Friday, 29 January 2010

The baby who brings salvation, revelation and judgement

LUKE 2:22-40

At the heart of this passage is a prophecy. It was spoken by a man called Simeon when Joseph and Mary bring the 40 day old Jesus to the temple to be presented to God. They were doing what any good Jewish family would do at the time: they were bringing their first born son to be presented in the temple.

It was what had happened for centuries.
Abraham and Isaac
Hannah and Samuel

It was a way in which parents recognise that all life is a gift from God; that their child belongs to God

But this time it is different. Simeon speaks of the baby:

He foretells how this child

1. Will bring salvation: this child will rescue us from sin and death and bring in God’s Kingdom (Luke 2:30)

This was the great Jewish hope and is the great Christian hope.

Simeon and Anna were both old.

Anna was phenomenally old. She was almost probably over 100, which in those days was exceptional. (You can do the maths: She had been married for 7 years, and a widow for 84 years. Working on the assumption that she was married when she was 13 or 14, she was probably about 105) [note, some texts say that she was a widow until she was 84].

And Anna is called a prophetess. That also is quite remarkable. For 400 years there had been no prophets, and now Luke tells us that there was a prophet - an older woman who was preaching in the temple. 

Simeon was also probably old. It sounds as if he has been waiting to die, but that he had been given a personal promise that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. And so having seen the baby Jesus, he says, ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace’.

He is described as righteous and devout.
[righteous: not just in the sense that they did what was right, but in the sense that they were living right with God and with people.
devout: We are told that Anna never left the temple, but worshiped day and night, fasting and praying.

I don’t think she was there trying to earn her forgiveness, or to make up for something dreadful she had done in the past. I certainly don’t think she was there to impress people or God. She was there because she loved God, she loved the worship of God, the place of God. God really was her life.]

But the key thing about both Anna and Simeon is that they put their trust in the promises of God.

God had promised that one day he would send a Saviour, someone who would come and set his people free – free from their sin, free from the power of death – and he would establish his Kingdom: a rule of righteousness and peace and justice; and an end to separation, suffering, pain and death. 

Simeon, in addition, had been given a specific personal promise. God had told him – we don’t know how: an inner conviction, a dream, someone prophesying over him – that he would not die before he saw the Saviour.

But Anna and Simeon believed it and lived their lives depending on it.
Simeon was waiting for the ‘consolation’ – the ‘comfort’ of Israel (v25)
And Anna speaks to those who were ‘looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem’ (v38):

It really was the promise that God gave his people in the Old Testament:
Isaiah 40:1 ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed that her sin ahs been paid for’
Isaiah 52:9 ‘Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem’

Simeon and Anna were looking for this. And as they see the baby Jesus, they rejoice, because they know that the one who will bring this to happen has been born.

As Christians who live 2000 years after this event, we too put our hope in Jesus Christ.
• He is the one because of whom are sins are forgiven. Sin does not need to have a hold on us. We can begin to live the life of the Kingdom of God
• He is the one who has defeated death, and because of whom we do not need to fear death.
• He is the one who is alive, and who will return one day to establish fully his Kingdom

2. Will be a ‘light for revelation to the Gentiles’.

This child will open people’s eyes so that they can see: see God, see his purposes, see his ways.

It is interesting that here:

The one who is presented to the Lord is the Lord
The one who has come to set us free from the law is governed by the law (we are told that in v22,23,27,39):
The one for whom a sacrifice is made will sacrifice himself for us. 
The temple welcomes the one for whom it was built and to whom it points; the temple embraces the 40 day old baby who one day will embrace it, and physically embody everything that it stands for.

And yet, nobody sees it – apart from a couple of old people, Simeon and Anna.
By the way, if you are young never dismiss those who are older
And if you are older, don't dismiss what God can do through you

And the reason that Simeon sees it is because the Holy Spirit is at work: ‘The Holy Spirit was on him; it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit ..; Moved by the Spirit’

And Jesus will open our eyes by sending the Spirit. We saw a couple of weeks ago how John says of Jesus, ‘He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit’. And it really is the Spirit of God who opens our eyes.

We think we can see because we live in a society which in the past has been saturated in Christian thinking. But ideas of forgiveness and love of enemy and mercy and gratuitous generousity and compassion for the stranger are not innate in us.

And even if we do live in a society which has cherished many of the Christian virtues, we’ve still closed our eyes to God. We are walking around like blind people. Ideas of submission before God, of trust in Him, and repentance and living under God’s authority are totally alien to us. And we are so blind to the things of God.

But because of the Spirit and because of Jesus, we can begin to see the ways of God. This is not something that can be taught. This is gift. We begin to see God. We begin to see how he has been at work in history. The Jewish scriptures come alive to us; Jesus shows us how we are to understand them and how we are to live them. And as we seek him and grow closer to him, so we are taken deeper into him.

You might say, ‘But I don’t see! How can I see?’

Jesus has told us: If we really want to see – we need to mean to do business with God. ‘Ask, seek, knock’. Don’t give me or one of the staff members any rest; go along to whatever group you can find; read; talk and get down on your knees and ask’. The very fact that you are beginning to hunger for God means that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.


There is a third thing that Simeon says:

3. This child will bring – in this world – judgement and division:

(Luke 2:34, He says to 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’)

How we react to Jesus shows how we react to God

Most people sadly ignore Jesus. When we ignore Jesus we are simply showing that we ignore God. We may turn to Jesus when we are in trouble, but as soon as the crisis passes we continue to live as if there is no God

Some people do not ignore Jesus. They hate Jesus. They hate what he stands for. The Jewish leaders hated Jesus because he challenged their authority and their status and their traditions. Nietzsche hated Jesus because he said that Jesus stood for all that was weak and vulnerable and feeble – all that deserved to die.

Some today hate Jesus because they see him as anti-libertarian. It is a strange accusation for one who was born to set us free. But they say that to be free is to do what you want, to become your own God. Jesus says that to be free is to live by love and obedience to him and to God, to live as we were made to live. And that means that not everything is OK.

Actually I often have most hope for those who hate Jesus: they are the one’s who are taking Jesus seriously – and when they turn, wow, they turn.

But Simeon warns Mary – and the warning is to all who follow Jesus Christ. Don’t be surprised if people ignore Jesus, or use his name as a swear word. Don’t be surprised if they hate him.

And some people hear of Jesus, are fascinated by what they hear and they wish to find out more. And as they hear they begin to love him, and they desire to know him and they reach out for him.

How we react to Jesus reveals how our heart responds to God.

I guess this incident is the closure of the Christmas story

The baby is promised
The baby is born
The good news is declared to shepherds

Now, says Simeon, the good news will reach out to all peoples.
This baby was born for salvation
This baby was born for revelation
And now we must choose what we think.




[Note: How people responded to the law and the temple and the promise of God showed how people responded to God – cf Anna, Mary and Joseph. Now, says Simeon, what matters is how people respond to Jesus Christ]


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