([A]nd a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
— Luke 2:35
Often our joy comes in ways we do not expect. In the days of Jesus, the people of Israel were very much waiting on the arrival of the Messiah. They looked forward with eager expectation and zealous hope for the day the promised one would jump on the scene, overthrow the Roman oppressors, and re-establish God’s tangible kingdom on earth. The dominant vision for this deliverance involved the use of stallions and swords. But then the King finally does come. And he is riding on a donkey. There are no swords in the air, but rather palm branches. Yet the kingdom of God was not coming to bear any less in this peaceable rebellion.
When the blind Simeon finally saw the salvation of Israel, he was not beholding some muscular warrior armed for battle. He was holding up a baby. And yet the salvation this baby carried was no less powerful, no less vindicating, no less revolutionary. In fact, by coming as a baby, by coming in humility and low estate, by coming to serve and to teach and eventually to die, Jesus brought an even more dramatic rebellion than if he’d come with the zealot’s warfare.
Simeon declares the child Jesus “a glory to your people Israel,” but also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). He brings a salvation that God has prepared “in the presence of all peoples” (v.31). This was no Plan B. This was not some unexpected twist in God’s covenant story. What Paul calls the “grafting in” of the Gentiles was forecast as part of God’s redemptive purposes throughout the Old Testament prophecies. And now that Christ has come, he is putting the plan into effect.
Christ’s work, then, frustrates the Gentiles’ search for glory apart from the God of Israel and unravels the Jews’ search for glory apart from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Christ has not come to overthrow physical kingdoms—at least, not yet—but to overthrow spiritual ones, the toughest ones to overthrow. Simeon promises “a sword through the soul” (v.35).
What’s in your soul that the gospel ought to run a sword through? Are you searching for pleasure and meaning in ways contrary to God’s plan? Are you trying to write the story of your own glory with your life? Are there areas of stubborn sin you have yet to attack with the power of Christ’s grace?
We try and try and try. We think the best answer to our bad behavior is trying to look good. We’re allergic to looking un-tough. But hope and joy comes in unexpected ways. It’s leaning on the finished work of Christ that finally undoes our desires for fulfillment apart from him. As Simeon could tell you, not even religion can do that.