Luke2v33to35: SIMEON'S WARNING

(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

Everything was great for the young couple - mother and babe were well, the visit of the shepherds had been exhilarating and old Simeon had just uttered the stirring words: "For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." v31and32. Luke records: The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. v33. It is at this point that Simeon warns Mary and Joseph of difficulties and sorrows ahead. Mary never forgot the old man's warning and, perhaps, it helped her to cope with her son's eventual rejection by his own people.

It is the purpose of this Christmas meditation to analyse the sobering prediction of Simeon.

(B) The true sign. "A sign to be spoken against." v34.

Signs are important and we ignore them at our peril. There are usually telltale indicators of a violent volcanic eruption. I gave my pupils signs that if they persisted in unacceptable behaviour Mr Reed's wrath would descend upon them. I could blow my top almost as spectacularly as an active volcano! There are signs when someone loves you and other signs that a marriage is failing.

Some signs enrage like: Traffic diversion. Footpath closed. Private - keep out. East Cambridgshire District Council recently closed a footpath on the Devil's Dyke because it was dangerous. Dangerous!! What about the footpath along Striding Edge in the Lake District? That is really dangerous but no-one is going to close it. Well, I know someone who is so infuriated by the 'Footpath closed' sign on the Devil's Dyke that he regularly throws it in the bushes.

Jesus' advent was a sign:

    (1) Of God's concern. "And you are to give him the name Jesus." Luke1v31.
    Jesus was a very significant name because it means, 'saviour'. You only need a saviour if you are in real trouble. In Britain's hour of desperate need the eccentric, error prone and little trusted Winston Churchill was appointed this countries leader.

    God considered that the human race was in deep trouble. Men and women were alienated from him with no hope of eternal life. So he sent his son to be our saviour.

            Jesus! the name to sinners dear
            The name to sinners given;
            It scatters all their guilty fear
            It turns their hell to heaven.

    Jesus, the sign of God's concern, is spoken against. A large number of men and women do not want a saviour because they prefer to earn credit with God. They want to pay their own way to heaven. They have no wish to be indebted to God rather they want God to feel indebted to them.

    (2) Of God's compassion.
    Jesus came to us through the tender mercy of our God.

            Unsearchable the love
            That hath the Saviour brought;
            The grace is far above
            Mankind's or angel's thought:
            Suffice for us that God, we know,
            Our God, is manifest below.

    Yet in spite of Jesus, the expression of God's unspeakable compassion, men continue to question God's love and commitment.

    (3) Of God's condescension
    Luke quotes Zecharias who wrote: Whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us. Lk1v73.

    Jesus did not come in a blaze of light and with awesome power but gently like the dawn - the dayspring. God the Son came as a baby - born of a poor woman in the humblest of circumstances. In the words of the incomparable Charles Wesley:

            Our God contracted to a span
            Incomprehensibly made man.

    Far too many - even in the church - speak against the virgin birth. Unbelieving clerics prefer to believe that Jesus was the illegitimate child of a wayward woman and that Mary was a consummate liar. If Jesus was not conceived of the Holy Spirit, if the power of the Most High did not overshadow Mary, then neither was Jesus the Son of God

(C) The touchstone. The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

When I was on holiday this year with my friends John and Marion Skull we visited the Keswick pencil museum. We learned that Cumbrian graphite was unique. It was superior to any other graphite in the world. The way to tell Cumbrian graphite from other varieties was to make a mark with it on paper. It produced a characteristically dark streak.

A touchstone did something similar. It was usually a piece of schist (a shiny, mica rich, metamorphic rock) and was used to test the gold content in gold alloys. Gold alloys drawn across a touchstone make different marks according to their gold content. The touchstone tested to discriminate.

Jesus is a touchstone. One of the most important tests of your life is how you feel about Jesus. How do you feel about that name? You can tell a lot from how people treat your name. Here are some of the names I am called: Old Reedy, Reedy, Johnny Reed, Reed, Mr Reed, JR, John and darling John. I have to admit that the latter is not often used! It is clear that a person who calls me Reedy shows less respect than a person who addresses me as Mr Reed. The members of the cricket club call me JR and my fellow Christians, John.

How do we feel about the name, Jesus. Can we sing in all sincerity:

            Jesus! the name high over all
            In hell, or earth, or sky.
            Angels and men before it fall,
            And devils fear and fly.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of this precious name:

It is a home name - given him by his own mother. It is a heart name, full of the music of love - moving our affections and firing our souls. It was his death name - written over his cross. It is his resurrection name. Jesus is the first fruit of them that sleep. It is his gospel name - believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. It is his heaven name. There he is forever adored as Saviour.

The way we react to the name, Jesus, defines our relationship with God. It reveals our standing. It is the touchstone God uses to assess us.

(D) The thrusting sword. A sword shall pierce thine own soul also.

We are always sorry when those we love are rebuffed and rejected. I had card from Beverley this Christmas. She told me that after 29 years of marriage her husband walked out and she hasn't seen him since. I felt so sorry for Beverly, an old pupil of whom I was very fond. One morning I was out bird watching with my old friend Tommy Bamber when he received a phone call from his wife to tell him that his son had been rejected for a job. I tried to offer a few words of consolation and had my head bitten off for my pains. But I understood! Tommy was so wretchedly disappointed for his son. When Harold Wilson, the Labour leader, lost a general election Winston Churchill wrote a letter of commiseration to his wife. Winston knew how upset Mary would be at all the unkind and unfair things that would be said and written about her husband after his humiliating defeat.

Mary loved her son very, very much. She thought highly of him. Mary knew what a good man Jesus was. She expected so much of her boy. Instead of the honour and glory that Mary anticipated Jesus ended his life like some notorious bandit upon a cross. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus' mother knew that her son did not deserve the treatment meted out to him. How she suffered!

Today Christians sorrow, especially at this season of the year, at:

(a) The world's rejection of Jesus. On December 8th 2006 I read an article by Jeff Randall in the Daily Telegraph entitled: 'Christmas is being crucified by white, middle-class do-gooders.' This is one of the points Randall made: No, it's not Muslims, Jews or Hindus who are behind the drive to secularise Christmas. They are not the culprits. The presence of a small cross round the neck of a British Airways check-in staff member does not prompt them to scream in protest, vomit in the aisle or rush for a transfer to another carrier. On the whole, they couldn't care less. The demons in this horror story of crucifying Christmas are white, middle-class do-gooders whose assumption of a superior morality is as disgraceful as it is disgusting. They are busybodies, obsessed with forcing on us their vacuous "ethical" code. In the view of Dr John Sentamu, the splendid Archbishop of York, they are "the chattering classes", who see themselves as holding a flag for an atheist Britain. Actually, they are more pernicious than that. The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life.

Another well known story illustrates the same sad trend in our society. A primary school teacher got her class to name an item associated with Christmas for every letter of the alphabet. When the children finished the exercise she began going through the alphabet asking the pupils what they had written down. The teacher got some some strange responses: A for armchair because dad sat in it throughout Christmas. B for beer because that is what dad drank sitting in his armchair. D for drunk because that his how dad ended up every Christmas. In the end the teacher got to J. "J for Jesus", shouted out one well-scrubbed lad. "What's he got to do with it," growled a scowling fat boy sitting at the back.

(b) The rejection of Jesus by friends and family. There are Christians in my fellowship who pray earnestly every day without fail for members of their family who do not believe in Jesus - husbands, children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, brothers and sisters. The greatest grief of many Christians is the failure of a loved one to commit to Jesus. Christians know that unless a person willingly submits to Jesus there is no hope of eternal life. The prospect of being eternally separated from those you love is a grim one.

(E) The two situations Jesus is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel.

Jesus is either a foundation stone or a stumbling stone. He will either set our feet upon a rock and lift us up or he will prove a rock of offence and cast us down.

(1) Who fell in Jesus' day?
There were five main groups in the day of Jesus who rejected him:

    (a) The inflexible traditionalists who resisted the changes that Jesus introduced.

    (b) The legalistic Pharisees who were both self-righteous and hypocritical.

    (c) The well to do and self-satisfied like the rich young ruler.

    (d) The rationalists among whom were the sceptical Sadducees

    (e) The clever dicks and wiseacres. Many folk in Jerusalem fell into this category. We read in Matthew's gospel: And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying .... "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." Mt27v40. AV.

These groups are well represented today - especially the rationalists and clever dicks. Richard Dawkins, the scientist, probably falls into both the last two categories! He is not as clever as he thinks. The arguments he uses against God's existence in his latest book, 'The God delusion' are certainly not original. Dawkins has to fall back on that hoary old chestnut, "Who made God?" He fails to appreciate that this is not an appropriate question to ask of the creator of time and space. Before creation there was no time and space. God is not a being of time and space and as such has no beginning and end.

I suppose there exists another group now that was not so well represented during Jesus' lifetime - the individualists. There seems to be a large number of people in Britain who call themselves Christian who never attend church. They probably identify with Jesus' teaching on compassion, forgiveness, charity, being non-judgmental and integrity. I expect, too, many folk who do not regularly attend church are prepared to give the nod to Jesus as Saviour. But the nominal Christians are not willing to accept Jesus as Lord. As such, Jesus is a stumbling stone. He is not their King; they do not enter his service or accept his discipline. But Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of all. God said of great David's greater son: He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his Kingdom for ever. 2Sam7v13. Failure to acknowledge Jesus as King is an offence to God.

(2) Who rose in the day of Christ?
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He was the friend of quislings and prostitutes. Jesus picked up, raised up and restored the fallen. He still does and that is why Wesley wrote:

            Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
            That bids our sorrows cease
            'Tis music in the sinners ears
            'Tis life, and health, and peace

            He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
            He sets the prisoner free;
            His blood can make the foulest clean,
            His blood availed for me.

My name will never appear in the New Year Honours list but I hope it will appear in the Lamb's book of life. I never experienced unparalleled success in my career. Not for me one promotion after another. I never rose to the dizzy heights in my profession. But Jesus has raised me, and all who believe in his name, to a position of the highest honour. I, with every other Christian, am a son of God and joint heir with Jesus. Paul writes in his epistles to the Romans: The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Rom8v16. Jesus is the foundation stone on which I will rise to glory.