Simeon’s Salvation Song
December 14, 2013 | Brian Bill
Note: The idea for this sermon and some content come from Ray Pritchard.
Does anyone know what a “Bucket List” is? The idea behind this is to make a list of the things you’d like to do or experience before you ‘kick the bucket.’ The term has been around for a while but was popularized by a movie in which two ill men go on a road trip in order to do all the things they want to do before they die. They end up going skydiving, climbing the pyramids and riding motorcycles on the Great Wall of China.
Some lists make you laugh, like the individual who wants to sleep in a hammock or a church member who just wants to stay awake in church. Others have listed more significant things like reconciling with a family member or finding one’s purpose in life.
As I clicked around online, I learned that most people have multiple things on their bucket lists. One site encourages people to put 101 items down on paper. As we come to the third song of Christmas, we’re going to look at an older guy who has only one longing on his list. His name is Simeon and he was wishing for something…actually, he was waiting for someone. When this person arrived, he was ready to die.
Here’s a summary of the first two songs we’ve studied in the lyrics of Luke’s Gospel.
- Zechariah: We can’t help but sing when we see God’s plan of salvation.
- Mary: When we’re humble the Holy One will use us.
And today we’ll learn that God’s revelation leads to salvation when we receive the Savior.
Setting the Scene
In the first part of Luke 2, we read about the birth of Jesus. The angels are back in heaven, the shepherds have gone back to their sheep and in verses 21-24 we hear about some events that take place in the weeks after Jesus was born: “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who 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 turtledoves or two young pigeons.’”
Three different aspects of the Old Testament Law are intertwined in these verses:
- Verse 21: All male children were to be circumcised and given their names on the eighth day after birth. This would have taken place in Bethlehem (see Genesis 17:9-14).
- Verse 22: After waiting 40 days after the birth of a son, mothers were to present themselves in the temple for their purification (see Leviticus 12).
- Verses 23-24: The Law also required that a mother and father bring their firstborn son before the Lord to be “redeemed” by the offering of a sacrifice (see Exodus 13). This act of dedication was a way to publicly declare that their child belonged to the Lord. It’s in that spirit that we offer child dedications at Edgewood.
We learn here that Joseph and Mary not only obeyed the angel when they named their son Jesus but they also obeyed God by following all the rituals and requirements. In fact, Luke mentions five times that they did something for their Son according to God’s Law. That’s a good challenge for us parents. We need to make sure we are doing what God wants for our family.
This passage also lets us know about the financial situation of Joseph and Mary. Leviticus 12 says that when a woman came for her purification she was to bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon for a sin offering. If, however, she could not afford a lamb, she could bring two turtledoves (and a partridge in a pear tree…sorry made that up) or two pigeons instead. That made it possible for even poor women to obey the law of purification.
At this point Simeon enters the story line. Aside from what we are told in Luke 2, we know nothing about him. His name means, “God hears” but we don’t know his background, his hometown, his education, or even his occupation. We assume he was a priest, although the text doesn’t explicitly say so. We also believe he was an old man but we can’t be certain of that either. He simply appears on the stage of history in the drama surrounding the birth of Christ. After his part is over, he fades from the scene, never to be heard from again.
Luke tells the story this way in verses 25-26: “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just 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.”
Let’s list what we do know about Simeon.
- He was just and devout in His relationship with God. He was not a phony like the Pharisees. He was the real deal inwardly and outwardly. His character and conduct were God-honoring as he lived carefully and reverently
- He was waiting for the Messiah to come (that’s what “waiting for the consolation of Israel” means). Luke uses a Greek word of anticipation in verse 25 that means, “To be alert to His appearance, and ready to welcome Him.” This was a dark time for the nation of Israel. Herod, the “Butcher of Bethlehem,” was to be feared and religion had defaulted into ritual and routine.
- He was a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led man. The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in three consecutive verses. Look at verse 25: “And the Holy Spirit was on him.” Verse 26: “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit…” Verse 27: “So he came by the Spirit into the temple.”
Early every morning Simeon went to the Temple, watching and waiting for Immanuel to appear. He was keeping hope alive. He might have been doing this for years or even decades. I wonder if the religious guys mocked him as they performed their perfunctory rituals.
How would he know Him? What should he look for? Each time a young couple came in with a baby, did he whisper, “Is this the one?” Suddenly Simeon’s heart leaps within him. The long days of waiting are finally over! Here is the One for whom the nation has been waiting. Verse 28: “Simeon took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said…” I wonder if this was difficult for Mary to have a stranger take her baby out of her arms? We don’t even know if he introduced himself. He simply took Jesus and held Him close. As he looks down at the infant the thought hits him, “I am holding the salvation of the world in my arms.”
At that precise point Simeon breaks out into a song of praise, called the Nunc Dimittis, the title being taken from the first two words of the Latin translation of the text.
The Mood of the Music
The mood of the song begins like the jubilant music of a Jewish wedding but quickly becomes contemplative and ends with a note of extreme agony like one would experience at a funeral. I picture him with a huge grin on his face as he starts his salvation song:
29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace according to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
Like the other Christmas composers we’ve looked at in this series, Simeon knew the Scripture because his refrain is filled with references to the Old Testament. Similar to our first two musicians, Simeon saw God as sovereign and himself as a slave.
Simeon’s first thought is that he is now ready to die. The word “depart” refers to “the release of a prisoner; to untie a ship and set sail; to take down a tent.” It was also a military word, used to describe a sentinel who stood watch during the long hours of the night. He was especially tasked with finding the rising of a special star in the deep darkness. When he spots the star, he knows his work is done, and he goes to his commanding officer to be dismissed. Once dismissed, he goes back to his barracks to sleep. That’s the way Simeon feels. The long wait is over, the years of anticipation have been fulfilled, his sentry duty is finished, for he has seen and personally held “the Lord’s salvation” and now he’s ready to be dismissed.
This baby boy, if you will, had fulfilled Simeon’s bucket list and now he is ready to kick the bucket.
What Child Is This?
Notice what Simeon says about Jesus.
1. He is the Deliverer.
While we know Jesus was a Jew and came first to the Jews, it’s interesting that Luke does not limit His coming to just one group of people.
Check out verse 30: “For my eyes have seen your salvation.” To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation. This salvation is…
- For all people. While we know Jesus was a Jew and came first to the Jews, it’s interesting that Luke does not limit His coming to just one group of people. In fact he begins with Jesus coming for all people. Look at verse 31 and the first part of verse 32: “Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles.” He came to shine the light of God into every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. Simeon’s words explode narrow nationalism because the gospel is global in its scope.
I wonder if he had been meditating on Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” This reminds me of what the angel said to the shepherds in Luke 2:10: “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
- For God’s people. In the last part of verse 32 Simeon calls Jesus “the glory of your people Israel.” In this baby, Simeon sees the fulfillment of all the hopes and fears of all the years echoed by Jewish people across the centuries. This takes us back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God had told Moses that a great prophet would come. God also promised David a son who would reign on his throne forever. God then spoke through Isaiah and promised that a son would be born of a virgin, and that his name would be called Immanuel. Still later, Micah predicted that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
2. He’s the Divider.
After hearing Simeon’s salvation song, Joseph and Mary respond in verse 33: “And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.” To “marvel” means “to wonder, to be struck with astonishment.” Later on, when Jesus was 12 and they were at the Temple again, we read in Luke 2:48 that they were “astonished” when they found Him teaching the teachers.
But their marveling was also going to be filled with some misery; their praise would be intermingled with pain. Simeon gives a final word of warning to Mary that dark days were coming, a message that was no doubt hard to hear. After singing, Simeon preaches a sermon directly to Mary that is powerful and personal. His smile evaporates as he predicts that many will resist and reject Jesus. He uses three images.
- Stone. Check out verse 34: “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel…” The parents receive a blessing and then Mary is told that Jesus will cause some to fall on their faces and some to be raised. This was Jesus’ destiny – God the Father sent God the Son as His predetermined plan before the foundation of the world. The coming of Christ would not bring salvation and peace to everyone. This phrase comes from the Book of Isaiah and means that some will stumble over Christ and be crushed by Him and others will rise to new life.
Later in His ministry Jesus made this powerful statement in Matthew 21:44: “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Friends, it’s impossible to encounter Christ and not be changed. We will fall on Christ and be broken to pieces or we’ll live apart from Christ and then be crushed by Him on the Day of Judgment.
- Sign. In the last part of verse 34 and the last part of verse 35 we read: “And for a sign which will be spoken against… that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Many rose up against Jesus, and many still do today. Have you noticed that some people get really worked up about Christmas? The American Atheists have ads on an electronic billboard in Times Square asking this question, “Who Needs Christ at Christmas?” The name Christ is then “X’d” out and the word “Nobody” appears at the bottom of the screen. A press release announcing the new billboard noted that, “Christmas is Better Without Christ.”
Last year their message was even more offensive when they showed a picture of Santa Claus with the words, “Keep the Merry” and a picture of Christ on the cross with the words, “Dump the Myth.” I also read this week that Satanists are planning to put their own statue next to a Ten Commandments monument outside the statehouse in Oklahoma. In addition to all this, under pressure from a non-Christian group, Shaw Air Force Base caved to the war on Christmas and removed a Nativity scene and according to the Orlando Sentinel, “A nearly 6-foot-tall “Festivus” pole made from empty beer cans will be put up in the Florida Capitol this week as a not-so-subtle protest to the recent placement of a Christmas nativity scene.”
When face to face with Jesus, people’s real thoughts are exposed. Jesus brings out bitter hatred in the hearts of some unbelievers. While these things are extremely troubling it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus is spoken against. That’s the way it’s always been and it just gets amplified at Christmas time. And, according to 2 Timothy 3:1: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.”
- Sword. Simeon now draws a blade that skewers Mary’s soul. He speaks of the dark shadow of the cross that falls over Christmas in the first part of verse 35: “…And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This word refers to a large weapon with a wide blade.
Check out what one pastor writes: “Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.”
We are quick to talk about the sweetness of being a Christian but we often leave out the sword that comes with it. We celebrate God’s favor but flee from problems. Listen. Following Christ will always cost you something. Jesus satisfies but suffering goes along with following the One who suffered for us. 1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Friends, I believe it will be more and more difficult to follow Christ in our culture as we move closer to His return. Actually, it’s a promise that persecution will come as 2 Timothy 3:12 says: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Simeon is saying, “Mary, they are going to touch this child, and you won’t be able to do anything about it. They are going to hate him, they are going to lie about him, they’ll spread rumors about you and Joseph, and they will smear His name with malicious lies. And you will have to stand by helplessly and watch it happen…and it’s going to tear your heart out.”
Here’s the truth. Since Jesus has entered the world, He has divided the human race. Jesus will cause the falling and rising of many. Because of who He is and what He came to do, Jesus forces people to make a decision about Him.
Amidst all the pretty trees, brightly colored lights, parties and presents, remember this: While Christmas is costly, there is a much greater cost to following Christ. Following Jesus is not without piercing pain. Christmas is meant to be happy and joyful but it’s also a time of tremendous seriousness because Jesus is a stone, a sign and a sword that will slice people into two camps.
The gospel is glorious good news but the Savior is not safe. This reminds me of the characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Susan is having a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, the lion who represents Christ.
“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan…“Why don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood…” “Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and that’s no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
It all happened exactly as Simeon had predicted. Above the cradle stands the cross and beyond the cross is the crown.
And with that, Simeon splits the scene. He sings his song and then he takes off. Just like that he’s gone. What can we learn from his lyrics?
Lessons from the Lyrics
1. We need to be in the right place in order to hear from God.
Simeon was in the Temple at the right time. Joseph and Mary made it a habit to follow what the Word says and also took Jesus to the Temple when He was 12. Parents, get in the habit of putting you and your family in the right place by going to God’s place every week. Determine to get into a Life Group or Adult Bible Fellowship class this next year. Step up your weekend involvement – we have three services to choose from, including Saturday nights. By the way, we need more servants in the Nursery on Christmas Eve, and other weekend services as well. You can be like Simeon and hold some babies! When you put yourself in the right setting, make sure you’re ready to hear and obey.
2. Don’t give up.
Wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled in your life
I think most people are waiting for something. Maybe it’s a mate or direction in life. Perhaps it’s a job or finances or peace. Wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled in your life. The message of Christmas is “don’t quit!” Don’t give in to the darkness and despair. Hold on to the one who is holding on to you. Keep watching and waiting for God to show up. And in the meantime, don’t stop doing what’s right.
You see, the question is really not, “What am I waiting for? The real question is this, “What kind of person am I becoming while I’m waiting?”
3. Cultivate being filled and led by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in verses 25-27 and He positioned Simeon in the right place at the right time. He did the same thing for Anna in verse 38: “And coming in that instant…” What instant? At the exact time that Simeon exited, she entered the story. When the Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to move, he didn’t sit still. Don’t procrastinate when God prompts you to do something — you may miss out on a miracle this Christmas.
Here’s an action step. When you’re out and about, ask God these kinds of questions, “Who do you want me to talk to? Who can I invite to our Christmas Eve services by giving them one of the invitations that are in your bulletin today? [I’ve invited someone at Planet Fitness and gave another one to someone I met in a restaurant on Monday] What do you want to teach me? Why have you put me in this place and in this position right now?” Instead of being upset when your plans change, look at that interruption as an appointment to speak with someone or to learn a lesson that God is trying to teach you. Go on a God-hunt. Look for Him in the ordinary and unexpected.
On Tuesday of this week I read this status update from Mike Napper, our missionary to the Philippines, who has been involved in ministering to people after the typhoon: “My ferry from Leyte to Cebu was delayed. I missed my flight from Cebu to Manila and had to pay an extra $60. Now that flight is delayed. But the lady setting next to me just received Christ as her Savior at gate 5.”
4. Begin to marvel again.
Joseph and Mary marveled at the miracle of Christmas. They were astonished by what they were learning about Immanuel. Are you a marveler as you consider the message of Christmas? Or, are you too caught up in the busyness and stress of the season? Have you been hurrying around because of the Holidays, or are you taking the time to make Christmas a “holy” day? Has Christmas become too predictable, too familiar? Have you heard the Christmas story so much that it no longer astonishes you? Actually, this can be a dangerous time of the year for us. Our annual celebration of Christmas can immunize us to its reality. We hear just enough of the story each year to inoculate us against the real thing, so that we never really catch true Christmas fever. There’s something exciting about meeting Jesus for the first time. Some of us need to come back to that.
5. You’re not ready to die until you receive the salvation that only Christ can give.
Are you ready to die? When Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, he said, “Lord, I’m ready to go home now. I can die in peace.” You’re not ready to die until you have received Jesus and trusted Him as your Savior. Once you have taken Him as your Savior, death will no longer be an enemy. If you come to the end, and you’ve never received the salvation that Jesus offers, you’ve basically wasted your years upon this earth, and you will spend eternity in endless torment in a place called Hell. If you’ve never done so, ask Him to forgive your bucket-load of sins.
It’s popular in America to sit on the fence regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon is saying you can’t do that. You have to make up your mind. Either He is the Son of God from heaven, or He’s not. If He’s not, then he is the greatest fraud in human history, and worthy of our deepest scorn. But if He is the Son of God, then the only possible response is to bow down and worship him!
At Christmastime you only have two options regarding Jesus Christ. Either you join Herod in trying to kill him or you join Simeon in reaching out to Him for salvation. And there is nothing in between! If you are indifferent, you’ve already joined the side that wants to kill Christ.
Once there were three frogs on a log. One of them decides to jump off. How many are left? Two, right? Wrong. There’s still three because while one did decide to jump – he never made the leap! Are you ready to make that leap today?
Jesus is not just the reason for the season…He is the reason for living…and for dying.
Simeon took Jesus personally in his arms…and so too, you must personally receive Him. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The whole point of a bucket list is to maximize every moment of our existence so that we live our lives to the fullest. Most people who create these lists write down what it is that they want to do. Simeon’s list was created by God Himself. So here’s a question. What does God have on your bucket list? The question is not, “What do I want to do before I die?” The question is this: “What does God want me to do?” The only thing on Simeon’s list was to see the Lord. What about you? Are you ready to see His salvation right now? If so, it’s time to receive Him so that when you do kick the bucket you’ll be allowed into Heaven on the basis of what Jesus has done for you.
God’s revelation leads to salvation when we receive the Savior. If you’d like to settle your salvation right now, turn to Jesus and say something like this…
“Lord Jesus, I confess that I’ve been filling up my life with things that not only don’t satisfy but with things that don’t please you. I recognize that I’m a sinner and I want to turn from the way I’ve been living. Thank you for coming to this world and living a sinless life and then going to the Cross to forgive my sins and for rising again that I might rise too. I personally receive you right now. I open my arms, my heart, my life to you. As best I can I surrender all that I am and all that I have to you. Make me into the person you want me to be and help me to follow you, no matter how hard it is, for the rest of my life. Amen.”