By Simon ManchesterSunday 21 Sep 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
I was sent this week a story about an 84 year old widow who married for the forth time and she had apparently married a banker,a circus ring master,a preacher and now a funeral director. And when she was asked how she coped with the variety,she said,I married one for the money,one for the show,one to get ready and one to go! (laughter)
I thought I could tell you that because we’re looking today in Luke 2 at some old,wise saints. And if you’ll turn up in your bible to page 1015,Luke chapter 2,we’re going to look this morning at four little stories,four little cameos,vignettes and they’re people all coming to grips with Jesus; Jesus the child. And in case you think this is very marginal to life,these elderly people in the centre of our section today consider that by coming to know Jesus,see Jesus,experience Jesus,that they have really come to the goal of the world; they have come to the goal of life and they are fulfilled. And one of them says those famous words – Now Lord dismiss me,I’m ready to go. And we’ll see a little more of him in a minute.
I want to look with you at these four little incidents under the heading of ‘See the Christ’,and then I want to finish by asking you to see the point. See the Christ – see the point! And so if you look at Verse 21 and following,the first section,21 to 24 involves Joseph and Mary; the little family now,Joseph,Mary and the child,Jesus. And they’re still very much thinking Old Testament. It’s not wrong,but they’re just still thinking about the obligations as Jewish people. And we read in Verse 22; when the time of purification,according to the Law of Moses had been completed,Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. And I think the rest of that little section is basically the same thing. So the child has been born,the shepherds have come and gone,Joseph and Mary are beginning to put the Law of God into practice. And we know from the rest of scripture after the birth Mary would be ‘unclean’ for 7 days. This was not a sin issue,this was a blood issue. The Jews treated blood very seriously as they were asked to do,it was an object lesson for them of life and death. And so,for seven days she would be considered unclean and then on the eighth day they have Jesus circumcised like a normal Jewish boy,then for thirty days Mary has no visits or religious meetings of any kind and then,you’ll see Verse 22,they head off to Jerusalem to the Temple,which was quite a short distance from Bethlehem (Jerusalem),15 kms,something like that over to Jerusalem and there were two rituals in Jerusalem in the temple. One was a ritual where Mary would be declared clean after the birth and the second one was a ritual where the child would be devoted to God as the first born,first born of the womb. And so they begin,Joseph and Mary,in Bethlehem,they travel to Jerusalem for the incidents that are recorded here. They then go back to Bethlehem to live,I presume that’s when the wise men come to visit and then eventually they have to go to Egypt,in the south to escape from Herod and finally they head up to Nazareth to live and to work for many years. And it’s from Nazareth that they would make their trip yearly to Jerusalem to the temple. A much longer trip,maybe 120 kms
Now what do we learn from this first little incident which Luke has told us of? Well we learn that Joseph and Mary are a faithful couple,a faithful Jewish couple coming to grips with their baby,coming to grips with the fact that they have had the Messiah born in their home. They’re very clear on the Law; they know exactly what to do according to the Old Testament. We’re not sure that they’re clear about their baby yet. And that’s why we come to the second incident where we meet Simeon,the old man Simeon; he’s crystal clear on Jesus. Verses 25-35 we just had read for us and this is a major incident. So Joseph and Mary are in the temple with the baby,this Godly man Simeon,probably an old man comes toward them. He’d been told,according to Verse 26,that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. God had somehow told him in a remarkable way – you’ll see the Messiah,you’ll live that long. And the key in Verse 25 is that Simeon is a waiter,he is expectant. Both these old people,Simeon and Anna,who we’ll see in a minute,are old – long waiting,long expecting people,longing for the Messiah. And he has been longing for the consolation of Israel,for the comfort of Israel. Now where did he get his idea that the Messiah would come and comfort Israel? I suspect this is almost certainly due to Isaiah Chapter 40 and very famous words where the Lord said to the Prophet Isaiah,do you remember? – comfort,my people,comfort,comfort My people. The lord said to Isaiah – tell my people that their hard service is over,that their sin is paid for and prepare the way for the Lord,we go on to read in Isaiah 40 – His glory will be revealed,all mankind will see it. And Simeon comes over and he sees the baby,he takes the child in his arms,(we’ve got one of our stained glass windows on the right of the building,I was just sitting next to it,with old Simeon taking the baby in his arms),and he calls the baby; this baby is God’s salvation. And he goes on to say,this baby is the light for the nations and the glory of Israel. Now how has he come to this,you know,is he a genius? Well,the answer is probably in the three verses,25,36,27,where God has helped him by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit was on Simeon,the Holy Spirit had revealed the truth to Simeon and the Holy Spirit now moves him to walk towards the baby. And that’s what he does. We assume that he’s very old because he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah,although it doesn’t say he’s very old,and he sees him.
Now what Simeon recognises is that the goal of life is Jesus. When you have come to understand Jesus Christ and put your faith in Him,you’ve actually in a sense,come to the goal. And I want you to notice the maturity of Simeon’s praise. This song that he sings or this praise that he utters,from Verse 29 and following is quite famous. It’s the fourth of the songs that Luke has recorded. Remember there’s been a song from Mary and a song from Zechariah and a song from the angels and now there is a song from Simeon. And this song,which begins with the words – Lord,now let your servant depart in peace’ in the Latin began with the words – nunc dimittus – Now dismiss me. And it became a part of the Anglican Church evening service,these famous sort of Christmas songs became a part of the Anglican morning and evening services. But notice what Simeon says,two very interesting things. He’s streets ahead of Joseph. He says the plan of God is for the nations,verse 32,a light for revelation to the gentiles. The word ‘gentiles’ is the word for nations. This baby,says Simeon and he’s standing in the temple,is for the world. You know that the Jews had become very exclusive and inward looking,as churches are wont to do. You know,this is US and this is the way WE do it. But the Jewish people,who had been called by God to be a light to the nations,had almost forgotten that they were a light to the nations. And they’d failed to be a light to the nations and now the Lord Jesus had come and He was going to succeed in being a light to the nations. And Simeon recognises he’s the light for the nations and he says this in the temple,where the Jews were extremely parochial.
The second thing is he sees that the baby will suffer. He says,this child will cause the rise and fall of many,in Verse 34,and he will be spoken against and this,he says to Mary will pierce your heart. This is the first glimpse in the gospels that there is going to be suffering to come. Everything up till now has been extremely joyful. The messiah has come,the angels sing,Mary sings,Zechariah sings; and now Simeon steps forward and says this is going to be a costly future,a costly work. Where did he get his information? Probably from the same Old Testament scriptures,and especially from Isaiah 40 and following,which begin to speak,do you know this,of the servant songs? Read the second half of Isaiah and you’ll see the servant songs and especially that most famous Chapter 53,which speaks of the suffering servant,bearing the sin which others deserve.
So Simeon grasped from his Bible reading and from the Spirit of God that this child was a child of the nations; that this child would save the nations by suffering. And there he is,he’s an old man,he’s been waiting for a long time,he’s been reading his bible,he’s been believing his bible and now he sees the baby and he’s ready to go. He says,dismiss me,I have seen Your salvation. It’s an incredible climax to these chapters of Luke 1 and 2.
When we add the story of Anna,the third little story,which is much briefer,just three verses,and she was very old,she was either 84 or she’d been a widow for 84 years,which would make her extremely old,it’s hard to work out from the Greek; but most of what we read about Anna in these three verses is that she’d just been getting ready,she’d been getting ready for the Messiah. She’d been waiting for Him. And when she saw the baby she also thanked God for Jesus and,Verse 38,started to tell everyone,this is the redeemer. It’s an incredible piece of faith really isn’t it,because the baby looked like any other baby but under the influence of the Word of God,under the influence of the Spirit of God and somehow God connected this couple with their baby and Simeon comes across their path and Anna comes across their path and everybody understands this baby is the hope of the world.
Well this lesson which Simeon and Anna grasp,the redemption of Israel is also related to the Old Testament because we read in Isaiah 52 that when God comforts His People he’ll redeem them,Isaiah 52 Verse 9,and Anna says,this child is the redemption of Israel. So they’ve grasped Salvation. They’ve grasped this child is the saviour but this salvation is going to be through a suffering servant.
Here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry are two people who can see what the people in the rest of Luke’s Gospel will almost to a man or a woman,not see; that is that Jesus will save by suffering. That he will save people by dying. That he will rescue people by pain. And in Chapter 4 of course when Jesus goes into the synagogue and explains that he has come for the gentiles they are so offended,they grab him,they take him to the top of the hill as if to throw him over and he has to escape and as he turn to his disciples,half way through the gospel and says – who am I and they say,you are the Messiah,and He says – do you realise I’ll die,they can’t cope with it and even when he dies at the end of the gospel they hardly know what’s taken place. But here at the beginning of the gospel two old saints have got it,that Jesus is for the world and that He saves the world by dying. No wonder,as one writer says,Simeon and Anna are expectant Israel personified. They were longing for the comfort and the comfort they longed for has been answered in this baby.
Now you’ll think that I’m just giving you a Sunday School lesson this morning because I’m saying to you what you would expect at the most basic level,which is,these people come to Jesus but the remarkable thing is that when they come to Jesus they see the purpose of the world,which is to be rescued,which is to be restored to God,which is to come into His comfort. And if you think I’m talking rubbish,just look at the rest of what goes on in the week that you must experience and you’ll see that there are people who are doing anything but taking an interest in Jesus Christ. They’ve missed the key to the plan of God; they’ve missed the key to the purposes of God. And so they find themselves still looking and looking and looking and walking treadmills and never coming into the comfort of God and the plan of God and the purpose of God which these two old people do even before Joseph and Mary really understand what it’s all about. Jesus is the consolation of the world – the comfort of the world. Why is that? Well because he brings you peace with God and therefore he brings you peace in your heart. Do Joseph and Mary get this? You wouldn’t know it from Chapter 2. Which brings us to the fourth incident in Verses 41-52 and this is the boy in the temple. I think we all know this story,I hope you know this story. Jesus is now 12 and they head off with Jesus to Jerusalem and you may remember they go to the Passover feast (and we heard it in the kids spot this morning,didn’t we,). And after a while it’s time to go home and they head home and they go home with a group of people. They assume Jesus is somewhere in the crowd,they discover he’s not in the crowd,they rush back to Jerusalem,they start looking for him,for 3 days they look for him. Eventually they find him in the temple and there he is. Look at Verse 46,after three days they find him in the temple courts sitting among the teachers,listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him they were astonished,his mother said to him,son,why have you treated us like this,you’re father and I have been anxiously searching for you? Why were you searching for me? – He asked. Didn’t you know that I had to be,and this is what is says,literally,’in the things of my father?’ ‘Didn’t you know that I had to be in the things of my Father?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
These are the first words Jesus ever speaks. If you want to know the first thing Jesus ever literally said that’s recorded,it’s in Luke 2,49 – Did you not know that I must be in the things of my Father? What a great first sentence. Why did Luke put this in? Well I want you to think about why Luke might have put this in. First of all Mary is obviously upset. We sympathise with her. Any parent sympathises with her. She says,your father and I,verse 48,have been looking for you. Jesus steps back and says,I’m in the business of My Father. Mary’s obviously using a phrase here to describe me,your mother and Joseph your sort of step-father. Jesus steps back and distances himself and says,I am in the business,doing the things of My Heavenly Father. So he makes very clear to his parents that he has a unique relationship to God and he has a unique responsibility to God. The parents are bewildered and we don’t even know whether Simeon and Anna would have understood what Jesus is saying here,but Luke wants us to understand that this boy is already aware that he is about the very service of God in a way that most people couldn’t properly grasp.
So there are these four incidents,joined together,carefully told by Luke. And I want to ask you to ask yourself,why did Luke tell us these four things? Of al the things that he could have collected and recorded for us why did he tell us these four things? They’re a nice little unit. They come right between the shepherds and what we’ll see next time,which is John the Baptist and there in between are these four little incidents. Parents journey to Jerusalem. Simeon walks over to Jesus. Anna walks over to Jesus. Parents go back to Jerusalem. Why does all this hang together? Is it possible that it hangs together? I want to suggest to you that it does. And I hope that you’re reading your Bible when you do,and I hope you’re reading your Bible regularly,I hope you’re reading you Bible when you do – asking yourself not only what is this inspired text saying to me? But I hope you’re also asking the question,why is the layout like it is? Because God has breathed into this book and he’s not only inspired the sentences but he’s also inspired the layout. And so it doesn’t help to just dive into the passage and say,there’s a nice word – peace,I’m going to talk about peace. What you and I have got to do,we’ve got to look at the whole section and say,why does it hang together,what’s Luke telling us? Just as you wouldn’t pull one word out of an email and then respond on the basis of the one word or one word out of a letter and respond on the basis of the one word,you’d read the whole thing as a whole. We need to read this section as a whole.
And that brings me to say to you – I want to ask you if you can see the point? And I think the point of this section is that it is a series of journeys or a series,if I might put it like this,even of discoveries. Joseph and Mary,journey to the temple. Well that’s pretty normal for them. Simeon in the temple,which you would think would be the goal of his life,walks over to Jesus and says – this is the goal of my life. Anna walks over and recognises Jesus and says – this is the goal of my life. And then you ask yourself the question,have Joseph and Mary worked this out? Story four – Joseph and Mary are forced back to the temple. When they get back to the temple,what do they discover in the temple? They discover in the centre of the temple,their son. He’s the key to the plan of God. They must come to grips with their son. The question and the end is whether they really do.
I think these incidents have a lot to do with making progress and it’s interesting that twice in the section we are told that Jesus is making massive progress. Verse 40,if you look at verse 40,it says that the child grew and became strong,was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him. Verse 52,Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men.
In the middle of this section is this boy growing up physically,growing up in terms of maturity. It’s hard to work out how Jesus would have grown in understanding,but I guess we can safely say that his knowledge,his potential to learn grew perfectly. He totally understood who he was. He totally understood God. He totally understood the plans of God. And in the middle of this you’ve got some old people who are coming to understand it and you’ve got a couple called Joseph and Mary who are very,very slowly coming to understand it. But in the end you’ve really come to your senses when you’ve worked Jesus out and you’ve come to grips with the purpose that Jesus has come for.
So I think this section at the end,when we look at the four incidents together,is that some people are making a series of journeys. Obviously the journey that Simeon and Anna make is a very short one,physically they just cross the temple,they are very old but they declare very clearly that they have not arrived by turning up in the temple; they’ve arrived by turning up at Jesus. And that’s why Simeon says in Verse 29,now I can die in peace. And that’s why Anna says,this is the Redeemer. Why do they make their journey to Jesus? Why do they come to their senses? Well,because they’ve grasped the Word of God,they’ve been reading the Word of God – it points to the Messiah,it points to the comforter,it points to the redeemer. The other reason they come to Jesus of course is because it’s a great work of God – He is at work in them,He is at work by His Spirit. Three times,Verse 25,26,27,we’re told that God’s Spirit is at work in Simeon,helping him to grasp what many others will not grasp. And now we can see why this last incident of Joseph and Mary to the temple is so significant. What could be better for them than to be forced back,to think again and not just be amazed and bewildered and staggered,but be face to face with their son in the very centre of God’s Jewish purposes,telling his own parents that he is in the business of his Heavenly Father,which is going to,of course,move out of the temple to the nations of the world and bring to the nations of the world a message which every single individual needs to hear. There is therefore a great contrast between people who are coming to discover the things of Jesus quickly and people who are coming to discover the things of Jesus slowly. The bible traces through to Jesus. Your journey,by being alive,is not designed to just take you through pleasure and money to death. At some time in your life journey you have got to hear and respond to the great person of Jesus and the work which He has come to do.
This week I met a couple who have been in church for 35 or 40 years,I won’t say which church,and I asked them,elderly couple,if they could tell me a verse that means a lot to them,a story in the Bible that means a lot to them or a passage in the Bible that means a lot to them and between the two of them – highly intelligent,they could not think of a verse or a story or a passage. What a tragedy you see,to move from your home to the church temple and be completely in the dark about Jesus and His purposes.
There are so many people aren’t there who,if you ask them what the goal of their life is,it will be achievements. It will be that they might have a holiday. It will be that they might have a great time. And you never arrive,’cause you achieve one thing and you’re not satisfied and then you achieve your holiday and you’re not satisfied. And then you achieve your great time and you’re not satisfied. In the end,you see,it’s the mark of real discovery,like Simeon and Anna,to work out that Jesus is the one who comforts and redeems and restores and saves. And of course you discover that Jesus is not only just the goal in whom you sit,but that He is about the very things of God and therefore if you move,as it were,into the temple and you discover Jesus,He’ll send you out to the nations.
I’ve been reading a wonderful book which is by a journalist with Christianity Today. And he’s travelling around the churches in America which are now filled with young people. That is,he’s been travelling to the churches that a filled with young people who are fed up with being entertained and they are looking for churches that will teach them the deep things of God. They’re looking for the churches that will teach them Reform Theology. There is a work of God which is going on. It may be beginning in America; I hope it spills all round the world. We’ve certainly got many of the young people in this church and they love Reform Theology. This writer says that Christianity in America teaches that God,this is up until now,teaches that God is something like a combination of divine butler and cosmic therapist,He’s always on call,takes care of any problems,professionally helps people to feel better about themselves and doesn’t become too personally involved. He goes on to say,in this kind of church climate astonishingly few teenagers in these churches can articulate even the basics about their faith. They are not ‘dumb’,they speak intelligently about drug abuse,sexually transmitted diseases for example.
Well,I’ve just mentioned that to you because I’m delighted to see people who are experiencing and enjoying something of the ‘meat’ of God’s Word. And here in Luke Chapter 2 we discover that by finding the Lord Jesus you don’t just come into a light,frothy Christian world,but He introduces you to the very business of God and that affects everything. That lights up everything. If you have a marginal Christ you’ll always be looking for something. If you grasp that Christ is central,you have grasped the One who is the key to peace and the key to Salvation.
Let’s pray. Our Gracious God,we thank you for this part of your Word,where we see people slowly or quickly being brought by you to recognise Your Son as the comforter of the world,and the saviour of the world and the ruler of the world. And we thank you that by coming to know him we are privileged to enter into the deep things of your word and we are privileged to enter into the great things of Your business. And we do pray for ourselves individually and as a church and as a city and as a country that you would be pleased in your kindness and power to bring many people away from journeys which go nowhere to the journey which comes to the Lord Jesus and that in Him they would find comfort and peace,salvation and joy and also your service and an opportunity to bring the message of the Lord Jesus to the many people still lost in the wider world. We thank you for this thing we have seen today and pray that you would help us to focus our lives on the Lord Jesus and help many to do the same. And we ask it in His Name,Amen.