No Neutrality With Jesus

Text: Luke 2:33-40

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

You and I would be pretty hard pressed to find a person who is offended by the Story of Christmas – the Story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  Now, they are out there, but frankly, I do not believe that there are too many of these so-called Scrooges and Grinches.  You see, even the most hard-core atheists seem to have a soft spot in their hearts for the story of Mary and Joseph, the animals, the manger, the little Jesus, and the angels.  We see the evidence for this in Church attendance each Christmas.  Yes, every single Christmas the church seems to fill up with all sorts of people – believers and nonbelievers alike – who want to hear the Christmas Story.  And for that brief moment on Christmas Eve, it seems that everyone is united.  It appears that all is well – everyone is happy, content, relaxed, and unified around the Story of Christmas. 

These sentimental and nostalgic feelings wear off quite quickly though.  Yes, they wear off rather quickly when we read Luke’s Gospel and hear from the Prophet Simeon.  Now, it isn’t that Simeon wants to be a Scrooge or a Grinch, but instead, Simeon is drawing attention to a phenomenon that cannot be escaped.  Simeon is pointing out a fact, that the child he is holding in his arms has been appointed for the rising and falling of many.  He is stating that the baby Jesus in his arms is a sign – a target – that will be opposed.  In other words, Simeon is saying to Mary that people will stumble and take offense at Jesus. People will fall and rise, curse and speak against Jesus.  They will slander and condemn Jesus’ words.  They will oppose His works, ways, and life.   

It could be said that Simeon saw the cross looming.  When Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms, he saw a shadow of the cross off in the distance – the cross, with its conflict and tension. 

And so, this morning, Simeon shows us this Christmas Season that with the birth of Jesus, conflict comes.  Yes, conflict will come about not because Jesus is some troublemaker, but because He is light and truth. 

Dear friends, whenever Jesus and His Word go forth, people will divide into two groups.  Some will receive it with joy and others will be offended and begin to hate and persecute.  It is like this because people love the darkness and hate the light.  People love to believe their lies and are offended by truth.  The bright light hurts, so eyes are closed and heads turn.  The truth hurts, so ears close and angry faces are made. 

And so, that baby that was born and laid in a manger was like a target.  The baby Jesus who rested in Simeon’s arms had crosshairs upon Him. Just as guns and bows aim at targets so that their bullets and arrows do not hit anything but the target, so everyone’s sinful old nature aims at Jesus.    

Over the years I have had the opportunity to speak to many seminarians; that is to say, men training for the ministry of being a pastor.  And typically what ends up happening is that I get asked about tips and pointers on what it takes to be a faithful pastor.  To which, I usually say something like this,

If you want to have a comfortable pastoral ministry, do just this: water down God’s Law and change the focus from Jesus to the person in the pew. In fact, if you want ease, just try to avoid Jesus and His Word. The old sinful nature loves this!  Weakened law and a man-centered false gospel gives the sinful old nature all sorts of room to play!  In other words, watered down law doesn’t make anyone feel bad about sin and focusing the sermon not on Jesus, but on the person in the pew makes people feel really, really special.  It makes them feel like they have the ability and power to control their destiny.  Indeed, with this kind of preaching, nobody in the church will get angry with the preacher.  But instead, this kind of sermon will be a relief to the old Adam; the sinful nature becomes giddy.  Yes, the old Adam loves this kind of watered-down law and man-centered pretend gospel.   

However, when the exact opposite happens – when you proclaim Christ and His Word, when the Law kills people and the Gospel unconditionally gives faith – fasten your seatbelts.  Yes, fasten your seatbelts, for people will either defend their old Adam by attacking or by leaving the church, whereas others will be brought to rubble, where in the midst of the debris they will see Jesus. Truly, when a stern Law and a sweet Gospel are properly preached, the sheep will come to their painful end (their sinful nature will fall to pieces), but then they will learn that they are not abandoned, but left with Jesus… and with Jesus raised anew.

What all of this means is this: when someone proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, the only Mediator, Advocate, and Savior, and His Holy Gospel is the power of God to save all who believe in it, then be ready, for there will be opposition.  Yes, be prepared, for people will oppose Jesus and come up with all sorts of opinions, ideas, and alternatives that prop up their sinful nature.  Be ready to watch Jesus become a target of attack.  And be ready if you are proclaiming Jesus to be attacked as well. 

Dear friends, it is impossible to escape affliction if you wish to be a faithful servant of the Lord.  It is impossible not because Jesus delights in causing disruption, but because Jesus is light and truth coming into darkness and falsehood.  And as it has already been stated, darkness and falsehood cannot comprehend light and truth, but instead, attack. 

Dear Baptized Saints, behold, this child who was born unto you and who laid in Simeon’s arms, was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.  From Jesus’ infancy to death, He would be persecuted.  His teaching would be slandered.  His life cursed.  And finally, He would be put to death.  This is the child that was born and laid in the manger. This is the child that laid in Simeon’s arms.  This is the child that was born unto you. 

This news of Jesus being a target, though, might lead us to wonder if there was ever a chance of Him being overturned?  Is there a chance of Christ and His church being overturned today?  The answer is no!  While Simeon said that Jesus would be a target, people would not and cannot overturn Jesus. 

It is like this, God the Father appointed Jesus to be a target.  He was destined by God the Father to be a defiant rock slammed down before the world, the devil, and the gates of hell.  Indeed, Jesus is the target that God the Father ordained to be a stable foundation in a chaotic world.  Which means that the devil, the world, and the sinful nature will try to remove Jesus, but will try in vain.  Yes, the devil will hiss at the rock, the world will charge at the rock, and the sinful nature will try to climb on top of the rock, but NONE of them will be able to accomplish anything.  The devil’s fangs will break against the rock, the world will collide and fall, and the sinful nature will fall on its back.  They cannot harm the rock, but only prove their own futility. 

So, dear Baptized Saints, behold the child who was born unto you for your rising and falling.  Behold the one who took you and drowned you and your sinful old Adam in the water of baptism and then brought you out anew.  Behold the same Jesus that was laid in Simeon’s arms is now put in your hands and upon your lips and mouth in the Holy Supper.  Behold the target who takes your sin.  Behold your salvation that was prepared for you.  Behold the one that cannot be overturned.      

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

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