“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
. . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. “
Now lettest Thou depart!
The first two words in the Latin version of the Song of Simeon! Simeon’s swan song—that which he sang before he folded up his feet into the bed and yielded up the ghost.
Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation! This said he when he beheld the Wonder, Mary’s Babe, resting in his arms, when he beheld the object of his waiting hope, and he was ready to depart with the peace that passeth all understanding in hisheart.
Strange but wonderful scene it was that took place in the temple at Jerusalem, when Mary’s Babe, according to the custom was presented unto the Lord, when aged Simeon, who was about ready to disappear from the stage of things called earthly, but who was sustained and kept from descending into the grave only by the power of hope and the promise of the Holy Spirit—that he should not die until he had seen with his eyes the Lord’s Christ. Holding in his arms what appears unto all but a mere babe and nothing more, only a few weeks old, weak and helpless. Yet with his eyes raised to heaven, and complete satisfaction written all over his face, Simeon, the aged, utters words which have since remained the song of the believing church, and which is still often sung at Christmastide:
“Now I can leave this world,” he cried;
“Behold, thy servant dies!
I’ve seen thy great salvation, Lord,
And close my peaceful eyes.”
“This is the light prepared to shine
Upon the Gentiles lands;
Thine Israel’s glory and their hope,
To break their slavish bands.”
Jesus! the vision of thy face
Hath overpow’ring charms!
Scarce shall I feel death’s cold embrace,
If Christ be in my arms.
All the hope of a gray-haired man fixed on a mere Babe!
Now Lettest Thou Thy servant depart!
And turning to the Babe’s mother, he said, after he had pronounced a blessing, and had seen the Lord’s salvation: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against. . . .”
Sign of the Babe!
How often God made known His will and good pleasure through signs all through the dispensation now passed. Often accompanied by the spoken Word of revelation the signs were intended to confirm the truth of His Word. Think, for instance, of the sign of the rainbow. The Lord had spoken unto Noah that He would not again destroy the earth with a flood, and He commanded Noah and his seed to multiply and replenish the earth, and He gave to Noah the sign of the rainbow as a symbol of the truth that His covenant would be sure. And with many other signs did the Lord confirm His judgments, commandments, and promises unto His people. But all of the signs together find their center in the sign of the Babe. Never would there have been signs before Him, had He not cast His shadow over the pathway of time that was before Him. And never would there be any signs after Him, had he not come into the world.
And since signs are also wonders, He is also the central Wonder of the grace of God!
His Name is Wonderful!
All He is and does is wonderful!
He is the sign which wicked king Ahaz refused to ask for, but which God nevertheless would give unto him in spite of his refusal.
Born of a virgin!
God in the flesh, Immanuel!
Wonderful in His birth! Amazing in His wisdom! Marvelous in His works and words! Men would marvel at the gracious words He would speak. Men were confounded by the wonders of His death and resurrection. In His death He works the signs of darkness and earthquake, splitting the rocks and opening the graves. In His resurrection, He appears in the sign of Jonas, the prophet. And when He comes again in the Spirit, He is accompanied by signs of rushing wind and flaming tongues. And finally, when He comes in the Parousia, He will appear in the sign of the Son of Man.
Indeed, wonderful Sign!
A Sign which shall be spoken against, contradicted!
Set by God in the very center of all history that all may see Him! Born He was to be noticed. Though conceived in the womb of an obscure virgin in a town of ill-fame, though born in a lowly cattle stall as it were on the periphery of the world and in a world where men had no room for Him, the heavens must break and shining messengers must appear to make known to lowly, frightened shepherds as they watched their flocks by night His glorious advent and the sign of His lowly entrance into our world: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Moreover, the lowly advent is accompanied by the wonder star that must arise out of Jacob inviting the representatives of the nations afar off to come and to worship him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And the theologians of that time, though they had no personal interest in the Babe, are forced to open the Scriptures and inform the tyrannical king of the Jews that according to the Scriptures His birth is, according to prophecy, in Bethlehem, the smallest among the tribes of Israel. And soon He becomes famous, so that all the world is attracted to Him. Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans; wise and prudent, but also the babes; Pilate, Herod, the daughters of Jerusalem, soldiers, and disciples—all must see this Sign, so that even in His death a superscription must appear over His head in letters of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, that all may read it.
Indeed, a Sign set by God that all may take notice!
A Sign to be contradicted!
Not only does the Sign speak in all He says and does—when He declares: “I am He that should come into the world, the revelation of the God of Salvation;” “I am Christ of the Most High;” “I am anointed to be Lord over all;” “I am the Rod that shall break down all the works of darkness, and overcome the world;” “I am the way, the truth, and the life;” “Come unto Me, therefore, and I will give you rest.”
But the people who see the Sign must also speak! They must respond. In the presence of the Sign they cannot remain silent. They must believe on Him, or reject Him. So they will worship before Him and bring their gifts, or they will attempt to choke out of Him His life. They must praise Him, or express their anathemas. They must say He is good, or that He has a devil. They must sing His hosannas and exclaim: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord;” or they must cry out: “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Small and great, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, scribes and fishermen, wise and babes—all must see Him and express their verdict, answering the question: “What think ye of the Christ, whose Son is He?”
That the thoughts of many hearts may be uncovered!
That is God’s purpose in the Sign!
God is not satisfied merely to know the thoughts of the head. This Sign does not present itself to men as a mere intellectual problem. It is not merely an object of philosophical contemplation. Though it is true that men have speculated about Him. Many are the treatises that have been written. O, how they have speculated about His virgin birth, His real manhood and true deity, His atoning death, and the wonder of His resurrection. Volumes have been written about this Sign by friend and foe—but these are merely the thoughts of the head.
God would uncover the hearts! He presses you and me, and all men until all reveal the thoughts of their hearts. The heart is deep. Out of it are all the issues of life. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. The thoughts of the heart reveal the condition of the heart, and bring to light the ethical worth of men. And when all men are confronted by God with the Sign of the Babe, they reveal their hearts. The wicked, that his heart is desperately wicked. The righteous, is impelled to cry out: O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!
But why does God set the Babe for a sign!
The ultimate answer must be—the theodicy; that is, that God may be justified when He judges. When He judges and condemns the wicked, when He purposes to cast the wise and prudent, the great and noble, those righteous in themselves, those white-washed sepulchers, into hell and eternal desolation, it must become perfectly evident that He is righteous when He does so. And when He exalts the righteous, those who know they have no righteousness of their own, but they have the righteousness of grace instilled in their hearts, who are the babes in Christ, who are condemned with Christ by the world, who suffer all the day long for their righteousness—when God purposes to take them into the glory of the house of His covenant forever, it must become perfectly evident that He is justified when He does so.
And this purpose of God is always realized!
The Sign is effectual!
The Sign which shall be spoken against, and which shall reveal the thoughts of many hearts, is also for the fall and rising of many; yea, to all to whom it is presented.
Not, we must understand, does the Word of God here refer to the same persons. This would be quite impossible. The one who through the Sign rises again, i.e., is raised from the dead, does not first fall because of the same Sign. And he that falls because he comes into contact with this Sign, never rises again—he falls irrevocably. The word “again” which appears in the translation must not confuse us. We may therefore read the text thus: “This child is set for the fall and the resurrection of many.” Nor does the “fall” here refer to a fall into sin. Those that fall by this Sign are fallen in sin, and when they are confronted by the Sign they stumble over Him and fall into eternal condemnation. Thus it would be with many in Israel.
The falling and rising, therefore, refer to the eternal destiny of those upon whom the Sign takes effect. The fall refers to eternal condemnation. The sin of the wicked outside of Christ must become exceeding sinful. Their iniquity, their depravity, must be clearly exposed when God judges them worthy of eternal hell-fire; and He is perfectly justified when He sends them into everlasting darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
On the other hand, the rising refers to eternal resurrection life. We must remember that the Sign is also God’s power unto salvation. Through this power many shall rise again. Having died, they are raised from the dead. They are quickened by the voice of the Sign unto newness of life. Because of the power of the Sign in them, death can have no dominion over them.
Indeed, a mighty, working Sign!
Respecting many in Israel! It must become clearly revealed that they are not all Israel that is called Israel. It is in Israel where the rejection of the Sign first appears, because it was in the midst of Israel where the Sign first appears. But there is no reason to limit the antipathy, the falling, and the rising only in Israel. When the Sign is raised up on the cross of Calvary, the whole world stands before Him and is affected. And so it is always.
Always there are souls that are prostrated by the Sign, and who cry out for the mercy of God, and whom God raises up by the power of the Sign to everlasting heights of glory. And always there are souls that rebel yet more and more when they are confronted by the Sign, and God is justified when He casts them into perdition.
Demanding your and my answer!
What will ye do with Christ, the Son of God?
The answer of grace is: Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!