The Means of Peace

This is the third study in my Advent Devotionals. First, I examined The Promise of Peace as presented by Isaiah; second, I looked at the Declaration of Peace, as recorded by Luke in his account of the shepherds visited by the angels; and now, I consider The Means of Peace, also found in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ.

In a recent study, I mentioned that one of the primary themes associated with the coming of Christ is peace. We considered one of Isaiah’s prophecies in which he said the Child to come would bring peace, restoration, and reconciliation to the whole world. In another devotional, we looked at a passage in Luke’s Gospel in which angels announced the birth of that Child; and one of the truths they emphasized was the arrival of peace in the Person of the Savior. In fact, everything associated with the birth of Christ carries this same encouraging tone—peace, relief, return to God, forgiveness of sins, and hope. Both before He came and after He was born, the Savior’s arrival was interpreted as the dawning of an age of peace and gladness.

After finding the Child and relating their experience, the last thing we read about the shepherds in Luke’s account is that they went on their way “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” (2:20) And this is where Luke jumps ahead a week in his report and records that the Baby was given the name “Jesus,” according to the instructions of the angel who visited Mary. In our retelling and rehearsals, this is where the recounting of the Savior’s birth often stops.

At this point, all who know of the Savior’s birth are thankful and happy. But there is a bit of news about to be introduced into this story and it will completely change the tone. Some news is going to be announced that will require people to rethink the future and the ultimate reason for this Child’s birth.

In vv. 21 and following, we find Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus coming to the temple where they encounter a man named Simeon.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD “), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was a Jew who faithfully attended to his religious duties. He is introduced in such a manner that his spiritual devotion is highlighted. (v. 25) Notice that Luke says that the “Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon].” This statement is made of few people in the Bible. The fact that it is made of this rather obscure figure in Luke 2 is intriguing. Simeon obviously walked with God and knew fellowship with God. In the plan of God, Simeon had one primary task to perform and that task was associated with the birth of the Messiah. Simeon was appointed to make a declaration that would provide balance to the world’s understanding of the Messiah’s mission. He is going to speak words that point to something else that is to come, something beyond the birth of the Messiah.

Given this description of Simeon, we are not surprised to hear that he was concerned for the spiritual condition of his people. Luke writes that Simeon “was looking for the consolation of Israel.” This phrase has a particular meaning; at that point in history, it referred to the redemption that would come with the dawning of the Messianic era. The “consolation” would be the Messiah’s arrival and rescue of the Jews. This brief statement tells us that the chief desire of Simeon’s life was to see the arrival of God’s promised Redeemer. He was one of the devoted Jews who continued to believe God’s promise of a Deliverer. He hoped it would come in his day, of course, and so it did.

The most unusual element of this story is revealed when Luke tells us that “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (v. 26) Simeon knew, therefore, that the Messiah would appear soon; he knew for certain that the redemption for which his people had waited was about to be manifested. We have no idea how long before this event Simeon had received this information. We can be sure, however, that his life had been affected by it.

At the time when Joseph and Mary came to the Temple, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to enter as well:

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them 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– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This was, of course, a Divinely-arranged encounter and the purpose of this encounter, as I indicated, was so that an announcement might be made that would complete the prophesied picture of the Messiah’s ministry. Simeon, as I noted, is going to reveal an aspect of Christ’s ministry that is emphasized elsewhere, is certainly discernible when we consider Christ’s work, but which is, nevertheless, frequently overlooked when it comes to commemorating the Messiah’s arrival. This announcement has to do with how this Savior will bring peace to the earth. Isaiah promised the peace, the angels announced the peace to the shepherds, but so far, the means of that peace, or how that peace will be achieved, has not been revealed.

It appears that Simeon recognized the child of Joseph and Mary as the promised Messiah. Luke records that Simeon took the boy into his arms, blessed God and began to praise Him (v. 28). The very issue that had occupied Simeon’s thoughts and prayers, that being the consolation of his people, now had become the focal point of human history with the arrival of the Christ-Child.

Having taken the Child into his arms and having realized that this was the Messiah that God promised and that the people of God had looked for throughout their history, Simeon declares that he now is ready to depart from this world because God had fulfilled His promise and his eyes had seen the Christ (v. 29). As God’s servant he had witnessed the arrival of the Savior. He was ready to rest in death assured that redemption had come.

Luke tells us about the reaction of Mary and Joseph; they were “amazed at the things which were being said about [Jesus]” (v. 33) As had happened before, they heard unusual remarks made about their Baby. Simeon understood the advent of the Messiah as a glorious event for which he offered praise to God. The things that he had said up to this point caused joyful amazement in the hearts of Joseph and Mary. However, Simeon’s tone changes and he paints a distressing picture of Christ’s destiny. From Simeon’s perspective, not only did the Messiah’s birth mark the beginning of salvation, it also signaled the beginning of turmoil: “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—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (vv. 34, 35)

Earlier, I referred to the prophecy of Isaiah. That prophet predicted that a revolutionary process would take place in the world. He said it would begin with the birth of this Child. The world would come under His increasing dominion until He ruled over the whole earth, the prophet taught. Obviously, the coming of the Messiah represented a disruption of sin’s dominion and influence in this world. This disruption and realignment would, by necessity, involve human beings and would mean that their lives would be disturbed, to put it mildly. This aspect of the Messiah’s coming is what Simeon mentions in his last few words.

Simeon declares, “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel; and for a sign to be opposed…” (v. 34) The coming of the Messiah manifested the love of God as His plan of redemption continued to unfold, but it also marked the beginning of a process of separation. Some in Israel would be attracted to the Messiah while others would reject Him. Christ would be the cause of a division in the nation and, ultimately, of course, in mankind.

What Simeon predicted is precisely what has unfolded in history. Some have found forgiveness and everlasting life in Jesus, and others have encountered condemnation and everlasting death. There is no neutrality where Jesus Christ is concerned. The Scripture plainly declares that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) For some, therefore, the arrival of the Messiah meant condemnation.

This is Simeon’s message in Luke 2. The coming of the Messiah meant joy, of course, for those who longed for His coming and for those who had remained faithful to God; but the coming of the Messiah meant judgment for others who took pleasure in sin. Without Jesus, the day when we all stand before God to take responsibility for our lives will be a day of absolute horror. To stand in the pure light of Deity without Jesus to shield you will scorch a man down to the very center of his soul. No one will escape and no one, except those standing with Jesus, will receive mercy.

That elderly man was predicting that some men would oppose God’s Messiah and work against Him. What Jesus Christ represented and what He had to say would cause many to despise Him. He would cause the true intent of men’s hearts to be revealed. For the first time in the birth narrative, the coming struggle and suffering of Jesus Christ are mentioned. The fact that these elements are mentioned even at the birth of the Christ-Child emphasizes that a significant portion of His ministry would be concerned with disrupting mankind.

Simeon concludes his remarks with a special word for Mary: “and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (v. 35) She would experience deep sorrow over the treatment given to her Son. His coming would cause there to be a revelation of the hearts of all. As we know from a later Biblical record, Mary did, indeed, live to see her Son hated and rejected and nailed to a cross upon which He died.

We know that the Messiah has come. All of the prophecies made concerning Christ’s arrival have been fulfilled and we are living in the days envisioned by the prophets. The coming of the Christ no longer is a promise, it is an accomplished fact of history. His work in this world has begun and the Church is evidence of the progression of that work. The coming of the Messiah means salvation. It means that a payment for our sin has been made and we are reconciled to God. These truths are cause for excitement, optimism, and thanksgiving. Give thanks to God for your salvation even as you pray for the world to embrace the Savior.

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