Sunday, January 01, 2012

Sermon: Luke 2: 22-40 Simeon's Salvation Song

If you could have been at just one of the incidents of Jesus’ life, which one would it be? Out of all the moments recorded in the gospels, what would you pick? Perhaps you would choose something to encourage your faith - seeing Jesus rise from the dead. You might want to see something spectacular - the feeding of the five thousand, or Jesus walking on the water. Or you could just want to be there as Jesus broke the bread and washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

Whatever you would choose, though, my guess is that you probably wouldn’t choose a glimpse of him as a 40-day old baby. It wouldn’t be top of your list - it might not even make the list at all. So I wonder what you made of our reading this morning, when this elderly man, Simeon, rejoices because of that very glimpse, and sings his strange song, which basically says I can die happy now.

The setting is the temple, forty days after the birth, and Mary and Joseph are careful to observe the law from the Old Testament. There is the purification of the mother (to prevent her being ceremonially unclean) and the presentation of the firstborn son to the Lord. It’s clear that the parents aren’t wealthy, because they choose the poverty sacrifice - not a lamb, but a pair of turtle-doves. As they enter the temple, they meet this man Simeon, who we’re introduced to. We’re told (25) that he was ‘righteous and devout’ (that doesn’t mean he never sinner, but that he was trusting in the Lord), and he was looking forward to the consolation (or comfort) of Israel. He is waiting for the hope of Israel to come.

We’re also told in verse 26 what he would see: ‘It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.’ So before he sees death, he will see the Christ, the Messiah. He spends his time around the temple, watching as the hundreds of baby boys are brought by their doting parents, but it is as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple that he interrupts and takes Jesus in his arms.

Out of all the babies, Simeon knows which one to look for, guided by the Holy Spirit. And as he holds Jesus, he launches into this strange song - the last of the salvation songs in the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel: Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word. Lord, I can die now, just as you have said. Why? Well, it’s all to do with what Simeon has seen: ‘For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.’

Simeon has seen ‘your salvation.’ Remember, he’s only seen Jesus as a tiny baby, yet it’s enough. He knows that the child he holds in his arms is the one who will bring salvation for his people. God’s promise has been fulfilled, the Saviour is here.

Even though he may not know how Jesus will bring salvation, he knows who will bring salvation. It is enough for him to have seen the Saviour - he can depart in peace.

Yet even as Simeon closes his eyes and sees death, others will continue to see. Simeon continues his song: This child, God’s salvation, is, ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

Jesus will bring salvation, and revelation - not just for the Jews, but for all nations. Jesus is the light who shines, revealing God’s salvation to all people - to whoever will walk in his light. That’s why the great commission was given by the risen Lord Jesus, sending out his disciples to all nations, so that anyone of any nation may come to the light of the world and find salvation in his name.

As well as revelation, glory is also seen in Jesus’ light. The glory of God is seen in his miracles, so that all who saw them were amazed, and praise God for them. The glory of God is seen in his gracious teaching, as he reveals the Father. The glory of God is seen supremely in his death, as he gave himself for his people, to bring salvation and the true consolation of Israel.

Simeon is overjoyed to have seen God’s salvation, and those words he speaks, inspired by the Holy Spirit, help us to understand all that follows in the rest of the gospel of Luke. He only saw Jesus this one time, when Jesus was just over a month old, and yet it was enough for him.

From our viewpoint, we have a more privileged position than Simeon. We have the whole Bible, we have the four gospels, which give us a full record of Jesus’ life and teaching and death and resurrection - we can see in so much more detail how Jesus brought about salvation. Yet with all these opportunities, have we seen his salvation? Have we experienced his salvation ourselves?

What better way to start the new year than to trust in the Lord Jesus and receive his salvation. To find in his death and resurrection the revelation of God’s love for you, the opportunity to turn away from your old life of sin and to turn towards God, receiving forgiveness and pardon and welcome. To see and know his salvation.

I’m not calling us to try a bit harder this year; we’re not just talking about new years resolutions to be good (which always fall flat within a week or two anyway) - it’s to have the light of Jesus shining in your darkness, exposing the fact that you’re a slave to sin, imprisoned by sin, locked into patterns of thought, word and deed by your sinful nature, facing a bleak eternity separated from God.

His light can shine, bringing salvation, releasing you from your chains, setting you free to serve him, changing your eternal destiny and giving you joy and peace and life. It’s what Wesley says in the hymn ‘And can it be’:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.

As we’ve said, Simeon’s song can be paraphrased as ‘I can die happy, because I’ve seen Jesus’. He was ready to die because he knew God’s salvation had come. He was trusting in Jesus for salvation. As we come to trust in Jesus, we too are ready to die - our future is secure, as Paul says, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). Christianity helps people to die well, knowing that the next person we’ll see when we close our eyes in death is the Lord Jesus in Paradise.

Have you seen God’s salvation? Are you trusting in him for this new year? And are you helping other people to see God’s salvation as well? Are you pointing others to Jesus, showing them what it’s like to live for him? Your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues are watching you, knowing that you claim to be a Christian - is the light of Christ shining for them to see, and come to salvation? Let’s pray that God will fulfill his promises and that Christ’s light will shine in us and through us for his glory and the saving of many.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on 1st January 2012.

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