Luke 2:22-35 - Revealed to Reveal
December 29, 2013 Speaker: Series: Advent 2013
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Luke 2:22–2:35
[Text: Luke 2:22-35] “Revealed to Reveal”
Sometimes Jenny and I wonder what our boys will be when they grow up. Si? Maybe a FBI negotiator. That boy knows how to make a deal over TV and supper. Cal? Well, he’s so friendly and adventurous… maybe some sort of a philanthropist/stuntman? Really, though, we have no idea. The paths of our lives are so mysterious. Our purposes, vocations, relationships – it’s all known to God but veiled to us.
And that makes this passage all the more amazing because what is hidden to most is revealed about Jesus, even as a little baby just a month old. The purpose of his life was known even from the beginning. He had come to save. But he had also come for conflict.
[Pray – Father, when your Spirit is at work, darkness is confronted with the True Light that cannot be overcome. So, work in our hearts, Holy Spirit, so that we might walk in the Light of Christ. Help us to understand our own hearts, how desperately we need him. And reveal to us more of his beauty so that we may live and die in peace as Simeon did long ago. In the name of Jesus we ask this of you, O faithful God. Amen.]
[Read Luke 2:22-35]
Simeon, through the light given to him by the Holy Spirit, told Mary and Joseph what Jesus would be when he grew up. Of course, the angels had told them who Jesus would be and what he would do, but now that was being confirmed by a complete stranger at the very moment when they were presenting their son to the Lord, going beyond what the law required and giving their son to the service of God.
But maybe they didn’t expect God to respond so quickly as He did through Simeon, confirming that God did, indeed, have plans for Jesus – plans to accomplish the incredible rescue God had prepared.
It’s profound, really. Mary and Joseph present Jesus to the Lord. And the Lord gives him right back as a Savior, a gift He’d prepared from eternity past.
Simeon’s song revels in that gift from God. He’d been told that he would see it, but there is a difference between joyful expectation and the arrival of that for which one has hoped. The Lord had revealed to Simeon that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v.26). So, he was waiting – waiting for the one whose coming meant the “consolation of Israel” (v.25). Consolation means “comfort or encouragement” and it was what God had promised would come when He spoke to Isaiah saying, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
Simeon had been waiting for comfort and pardon and the end of warfare with God. Now, seeing the God-infant, Jesus, he knew that his wait was over. He could die in peace, having seen the Christ and trusting that the promised salvation had arrived. But more than that, “Simeon (could) entrust himself to death, knowing that life and immortality (had) been brought to light through the gospel.” With the arrival of Jesus, death would not the end of the story for God’s people.
But just as certainly as Jesus’ arrival meant the coming of comfort for God’s people, Simeon also understood that Jesus’ arrival meant conflict – painful conflict, conflict in which there is no open, middle ground. This is a difficult truth to embrace. But Simeon understood one important thing: that Jesus came to divide as much as to save.
We aren’t used to thinking about this Jesus, the Jesus who himself said (in Matthew 10:34), ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” But the division he creates, the conflict he was appointed to instigate is for a very particular purpose (which we see here in Luke 2:35), “so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
What Simeon understands is that Jesus was revealed to reveal. He reveals our hearts because when we encounter Jesus, he always draws out a response.
You see throughout the Gospels that Simeon’s words about Jesus were dead-on. Jesus always draws out responses from people as he sees past the outside and into hearts.
What is important to understand here is that what is being revealed isn’t so much the fact that we have sinful hearts. Jesus knows what is in the heart of human beings; that alone isn’t what is being revealed. It’s the “thoughts from many hearts” that are revealed by Jesus. That is, it’s not so much what is true about our hearts that is revealed, but what we think about our hearts – our perception of our true selves – that is revealed in an encounter with the divisive Christ.
For some, their encounter with Jesus was a humbling but blessed experience because they understood themselves to be a broken sinner. And to broken sinners Jesus revealed himself as gentle Savior and comforted them. When he called Levi the tax collector to follow him, Levi threw a party for Jesus and all sorts of notorious sinners came, people whom the religious leaders didn’t think were worth saving. But Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-31)
The divisive Jesus says he didn’t come for everyone, just for sinners who need a Savior. Do you see yourself as sickly, as one in need of healing? Are you willing to be known as who needs to repent and answer Jesus’ call; to say that even the best things you have done leave you in need of his grace? If so, then you can know that Jesus came for you.
For others, however, their encounter with Jesus was infuriating because he challenged their self-perception, calling their self-assessment deeply wrong. What is striking in the Gospels is that the opposition to Jesus didn’t come primarily from pagans (although that would happen later, like in the book of Acts). Jesus’ primary opposition came from the religious folk of his day; it was the chief priests and the scribes who wanted “to put him to death” (Luke 22:1). They trusted that they were really good people and didn’t hurt anybody and followed the rules pretty well. And so, instead of humbling themselves and asking for him to do the saving work he came to do, they opposed Jesus and began plotting a way to silence him forever.
That’s what opposition to Jesus can look like. Sometimes it looks like mockery and death threats scrawled on the walls of a church. Other times it’s the subtle but damnable opposition of a heart that says “God and I are good because I’m a good person.” We can believe that’s what it means to be a Christian. But Jesus would challenge that. In fact, he challenged that all the time.
Jesus said, “each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). Good or bad, it all flows out of the heart. So, what does Jesus reveal about my heart when he offers to save sinners (which is everybody) and my heart would rather him be dead than talk to me that way. What does it say about my heart if he offers to save me and I say, “Nah, I’ve got this.” It says my heart is opposed to him and that such pride goes before a great fall.
In the Gospel there are two kinds of people; the humble, lowly sinner and the proud, haughty sinner. The humble are humble because they see their deep need of a Savior. But the proud are proud believing they don’t need a Savior – and how dare Jesus suggest otherwise!
And if there are two kinds of people, the question that echoes throughout Luke’s Gospel is “Which one are you?” It’s the most important question in the world because Jesus came, as Simeon understood, to cause the proud to fall and the humble to be raised up through his work of deliverance. It’s an important question because consolation has come in Christ. But that consolation can be refused.
But if it isn’t refused, if Jesus and his consolation are embraced, then what does that look like? How does it happen? Well, some of it we can see in Simeon.
The first thing to see is that recognizing Jesus as the Savior (and, corresponding to that, understanding one’s own need for salvation) – the first thing to see is that isn’t normal. If anyone sees themselves truly as a guilty rebel but then embraces Jesus as the Rescuer, it’s because the Holy Spirit is working in them just like in Simeon. Did you notice the work of the Spirit in his life? “(T)he Holy Spirit was upon him…. (I)t had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit” that he would see the Lord’s Christ. “And he came in the Spirit into the temple.” The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals Christ to us and reveals the true need of our hearts to us, leading us to go to Jesus and embrace him just like Simeon did so long ago. “Normal” for us is proud opposition to Jesus. What is amazing is when light shines into our darkness and we want to live in the light of Christ.
So, that’s how it happens. But what does it look like to embrace Jesus and the consolation he brings?
First, of course, it means embracing the Christ. Now don’t make fun of me for being obvious. This can be an easy thing to skip. When Simeon took Jesus up in his arms and blessed God we hear him reveling in the salvation that has arrived, yes. But more than that, he revels in the Savior himself. Sometimes it is easy to embrace the gift but forget to embrace the Giver. I would say that a lot of the church has become a little more concerned about “getting to heaven” than embracing the one whose presence is heaven. Or, on the flip side, sometimes it is easier to focus on the sin that he reveals to us and we look at it more than we look at the Lamb of God who takes away sin. To focus on anything other than Christ – be it heaven or sin – and make that our primary focus, is to miss the greatest, most comforting reality; that in Jesus God has reconciled us to Himself.
Second, embracing Christ means embracing the full salvation he has accomplished. The “consolation of Israel” absolutely included the forgiveness of sins, so the salvation Jesus brought had to deal with sin, which he did on the cross. In his death in our place, he took on himself the full wrath of God that should have fallen on us broken sinners and drained that cup dry so that there is nothing left for His people to drink. But salvation is much, much bigger than that because Jesus saves us from our sins and saves us to righteous and restored purpose and service to God. Even when you look at the concept of salvation in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, you can see that it’s about rescue from enemies and the arrival of God’s covenant mercy and the restoration of our place of service to Him. Forgiveness of sin leads to God guiding “our feet into the way of peace” (see Zechariah’s Benedictus in1:68-79). To limit salvation to mean the forgiveness of sin alone is to make our salvation smaller than God intends it to be. We must embrace the full consolation Jesus brings.
Practically, this leads us forward into action. Once we trust that Christ has dealt with our sins, our minds can begin to turn outward and we can start asking questions like, “How has God equipped me in particular to bring glory to Himself? How can I do that in the places where God has put me; in my family and my job and in my hobbies and in the worlds of art and literature and music and cooking and law and medicine and gardening and deeds of love and mercy?” We can’t do that until the Lord sets us free. But once he sets us free from sin, a world of opportunities to show God’s greatness is opened to us.
So, we embrace Christ himself. And we embrace the fullness of salvation he won for us in his death. And third, we have to embrace the waiting his people are called to endure.
Who knows how long Simeon waited between the time the Spirit promised he’d see the Lord’s Christ and the time when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple. But waiting is what he had to do so waiting is what he did. You might have noticed that Simeon was described in v.25 as “righteous and devout.” Now, some of us have been conditioned to think those are signs of self-righteousness; a “righteous and devout” person is trying to earn something from God. But that’s backwards in Simeon’s case. You can see it in v. 25, in the way his righteousness and devotion were expressed. It was expressed through his waiting; his waiting was the product of his faith that God would send the consolation He’d promised. He was simply living in line with what God had already promised to give to him and all Israel. So, his righteousness was the righteousness of faith in the God who keeps promises. His devotion (literally, his carefulness in his walk with God) was rooted in his belief that God would comfort His people through a Redeemer just like He’d promised.
On this side of the cross of Christ, you and I are called to believe the promises of God, to live in line with the new reality that came when Christ died and rose again and ascended into heaven. And one of the chief ways we live in line with that new reality – live in line with the promises of God in Christ – is to wait. We wait. We wait in faith and patience because Christ himself said he would return and we have the assurance of God that he is coming soon. We wait and live like that’s true because it is true. I’m not pretending I know the day. No one does but the Father Himself. But God made a promise to Simeon and delivered on it. It took time but it came. Why should the promise of Christ’s return work any differently? But until that day comes we wait patiently.
There’s one more thing that we’ll have to embrace and we hear it in the words Simeon said to Mary. Speaking of the rise and fall of many, in saying that Jesus will be opposed and reveal the thoughts of many hearts, Simeon says, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” People have taken that to foretell Mary’s own grief at Jesus crucifixion. It could also mean the general pain Mary would feel throughout Jesus’ ministry, seeing him be rejected, wandering with no place to lay his head. Those are sharp pains for a mother to bear.
But there is a sense in which Mary may represent all those who, unlike Simeon, would live long enough to see Jesus enter into his work. She may represent every believer who would encounter Jesus (either in the flesh or through God’s Word) and have to deal with the pain of having our true selves revealed.
It’s a pain that we must embrace because when Jesus reveals our hearts – our rebellion, our wrong desires, our good desires that we turn into idols – when Jesus shows us our true selves, we have to agree with him. We have to agree that we are broken sinners who actually still love our sin (even if we’re learning to hate it more and more). And agreeing with Jesus’ assessment can hurt. It feels like death to admit our own desires are wrong. And honestly, it is death – the death of self.
But that painful death of self is the way to life in Christ. He meets us in that pain and gives the salvation he was sent to give. It’s why we can glory in our weakness and have hope even as we confess our sin and failures – when we confess our need of a Savior, it pleases God to give us one in Jesus.
It can be a frightening thing to think that anyone (especially God) might know the real me – the heart-level me that struggles with sin and selfishness in my relationships with God and other people. But the freedom this passage gives is that God already knows the real you. So, what is left is a response. It’s the response that divides humanity. Will you agree (and continue to agree) with his assessment of guilt and embrace the one who has been given as a Rescuer? One who has dealt with sin once for all on the cross? Or you embrace your own pride and remain in opposition? Every human will take one of those two paths.
But if Simeon is right about who Jesus is, then it’s safe to be killed by His Word. Because those whom he kills he makes alive. It’s safe and good for my heart to be seen by him because he is the Savior who came to forgive broken-hearted sinners like me. It’s safe to embrace Jesus because from eternity past he was prepared to embrace our sin, our pain, taking it on himself on the cross so that consolation and comfort would come to the people of God.
[Pray – Father, we thank you that in Jesus you raise up the lowly and the humble. By the powerful work of your Spirit you convince us of our need for a Rescuer and then you provide one for us in Jesus, the Christ you prepared from eternity past. Father, as you continue to pierce our own souls with the gift of conviction of sin, continue to grant us the gift of repentance and faith so that we might never oppose Jesus as if our sin is some small thing. Help us always to agree with You about our need and help us to always embrace Jesus as the grace-filled gift he is to us. May we, like Simeon, see Jesus and bless you and live or die in peace, trusting that you raise us up through Christ. In him we are comforted, Father. And in him we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction, adapted from Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:49-53]
“he who is mighty has done great things for [us],
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things….”
Go in peace and joy, you humble who rest in Christ.
I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 120.
More in Advent 2013
December 31, 2013Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:1-10 - The Mountain and the Coastlands