The Wrong Sign

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[Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” – Luke 2:27-35

Infinity Pool | Houston, Texas | October 2021

I find the movie Bruce Almighty to be irreverent and enlightening. When Bruce answers all the prayers, “Yes,” chaos ensues. So true. It’s a good thing that God does not always answer every prayer by saying yes. We too often don’t really know what’s best for us. Another scene in the movie is enlightening. Before Bruce becomes Bruce Almighty, he is praying, asking God for a sign. He passes a CAUTION DANGER AHEAD sign, and a truck pulls in front of him with all manner of “STOP, TURN AROUND, WRONG WAY” signs. And he passes it by. Looking and praying, he finally runs into a lamp post. He ignored the signs. Clear as they were.

The trouble with signs is most often the reader not the sign. I know there are some funny ones out there. Bulletin bloopers and silly sign memes are everywhere to be found on the Internet. But we too often make signs say what we want, and reject the challenging truths that God would have us believe when he sends signs our way.

First and foremost of the false-beliefs is hinted at here. When Simeon tells Mary that Jesus is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, he is delivering a hard truth. Then he adds that Jesus will be a sign that is opposed and tells her that her heart will be broken by what transpires around and through her son.

We’d like to think that if we are aligned with God’s will, all will go well for us. Life will be good. Success will give way to further success. We’d like to believe that if people just got to know Jesus better, they would more easily believe in him. 

Alas, that’s not true. Jesus came to his own and his own did not receive him. He was rejected by the most religious people of his day. And the ungodly and impenitent immoral folks wanted nothing to do with him. He was a sign spoken against. He brought down the high and mighty.

A well-loved and ordered life is not a sign of God’s favor. It may be a gift of his kindness and grace. It may be a hint of a better and even more full goodness to be experienced in the life of the world to come. But it is not a sign. 

Debbie Boone was not right when she sang, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” Wrong. Why else would temptation work? Why would sin be so appealing? Why would we want to hang on to things that are not good for us? 

Martin Luther said, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.”

Something very good is happening here. Jesus has come to redeem and save us. But it will not be happy all the time. There are moments. There are foretastes of pure joy and delightful bliss this side of heaven. But these are mud puddles of distractions compared to oceans of joy that awaits the redeemed of God. 

I realize this seems heavy today. So let me end by saying, also, that Jesus will cause the rising of many. In fact the broken-hearted are especially precious to God. He binds them up and holds them in love.

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