Have you ever waited to meet someone famous? A chance came for my daughter last year when we learned that American Ninja Warriors was coming to film in Indianapolis. Meghan is a fan of the female athletes in particular, and was hoping to meet one of them.
So we applied for tickets as soon as they became available, and then…we waited. Eventually, word came that we could get tickets to an overnight taping downtown. On a school night, we needed to be on hand by 1:00 in the morning. When we arrived at Monument Circle, we got on the end of a looooong line…and waited more, as they let people in in shifts.
Eventually we were marched in with a bunch of fellow “waiters,” and we had a blast. Meghan even got to meet rookie sensation athlete Jesse “Flex” LeBreck.
It was 4 in the morning by the time we left downtown Indy—on a school day. And Meghan had a test that day. But if you ask her, she will tell you it was worth it. It was worth the wait.
Advent is the annual season of waiting, the weeks before Christmas in which we revisit and rehearse the stories of those who witnessed the long-awaited coming of Jesus.
The character we meet today comes on the scene without us ever meeting him before, and as soon as this passage moves on, we never hear from him again. But he would definitely tell us that waiting for Jesus was worth it; it was worth the wait.
Open your Bible or Bible app to Luke chapter 2. Luke chapter 2, beginning in verse 22. While you are turning there, let’s take a moment to see what each of the four gospels, the four narratives of Jesus’ life and ministry, contribute to Advent.
Matthew devotes less than a page to Jesus’ birth. Instead of focusing on Jesus’ birth, Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience, focuses on the genealogy that led up to the birth Jesus. Matthew puts his energy into demonstrating that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. So in his unique way, Matthew shows that Jesus coming in the line of Abraham and David and the Babylonian exiles, despite how long it took…it was worth the wait.
When Mark sits down to write his gospel, he completely skips Jesus’ birth. Why might that may be? We know that Mark served in ministry alongside the apostle Peter. And we know that Peter was an action-packed kind of guy. Peter was often the first of the apostles to speak up and act out. Mark’s gospel reflects that, a dozen times using the word immediately. So when you read Mark’s gospel, you can almost hear Peter breathlessly narrating while Mark writes as fast as he can. If we could ask Mark, with his gospel focusing on the amazing words and works of Jesus as an adult, Mark, too, would say that it was worth the wait, waiting for Messiah Jesus to arrive on the scene to teach and heal.
Luke is the gospel writer who gives us lots of details surrounding Jesus’ birth. We know from how he opens his gospel that he carefully researched the facts, and interviewed eyewitnesses so that he could put together a trustworthy, accurate account of the life and ministry of Jesus. Luke definitely shows that it was worth the wait, worth waiting for Jesus to come.
Finally, there is the gospel of John. If Matthew goes back generations through Jesus’ genealogy to show that it was worth the wait; if Mark skips over Jesus’ birth to get to Jesus’ action-packed words and works as an adult; if Luke gives us plenty of details surrounding Jesus’ birth; John goes further back than any of them—all the way back to before creation. John’s gospel opens in eternity past, telling us that even before the universe was created, Jesus existed. Jesus was, is, and forever will be God. The birth of Jesus, then, is the unique moment in history when God became one of us.
So there’s a quick overview of how each of the four gospel writers contribute to how we anticipate Christmas. Each one, in their unique way, conveys the message that it was worth the wait to have Jesus come to us!
Luke 2:22 opens with Joseph and Mary’s experience of waiting to see who their son would be revealed to be. There we read…
“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[Exodus 13:2,12]), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[Lev. 12:8] Luke 2:22-24
These opening verses ring odd to us because we’re far removed from Jewish ceremonies and the Jerusalem Temple. So what is this about? Here it is:
“If Christ is an example, nobody needs him; but if he’s a sacrifice, everyone does.” Fred Smith
The very ceremonies for which Jesus’ parents bring him to the Temple hint at what he would later do for all of us. God sent his Son because we’ve all fallen into sin, and need to be saved. Just like a drowning man or woman needs a rescuer to be saved from drowning, we need the Savior to save us from our sin. We cannot save ourselves.
Luke quotes the Old Testament law books of Exodus and Leviticus, showing that God’s Word in their day required parents bringing their firstborn son to the Temple to bring with him sacrificial offerings.
One animal was sacrificed as a burnt offering, the other was sacrificed as a sin offering. The burnt offering was an acknowledgement of their sinful nature and a request for renewed right relationship with God.
The sin offering was literally the “fault” offering. It was a sacrifice offered to atone for unintentional sin. We just concluded a study through the New Testament book of James, in which he points out in James 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways.” We all sin and need forgiveness—sometimes not even aware at the time that we sin, that we have sinned. The sin offering atoned for sins they were blind to.
Rabbi Paul pulls together why any of this matters—the connection between Old Testament law, and Jesus. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul explains…
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5
At just the right time God sent his Son, born to someone who was under the conditions of the old covenant. Why does that matter? Because Jesus came to introduce a new covenant, a new way of being set right with God.
If there’s only one thing you hold tightly to this morning, let it be this:
in bringing their infant son to the Temple, Joseph and Mary were bringing into the Temple the One who would replace the Temple.
Jesus would replace the need for burnt offerings and sin offerings, when on the cross he became the once-for-all-time offering for sin.
Taking a step back from just this Temple scene, what Scripture reveals is that God created us, God weeps over what sin does to us, God then became one of us, and through the sacrifice of Jesus God is redeeming us. All of that is hinted at in this unassuming opening scene. What the Temple and its sacrifices symbolize, Jesus would soon fulfill. Joseph and Mary brought into the Temple the One who would replace the Temple.
Now we’re ready to meet Simeon. We pick it up in Luke 2:22
“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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Luke 2:25-26
Here’s all we know about Simeon: he walked faithfully with God, he was deeply devoted to God, and God had supernaturally revealed to him that in his lifetime, he personally would see the long-awaited Messiah.
There are all kinds of legends surrounding Simeon: that he was a priest, that he lived to be 360 years old, that he was a Bible translator from the Hebrew to Greek, and so on. Those are all legends. We aren’t told his age or his profession. But we’re told enough: that he was devoutly waiting for the coming of Messiah, just like we’re called to devotedly wait for Jesus’ return.
The most intriguing thing we learn about Simeon is what he was waiting for: “the consolation of Israel.” Consolation.
When a family member dies or a marriage falls apart or you lose a job, the greatest need is consolation. Sympathy. Comfort. Compassion. Encouragement. Simeon was waiting for the One who would bring the spiritual comfort, compassion, and encouragement that Israel was long waiting for.
And finally, on this day, that moment arrives. Verse 27:
“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…”
The moment this out-of-town family arrives for a ceremony that countless other Jewish families regularly come to the Temple for, the moment this family comes into the Temple, Simeon is led by God to come to the Temple as well. He instantly knows that this child is “the consolation of Israel.”
What God did for Simeon, he is well able to do for you. God is fully able to sovereignly guide your steps. He can send you to someone who needs an encouraging word or a Scripture or a prayer. He can sovereignly bring across your path someone who needs spiritual consolation.
But what does it take to be led by the Holy Spirit? The same as with Simeon: be “righteous and devout.” Committed to being good and godly. Upright and devoted to serving the Lord.
Someone was telling me recently how she went to mail a package, and when she reached the counter, despite it being the busy Christmas season, she was the only customer at that time. The person working behind the counter recognized her from years ago, as their kids were the same age, and for the next fifteen minutes poured out his heart about problems going on with that now grown child.
She didn’t know what to say in the moment. Maybe you would say the same—that you want to see the Lord work through you to bring his consolation to others, but you don’t know what to say.
Here’s what I would say: Pray. On the spot, silently, whenever someone unburdens themselves, or when someone is getting all hot and bothered by something going on in their life or in the news, when they’re showing a need for consolation, pray. Ask the Lord for wisdom. James 1:5 is a promise you can hold onto firmly:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
The promise is that God will answer that prayer. He will give you wisdom for that situation, so that you, like Simeon, can bring the touch of Jesus, and the truth of Jesus to that person in that moment.
This is why the very first step in our B.L.E.S.S. paradigm for walking with Christ is Begin with prayer. When you wake up tomorrow morning, pray, “Lord, bless me today, and make me a blessing to someone.” Then trust the Holy Spirit to guide your steps. Trust that he will bring you to, or he will bring to you, someone who needs spiritual consolation!
This is the dynamic every time we offer prayer outreach here in the YMCA. We have no idea and no control over who is going to be coming into this place at the time we’re here—just like Simeon and Joseph and Mary had no idea that the Holy Spirit had arranged the divine appointment that was about to take place.
I spoke with someone recently who felt led by the Holy Spirit to make some breakfast sandwiches and offer them to homeless people on the streets of urban Portland, Maine. Maine winters are cold. She figured it was something she could do. So the first time, she prepared seven breakfast sandwiches. Didn’t even have something to keep them warm, so she put them in a computer laptop bag and went out looking for the homeless.
And people opened up. Along with the no-strings-attached hot sandwich, she was able to show and tell the love of Christ and the truth of Christ.
She ended up with a waiting list of people who wanted to go out with her to feed and bless the homeless and hurting. The same Holy Spirit who led Simeon is still leading those today who come before him expectant.
Come, like Simeon, eagerly awaiting how the Holy Spirit might lead and what the Holy Spirit will do. Every time we offer prayer here, without fail, people come by needing spiritual consolation, needing the love of Jesus and the truth of Jesus. God makes the appointments. We simply show up waiting.
So here’s the spiritual reality behind what happened that day at the Temple, the spiritual reality behind what happens when we head into each day waiting and looking for how the Holy Spirit might lead:
God knows everything. He knows what every person who will cross your path tomorrow is going through. Nothing is hidden from him.
God loves people. You remember from the Genesis account of creation that five times God surveys what he has created and sees that it is good. But only after he has created man and woman, he comments that what he has made is very good.
God speaks through those who love him. Just like with righteous and devout Simeon, today the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. God who knows everything and who loves people, loves to bring his touch and his truth through those who love him. That can be you. Ask for wisdom on the spot, and believe the Holy Spirit will grant it.
This Tuesday evening is the next time we’re going to offer the prayer outreach here in the main hallway. We’re eager to see how the Holy Spirit leads!
While we’re on the Spirit’s leading, I want you to be the first to hear that a church in a YMCA in Washington state wants to send us a couple of interns for a week each whenever we want them, to help however we would like them to. This is a connection from my time at Silver Bay in October.
Here’s what we’re thinking about. The busiest time of the year for a fitness facility is January. It’s New Year’s resolution time, and so we may have the interns come as early as next month so that we can ramp up the prayer outreach to be here as much as possible for two weeks in a row, to bring the love of Jesus and the truth of Jesus to as many people as possible, including some who have never been in this place before. That’s a generous gift to our church from another church who believes in what we’re doing. We’re both pursuing the same aim. So pray as we develop plans for working with those interns.
Back to Simeon:
“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’” Luke 2:27-32
Having seen the long-awaited Messiah with his own eyes, Simeon is fully at peace with God; he’s ready to go home to be with the Lord. A lot of people fear dying. Having found Jesus, Simeon comes to full peace with whenever death may come.
That’s something the Holy Spirit is still doing today. When you come to a personal encounter with Jesus, with him comes a supernatural peace, a supernatural assurance. The apostle John describes it in 1 John chapter 5, that assurance of salvation is the whole reason he wrote that letter. Chapter 5:11-13 declares…
“This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:11-13
You can know that you have eternal life. You can know where you stand with God. You can know if you’re headed for heaven. How? Here it is: just as Simeon embraced Jesus in his arms, embrace Jesus in your heart. Believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Savior, come to bring full forgiveness of your sin.
Simeon recognizes that Jesus came not just for Jews, but for all nations. We get to be in on it, too! Jesus came for us, for everyone who will embrace him.
What happens next? Verse 33:
“The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” Luke 2:33-35
Led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon speaks a prophetic word of knowledge—essentially declaring that no one will be neutral about Jesus. People either rise or fall, they are spiritually restored or rejected, based on what they do with Jesus.
Here we are two millennia later, and this Spirit-given word of knowledge has demonstrably proven true. No one is neutral about Jesus. He still miraculously saves and restores people from every nation who believe him. And there are also still many who hate Jesus and all who stand with him. The J.B. Phillips translation of verse 35 is so clear. It says Jesus will “set up a standard which many will attack—for he will expose the secret thoughts of many hearts.”
We know from Hebrews chapter 4 in the New Testament that…
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13
No one can hide from God. Every thought, word, and action, he sees. And we all will give an account for what we’ve done with the life we’ve been given. The reason, then, that God sent his Son, was to redeem us from sin which condemns us.
But the choice to trust in Jesus isn’t something God forces. So we see the truth of what Simeon prophetically announced: no one is neutral over Jesus.
Finally, Simeon speaks a cryptic word to Mary:
“And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
This early on in Luke’s gospel, in what we traditionally see as an Advent or Christmas Scripture, already here’s another hint at the cross. It would be a terribly wounding experience for Mary, but it was necessary for all of us, Mary included. Even Jesus’ mother needed the Savior.
And with that, Simeon slips away. We never hear from him again. Yet what little we do hear from him is profound. This infant being brought into the Temple would soon replace the Temple and its sacrifices. He would bring light—truth—and consolation—forgiveness of sin—to all who would trust in him. And so with Simeon, we embrace Jesus, praising God!