Luke is one of my favorite Gospels because it gives the reader a good prologue and epilogue to the life and ministry of Christ. If it were not for the gospel of Luke, much of what we know about Christ before and after his public ministry would be lost. It is from the Lucan gospel that we get the account of Simeon at the temple. His testimony about the infant Christ (at this point only around 40 days old) is one of the most beautifully spoken accounts of the significance Christ would play in the lives of all that knew him.
Luke introduces Simeon, a devout Jewish leader, who had received a promise from God that he would not pass from this earth until he saw the Messiah. It just so happened that Simeon ran into Mary and Joseph who had brought the infant Christ to the temple in order to perform the ritual of ”Pidyon Haben.” The ceremony was a part of the Jewish custom in which a the mother and child were purified from the ritually unclean nature of child birth. Upon seeing the Child Simeon took the child in his arms and began to praise God. It is important to note the significance of what Simeon proclaimed. It is far too easy for the modern reader to skip over what, at the time, was quite a radical proclamation.
“My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel….”
Here Simeon testifies that Christ is the salvation, which comes from God. Before Christ could walk or talk, Simeon somehow knew that this was the chosen Messiah. His reference to “all peoples” is also quite interesting. As we will see later in his declaration, Christ is not the Messiah that people expected. The Popular view of the Messiah was one who would come and liberate the people from their oppressors. Jews were ready for someone to rise up as a political leader and free them from Roman rule. As we will see, Christ did not free people from earthly oppression, but spiritual oppression of sin. Also, Christ did not come to liberate Israel alone, but rather all peoples of the earth. Such claims directly contrast the popular opinions of the day. Simeon saw Christ as something new. Christ would come to signify the creation of a new covenant between God and mankind.
The old covenant:
”If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests anda holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” -Exodus 19:5-6
is replaced with a new covenant:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16
This new covenant is one based upon forgiveness and mercy and open to all peoples. Salvation shall be open to all nations and the Gentiles will have truth revealed to them. Christ will go on to tear down walls race, class, gender, or nationality that existed at the time. Through Christ God will reveal him to the outsiders and level the playing field so that all are welcome into his kingdom. This should not be seen as God turning his back on Israel. Christ is exactly what God promised Israel, he was the messiah who fulfilled the laws and restored the people. Israel was glorified again because through them, the chosen people, God sent his son to save all of mankind.
After offering praises for the wonderful gift that is God’s son, Simeon ends with a sobering reminder to us all. In a great paradox, Christ is both a unifier and a divider. While he would unite peoples of all races and classes, he would also cause much strife.
“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed”
Christ is said to cause many to rise and fall. Truly God, through Christ, does raise up many. Outcasted and unforgivable peoples find comfort and mercy, sinners are forgiven, and God’s love is poured out on all that seek it. While those who follow Christ rarely end up looking like worldly success stories, they are raised up to a higher and deeper relationship with God. They are raised up from the oppressive nature of sin into a new divine freedom.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:3-12
It should be noted that while many will rise, many will also fall. Chris is a constant stumbling block to those who opposed or rejected him. Jesus makes it clear that his teachings would divide people, and that they would not be a popular message.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:34-39
His teachings went against the honor shame culture and all of the social class structures that existed at the time. He sought equality among all humanity and tough people to love those that hated them, to sacrifice until it hurt, and to be completely selfless and kind. His message was not readily accepted by the comfortable or the well off. Following his teachings did not make for an easy life.
“a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
A surface level reading of any gospel reveals that Christ was accustomed to being spoken against. Christ was called drunkard, demon possessed, and a blasphemer during his earthly ministry. He faced men that appeared righteous on the outside, but revealed their true hearts in the way they treated him and those beneath them. Christ taught that man should not only seek righteous action, but also righteous motivation. He taught that giving a great amount from abundance was not equal to giving a small amount during hard times, or that anger or lust were just as sinful as murder and adultery. Christ saw the good in the worst of us, and the worst in the best of us.
Truly coming face to face with Christ always revealed the true nature of the person. The image of a sword piercing the soul is a very accurate way to describe what an encounter with Christ is like. Christ cuts to the deepest level of who you are and reveals you as the person you may not even admit you are to yourself. He reveals your very soul. Most men condemned Christ, insulted him, scourged him, and when the chance was presented they crucified him. Many were not prepared to face themselves and the reality of the state that humanity lives in, and so they lashed out at Christ. The very nature of man was revealed and found severely lacking. And yet in spite of all of this, Christ died to save us, the very people that called for his death and hid from his goodness.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. -John 3:16-21