Hi I'm Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 25 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 24 we left off in the Temple in Jerusalem where Simeon had met Mary and Joseph just about 40 days after Jesus was born. Luke tells us that Simeon was a righteous man, eagerly waiting for God to fulfill all of His promises to Jerusalem as the law and the prophets had spoken. One of the promises that Simeon was expectantly looking for was a king from David's lineage, the Christ, the Anointed. Go back and check out the supplemental episode called "Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ" if you missed that, it will really help you understand what "Christ" actually means. It's not Jesus' last name. According to 2 Samuel 7, this Christ, this king from David's line would rule over Israel from Jerusalem forever. We looked at how the Spirit led Simeon into the Temple at the moment Mary and Joseph were there to offer their sacrifice and present Jesus before a priest. The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he wouldn't die before he had seen the Christ that the Lord had appointed, so Simeon picked up Jesus and boldly praised God, and said "my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared." Last time we looked at a lot of the meaning of what Simeon actually said, but today I want to develop the scene just a little more so let's read today in Luke 2 starting at verse 30:
“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.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.”
(Luke 2:30–33 ESV)
Put yourself in Mary and Joseph's shoes. Things had been relatively quiet for the past month. Jesus was growing, life was probably becoming a bit more normal in Bethlehem as they were away from the scandal in Nazareth. And now, instead of a quiet visit to the temple for the purification and presentation, this happens. Now we have to understand what it was like there in the Temple order to better appreciate what's going on. We'll talk about the Temple in more detail in future episodes, but the temple in Jerusalem was massive - the whole Temple complex was the size of 35 American football fields. On feast days, the Jewish historian Josephus said that the Temple held upwards of 210,000 people. Now that's probably an exaggeration... But even if Josephus had doubled the number, 100,000 is a lot of people. They weren't nicely organized in rows and sections either, they're all just crowded in there and teeming all over the platform.
Now it doesn't seem like Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem during a feast, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect only 10 or 15 people in the Temple. Think about how this scene must have played out. The couple is making their way through the temple doors into the court and suddenly this stranger, an old man with maybe a big beard and little hair they've never met before runs into them at just the right moment with this huge grin on his face. He starts talking and what he says is essentially the same thing that we looked at in Episode 13 where the angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would sit on the throne of David forever, and then again back in Episode 21 where the shepherds heard that the Christ had been born, and they came and told them. And so here Simeon is saying "your son is going to restore the glory of Israel, he is the comfort and consolation and king that we have been looking for!" And I can just imagine Mary and Joseph's faces, just showing what's going on inside of them - first, surprise and maybe a little bit of shock, and then amazement because of what Simeon was saying to them. Luke says that Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Jesus. Luke loves to use this word to describe people's reaction to Jesus. He uses it 13 times in his gospel alone. Now I definitely think they were marveling at Simeon's knowledge of Jesus' significance, but as I talked a little about in the last episode, I think Mary and Joseph would have been amazed at the fact that even the Gentiles were going to benefit from what God was going to do through Jesus. Remember, Simeon said that Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles."
Let's keep going in Luke:
“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.””
(Luke 2:34–35 ESV)
These two verses have so much significance to the rest of the Gospels. This may be a new idea to you, but trust me here. You'll see it much much more as we continue along, especially when we get into the public ministry of Jesus. Simeon is prophesying that Jesus would cause a crisis in Israel, where some would fall because of Him, and some would rise because of Him. This references Isaiah 8 verses 14 and 15, where God is portrayed as setting up a stone over which some will stumble, and then again in Isaiah 28 verses 13 through 16 where this stone would be a precious cornerstone who would not disappoint those who trust in it. These passages are used elsewhere in the New Testament, but here, right at the beginning of Jesus' life, we see Simeon speaking of this division that Jesus would cause. This is almost always missed. They're in the temple, the center of Israel's religious life, and Simeon is saying "Jesus is going to be like a sword, cutting through the midst of the people of Israel and dividing them." Jesus didn't just come to do some random miracles or to be nice to everyone and buy time before going to the cross. Jesus was coming to divide Israel, and His very presence among them would cause many to make a decision for Him or against him. Of course we see this in such a vivid way in the last week of His life leading up to the cross. It'll be a while before we get there with these episodes, but by the time we do, you'll see this very clearly.
Simeon also says that Jesus will be a sign that is opposed. Other translations say "a sign that will be spoken against". Before we look at what this means, I want to ask a simple question. What is a sign?
In our ordinary lives, it's obvious to us what a "sign" is. A sign points us to something. For example, when we are on the road driving, we may see a sign that says "Chicago, 100 miles". Now, do we pull over and get out of our car at the sign, thinking that we've finally arrived at our destination? Of course not. A sign points us to the destination. In other words, the sign itself is not Chicago, right?
This might seem a little obvious, but you'll see why it's important to understand this especially as we start talking about signs in the gospels. Whether it be healings and miracles that Jesus does that he says are "signs", whether the Pharisees ask Jesus for a "sign", or whether it be Simeon right here saying that Jesus will be a "sign" that is spoken against, we have to remember that a sign points to something, it indicates something, it shows forth something, it isn't the destination or the end point.
So Simeon is saying that Jesus will be a sign, and that he would be opposed. Jesus is the sign through whom God points to his salvation and offers proof of its future reality. Jesus is going to do things in His ministry - signs - that are going to confirm that God will save Israel through Him, and Jesus Himself will be the sign of God's salvation, ultimately, in his resurrection from the dead. But what's offered as proof throughout the Gospels is a sign that will not be accepted - in other words, some people in Israel will not regard Jesus as the one whom God has shown to be the Christ, and ultimately even God himself, and they will set themselves in opposition to Him.
Now do you see how this all fits with the theme of Jesus' first coming being about bringing division and a reckoning to Israel? Even later on in the Gospels, like in Luke 12:51, Jesus says he did not come to bring peace but division. Matthew 10:34 uses the word "sword" instead of "division." - "Jesus didn't come to bring peace, but a sword". Immediately after He says that, He talks about divisions that will occur even in families because of him. This was one of the main reasons for his first coming, and we almost always miss this. The sword of Jesus will divide, discriminate, and judge the thoughts, attitudes, and relationships of His people Israel. And Simeon is saying that even Mary will go through the same crisis. She isn't exempt just because she's Jesus' mother. Before it's over, everyone in Israel would be confronted with the sword that is Jesus Himself.
We're going to spend much more time talking about this when we look at the message of John the Baptist. He really makes this theme of division and this sword of reckoning so much more clear. But even right here, Jesus is about 40 days old, Mary and Joseph hear once again from another voice on how He is not just an ordinary boy - and even more than just the king of Israel, he would cause division and disruption in Israel.
Well, here's a few tips for your meditation on this scene this week:
1) Imagine you were near Mary and Joseph in the Temple when Simeon came in and took up Jesus in His arms. What would you be thinking?
2) Ponder Mary and Joseph's reaction to Simeon. How would you have responded if you were in their situation, knowing everything that had happened just over a month ago in Bethlehem?
3) Think about the grandeur and the size of the Temple in Jerusalem. We'll get to this in future episodes, but knowing the Temple complex was the land area of 35 American football fields, what would this mean for scenes like John 2 and the cleansing of the Temple?
If these episodes have been encouraging to you, I'd love to hear from you. You can leave a comment on this specific episode on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels, or you can drop me a note via the contact form on my site. Also, don't forget to share these episodes on social media. Share them with a short thought from it that may have challenged you or perhaps something you didn't know about before you watched. And if you're watching this episode and you're not subscribed to the weekly email notifications, be sure to sign up on my website. Next time we'll look at someone else who comes up to Jesus in the Temple - Anna. God bless, and I'll see you then.