December 26, 2010

Promises Kept - Dec 26, 2010

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Much of the worry and anxiety in our lives stems from the general unreliability of people. Will she really be there on time? Will he call when he said he would? Will they remember to do that thing?

Because we are sinners, we also question God’s reliability. Will He be there? Does He really have a plan? And if He does, why can’t I see where He’s going with this thing in my life?

The events of our sermon reading take place right after God’s Son was born into the world. In these events we see one major theme repeated. God is trustworthy. The promises God makes, He keeps. As it says in Numbers 23:19
“ God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19 NIV).
Luke 2:21 (NIV)

21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

The modern world has embraced “moral relativity”. This is the idea that there is no one code of conduct that all people must conform to. God is not a fan of “moral relativity”. He has very specific standards that He expects human being to live by.

When Jesus was born into the human race, He was already accountable to God to live a holy life. But here in the first few days of His life, Jesus is circumcised. For the Jewish people this was more than a medical procedure. It was a sign that this Child was now also accountable to keep all the additional rules and regulations that God had placed on the people of Israel. He would have to keep the religious festivals. He would be required to bring any applicable sacrifices to God’s Temple. Like it says in Galatians 5, verse 3
“3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 NIV).
The act of circumcision was a promise to keep ALL the laws of God. It was a big deal for a Jew. And that’s why a name was also given to the Child at this time.

Jesus’ name was a common Jewish name, but one of great significance. The name “Jesus” meant “Yahweh Saves”. This name embodies God’s promise to rescue the human race from the laws that they were required to keep, but couldn’t since the fall into sin.

When the angel told Joseph that Mary’s Son would be the actual Son of God, he said…
“21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21 NIV).
One can hardly pass by the circumcision and naming of Jesus without recalling the words of Paul…
“4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4 NIV).
Jesus would keep the law perfectly for you and me, and thus would free us from condemnation. One day every knee will bow at the name of Jesus, for He is our salvation.

Luke 2:22-26 (NIV)

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25Now 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 upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

At the time when Jesus was born, the religious leaders of Jews had lost sight of the true significance of the promised Savior. They had become wrapped up in earthly politics, and were teaching the people that God’s Savior would save them from Rome’s tyrannical rule. But there were some who understood the true freedom that the Christ would bring. Freedom from sin and punishment. It appears that Simeon was one of these.

In addition to the promise of a Savior, God also made a special promise to this man: He would actually get to SEE the promised Savior before his life ended.

Throughout the Old Testament period God kept the faith of His followers alive by giving them promises about the Savior to come. Prophecies about what He would be like, and what He would do for them.

Here God tenderly reaches into the life of one particular follower of God, and adds an additional faith strengthening promise – YOU, Simeon, will see Him.

You and I don’t have the same promise that Simeon had, but we have a similar one. In this lifetime we will only see the Christ through the pages of the Bible, in the life to come we will meet Him face to face. Just like Job said…
“ 25I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27 NIV).

Luke 2:27-32 (NIV)

27Moved 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Can you imagine what this must have been like for Simeon? In his hands he was holding the Salvation of the world! The Savior promised to Adam and Eve thousands of years before was resting, a little wide-eyed baby, in his very hands!

Praise bubbles up from Simeon’s heart as he holds the Christ Child. And he expresses what this means to him – God’s promise to him is fulfilled. Not just the smaller promise that he’d get to see the Christ, but the bigger, personal promise that God had made to him. He, Simeon, a sinner, would have peace with God.

Some of the most powerful religious leader’s of Simeon’s time, the Sadducees, claimed that there was no resurrection. No life to come. Simeon would have laughed at them. He knew the significance of this Child. He was an old man, with no great hope for his earthly life. Now, he could pass from this broken world with this Child in his mind’s eye. He could die knowing all was well, and His Creator and Savior would meet him with a smile and an embrace.

All who hold the Christ Child in their hearts by faith have the same assurance. For it wasn’t the fact that Simeon held the Savior in his HANDS that was ultimately significant, it was that he held Him in his heart.

Our eyes have also seen the salvation which God prepared for Jews and Gentiles alike. And we can say the same thing as Simeon: "Lord, you can dismiss us from this life anytime you see fit. There are many things we may plan to do in our lives, but YOU have already done the most important."

Luke 2:33-35 (NIV)

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then 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, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Here, we see the old man Simeon become a prophet.

In our day, many people claim to know God. For some this just means that they acknowledge that a God exists. For others this means that they believe in a specific deity. It was the same thing in Simeon’s day. Many people claimed that they trusted in God. But Jesus would reveal who actually followed the TRUE God, and who didn’t.

To Pontius Pilate Jesus said,
“…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37 NIV).
The apostle John testifies…
“23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 NIV).
To a world that has embraced religious relativism, the Bible says, If you reject Jesus, you can’t know God.

But the prophet Simeon says more than that here. To Mary, Simeon speaks of a sword that would pierce her own soul. Some great and terrible pain of heart would someday touch her life.

We’re told that Mary cherished up all the things that the shepherds said to her on that first Christmas, but she must have put Simeon’s words away in her heart also, terrible and foreboding though they were.

Most understand Simeon’s words to refer to the fact that Mary would one day stand at the foot of her own Son’s cross, watching Him suffer horrible agony. And here we’re reminded that our redemption was costly. There is forgiveness and freedom and peace for us, but only because the wrath of God fell on our crucified Savior.

Luke 2:36-38 (NIV)

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty–four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

There’s one more character to see here. The prophetess Anna. What can you say about Anna? She’s old. She’s a widow. She’s a follower of God.

After her husband died, the years marched by, one after another. Perhaps she wondered why God was keeping her on this earth. What possible thing was she still to do in service to her God?

She prayed. She fasted. She worshipped in the Temple. Perhaps she prayed for the Lord to release her from this life. But God had plans for her.

In Malachi it says…
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 3:1 NIV).
From Anna, we learn patience. Our times are in God’s hands, and if we remain faithful to God, cherishing His Word and the promise of His forgiving love, His plan for OUR lives will eventually become clear also.

There were many grand teachers in Anna’s time. Many religious elite who boasted of great spiritual wisdom and insight. But it was this humble woman who served as the instrument of God’s praise on the first day that Jesus visited His Father’s Temple. There were many rabbis with countless followers, but it was Anna who spoke the truth about the redemption of Jerusalem. It was found in this little Child, the Christ of God.

Maybe you don’t feel qualified to introduce the God of the universe to your friends. Maybe you think God will surely use someone else. To that, all I can say is look at Anna. There are many preachers in our time, but YOU have the truth about sin and redemption. You have seen the promises of God fulfilled in Scripture, and in your own life.

Let’s be like Anna. Let’s give thanks to God and speak of the Child to all who yearn for redemption.

The people we know may not be reliable. Even our closest friends and family fail us. We’re sinners. It’s to be expected. But when it comes to God, we shouldn’t expect failure. He keeps His promises in ways better than we could ever work out on our own. The greatest proof is found in the Christ. He was promised, He came, and now our sins stand forgiven by His blood.

May the Holy Spirit move our hearts to simply be still, and know that God is God. He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth. May He also be exalted in our hearts and lives.


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