Simeon was a righteous and devout man. God revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. The Holy Spirit also led Simeon into the temple that day and caused him to recognize the infant Jesus as the Christ and Savior of the world. And because not many others in the temple received a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, it might have come as a surprise that a complete stranger picks up an infant and declares him to be the Christ. Simeon is so over joyed to see the baby Jesus that he says,
"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
According to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation
That you have prepared in the sight of all peoples."
Now certainly Simeon has a special insight into Jesus. He knows that this little baby will grow up to redeem him from his sins. He is ready to die, because he knows that God has kept his promise to send a Savior. His death is now more joyful to him than life, because this Jesus will give him a greater life than he could ever live.
Yet, when Simeon says, "According to your word," he is not only speaking of God's direct revelation to him that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Christ. Simeon is speaking of the Word, which God has made known to all people!
Through holy Scripture God made known his plan to send his Son into the flesh, even to become a baby, so that he might save his people from their sins. God first revealed this plan when he cursed Satan in the garden, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 3, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." Here God revealed that the Savior would be born of a woman, and although he would suffer, he would crush the head of Satan. In our Old Testament lesson again, God revealed from which family the Christ would be born, "Then shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his root shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him..." And so, from these words, all people who waited for the appearing of the Christ knew that he would be a descendent of King David, the son of Jesse. Again, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" Here 700 years before Simeon found Jesus in the temple, Scripture revealed to whoever would listen that the Christ would be born of a Virgin and he would be Immanuel, that is, God with us. Again, Isaiah speaks in chapter 9, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
And so, when Simeon took hold of baby Jesus and declared him to be the Salvation of the Lord, the very Christ, he did not say anything contrary to what God had already spoken through Scripture. Rather, he confirmed that God keeps his promise! The long-awaited Christ is born! And God is using Simeon and Anna to make known that God's Word cannot be broken.
Simeon calls Jesus,
"A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And for glory to your people Israel."
This might sound as a surprise to some and indeed it is a difficult pill for many zealous Jews to swallow. Simeon says that Jesus is a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Gentiles means nations. Gentiles refer to non-Jews. But many think that the Christ is a promise only to Jews. The temple, where God dwells is in Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. All the books of the Old Testament were written by Jews. Jesse and David, from whose lineage the Christ would be born, are Jews. The Jews are God's chosen people. And the Scriptures constantly make mention of Christ redeeming Israel.
But here, Simeon includes the Gentiles. That means, he includes all nations, every people, Greeks, Romans, Germans and Norwegians, Africans, Asians, Americans, whites, blacks, and everyone in between. Jesus is the light of revelation of salvation to all people. He is the Savior of the whole world!
Is this a new revelation from Simeon? No. Here again, Simeon confirms a promise that God has consistently made throughout Scripture. In 2 Samuel 22 King David praises God for delivering him by saying, "For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations." And Psalm 67 declares, "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!" And in the same chapter as our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah writes, "And in that day the root of Jesse, who stands as a signal for the peoples- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious." (vs 10) And of course, the first promise of Christ was made in the presence of Adam and Eve, who are not only the parents of the Jews, but of all peoples. As St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 3, "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also."
Then Simeon makes a strange and ominous prophecy to Mary as he returns her infant child, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
Jesus will cause not only the rise, but the fall of many in Israel. He will be opposed. Not all will accept Jesus. In fact, many even in Israel, will oppose him. Jesus is God's Son. He was born of women, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law. Why should God have to submit to his own law? It is we who must obey him. Yet, we do not obey, do we? We disobey God's Law. God says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind." Do we? No, we trust in money. We devote our time and intellect to other things, instead of pondering God's Word. God's Law says to love your neighbor as yourself. Do we? No. We disobey our parents and other authorities. We hurt people with our words and actions. We don't live chaste lives. We gossip, steal, and covet. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We deserve to be damned.
So, God sent his Son to be born of a woman, so that he could become like us, who are born of women. He became under the law, so that he could obey the law in our place and suffer in our stead. The law no longer condemns us, because it condemned Jesus in our stead. We need only to believe in Jesus and we have eternal salvation.
But this is the cause of offense. It is the very Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sins that is opposed. St. Paul writes, "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Corinthians 1:23) The wise think that it's foolish for Jesus to have to be crucified for our sins. And even the religious, the people we think are really good, who certainly deserve to go to heaven, they also are offended by Jesus' cross. They don't want salvation to be a free gift. They are offended that their good works do not save them or even contribute in a small way. So, they cling to their good works and stumble over Christ's cross, which preaches mercy to all.
You can't please everyone! Here Simeon prophecies that if you want to have Christ, there will be those who will reject him. If a preacher wants to preach the truth about Jesus he will offend some even as he comforts others. If the teaching of your church pleases everyone, then it isn't the teaching of Christ, as our Lord Jesus himself says, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:34-36)
Some, when they hear the Gospel will repent of their sins and believe in Jesus for their full salvation. Others will be offended. They'll be offended that they need to repent. They'll think they're works are good enough and that their sins are not that bad. They'll be offended that Jesus had to suffer and die for them. They'll be offended that God doesn't accept any of the good they've done as payment, but only the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ alone.
So, where you have Jesus you will have division; between those who trust in Christ and his cross and those who are offended by the Gospel. Yet, this is this same Jesus, who will lift up those, who trust in him from all nations. And he will give them true peace with God through the forgiveness of their sins.
A sword will pierce through Mary's soul as well. Yes, she will witness her son suffer for her sins and for the sins of the whole world. This will pierce her soul. She will also see many of her own countrymen oppose Jesus, who came to save them. This is the sword that will be thrust through Mary's soul. And this sword is thrust through our souls as well, as we see people reject the Gospel. It will cause us spiritual pain to see even our loved ones oppose Christ and fall.
And so, the hearts of many will be revealed by the Gospel. Those with a humble heart, who are sorry for their sins and desire God's forgiveness will be revealed as they trust in the Gospel. And God will exalt them. Those, who are proud and do not desire to repent and think that don't need Jesus will also be exposed. But do not be scandalized that Jesus causes division. He has come to shine a light on you. It is God's desire for all to be saved. And Jesus came to save the entire world. Jesus is your light of salvation.
It might seem strange to many that old man Simeon rejoices in God's salvation found in a little baby. But he rejoiced in the helpless baby, because he had faith in God's Word. You are saved through faith, when you believe that Jesus has won your salvation. And so, it is for us today. We are saved by faith. We come to church, and it doesn't look like much. We hear words. We eat and drink bread and wine. It really doesn't look like much, certainly not like the salvation of the Lord. But for us, who believe God's word, who believe that these words of forgiveness from Jesus are the words of eternal life and that Christ's true body and blood are present even as Jesus himself says so, well then, for us we can gladly sing, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people." Here, brothers and sisters in Christ, is your salvation, in the word of God, if you believe it.