By Joseph Ametepe
In the summer of 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife, Frances, died tragically in a fire. That first Christmas without her, he wrote in his dairy, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” The next year was no better, as he recorded, “’A merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863, as the American Civil War was dragging on, Longfellow’s son joined the army against his father’s wishes and was critically injured. On Christmas Day that year, as church bells announced the arrival of another painful Christmas, Longfellow picked up his pen and began to write, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
The poem begins pleasantly, lyrically, but then takes a dark turn. The violent imagery of the pivotal fourth verse ill suits a Christmas carol. “Accursed” cannons “thundered,” mocking the message of peace. By the fifth and sixth verses, Longfellow’s desolation is nearly complete. “It was as if an earthquake rent the hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote. The poet nearly gave up: “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.”
But then, from the depths of that bleak Christmas day, Longfellow heard the irrepressible sound of hope. And he wrote this seventh stanza.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!”
The war raged on and so did memories of his personal tragedies, but it could not stop Christmas. –Adapted from Daily Bread, December 19, 2015
One can say that Longfellow’s life after the tragic death of his wife, was a mixture of pleasure and pain. It was one of delight and despair. But long before Longfellow’s life of a mixture of pleasure and pain unfolded, Mary and Joseph found their lives to be a mixture of pleasure and pain. For at the First Christmas, they, the First Christmas Couple, were given a message which not only gladdened their hearts but also grieved their hearts. This message is often ignored or hurriedly passed over, come time to tell the marvelous and magnificent story ever told on planet earth – the story of the Birth of Jesus.
I strongly believe that if the Lord had wanted the message that not only gladdened but also grieved the hearts of Mary and Joseph to be ignored or hurriedly passed over, He would not have preserved it in our Bible. Yet, because our Lord has a powerful and poignant lesson to teach us, He chose to preserve its account in the Bible. He desires for us to learn that in His sovereign wisdom, His blessing upon our lives does not make them pain-free. Yes, God’s believing people will experience gladness in their lives. But there will also be seasons of experiencing grief.
This powerful and poignant lesson is in stark contrast to what is being taught in some Christian circles today. Some teach that when you are blessed of God, life will be all blissful. Sickness, suffering, sorrow, sadness, shame, struggles, and shortages will not be a part of your life. Many have bought into this teaching to the point that the focus of all their prayers is to be blessed as such. No suffering! No sickness! No sorrow! No sadness! No shame! No struggles! No shortages in their lives! Because this will really show that they are truly blessed of God. But the message Mary and Joseph heard at the First Christmas was that being blessed doesn’t exempt them from sorrow and suffering. Yes, even the grief that pierces the soul!
This brings me to the main idea of the message God has given me from His Word to deliver to you at this special hour in your life and my life. Please I want you to pay careful attention to it, not just with your head, but more importantly with your heart; where the Holy Spirit is ready and resolved to plant the seed of God’s life-giving and life-changing truth, in order to change genuine born-again believers, more into the blessed image of Jesus Christ – the Lover of and the Life-Giver to the Church; and to convict unbelievers of their sin of unbelief – mercifully and miraculously leading them to genuine repentance and personal saving faith in Jesus Christ – the Savior and the Seeker of lost sinners like myself.
So here is our message in brief. Please, I humbly ask you to listen attentively to it with an open heart and an open mind, willing to accept it and announce it to all who have ears to hear it and hearts to heed it. Exemption from suffering and sorrow is not necessarily enjoyed by those who are truly blessed of God. To put it another way, God’s blessing upon His believing children does not imply a life of uninterrupted bliss and happiness. They will experience suffering and sorrow as well. In other words, God’s pronouncement of blessing upon His believing people does not mean that their lives will always and only be marked by pleasure and prosperity. A blessed life is both glorious and grievous. Indeed, it’s a mixture of happiness and heartache; pleasure and pain. It’s a blend of delight and distress! Indeed, we are going to learn that the blessedness pronounced on Mary and Joseph at the First Christmas did not imply untainted happiness. For, the Bible will also speak of the future sorrows that would come especially, into Mary’s life.
Folks, friends, faithful followers of Christ among us here today, and fellow believers in the fold and flock, fellowship and family of God, the Bible is going to succinctly and specifically show us today that the life of the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas would be one of great gladness and great grief. In other words, our Christmas story for today is going to make it plain to us that the Christian’s life is not all blissful and bright but also bitter and (dark) black.
In fact, our Christmas Story today will remind of the story of Job. In great pain and great distress, Job rebuked his wife, who in frustration and fear told him to curse God and die. That, as you know very well, was the voice of Satan through Job’s discouraged and despondent wife. Job responded to his wife with these faithful and famous words. “You speak as one of the foolish women speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did sin with his lips” (Job 2:10; ESV). You see, Job was reminding his beloved and burdened wife that walking with God is not only and always all bliss, but also bitter at times.
This biblical truth is tenderly and touchily presented in Luke 2:33-35. Actually, Luke is the only Gospel writer who wrote about it. Would you please now turn your Bibles to Luke 2:33-35 as we take a fresh look at our Christmas message entitled: “The Blessing at the First Christmas!”
We have before us a passage of Scripture which is only two sentences in the original language. The New American Standard Bible (NASB), the most literal translation of the Bible into our English language, also translated it into two sentences. So also did the English Standard Version (ESV). It is a passage which can be accurately described as a passage of great blessing and great bitterness.
First of all, it is a passage of great blessing because it specifically speaks of the divine blessing pronounced upon Joseph and Mary. At the First Christmas, God, through righteous and devout Simeon, declared His great blessing upon Joseph and Mary. Indeed, one can say that the most blessed people at the First Christmas were Joseph and Mary. Simeon’s pronouncement of blessing upon them was divinely directed. In other words, Simeon, upon whom was the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25), to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26), who was in the Spirit when he came into the temple courts (Luke 2:27), spoke by the Spirit. As such, one can confidently say that the blessing pronounced upon them was indeed a great and glorious blessing. God had placed His approval upon their lives.
Second, it is a passage of great bitterness because it solemnly sets forth the unspeakable bitterness of soul Mary will experience in the future. Just as Simeon was specifically and succinctly directed to pronounce a blessing upon the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas, so he is now solemnly and summarily led to proclaim a blunt message regarding the bitterness of soul Mary would be experiencing. You see, it was crucial for Mary to know that being the Mother of the Messiah would not be all bliss and bright. Sweet and savory. She must understand that being the Mother of the Messiah was both a great blessing and a great burden. Yes, a great bitterness of soul. Indeed, no other person in the entire world ached for Jesus’ unspeakable suffering and struggle as Mary did.
Having just simply whetted your spiritual appetite (I pray you have a healthy spiritual appetite), please allow me to give you a concise overview of how the Holy Spirit has prepared me to present His message to you from start to finish. First of all, we will expound on the amazement of Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:33. Life for the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas was full of amazement. The God of amazement, brought a lot of amazement in their lives at the First Christmas. They experienced a combination of joy and amazement as they saw how God touched the hearts of others with great spiritual insight and understanding of their Son. The Bible will clearly and convincingly make it known to us that their amazement or surprise was due to the testimony coming from all quarters to the greatness of the Holy Child. You see, Simeon was just one of several people who spoke words that caused Mary and Joseph to marvel at the First Christmas. Who were the rest? Well, with the assistance of the Spirit of God and the Scriptures of God, we will answer this question shortly.
Second, we will emphasize what the Bible reveals about the approval of God on Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:34a. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon pronounced a blessing upon Joseph and Mary at the First Christmas. As I’ve said earlier; one can confidently say that Joseph and Mary were the most people at the First Christmas. God singled them out and pronounced His blessing upon them. This means God’s approval was upon their lives. May I say to us, God’s approval is upon people He blesses!
Third, we will expound on Simeon’s address to Mary in Luke 2:34b-35a. Speaking prophetically by the Spirit of God, Simeon turns his attention to Mary, the Mother of the Messiah. He addresses her specifically with words that are tough and hard to hear. You see, Simeon knew that Mary was related to the Babe in his arms, but not Joseph. Moreover, he saw too, that her heart, not Joseph’s heart would be pierced with the bitter sword of many sorrows for the Holy Child’s sake. In Simeon’s address to Mary, he didn’t mince words. He solemnly and specifically said to her that her Child is set for the fall and the rise of many in Israel. Also, in his address to Mary, he powerfully and prophetically declared; “a sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35a). Now the question is: what do these expressions mean to Mary at the First Christmas, and to us today, thousands of years away from the First Christmas? Well, with the help of the Holy Spirit of God and the Holy Scriptures of God, we will answer these difficult questions.
Fourth and finally, we will examine the divine aim to be attained in Luke 2:35b. The aim of all that has been spoken by Simeon is that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. In Hebrews 4:12, we read: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This verse emphasizes the power of God’s word to enter the deepest recesses of a person’s being. Before this verse was penned, the Holy Spirit directed Simeon to set it before Mary as the aim to be attained from his address to her. One can say that the word of Christ is the discerner of thoughts.
Having given you a brief overview of “The Blessing at the First Christmas,” let’s now dig deeper into it to discover afresh the eternal and enduring truths which the Holy Spirit is ready and resolved to plant in our hearts in order to do His special and supernatural work of molding and making genuine born again believers more into the blessed likeness of Jesus Christ – our Maker, our Messiah, our Master, our Merciful High Priest, our Mediator, and the Meeter of all our needs; in this present life and in the life soon to come.
We begin, first of all by elaborating on the:
I. AMAZEMENT OF JOSEPH AND MARY (Luke 2:33).
The First Christmas for Joseph (meaning “may [God] add”) and Mary (Greek form of Miriam – meaning “loved by Yahweh”) was full of amazing moments. Joseph and Mary did not know that the God they believed in and belonged to, was a God of amazement. They found out for themselves that God’s ways and works are wonderful and wise beyond their imaginations. Mary had her first amazing moment when the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to her and told her specifically that she had found favor with God. He also announced to her that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, to be named Jesus, although she was a virgin (see Luke 1:26-38). Mary’s second moment of being amazed by God happened when she visited Elizabeth in a city of Judah. Elizabeth, who had not had children until now, had conceived a son in her womb in her old age. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth pronounced a twofold blessing upon Mary (see Luke 1:39-45). These were amazing moments in Mary’s life.
Meanwhile, Joseph was also finding out for himself that walking with God had surprising moments. Before Joseph and Mary had come together, Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace Mary, secretly planned to send her away. It was then God took Joseph down the path of amazement. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. He assuaged the fears in Joseph’s heart and assured him that Mary’s conception was of the Holy Spirit. Mary was to be his wife. Joseph obeyed the angelic instructions and took Mary as his wife (see Matthew 1:18-25).
Now Joseph and Mary had come to the temple in Jerusalem to present the Holy Child to the Lord. God had already planned and prepared to take them down another path of amazement. They met an old godly man full of the Holy Spirit at the temple. He spoke words that caused them to marvel. Notice the Bible says: “And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him” (Luke 2:33; NASB).
Please just think of this! Here was Simeon (meaning “he hears” or “hearing”), a total stranger to Joseph and Mary, coming up into the temple at the very time they came to present the Babe of Bethlehem to the Lord. Out of the many babies who were being presented to the Lord on that historic day, only theirs was taken into the arms of an old godly man – to whom it had been revealed that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (see Luke 2:26). They were amazed that a total stranger to them should have such revelations made to him about Christ.
You see, with confidence and conviction of heart, Simeon had related in their hearing that seeing the Christ-Child was equivalent to seeing God’s salvation that He had prepared in the presence of all peoples (Luke 2:30). Furthermore, he glowingly spoke of Jesus as a Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel (Luke 2:32). You see, being an old man, Simeon’s sight were probably dim with age. Yet, the Lord gave him incredible spiritual insight to see what the keenest human examination could not have discovered and declared about the Christ-Child. Hearing Simeon, a total stranger to them, say these things about the Christ-Child certainly brought a sense of amazement upon them.
It’s also possible that their sense of amazement arose from discovering that what Simeon said to them about the Christ-Child was in exact agreement to what others had earlier said of Him. Recall, before the conception of the Christ-Child, the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary about Him (see Luke 1:26-38). After His conception, an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream about Jesus (see Matthew 1:18-25). Also, Mary heard Elizabeth’s joyful description and declaration of her as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). They both heard the message of glad tidings the angel brought to the shepherds about Jesus (see Luke 2:8-21). And now, the words of Simeon. They were therefore greatly astonished at the precise harmony there was between all that they had heard about the Christ-Child. If that’s the case, then there is no need to confine their sense of amazement to what were said by Simeon alone. We can picture their combination of joy and amazement to see how God has touched the hearts of others, most of whom were strangers to them, with an understanding of their Son. No doubt about it. The sense of amazement experienced by Joseph and Mary strengthened their faith in the Lord their God.
Actually, the Greek verb translated “amazed” is “thaumazontes” from the root verb “thaumazo.” It also means “to marvel,” “to wonder,” “to regard with amazement,” “be astonished out of one’s senses,” “awestruck,” “to admire,” or “have in admiration.” The words of the Spirit, uttered by the lips of Simeon and others were embraced with admiration by Joseph and Mary. As a result, they continued to make progress in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We learn an important spiritual lesson from this example. That is, possessing the right faith is not enough. Through the Spirit, the believer must endeavor to add whatever may assist in giving it further strength. One Bible Commentator writes: “That man has made great proficiency in the word of God, who does not fail to admire whatever he reads or hears every day, that contributes to his unceasing progress in faith.”
In fact, the theme of “amazement” featured prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Dr. Luke seemed to love relating the experience of people’s amazement at the words, works, and wonders of the Lord Jesus. But it all began with Joseph’s and Mary’s experience of being amazed at the things Simeon had been saying about the Christ-Child (Luke 2:47; 4:36; 5:9; 8:25, 56; 9:43; 11:14; 20:24; 24:22, 41). Mark this well! God is in the amazement business. As God deems fit for His believing children, He orchestrates circumstances and situations in their lives – leading to experiencing a sense of amazement which inevitably strengthens their faith in Him.
As you celebrate our Lord’s birth this Christmas Season, live in expectation of being amazed by the God of amazement. He will give you a fresh sense of amazement about the truth and wonder of the Birth of Christ. He will orchestrate circumstances and situations in your life to strengthen your faith in Him as you discover anew the destiny of the Christ-Child.
Transition: Having elaborated on the amazement of Joseph and Mary at the First Christmas, the Bible now brings us to the point of emphasizing the:
II. APPROVAL OF GOD ON JOSEPH AND MARY (Luke 2:34a).
Knowing the great task ahead of Joseph and Mary in bringing up the Christ-Child, Simeon wasted no time at all in pronouncing a blessing on the couple. He sought the blessing of God upon their lives. The Bible simply and succinctly says: “And Simeon blessed [“eulogesen”] them” (Luke 2:34a). These are the most precious words spoken at the First Christmas. Simeon prayerfully and prophetically pronounced them blessed who had the great honor of being related to the Christ-Child. Indeed, Simeon’s prayer that God would bless Joseph and Mary was the Bible’s way of emphasizing God’s approval on them. You see, God’s approval is upon those He blesses. Whenever God’s blessing is pronounced on an individual, a family, or a nation, it means God is fully and faithfully affirming His approval on their lives. Such was the case at the First Christmas.
Earlier, God’s approval upon Mary’s life was vividly presented by the angel Gabriel in Luke’s gospel. He spoke of Mary as “favored one” (Luke 1:28). This is also rendered “woman richly blessed.” But that was not all. To emphasize God’s approval on Mary, Gabriel went on to tell Mary: “You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
Actually, Elizabeth, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit, was the first person to pronounce a blessing on Mary at the First Christmas. She blessed both Mary, and the fruit of her womb, that is Christ. Speaking specifically to Mary, Elizabeth declares: “Blessed” [“eulogemene”] are you among women, and “blessed” [“eulogemenos”] is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42)! The blessing of Christ reminds us that He is the Promised seed, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. By the Spirit, Elizabeth would pronounce a blessing on Mary again with these precious words. “And “blessed” [makaria] is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:45). “Makaria” [feminine] is what Elizabeth called her cousin when she saw her and realized that she was indwelt by God.
Having been pronounced blessed twice during her visit to Elizabeth, Mary began to believe that God’s approval was upon her life. In fact, the Bible testifies to this in Mary’s rejoicing and response to the blessings pronounced on her in her song of praise, that’s often called “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55). In that song of praise to the Lord, Mary confidently and convincingly declares: “For behold, from this time on all generations will count me “blessed” [“makariousin” from “makarizo”] (Luke 1:48b). Mary was declaring here that because she was indwelt by God, this fact was going to be recognized and declared by generations to come. Clearly then, the blessedness of Mary is declared over and over again in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. In other words, God’s approval upon Mary’s life is affirmed repeatedly in Luke’s first book.
Just as God’s approval on Mary is well documented in Luke’s gospel, so also Joseph’s approval is also clearly and convincingly stated in Matthew’s gospel. Joseph was described as a righteous or just man (Matthew 1:19). His life of complete obedience to the Lord (see Matthew 1:24, 25; 2:13-15; 19-23) was exceptional. No wonder, God’s approval was upon Joseph. And he was given a glorious opportunity of being a significant part of the greatest story ever told on earth – the birth of Jesus Christ. Together with Mary, they were blessed by Simeon at the First Christmas!
Actually, the Greek word translated “blessed” in Luke 2:34 and also in Luke 1:42; 2:28; derives from the Greek verb “eulogeo.” It’s a compound word from “eu,” meaning “well, good;” and “logos” meaning “word, reason.” Properly, it means, to speak well of, that is, to bless (thank or invoke a benediction upon, prosper), to praise, celebrate with praises, to invoke blessings, to extol, to ask God’s blessing on a thing, pronounce a consecratory blessing on, to confer what is beneficial. When we bless (“eulogeo”) God we are speaking well of Him which is equal to praising or thanking Him. In other words, we laud Him or praise Him because He deserves it. When we bless (eulogize) one another, we express good wishes. To bless others is to consecrate them to divine use even as Christ did the infants (Mark 10:16), and the loaves and fishes He miraculously multiplied (Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; 8:7; Luke 9:16) and the memorial bread at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26; 1 Corinthians 10:16).
Now, it’s important to recall that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon (see Luke 2:25b). Moreover, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (see Luke 2:26). Furthermore, the Bible clearly and convincingly declares that Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple when Joseph and Mary brought in the Child Jesus to carry out the custom of the Law (see Luke 2:27).
What’s the point of all these? Here it is! Simeon’s pronouncement of blessing upon Joseph and Mary was the work of the Spirit of God. Indeed, it was God’s way of expressing His divine approval on Joseph and Mary. In fact, pronouncing God’s blessing upon God’s people is something God Himself had purposed to be done. He commanded it to be done for His people upon whom His approval rests. We see that in Numbers 6:25-28. Please read it for yourself and refresh your memory of the blessings God wants for your life.
Simeon pronounced Joseph and Mary blessed on account of their relation to Christ as man. More importantly, Simeon asked God’s blessing on them, because of their interest in Christ as their Savior and Redeemer. Simeon wished them all happiness and prosperity inward and outward, temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
Earlier, when Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple at the time Joseph and Mary brought in the Christ-Child, to perform for Him the custom of the Law, he took Him into his arms and blessed God (see Luke 2:27-28). Simeon praised God, and gave glory to Him for His great goodness, in sending the Promised Messiah, and long-awaited Savior of mankind. The word used for “blessed” also derives from “eulogeo.” It’s the same verb as used in Luke 2:34 – where Simeon blessed the Christmas Couple on that historic day in the Jerusalem temple.
Now, what’s the point of bringing this to your attention? Here is the point. Please notice very carefully that before Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary, he had blessed God (see Luke 2:28). There is an important spiritual principle in that order. Here is it! God uses the believer who blesses Him to bless others. You see, as Simeon lived a life of blessing God, God was pleased to use him to bless others. Do you want God to use you to bless others? Then, by the Spirit of God, commit yourself to blessing God, that is speaking well of Him, lauding Him, and praising Him. Too many believers today are in the habit of blaming God. And they wonder why God is not using them significantly in His kingdom. My friend, God will not use a “Blamer of Him” as a “Blesser of others.” He only uses those who live a life of blessing Him to bless others.
Recently, God gave me the privilege of listening to a believing sister share her struggles. Since age 19 she had to deal with fibroid in her womb and the prospect of not having children. She chose chastity over cheating. However, she found herself in a difficult valley when the man she was hoping to marry decided to walk away from her because she fell and got injured. The wounds from her injury took long to heal. The man couldn’t wait that long. And so he walked away - leaving her wounded emotionally. When a second opportunity came, she decided to try to have a child without doing first things first – that is, get married. She followed her best plans. God being so merciful, she was blessed with a daughter although she had not married. Now she is having financial, educational, and other struggles. But she was quick to blame God. Why did He allow me to suffer since age 19? Speaking the truth in love, I told her that God has a perfect solution for every problem we face. We can wait for Him to lead us to that perfect solution or we can take matters into our own hands to carry out our best plans – which always fall short of God’s best plans for us. In closing, I shared with her Deuteronomy 29:29. There, it is written: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (ESV).
The point of all this is that, you can follow Simeon’s way of life, that is, blessing God and being used by Him to bless others. Or you can follow in the footsteps of the believing sister above – blaming God and missing out on the privilege of being used by Him to bless others. I trust that you will choose the former way of life and let that be your practice this Christmas Season and the rest of your life on earth.
Some have tried to point out that Simeon pronounced a benediction only on Joseph and Mary, but not on Jesus, of whom he proceeds to speak. Simeon, they noted, refrained from blessing Jesus. They used Hebrew 7:7 to support their observation. There, it is written: “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (ESV). Simeon, was the inferior, and Jesus was the superior. Based on this principle, they concluded that it was not for one like Simeon to speak words of blessing on “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). As such, Simeon naturally abstained from even the appearance of superiority to the Child whom he held in his arms. They claimed Simeon refrained from blessing Christ because he knew that Jesus was the Blesser.
While this observation seems to exalt the superiority of Jesus, it misses the clear evidence that Simeon had earlier blessed the person of God Himself (the Superior and Supreme One) in Luke 2:28 before blessing Joseph and Mary. In fact, he used the same verb “eulogeo” in blessing the person of God Himself (the Superior and Supreme One) and Joseph and Mary later here in Luke 2:34a. So the point being made that Simeon refrained from blessing Christ while blessing Joseph and Mary sounds very spiritual, yet it lacks substance. Such a distinction is not necessary. Had the Spirit wanted Simeon to bless Christ in addition to Joseph and Mary, he would have done it irregardless of the principle that the lesser is blessed by the superior.
Transition: Having emphasized the approval of God on Joseph and Mary, the Bible now brings us to the point of expounding on Simeon’s:
III. ADDRESS TO MARY (Luke 2:34b-35a).
Speaking prophetically by the Spirit of God, Simeon turns his attention to Mary, the Mother of the Messiah. He addresses her specifically with words that clearly indicate that it was crucial for Mary to know that being the Mother of the Messiah would not be all bliss and bright. In other words, Mary needed to understand that the blessing pronounced on her doesn’t imply a life unmixed happiness. She must understand that being the Mother of the Messiah was both a great blessing and a great burden. Yes, a great bitterness of soul. Simeon’s address to Mary is recorded in Luke 2:34b-35. “And said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce even your own soul” (NASB).
You see, Simeon was not a prophet who simply told people only the nice things they wanted to hear. (Such prophets are operating in our world today and many are loving it). In other words, he was not a messenger of God who tickled people’s ears with messages that were comfortable. No, as a true prophet and messenger of God, who was committed to telling nothing but the truth; he also brought messages that were hard to hear. This is what we now see in this story. After speaking words of blessing on the First Christmas Couple, he brought Mary words that were hard to hear.
Please notice first of all that the address was specifically directed to Mary. That’s clearly evident in these words: “And said to Mary.” At this point, Simeon might have directed his gaze only on Mary. He was no longer looking at them as a couple. He had been commissioned to speak a hard-to-hear message to Mary.
Now please notice the dramatic manner in which the address to Mary was introduced. The Bible says: “Behold” (Luke 2:34). The Greek word translated “behold” is “idou.” It’s an important word. It is a term that calls attention to what may be seen or heard or mentally apprehended in any way. “Behold” sometimes serves to enliven a narrative by arousing attention of the hearers and readers. It also introduces something new, which calls for special attention, or something extraordinary. So the Bible is saying to us that Spirit is about to say something dramatic through Simeon, which calls for special attention. He is about to specifically and solemnly tell Mary that though a blessing has been pronounced upon her life; yet her life will not be all bliss and bright. But that she will experience bitter anguish of soul and heart because of being the Mother of the Messiah. In other words, it is important for Mary to understand that blessedness does not imply a life of unmixed, uninterrupted, or untainted happiness. She will also experience unspeakable anguish and agony! She will also experience heartache and sorrow.
Now, let’s look at the details of the address. The details are solemnly and succinctly stated in these words: “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2:34b-35a). Lest Mary should become proud of the abundance of blessings bestowed on her and the ample revelations that had been granted her, Simeon says to her; “By the way, here is a thorn in the flesh for you.”
Please notice the attention that is specifically given to the Divine Child. “This Child.” In other words, Simeon’s address to Mary centers on the Person of Jesus Christ, the One who is fully God and became fully Man. His address concentrates on the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:14). In fact, Simeon is here setting an example for all true messengers of God. Their task is to promote Christ. They are called to point others to Christ Jesus, on whom the gospel is centered. Their duty is to proclaim Him (see Colossians 1:28). Their responsibility is to preach and present Christ. In fact, John the Baptist (see John 1:29-34; 3:30), Peter and the apostles (see Acts 2:31-36; 3:13-16; 4:8-12), Philip (see Acts 8:5) and Paul (see Acts 9:20-22; 16:31; 17:31), all followed in the footsteps of Simeon in centering their messages on Jesus Christ. For He indeed is the subject of the gospel.
Now please notice that Simeon’s address to Mary also lays great emphasis on the divine appointment for Christ’s life. The Bible says He “is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed.” Please notice that the Bible is making it clear here that there is a twofold divine appointment for His life. First, the God-Man “is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel.” The Bible is making it clear here that the divine Child is set or specially appointed or destined [Greek: “keimai”] for the rise and fall of many in Israel. Simeon is here speaking prophetically to Mary that the fall and rise of many in Israel will be the effect of her Son’s coming. In other words, by God’s sovereign intent, Christ’s coming will have adverse as well as advantageous effects on many in Israel.
Now the question is: what is meant by the fall and rise of many in Israel? “The fall” [Greek: “ptosin”] speaks of a crash, that is, a downfall (literally or figuratively), ruin, or utter misery. It also denotes suffering, or disappointment.
It’s likely that the falling and rising of many in Israel is an allusion to Isaiah 8:14-15, where the prophet stated that Yahweh-Tsevao’th [the LORD of hosts] would become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. You see, many in Israel were expecting an earthly King and Conqueror to deliver them from Roman rule and repression. In this, they were greatly disappointed. Many loved darkness rather than “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). As such, they rejected Him and fell into ruin and misery. In fact, Israel’s rejection of their Messiah had serious consequences. They would “fall” into the hands of the Romans. Thousands upon thousands of them were led into captivity and perished. Their beloved temple was desecrated and destroyed by the Romans. It was indeed a great “fall” for many in Israel.
“The rise” [Greek: “anastasis”] also means “a standing up,” “a resurrection,” “a raising up,” “rising,” or “a recovery.” Together, “the fall” and “the rise” of many indicates that many would be ruined by Christ’s coming because of their rejection of Him, and that many others would be redeemed by Him through faith in Him. Commentator Barnes wrote: “Many of the poor and humble, that were willing to receive him, would obtain pardon of sin and peace – would “rise” from their sins and sorrows here, and finally ascend to eternal life.” ̴Barnes Notes, Biblehub.com
You see, it is sad and solemn to know that there are many in Israel to whom Christ and His gospel are a fragrance from death to death, but it is dear and delightful to know that there are many to whom Christ and His gospel are a fragrance from life to life (see 2 Corinthians 2:17). One can illustrate, “the fall and rise of many in Israel,” in the way Judas rushed headlong to his ruin, but Peter repented. It would be shown in the way one of the robbers blasphemed Christ, but the other believed in Him. It would be shown in the way the religious leaders rejected Christ, but sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors received Him.
One Bible Commentator writes: “Jesus is like a magnet that is attractive to some, but others are repelled from Him.” Indeed, it is true that Christ would be a blessing to many in Israel, but there are many who would be embittered and enraged against Him; hostile to and hateful of Him, and whose sin and ruin would be amplified by the revelation of Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ would be a sanctuary to some, and yet a snare to others (see 1 Peter 2:7-8). In other words, Jesus’ coming into the world was not intended to have a uniform effect upon all people. It would act on one soul in one way, and on another in another way. In other words, many will lose and many will gain, by His coming among them.
Now, let’s look at the second of the twofold divine appointment for Christ’s life. He is set “as a sign to be opposed.” “Semeion” is he Greek word translated “sign.” In this context, “semeion” signifies a conspicuous or distinguished object. Literally, it is a target that people shoot at. The Greek term for “to be opposed” is “antilegomenon.” It has two distinct meanings. Namely, to be spoken against, or to be opposed. Both fit in this context. Christ will be spoken against, but more than that, He will be vigorously and vehemently opposed in general in every way. Jesus is, and always has been opposed and spoken against by those who do not submit to God’s rule and reign over their lives.
Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ will meet much opposition. Towards Him there can be no neutrality. You either submit to Him or you are at war with Him. And it is the tragedy of life that our pride often prevents us from making that submission which leads to triumph and transformation in our lives.
Commenting on the divine appointment of Christ, Bible Commentator Barnes wrote: “The Lord Jesus was such an object of contempt and rejection by all the people. He was despised, and his religion has been the common “mark” or “sign” for all the wicked, the profligate, and the profane, to curse, and ridicule, and oppose…Never was a prophecy more exactly fulfilled than this. Thousands have rejected the gospel and fallen into ruin; thousands are still falling of those who are ashamed of Jesus; thousands blaspheme him, deny him, speak all manner of evil against him, and would crucify him again if he were in their hands; but thousands also “by” him are renewed, justified, and raised up to life and peace.” ̴Barnes Notes, Biblehub.com
What an address Simeon solemnly and specifically gave to Mary! He prophesied in his address to Mary that Christ, and His ministers, messengers, and missionaries would be ridiculed, and that all the arrows of unholy, ungodly, and unrepentant men would be shot against Him. This certainly proved true in that age as to Christ and His apostles, and in succeeding ages as to all that derive from Him, and will so hold to the end of the age. In brief, the Lord Jesus had been the target of great evil and will be until His return to reign and rule over all. Indeed, our Lord Jesus had been a sign and will be a sign to be continually opposed and spoken against till the end of the world.
But Simeon was not done with his address to Mary. There was one more direct message he had been commissioned by the Spirit to deliver to her. You see, the first part of his address to Mary centers on her Son. But now, the address of Simeon would cut to the heart of Mary. Simeon concludes his address to Mary solemnly and soberly telling her of the affliction of soul that will become her experience in life. “A sword will pierce your own soul.” Lest Mary should be lifted up with the plethora of revelations she had received, Simeon lovingly and with a heavy heart says: “here is a thorn in the flesh for you Mary. It will serve to alleviate your joy. In fact, it is what we all sometimes need in our lives.” It’s as if Simeon was saying to Mary: “rejoice, but do so with great trembling (see Psalm 2:11b). Because a sword will pierce your own soul.”
Yes, and surely, Mary’s Divine Son will be a great comfort and joy to her. But Simeon cautions her: “Don’t be too proud of it. For a sword will pass through your own soul also. This is because Your Son will be a suffering Savior. You will suffer with Him because of your special bond with Him and your sympathy for Him. Because of your nearness and relation to Him and your affection for Him, your soul will be afflicted more than any of His friends. In other words, because you are nearer to Christ, the deeper and surer your pain will be. When you hear men reviling and rejecting Him, it will be a sword piercing your heart. And when you stand at the cross, and see Him dying for the sins of the world, the inward and intense grief your heart; can be truly described as “a sword pierced through your own soul.””
Indeed, one can say the full meaning of the above prophecy was fulfilled in Mary’s life as she stood beside the Cross of Christ. After a humiliating and hate-filled trial, Mary saw her Son die upon the Cross after hours of pain and unspeakable suffering. No grief could be more touching than hers. It’s no wonder that she is frequently described as “Mater Dolorosa” –“Sorrowful Mother.” At the hour of her greatest grief, no lamentation of hers is recorded for us. But in her silence, “a sword was piercing her own soul” – memorializing the pre-eminence of her sorrow.
Perhaps, the greatest spiritual lesson we learn from Mary’s life at the First Christmas is this. Exemption from suffering and sorrow is not necessarily enjoyed by those who are truly blessed of God. Yes, Mary was truly blessed of God. But that didn’t imply that she would enjoy immunity from suffering and sorrow. Mary had the sorrow and suffering of seeing her Divine Son despised and rejected by men. She witnessed the hatred of the people of His hometown of Nazareth, who angrily sought to murder Him. Finally, she was a witness of His death at the hands of His enemies. Indeed, being truly blessed of God, didn’t provide Mary with immunity from suffering and sorrow. In fact, this spiritual lesson should comfort us in our times of trials and suffering. Yes, it should cheer us up in times of suffering for the sake of the gospel of Christ. And indeed, it should calm our fears of thinking that God has abandoned us in times of hardship and heartache.
Commentating on “a sword will pierce your own soul,” Pastor David Guzik writes: “It was important for Mary to know that mothering the Messiah would not be all sweetness and light. It was both a great privilege and a great burden. Possibly no other human agonized as much over Jesus’ rejection and suffering as His mother did. This was not only because of the natural love of a mother, but also because His rejection was her rejection. Wonderfully, His vindication was hers also.” ̴Enduring Bible Word Commentary, enduringword.com
Indeed, if Mary had not been given advance warning, and strengthened and sustained by resolute and resilient faith, she could not have endured the great trials which came upon her Divine Son. But God, in His goodness and grace prepared her for the agony and the pain she would experience, as she would one day watch her Son, hanging on a Roman cruel cross. Certainly, this advance warning must have tremendously contributed to fortify her trust and confidence in the Lord. It also greatly aided in preventing her from being overwhelmed with grief, when she came to those disheartening and distressing struggles, which she had to endure. Though her faith was tested and tormented by various trials, yet her most agonizing battle was with the cross. For on the cross, Christ might appear to be utterly destroyed.
Because of this preparation, Mary, the mother of the Messiah, thrived and triumphed in her trials. Later, the Lord Jesus Himself would give His disciples an advance warning regarding trials on earth. “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b; NASB). Yes, trials, troubles, and tribulations are part and parcel of the believer’s life on earth. That’s why our Lord gave us an advance warning to prepare us, not only to thrive in them, but also triumph in them through the enabling power of the Spirit. Perhaps, you are facing trials during this festive Christmas Season. Please, take heart! Jesus, the reason for the season, has overcome the world. And through the enabling power, presence, and person of the Holy Spirit, you too will overcome.
Transition: Having expounded on Simeon’s solemn and somber address to Mary, we now examine the divine:
IV. AIM TO BE ATTAINED (Luke 2:35b).
Moving from “Mary” to “many,” Simeon prophetically declares the end result of God’s message through His righteous and devout messenger. Speaking by the Spirit of God, Simeon briefly and boldly asserts that the divine aim of his address to Mary is the revelation of the thoughts of many. Please notice what the Bible says in Luke 2:35b. It says: “to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35b). Earlier, Simeon spoke prophetically of “the fall and rise of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). Now, he speaks prophetically of the revealing of the thoughts from many hearts.
You see, unlike most Jews, Simeon had the spiritual insight not only to understand what sort of person the Messiah would be. Recall, he affirmed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He also acknowledged that He would bring glory to Israel and salvation to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:25-28). But Simeon was also given divine insight about what Jesus was appointed for as well as the affliction or anguish of soul Mary would experience (see Luke 2:34b-35a). But that’s not all. More spiritual and prophetic insight was given to Simeon.
Knowing that God has a purpose for everything He permits or does, the Spirit revealed to Simeon the divine aim to be attained from his address to Mary. Notice that the last words of Simeon begin with the phrase “to the end that.” All that is just one word in the original language “hopos.” This is literally rendered “so that.” It is used here to emphasize the method involved to accomplish the objective (purpose) at hand. In other words, the goal or the aim of all that Simeon had been led to speak to Mary was that “thoughts [Greek: “dialogismoi”] from many hearts may be revealed” [Greek: “apokalyphthosin;” from “apokalupto”].
“Apokalupto,” also means “to uncover,” “to bring to light,” “revealing what is hidden (veiled, obstructed)”, especially its inner make-up,” or “to make plain or manifest what is invisible.” Literally, it means “to remove a veil or covering exposing to open view what was before hidden.” What we learn here is that the divine aim to be attained from the preceding verse is showing or revealing what’s hidden in the hearts of many. Their heart’s attitude toward Jesus Christ will be brought to light. It will no longer remain hidden. It will all be uncovered and brought into the open. The veil or covering over many hearts will be removed to expose to open view what their tempers and thoughts really are. Their reasonings, speculations, doubts, deliberations, motives, opinions or plottings of the hearts of many will be made plain. Their vile and vicious dispositions of Christ and of His followers that otherwise would have would have never appeared so bad will be revealed by their hostility to Christ and their hatred of Him. You see, men will be judged by the thoughts of their hearts, especially their thoughts concerning Christ. The thoughts of men’s hearts will show whether they are for Him, or against Him.
You see, mankind has a great hidden nature, waiting to be revealed and redeemed. Jesus Christ is the true Revealer of the hidden nature of man. And He is the true Redeemer of man’s corrupt and depraved heart. People’s opposition to Jesus reveals the sinfulness of their desperately wicked hearts. Charles Spurgeon eloquently says: “We should never have known that the Pharisees and Scribes were so bad had not Christ appeared to them.”
Also, Bible Commentator Barnes shared this helpful insight on this verse: “That the thoughts of many hearts may be made manifest – that is, that they “might show” how much they hated holiness. Nothing so “brings out” the feelings of sinners as to tell them of Jesus Christ. Many treat him with contempt; many are ready to gnash their teeth; many curse him; all show how much by nature the heart is opposed to religion, and thus are really, in spite of themselves, fulfilling the scriptures and prophecies.” ̴ Barnes Notes, BibleHub.com
As God prepared the world to welcome His Beloved Son, His indescribable gift to mankind at the First Christmas, He spoke through His chosen and commissioned messengers. Some of His messengers were supernatural beings – angels; and some were simple folks. The angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, brought a message to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:8-24). Six months later, the angel bought a message to the Virgin Mary in which he foretold the birth of Jesus (see Luke 1:26-38). Mary, now carrying the Divine Son in her womb, visited Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah. While there Mary heard an unforgettable message through Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43; ESV).
Meanwhile, in a dream, an angel brought a message to Joseph Jesus, who would save His people from their sins (see Matthew 1:18-25). God also brought His message to lowly shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and announced to them that a Savior, who is Christ the Lord is born (see Luke 2:8-14). God would then use the lowly shepherds to relate what the angel had told them about Christ the Lord. Mary treasured this message in her heart all her life (see Luke 2:15-20). Finally, at the First Christmas, God would bring a message to Joseph and Mary about Lord’s Christ while He was being presented to the Lord in the temple (see Luke 2:25-35). Simeon, an old godly man, was God’s messenger on this occasion.
The last part of his message (see Luke 2:33-35) is the focus of this Christmas message. The crux of his message to the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas is true and trustworthy. Exemption from suffering and sorrow is not necessarily enjoyed by those who are truly blessed of God. A blessed life is both glorious and grievous. Indeed, it’s a mixture of happiness and heartache; pleasure and pain. It’s a blend of delight and distress!
Today, some fanatical prophets and false teachers teach us that when we are truly blessed of God, we will not experience, suffering, sorrow, sickness, sadness, struggles, or shortages in our lives. If Joseph and Mary were living today, they would have strongly disagreed with their fanaticism and false teaching.
Simeon’s message to the Christmas Couple at the First Christmas reminded us that God is a God of amazement. He is in the amazement business – amazing us in our pilgrimage on earth. Joseph and Mary could not help but be amazed about all that they had heard about the Lord’s Christ. They embraced it all with admiration and reverence. As you ponder the marvelous story of Christ’s birth, God will give you “amazing moments,” which will serve to strengthen your faith in Him in such a time as this.
Simeon’s message to Joseph and Mary, also reveals that God’s approval is upon those whom He blesses. Joseph and Mary were the most blessed couple at the First Christmas. Through the old and godly Simeon, God was so pleased to pronounce His blessing on the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas. Simeon’s blessing of Joseph and Mary was the work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of the human spirit. Simeon prayerfully and prophetically pronounced them blessed who had the great honor of being related to the Christ-Child. Indeed, Simeon’s prayer that God would bless Joseph and Mary was the Bible’s way of emphasizing God’s approval on them. You see, God’s approval is upon those He blesses. Simeon had earlier blessed God Himself before blessing the First Christmas Couple – using the same word “eulogeo” (see Luke 2:28, 34a). The spiritual lesson we learn from Simeon’s example is simple yet significant. God uses those who are in the habit of blessing Him to bless others. It’s my prayer that, God’s Spirit will make you a “Blesser of God,” so as to use as a “Blesser of His people” during this Christmas Season and beyond. Here is a word of caution. If you are a believer in Christ whose life is marked by blaming God, then don’t be surprised if He doesn’t use you to bless others in His family.
Blessing the First Christmas Couple at the First Christmas, Simeon was led by the Spirit to specifically and solemnly address Mary, the mother of our Lord. His address contains words that are hard to hear. Simeon’s address to Mary was introduced in a dramatic manner. “Behold,” [Greek: “idou”]. After the dramatic introduction of his address to Mary, Simeon directed Mary’s attention to “this Child.” You see, Simeon was leaving an example for all true messengers of God to follow. Promote Christ! Point people to Jesus! Proclaim Christ! For He is the subject of the gospel. Also in his address to Mary, Simeon solemnly declared to her that her Son “is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and as a sign to be opposed.” This means that those who reject Christ will fall into ruin and misery. But those who receive Him will rise from their sins and sorrows and ascend to eternal life. In other words, Jesus’ coming into the world will not have uniform effect on all people. Not only that, Mary is told that Jesus is a target that people shoot at, spoken against, and vigorously and vehemently opposed in every way by those who do not submit to His rule and reign over their lives. Since Christ is a target people shoot at, spoken against, vigorously and vehemently opposed by His opponents; His followers must not be surprised if that is their lot in life. His words to His early disciples clearly attest to that. “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household” (Matthew 10:25b; NASB).
Simeon concluded his address to Mary with words that would cut to her heart. “And a sword will pierce even your own soul.” These words relate to us the affliction or anguish of Mary’s soul. Oh yes! Mary was greatly blessed of God. But, being truly blessed of God did not provide Mary with immunity from suffering and sorrow. Being truly blessed of God didn’t provide Mary with an exemption from trials and tribulations that could literally be described as “a sword piercing even your own soul.” Exemption from suffering and sorrow is not necessarily enjoyed by those who are truly blessed of God. A blessed life is both glorious and grievous. Please be careful that you are not misled by the false and fanatical teachings of so-called apostles and prophets of God today, who teach that when you are truly blessed of God, there will be no suffering, sorrow, sickness, shame, or shortages in your life. They are adulterating the precious Word of God. Because Mary was given an advance warning of the sufferings of her Son and her own sufferings, she not only thrived but also triumphed in her trials. Similarly, Christ has given us an advance warning of sharing in His sufferings. As such, we can also thrive and triumph in our trials through the enabling work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Being the God who has a purpose for everything He does or permits in our lives, the Spirit of God records for us the divine aim to be attained from His address to Mary through Simeon. “To the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Please take note of this! The heart’s attitude of many toward Jesus Christ will be brought to light. The veil or covering over their hearts will be removed to expose to open view what their tempers and thoughts really are. For the thoughts of their hearts will show whether they are for Christ, or against Him.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14; NASB).