Monday, December 28, 2009

Sermon on Luke 2:22-40, for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, "According to Your Word"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. It was a necessary part of our salvation that Jesus keep the entire law from His birth till His death—because it’s by His innocence according to the law that we’re saved. Here at the Temple in Jerusalem, through His parents Mary and Joseph, Jesus is already passively keeping the law as they perform the sacrifices for the consecration of a firstborn son. And as they make these sacrifices, in keeping of the law, they encounter an aged and faithful believer named Simeon. It’s Simeon’s encounter with the baby Jesus in the Gospel that we focus on today. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Joseph and Mary had no idea that the elderly Simeon had waited his whole life for this very day. They had no idea that the obligatory task of going to the temple for purification after childbirth, would be the occasion for Simeon’s majestic prophecy and song about what their humble infant Jesus would be known for. Parents usually love it when both familiar and unfamiliar people coo and fawn over their newborns. The pride of parents to see their beautiful child, and everyone’s adoration and smiles. To wonder what this little child will grow up to be—a doctor who discovers a cure, an inventor who patents a useful machine, a teacher who inspires children, a concert musician. Or maybe we don’t have such grandiose schemes for our little child prodigies, but a parent wants to know that their child will be loved and valued.

Who knows what hopes and dreams Joseph and Mary had—they knew He was no ordinary child—but what to expect? Surprise seemed to surround Jesus as all sorts of unannounced visitors and strangers praised His birth. So Simeon and later Anna were but the latest pair of unexpected followers of their infant Christ. But Mary and Joseph were amazed—they marveled when Simeon basically gave his deathbed confession of Jesus Christ. What I mean is that Simeon was promised by the Lord that he wouldn’t die before seeing the Lord’s Christ. He wouldn’t die until he’d seen the Christ, God’s promised deliverer and consolation of Israel. And now, in this moment of holding the baby Jesus—he declared that he was now ready to die! He was ready to go home in peace to his Lord because he’d now seen God’s salvation!

It says that Simeon took Jesus and blessed God. At the same time that he blessed God in heaven—he blessed the infant God in his arms. Praising God for allowing him this delight to hold the Messiah, according to God’s Word—His promise to Simeon. It’s admirable that Simeon ended his life this way, and had the confidence that he could depart in peace, according to God’s word. Often at death people are preoccupied with settling old scores, making amends with bad relationships. Hopefully we won’t wait till death to reconcile with people we’ve wronged. People are often preoccupied about who’ll take care of family, or fearful of whether they had lead a life worthy of heaven. But Simeon knew as every believer in Christ knows, that he could never lead a life worthy of heaven. He knew that there wasn’t anything in himself that would get him there—but it was by faith, by trusting in Christ promises, that he could depart in peace. He saw salvation in Jesus with his own eyes, and that was enough. He went to his death in peace.

Just about a week before our dear sister Anne Cassidy died, I took communion to John and her. After we’d finished the Lord’s Supper, as she lay there in bed, weak and near death, we prayed with the words of Simeon’s song. “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people.” We prayed that the Lord would let her go in peace, according to His word, because she had seen the Lord’s salvation in her own life. She knew that she was a saint—not by her own making, but by faith in Jesus Christ. It was His peace that accompanied her through death. Simeon saw salvation in the baby Jesus. Anne saw salvation in her life through God’s Word and Sacrament richly working grace in her life. We see salvation when we depart in peace from the Lord’s table, as the same Jesus comes to us in body and blood for our salvation. So for centuries Lutherans have sung Simeon’s song after departing from the Lord’s Supper. It’s a song of faith that God will deal with us mercifully according to His Word.

Simeon’s song of blessing over the child declared that this child was for all people. God was preparing salvation in the presence of all peoples—Israel and all the Gentiles. Those near to God and those far. So the message of Christmas, the message of God’s unfolding salvation belongs not to us alone, but all the world. How can we hold back this message that rightfully belongs to all people? We’re obliged to share it because it belongs every bit as much to all friends, neighbors, and strangers afar as it does to us.

But after Simeon’s glowing words over Jesus, there followed a more ominous warning about what heartache and hardship would accompany the life of this young Messiah. “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.” Even at the birth and infancy of Jesus, He couldn’t escape the cross as the overshadowing purpose of His life and ministry. First the Magi’s gift of myrrh, the bitter perfume that was used in burial, that spoke of the gathering gloom of His death. Then the first shedding of Jesus’ blood on the 8th day for His circumcision and naming. Next the offering of sacrifices for the consecration of the firstborn and purification of the mother—sacrifices that pointed forward to Jesus’ perfect sacrificial death. Finally, after His birth, this prophecy of Simeon to Mary—“a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Mary would share unspeakable pain and grief when she would stand beneath the cross of Jesus, watching the son that she once cradled die a brutal death. She felt the grief of seeing Him opposed and rejected through His ministry—though He was the very promised salvation for His people.

But through His death the thoughts of many hearts are revealed. The last part of Simeon’s prophecy was that Jesus would expose all the thoughts of mankind’s hearts. An author made this comment on the strange way in which all hearts were exposed at the cross:

The disciples believe, but in their fear they run away. Peter makes bold promises but falls into denial. The high priest wants to preserve the sanctity of the temple and keep the Romans from intervention in his sacred space. In the process he participates in the death of an innocent man. The soldiers only obeyed orders, and those orders violated Roman justice. Pilate wanted to keep his job and stay out of trouble…his true nature was exposed by the cross. The thoughts of the hearts of many were revealed by the suffering of the cross, and Mary participated in that suffering. On Golgotha Mary chose to remain to the end and witness the suffering of her son until his death. She was not under arrest and could have walked away. She knew she could not change what was happening before her by arguing with the soldiers or pleading with the high priests. The only decision she was free to make was to choose to remain and enter into Jesus' suffering. Indeed a sword passed through her heart, and in the process, once again, she became a model for Christian discipleship. (Bailey, Jesus through Middle-Eastern Eyes, p. 60-1.)

At the cross all the conflicting thoughts and motivations of sinners are laid bare. All the people that surrounded Jesus that day—friends or enemies—they all became transparent as they faced the confusion of that day. Those who tried to stand by Him found it impossible to stand. Those who stood against Him fell trembling to the ground at His name and at the earthquake that followed His death. Earthly rulers that would try to stand over Him toppled and fell.

The same is true today. We stand or fall with Jesus. If we try to stand for Him on our own goodness, our own strength, our own courage—we’ll prove sinful, weak, or cowardly in the time of testing. If we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus and try to stand against Him, we’ll still fall to our knees before Him one day. If we have positions of power and authority, and think that we stand over the humble story of Jesus, and treat the cross as mere shame—than we’ll be ashamed on the last day when Christ comes back with all power and authority over heaven and earth. While men fall and rise around Jesus and His cross—its only those who stand under His cross and in His suffering that will finally rise in the resurrection of the dead one day. Like Mary freely witnessed the suffering of her Son when she could have turned away. We also stand under the cross, fixing our eyes on Jesus. With our own eyes we look to His salvation, and with our heart we believe what He’s said according to His Word.

We stand under His cross—counting no honor or credit to ourselves—counting only the guilt of our sins that put Him there. Standing there we fall. We fall under the burden of our sin that is too great to lift. Until Jesus, with out-stretched arms embracing the whole burden of the world, lifts the heavy weight of sin from our shoulders, and bears it Himself. There with hearts exposed—with our false motives, hidden agendas and intentions laid bare under the cross, God sees us transparently and with righteous judgment. Yet God also sees the thoughts and intentions of the only pure heart at the cross—the heart of Jesus. Jesus, who alone came with transparent motives and actions, who did precisely what He came for with no boasting or pretensions or hidden agendas. When God looks down from heaven and sees fallen sinners toppled by sin, He also sees the innocent heart of Jesus, pierced by the soldier. Then God in heaven and God dying on the cross, does a miracle. God the Father sees the innocent motives and sacrificial heart of God the Son, and He sees more than enough innocence in His divine Son for all the world. He pronounces forgiveness for all mankind who trust in this Savior on the cross—this sign opposed by the world.

Then we, sinners slain and fallen beneath the cross, rise together with the many of Israel. We rise under the power of the Risen Christ who sends our hearts leaping for joy into the life of His forgiveness. “Hail, the heav’nborn Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth” (LSB 380). Those who stand under His cross rise with Christ. They rise with the healing in His wings, lifted up as a glorious eagle soars to heaven’s heights. We sons of earth are born a second time after our sinful flesh dies with Him at the cross. We’ve participated in the glorious exchange of our guilt for His innocence—of our sinfulness for His holiness.

And finally we can go to our death, whenever it should come, with peace. We can sing on our deathbed—“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, according to your Word. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people!” With Simeon, with Anna, with Mary, with Anne Cassidy and all the saints who’ve gone before us this year and every year before, we can sing that song of Simeon knowing that God will take us home in peace. We live in faith in His Word, knowing His salvation in our lives with our own heart and our own eyes. For we have seen salvation in Jesus Christ, born for us men and for our salvation. In His Name. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Why was it essential that Jesus fully keep the Law, even from birth? Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:15. What laws of God did Mary and Joseph keep for Him after birth? Genesis 17:9-14; Exodus 13:1-15; Leviticus 12:1-8. How did each law hint at Jesus’ future death?

2. What joy inspired Simeon’s song? What did it tell about the significance that lay ahead in baby Jesus’ life?

3. How was Simeon able to face his death with peace? What gave him the assurance that his salvation was assured? How does God’s Word and Sacrament give us assurance at death?

4. How does Simeon’s song announce that this message belongs to everyone? How can we withhold it from others, since it’s the rightful possession of all mankind?

5. What more ominous note to Mary about Jesus’ future, followed Simeon’s song? How did this relate to the cross?

6. How does the cross expose all hearts and motives? When have we acted with hidden motives and agendas? How often have we been deceptive in our actions? Why is this not fitting of Christians/followers of Christ? 2 Cor. 4:1-3

7. Why is standing under the cross of Jesus in repentance and humility the only way to rise with Him? Luke 2:34-35; Romans 7:24-8:8; Romans 6.

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