Jesus, the Sign Spoken Against
A Christmas Message Based on Luke 2:34 Delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on November 28, 1999 At Chinese Christian Gospel Church (Montreal)
It is Christmas time so we will look at a passage appropriate to this season. Let us read then Lk. 2:34: “And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed’”. The Chinese version is not an accurate translation unfortunately. If you have an English translation, you would have a more accurate picture of what is being said. It says here that He will be a sign that will be spoken against. This word ‘sign’ is the key to this passage. What is being said is that Jesus Himself will be a sign from God.
The word ‘sign’ is used very frequently in the gospels. If you look at a concordance, you will see it is used frequently. The important point is that Jesus came into the world (which we will remember during this Christmas time) to be a sign from God.
Jesus is God’s Sign to Convey a Message
A sign is to communicate a message. There is such a thing as sign language for people who are deaf and dumb. They cannot hear what we are saying, so they make signs. That is sign language. It is communicating a message by giving various signals or signs. In this passage, it says that Jesus is God’s sign. This means He is communicating a message. It is very close to the first verse of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” A word is something that communicates a message. A word is usually an audible language, something that you can hear with your ear. But a sign is an inaudible language that you cannot hear. You see it but you cannot hear it. Jesus is God’s sign conveying a visible message to us. By this sign, many will rise and many will fall. Therefore, it is a very important sign because it determines your whole future, the future being whether you will fall or whether you will rise, or both.
What is very interesting here is that you have in this passage two elderly people, two old saints, Simeon and Anna. And you remember the beautiful story of Joseph and Mary coming into the temple with the baby Jesus and they meet this old man, Simeon, in the temple. When he sees the baby, he has a lot of things to say about the baby. There is nothing unusual about a baby coming into the temple. After all, they did not have babysitters in those times and so if they wanted to worship in the temple, they brought their baby with them. This is not the only baby in the temple. Simeon stayed in the temple a great deal of the time and he must have seen a lot of babies. But when he sees this baby, he has something to say. He says, “My eyes have now seen the salvation of God.” We say, “Old man, this is just a baby. Why are you talking about salvation here?” But he has a lot more to say than that. Among these things, he says, “This baby is a sign of God.” This is a visible message from God. He will determine the future of the people, whether they will be saved or whether they will not be saved. This depends on how they relate to Him.
This Sign Will Be Opposed
What he says regarding the sign is very puzzling. What he is saying is that this sign from God, this baby, will be spoken against. When people read the Bible, they are not listening to what is being said. They are not noticing what exactly is the sign. The sign is not that everybody is going to fall on their knees and they are going to worship Him. The sign is not saying that everybody is going to welcome Him with open arms. On the contrary, the message is saying that He is for the salvation of the world, but He will be rejected by most people. They are going to attack Him. They are going to oppose Him. Oppose Him to what extent? This is very strange because all Israel was waiting for the Messiah; the Savior of Israel; the King of Israel. What Simeon is saying is that He will be rejected and opposed. Everybody is going to say bad things about Him.
And then the old man turns to Mary the mother. Try to picture that scene in the temple. By this time, the old man is holding baby Jesus in his hands. He says to Mary, “Mary, a sword is going to pierce right through your own soul.” Here in the Greek, the unusual word for ‘sword’ is used. Actually in Greek, there are more than two words for ‘sword’ describing the different kinds of swords, but only two are used in the NT. Luke uses another word for ‘sword’ five times. But here, the word used is that used only once in the NT outside of the book of Revelation. It is used six times in the book of Revelation, so there is a total of seven times in the NT. I tried to determine why a different word for ‘sword’ is used. It may be because this is a broad sword, a double-edged sword. It has a hilt which makes the sword therefore look like a cross. What Simeon seems to be saying is that he is hinting at the cross. I think you have often seen a sword and you can see that it does look like a cross. And Simeon is saying that: “the sword will go through your own soul”. Wow, that is hardly a very comforting message! You come into the temple to worship God and some old man starts talking to you about your baby. It sounds good that He is the salvation of Israel and you would have thought that everybody would welcome this salvation. But, in fact, this incident is going to cause her exceedingly great pain and maybe even her death!
We can see that this sign is going to be spoken against. God gives a sign to all mankind, but does mankind welcome it? No, mankind rejects it! When we look at this word translated as ‘spoken against’ or ‘rejected’ or ‘opposed’, in Heb. 6:16, it is translated as ‘disputed’, i.e., people speak against it, argue against it. They say, “Jesus - He cannot be the Messiah. He cannot be the Savior.” In Jude 11, it is translated as ‘rebellion’. It speaks of Korah’s rebellion. In Rom. 10:21, it speaks of Israel as a people who are always disobedient and contradictory, speaking back, talking back. The opposition against this sign is enormous! Now this point is of exceedingly great importance and we must grasp it very well.
We certainly do not expect a sign which will help us to identify Jesus as God’s Son by this means. To put it another way, “How do you know that Jesus is God’s Son? How do you know that He is the Savior of the world?” The sign is so unexpected. If you see somebody who is spoken against, who is opposed, who is contradicted, that is the sign. Have you ever thought of such a sign?
So many religious teachers are so well accepted. Well, think of Gautama Buddha. Everybody respects him and honors him. He is the Enlightened One. He is the one who has light from above. There is not anyone speaking against him. We can go through various religions. Who speaks against Mohammed? Mohammed is worshipped almost as a god as he is the prophet of God. But you say, “The same is true for Jesus today, is it not?” That is the problem. That precisely is the problem. Do you understand what I am talking about? Maybe not.
Let us put it this way. If you meet a person or you hear about a person whom everybody says bad things, what would you think of this person? Let us say, for example, me. Oh, believe me, the world is full of people who say bad things about me, and that is no exaggeration. I cannot even go somewhere in peace where somebody does not say something bad about me. It is not because I want people to say bad things about me. Does anybody like to be unpopular? They have not met you yet, but they heard bad things about you. A few years ago, I said I would go to a country where surely nobody knows me. So I went to Costa Rica. Do you know where Costa Rica is? If I gave you a map, would you be able to point out Costa Rica? I went there and I said, “Surely nobody knows me here.” But I was mistaken. Soon, we found that there were those who have heard about me and knew what a bad guy I am. Immediately there were two groups: one group supported me to some extent and one group maintained that I was a bad guy. Here [in Montreal], when you hear bad things about Joel Uong, would you say, “Oh, I would like to be your friend, you are such a bad guy.” If you hear bad things about him, and even if you know him, you might have some questions. They say that: “Without fire, there is no smoke.” So there must be something about this guy. Even if you have met him, you would have suspicions, and say, “Hmm, this guy, I would have to be careful.” Do you understand what I am getting at?
When everybody is saying bad things about Jesus, how come you want to believe in Him? We can say the same thing about the church. If you hear bad things about the church, why are you attending that church? This is what ‘speaking against’ means. He would be a sign that people will reject, people will argue against, people will oppose, people will contradict.
NT Faith - Believing in an Opposed Jesus
This raises a major problem for faith. If salvation depends on faith in Him and everybody says bad things about Him, how are you going to believe? Our situation is easy today, is it not? Who is speaking bad about Jesus? Hardly anybody! So, what happens is that we have a major difference between the situation in the NT and the situation today. It is easy to believe today because who is speaking against Jesus? But that raises a problem. If the situation is different today, then the faith is also different.
You see, when I am a bad guy and somebody says, “I hear all these bad things about you, but I trust you anyway”, wow, that is something! But when I become popular, when I am something important and everybody respects me, what faith do you need? For example, the opposition to me is fading away. The reason is that many of the church leaders in Hong Kong have begun to express that they do not oppose what I teach. In fact, they express agreements on major points. For example, a sister from Hong Kong went to Australia and attended one of our churches there. She was a member of a church where the pastor is a very famous pastor in Hong Kong. She wrote back to her church and asked about our church and me. The reply she got was, “That’s a good church. By all means feel free to attend there.” That is very surprising! Now it is no longer difficult to attend our church because she has approval from her former church in Hong Kong.
What would have been different would be this: that no matter what her church at home would have said, but that she had come to our church and listened for herself, observed and examined the Scriptures and came to the conclusion, “This church stands on the Word of God, I will stay here even if others oppose.” The point is that we always like to see whether other people approve or do not approve of this person or this church. We cannot make our own decision. What has happened now is that people begin to become favorable to me for one reason only: the opposition against me in Hong Kong is dying down. Let me tell you: you know your true friends when you are under attack. When you are attacked and everybody runs from you, you also know what kind of friends you have. When Jesus was seized to be crucified, what happened? Even his disciples abandoned Him. In the time of attack, you really know who is who. I have good opportunity to find out.
What I want to say is something exceedingly important regarding faith. It raises the question whether our faith is the ‘New Testament faith’ or not. We are saved by faith, right? And Luther wanted to say that we are saved by faith alone, right? The question is: what kind of faith? And what we have here is something of the greatest importance: if you believe in Jesus when He is being opposed, when He is being rejected, that is faith!
Today you believe in Jesus, why? Because there are hundreds and millions of believers today! Everybody believes in Jesus and so what is so difficult about raising your hand and making your commitment? What happens in the situation when you are brought up in a Christian home and you just follow your father and mother to become a Christian? So indeed in school, maybe your friends oppose Christianity, but after all your parents are more important than your friends in school. So as Christian parents, we are faced with serious problems, that is, how genuine is the faith of your children? Maybe my child believes in Jesus because she respects me and trusts me completely. Is that the ‘New Testament faith’? That is the problem here. For her, there is no contradiction against Jesus that needs to be overcome. At least in our home, she does not find any contradiction in Jesus. Jesus is always exalted. Even if other people contradict Him, it is not important because the people she really respects uphold Him. Other people’s opinion is not important to her. But her parents’ opinion is very important.
Unless we grasp this situation and you grasp this situation, you may not have a ‘New Testament faith’ in Jesus. There are people in our church or even in our teams who follow Jesus mainly because of respect for me. But if they change their opinion of me, they may change their opinion about Jesus. In other words, their faith is dependent on man. For example, recently I got an e-mail from a co-worker who told me how much the recent attack upon me and the church in Montreal affected her. And she said that the problem was that it affected her faith in God. When she heard the contradiction, i.e., the attack on me, it shook her faith in God and she nearly collapsed spiritually.
What Is Your Faith Founded on?
So we come back to the question: On what is your faith founded? At Christmas time, we are talking about this sign from God - can you accept this sign? Or what is your reason for coming to church? Did you believe and got baptized because you said, “I like these Christians because they are nice people. They love one another and I would like to be one of them.” Is that ‘New Testament faith’?
The only faith spoken of in the New Testament is a faith that can believe in Jesus when everybody contradicts Him, when everybody else rejects Him and I believe. That is a miracle! If you believe in Jesus because everybody else believes, any psychologist can explain that. In a Christian country, everybody is a Christian. You just follow the crowd. You do not need faith. To describe this as saving faith, that is not the NT definition, is it? To believe is to believe in the face of contradiction. That is the message here. Even more astonishing, we identify the object of faith and in this case, it is Jesus. We know He is true precisely by the fact that He is rejected. Here is the sign. Here is the signal from God. If you want to know who to believe in, look around and see who is rejected. That is the object of faith - Jesus Himself.
Who Rejects Jesus?
The other important factor that we have to bear in mind is: who was rejecting Jesus? Who was speaking against Jesus? When you read your Bible, are you listening? Are you seeing what is there? Today we read it as a Christian book where everybody supports Jesus. But that is not what is being said in the Bible even. The Bible tells us that He was rejected by everybody. Did you notice that? Let me give you evidence from one book alone - in Matthew - to let you see who rejected Jesus and what they said about Him. What they said about Him was very, very serious. For example, the scribes. Scribes were lawyers. They were very learned people, i.e., learned in the Bible. They were lawyers because the main part of the OT was called the Law. The first five books of Moses were described as the Books of the Law. These scribes were experts in the Bible. Isn’t their opinion very important? What did they say? In Mt. 9:3 they said, “Jesus is a blasphemer. He blasphemes.” Now, that is a very serious charge coming from somebody who is a Bible expert!
Now the Pharisees, they were a group of very religious, very devoted people. They were the major group of people who opposed Jesus. In Mt. 12:24, it says: “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” You see this over and over again, and not just once. Their opinion in Israel was very, very important because they formed a large and very devoted type of people. They considered themselves very devoted to God. In fact, in Mt. 9:34, they actually said that Jesus Himself is not only a demon but is a prince of demons, the king of demons. For you, the opinion of Pharisees, lawyers and scribes may not be important. But among the people of Israel, their opinion was the most important. The common people did not understand the Bible. So they had to look to their religious leaders to give them the guidance. The scribes were the scholars, the religious leaders. These Pharisees were the spiritual leaders. It was not just some ignorant fellows but a whole group of them (not just one of them but the whole group) saying, “Jesus, whatever He does, He does it by the power of the devil.”
Of course, the people were deeply influenced by this. And we can see that also in Mt. 11:19 where the crowd also speaks against Jesus saying that He is a glutton, a drunkard, and He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But notice that they do not dare to bring spiritual charges because they are not experts in spiritual things, so that part, they would have to leave to the leaders. But they accuse Him of being a glutton (somebody who likes to eat a lot of food), a drunkard (somebody who likes to drink a lot of wine), and that He mixes with all the wrong people.
But that attack against Jesus goes even to the highest level - the high priest - the highest person in the religious life of Israel. In Mt. 26:65, the high priest describes Jesus as a blasphemer. Whose opinion is more important than the high priest? It is like the Roman Catholics that when the pope says somebody is a blasphemer, that is final and that settles everything.
It goes further in Mt. 27:63. It says that the chief priests (all the priests under the high priest) together with the Pharisees declare Jesus to be an impostor, a false person. My, oh my, what is left to be said? If you are called by all these names, actually you cannot think of something worse to say. [To them] He is the very devil himself. Interesting! I was almost accused of exactly the same thing. What did they say against Jesus and who said it?
And then it raises the following question, “What about Jesus’ followers?” Well, if only the outside people attack Jesus, then it is OK. Here is a small group of disciples who are all blind to the reality and they follow Him blindly. Unfortunately, that is not the case either. You see that in Jn. 6:66 that even when He said some of the things, they could not take it; they rejected Him. So they left Him. You can imagine that when they left Jesus and people asked, “Weren’t you following Jesus before? And why aren’t you following Jesus now?”, do you think they will say nice things about Jesus? What kind of explanation would they give? “Well, I was deceived. I was cheated. Jesus did not live up to my expectation.” They had to find something to say why they do not follow Jesus anymore. They also would have to speak badly about Jesus to justify their departure from Him. As though all this is not yet enough, one of his handpicked men, one of the twelve, not only said bad things about him (that itself would not have been that serious as compared to what he actually did), he sold Jesus to His enemies for a very small amount of money to show how much he thought of Jesus - that Jesus was worth only 30 pieces of silver. That was the amount to pay for a slave. You can see all Jesus’ enemies rubbing their hands and saying, “What did we tell you? This guy is a bad guy. Even his disciples abandoned Him.” One of His handpicked men, not just any of the disciples, but one of the twelve, the closest circle, this one also rejected Him, and even sent Him to His death.
Simeon was right after all, wasn’t he? Everything he said was true. A sign that everybody rejects, from the high priest at the top to the crowds below. And even one of this closest disciples, one of these disciples that was living with Him for two and a half years at least, who knew Him through and through (at least so it was thought he did), he sold Jesus. How can you believe in such a Jesus? How can you believe when everybody rejects Him? Is it because you have not really considered the fact? Did you not realize that Jesus is a sign that is spoken against and still is? It is true that the opposition voice has become silent because of the majority of the so-called Christians around.
When I was in the United States recently, I saw a book on the bookshelf. Of course the title immediately attracted my attention: Jesus, the Magician. That is an interesting title. It is written by a professor in Columbia University. And he says that Jesus did all his miracles through magic. Is your faith beginning to shake? Maybe you do not care about the Pharisees and the high priest but the words of a professor from Columbia you need to take seriously. Jesus is just a magician. And he tries to show that these kinds of techniques that Jesus used were used by the Egyptians.
And recently I looked at another bookshop and what do I see there? Jesus, the Heretic! It is a big thick book and not a small pamphlet. Do you dare to read such a book? Your faith will go down the drain. Let me tell you the truth: Some of us who have to study theology, the things that we have to study will astonish you. Many people, who studied theology in England as I did, lost their faith. Why? Because we had to study the material that speaks against Christianity. Some of these are written by brilliant philosophers. Strangely enough, I quite enjoyed studying it. But some people lost their faith. But some who did not lose their faith, they lost their fire. There was no more fire and enthusiasm.
The hostility against the church is still there, though at a much lesser extent. There is still a lot of hatred against the church, against the Gospel, but much suppressed. My message is the hardest to follow as you can see for yourself as you listen today. Many years ago, leaders of the church said, “Your preaching makes the Gospel very hard to swallow. You should preach something easier than that.” I preach the Word of God whether people like it or not. So there is a high level of resistance.
New Testament Faith Could Mean Death
To be a Christian in the NT times could mean your death. In fact, many Christians in the first century and up to the third century lost their lives by being Christians. Everybody spoke against Christianity and therefore you could kill a Christian and nobody would sympathize with the Christian. They would say it is a good thing to kill these people. Therefore there were many martyrs in the Early Church, but very few today.
In North America, it is still possible to become a martyr. On September 15, 1999, a man walked into the Baptist church in Texas and open fired with his weapon in the church. It is still dangerous to go to church these days. There is a chance of getting killed by going to church. Of course the church is quite small but still there is a small chance. The man opened fire with his weapon and fired 100 bullets into a 400-people congregation. The remarkable thing was that having fired 100 bullets, he only managed to hit 14 people. After that, he shot himself. Seven people were killed in the church. Seven were wounded. The seven people who were killed turned out to be not just good Christians but completely committed Christians. These were the Christians who would gladly die for their faith. Of the seven people wounded, there was one young woman who tried to shield her friend when the firing started. With her body, she shielded her disabled friend. She was hit in the back with a bullet. Strangely enough, her back was abnormal. She had a curvature in the back and the result was that the bullet hit her curved spine and it deflected the bullet from her important organs. In other words if she did not have the curvature, she would have been killed, too. The man also prepared a bomb but the bomb did not go off. The end result of this whole seeming tragedy was that it was broadcasted all over the world. And there were many opportunities for the pastor to speak over the television and radio in North America and around the world. As a result of this, 200 million people heard the Gospel. The tragedy became a blessing! In fact, in Japan, at one meeting alone, 35 people came to the Lord after hearing this.
Some years ago, a man walked into a Chinese church in the West Coast of the United States and walked up to the pastor and shot him in the pulpit in front of the whole congregation. What kind of hatred, what kind of opposition causes people to do this kind of thing?
Driving in the United States about 2 or 3 weeks ago, I was listening to the radio in the car and the result was that I heard a long discussion about the Columbine killings. As you may recall, about 2 young people walked into the high school in Columbine and shot so many students there. The gunman confronted a young girl in the school and held his gun to this girl and said, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus?” She was just a young girl about 17 or 18. “Do you believe in Jesus?” She said, “Yes.” He pulled the trigger and shot her there. How much did he hate Jesus? Why? This young girl had nothing to do with him. So there is still a chance to become a martyr for Jesus.
True Faith Comes from Revelation
Let us conclude for today. What is the point of our message? If everyone speaks against Jesus from the leaders at the top to the common people below and says all these things about Jesus, how do you know that He is true? One can say that one of the signs was already given: He was the one spoken against. But is that enough for you to believe in Jesus? The conclusion of this matter is quite simple in the NT. There is only one way to believe in Jesus. And that is by revelation. When everybody rejects Him, then the only way that He is from God is for God to reveal that to you. That is the only way you will know. So the important conclusion is: true faith comes from revelation.
You have read Mt. 16:17. What does it say there? The Lord asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am? You heard all these people say bad things about Me, what do you say?” And Peter comes up with an astonishing reply. He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Peter, how can you know that?” How is it possible for Peter to know that this man he sees in front of him is the Son of the Living God? He is the same person that Judas was willing to sell for 30 pieces of silver. This is the same person Peter said, “You are the Son of God.” And what is Jesus’ reply? “Flesh and blood had not revealed this to you. Nobody could have told you this but only My Father in heaven.” And the interesting thing is that Jesus did not want them to tell anybody about what was revealed to them. He wanted the Father to reveal to any other person as well. Do you think only Peter needs the revelation from God to know who Jesus is? Of course not!
The point is that throughout the NT, even the apostle Paul says how he knows who Jesus is. What happened at the Damascus road? God revealed to him who Jesus is. This is true of every true believer. How do you think Simeon knew who Jesus is when he was looking at this baby? Only through revelation! There is no other way to know.
In the next passage, it talks about Anna, an old lady over 80 years old. Again, God revealed to Anna who this baby is. Nobody will know Jesus - who is spoken against - except through revelation. Now I pray that God will open your eyes, otherwise your faith rests on the wrong foundation.
When I went through the theological college, so many people either lost their faith or lost their fire. Why? Because their faith was resting on other people’s opinions. They came to Jesus because they heard other people saying good things about Jesus. If that is the way your faith is, what happens? When they hear others say bad things about Jesus, then it cancels out the faith that came from the good things they heard. Why did it not bother me? Because my faith did not rest on other people’s opinions. My faith rested on what God had revealed to me in my heart. If you know what that means, you know what revelation is. You know that God has opened your eyes to see who Jesus is no matter what everybody says. I am very fearful that if your faith rests on the wrong foundation, you are going to lose your faith one of these days; you are going to turn against Him. When persecution comes, you are going to give Him up.
The last point is this: if faith comes by revelation, it seems to be equivalent to predestination, i.e., you cannot do anything about it, then it is up to God to reveal Himself. Not at all! What happens is simply this: we cannot get the revelation unless God gives it to us. But we can ask for it! In the Sermon on the Mount, what did the Lord say? “Seek and you shall find. Ask and it shall be given. Knock and it will be opened to you.” If you want the revelation, ask for it. We cannot open the door ourselves. Only God can open it. But we can knock on that door until He opens the door. When the door is opened and we look inside, we see wonderful things in the house of God. And there we see His revelation!
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church