This week everyone is thinking about Jesus. Personally, I am thankful anytime people have Jesus on their minds. When people think about Jesus, they create a priceless opportunity.

People thinking about Jesus are reflecting on the unbelievable. How could God place such value on us that He would allow a part of Himself be born as a human baby? People who rarely read a Bible are thinking about that.

So this week people will think a lot about the things that happened the first few weeks of Jesus' life.

This morning I want you to consider some things we don't think much. Eight days after Jesus was born he was circumcised in a religious ceremony (Luke 2:21). Approximately 2000 years before Jesus was born, Abraham accepted an agreement that God offered him (Genesis 17:9-12). Circumcision was the symbol that Abraham accepted God's agreement. So every Jewish baby boy that was born was circumcised the eight days after his birth.

Thirty-three days after Jesus' birth, Mary, his mother, went to the temple for two reasons. First, she went to fulfill the rites of her purification (Leviticus 12:4,5). Second, she and Joseph went to present Jesus to God because he was their first born son (Luke 2:22).

I want you to focus on something that happened when they visited the temple.

  1. At this time there was a very godly man named Simeon living in Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-35).
    1. This was a righteous, devout man to whom the Holy Spirit spoke.
      1. God promised the nation of Israel that He would send them the Christ, a special person who would bring a blessing to everyone who lived.
      2. Simeon was expecting the Christ to come.
      3. The Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he saw the Christ.
    2. The day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, the Holy Spirit guided Simeon to the temple.
      1. When Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he went to Mary and Joseph, took the baby, blessed God, and said, Now Lord, do let your bond-servant depart in peace (die), according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles (all people who are not Jews), and the glory of your people Israel.
      2. Mary and Joseph were astounded by what Simeon said about their baby son.
      3. Simeon then blessed Mary and Joseph, and made this astounding statement to Mary: Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise (resurrection) of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed--and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
        1. Simeon, what did you say to Mary?
        2. "It has already been determined that this child will cause many in Israel to fall and many in Israel to be resurrected."
        3. "This child is a sign (from God) to be opposed."
        4. "Mary, in all this your soul will be pierced."
        5. "But the end result is this: the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."
    3. Simeon's statement seems just plain strange when we consider the messages that surrounded Jesus' birth.
      1. When an angel told Joseph that his fiancée was pregnant, the angel told him that she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, that she would have a son to be named Jesus, and that he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20,21).
      2. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a child, she was told that the child would be called God's son, that he would sit on the throne of the great king who was his ancestor, King David, and that Jesus' kingdom would be endless (Luke 1:31-33).
      3. The night that Jesus was born, the angels sang to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14).
      4. And what did Simeon say?
        1. Many in Israel would fall because of Jesus.
        2. Many in Israel would rise or be resurrected because of Jesus.
        3. That Jesus would be opposed.
        4. That Mary's soul would be pierced.
        5. That Jesus would cause the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed.

  2. Matthew 21:23-44 tells us about something that happened to Jesus during the last week of his life.
    1. Jesus was teaching in the very same place that Simeon saw him when he was a baby--in the temple in the city of Jerusalem.
      1. This time, just as Simeon said, Jesus was being opposed.
        1. The chief priests and the elders, religious leaders, came to him as he taught in the temple and asked, "Who gave you the authority to do this?"
        2. Jesus responded, "I will answer your question if you answer my question first: did John the baptizer baptize by the authority of heaven or by the authority of men?"
        3. They knew that they did not dare answer his question; if they said John baptized by heaven's authority, Jesus would ask them why they didn't obey John; if they answered John baptized by human authority, the people would turn against them.
        4. So they said, "We don't know."
        5. Jesus said, "Since you won't answer my question, I won't answer yours."
      2. In this same conversation, he gave them a parable.
        1. A man who owned some land spent a lot of money building an excellent vineyard, complete with walls to protect it and a wine press to process the grapes.
        2. The man rented his vineyard and took a long journey.
        3. When harvest time came, the man decided to collect his rent.
        4. He sent some slaves to collect the rent; but the renters beat one slave, killed one, and stoned another.
        5. The owner sent a bigger group of slaves to collect the rent, and the renters did the same thing to them.
        6. The owner decided to send his son to collect the rent thinking surely that the renters would respect his son.
          1. But the renters said, "This is the person who will inherit the vineyard. Let's kill him, and then the vineyard will belong to us."
          2. So they captured him, took him outside the vineyard, and murdered him.
        7. Jesus asked the religious leaders, "What will the owner do to these renters?"
          1. They answered, "He will bring their miserable lives to a miserable end."
          2. "Then he will rent the vineyard to someone who will pay the rent."
        8. Jesus then asked them, "Haven't you read the scriptures?"
          1. The stone that was rejected as a stone to be used in the building became the most important stone of the building.
          2. "God's kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a nation who will produce fruit."
          3. "The person who trips over this stone will be broken into pieces."
          4. "The person on whom this stone falls will be scattered like dusts scatters when a rock falls in it."
      3. What did Simeon say? Many will fall in Israel because of him?
        1. Paul in Romans 9:33 referred to Jesus as the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense.
        2. Peter in 1 Peter 2:8 also referred to Jesus as the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense.
        3. In words that we use, Jesus was called the stone that causes some people to stumble, the rock that causes some people to fall.

  3. How could that be? How could Jesus be God's great gift to all people and at the same time be the gift that would cause many to stumble and fall?
    1. To understand, start with the nation of Israel before and during Jesus' lifetime.
      1. They knew who they were.
        1. They were the descendants of Abraham.
        2. They were the chosen people of God.
        3. They were the people who had received God's promises.
      2. Because they placed their faith in who they were, they had turned inward and become very selfish in their religious, spiritual desires.
        1. They knew what they wanted.
        2. And they were sure that when the Christ came, they would get what they wanted.
        3. That is why the Christ would come--to give them what they wanted.
      3. Jesus in his ministry had an alarming way of revealing hearts, attitudes, and motives.
        1. Those who opened their eyes and hearts to Jesus and repented received great blessing.
        2. Those who reacted against Jesus stumbled, fell, and broke.
    2. Jesus can be our stepping stone to God, or the rock in the path that causes us to fall and break.
      1. The selfishness that causes us to fall and break is a specific kind of selfishness.
      2. Your material unselfishness touches me and moves me--you are such a generous people.
        1. It moves me to see you respond to the family who recently lost their business.
        2. It moves me to see the big box of coats you have given and to know that some of you will see that people who are cold gets the coats.
        3. It moves me to see our food distribution efforts.
        4. It moves me to see the things that CURE is doing.
        5. It moves me to see how you support our mission programs, to consider the $141,000 you gave a month ago to fund that work.
      3. In all our generosity, we still need a deep awareness.
        1. We must never think that Jesus came to give us our desires instead of ministering to our needs.
        2. When I think that Jesus came to give me what I want, he becomes the rock I trip over.
      4. We need to be concerned about our attitudes and hearts as Christ's servants.
        1. It is easy to do something when Christ wants me to do what I want to do.
        2. It is much harder to let Christ reveal my heart to me to let Christ make me who he wants me to be.
    3. What determines if Jesus is my stepping stone to God or the rock that I trip over? The combination of my heart, my attitude, and my perspective.
      1. If I see Jesus as someone who can rescue me from my evil, someone who can turn my life around, and someone who can rebuild my emotions and my heart, he becomes my stepping stone to God.
      2. If I see Jesus as someone who can give me what I want, do what I want him to do, and be what I want him to be, he becomes the rock I trip over.

This is the astounding thing: when Simeon said that Jesus would cause many to fall, he was talking about religious people. When Jesus said that some would trip over him and be broken to pieces, he was talking to religious people. When Paul and Peter called him the stumbling stone and the rock that causes people to fall, they were writing to Christians. When Christians say to Jesus, "Remake me; rebuild my life; make me who you want me to be," Jesus lifts them up. When Christians say to Jesus, "This is who you must be, and this is what you must do," he becomes the rock they trip over.

He came to be our Savior and he can be our Savior. But it is our hearts, not him, that determines if he lifts us up or we fall over him.

God, our Creator, specializes in creating. Since we broke everything He made, His creative power had to be used to put things back together. The God that provided Jesus Christ, provides a way to put us back together again. If you bring the pieces to Him, He will surely put the pieces back together. He can put your broken life back together. God will be in the process of putting you back together--to make you whole, as only God can make you. See what God did for you through Jesus. Trust Him. Be willing to be born again into His Kingdom through faith and baptism. Let God put the pieces back together. We invite you to Jesus.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 December 1997

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