After Jesus’ birth in a stable and waiting the required period of time for Mary’s purification (40 days), Joseph and Mary did what every set of Jewish parents did after the birth of a firstborn male-child; they traveled the 5 miles from Bethlehem to the Temple to perform the purification sacrifices for Mary (Lev. 13), present their firstborn son to the LORD, and then redeem Him with 5 shekels (Numbers 18:15,16).
While they were there, they experienced a couple of amazing things, prophecies from two separate individuals who were eagerly expecting to see the Messiah. One of them was an old man named Simeon. The Holy Spirit had promised him that he would see the long-awaited Messiah before he died. In the Spirit, Simeon came to the Temple that day and setting his eyes on Jesus, it was revealed to him that this was the Child that would be the Messiah.
Luke 2:34, 35 “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– and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
On first reading this passage, it’s a little mysterious. That’s often enough to give us a good excuse to just skip this part and move on; but there’s something important here that we should reflect on.
This wonderful Child, Simeon tells us, would not be welcomed by everyone. Many would stumble over Him—just as the Psalms foretold, (Psalms 118:22, 23) “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This is the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” And this is exactly what happened. Jesus pointed this out specifically about Himself in Matthew 21:42.
On the other hand, the Messiah-Child would also grow up to be the cause for many to “rise”. Isaiah 28:16 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.’” The term that Simeon uses, “rise”, was a reference to salvation and spiritual resurrection (John 5:25 and Romans 6:3-5).
But sadly, the emphasis of what Simeon says is on the “fall”, since he goes on to declare that Jesus would be a “sign” to be opposed or spoken against. What does he mean by Jesus being a sign? Well, prophets and what they did were often referred to as a sign (for example, Isa. 20:3 or Ezek. 12:6); they themselves and what they were doing were a message for the people. And of course, they and their message from God were often opposed and spoken against—Jesus, even more than others, because of the claims He made. And this is where it gets really interesting.
Simeon prophesied that this Child, the Christ, would be opposed “to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” In other words, opposition to or submission to Jesus would make plain the side that a person is really on—God’s or their own. You see, people make a lot claims about about about what they believe and whose spiritual side they’re on, but the heart that resists (opposes) Jesus is really resisting God—His word, His way, His salvation, His redemption, His life, and His promises. The heart that submits to Jesus, on the other hand, is really submitting to God and His way. Many of Israel’s religious leaders and their followers hated, resisted, and finally crucified Jesus—demonstrating their treacherous “devotion” toward the God they claimed to worship. On the other hand, there were many who loved, submitted, and followed Jesus, revealing their true loyalties.
And Jesus is still the Revealer of men’s hearts, whether among Jews or Gentiles. Our response to Him—submission or omission to His word—is the X-ray machine of our hearts about our thoughts toward God, even if we say we are church-goers, “spiritual”, or lovers of God. Our response to Jesus—obedience or convenience—pulls back the veil about our true priorities, our spirituality vs. our carnality, and our love or apathy toward God, regardless of our claims and facades.
The choices Jesus still demands of us remain clear-cut. Jesus in His typical honesty long ago told us, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). William Barclay said it well, “Towards Jesus Christ there can be no neutrality. We either surrender to Him, or are at war with Him. And it is the tragedy of life that the pride of man keeps us from making that surrender, wherein is victory.” Our response to Him must be submission to His salvation (contrasted to one of our own foolish imagination), making Jesus our priority (as opposed to a mere religious hobby), and a faithful discipleship to Him (contrasted to an “obedience of convenience”—when it doesn’t interfere with what I want).
Choose Jesus—and rise.