A Sign to be Spoken Against
From the very beginning of the Gospel story there are elements that can poke at anyone’s proclivity to quickly judge from a self righteous posture. To get an emotional feel of this temptation, one has to picture themselves as perhaps a neighbor, or one hearing the story in a marketplace without the benefit of the Divine narratives in the New Testament.
The earthly father of Christ, Joseph, needed an angelic visitation to believe what God had done in his beloved Mary, but not everyone would be provided such supernatural confirmation. Friends in the synagogue would have to take any gossip to the Lord and hopefully resist the temptation to speak against what God had done in humility.
One of the principles found in the incarnation must be that sometimes when God moves, few are going to understand it at first, and it can ‘appear’ to be something less than holy. Would this not be a scandal, especially in a small village of religious Israel? If any elder board today were in authority back then, would they have accepted Mary’s story? Would any of us?
The Pharisees may have even made a snidely reference to the virgin birth story when they said, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God." (John 8:41)
At Mary’s purification rite in the temple after the birth of Christ, a man named Simeon interrupts with a prophetic word extolling God for fulfilling the personal promise he received from God, to see the Messiah in his lifetime. He also adds a word of warning which confirms that this is not going to be an easy journey for the chosen couple, there would be misunderstanding and judgment.
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 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34,35
One would think that the Messiah would be destined to unify God’s people and bring us all together! But yet He is destined for controversy which will be offensive to many, while also lifting up others and revealing the hearts of all.
The irony throughout the Gospels is that the greatest opposition to Christ came from those who knew the scriptures the best. They were ‘the builders’ of Psalm 118 quoted by Christ and the Apostle Peter. (Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1Peter 2:4, 7)
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone.
How stunning! Could it be that the enlightenment which accompanies learning the word of God can also produce a kind of religious pride if not maintained in humility? The Apostle Paul did tell us that “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1Co 8:1 )
We all need to guard against this kind of over-certainty about what God will and will not do in our time as we endeavor to “correctly handle the word of truth.” (1Tim2:15) The religious leaders in the Gospels clearly demonstrated that you can know the holy ‘text’ thoroughly as the Scribes and Pharisees did, and yet adamantly reject the living Word Himself.
Those in spiritual authority at the time of Christ were not roaming the streets frothing at the mouth uttering hateful speech at children. We may miss the lesson if we think of them as overtly evil and easily identifiable. These leaders appeared righteous but underneath concealed a distance from God and a deep love for public honor. (Matt 23) Had we been alive then, we probably would have attended their bible studies! They were the men who taught the scriptures, gave counsel, performed the marriages, copied scripture and shepherded the people. The priestly class presided over the temple and the sacrificial system. These were the people whom everyone relied upon for spiritual insight and responsibility. But they became offended at Christ and many spoke against Him.
Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them. John 7:48,49
Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" Matt 15:12
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. John 16:2,3
Choosing between Christ and the rabbi who taught your family from the beginning had to be a dreadful choice. But if your heart was touched and broken by Christ, you would know what you had to do. The offenses taken by the spiritual leadership in the days of Christ are instructional for us. Jesus has not changed. He is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever.’ (Heb. 13:8) We should therefore not assume that His actions today would never offend us, but to humbly acknowledge that we are sinners saved by His grace and certainly capable of opposing God’s mysterious moving. Thankfully God is full of mercy and we do have the indwelling Spirit to guide us into all truth. (John 16:13)
Those who know God’s word and shepherd His people must resist the pride that can result from the esteem and honor of their office. Certainly we should test all doctrine and actions by God's word, but by God's grace we need Him to help us maintain a sense of humility and equality with those who we may view as less informed. Was Mary the mother of Jesus a bible scholar? Yet this young girl knew more about the identity of the Messiah than all the scholars in Jerusalem. God is no respecter of persons. We must resist the temptation to view ourselves as a final and infallible arbiter of what is and what is not of God, lest we too become offended at the very God we are seeking to defend. (Acts 5:39)
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Cor. 1:27
And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. Matt. 11:6