Seeing the Salvation of God
Luke 2:22 – 40
Seeing the Salvation of God
Did you see the very Christmasy headline during the week?
“Mary’s boy child saved!”
It was splashed across the Internet! And it obviously had the desired effect, at least on me, because I clicked the link to read the article.
However, it wasn’t some new discovery about Jesus’ escape from King Herod, or anything like that!
The story was about Christian, the eldest son of Princess Mary of Denmark, being rescued from a dangerous rip, by a Gold Coast lifesaver!
“Mary’s boy child saved!”
Well played, to the sub editor who wrote that headline!
But if we were to try and come up with a sensationalist headline for this part of Luke’s gospel, it could in fact be the exact opposite of what was splashed across newspapers around the world this week;
Not Mary’s boy child saved,
But Mary’s boy child saves others,
In fact, Mary’s boy child is salvation!
Before we get down to that quite remarkable statement that Jesus is salvation, though, Luke, our historian gives us the context;, Mary and Joseph are in the temple, fulfilling the requirements of the law regarding Jesus’ birth.
Jesus and the fulfilment of the law
Now in 15 years of preaching, I have never preached on this passage!
But it was actually when reading this section in my personal Bible reading earlier in the year, that I was struck by the number of times that Luke mentions the requirements of the Old Testament law, or things being done in fulfilment of the Law.
Look with me, verse 22, When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses,
Verse 23, as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”
24, to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord:
Verse 27, the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what the custom of the Law required
This is the law that God had given to the people through Moses, to set out what it would look like for them to live under God’s rule.
Having been brought into relationship with God,
How were they to relate to God?
How were they to relate, to each other?
That was what God laid down in the law of Moses, or the Law of the Lord.
And so we’re given the picture here, of Mary and Joseph, living exactly as God’s people ought to live.
There are 2 separate requirements of the law kind of condensed together here.
For 40 days after giving birth to a son, a woman couldn’t go into the temple, and so at the end of that time, she would offer a sacrifice of a lamb, and a dove or a pigeon, or if she couldn’t afford the lamb, then 2 doves, or 2 pigeons, which is what Mary offers.
The second demonstration of obedience to the Law that we see from Mary and Joseph, is the consecration of Jesus as the firstborn son.
God had said to his people, that each firstborn animal, and each firstborn son, was to be consecrated, if you like, given over to the Lord.
The firstborn animals were sacrificed to God,
The firstborn sons, of course, not sacrificed, but redeemed, with a payment made in their place.
Let me read to you from Exodus 13, where God explains why he wanted his people to complete this ritual.
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt.
This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand, and a symbol on your forehead, that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Redeem the firstborn sons, as a sign, a reminder, of God’s mighty act of deliverance.
How appropriate, that here, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, we’re reminded that our God is a God who saves his people,
That God, goes into bat for his people, when they’re powerless, and unable to rescue themselves,
Now, we don’t go through these same consecration rituals,
Jesus, as we see, fulfils the law,
And yet when we read of them, we can still be reminded of the God who saves his people. And actually we get to look back, not just on the salvation from Egypt, and the death of the Egyptian firstborns, but on the salvation from sin, and the death of God’s own firstborn.
, But that’s all, a bit later in Luke’s gospel!
But, for a firstborn son to be dedicated to God, the child didn’t need to be brought to the temple, and usually wasn’t. You know, if you could go to the supermarket without your 6 week old child, you probably would, wouldn’t you?!
I’ve spoken before about how sometimes if we’ve asked our kids to do something, maybe we’ve asked, “Can you please pick up 10 toys off the floor”, sometimes one of the kids will pick up 15 toys, and then say, “I didn’t Obey you, Daddy, I over-beyed you!”
Why does Luke include this detail of Mary and Joseph over-beying the law?
What he’s doing is showing that Jesus’ legal credentials, if you like, were impeccable and without question.
Even from before he has any say in the matter, Jesus’ life is shown as being completely according to the law, and then some.
It’s perhaps a slightly clumsy comparison, but I’m sure you’re aware that campaigning is underway in the US, for the major parties to choose their nominee for president.
And from what I’ve observed, a significant part of campaigning, involves the Republican hopefuls trying to demonstrate to their base that they are more Republican than their rivals, and on the Democrats’ side, each of those candidates is hoping to demonstrate to their supporters that they’re more of a Democrat than the others.
As I say, it’s not an exact comparison, but Luke wants us to realise, from the very beginning, that when it comes to Jesus’ credentials, particularly his Jewish credentials,
When it comes to this, all-important marker of Judaism, this issue of obedience to the Law, Jesus is as obedient as they come. And more so!
And of course, later on in Jesus’ ministry, the question of his obedience to the Law becomes a major issue. It’s the teachers of the law, the religious lawyers, who are some of the most violent in their opposition to Jesus.
Jesus is accused of being a law-breaker.
But Luke wants us to have that possibility removed from our minds, by showing us the very careful obedience to the law that has been the mark of Jesus’ life, from the very outset.
We’re pre-prepared, so that when those who oppose Jesus, accuse him of having no regard for the law, we already know how spurious those allegations are.
And just to remind us, that Jesus’ obedience to the law has been perfect, Luke rounds out this section with that statement in verse 39, When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee
In case we’d missed it up, until that point! It’s almost the very last word of this section.
Right from the outset, Jesus’ life is shown to be entirely according to the law, even, above and beyond.
To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation
But as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the temple, two , unusual things happen;
They encounter these two people, who speak about Jesus.
Simeon and Anna are worth listening to!
The first is this man Simeon, who, we’re told a bit about, so that we come away thinking, he’s a reliable and trustworthy witness. We ought to take heed of what he says.
We then meet Anna, who Luke doesn’t say so much about, and he doesn’t quote her directly, so we’ll focus mostly on Simeon, who gets most of the attention here, but Anna is presented as a reliable witness in much the same way.
I was reading the other day about some research into what makes us think someone is a reliable witness.
What makes us more or less likely to believe what someone says!
The findings were interesting!
Perhaps somewhat alarmingly, things like , if we share the same skin colour, ethnicity, language, as the person making the statement, we’re more likely to take seriously what they say.
Redheaded people, it seems, are more likely to take on board the testimony of other redheads!
But the rest of us are less likely, according to the research, to trust them!
Even what someone is wearing. Formal attire makes someone seem more reliable, than if they’re in scrappy clothes.
Now, Luke’s not so superficial as to try and convince us that Simeon is a reliable source of information by telling us what he was wearing, or what colour his hair was, be he absolutely describes him in a way that says, “You’ll want to pay attention to this.”
And similarly with Anna, She was a prophet, verse 36, that is, she brings God’s Words to people,
And verse 37, She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying
So when she speaks, Luke wants us to think, “she’s someone worth listening to.”
Come back to Simeon,
Listen to the description,
Listen to Luke saying, “pay attention to what he says, because it’s going to be significant.”
From verse 25, Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous, and devout.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was on him.
26 It had been revealed to him, by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.
It makes you want to hear what’s going to happen next, doesn’t it?
With an introduction like that, you can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say!
righteous, and devout, that’s very similar language to how Zechariah and Elizabeth were described back up in chapter 1, and they were the recipients of the first major revelation from God for 500 years!
And both Elizabeth and Zechariah, make very profound statements about God’s salvation;, the offer of rescue that God makes to people who have rebelled against him, and lived in God’s world with no thought or regard for God.
We had a listen to those words in the last couple of weeks.
So there’s a precedent, for people who are described in these kinds of terms, bringing really significant messages about God and how he wants to save people.
Traditionally, Christians have pictured Simeon as an old man, only really, because of the statement that he’s ready to die, now that he’s laid eyes on Jesus.
But Luke doesn’t tell us that Simeon was old.
Instead he chooses to tell us about his spiritual life.
And if the first few verses in this section were filled to overflowing with that idea of obedience to the law, well, I’m sure you noticed all the talk here about the Holy Spirit.
Today, after the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, after the Day of Pentecost when God sent his Spirit to the church, If you’re a Christian, you have the Spirit of God dwelling in you.
If you become a Christian, you receive the Spirit of God.
But in Simeon’s day, in about 6 BC, that indwelling of the Spirit wasn’t the universal experience of all God’s people.
The Spirit tended to be given by God, to particular people, for particular tasks.
Luke tells us, verse 25, that Simeon is one of these people;, the Holy Spirit was on him.
And Simeon had been given a promise from God, that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
If the fact that Simeon was righteous and devout, and, like one of those people who we’ve met already who speaks about God’s salvation, if that wasn’t enough to make us eager to hear what he’s got to say, then surely this picture of the Spirit at work in him, says we need to pay attention to what he’s going to say.
Joining the dots: Simeon and Anna were waiting for God’s salvation
But the pictures of Simeon and Anna, that Luke gives us, it’s not only about getting us ready to hear what they’re going to say.
Through what we’re told of these 2 godly people, some of the dots in God’s big plans for salvation are joined together.
I realise that many of you are past the age of dot to dot drawings! Some of your households, like mine, are still there!
But of course, you know the concept;!
There’s a whole bunch of dots on a page, not really making anything clearly, but when you join one dot to the other, the picture starts to take shape, and you can see what was there all along , just hidden.
The consolation of Israel, is one of the dots, in God’s plan.
Perhaps, when we hear consolation, we tend to think of something like soothing, comforting, “there, there.”
You console a child when their ice cream plops onto the ground, don’t you?!
“It’s OK, you’ll feel better soon!”
And for Israel to be consoled doesn’t really sound that exciting!
But take a leap back in history with me, to help us understand this.
The Bayeux Tapestry.
You’re probably familiar with it.
It’s about half a metre high, and nearly 70 metres long, and it pictures, the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
So you see King Harold getting an arrow in his eye,
But over on the Norman side, is a bishop, wielding a club over some poor Norman soldiers, and the caption, embroidered above in Latin, reads, “Here Bishop Odo, holding a club, consoles or comforts, the young troops”
Now, just ignore for a moment any questions you have about why a bishop is wielding a club in battle, and think about that language, “Bishop Odo, consoles the young troops.”
Judging from the embroidery, the consolation or comfort that the Bishop offered wasn’t, pat on the head, there there, kind of consolation.
His consolation was more about deliverance,
Stirring up the troops for the task at hand.
the consolation of Israel was not about platitudes and easy comfort, but about the deliverance of the nation,
It was about the ancient nation of Israel becoming everything it could be, about Israel being rescued from her enemies.
And so naturally a significant part of the consolation of Israel was the understanding that sin had to be paid for.
If Israel is to be delivered,
If Israel is to be what God wants her to be,
The sin that spoils her and spoils her relationship with God must be taken away.
So in the Old Testament, when the consolation of Israel is promised, we see repeatedly, the idea of sin being paid for,
The barrier to relationship between people and God being taken away,
The price for sin being met, so that people can have access to God.
Isaiah 40, as one example.
And Simeon was a man who, because he was righteous and devout,
Because he knew God and knew God’s Word, he understood that Israel needed to be rescued, delivered.
He knew the nation wasn’t everything that it could be,
He was looking forward to the consolation of Israel,
Waiting for God to bring about that consolation, take away the sin of the people, and make the way open for relationship with himself.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,
That’s one of the dots.
We’re also told that God, by his Spirit, had promised Simeon, that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
The Messiah, God’s king, that was another dot in God’s plan.
This is one we’re a bit more familiar with.
God had promised to send a king, the Messiah, or the Christ, to rule his people.
And so by the time of Jesus’ birth, the people of Israel were waiting for the Messiah to arrive.
And because they had some idea of what a king was like, and what a king did, the people had some expectation of what the Messiah was going to be like.
But that expectation mostly developed into a nationalistic, kick out the occupying Romans,
Turn Israel into the most famous nation on the face of the planet, kind of expectation.
But Luke, in telling us the story of Simeon, joins the dots for us, between these 2 parts of God’s plans.
On the one hand we’ve got the consolation of Israel, the removal of sin, and the opening of the way to relationship with God,
And on the other hand, the promised coming of the Lord’s Messiah.
Clearly this episode teaches that these two are the same event,
These 2 dots are part of the same picture.
They’re 2 sides of the same coin, to change the analogy.
The consolation of Israel, is another way of speaking about the coming of the Messiah.
Now this might all seem entirely logical to us, who look back on these events, and see it all as , one kind of finished package.
And while we’ve heard the angels, for example, begin to join some of these dots together for the shepherds earlier in the chapter,
This wasn’t what the average Israelite was expecting in Simeon’s day.
Here we see the Messiah is not just one who would lead and rule God’s people,
But also that the Messiah is the one who will bring the consolation to Israel.
The Messiah is the one who,
Deals with sin and rebellion,
Pays the penalty for sin,
Opens up the way to relationship with God.
Most of God’s people had too small a picture of what the Messiah would do. Now we see, the Messiah is the one who saves God’s people from sin.
That’s infinitely better than a king who’ll make your nation great,
Better even than a military leader who can get rid of the Romans.
But let’s not forget Anna’s thanksgiving to God, which joins another dot, fills out our picture a little more,
Her language is that of redemption, that is, the price that has to be paid, to buy something back.
See down there at verse 38, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem the capital, is representative of the whole nation.
And again, the language of redemption is right through the Old Testament. And it’s more than just deliverance. Redemption is the deliverance from evil, through the payment of a price.
So a slave might be released, by the payment of a price.
A prisoner of war might be released by the payment of a price.
We heard in the news last week that in the war in Yemen, a huge prisoner swap is going on, that’s a kind of redemption;,
Paying a price, for someone’s release.
The joining of this dot, the redemption of Jerusalem, into our picture of God’s salvation that centres on Jesus, reminds us that the consolation, the salvation, comes at a cost!
Although Simeon’s about to say, “salvation is now!”, Jesus doesn’t just turn up, and instantly salvation is accomplished,
Sin is paid for,
Access to God is open, to people who have lived as his enemies,
There’s a cost that has to be paid, and Anna’s great thanksgiving to God reminds us that Jesus will pay the cost,
Jesus will redeem his people.
The Messiah is God’s king who comes to save his people at great cost. And he has now arrived.
God’s salvation is now here
So what does Simeon actually say?
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Those of you who maybe grew up in very liturgical churches, will know these great outburst of praise in the early parts of Luke, Mary’s song, and this one here, by their opening words in Latin, which became defacto titles for these sections, Mary’s song is known as The Magnificat, and these few verses here are called the Nunc Dimittis from Latin translation of the opening words, “Now dismiss, ”
And I mention the Latin, not because most of us understand it! but because the Latin more closely follows Luke’s original word order where this song of praise starts with the words “now dismiss”, or “Now you may dismiss.”
Simeon’s emphasis is on now!
The time is now!
God’s salvation has now arrived.
As we saw, God had made a promise to Simeon, that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.
Now, when he lays his eyes on this baby, Simeon declares that God has kept his word, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
This year we saw the publication of Harper Lee’s long awaited novel, Go Set a Watchman. That title is actually taken from a phrase in Isaiah 21, where Harper Lee pictured Atticus Finch as a kind of watchman, a sentinel for the town of Maycomb.
Here, it’s a bit like Simeon is a watchman
The task entrusted to him, was to stand ready, watching, waiting, for God’s salvation to arrive.
And now that Jesus has come, Simeon’s days as watchman are over, he announces the arrival of God’s salvation in his Messiah, and so he says to God, “Well, now, I’m done!”
And although, humanly speaking it’s a strange response, to hold a baby, and announce “I’ve seen God’s salvation”, remember all that emphasis of the Holy Spirit in and through Simeon, what he speaks here is revealed to him by God,
The final joining of the dots,
Here is the consolation of Israel.
So closely is Jesus identified with God’s salvation, that to see the person is to see the salvation.
I was trying to think of a person, who completely sums up and personifies, something which they represent, in such a way that to see the person, is to see everything that stands behind them,
Sadly, the best I could come up with, was , Ronald McDonald! But you get the point, right?
You see Ronald McDonald, yellow suit, stripey arms, red hair, and immediately we think McDonalds, hamburgers, Ronald McDonald House, that whole Maccas ecosystem!
If you think of a better example let me know, and I’ll use that when I preach this passage again in another 15 years!
But by the Spirit of God, Simeon can see Jesus, and understand the whole salvation that Jesus brings.
He doesn’t just see a baby. He sees what the baby will achieve.
Because Jesus is the Messiah, God’s salvation has come.
And as we saw, the problem that Israel had,
The rescue they needed, was ultimately not from the Romans or whoever,
The salvation they needed was salvation from sin.
And in that they weren’t alone.
See, verse 32, the salvation that Simeon sees in Jesus, is good news for Gentiles as well as for Israel.
And so Simeon says, he has seen Jesus, a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Jesus is the revelation of God, to the Gentiles,
To the nations who weren’t Israel,
To the people who didn’t know, what it was to have God speak to them, or to live under God’s rule.
To them, and that is to us, most of us aren’t Jews, Jesus is a light for revelation.
Put it another way, God’s revelation dwells in a person.
Simeon holds a baby, and he says to God, “I see your revelation to the nations.”
You want to know what God is like?
The way to knowing that is not some mystical experience,
Not some bright light or voice from heaven.
The way for people like us to know God, is to look at God’s self-revelation, who was born into our world that first Christmas.
Jesus causes people to reveal something of themselves
But Simeon goes on to say that Jesus will cause people to reveal something significant about themselves.
This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
This is an unusual prophecy, but it speaks of the divisive nature of Jesus’ ministry, the way in which his ministry divides people into 2 categories.
Some will fall, and some will rise, because of Jesus.
Tellingly, every other time this language of rising is used in the New Testament, it refers to resurrection.
The life and ministry of Jesus,
His role as Messiah,
The consolation that he brings,
The redemption that he offers, let’s join all the dots together! They will reveal something about people,
They will cause people to respond in a certain way.
Some will resist Jesus.
Some will refuse to submit to God’s king.
And in fact the division that Jesus creates, will reach such a point, that Simeon warns Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul too.
I’m pretty sure that every new mother, can recall a litany of totally inappropriate and insensitive things, that people have said to them!
It looks like maybe this fits into that category!
But actually this is a prophecy, an announcement of what’s to come.
The ministry of Jesus will have an impact on Mary that she will find hard to accept, and of course this finds an ultimate fulfilment in the cross, where Mary stands as a witness, to the torture and execution of her innocent son.
Such is the division, the revelation of people’s hearts, that Jesus will bring.
Others though, like Simeon and Anna, and the others mentioned in verse 38, who are waiting for God’s salvation, they demonstrate by their response to Jesus, that they are those who will be raised.
People reveal their true colours,
Reveal their attitude to God, by their response to Jesus.
And that is true even today.
If Jesus is God’s salvation,
The long-promised, costly salvation of God,
Then our response to Jesus, is very much, our response to God.
See it’s pretty easy, to be positive about God,
It’s easy to make it sound like you’re open to God. But the rubber really hits the road when it comes to our response to Jesus.
There is no middle ground,
We will either be those who fall, or those who are raised.
Everything hangs, on our response to Jesus.
That Gold Coast lifesaver, who rescued young Prince Christian, didn’t know, that he had just rescued the heir to the Danish throne.
For Simeon and Anna, there’s no such confusion when it comes to the identity of this royal child, is there?
They recognise who he is, immediately.
I’m sure Luke wants us to be able to recognise Jesus, having read this today.
How sad it would be for us to be like that lifeguard, to encounter Jesus, and not recognise him,
For us to have in our minds, perhaps, some other picture of who Jesus is, and so not recognise him here.
Can you say, with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation”?