He Divides The WorldErwin W. Lutzer | December 14, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Jesus of the world gets a lot of positive reviews these days, but the real Jesus—the one revealed in the Bible—is hated. Simeon predicted that the nations of Earth would be blessed by Jesus, but that His entry into the world was going to create turmoil. By Jesus, some would rise, but many would fall.
You know Jesus is actually more controversial than modern society will allow us to believe. If you were to go down to the corner of State and Madison Streets here in the city of Chicago, you’d find that most people would say wonderful things about Jesus. They would not only call Him a great teacher, but they’d say things like, “He’s the One who taught us to love,” and “He’s an all-inclusive Jesus.” But the more we get to know Jesus, and the closer we look at Him, we understand then why Jesus said the world hates Him.
You look at the full portrait of Jesus in the New Testament and you get a very different picture of who Jesus is. He divides people. Three times in the Gospel of John it says that there was a division among them regarding Jesus. Chapter 7 – there was a division among them. Chapter 9 – and they were divided. And chapter 10 – there was a division among them. Jesus divides. As a matter of fact, He even said, “I didn’t come to bring peace. I came to bring a sword.” Imagine that!
Early on in His life here on earth, it was clear that He was going to divide. The passage of Scripture I have in mind that I want you to turn to is found in Luke 2 and we find here that in those days when a woman had a child, especially the firstborn, she had to go into the temple, and there was a rite of purification, and you were to bring some animal. It’s very interesting that evidently Mary and Joseph brought some turtledoves or pigeons, and the reason they did that was that was the poor man’s sacrifice, which gives us a hint that Jesus was not brought up in a well to do home.
But they come there, and they are to dedicate also the firstborn to the Lord, and Jesus was the firstborn in His family. By the way, how many firstborns do we have? Would you raise your hands please? All over the sanctuary you have firstborns. That means that you are gifted and talented, and the reason we know that is you generally tell us (laughter). Firstborns are very interesting. Most of our presidents were firstborns. They are leaders. And another great contribution that firstborns make is that because of them there are second-borns, and last-borns, such as I am. But the firstborns, you who raised your hands, are especially given to God.
In this context, we are introduced to a man by the name of Simeon. We believe him to be an old man. The Bible doesn’t say he was old, but he expected to die after this event, so he probably was old. And what I want you to do is to see some characteristics of him, and then understand why this passage should impact our lives forever. Whenever you open the Scripture your life should be changed, and I believe that that will happen as a result of this passage.
First of all, we find out that Simeon, this man, was taught by the Word and the Holy Spirit. Let’s read the text. I’m in verse 25 of Luke 2. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 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. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God.” Just that far for just a moment!
You’ll notice that he was one of these who belonged to the remnant. He was righteous and devout, and he was looking for the consolation of Israel, that is the comfort of Israel. He knew that if there were to be any comfort in Israel it would have to come from outside of the country. It would have to come from God. He was looking toward the Messiah, the comfort of Israel, the paraclete. Jesus said, “I send you a paraclete, a comforter.” And he’d been looking forward to that with a great deal of hope. And God revealed to him that he would live to see Messiah, the Lord’s Christ.
Would you keep in mind that in Israel it’s not as if everybody was rejecting Jesus? We have all those conflicts in the Gospels that might lead us to believe that nobody was really waiting for the true Messiah. Well there were some who were. You think of Luke chapter 1. We have Elizabeth. We have Mary. Here we have Simeon. And then Anna, God bless her. I can’t speak about Anna today. She should have a separate sermon of her own but in verse 37, it says she was a widow until she was 84. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up to that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him for whom all were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
There was a remnant. Now you know the meaning of that word remnant. If you have a bolt of cloth and it’s all gone, there may be a piece left. It is sometimes the leftovers. But it means few in comparison to the whole. And, my friend, today, that’s the way it also is with the coming of Jesus Christ in the future.
Jesus once asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” And the implication is “not much.” Do you belong to the remnant that looks forward to the return of Christ? Paul says, speaking of himself, “I will receive the crown of righteousness which the Lord gives to all those who love His appearing.” Do you love the appearing of Jesus? Do you wait for Him? Are you part of the remnant? And for those who look for Him, the Scripture says, “He shall appear a second time unto salvation.”
I find that most people look forward to the coming of Jesus when they are in trials. When persecution comes the Church begins to look forward to the return of Jesus, or when people are in difficulty. “God, get us out of this predicament. Come, Lord Jesus.” But actually these folks instruct us that the reason that we should look forward to the coming of Jesus is because we love Him and we want to be with Him, and we look forward to His appearing. So are we part of the remnant?
This man was taught by the Word of God, and the Spirit of God, but now he held in his arms the Son of God. As I read just a moment ago, he took Jesus in his arms. That’s in verse 28. And he blessed God. He eulogized God the very same way in which Zechariah did if you were here when I preached that message on his poem.
Whenever you don’t know what to do, when you are in the worst possible straits you could ever experience, you bless God. You eulogize Him, and that’s what Simeon does.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
He eulogizes God.
Now what we must recognize is that the baby that he held in his arms was God. Try to grasp this as far as the human mind can, because we can’t grasp it all.
Every Christmas I mention to you, because it’s so relevant, our firstborn daughter asked the question, “Who was taking care of the universe when God was a baby?” That’s a good question. If you know anything about kids, oh do they ask good theological questions. We have a granddaughter who asked some time ago, “Is God bigger than the stars and the universe, or does He just make Himself fit in?” Well, take that one home, would you please? So her question was, “Who was taking care of the universe when God was a baby?” Well, the answer was that when Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms there was more to Jesus than the human eye could see. That’s why we sing veiled in flesh the Godhead see. But all of the attributes of God, the incarnation began in the womb of Mary.
The great preacher of England, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, put it this way, and I’ll paraphrase his words. He said, “It would be as if all of the light of the sun were concentrated in one place, and yet the glow that it emitted was so soft that the human eye could take it all in,” trying to grasp the mystery of godliness that here was Simeon holding God in his hands, God in the flesh. And the poem that he now speaks, these blessed words, as he eulogizes God shows that he has a missionary spirit because he says, “Mine eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all the people for a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel.”
The coming of Jesus was not just for the Jews but a light to the Gentiles. He was able to see beyond the narrow view of many of the Jewish people who thought that the Messiah was just for them. He saw that it was for all the people “and the glory,” he says, “for your people Israel.”
You see, the glory left the temple in the Old Testament. Remember in the book of Ezekiel the Shekinah Glory leaves and goes through the Kidron Valley at the Mount of Olives and then disappears. And now the glory has returned. Jesus is there, and the glory has returned to the temple in the presence of God’s Son. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Now, of course, you can go to the temple today. If you ever have an opportunity to go to Israel, possibly you can do that with Dr. Rydelnik and me. At times, as many of you know, we do go, and do you know what? We can actually now today, thanks to archeology, walk on the original steps that led into the temple area. And when you walk there you know that you are walking where Jesus walked. You know that you are walking where Simeon walked. Anna didn’t walk there too often. It says that she lived in the temple area. They had a bed for her there so that she could just praise God and fast all the time that she was there, but the glory returned when Jesus came to the temple.
Now Simeon, therefore, holds the Son of God, and he understands the wider ministry of Jesus. Let me say also that Simeon not only was taught by the Word and the Spirit, and not only did he hold the Son of God, but he understood the purposes of God, and he knew that the coming of Jesus was going to initiate some rough times. And Jesus would not only be a unifier, but a divider as well. He would divide humanity.
Look at the words that he now gives to the parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in verse 33: “And his father and his mother marveled at what was being said about him.” Remember this: They didn’t have a clear picture even of who this child was. They knew that He was special. They probably knew He was Messiah, but the future was unknown to them as well. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Look at the prediction that Simeon was making here, and there are three images really that he uses. First of all, he uses the stone. Now the word stone does not occur in the text, but that’s the imagery. You’ll notice he says that this child was set for the fall and the rise of many in Israel. What does that remind you of? For example, in Psalm 118 it says that Jesus is the cornerstone, and the stone, which the builders rejected has been made the chief cornerstone.
And then in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 20! Jesus again, referring to this passage (and what you have is a reference to Himself when He talks about Himself being the chief cornerstone) says, “Whoever falls on the stone will be smashed. Whoever upon whom the stone falls will be ground to powder.” That’s a very different picture of Jesus, isn’t it, than popular culture would want us to believe? I mean, who is this Jesus who is established for the rise and the fall of many in Israel? Receive Him, and you will rise. Reject Him, and you will fall. And the stumbling will be huge and irreversible ultimately. Wow! What a prediction Simeon is making regarding Jesus.
But not only that, the third image that is used is He shall be for a sign. He shall be for a miracle, the sign that will be opposed. And they opposed Him all the time, didn’t they? They opposed Him during His life. They said, “He does miracles by Beelzebul,” that is the devil. He is demon possessed. That’s what Jesus was told. That’s what he had to put up with. They opposed Him then in His life. They opposed Him in His death. “Ha ha ha, He saved others but Himself He cannot save. IfHe is the Son of God, let Him come down from the cross.”
They opposed Him in His resurrection. “Let us make up the story that the disciples stole the body.” And when He returns to earth, especially the return in glory as described in the Old Testament, and the New, there will be opposition to Him. The nations of the earth will actually fight against Him, and His sovereignty. He is a sign that is to be opposed. I hope that you are not a part of that opposition. You know, as we were worshiping today – Before Him we humbly bow – yes, before Him we do lowly and humbly bow as King of kings, and Lord of lords. Listen to me carefully. Don’t take on Jesus. You will lose. Remember that.
And so Simeon talks about the rise and the fall. He speaks about a sign to be opposed, and then he goes on to speak about the sword. He says to Mary, “A sword shall enter into your heart.” Isn’t it interesting that Simeon says nothing about Joseph? Now we know that Joseph lived long enough to father six children. Jesus had half brothers and sisters. In fact in Mark 6 all of the brothers are listed, and then it says “his sisters,” so he had at least two, making six. The idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin is part of that mythology that grew up during the Middle Ages and before that time, but actually biblically she had other children with Joseph.
But what also seems to be clear is that by the time Jesus began His ministry, almost certainly Joseph had died because nowhere is he in the Gospel story in terms of all of the opposition that Jesus had. Mary always has to show up and she is there. Go to the cross and you find Mary. Mary is the one who bore in her own heart the sword. And she was, if we can put it this way, a single mother at some point in her life. And think of all that she had to put up with, and you know, raising Jesus was not as easy as we think it was. You think, for example, that even His family began to wonder about His sanity. That’s really true. They wanted to see Him because people were saying He was deranged, and that’s the passage I referred to in a previous message where Jesus would not allow His family to come to Him as if based on some human relationship, though undoubtedly they eventually, of course, came to Him, and particularly His mother.
But here we have Mary bearing the sword, and that sword began early. By the way, isn’t it wonderful that God entrusted His Son to a mother. Everlastingly motherhood is exalted, and the sons and the daughters of God that He entrusts to you and to me, what a huge responsibility! He says to us, “Raise this child for Me. Raise this child for the glory of God.” As you’ve heard me say, you have a little Jesus in your home, though he’s not behaving quite as well as the Jesus of the New Testament.
But the sword began early in Mary’s life. You know, when the babies were massacred, when Herod said, “All the males two years of age and under have to be killed in the environs of Bethlehem,” Mary knew that that massacre happened because of her son. She wasn’t responsible for it obviously. It was the anger and the jealousy of Herod, but the point is that was caused because of the birth of her Son.
When she was there in His ministry time and receiving all of this opposition, she heard people sarcastically say, “We were not born of fornication,” implying that Jesus was. She heard that. She knew what it was like. And then you get to the cross, and it is there that the sword found its most sensitive target. There was Mary standing alone with another Mary, of course, the disciples essentially having fled. She could have gone to the authorities, and she could have tried to prevent His death. Maybe she could have said, “You know, He is deranged; He is insane.” She could have used some alibi, and they might have relented and said, “Well, for the benefit of His mother, okay we won’t.” But Mary will not interfere with the Divine will. She will not intervene in the plan that the Savior would die, and include in His death forgiveness for her own sins. And so there she is. She is bearing the sword, and she is bearing it without the benefit of Joseph at her side.
Let’s think about this passage of Scripture, and its implications for us, even as we think about life in all of its blessedness and its harshness. First of all, could we keep in mind that with blessings come burdens? We think, for example, of the words of Mary, “All generations shall call me blessed.” She indeed was blessed, but with that came the burden. With that came the sword. With that came the conflict that you see in the New Testament in which she herself had to be engaged without her husband. And so will you remember that with blessings comes a sword?
You know this puts a lie to the idea that is very popular sometimes, that if God really blesses me I’m going to have a smooth life. I’m going to have a happy marriage. I’m going to have wealth. I’m going to have this and I’m going to have that. No, not necessarily! Along with the blessing came the sword, and you and I know also that with blessings the sword often comes. If you ask God for a rose, the thorns come with it. I say that with a distinct apology to all the people in our congregation named Rose. (laughter) For you there are blessed exceptions – no thorns. I’m talking about the plant. That’s the way life is. Life is harsh.
Sometimes when you expect God to intervene He may not intervene. Life can be very, very difficult, and Mary is a reminder of the fact that her life is sometimes represented by the symbol of a heart, but always put a sword through it.
Another lesson that is very important is that Jesus Christ’s coming does divide humanity. If we think of the three signs that I referred to earlier, the three images, what you have is the stone. Those who fall upon the stone in worship and obedience and receiving the gift of eternal life, for them they rise as Simeon predicted. For those who oppose the stone, they fall. And when the stone falls on them, they are shattered. We need to know that that’s a part of the Christmas story.
And then you also are reminded of the rejection of Jesus, and how many people opposed Him, and how few the remnant actually were, the remnant that looked forward to His coming. So you have in the New Testament this divergence of the remnant that accepted Him – relatively few. And then you have the majority – the established religious type. They misunderstood Him. They were threatened by Him, and they rejected Him. He divides humanity – even here today. And I intend to briefly point this out tonight at our festival that Jesus is a divider of humanity – those who accept Him, and those who reject Him. What a difference between the two groups, and it is really the basis upon which the whole human race is divided.
I think there’s another lesson and that is this: The coming of Jesus makes death safe. I want you to look at the text once again. Would you please? As always we should look at the text. As always your finger should be on the text, guiding your eye. You’ll notice it says this. I’m in verse 29. Simeon is speaking. “Now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” He’s talking about death. As a matter of fact, if you look at many translations, they’ll actually put in there, “Lord, now I am able to die in peace,” because that’s the meaning. But that word depart is sometimes used for such things as a tent that you take down and it’s time to depart. And as the saying often goes, “You don’t want to put in your stakes too deep because you are leaving in the morning.” And we have many examples of people who didn’t intend to leave when they did. Sometimes we have control over that. Sometimes not! But leave at some point we will to depart into eternity. The word is also used at times for the sailing of a ship. You know, “It’s time to depart, so you pull up anchor and you begin.”
I think that the author of the book of Hebrews actually had that in mind when he talked about the fact that we have an anchor. And also he says this regarding Jesus. He says that Jesus is the forerunner who ran, as it were, ahead of us into heaven. And He is there now waiting for us. Now, we know a lot more than Simeon did. Simeon didn’t know everything that I’m telling you about. All that he knew was that looking at Jesus, seeing Jesus, was the fulfillment of his own revelation that he had seen the Christ. We don’t get a chance to hold Jesus in our arms, but we do give an opportunity to you today to believe on Him, and be saved, and you get the same benefit.
But the imagery is this. The forerunner in those days would leave the ship, wade to shore (or swim to shore), and then by means of an old winch, he would bring the ship in so that it wouldn’t be dashed against the rocks and smashed. He was the forerunner. He got there first and guided everyone else safely to the harbor. Jesus is the forerunner who guides us safely all the way to the harbor.
The wind batters the sails till they give out. The floor of the ship creaks. The wind attempts to smash it against the rocks, but the forerunner has gone ahead and promises that all those who believe on Him will be led safely all the way to the shore. Jesus Christ, the forerunner, went ahead and ascended into heaven, and said, “Now I am there to greet you, and I’ll guide you.” As you’ve heard me say before, we are not guaranteed a smooth ride or passage. We are only guaranteed a very safe landing.
And Simeon said, “I am ready now to depart. I have seen God’s salvation.” And when you and I see Jesus for who He is, the Savior of the world, the One who redeemed us from our sins, if you are convicted of your sins today, and you don’t know Him, I offer you a Savior – Christ the Lord who will take you all the way safely to the shore.
Our Father, we thank You today for Simeon. We thank You for His faith. We thank You today, Father, that He was able to hold the Lord’s Christ in his own arms. And we thank You today that by faith we receive that Christ, we receive that Messiah, that Lord as ours. And we thank You that we die with the same confidence that He had when it is time for us to depart. Lord, I pray for those who have never believed on Christ. May they call to You right now in their hearts here, and those who are listening by other means (by Internet, by radio, by whatever). Today may they call on the Savior.
We thank You for Him. We worship Him, and we give Him glory for leaving His throne for us. In His name we pray, Amen.