The Piercing Sword

The prophet Simeon said said to Mary, His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the rising and falling of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against; and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

A sword will pierce through her own soul also. Surely a sword pierced the heart of Mary when Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders. Her Son, the outcast. Surely a sword pierced her heart when He was threatened and spoken evil of. Her Son, the mocked. Surely a sword pierced her soul when Mary watched her Son nailed to a tree and murdered by the will her people at the hands of the Gentiles. What mother’s heart would not be pierced and bleed at these things? Every mother’s heart is broken when her child is left out, made fun of, rejected, told that he is not liked and is laughed at. Every mother’s heart is pierced and bleeds and aches when she watches her child suffer and finally die.

But those are not the swords of which Simeon speaks. He does not say to Mary that a sword shall pierce her heart to say to her that she will suffer the pains and pangs of watching her only Son be rejected, laughed at, beaten and finally killed. The sword that pierces her soul is not one of pain for Jesus, one of an emotional roller coaster of wincing and grieving for her Son, though certainly she winces when He is beaten and grieves when He is murdered. But Mary will hear with the other women of Jerusalem her Son’s words, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me but for yourselves.” Jesus doesn’t need His mother’s pity, and it is not her pity that is her grief. The sword that pierced the soul of Mary is the word of God, that sword of truth sharper than any double-edged sword; the sword that separates sinner from sin as bone from its marrow. It is the sword that proceeds from the mouth of God, it is the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit tells Mary that a sword will pierce her soul also to say that her Spirit-conceived Son is her Savior also.  The sword pierces the hearts of all – and Mary’s too – so that the thoughts from the hearts of all men – and from her heart – will be made known. Mary, too, will betray her Son. This is her grief. What greater piercing is there for a mother than to know she has betrayed and murdered her own child?

Yet that is what the sins of Mary did. They delivered her Son up to be crucified. They drove the nails into His flesh and set the crown of thorns on His head. They drove the whip that split and opened His flesh. They are finally what killed her Son. And not her sins only, but the sins of the whole world; your sins and mine.

Yet for this purpose He was born: to die the death of all men once for all; a death to sin to be the life of righteousness for all men. Such is the cause of the falling and rising of many. Many fall because of Him because they do not believe that He bears the sins of the whole world. Many fall because of Him, unable and unwilling to accept that a man is God. They cannot accept that they are sinners. They cannot accept that they are the cause of His death. They deny their sin and His atonement and they fall. They speak against Him and they are spoken against by Him. For whoever denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven.

But there are many who are raised because of Him, like Mary. Their heart is pierced by the sword of truth that it is their sins that crucified the Lord of Glory and delivered Him up to the hands of wicked men, and they cry out for mercy. They stand at the foot of the cross with the centurion and proclaim with him that surly this man is the Son of God. And they weep, not for Jesus, but for their sins; sins that condemned an innocent man to death; they mourn the sins that caused a righteous man to die. These that mourn are raised up. They are comforted. Their sins are forgiven.

For the sword that pierces also heals. The sword that kills the sinner also brings the righteous to life. The sword that divides also reconciles. It divides sinner from sin and so reconciles God to sinners. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King; peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled!” Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel!

Then there shall be …

All of us are interested about the end of days, the end times. All of us want to go to heaven, to paradise. All of us want what the prophets prophesy, that then there shall be peace and security, then every tear shall be wiped away and then there shall be no more sorrow or fear. This is what Jesus’ disciples wanted when they continued to ask Him if He was going to now establish the kingdom and restore it to Israel (Acts 1:6, etc.). They wanted what Isaiah said to be true, that their warfare is ended.

I have said before that I find it odd that on the Mount of Olives, at the blessed ascension of the Lord Jesus, that there were those among the Eleven who doubted even as they worshiped. St. Matthew says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (28:16-17, ESV). How is it that they both worshiped and doubted? What is that they doubted? Surely not the resurrection. Here Jesus stood, stigmata and all, having appeared to over 500 disciples over 40 days, even eating with them. It was not the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus that they doubted. Neither was it that He is the Son of God, for this was their confession on the lips of Peter, fortified and anchored in His resurrection. Neither was their doubt that all of this was for them, for He had clearly said that His body was given into death and His blood shed for them. They didn’t doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, that He suffered and died and was buried, and that on the third day He rose from the dead. They didn’t doubt that He had done all of this for them and for their salvation. Their doubt wasn’t denial of who Jesus is or what He has done. Their doubt wasn’t damning unbelief. Rather, their doubt was what St. James would call the lack of wisdom (St. James 1:5). Their doubt was wrapped up in their question, “Lord, will you not restore the kingdom to Israel?” They did not doubt history, they doubted the present.

We love to sing Isaiah’s words, “Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God” (though Isaiah says “your God” not “our God” … anyway). We love to sing these words as we yearn for the day when our warfare truly is over and we see and feel the benefits of our iniquity being pardoned (Isaiah 40:1-2). We love the Revelation of St. John when we read,

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (7:15-17, ESV)

Approaching this as what shall be is how we worship and yet doubt. This is how some of the Eleven worshiped and yet doubted. They worshiped the Lord by falling down before Him and hearing Him as He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth had been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV). We worship the Lord when we hear Him and obey Him. He says “forgive” and we forgive. He says “take eat; take drink” and we eat and drink. He says “be baptized” and we are baptized. He says “gather to me” and we gather to Him. He says “hear me” and we stand and listen. This is what it is to worship, to serve: to hear and obey. We do this in faith, believing that all that Jesus has done is for our sake. To doubt this is to be an unbeliever. None of the Eleven were unbelievers. They listened and obeyed in faith. Their doubt wasn’t damning unbelief, it was, shall we say, infant faith.

Infant faith is not the praised child-like faith that Jesus praises. Infant faith is faith that is underdeveloped. It is weak faith. It is the “little faith” of the disciples that Jesus so often chastises them for. Infant faith is saving faith, to be sure (as an aside, we talk too much about salvation and not enough about living) but it is not child-like faith. Child-like faith receives now what the Lord promises. Infant faith believes the promises and waits for them to be fulfilled as if they are not yet so. Child-like faith rejoices that they are fulfilled.

What those among the Eleven doubted was that they had now what all the prophets said there shall be. They doubted that now every tear has been wiped away and that sorrow and suffering have fled. They doubted that the reign of Christ, the “shall be” is now. So our Lord says to them, “And behold, I will be with you always,” to build up their infant faith. It is the promise that He will shelter them with His presence (Revelation 7:15).

To believe is to embrace the promises of God that are given in Christ Jesus our Lord. So St. James:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:2-7, ESV)

Faith that is tested is faith that receives now all the blessings of God in Christ. This is why we pray for faith. It is not so that we will continue to believe history and the purpose and work of Jesus, which none of the Eleven doubted on the Mount of Olives. It is so that we will live in the promises and kingdom of God which is among us. We rejoice with the psalmist that the Lord “makes known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). We rejoice with the psalmist because we live in the presence of God where there is fullness of joy! There shall be blessings and comfort, peace and joy, and every tear shall be wiped away and every sorrow shall flee because in Christ Jesus that is how it is now.

But, we object, we do suffer. We weep. We mourn. We are as sheep to the slaughter. Look at the world around us; it is wrought with devastation and wickedness that causes great sorrow and trouble. True. We suffer and weep and mourn because the world has been plunged into chaos by sin and rebellion against God. But I am not denying this, just as the apostles do not deny it. Yet in the midst of this present darkness we are a spiritual people already. We wait with all creation for the revealing of the sons of God, but we confess that we are already the sons of God. Already we have all that we want. Already we are kings.

This is the great comfort in the midst of great distress and tribulation. This distress and tribulation, the tumult of wars and rumors of wars, the death of innocents and the rage of beasts, these are fleeting. They are a mist and are passing away. What we are, what we have in Christ Jesus is permanent and forever. We are in Christ and He in us. We are hidden in Him. I am not saying that the world does not know sorrow, or that we do not know sorrow. We do because we are still in the world (John 17:11). We do know sorrow, a great deal of it. But in Christ our sorrow is turned to joy, not in the future, but now. In Christ our tears are wiped away. In Christ our mourning is turned to laughter; death is swallowed up in life.

We worship the Lord and serve Him when we hear Him and believe Him and obey Him. We do not doubt, looking forward to some time when things shall be, but we rejoice that as He is so are we in the world (1 John 4:17). We rejoice in Him because  He is not the great “WILL BE” but the Great I AM, world without end.