Simeon’s first words about the 8 day old Jesus must have seemed a little unbelievable to both Jesus’ parents and any onlookers who overheard, because he stated quite clearly the extraordinary idea that this child represented God’s rescue plan for humanity, both Jew and Gentile:
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32 NIV)
Perhaps these words were less surprising for Mary and Joseph, who had both already had the extremely odd experience of encountering an angel who had things to say about the child Mary was to bear. They already knew that Jesus was no ordinary child and that God would do great things through him. But the words of Simeon that followed his initial outburst were not so positive, even vaguely frightening, and must have caused Mary and Joseph to wonder. Look at what Simeon said:
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35 NIV)
Jesus may have been God’s rescue plan for humanity, but clearly not everyone would be saved. Some would rise, certainly, but others would fall. Jesus’ life would cause some to speak out against him, showing that they were not interested in this rescue plan. What was the sword that Simeon spoke of? Clearly the wonder of Jesus’ place in God’s plan would not be without pain for Mary and Joseph, whose souls would be pierced as they saw their son hated, misunderstood, falsely accused and condemned, arrested and executed? But with the baby Jesus cradled in their arms they knew nothing of what was to come.
If it was Mary who late in her life related this encounter to Luke, it seems clear that those words Simeon spoke over her son so many years before had been indelibly etched on her memory. Mary remembered the words and saw how their truth was born out by the events of Jesus’ life that followed. Luke probably recorded them for just this reason, as if to say to his readers, “you have seen how Jesus divides people, how some receive him with joy and others reject him with sadness. This was precisely what God said would happen, so we should not be surprised. But if you are willing to receive it, Jesus holds the key to life.”
These words come, once again, in the introduction to Luke’s book. They are tantalising. Who is this man, this Jesus? What ever was he going to do that could provoke such controversy? These words draw us on into Luke’s gospel, and give us something to look for. We have seen that Jesus was to be king and saviour, light in the darkness. But now we see that Jesus would lead some to God, while causing other’s to reject him completely. We are invited to read on, to form our own opinions of this man that had so profoundly affected Luke’s life. Will the life story that follows lead us to God, or separate us from him? How will we respond to this Jesus? Will we embrace God’s rescue plan, or will we reject it? Will Jesus be the cause of our rising or of our falling?