Sumbling Block or Savior?
Intro – Read Luke 2:34-35 – In Luke’s presentation of the life of Christ, everything has been rosy up to this point. But danger lurks in the second half of Simeon’s prophecy. Luke 2:34, “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother.” Stop there. See anything strange? Simeon has just expounded on the glorious overall Messianic mission. Great. Now he turns to bless them – Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Wonderful. The benediction and church is over, right? Well, not quite. For now he does a strange thing. Suddenly he addresses Mary specifically with a mix of good and bad news. Why would that be? Why Mary and not Joseph? I think the answer is found in what we do not find in the life of Christ after age 12. What we do not find -- is Joseph. He is there with Jesus at 12 in the temple. Then 18 years of silence. And when the story picks up again, Mary’s there, and, in fact, brothers and sisters of Jesus, but we never see Joseph again. Early on in Matt 13:55-57 a hometown crowd says, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us?.” Joseph is gone – presumably having died during the intervening 18 years. Jesus probably supported the family through carpentry until His ministry began.
So, Simeon addresses Mary regarding hardships to come -- preparing her for the downside of being associated with Jesus. He pulls no punches. Luke 2: 35, “(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” This prophecy is fulfilled at the cross when Mary’s heart breaks watching her son die – not the end she expected. But Simeon is preparing her. And his words remind all of us that being a follower of Christ brings no promise against suffering. In fact, it promises there will be suffering. In this life, it is part of the package. The Bible says in Phil 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” God’s gifts us in two ways – with faith and with suffering. Both are gifts.
There is a reason for that. In Eph 1:10 God has “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” History is going somewhere. Alienation will be broken to smithereens. All the chaos done by Satan’s rebellion will be put right. Peace and justice and holiness will reign. It’s coming, Beloved. As a follower of Christ, you’re on the right team. Romans 8:17 promises we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” A glorious future awaits sufferers with Him. But meantime, evil must be weeded out. Rebellion must be confined to everlasting separation from God, and Mary’s son is the lightning rod for all of this to happen. The glory won’t come easily. Jesus is the great mediator of salvation, but He is also the great revealer of men’s hearts and the exposer of evil. Jesus the revealer divides humanity right down the middle. Let’s see why.
I. He Reveals God
Simeon says in Luke 2:34, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” Let’s take the second clause first. This child is appointed for a sign. The Jews were big into signs. They were constantly asking Jesus for a sign. But the fact is, Jesus Himself was the sign. As God in the flesh, He was the ultimate sign. Born of a virgin, speaking as no man had ever spoken, casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead – He was a one-man wrecking crew of evil and revealer of the kingdom of God. Any true seeker couldn’t have missed that here was the Son of God – the ultimate revelation of God. That’s why Jesus was amazed in John 14:8 when 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? He was dumbfounded. Philip – 3 years with me and you still don’t get it? I and the Father are one. Wake up.
The Bible teaches God is spirit. That is His essence. He is invisible to physical eyes. We can see Him only if He reveals Himself in some way. Kind of like an invisible man movie where the guy is only seen if he puts on clothes. We wouldn’t even know God exists if He did not reveal Himself. But He has revealed Himself -- 3 glorious ways. First in nature. Psa 19: 1) “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” The intricacy of creation literally screams there is a Creator who is omniscient, omnipotent, moral and personal.
Second, God is revealed in His Word. 417 times we find the phrase “Thus says the Lord.” 417 times! 109 times we find “The word of the Lord came” to someone. In the book of Ezekiel alone, 84 times it says this is written so you “may know that I am the Lord.” 84 times. Beloved, there is a message there somewhere. David says in Psa 19:7) “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8) the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Why is the Word so wonderful? Because it brings God to life – reveals Him to us!
But the greatest revelation of God by far -- is Jesus. He is called Immanuel – God with us. Heb 1:1-3says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers (revealed Himself) by the prophets (the Word), 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” You want to know God? Look at Jesus. Reject Him and there’s nowhere to go. Nothing more He can do. He could write it in the sky and you would deny it because you’ve already rejected the ultimate, the exact imprint, God in the flesh.
In John 6, Jesus challenges some people to do the work of God. They ask in John 6:28, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?” Amazing! These are part of the 5,000 He fed the day before with 5 loaves and two fish and they want a sign?! Dumbfounding, but Jesus just tells them they need the bread of life – which is Him. Salvation resides in Him. He Himself is the sign. You can’t get any greater than the greatest. There is no sign after Him. He is the end of the revelation of God. Reject Him and you are hopelessly lost. Truthfully examine the words, the claims, the miracles, the life, death and resurrection of Christ – and turn Him down – and you’ve reached the end of the trail. Failure to know God in Christ is failure to know God at all. Col 1:19, “ For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Reject Christ and all hope is gone. He’s the sign.
Why do people reject? Spiritual blindness. In Jesus, the kingdom of God is invaded foreign territory, the territory of Satan – thus Jesus is not a universally accepted sign. He is in Luke 2:34 ”a sign that is opposed – literally spoken against. My how people hate Jesus. Have you ever wondered how people could hate someone who never sinned, only did good and never one single bad thing – not one? But He didn’t fit their mold, did He? Held them accountable for sin. So they hated and killed God’s ultimate sign. But they could not destroy him. God resurrected Him and soon, God says in Matt 24:30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of [or the sign which is] the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Jesus’ work as God’s revealer has only begun.
Turn to Rev 5 to see some implications. In Rev 4, John sees a glorious unapproachable God. In Rev 5, there is a scroll that has the culmination of history sealed up in it. But no one can approach God to open it. No angelic being, no human being, no one from the dead – no one. If the highest angels in chapter 4 dare not look upon God, who is going to come along and say, “No problem, I’ll open it”? So Rev 5:4, “4 and I (John) began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” John despairs because unless someone can approach God, take the scroll, and break its seals, God’s purposes for judgment and blessing will not come to pass. History will be meaningless. There will be no final accounting. The only thing worse than a final accounting is – no final accounting. Then all suffering would be meaningless, all history without purpose. John weeps.
Then Luke 2: 5, “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” So John looks for the lion. But all he sees is a lamb. A lamb? Why a lamb? Because, the lion is the lamb! The lion emphasizes Jesus kingly, conquering character; the lamb emphasizes His sacrifice for sin. But Jesus of Nazareth is both. He is the lion-lamb. And this lion-lamb can approach the transcendent God boldly! Why? Because he does not approach God from the outside, as it were, but from the center of the throne. He is lion; He is lamb; and He is God. He’s the final revelation, so all heaven sings Luke 2: 9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” He is the meaning of history, dear friends – the greatest sign of all. Have you opposed, or accepted Him?
II. He Reveals Hearts
Now Jesus not only reveals God to man; but by His very presence He reveals the hearts of man to God. Oh, how He reveals hearts. By the time He is done, there is no doubt where someone stands. Luke 2:34 tells us that He is appointed
“for a sign that is opposed (then to the last phrase of 35) so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Because Christ is God, you cannot confront Him without revealing your heart. We are either for or against Him. He is the great uniter of eternity; but He is the great divider of history.
Simeon knew something Israel’s elite had missed. Like Isaiah, he knew human nature is the same in all ages. While he looked for the consolation of Israel, he knew beneath the outward forms of religion there lurked in many hearts the spirit of rebellion. Christ would provoke their hidden rebellion into open antagonism. This was an essential part of His mission. There could be no consolation until rebellion was exposed and either repented and forgiven, or judged forever. There is no consolation until sin and guilt are resolved – one way or the other – by forgiveness or judgment.
Jesus intentionally rooted out sin. Israel was living in a dream world. They had perverted the law of God their own set of rules – ones that they could keep, declaring themselves righteous, seeing themselves not as sinners but as special. They remade God in their own image. And here came Jesus, fulfilling the actual law of God while exposing hypocrisy, attacking self-righteousness, demonstrating that while legalistic about keeping their traditions, their hearts were in rebellion. The law said no murder; and they didn’t. But Jesus taught their inward anger and bitterness were murder, and they must be forgiven or judged. The law said no adultery; they were outwardly innocent. But Jesus taught that the lust in their hearts constituted adultery, and they must repent. The law said love your neighbor, and they complied. But Jesus taught that meant your enemy too! They were guilty of hating their enemies, so must repent. On and on it went until they killed Him – the ultimate Revealer of their hearts. He doesn’t look on the outside; He looks at hearts. What does He see when He looks at your heart?
In his Radical David Platt tells of visiting a church that supports his ministry to the underprivileged. Saturday night in the pastor’s home, he reported to church leaders on the ministry in New Orleans among housing projects ridden with poverty, gang violence, homelessness and countless addictions. Then he shared about other ministries worldwide in places traditionally hostile to Christianity. He thought they would share his excitement that God was drawing people to Himself in some of the toughest places in the world. But after an awkward silence one of them and said, “David, I think it’s great you are going to those places. But if you asked me, I would just as soon God annihilate all those people and send them to hell." That leaves me breathless. That was an encounter with Christ which revealed a rebellious heart. How is your heart? Is it cold, judgmental, legalistic? Or does it plead to God for mercy? Good or bad, the presence of Jesus reveals hearts. Don’t think so? Just mention Jesus in a public prayer! You’ll find out quickly.
III. He Reveals Eternal Destiny
Back up to Luke 2:34, “Behold, (literally “Mark well”) this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Here is the main point. Jesus is the great divider. The same person causes some to rise and some to fall. He does that by revealing God to man – God’s ultimate sign. By our reaction to that truth, our hearts are revealed. And that leads to a personal fall or rise, -- fall describing those who reject Him and thus fall to the judgment of a holy God. Rise describing those who rise to life eternal by trusting Him as Savior and Lord. Those 2 words represent polar opposites of eternal destinies. All based on reaction to Him – no neutral ground. We will see this twofold eternal destiny that awaits all mankind over and over as we go through this book.
Do you see Jesus as a meek and mild prophet who can be fobbed off with some kind of general assent to His historical significance and pulled out at funerals as a kind of universal security blanket regardless of commitment in this life? Then, Beloved, you don’t know Jesus! Luke 12:49-52: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with (His redemptive death), and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father.” Jesus is the great divider of history – because history is filled with people who will not admit that they fall short of the glory of God and need Jesus. It is filled with people offering God their rags rather than accepting life in Christ. Jesus cuts like a sword between those who humbly come to God on His terms and those who reject His terms in favor of their own goodness or some other ritual. Jesus divides history and people right down the middle.
Isaiah had prophesied 700 years before Christ, “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it” (Isa 8:14-15). So what is He to you today? Sanctuary or stumblingblock? Have you accepted His death in your place as the only way to the Father? Jesus says in John 8:23-24, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” He draws the line, dear friends, and we are all on one side or the other. He is the occasion of our personal rise or fall – decisive for eternity!
Are you in denial of His deity, this morning? Do you find his requirement to take up your cross daily and follow him to be too restrictive, unreasonably tough? Are you counting on your goodness to save you since you don’t like His way? Jesus said in Matt 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” There is no one like Him. He loves you as much as His death in your place can say, but now it is a question of how much you love Him.
Jesus asked the Pharisees in Matt 22:42, “What do you think about the Christ?” That is the question of all questions. There is no other question. God will never ask, “How good were you?” He will not ask, “When were you confirmed?” He will not ask, “How much did you give to the poor?” He will not ask, “When were you baptized?” or “Did you do your best?” The question of all questions that will determine the rise and fall of every person who ever lived is, “What do you think about the Christ?” And so, I ask you this morning, “What do you think about the Christ?” Stumbling block or Savior? Which is He to you this morning?
Let me give you one example of how Jesus reveals God to man, man to God, and how our reaction determines our eternal destiny. Mahatma Gandhi, a better man that any of us will probably ever be, said this in his autobiography: I could accept Jesus as a martyr, and embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept. I would catch a glimpse of the cross – and suddenly my heart would stand still. In an instinctive, intuitive way I understood that something more important, more tumultuous, more passionate, was at issue than our good causes, however noble they might be . . . . I should have worn it . . . . It should have been my uniform, my language, my life. I shall have no excuse; I can’t say I didn’t know. I knew from the beginning, and turned away.” Do you get chills hearing that? I can’t tell you Gandhi’s eternal fate. Only God knows that. But I can say that at the time he wrote those words, Jesus was stumbling block, not Savior. He saw God in Christ. His heart went part way, but he turned away. Don’t turn away. Accept Him as your Savior. Do it now. Let’s pray.