Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
3 January, 2016
Click here to listen Not Recorded
Two weeks ago on Christmas Eve, some of us attended a Candle Light service with two of our soon-to-be sister congregations. The scriptures were read, hymns were sung, hand-bells were played, prayers were offered, the gospel was preached, communion was served, and candles were lit. It was a lovely service. But the most moving (and perhaps most important) part of the service to me, was the presence of all the elderly saints in the pews.
I was awe-struck by all the white-haired, wrinkled, and weathered men and women who gathered to worship our Lord Jesus Christ. Elder Saints who have been serving God and following Jesus longer than we (most of us) have been alive, longer than all of have been Christians.
For those with eyes to see, we were given a glorious picture of enduring faithfulness embodied in the trembling hands, shaky voices, and fragile hugs of God’s people.
And (I hope) they were given a picture of a future hope embodied in the young men and expectant mothers, newborn babies, small children and teenagers who were also present.
It was a reminder that God’s people are called to be multi-generational; our community needs to be multi-generational; needs to appreciate and celebrate people of all ages.
Today we are going to see the old meet the new. First, we are going to meet two elderly people who played a brief, yet important role in the life of newborn baby Jesus. Then, we will meet Jesus and see the important role he plays in our life.
OLD MEETS NEW
Now, as we dive into the story, I want to point out at least two reasons why Luke shined a spotlight on Simeon and Anna in this story.
One, Luke wants us to see that an era is drawing to a close, the era of the law and the prophets. He shows us this by depicting the best representatives of that era as aged and at the point of death. They are passing away just like the era of the law and the prophets.
Two, Luke wants to illustrate is that there is no conflict between the law and the prophets and the new age of the Messiah. He shows this by depicting the most devout people under the old era as the most receptive to the new era. […] Simeon and Anna do not become resentful and angry that the Messiah has come, not even that he will be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” They rejoice that the new has come.
In other words, Luke wants us to see that in Christ, the old meets new and sings for joy; the Law and the Prophets meet the Gospel and give thanks. Why? Because in Christ, the word of God is fulfilled, not abolished, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, let’s meet the Old.
THE OLD: SIMEON AND ANNA
Simeon was named after one of the sons of Jacob, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name means heard, as in the Lord has heard me. Simeon was righteous and devout and patient man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
The word for waiting means hold out for. The word for consolation means comforter. So, Simeon was literally holding out for the comfort of Israel. He was waiting, hoping, expecting that the long-awaited comforter of Israel would come, not at some point in the future, but any day now in his lifetime.
Ironically, we meet Simeon in Jerusalem, the City of God’s Peace; but in that city there is no peace. There is no comfort. Israel was uncomfortable and inconsolable.
For the past 450 years Israel had experienced one conflict after another.
After the Babylonian exile the Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem. They rebuilt the temple and resettled villages and cities. But there was no comfort, no consolation. The Greeks came and invaded the land and desecrated the temple.
Then the Romans came and occupied the land. They oppressed the Jews with their intimidating military presence and intense tax burdens. There was no comfort, no consolation in Israel.
To make matters worse, many of the religious leaders were secularized and/or politicized. Some were functional deists at best; they believed that God set all things in motion, then went on a permanent vacation in a galaxy far, far away.
Others were functional atheists at worst; they believed that God was not real, and that only the material, physical, and tangible mattered.
There was no comfort, no consolation in Israel.
Simeon stands out in sharp contrast to all that.
He was righteous, which means he walked by faith, not by sight. He was devout, which means he believed God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. He was patient, which means he did not waver in unbelief, give up hope when things looked bleak, or quit when things got rough.
For Simeon, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling. He did not live in a closed (Kantian) universe. He believed the power of the truth of about God. As the prophet said:
“The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isa 40:28-31)
Simeon was not “an old man filled with regret” (Inception). He was an old man filled with renewed strength. And so he worshiped, waited, and watched for the comforter of Israel.
As Simeon was making his way to the temple, Mary and Joseph were also making their way to the temple to consecrate Jesus to the Lord. This was no simple baby dedication.
According to the Law of Moses, Jesus needed to consecrated to the Lord because he was the firstborn son who opened the womb, and thus he belonged to the Lord.
And, as the firstborn son, Jesus needed to be redeemed from the curse of death because he was born in the promise land. This was a sign that the Lord brought his people out of Egypt by a strong hand. (Luke 2:22-24 cp Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16)
So, even the Redeemer needed to be redeemed! (Much more needs to be said about this, but that would take us beyond the scope of this sermon.)
So, at the same time that Mary and Joseph are going to the temple, Simeon is going to the temple as he had many, many times before.
But this time something is different.
The Spirit was upon him.
The Spirit revealed gospel truth to him.
The Spirit moved him to go to the house of worship.
The Spirit led him all the way to Jesus.
Simeon was a Spirit-led man, and the Spirit led him to embrace Jesus by faith.
The Holy Spirit initiated and completed Simeon’s conversion to Jesus.
This is how the Spirit normally works to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. So, whether a person is young or old, male or female, when the Spirit works in your life, he works to nudge you, to move you, to lead you, to point you, to take you all the way to Jesus.
No one is more Jesus-centered than the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit starts a work of grace in your heart, he will finish that work of grace for your good and for God’s glory by centering you on Jesus.
If he hasn’t already done so, I hope and pray that the Spirit will do for you what he did for Simeon: initiate and complete your conversion to Jesus Christ so that you may be saved.
In Christ alone, you will see the comfort and find the consolation of your soul.
Now, back the story.
Have you ever experienced something, and thought, “That’s not at all what I expected!”?
Sometimes it’s worse than you expected; sometimes it’s better. I wonder if that’s what it was like for Simeon to finally see the consolation of Israel. I wonder if he saw baby Jesus and thought, “That’s not at all what I expected!”
That would have been a natural reaction.
Most Jews were expecting a warrior-king like David to rise up and lead a revolution against the Romans. Perhaps some were hoping for a pillar of fire and cloud of glory. But no one was expecting a baby to come as the comforter of Israel.
We look on outward appearance, on size, weight, height, beauty. We are impressed with things that are big, tall, and strong. We think size matters. But the Lord looks on the heart.
We cannot see what the Lord sees, so it is likely that Simeon would have over-looked the baby who was, and is, and will be the comfort of God’s people. And apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who opens our blind eyes, we would over-look him as well. But the Spirit gives us eyes to see Jesus as Lord and Savior!
Again, we don’t know what Simeon was looking for, or what he expected to see, or what he imagined the comfort of Israel would look like; but we can be sure that he was totally surprised to see it lying in the arms of a young girl, swaddled in a blanket, and wearing a diaper.
The strong arm of the Lord came humbly to comfort his people, yet he was gently comforted in the weak arms of his people.
The comfort of Israel was enveloped in his mother’s arms, and the arms of an old man embraced the comfort of Israel (Luke 2:27-28; Isa 33:2; 40:10; 51:3-5, 9; 52:10).
Okay, that’s enough about Simeon for now.
Let’s meet Anna.
Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years — eighty-four years old. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak about Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Luke does not tell us how other people reacted to Anna’s preaching. Maybe some thought she was just that crazy old woman. Maybe some paused to look at baby Jesus — and his poor parents. Maybe some pondered these things in their hearts like Mary did. Whatever the case, Anna did what she could to tell others about Jesus.
That did not come from nowhere. It grew out of her faithful service to God. Unlike so many people who struggle to make it to one worship service, one day a week, one hour that day, she worshiped God with fasting and prayer night and day.
A pastor friend (John B.) shared this on fb a couple of days ago:
We who will get up and walk, or even run miles in the mornings … will not, cannot, do not rise in the morning to greet the dawn with a song of praise on our lips, as did those who went before us.
We who will stay up late to watch the televised version of the news that we heard on our drive home at six, who will TiVo enough must-see television that we have to stay up late to keep up, who will not go to sleep without reading a novel, who will burn the candle at both ends and in the middle if we can figure out how to get it lit, will not end our days with praise and worship and confession and blessing.
We will not do these things in the name of love or discipline, devotion or worship.”And this is astonishing. (Robert Benson)
Anna was an elderly widow, but that did not keep her from the temple or from praying night and day, or from giving thanks, or from telling others about Jesus. She looked for reasons to do all these things, not for excuses to not do them.
The same thing goes for Simeon.
Perseverance of the saints is not just about the saints persevering with God; it is also about God persevering with the saints — and preserving them by grace.
Now, to be fair, there is nothing in this story that says that you have to live, move, and act like Simeon and Anna did. But it is worth reminding you of a biblical principle: we are called to imitate the faith of the faithful ones who came before us.
As I have shared with you many times before, I have been richly blessed by many older saints, like Simeon and Anna, who took me under their wings, and showed me what it means to walk by faith.
So, with that in mind, I urge you who are getting older — keep going to the temple to worship and pray and seek Jesus Christ; keep going to church to love and serve others, especially those who are younger than you; keep participating in missional communities to speak good words to young parents, and to bless little children; and keep giving thanks and telling others about Jesus. Do all this, and it will keep you from becoming angry, bitter, and critical as you get older.
Now, after Simeon took Jesus in his arms, he praised God with joy.
Even in his old age, he was worshiping, waiting, and watching for the Lord.
Finally, in Simeon’s song of praise and confession of faith, we meet the New.
THE NEW: JESUS
We meet Jesus in the song that Simeon sang about him.
Simeon confesses that Jesus is Lord, and that he is the Lord’s servant. This old man humbles himself before a newborn babe. He humbles himself at the sight of the Lord, and the Lord lifts up his spirit.
Simeon praises God for letting him depart this life in peace. All his life he was concerned and conflicted over the conditions of the world around him. All his life he waited and watched for the comfort of Israel to come. And finally, when it seemed like it would never happen, when it seemed like everyone else had given up hope, the Savior came to comfort his people. Now that Simeon has seen Jesus, he can “lay down and rest his weary head” (Annie Lennox, Into the West, LOTR); now he may rest in peace with his forefathers.
Simeon praises God for letting him see the Savior with his own eyes. He had heard of the Savior by the hearing of the ear, through the reading and preaching of God’s word; but now his eyes see the Savior, and his hands touch him. In a way, salvation became more real to him, more concrete, more tangible. The same kind of thing happens to us at the Lord’s table. During communion we see Christ with our eyes in the bread and wine, and we feel Christ in our hands, and we taste and see that the Lord is good. Though we have not seen Jesus in the same way that Simeon did, we still believe in him in the same way that he did: with the eyes of faith.
Finally, Simeon praises God for preparing a Savior for all peoples. This salvation is for all people. All people. Not the Jews only, but also the Romans. God prepared the comfort of Israel and salvation for all people; for “Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics, religious nuts and political fanatics” (U2, New York, ATYCLB)
In Christ, light pierces the darkness; salvation reaches the perishing; comfort embraces the hurting.
In Christ, hope shatters despair; peace calms anxiety; love drives away fears.
Just as God had promised.
It is for all people, male and female, old and young, infant and adult.
It is for all the people — including your neighbors, your coworkers, your family, your friends.
It is for all the people — including you and your children.
Finally, as Simeon prophesied, Jesus was laid as the corner-stone; he was destined for the falling and rising, the condemnation and salvation of many in Israel.
Jesus was destined from infancy to be a rock-hard prophet among religiously stubborn people.
Jesus was destined to be a stumbling stone to some and a sanctuary to others. (Luke 2:34-35; cp Isa 8:18)
Jesus was destined to make some fall down and others rise up. Those who stumble on him will be broken to pieces; and the ones on whom he falls will be crushed. But the ones for whom he is crushed will be mended; and those who stand on him will never fall. Those who believe on him will be honored; but those who do not believe will be put to shame. (Luke 2:34-35; cp Isa 8:18; Mat 21:44; 1 Pet 2:6-8)
Jesus was destined to be sign that was spoken against, so that the pensive, doubting, fearful thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. (Luke 2:35 cp Luke 5:22; 6:8; 9:46-47; 24:38)
Do you believe Jesus is for you or against you?
The Law and the Prophets and the Gospel say,
He was born for you. He was circumcised for you. He was dedicated for you. He was offered for you.
He is your consolation. He is your salvation.
He is your comfort. He is your savior.
If you believe that, be comforted, for you will be healed and honored.
If you do not believe Jesus is for you, be warned, for unless you believe in him, you will be shattered and shamed.
Take him in your arms with hope; receive him in your hearts by faith; praise him with your mouths in love; and find rest in grace.