How many of you remember talking about the Continental Divide in your grade school geography class? Supposedly, all the water that falls to the west of the Continental Divide eventually makes its way into the Pacific Ocean. All the water that falls east of this divide flows into the Atlantic Ocean directly or by way of the Gulf of Mexico. Supposedly, once a rain drop makes contact with the earth of the American Continents, its ultimate destination is set - Atlantic or Pacific.
Today's Gospel has a number of divides in it as well. As Jesus enters the temple, we see the divide between the Old and the New Testaments. We also hear about a divide between Jew and Gentile. There is a divide between those who rise and those who fall in Israel. Perhaps the most dramatic divide comes in Simeon's words to Mary: "A sword will pierce through your own soul also." One of the ways we can look at today's gospel is to look at how Jesus affects the important divides in our lives.
There are all kinds of reminders of the Old Testament in today's Gospel. Both Simeon and Anna grew up in the Old Testament. Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into the temple in Jerusalem in order to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. The temple itself is an Old Testament building.
As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the temple, they met Simeon and Anna, two Old Testament saints. We know they were Old Testament saints because Luke very carefully tells us that they were waiting - waiting for the consolation of Israel - waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. People don't wait for something if they don't believe it is coming. So both Simeon and Anna believed in the future Messiah and were waiting for Him. There were other unnamed saints there as well for our Gospel says, "[Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." Here we learn that there is only one difference between Old Testament saints and New Testament saints. We both believe in the same Messiah, but those in the Old Testament believe in the Messiah who will come in the future while we in the New Testament believe in the Messiah who has already come.
One of those Old Testament ceremonial laws that brought Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into the temple speaks to every mother that gives birth. [Leviticus 12:1-2, 6-7, 8] The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel, saying, 'If a woman conceives and bears a male child … she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and [the priest] shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. If she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. Thus we see Jesus' family coming to the temple with a pair of doves or pigeons because they were poor.
Another law lays claim to every first born son because of the Passover. [Exodus 13:3, 15] Moses said to the people, "When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem." Since Jesus was Mary's first born, the law said Jesus belonged to the Lord and Mary and Joseph had to redeem Him back. The interesting twist to this is that by redeeming Jesus according to the law, Mary and Joseph were foreshadowing the very redemption that Jesus would earn for all mankind. Because Jesus kept the law perfectly, including this ceremonial law, He was able to become God's Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the entire world.
When Jesus took away our sins with His death on the cross, He became the divide between the Old and New Testaments. All who came before Him are in the Old. All who come after Him are in the New. The Old Testament is rich in the ceremonial laws that point forward to the future Messiah. The New Testament is rich in the knowledge that the Messiah came and fulfilled those laws so that we no longer need them. As Jesus keeps the law perfectly by entering the temple, the days of that very temple with its ceremonies and sacrifices are numbered.
Jesus came to this earth not only to create some divides, but to tear down others. The Holy Spirit inspired Simeon to proclaim these wonderful words, "My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." With these words, Simeon proclaims that Jesus through His act of salvation will heal the deep wounds of discrimination between Gentile and Jew. Because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, [Ephesians 4:4-6] there is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Thus Jesus restores unity to that which had once been divided.
Of course, the most dramatic divide in today's reading is the division of Mary's heart. Simeon spoke privately to Mary and said to her, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." A sword will pierce through your own soul also. Even as Mary presents her infant son to the Lord, a prophet tells her of the future turmoil she will suffer as she watches this same son die on a cross. Simeon joins many other prophets as the Holy Spirit shows him that the Messiah must suffer and die for His people. This suffering and death that will cause Mary so much grief will remove the greatest divide of them all - the divide between God and man.
This great divide between God and man is our sin. It is the original sin that we are and it is the actual sin that we do. With our sin, we became enemies of God. We also brought injury, illness, and death into this world. We are the ones who are responsible for this great and terrible divide.
As God's enemies, we do everything possible to increase the divide between Him and us. That is one reason it is so hard to attend Divine Service and Bible Class regularly. It is also the reason that we often forget to partake of God's Word daily. We would much rather starve our souls than get closer to God.
This great divide of sin is the reason God the Father sent His son to take on our human flesh. It is the reason we are interested in the story of a Jewish infant in the temple. This infant is the Son of God who has come to take our place before the justice of God. In order to stand before God's justice, He Himself must be pure and sinless. He Himself must have no sin so that He can become sin for us.
That is the reason He came into the temple. For, even as an infant, He must keep the smallest point of God's law. Even though the primary purpose of the ceremonial law was to point to Him, Jesus must still keep it perfectly. Only in this way can He be the perfect Passover sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Fortunately, Mary's heart was divided in grief for just a few days. The sword that pierced her heart withdrew when she saw her son alive again. For on the third day of her heart's division, her son rose from the dead. Jesus had defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. By doing this, He had taken away her sin and the sin of the whole world.
Simeon's words to Mary also tell us that we will rise or fall based on what we believe about Jesus. Those who receive the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in Jesus will rise. The divide between them and God is gone and they have eternal life with Him. Those who reject this faith will fall. The divide between them and God will be eternal and they will live in everlasting torment.
Jesus changes our spiritual geography. The historical reality of His life, suffering, death, and resurrection divides the Old Testament from the New. Never the less, those who waited for a future savior and we who dwell in the savior who came, both have faith in the same savior. In the end there will be only one division. As Simeon told Mary, the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. Those who want God out of their lives will get their wish and fall on the wrong side of the eternal divide. There they will suffer forever. Those who believe in Jesus will rise and live on the right side of the eternal divide. There they will live in unity with God forever and experience eternal joy. Amen.
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.