22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
25 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. 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 do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 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 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so 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 her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Today is the sixth day of Christmas, so make sure you have enough room in your house or yard for your six geese a-laying. Someone will bring them by sometime later. Probably, most people you come across think Christmas is over and done with, but not here in church. The Church is right in the middle of celebrating Christmas. In the Church, we get to enjoy Christmas until next Sunday when we remember the visit of the wise men on Epiphany.
This text today has a lot going on, and we could focus on so much. But we are going to consider mainly what Simeon says to Mary in v. 34-35. Listen to those words again, “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 the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
First, Jesus is appointed for the fall (or ‘ruin’ or ‘downfall’) of many. In other words, many will reject Jesus to their damnation. But Jesus is also appointed for the rising of many. That word, ‘rising,’ is the word that also gets translated as ‘resurrection’ when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”(Jn. 11:25). Many will trust in Jesus and from Him receive forgiveness, salvation, resurrection, and eternal life.
This forty-day-old Jesus is going to bring a division between believers and unbelievers. Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says this division comes because what a person does with Jesus will reveal the thoughts of their heart. The division falls in one of two ways: many will oppose and reject Jesus to their fall, to their ruin, and to their damnation, and many will trust in Him to their resurrection and eternal life.
But there is one more phrase from Simeon’s words to Mary that we haven’t touched on yet. It is the phrase in parenthesis. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” And this is what we are going to pull apart and consider for the rest of the sermon.
Typically, the understanding of that phrase from Simeon is understood to mean that Mary is going to be very sad when she stands at the cross and watches her Son suffer the wrath of God against all sin. Now, I don’t want in any way to diminish Mary’s sorrow at the cross. But if that is what Simeon is saying there, it is very out of place. Simeon is focusing on the division and separation that Jesus will bring between believers and non-believers. So, for him to tell Mary that she is going to be very sad at some point would be odd.
A better understanding is that Mary is going to be divided even within herself because of Jesus. Not only is Jesus going to challenge, confront, and expose those who reject Him. Jesus is also going to challenge, confront, and expose those who believe in Him and are Christians. Now, Mary is a Christian. She believes and trusts in Jesus. God had told her that she was bearing the Messiah and Savior. But Mary, and all Christians (so you too), all Christians are going to be divided within themselves because of Jesus.
And that is where this sword that Simeon talks about comes in. What is this sword? The book of Hebrews helps shed some light on Simeon’s words. Listen to this verse, you are probably familiar with it: Hebrews 4:12“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Do you see how similar that is to Simeon’s words?
God’s Word is like a scalpel that divides between soul and spirit. Usually in English, soul and spirit are synonyms. The Bible will even use the two as synonyms (Lk. 1:46-47; 1 Pet. 3:19; Rev. 6:9). You aren’t made up of three things – body, soul, and spirit. You are made up of two things – body and soul or body and spirit. But there are times – and Heb. 4:12is one of them – where Scripture makes a distinction between your soul and your spirit.
When the Bible does make a distinction between soul and spirit, usually the soul will refer to your thoughts, emotions, personality, and inward life. Your soul is who you are. It is your personality, and it is wrapped up with your body. If your body has a traumatic injury, it changes who you are. So your soul is shaped by your past, by your upbringing, by important people in your life.
On the other hand, your spirit different. Your spirit is who you are from God’s perspective. Before you were a Christian, your spirit was dead in sin and trespasses (Eph. 2:1f), but your soul was not dead. When you were born again, your spirit was reborn. Remember when Jesus says to Nicodemus (Jn. 3:6), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the [Holy] Spirit is spirit”(also, see Ro. 8:16).
So, God causes your spirit to be born again. You are saved, reborn, renewed, forgiven, perfect, and sinless by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). When God looks at you, He sees your spirit which has been washed and renewed. So, now, back to Heb. 4:12, the Word of God is a sword that is sharp enough to distinguish between your soul and spirit.
There can be, and often is, a conflict between how God sees you in your reborn spirit and how you see yourself in your soul – your thoughts, and emotions. You have probably experienced this. Part of you, your spirit, wants to live a certain way. You want to keep God’s commands, you want to live a God-pleasing life, you want to love your neighbor, etc. But part of you, your soul, doesn’t. Your soul would rather make sure you are comfortable and doesn’t really care about what God has commanded or what would benefit others. Paul talks about this conflict in Ro. 7(:7-25)where he wants to do good, but instead he keeps doing the sinful thing that he hates.
This is why, dear Christian, you need the Word of God. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. It can cut across even your soul and spirit. The Word of God will distinguish what is right, good, and holy that has come from God. And it will distinguish what is sinful and your soul tries to hold on to but needs to let go.
In other words, the Word of God does surgery on you, Christian. Like a surgeon cutting out and removing a tumor leaving the good, healthy tissue behind, the Word of God will cut out the pollution of sin and leave behind what is good and right. Those things that you thought were normal and did all the time, but they really harm you and your neighbor, the Word of God wants to cut those things out. And those things that are right and good and come from God, the Word wants those things to remain.
The artist Michelangelo (not the Ninja Turtle) used to say that when he looked at a hunk of marble, he didn’t see big rock. Instead, he saw the sculpture that he was going to free from the rest of the rock that he would eventually chip away. He would say that he wasn’t creating a sculpture, he was just getting rid of all the rock that wasn’t part of the sculpture. That is somewhat the idea in the verse from Hebrews about the Word of God doing the work of dividing soul and spirit.
So, here is the picture. You might think that you are just fine. You are better than others and don’t need forgiveness like they do. That is the rock and debris of your sinful soul. Repent of that. God’s Word is sharp and will cut away the veneer of your pride and arrogance. The Word of God will remove all of that and mold and shape you into the person God wants you to be.
Or, on the other hand, maybe you think that you are worthless and unlovable. Sometimes, you and I even imagine that those thoughts of worthlessness are a good work. But, really, that is just the other side of pride and arrogance. Repent of that too. That is not how God sees you, Christian. Jesus was not wasting His time when He died on the cross for you. He loved and valued you and was cleansing you by the shedding of His blood. So, the sharp Word of God comes along and cuts away that wrong idea that you are worthless and unlovable.
For about a month now, I’ve been inviting you to join me in 2019 to read through the entire Bible. I hope you take me up on that invitation. There will be times where it will be painful and difficult. But remember that God’s Word isn’t just a bunch of words like any other book. God’s Word is always doing what God wants it to do.
May your Lord and Savior continue His work of molding and shaping you through His Word this coming new year. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.