“And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 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 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:33–35 ESV).
Imagine Mary, marveling but wondering, what did Simeon mean, a sword piercing my soul? She wouldn’t know for 33 years until she stood near Jesus as he hung dying on the cross. Makes you wonder if she thought as she looked at Jesus on the cross, now I know what old Simeon meant.
I want to draw your thoughts to one part of Simeon’s prophecy, “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many” (Luke 2:34). This is an interesting way to say it. We say the phrase the other way. The rise and fall. So many history books are written that way, the rise and fall of Rome. The rise and fall of the third Reich. I’ve been watching a biography series on Napoleon, which is the rise and fall of Napoleon. Napoleon rose to Versailles. Napoleon fell at Waterloo. The great kingdoms of history rise and then they fall. I’m unaware of any books about anything or anyone that are entitled, The Fall and the Rise.
Did Simeon just get it wrong? In his excitement about holding the Messiah, perhaps he simply misspoke. He got it backwards. You and I do that all the time. Some of us get paid to do it regularly in front of a lot of people.
Yet Simeon says that this Jesus will be the cause of the fall and rise of many. What does that mean? This is a description of the spiritual effect Jesus will have on the world. “Fall and rise” is itself a description of the experience of anyone who comes under the grace of God in salvation. This is what separates true Christianity from all its counterfeits and all its rival religions. They are all about rising. Follow this leader and you will be a better person. Follow this teaching and you will be more spiritual. Join this religious group and your life will be better. Rise!
Christianity comes along, and it doesn’t start with rising, it begins will falling. Falling as in conviction of sin and sinfulness before God. Falling as in realization of spiritual emptiness. Christianity doesn’t begin by making us better, it begins by exposing us as the frauds we truly are. Jesus’ life and teaching does this to this day. Read Jesus’ life and teaching and we agree with Peter who said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The gospel of Jesus takes us where we naturally don’t want to go, our need. Our spiritual bankruptcy. Our unworthiness. It rubs our noses in all our sinful failures. When we understand the Christian message, we don’t rise in our self-estimation, we fall. We fall to the point where we realize, I’m not great. I’m not good. The only thing I’m good at is sinning.
Falling. But this is precisely where we need to be to receive grace from God. To receive a gift. And that is what salvation is!
- “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46–47).
- “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
- “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
When the crowds on the days of Pentecost who heard Peter’s message about Jesus asked, what shall we do? Peter answered, Repent! (Acts 2:37-38) Repentance is key to falling so that we might rise. If you are a Christian today, it means that you fell. I remember as a boy having an intense sense of my guilt. I felt so dirty. It was part of what made me desire to believe in Jesus. Even as a boy, I wanted that sense of guilt taken away.
This is the first and necessary step. Jesus causes the falling of many. But this is only the first part. Simeon says, he will cause the falling and the rising. When we fall into an honest realization of our spiritual need for forgiveness, now the reality of Jesus as Savior for all people is wonderful news. Why? He is also the cause of rising. What is that?
I’m tempted to say, rising from the dead, but that’s not his point. Rising is a summary of all the saving benefits that Jesus provides to us when we acknowledge our sin before God and trust in Jesus as our Savior. This baby in the temple grows up to be a man. The gospel tells us all about his life and miracles and teaching and loving example. But most importantly, Jesus was God in flesh who died on a Roman Cross as a substitute for the death our sins deserve. He was raised from the dead on the third day and proclaimed that all who repent of their sins and put their personal faith in him will be granted forgiveness of sins forever and blessed with the gift of eternal life.
Would you call that rising? Old Simeon had it right before anyone else realized who this baby was and the effect he would have on the world.
Fall and Rise – A picture of Christian salvation
The main thing I want to ask you today is, have you fallen? Have you risen? The life and the teachings of Jesus are hard. Actually, impossible on our own. Love God with all your heart? Love your neighbor as yourself? These and all the other commands remind us of the truth, that we don’t break the Ten Commandments; they break us. But from that place of brokenness, we see a morally perfect Savior dying on the cross, in our place, for our sins. From that cross and empty tomb, he offers salvation to every repenting sinner who trusts in him for forgiveness and eternal life. Have you fallen as a sinner? Have you risen as saint? Put your trust in him and rise forever with eternal life.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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