the glory of Israel (v. 32). Joseph and Mary were both amazed (v. 33). And his second word was a word of blessing for Joseph and Mary, and he turned and said something to Mary in particular (v. 34). Remember this is all in the context of a blessing. The child is set for the fall and rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be spoken against (v. 34), a sword will pierce through Mary’s soul (v. 35), and the thoughts of many will be revealed (v. 35). The definition of history, which we will consider today, is all wrapped up in this blessing for Mary.
There are four elements to this blessing, which we will consider in turn:
- The fall and rise of many in Israel;
- A sign that will be spoken against;
- A soul piercing grief for Mary;
- And the thoughts of many revealed.
Falling and Rising
History is a story. It unfolds and develops, and this means that the characters involved are going somewhere. The last chapter will differ from the first. Because this is a long story, this happens in cycles. Because of what Scripture teaches us throughout, there are only two ways for this to go. They are fall and rise, or rise and fall. It is either death, resurrection, and glory, or it is glory, pride, and death.
And at each stage of this development, we have the setting for the alternative. If history were frozen, we could have static good guys and bad guys. But those who fall and rise might need to fall again. These things were written for us as an example, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11). “Don’t be that guy” in the story is a reminder that is constantly necessary. Pope Alexander VI should have been more interested in Caiaphas than he was. Yesterday’s poor, now delivered, are tomorrow’s wealthy, who therefore need to hear the warnings.
A Sign to be Resisted
Jesus is to be a “sign” that is spoken against. Signs carry meaning, and when someone speaks against such a sign they are saying, “No, that’s not what it means.” But when God gives a sign, He gives it with a meaning that is plain. The culmination of this sign was the resurrection of Jesus, by which He was declared to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). This divine Sonship means that Jesus will judge the world at the culmination of human history (Acts 17: 31), and that He is the prophet, priest and king over all things now (Ps. 2:8).
Grief is Real
We have every reason to believe that Mary is among the witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:14). But she knew, long before this, that the supernatural had invaded our world. George Herbert has a poem where he plays on the letters in the words Mary and Army, and says that this was fitting, for there it was that God pitched his tent (John 1:14). Mary knew she was a virgin, Mary knew what Simeon told them here in our text, she knew what the angel had said, and more. So she knew that the cross was not the end of the story—but it was true grief in the story nonetheless. Knowing we are in a story does not prevent real story grip from happening. A sword went straight through Mary’s soul—and she knew that it was coming years in advance.
We want to keep the thoughts of our hearts bottled up. As long as they are there, deep inside, we may pretend that we are the lord of them. No one else knows our spites, our petty adulteries, our bitterness. We keep them under our tongue, like a sweet morsel. The doctrine of God’s omniscience refutes this, but we have learned how to keep our doctrines up in the heavens. But Jesus . . . He has come down. He lived among us. His presence reveals, like nothing else can reveal, the thoughts and intents of our hearts. Not by projecting them onto a screen, but rather by showing the world whether we are drawn to Him, or repulsed by Him. From the moment Simeon spoke those fateful words, the winnowing has been in effect. It is come to Jesus, or go away. In Him is light, and away from Him is only darkness.