It's entirely appropriate to remain neutral on any number of issues. But as we'll hear today on Truth for Life, neutrality is not an option when it comes to responding to the gospel. Alistair Begg is teaching today from Luke chapter 2, or in verses 33 through 38. Young parents very quickly become accustomed to the approach of strangers who will often offer their congratulations and their observations and say kind things about your children. Now, in the case of Mary and Joseph, of course, we would anticipate that there would have been many kind and tender greetings expressed to them, and in one sense they were already becoming very familiar with the dramatic nature of what had been entrusted to them in the gift of the Son. And yet it's striking, is it not, that here in the thirty-third verse, following the prayer of Simeon, we read that the child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. In other words, the events of the angels' words and the gathering of the shepherds and so on had not dulled them in any way.
They were still very alert, they were still wondering, and they were marveling at the unfolding saga into which they had been thrust by the intervention of God. Now, in verse 34, Simeon proceeds with a word of prophecy, which is going to make a tremendous impact, particularly on Mary. And I think you will agree that it is quite interesting that in verse 34 it says, then Simeon blessed them, plural, and said to Mary his mother singular.
He addresses his word directly to the mother. Now, you will also know if you study your Bible that Joseph very quickly fades from the scene. We don't read much about Joseph after this at all.
And some of the commentators are very straightforward. They say that Joseph died before Jesus ever began his earthly ministry. I'm not sure that it is possible to conclude that from the instruction of Scripture, but nevertheless, I think it is a fair inference.
And if that is to be the case, then we can understand why it would be that the Spirit of God would direct this man to approach Mary particularly insofar as she would be the one who would be bearing the brunt of what he was telling her. Incidentally, all that we know about this man Simeon we discover here. He was righteous and devout. There is no indication that he was a religious figure or that he was a priest. Rather, that he was an ordinary man who had an extraordinary devotion.
And of course, God delights to pick up ordinary men and women and to infuse them with an extraordinary devotion. So that Simeon is recognizable for two things primarily. One, on account of his character—we are told that he was righteous and devout—and two, on account of the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit in his life. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
How this had taken place, we are not told simply that it had. And that he was moving in the temple precincts, prompted by the Spirit of God, and he found himself in obedience to the Spirit's prompting in the right place at the right time. Now, to the extent that Mary may have been caught up in the wonder of all of this—this elderly gentleman taking her baby, holding him in his arms and then saying these words over him—her brows would now be beginning to furrow when he speaks directly to her and gives this word of prophecy concerning Jesus.
And he tells the mother essentially this. Jesus is going to be the great divider. Jesus is going to represent a crossroads in the lives of those he encounters. Jesus is going to, by virtue of his life and his death and all of his ministry, be the kind of individual that people find it impossible to be neutral around. And tonight, as we gather in this room, it will be impossible for any of us to leave this place neutral concerning Christ. We will either decide for him or we will decide against him.
Now, we shouldn't be surprised about this. When Jesus walks out onto the stage of human history, he says something very similar to this. For example, in John chapter 12 and in verse 46, he says, I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. Remember, the word of Zechariah was that he has come to those who live in the shadow of death, to those who are living in the darkness.
Jesus says, Here I am, I am the light, I call out to those who are in the darkness, and those who believe in me should not be staying in the darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words. Notice, that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.
I know that his command leads to eternal life, so whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. So, by dint of the prophecy here of Simeon and the actual ministry of Christ, we learn that this is something vastly different from a Jesus who can be accommodated by all and any in polite society. And it is, of course, this Jesus who is increasingly on offer in our contemporary culture. Liberal theologians of the nineteenth century invented a sentimental Jesus who was all for peace and harmony and social justice. Such a Jesus who proclaims the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man poses little problem for the average individual.
Isn't that true? People are not put off by a nice Jesus. We are the world, we are the people, and the world's gonna be a better place, and Jesus can help, and so can a number of others. Contemporary humanism is well prepared to accommodate a Jesus who is the supreme example of self-giving service to his followers. And it is in this climate that we face the subtle temptation and often blatant appeal to allow for the possibility that we might all be right and certainly to abandon any claims that Christianity has got it right and others have got it wrong.
Consider this. It was a refusal to do this that led to the persecution of the believers in the first century. If the Christians would have contented themselves with the thought that Jesus was being accommodated in the pantheon of Roman deities, then they could have relaxed. But it was precisely their unwillingness to accept such a compromise that led them to be beaten, imprisoned, and martyred. And therefore, it is absolutely crucial that we now do what they and others throughout history have done—namely, to declare unequivocally the exclusivity of the claims of Jesus Christ.
And this is the message that cuts and offends. The apostles never faced death for reminding people of the humility of a Galilean carpenter, and neither will we. You can go in tomorrow to any place, any context whatsoever, and tell people about the altruism and the philanthropy and the kindness and the gentleness of this Galilean carpenter.
They may ignore you, they may go for coffee, whatever it is, but they will not fight you. But what you cannot do is insist that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, said Peter to the crowd, both Lord and Christ. That kind of talk will not be tolerated, but it is that gospel that we are called to preach, and not, as Paul says, with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Now, we prayed before the service.
We said, Lord, when we tell others about this good news, let us make sure by your help that the offense is in the gospel and not in ourselves. It's not difficult for me to create offense. That comes naturally. It's not difficult for me to be a stumbling block to people.
I can do that without a great deal of endeavor. But that is not as it's to be. It is to be that as we present this word that is spoken here by Simeon to Mary concerning Christ, that men and women are not able to say, So what? They find themselves sitting in their chairs, grabbing underneath the pew and digging their fingernails into it because they're so infuriated by the notion. Or they found themselves bowing down before this Christ because they are so thrilled at his wonder and his mercy. But an innocuous preaching of the gospel can get a standing ovation on any occasion and send people out the exact same way in which they arrived. If neutrality is not an option, then how in the world is it possible to preach this Christ and draw neutrality as the majority response? Presumably, it is because we are not preaching Christ the way Christ is revealed, the way the apostles declared him, and in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Now, if you think that that's a little harsh, that is the Word of God through his servant Jeremiah in the time of Jeremiah centuries before Christ. You don't need to turn to it, but let me read what God says about the people of his day through the prophet Jeremiah. He says, From the least to the greatest all are greedy for gain. Prophets and priests alike all practice deceit.
He says, The whole thing is shot. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all.
They do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen. They will be brought down when I punish them, says the Lord. And it is impossible to go on Christian radio now to a talk show without somebody phoning up and saying, Why are we in the dreadful position we are in? And what is going to happen to us next? And one of the observations that is most unpalatable is the observation of Jeremiah 6, and that is that we heal the wounds of the people lightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace, and people walk out the door.
But no, they're not challenged, and they're not changed. Now, something is therefore wrong, because the word of prophecy is this child is destined to cause the rising and the falling of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against. So he says, There's a stone, and it's Christ, and people will either stumble over it or they will stand on it. They will either fall down, they will either bow beneath him, they will be glad of the opportunity to repent and to believe, to enjoy fellowship with him and peace with others, or his presence will be doomed to them. You could read for your homework in Isaiah chapter 8, you have this very picture. To some he is a stone that they trip over, he is a rock of stumbling, he's a trap and a snare.
You have it not only in Isaiah 8, but you also have it in the portion I was just quoting from in Jeremiah chapter 6. Therefore this is what the Lord says, I will put obstacles before this people. Fathers and sons alike will stumble over them, neighbors and friends will perish.
Now let me tell you the solution, dear friends, that God has created for that circumstance. And then we go to the gospel. Then they understand there is one to whom I must run. You will either run to the Christ of whom they speak, or you will fall over the Christ of whom they speak. But you won't be able to go out the door and say, Hey, I can take it or leave it.
The picture is clear. It's as though a rock has been put across the road to block the traveler from danger. But the traveler goes on his merry way, and in carelessness or in scorn, he refuses the warning and he stumbles to his death. Peter picks it up in 1 Peter 2, and he says, Yes, they stumble at the word of God, for in their hearts they are unwilling to obey it, which makes stumbling a foregone conclusion. That's J.
B. Phillips. That is a great phrase. For in their hearts they are unwilling to obey it, which makes stumbling a foregone conclusion. So the strong and the mighty who rely on their own merit will come crashing down, because in their pride they do not realize their sin, they do not take refuge in Christ. But the humble who fall at his feet in confession and faith will be those who are raised up to eternal life.
Men fall solely on account of their own guilt, and men rise solely on account of God's grace. Well, that's the stone. Notice the sign.
I just bash through this here. The sign—a sign that will be spoken against. God is in the business of signs—rainbows and pillars of cloud and fire and blood on the doorposts and serpents on poles, and his people understood signs. So Jesus, in his words and in his miracles, his character, his teaching, and certainly in his death was a conspicuous sign. He himself said, just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. It doesn't say that the Son of Man was lifted up so that people knowing that he was lifted up will have eternal life, just by the knowledge of it. No, it is on account of our believing in him, coming to trust in him, to rely upon him, to stake our destiny on him.
Jesus said, When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be. But he was a sign that was spoken against. The religious leaders of the day were always muttering and complaining.
All right, grumpy lot they were. This man goes in, they said to one another, He welcomes sinners and he eats with them. I've never preached on that statement by the Pharisees, but I plan to. I just decided a few moments before the worship began.
I love that. I'm going to preach a sermon on that. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. Religious orthodoxy used that to condemn Christ. He used it to say he couldn't be the Messiah, because the Messiah will just be with religious people. The Messiah will be with us.
He will be like us. They spoke against him. When he cast out demons, they said he did it by the power of the devil himself. They abused him and they mocked him in the trial, and the multitude scorned him at the cross. And through it all, the Lord Jesus was the sign by which God was known to man the fact of his guilt and his doom, and was making known to man the only way of salvation for the penitent. He is a sign that he's spoken against.
He's as spoken against tonight as he ever was. We say it all the time, but it's true. People do not use Buddha as a swear word. They do not use Krishna as a swear word.
They take the name of Christ upon their lips. I haven't seen any satanic cult with t-shirts taking the scales of Islam and putting them upside down on a t-shirt in denial of the convictions of the Islamic faith. But it is an inverted crucifix which is the symbol of satanic cults. Why? Because it is a sign that is spoken against. And where did all these little fish come on the back of cars, inverted, with Darwin's name put in right in the middle?
Why? Because he is a sign that is spoken against. A stone upon which men and women take their stand or stumble, a sign that is spoken against, and then notice, and a sword, he says, will pierce your own soul. How Mary must have wondered at that.
What could this possibly mean? Driving home the magnitude of the resistance and rejection of people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Every mother will wince when her children are maligned or demeaned, especially if there is no basis in the things that are said. But for Mary this was to be true. Can you imagine what it was to be the mother of Christ? To listen in the bazaars and in the thoroughfares of life and hear your son maligned continually by the religious leaders, for him to increasingly become the focus of their hatred. To have words surfacing in various places that they were hatching a plot to kill your son. To think of him sleeping outdoors, despite the lovely home you gave him in Nazareth, despite the enjoyment that he had in the carpenter's place. To think of him saying foxes of holes and birds of nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
Every mother's going to be concerned about her boy. Every mother's going to put her head on the pillow at night and say, I wonder where he is, and I wonder how he is, and how it must have hurt her. To think of him being isolated by the envy of people, by persecution, by death threats, and surely overwhelmed with sorrow in the crucifixion itself. And if the sword had never pierced her own soul before the moment that her son spoke to her from the cross, then surely it pierced her soul in that moment, as he looks from the cross and says, Woman, behold thy son. And to the disciple whom he loved, John. Disciple, behold your mother.
And was there ever kinder shepherd half so tender, half so sweet? Why would people malign Jesus? Why would people use his name as a curse?
What did he ever do to deserve such treatment? See, there is no answer, save that all hell is unleashed against Calvary. And so he says, and men and women will reveal the thoughts of their hearts by their response to the Lord Jesus.
That's verse 35. The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. There is nothing that will reveal what's going on inside a person quite as much as their acceptance or rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Either you and I tonight are humble enough to cry, God, be merciful to me, the sinner, or we are so full of ourselves that we are prepared to stand and pray, God, I thank you that I am not like other men. So the thoughts are revealed. And then he gives us this wonderful, immediate illustration of the thoughts being revealed in this lovely old lady, Anna, who despite the sorrow of her bereavement wasn't bitter, who despite her old age she hadn't lost hope.
And what was the key? She was in touch with God. She was giving thanks to God. And she was telling others about God. She worshiped night and day, giving thanks to God. And she spoke to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel about the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a lovely, elderly lady. And the thoughts of her heart are revealed there. And the thoughts of your hearts and mine are revealed in our reaction to Christ tonight.
Neutrality is not an option. We either stumble over him in our unbelief or we take a stand with him in childlike faith. The question for each one of us today is, are we standing or are we stumbling? We either fall on account of our own guilt or we rise purely because of God's grace. That's Alistair Begg walking us through Simeon's prophecy.
You're listening to Truth for Life. This week I've been telling you about a book that we think you will find very helpful in the New Year. The book is called Every Moment Holy and it's a collection of prayers that you can pray to acknowledge God's presence in, as the title suggests, every moment of life. We may not think to pause and pray to God during times that we consider uneventful or mundane. For example, when you're preparing a meal for the family or working in the yard or doing shopping, you don't likely start with prayer.
But God is present in each of these moments and this book not only encourages us to remember that, it also gives us words that make even routine moments a special time to commune with God. Request the book Every Moment Holy when you make a donation today at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now, starting tomorrow, our offices are going to be closed through next week between Christmas and New Year's. Our website will be available throughout that time, but today is the last day for you to call in with a year-end donation. So if that's how you'd prefer to give, call us before five o'clock Eastern Time today at 888-588-7884. Again, you can always give online at truthforlife.org. And if you're not currently subscribed to the daily devotional email from Alistair, you'll want to do that before the first of the year. You can begin each morning in 2023 by reading a passage of scripture, then considering how to live out the instruction as you go about your day. This daily devotional is a free subscription and you can sign up at truthforlife.org slash lists. I'm Bob Lapine. Did God give Jesus for a select group of people and can we be taken off his list? We'll hear the answer tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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