My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation
Scripture: Luke 2:21-38
The central reason for the coming of Christ is to bring salvation that glorifies God.
Well, we are returning this week to our series in the Book of Luke. When we last left Luke’s account, Jesus had just been born. Beginning next week, we’re going to be in the part of Luke that focuses in on Jesus’ preparation for ministry, starting with the only account that we have of Jesus as a young boy. But this week we have the final story of Jesus as a baby. Back in 2016, a group of third graders were asked to write a short essay on the topic of what Christmas means to me, and the answers that were published in the newspaper were pretty thoughtful, actually, pretty good. But predictably, they were a confusing mix of themes and ideas. For instance, a little Jonas wrote, “Jesus’ birthday is on Christmas Day. Jesus is very special. We celebrate his birthday by giving presents to people. Christmas is about giving presents.” Yes. Did you follow that argument? Did you follow it all the way through? Started strong. Took a turn there at the end, I noticed. Or how about little Hayden? Hayden took a similar route on this thing. “To me Christmas means remembering Jesus’ birthday, and it also means getting your whole family together and reading the Christmas story. It means to have a good time. It also means to gather up your family, have breakfast, and watch some kind of Christmas movie. I prefer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Laugh if you want to. That answer has it all, doesn’t it? And I too prefer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Kaylee went a little bit deeper, actually, than this. Kaylee really, really thought it through. She said, “What Christmas means to me is hope. And hope means you believe in stuff like God, Santa, family, friends and loved ones.” It’s a complicated theology, so I thought I would break it down for you so you can see kind of how to put it all together. You can see God and Santa there. Diana focused more on the practical implications of Christmas. She says, “Last year I got an Xbox 360, and I wanted an Xbox 360, so it means I was nice.” I mean, let’s be honest, it’s nice to have a measuring stick, isn’t it? Just a real simple one to know how you’re doing? But my favorite answer in this thing had to be little Zechariah. Zechariah says, “Christmas is about family, not getting. Giving is what it’s about. The true meaning of Christmas is about Jesus’ birthday.” Not bad, huh? It’s pretty good. He also tacked on in parentheses, “I’m Jewish, so I know that. Plus, my family is Jewish”. I love how he clarified that his family is also Jewish, so we wouldn’t think he was like some sort of third grade convert to Judaism. What I love about Zechariah’s perspective on this is, if you are Jewish, you really do know the history of your tradition, and so you would absolutely understand Christmas.
We’re going to meet two Israelites today, two Jewish folks, who were among the first people to ever celebrate Jesus’ birth. And these two people are going to tell us what Christmas means to them. But not just for them. They’re going to tell us what the coming of Christ means for all of us. And if you’re sitting there thinking that the third graders kind of nailed it with God and family and Xboxes, then you should definitely be paying attention today. With the help of these older two Israelites, we’re going to get a solid understanding of the reason for Jesus’ birth. And this morning, I want you to see that the central reason for the coming of Christ was to bring salvation that glorifies God. So go ahead and open your Bibles, if you would, to Luke chapter 2 and will be in verse 21 today. Luke starts us off with a little cultural background because Jesus is going to go through a pretty important ceremony, which I’ll explain here in just a minute. But then Luke introduces us to two people, Simeon and Anna. Let’s start with the cultural background. “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.'” Eight days after Jesus was born, especially for a first-born son, that eight day ceremony, that’s a pretty big deal if you are an Israelite family.
There’s a number of things that happen at that point, and they happen in succession, and they all have little bits of meaning. First of all, Jesus is circumcised, which I readily admit nobody wants described this morning. Circumcision was the sign that a person was a part of the covenant community. This means that Jesus is part of the nation of God’s people. This community is going to expand to include all people who are faithful to Jesus throughout the whole world. But for now, it shows us that Jesus is identified with God’s people. And more importantly, while Mary and Joseph are doing this sort of basic normal step in the life of a good Israelite family, they named their son Jesus. And that’s a big step of obedience as well. Normally you would choose a name that would come from some significance within your family line. But Joseph and Mary were told to name their son Jesus, by the Angel, which would align them not with his earthly father, but with his Heavenly Father. Because his name means The Lord Saves. In Matthew, we’re told that Joseph specifically names him Jesus. This is his heir. This is his heir, but he obediently calls him by the name that the Lord instructed him to give to his adopted son. After the eight days, the circumcision and the naming, there’s a 33-day waiting period of purification before Mary can enter the temple and be considered holy again. The waiting period has to do with purity laws that I’m not going to get into this morning. Basically, as a symbol of the need to be holy in order to enter into God’s presence, there’s a ritual waiting period that is prescribed. And then there’s a prescribed sacrifice that that needs to be made at the temple. And so, at the end of 33 days, Joseph and Mary are going to the temple to make this sacrifice. And that’s the story we’re reading this morning. They bring two pigeons, or two turtle doves, which is the less expensive of the two possible sacrifices they can make, which shows us that Joseph and Mary weren’t terribly rich. It doesn’t mean that they were poor. It just means that they were normal. But this visit for Mary’s purification is also the occasion for them to do something special with Jesus. And this gets a little complicated here, but I promise you, it’s worth it. So, follow me on this a little bit.
A firstborn son would be very, very special to an Israelite family. When Israel was in slavery in Egypt, God released his people from captivity through a series of plagues. And that last plague was the death of all the firstborn sons in Egypt. But Israelites were able to make a sacrifice to save their sons. Their sons would have been included in the plague. But Israel was able to make a sacrifice to save their firstborns. They spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their house, and their sons were spared that plague. But the exchange was that these sons now belonged to the Lord. They were set apart specifically for God’s purposes, and this first-born son theology would develop through the history of Israel. When the Law of Moses is written, and the Tabernacle is established, God chose one tribe, the Levites. He said, this tribe will now be the representative of those who are dedicated to me. And these priests would be in charge of doing all of the holy work that was necessary for God’s people. However, every other tribe’s firstborn sons were not off the hook. It’s not as if he changed his mind and went with one tribe. He said, No, it’s still the same. They’re not off the hook. They had to be presented at the temple, and when they went to the temple, they had to be redeemed. They had to be redeemed from that role. They had to be bought back, purchased back, out of service to the Lord. And that cost everything. That cost every family with a firstborn son, five shekels of silver. That’s what you would take, five shekels of silver. Basically, they were saying, let this money serve the Lord at the temple in the place of our son’s service. And so, this was a form of worship for Israel. You go to the temple, and you remember the strong arm of the Lord that had saved Israel, and you’d worship by giving a tangible offering that represents that you are in God’s service, and that you are under His redeeming grace. You are redeeming your child. And so, throughout the entire history of Israel, they were constantly being taught God’s redeeming grace, over and over and over. You can see how God’s people were set up to understand the grace of Jesus. It was right in what they were doing. For thousands of years, they’ve been celebrating God’s redeeming grace. And so, here’s Mary now and Joseph and 40 day old baby Jesus standing there ready for his dedication. But you know what’s missing? The money. There’s no money here. Where’s the money? Don’t you hate it when you get to the front of the line, and you forgot your wallet? Oh, that’s not what happens here, though. They know full well that they don’t have the money for it. Joseph and Mary didn’t bring any money to buy Jesus back out of service to the Lord because they know He’s already called holy. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God.” This child’s father is the Lord. He’ll be called holy because He’s the son of God. He’s not going to be redeemed out of service to the Lord. His birth is actually the beginning of His ministry to the Lord.
Now, Mary and Joseph probably at this point, don’t know exactly the extent of that ministry. They probably don’t really know all that Jesus is going to do in service to his Heavenly Father. But that’s where our two prophets step in, and they come in and they shine light on that ministry. They come and they say, let us reveal to you what this ministry is going to look like. And the first person we hear from is Simeon. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’ And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed'”.
So, the first prophet is a man named Simeon. We don’t know a lot about Simeon. They meet him at the temple, but that doesn’t mean that he’s a priest. It just means that he’s a man in Jerusalem. What we know about him is his faith. It says he is righteous, devout, and the Holy Spirit is with him. Which means this isn’t just someone who is a Jewish person, this is a man who has true confidence in the Lord. His life is actually guided by his faith. That’s what devout means. This guy walks the walk. You know how sometimes people use the word “Christian” to label themselves, but then you look at their life and you’d no way think that they were actually following Jesus? Simeon is not like that. That’s not Simeon. His life isn’t marked by hypocrisy. In fact, he’s a devout Jew who believes the Old Testament promises that God will send His Messiah. And in addition to that, God has actually revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he has seen the Lord’s Christ. Now, that might be a newer or it’s somewhat an odd phrase to some of you but remember that Christ means Messiah. It’s not a name, it’s a title. God has revealed to Simeon that the Christ, the Anointed One, the promised one from the Old Testament, will come in his lifetime and that he will actually see him before he dies. And the reason the Holy Spirit tells Simeon this is so that he can deliver a prophecy about the Christ. And this is the part that will help us understand Christmas. But it may not be what you expect. It’s not often what you think of when you think of the coming of Christ. Simeon is led by the Spirit into the temple, and it says that he takes Jesus up into his arms. This is why some people think that he might be a priest in the temple, that he picked up Jesus. And he says basically two things about Jesus. One is positive and very much in line with what we think of when we think of Jesus, but the other gets to the difficult side of Jesus’ ministry. And by the way, that should also be what we think of when we think about Jesus. The first is positive. He’s holding baby Jesus and he prays over him, and he realizes that this baby is the fulfillment of the promise that God made to him. That he wouldn’t die until he saw what? Till he saw the Lord’s salvation. That’s what the Messiah is going to bring, salvation. Every person waiting for the Messiah at that time and throughout all of history has been waiting for the salvation that would come. He’ll be the Savior who’s going to redeem God’s people out of condemnation of their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God.
Friends, that’s who you’re looking at when you look at Jesus too. When you consider Jesus, when you read his words, when you ponder Christ, when you look at Jesus Christ, that’s what you’re looking at too. The world is full of opinions about who Jesus is. Almost every single person has their own opinion about who Jesus is. I’m sure you have friends and family that have their own personal views about Jesus. My guess would be we have people here today who have their own take on what Jesus means to them, who Jesus is to them. All of these opinions may or may not align with what the Bible actually says about who Jesus is. So let me recommend to you not to form an opinion about Jesus until you consider very carefully what God’s people had to say about their Messiah the moment he arrived, and what they’d been waiting for thousands of years. Let Simeon tell you; I am holding the Lord’s salvation. That’s what this righteous, devout, spirit-filled man said about Jesus. And that’s what you need to consider. Some of you have already made your choice, and you are in full agreement with Simeon. When you look at Jesus, you say, this is my salvation. I am saved for my sins. This is the one who has come to set me free, and I’ve experienced that freedom. Some of you, though, probably haven’t. You haven’t listened to the testimony of the people who were there, the people who were waiting for Jesus. And you’ve made your decision about whether they’re right without actually listening to them. Maybe you’re thinking salvation, why do I need that? Salvation from what? You need salvation from your sin that has separated you from God. That’s what we’re saved from. We’re saved to God, from our sins, through Christ. You want to know what a world looks like when it’s full of people who have rejected God and have decided to go their own way with their own sinful choices? You’re in it. Look everywhere. You’re in it. We’re immersed in it. But the reason the world has all of this anger and racism and pain and intergenerational conflict and oppression and slander and greed isn’t because of all of those people out there who are the problem. It’s all of those people who are just like us.
I invite you to look at Christ the way Simeon looked at that baby and see that in the coming of Christ, you have seen the salvation that you desperately need. That your broken soul is longing for salvation. But maybe you’re thinking, well, okay Kyle, but it looks like he’s the Jewish salvation. He’s the Jewish Messiah, and I’m not Jewish. Well, God has prepared the salvation, but for who? He’s prepared it not in the presence of just the Jewish people. He’s prepared it in the presence of all peoples, meaning before all of the people groups of the entire world. Jewish people have always known that this is the goal of God’s salvation. God’s plan wasn’t to save just this one nation. It was to gather all of his people from every people group across the entire globe. Think of Israel. Think of the Jewish nation. Think of Israel as that friend that takes you to the party and introduces you to all the other people at the party. This friend, you go, I don’t know anybody here. And he goes, all right, well, let me introduce you. I’m going to say your name and you’re going to get to know everybody here. That’s Israel. That’s Israel. God gets introduced to the nations of the earth by coming first as the Messiah promised to Israel, and then Israel then turns and takes him everywhere. At least they’re supposed to. The best way to think about the spread of salvation to the world is through the metaphor of light. And this is used, by the way, throughout the Bible and Simeon uses it here. You can describe Jesus’ salvation as light in two ways. Jesus is a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Gentiles are non-Jewish people. Most of you listening to the sermon this morning here fit into the category of Gentile. God uses salvation to reveal himself to us. He makes known that we are made in His image, that we are loved, that our sin has separated us from him, and that Jesus is the answer to that separation. Jesus is salvation in that all who put their trust in His death and resurrection have their debt canceled before the father, and the relationship is restored. That’s the good news that has been revealed through the light of Jesus to the world.
But notice that Jesus is also the light for Israel. But the imagery here is slightly different. Usually, we think of Israel glorifying God, but here it says that Jesus is a light that glorifies Israel. That’s a little strange. Jesus’ arrival means that everything the Israelites have been trusting the Lord to accomplish has now come true. And now the whole world is going to look to Israel. They’re going to flock to Israel, because Israel’s God has given them their Messiah and in Him all of the salvation of the world comes to fruition. You see that little third grader, that little Zechariah, he was correct. He does understand Christmas because he’s Jewish. And now you can too. And so can the whole world understand it. So why don’t they? Why don’t they? If Jesus really is God’s provided means of salvation for every people group in the entire world, then why doesn’t everyone put their trust in Jesus? Well, it’s because of a second thing that Simeon says here that explains it. See, after praying, Simeon turns to Mary, and then he shares some difficult news. Jesus is the salvation provided by God for everybody in the world. But people are going to be divided over him. They’re going to be divided. And God knows that. Do you know that? Do you know that the division that you may be experiencing in your family over Christ, God knew that would happen. It’s part of the plan. Do you see that there where it says Jesus is appointed? When you are appointed to something, you are assigned to that thing. Everything that follows that word is part of the Father’s plan for the Son. Jesus is appointed to be a dividing point for people. The same gospel that is going to save and transform some people will also cause other people to reject Jesus. I’ll give you an example. When you put your faith in Jesus, he becomes your king. And that means you live your life in obedience to Him. That’s what it means for Jesus to be king. It means he rules and reigns, and you live your life in obedience to him. Some people, they hear that part of the gospel, and they say, well, of course I love Jesus. I love his sacrifice. I love that it saves me. So of course, I want to walk in obedience. Because He’s leading me in a righteous life. I have to follow Him. I want to follow Him. I need to be near Him. He’s showing me how to live a life that is pleasing to God. But others will hear that same message, and they’re going to say, whoa, wait a minute, I don’t want to have anybody in charge of my life. I get to be in charge of my life. If I choose Jesus, then he calls the shots. He’s going to impose his authority on my autonomy? Hard pass. Same message, same gospel, didn’t change for those two different people. Two completely separate opposite irreconcilable responses to Jesus. And that is not a surprise to God at all. You know why that happens? It’s because the gospel reveals the thoughts of your heart. See, the gospel forces you to take a look into your heart at what you actually believe, and it brings that actual belief to the surface. So, you have to either repent and trust and follow Jesus, or you have to admit that you don’t want Jesus at all.
Now, let me talk this morning directly to those of you who might describe yourself as having one foot in when it comes to Jesus. Some of you in the room today, you say I’m sort of with Jesus. I got kind of one foot in with Him. I’m talking about those of you who might describe your relationship with Jesus as warm and cordial like a relative you visit sometimes. You hope someday to get their inheritance, but who has no say in your life at all. I’m going to say a hard thing here. I’m kind of known for that. You might think you have a cordial relationship with Jesus, but He does not have one with you. You are mistaken, or you’re lying to yourself. Here’s the truth. You are either completely given over to Christ who is your Savior, or you are separated from Him. Those are the only two choices. Jesus’ advent, His entrance, into the world is not a declaration of a vague, non-specific salvation that sort of includes everybody. It is the dividing mark of those who are saved and those who are lost. Jesus is either your fall or your rising. Do you see that? You see what he says? You’re either with Him, or you’re against Him. You are not in any way sort of Christian, because biblically, there is no such thing as sort of Christian. And let me tell you, that causes pain. If you love Jesus, and you have friends and family who don’t love Jesus, you know that pain. You can feel that dividing line, can’t you? You can almost tangibly see it. You bump up against it all the time, and it’s painful. And if you’re not a Christian, and you’re here this morning, you’re not with Christ, you don’t follow Christ, here’s my guess. When your Christian friends and family share the gospel with you, you probably pull away from it, don’t you? Oh, no. Here we go again. Oh, I don’t want to hear this. You probably think they’re a little too into Jesus, and you’d wish they’d stop talking about Him. I’ll tell you, the reason you feel that way is because right now, the Gospel is a sign that you are separated from the Lord. You haven’t embraced Jesus, which means that you have rejected Him, and that friend or that relative of yours who is trying to share Jesus with you loves you too much to see you live and die without salvation and new life. That’s why they’re persistent. That’s why they’re praying for you, even though you don’t necessarily want them to. This is what I want for you too.
I want you to know the joy of the Gospel. I want you to know the joy of Anna, our second prophet. “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. 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 of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” You know, I love it when I’m reading scripture, and I find a little old lady. There’s not a lot of them in Scripture, but it’s fun when you find one. And we have plenty of those here at Calvary. I know when you come across a passage like this, you’re thinking, right, it’s my time to shine. Yes, it is. It is your time to shine. This woman Anna got married when she was a young woman. And she was married seven years. And then she was widowed, and she never got married again. And now she’s 84 years old. I estimate that she has been a widow for 60 to 65 years, somewhere in there. For decades, this woman has lived at the temple praying and fasting night and day. That’s probably a slight hyperbole. They didn’t let you sleep at the temple any more than we would allow you to sleep here if you wanted to, although some of you are doing it right? Right? But she’s there. She’s there all the time. She’s fasting. She’s praying. She loves the Lord. She has lived her days dedicated to serving the Lord. And she walks up. Joseph and Mary are standing there. Simeon is holding Jesus. She hears what’s happening, probably from what Simeon just said, and she goes full worship mode. This is a woman who knows her Hebrew Bible because it says that she starts thanking God. And to speak about God to all who are waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. So clearly, she has drawn hard line. I heard that this baby is the Messiah that has been promised. I know what that means. And so, she’s got to tell everybody. She talked to everyone who knew that what they needed most was redemption, and they were waiting for God to send it. And there were a bunch of people trusting in God, and they were waiting. And there were a bunch of people who knew the system was broken and that God needed to fix the system. There were a bunch of people who knew the evil in their hearts and their need for a suffering servant who would come and take that sin in their heart on his back and die for it, so that they could be reunited with their God. In other words, she went to all the people who were tired, and who were unfulfilled, who had had their fill of the world, and they knew they needed God to do something. What do you think? Have you had your fill yet? Have you walked far enough yet in this world to see that it is broken and that there’s nothing here that’s going to fix it. And that what we need, God to fix it. Have you lived with yourself long enough to search your own heart and realize there is plenty of evil in there? Have you have you lived with enough pain to know that there must be an antidote that can only come from the God who made us? Friends, if you know that, look to Jesus because your eyes are seeing God’s salvation. Would you pray with me?