The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 2:22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY first-born MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; 30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (NASB)
We live in a particular nonsensical age. On the one hand, post-modernism has taught two generations of westerners that there is no definitive truth. “We all have our own truth.” Then something happens. Something we don’t like. It can be something that happens to us personally or to some other person, then all the sudden we become believers in the concept of truth.
“When the truth comes out you’ll see I’m innocent.” “When the truth comes out, everyone will see the lies.” “When the truth comes out, all will be made right.”
While doubting the truth that there is a truth, there are an awful lot of people who cry out for it when they think it might work to their advantage. But these kinds of calls for truth tend to be self serving. The truth is, truth isn’t particularly kind to any of us. We are sinners and as such the last thing we want to for other people to know the truth about us. “If they knew, would we have anyone left to love us?” “Would anyone like us?”
It is also true that we don’t really want to know what other people think about us either. They make movies, comedies about that kind of thing. A person all the sudden has the ability to read the thoughts of people and soon there after mayhem ensues. As sinners we want, need really what is private and hidden to remain private and hidden.
This morning is the first Sunday after Christmas and Mary and Joseph are doing what the law required. They are taking their first born son to the temple to do what the law required.
They enter the temple and are greeted by a man, who were are told in Scripture “was righteous and devout.” That means he was “looking for the consolation of Israel (that’s a way of saying he was looking for the coming of the Messiah); and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon had been given a promise he would not die until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes.
When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, “he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.” That’s the part of Simeon’s conversation we know. We know it well because it became part of the liturgy of the church. We call it the Nunc Dittus and we sing at the conclusion of Holy Communion every Sunday.
It’s the rest of what Simeon said when he saw the baby Jesus that tends to get overlooked. It’s the rest of what he says that we are going to examine this morning. “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
First, to the “appointed” part. In the original Greek Simeon says that this “Child is keimai’d,” which is the word translated in our translation as “appointed.” But it can also be translated as “set apart,” “made for,” “spread/laid out.” All those meanings are packed into this one New Testament word. “Behold, this Child is (set apart, made for, spread/laid out) for the fall and rise of many in Israel.”
Simeon is telling Mary that her and God’s Son, Jesus had been appointed to be set apart and spread out. One the one hand, Simeon sings that Jesus is the “LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Thy people Israel,” on the other hand he tells Mary, and the rest of us that the point of the Christ’s Child’s first advent is to be set apart and spread out. So He was on Good Friday.
Simeon also said that this “spreading out” will be “the fall and rise of many in Israel.” The Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and the Savior has been and will be downfall and the rise of many in the church. The “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” was not merely rejected by many at the time and since, but the good news was met and continues to be with open hate and hostility by many. Nothing reveals the truth of the sinful heart like the Law and Gospel.
Before we continue with the fall and rise of the “many,” let’s remember the one to whom Simeon first spoke. He was talking to Mary at the time. As the mother of Jesus she too would experience a falling and a rising. Mary had to learn that her Son was not like other sons. His path was different. The purpose for which He came into the world was different than other human beings. The Baby Jesus was intended to grow and increase in wisdom and die. He was born to die so that others would be born to live eternally. He was placed in Mary’s arms only temporarily. God the Father had already set a date, place, and time certain His Son’s death.
Thus Simeon told Mary a sword would pierce her to her very soul. At the foot of the Cross, Mary was pierced to her very soul as she watched her innocent Son die a sinners death, die for her sins and the sins of all others.
So also with us. If a person is going to be saved, he or she must be cut to heart by God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This is what Simeon was telling Mary about. The life and death of the Christ cuts everyone to the heart and reveals the truth about every single person.
Everyone will have to contend with the Truth of the outstretched Jesus. When Simeon said “to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” he was telling Mary and the rest of us that our disposition toward Jesus Christ will be revealed. Everyone will be confronted with their sin, either in this life or in the life of the world to come. What is fundamentally important is whether or not a person receives the Christ. Those who do not believe and in God’s eyes remains in sin do so because they have not been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.
People will either fall on account of their sin or they will rise on account of Jesus. The Truth of God’s Word, which is both Law and Gospel will either be to a person’s scandalous downfall or their resurrection to new life. ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed.”
Simeon also calls Jesus “a sign.” A sign in Scripture usually means something that contains and conveys what God is doing and giving to us. Jesus is a sign that God is doing and giving something to us. At the same time a sign often hides a greater reality. Something is going on in that sign that is not obvious to the natural eye. Only faith sees the reality of the sign.
In fact, when people look upon a sign from God, it can appear to be the opposite of what the reality is. The crucifixion of Jesus appears to be an act of injustice because the most innocent Man who ever walked the face of the earth is wrongly punished. But in reality, it is the place where God’s full justice is carried out and put on display. The sins of the whole world are being paid for to satisfy God justice.
In Scripture a sign requires three things from the faithful. We are to listen, believe, and receive. When the Word of God says something or declares something, we need to listen to it, believe it, and receive it. The shepherds were told that a Baby was the Savior who is Christ the Lord. They listened, the believed, and they went and found the Baby because the Savior had been born
Simeon received a promise from God that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. As Simeon grew older and older he held on to the promise, even though it was a long wait. It might even have appeared to Simeon at times that God had forgotten about the promise. Yet, when the sign, which was Mary’s Baby being brought into the temple, Simeon recognized the sign, believed, and received the Baby into his own arms rejoicing.
The Baby Jesus was a sign that the Savior had come. At the same time, it also meant as a sign that Simeon would soon die. Both Simeon’s death and Simeon’s salvation were conveyed by the appearance of the Baby Jesus.
In faith, Simeon looked at his life and death through the sign of the Christ Child. So he was able to depart in peace. The coming of the Christ Child was a sign of Simeon’s own death and salvation Or as he said in his own words a “falling and rising.”
So also Mary “fell” when she was overcome with tears and great sorrow at Calvary. Yet, she did not reject the sword that went through her soul. She fell but also rose. She rose because Jesus rose on Easter morning.
Many in Israel did not want the lowly, weak Messiah who suffered. He wasn’t the kind of king they wanted. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and the rising of the many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Israel—Jesus’ own people—fell or rose because of Him. No middle ground. No grey area. Rise or fall. Either they believed or they rejected. All those years of crying out for the Messiah: “You wait until the Messiah gets here! You wait until the Truth comes out!” And what do they do when the Truth (as in the Way, the Truth, and the Light) comes to them? They crucify Him. His Truth didn’t match with the truth they expected, wanted, and demanded. The Word in flesh, The Way, the Truth, and the Light revealed what was in their hearts, namely self-righteousness, selfishness, greed, jealousy, and all the rest of sinful feelings and think.
Christ is still so very divisive. People are still falling and rising because of Him. We are to put down the old sinful nature daily and rise with the new. Ephesians 4:22-24 “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The cross of Christ is still a sign that is opposed— often violently because the Truth reveals what’s in the heart. We still posses a sinful and unbelieving heart. But God has given us a new heart, a new nature. He did so through the water and the Word so that our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds would not be made public in His heaven, but would be forgotten by Him and everyone else.
In Christ, all who are baptized and believe are firstborn, redeemed. Like the firstborn sons of Israel in Egypt, you have been saved from death by a sacrifice of blood: the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Like the firstborn of Bible times, the inheritance of the Father is yours: the Lord declares that the kingdom of heaven is yours. This is so because Jesus, the firstborn of creation has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism; there, you were adopted as sons of God. Galatians 4:4-7) “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” And so we sing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.”
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.