Dissenter: 1) Someone who disagrees with the beliefs or opinions of a majority; 2) Someone who refuses to accept the authority, doctrines, or practices of an established church. (In the past this was especially applied to Protestants like the Pilgrims, the Quakers, and men like Roger Williams, who came to America and helped establish freedom of religion. They were dissenters from the Church of England in the 17th and 18th centuries.)
Simeon was a devout Jew who was in the Temple on the day Jesus was brought by His parents to be circumcised. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Now a very old man, Simeon took this little baby in his arms and said to the mother of the baby, Mary,
This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:34-35)
What he said to Mary was something she would need to remember time and time again. She had grown up in the established traditions of Judaism. She lived in a time in Israel when the traditions of the elders had replaced obedience to the word of the prophets and the Law given to Moses. In fact, no prophet had spoken in Israel for over 400 years since the prophet Malachi had rebuked the nation for offering lame sacrifices. When she was betrothed to Joseph, her way of life, like everyone else’s, followed the social and spiritual programs of the Scribes and Pharisees. She knew nothing else. She and many other sincere ones would always talk of the coming of the Messiah, who would lead Israel as its king and deliver the people from the oppression of the Romans.
Then, one day the angel Gabriel came to Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. He told her that she would bear a son through the power of the Most High and that He would be called the Son of God. Her son would be given the throne of David and He would reign over the house of Jacob forever. From that day forward she never doubted that her son would grow up to take the throne of David as the king of Israel. She never doubted that He would be accepted by the people and especially by the religious leaders of her day. She could see this beginning to happen when He was twelve years old in the Temple as she observed the teachers marveling at the wisdom and understanding of her young son. Her heart leaped for joy at the thought that in just a few years He would be recognized by all as the one sent from God to reign over Israel.
The day eventually came when her son went out and began to call disciples to follow Him. The sincere ones were in for a big surprise. They had to come face to face with the fact that the only “program” they knew from their religious leaders was not His program at all. His disciples were not the religious leaders of the day, but instead, they were the disillusioned, the poor, and the outcasts of Israel. Throngs of people came to hear Him teach, and to watch Him heal the people of their diseases. He was becoming known all around the country as a prophet, as one sent from God.
Mary wondered about His followers and how it would all come together. Right about that time she heard a report that the religious leaders were saying her son “had a demon” — that he was doing the work of Beelzebub, a powerful and wicked evil spirit. She was upset and wondered how it could be that the dignified religious leaders of her day could be talking this way about her son. Still, considering the stature of the priests and the Pharisees, she wondered if perhaps it might be true. If anyone knew what God was saying, surely it was these men.
She decided to get the family together and go down to see Him where He was teaching. She did not expect that He would be rejected by these great men, so she felt it her motherly duty to find out what was going on. She didn’t want anything to hinder the fulfillment of what the angel Gabriel had spoken about Him. But much to her surprise, He showed that He was teaching a different program than that of the religious leaders. He dismissed her plea to stop teaching and come home with her, saying, .”..whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”1 He was not going along with the status quo of His society, but instead was establishing something “outside the camp”2 of the accepted traditions of Judaism.
His response to His mother and brothers was a public declaration that He was at odds with the authority, traditions, and practices of established Judaism. He, like John the Baptist, was a voice of dissent, taking a stand against the program of the accepted religion of His day. He ushered in a new understanding of God’s will. What happened that day was the beginning of the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy.
The Messiah had indeed become a sign which would be spoken against. He stood outside of the program of His society, with its cravings for wealth and power, and of its mainstream religion, with its carefully maintained hierarchy of clergy and laity. He was sent to a people trapped in a dead religion that was void of God’s presence. When the “sword of His word pierced His own mother’s soul,” prophecy was again fulfilled. She was a part of this dead religion. He had to go outside the ranks of Judaism in order to establish something new, and all who would follow Him had to go with Him — even His own mother.
He showed them a new way of living based on self-sacrifice, the kind of which He would personally demonstrate. In shedding His blood on the cross He would purchase salvation for His people just as the angel had prophesied. And it was only at the cross, outside the security and comfort of organized religion, that His followers could lay hold of that salvation.
His followers came from the dissatisfied of Judaism — from those quiet dissenters who had no authority to expose the hypocrisy of its leaders. On their own they had no authority to call true believers “outside the camp,” but only there was it possible to receive the power to do God’s will and to obey His commandments.
This “new program” threatened the mainstream religious leaders, and they, in turn, rejected their own Messiah. Eventually they murdered Him as the Master had foretold in a parable:
But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (Matthew 21:37-39)
This parable revealed that they would kill Him just as they had killed the prophets of old:
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. (Acts 7:51-52)
From the blood that flowed from His death on the cross, a new society emerged. In fact, on the Day of Pentecost the New Covenant church was born. It was a community of believers. Like its dissident leader, the movement grew up outside of the religious system of that day. God was free to pour His love out into peoples’ hearts, therefore the members of this movement had a vibrant love for one another. They had revelation of their Master and Savior, like the apostles who had preached the gospel to them. Their love was evidenced by their obedience. This obedience enabled their heavenly Father to reveal Himself to them, just as He had revealed who the Messiah was to Peter.3 This revelation of the Father and the Son was just as He had promised when He was with them.4 This ongoing cycle of love, obedience, and revelation bore witness to the world that God sent His Son.5