What do you do when God says something that doesnât make sense? How do you respond? Do you immediately reject it and then think through what God should have said instead, based on your own understanding of the matter? Do you pretend that you didnât hear Him say anything or perhaps blame your own imagination for inventing that crazy notion? Yes, of course, we should challenge âwords from Godâ and question our interpretation of Scripture passages that donât fit with what we have been taught. There are so many false prophetic words and un-biblical doctrines swirling around us that each of us needs to be very careful to test what we hear or read before accepting any ânewâ thought. But having said that, it is still true that not one of us understands all the mysteries of God. Even if we spend an entire lifetime exploring the basic doctrines of our faith, we will always have to face the fact that there is still so much more that we donât know. So we must hold tight to what we know, but stay humble enough to let God teach us more. We need to be faithful, but not rigid; humble, but not naÃ¯ve.
There are passages in the Bible that none of us really understands. There are prophecies in Scripture that we know are true, but wonder what they really mean. That has always been the case. Peter says the greatest prophets in Israelâs history wrote things they didnât understand and asked God to reveal what they meant, but God refused. Listen:
âAs to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that [would come] to you made careful searches and inquires, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of the Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heavenâthings into which angels long to look (1Pe 1:10-12).
Peter is saying that the prophets who wrote the prophecies about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ didnât understand what they were writing. It didnât make sense to them, but they faithfully wrote down what they heard. The idea that their Messiah (Christ) would suffer and die as a sacrifice didnât fit with what they had been taught. It confused them. Wasnât the Messiah supposed to be a glorious King who would come to gather Israel, restore their faith, deliver them from their enemies, prosper their land and pour out the Holy Spirit until it covered the earth like the waters cover the sea? And yet they were willing to let God show them the âunthinkableâ: the brutal crucifixion and death of their Messiah. They wrote it down, though it offended them; they believed it, though it shocked them.
If the prophets found it difficult to write these things, as the centuries passed Israel found it difficult to believe what they wrote. Some came up with misleading explanations; others ignored those passages altogether. So when someone actually listened to those prophecies and believed the difficult things they prophesied, it was a remarkable event. Thatâs what makes an old man named Simeon so special.
Simeon (Lk 2:21-35)
All male children in Israel were to be circumcised as a physical sign that they were descended from Abraham, and therefore, were inheritors of the covenantal promises God had made to him (Ge 17:6-14). God had instructed Abraham that âevery male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generationsâ (Ge 17:2; Lev 12:3). The ceremony for Jesus was most likely performed by Joseph, and at that time he would have given the baby the name commanded by the angel (Lk 1:31; Mt 1:21, 25). The name âJesusâ is a derivation of the name âJoshuaâ and means âYahweh is salvation.â
Two more rituals associated with a babyâs birth were required of this family. The first ritual involved the âredeemingâ of a first-born son. All first born sons automatically belonged to God and had to be âbought backâ by bringing an offering to the temple, or a local priest, no sooner than one month after birth (Nu 18:15-17). The second ritual was for the ceremonial purification of Mary, because of all the blood which a mother spills during birth. For forty days after the birth of a boy the mother was forbidden by the Law of Moses from performing religious duties (Lev 12:1-5). After this forty-day period, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. First, Mary had to attend to her own purification by offering the appropriate sacrifice (Lev 12:6-8). After that, they presented Jesus for His redemption ceremony.
On their way into the temple Joseph and Mary passed an old man named Simeon. He is described as being ârighteousâ and âdevout,â and Luke says the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would see the Messiah before he died. On that particular day the Spirit had led him into the temple, and Godâs presence was resting powerfully upon him. Very likely he was there waiting and watching, and as he did, at some point during the day, Joseph and Mary entered, bringing Jesus to His âredemptionâ ceremony. When Simeon saw the family enter, the Holy Spirit imparted to him a word of knowledge that this was the infant Messiah for whom he, and all of Israelâs faithful, had been waiting. We can only imagine the intensity of the Spirit and the emotion that came over him at that moment. Here was the child that Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel and Micah had foreseen. When he asked if he could hold the baby he must have reached out with trembling hands, with tears flowing from his eyes. He took the tiny infant into his arms and prayed a heartfelt prayer. He said that now that he had seen the Messiah he had completed Godâs plan for his life, and he was ready to be called home. He said Jesus was a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.
After that he probably handed the baby back to Mary and then laid his hands on both mother and baby as he blessed them. But then he did something âunthinkable.â He turned to Mary and gave her a shocking prophetic warning. He said her child was the âstumbling blockâ of which the prophet Isaiah had spoken (Isa 8:14-15), that the sweet little boy in her arms would someday expose the unbelief and rebelliousness in the hearts of many people, and as a result He would bring upon them Godâs judgment. But He would also have a positive effect. He was also the âfoundation stoneâ upon which other people would build lives that pleased God (Mt 21:42-44; 7:24-25; Isa 28:16). Yet sadly, what primarily lay ahead for her child was opposition. He would be highly controversial, and many people would speak against Him.
Then Simeon addressed Mary directly. He told her that she was going to suffer emotionally as if someone had driven a large sword through her soul. The image was horrible, and it could only mean that one day her Son would suffer violently and that violence would bring agony to her motherâs heart. Simeon said, âA sword will also go through your own soulâ¦â implying that the spear that would pierce Jesusâ body would feel like it had gone through her as well. But Simeon wasnât finished. He said that same sword would go on to âsplit openâ the hearts of those who heard what happened. The message about her Sonâs death would reveal each personâs deepest attitudes toward God.
In Simeonâs footsteps
Do you and I realize what took place in the temple that day? That old man had listened to Godâs Word so carefully that when the Messiah was carried into those courtyards in the arms of a carpenterâs wife from Nazareth, he recognized Him. He had learned to let God say things to him that he didnât understand. He didnât listen only when God said positive things. He heard God say that he and the rest of the world were so sinful that this baby, when He grew up, would have to die violently for them. He saw truths in the Scriptures that others rejected as âunthinkable.â He knew there would be people who hated the Messiah; that the Messiah would divide, not just unite; that He would make people angry, not just happy; that He would convict, not just comfort. Simeon didnât run away from truth he didnât want to hear. He chose to believe even when no one else around him believed.
So when Mary let him take her baby into his arms, he knew who he was holding and what would happen to that child in the future, and he believed in Him.
This Christmas morning, how many of us choose to follow in Simeonâs footsteps? How many of us are willing to hear the unthinkable: that in Godâs eyes weâre sinners, and that sweet baby was born so He could die to save us?