34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against
35 "(yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
Recently, a debate has risen up concerning the display of the Cross in Christian churches. Apparently, there are some churches that refuse to display a Cross in their church--nor, for that matter, any representation of the Passion of the Christ--from fear it will scare away curious people who come seeking to know more about Jesus. I know of one very popular pastor and author whose sermons are regularly broadcast on television, and from what I've seen, there is no representation on his stage/pulpit of anything having to do with Jesus Christ--no Cross, no Thorn of Crowns, no Nails, nothing. Honestly, I find it strange that ANY Christian church would not want to display even something as simple and as central to Christian thought as the Cross of Christ. But, of course, the Cross has been a problem since men first started preaching Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is central to His work of salvation, the very hinge-pin of the history of our faith, and yet some would seek to remove all sign or teaching of Christ's suffering from our churches. Instead, they seek to focus on Christ's love and forgiveness. But what did He come to forgive? Our SIN, so that we would be made right with our Father in heaven. And how did He truly bring that forgiveness? Not with words only but with His death on the Cross. Would we seek to empty the cross of Christ, to make it of no effect by ignoring it altogether?
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The crucifixion is the target toward which Christ's life was aimed. All of the miracles and healing and preaching are nothing without the Cross itself, for on that Cross the Lamb of God was slain for our sin, to bring us the righteousness of God at no cost to ourselves save repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
In today's verses from the Gospel of Luke, Simeon warned Mary of this opposition to the Cross and to Christ. Notice that Simeon did not warn that Jesus is destined for the fall and rising of many in Judea or Palestine or Rome. Instead, Simeon referred to the people "Israel"--a nation of God's chosen, a race beloved by God the Father. And as Jesus' life and ministry showed, there were many who desired to know the Messiah but they did not recognize Him as Simeon did. Some stumbled over Jesus the Rock, seeking further signs and displays of political and military power. Some fell because of vain ambition and stubborn pride.
1 Peter 2:4-8
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
"Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."
7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
"The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,"
"A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense."
They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
This crucified Messiah is still offensive to many today, because they think this violence against the Son of God opposes the love of God. How could a loving God allow such a thing, much less will that it should happen? We all ought to know the answer to that question: BECAUSE God loved the world, He found a way to pay the price for our redemption. If He had not, then His perfect righteousness would never allow us into His presence. Jesus didn't somehow skip around the law, finding us a convenient shortcut to the Father. Quite the opposite: Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law while at the same time enacting God's perfect mercy and grace. It was not a simple or easy thing, but since men had demonstrated time and again that we are not capable of living wholly by God's standards, God sent His Son to die in our place and be raised again to show us the hope which we may have of peace with God.
Yes, the key to the whole gospel is that Christ had to die. And in His death, and in the reactions of people TO His death, the thoughts of many hearts have been revealed. Many hearts have shown that they don't want to think about the death they might have suffered for their sin--the very death that our Lord faced on that Cross. Many hearts have revealed that they would rather not consider their own sinfulness and need for salvation, their need for repentance. It is far easier to conceive of a God who loves like WE do than to believe in a God who loves like JESUS does. For the love of men is fickle and subject to changing times and tides of society, and our moral codes are by no means absolute in any age. But God's moral code is so absolute that we cannot hope to live up to it on our own, and His love is so longsuffering and so merciful that we cannot conceive of it. And yet that love of God was shown to the whole world through Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross and rose again on the third day.
How, then, can we object to the display of the Cross when the complete love of God was there revealed? The only ones likely to be offended by the Cross are those who do not wish to be reminded of their own sin, who do not wish to repent but only become "followers of Jesus."
After Jesus spoke for the first time of Himself as the "bread of life" (John 6:33,48), many were offended that He should speak of them eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But at the Last Supper, Jesus made it clear that His blood and His body were given for them, that His coming sacrifice was for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28) But even today we see people reacting the same as they did then:
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
Those are the "followers of Jesus"! The thoughts of their hearts are revealed as they are asked to follow this Jesus all the way to the Cross, there to die for their faith in Jesus. They don't want to see that old, rugged Cross standing on Calvary's hill. They don't want to contemplate the blood and the pain. They don't want to see the sword which pierced His mother's heart as she watched Him die there. They hear the word "gospel" and they know it means "good news," but they don't want to hear the WHAT that good news is.
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
If the death of Christ is offensive to some in your church, or if the Cross of Christ is not being preached from the pulpit, or if the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ is not being praised in worship at your church, then something is very wrong there. For this is the "good news":
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
"Obedient to the point of death": THAT is what bought us this salvation in which we now stand. And that death was on the Cross. How can this be offensive to anyone who TRULY wants to be saved?
Brothers and sisters, the Cross of Christ reveals the thoughts of many hearts. Some see that Cross and grab hold of it with all their might, knowing that their salvation came through that horrible moment in time, knowing that death from sin was defeated there. But some see that Cross and cannot bear its weight of conviction, cannot conceive of the love and obedience Jesus showed in carrying that weight to Golgotha to die. To those who love Christ, the Cross is a symbol of how we got to where we are. To those who are simply curious about Jesus and His teachings, the Cross is something they would rather not contemplate, for it means that they, too, might have to leave something behind and bear such a cross of their own.
Whether we see it displayed or not, the Cross still stands as the sign that offends many but beckons others. It still rises above the ways of men to remind us of Jesus' hardest teaching:
34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
35 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.
36 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
37 "Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."
Let us not be ashamed of the Cross nor of Jesus Christ who died upon it. Let us instead give our lives for His sake and for the gospel--the gospel that Jesus died and rose again for our salvation. Let us take up our own cross daily--not a worldly cross of our own trials and suffering, but the cross of bearing the gospel into a world that is offended by the Cross of Christ. Yes, the thoughts of the hearts of many will be revealed--some to salvation, some to condemnation. OUR task is simply to reveal the Cross and the gospel to all creatures so that many might be saved.
Holy Father God, I cling to that Cross, and I daily lay my sins and burdens before it. For there, Father, I know You have forgiven me, and there I know I must be willing to go. Help me, Lord, to be more like Your Son, to be of the same mind of love and obedience, to be holy as You are holy. Give me the courage to bear that Cross and the gospel of Christ into the world so that many will be saved. Amen.