Below is the text of the message I preached this evening at our Christmas Eve service: “Christmas Joys” (Luke 2:25-35).
It’s a little late to send a letter to Santa with your gift requests tonight. But people have been sending in requests for a while now. It’s usually just children that send in their wants, but occasionally an adult gets hopeful and figures, “why not try — what do I have to lose?” — like the letter that Lucy sent a couple of years ago: “Dear Santa, This year, please give me a big fat bank account and a slim body. And please, don’t mix those two up like you did last year. Thanks, Lucy.”
I can’t be certain, but my guess is that Lucy was probably disappointed again.
What will make you happy today (or tomorrow morning)? What gift are you anticipating receiving (or giving)? What will make a satisfying life? What would you have to experience to say, “I’ve done it all — there’s nothing more I need to see and do?” On this Christmas Day, where will you find your Christmas joy?
In Luke 2, we have one man’s answer to those questions. Let me introduce him to you.
His name is Simeon and he lived in Jerusalem. We don’t know his job, his age (though he was likely elderly), or anything about his family. We do know four particular things about Simeon (v. 25):
- He was righteous. By that Luke means that he was an Old Testament believer by faith in God ( 2:4 — “the righteous will live by his faith”). He was like Zacharias and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:6, 28, 30).
- He was devout — He was conscientious in his activities. He was not only righteous by position, but he was righteous by deed. I don’t mean that he merited his salvation in any way, but that he demonstrated and lived out the reality of his faith.
- He was looking (present tense) for the consolation of Israel. That phrase means that he was always looking for the thing (or Person) who would give comfort and peace to Israel. In his hymn, Zacharias spoke of those who sit in darkness (1:79) — Simeon was looking for the One who would release them from darkness and provide the forgiveness of sins that they needed.
- He lived under the special empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We know that in the Old Testament not every believer in God was indwelt by the Holy Spirit — that was a gift that came from Christ in the inauguration of the New Covenant. But we do know that the Holy Spirit operated in the Old Testament in and through people for particular tasks and seasons of time. And that was Simeon’s experience. Notice that Luke emphasizes three times in vv. 25-27 that the Holy Spirit was upon him ( 25), revealing things to him (v. 26), and leading and empowering him (v. 27). This particular empowerment by the Holy Spirit was very rare and it indicates the real piety of Simeon in a time of spiritual darkness and deadness in the land.
When you put those four characteristics about Simeon together it is clear that for all that we don’t know about him, we do know that he was a remarkable, godly, and spiritual man. He was saved by looking forward to the Messiah and he was mature in that faith. And he was in the Temple because the Spirit directed him to go there and he was obedient to the Spirit.
Joseph and Mary came to the Temple out of obedience to the Law — carrying out for Him the custom of the Law (v. 27). They came to redeem Jesus as the first-born (30 days after his birth; Ex. 13:2ff) and for Mary’s purification (after 40 days; 2:22-24; Lev. 12:1ff). Simeon was in the Temple for no “official” reason other than faithfulness to the Lord whom he loved.
And then Simeon saw Him. Joseph and Mary weren’t coming to bring Jesus to Simeon, but Simeon saw Jesus, and evidently the Spirit revealed who Jesus was to him and Simeon took Him into his arms, and blessed God… Simeon saw the One who would allow him to say, “I’ve done it all — I can die a happy man.” This is the climax of Simeon’s life. He knows that nothing on earth can supersede this experience. It’s akin to what God says to Abraham — “you shall go to your fathers in peace” (Gen. 15:15). In fact, that’s virtually the same thing Simeon says about himself (v. 29).
That’s a remarkable statement. On what basis could Simeon say that?
When Simeon saw Jesus, he saw more than a baby. I have seen and held and prayed over many babies in my life. I’ve smiled at them, talked with them, laughed with them, gotten on the floor to play with them, and told their parents how beautiful or cute or sweet they were. But I’ve never said anything to them or about them like Simeon said about Jesus — my eyes have seen Your salvation. We think about children as a gift from God, as a delight and joy, as work, and as challenges. But it’s doubtful any of us have looked at a baby and said, “My salvation!”
When Simeon looked at Jesus, he saw one who was fit to save. He saw something like what the writer to the Hebrews said of Jesus: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25). What he says is similar to what will be said about Jesus by the 24 elders in Heaven: “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). He is a worthy Savior — He is the only Savior.
We know that He is the only Savior because of what else Simeon says about Him.
This salvation in Christ was prepared by God in the presence of all peoples. Salvation is not man-made.
It’s God-made. It’s “Made in Heaven.” Peter will say that in God’s mercy He cause us to be born again — our salvation is God’s idea, not our idea. He loved and drew us while we hated and resisted Him. He reserves and preserves this salvation in Heaven. And He will reveal the fulness of this salvation at the end of time (1 Pt. 1:3-5). This salvation is all about God’s work for mankind; this has been Paul’s repeated theme in Romans — no man is saved on His own merit; every man is saved only through the merit of Christ (Rom. 3:27-28). One of the wonders of salvation is that God has designed it when we hated Him and hated His salvation; and then having received it we love Him and the salvation we’ve been given.
And this salvation that is available to all people. It is a universal salvation — if anyone in the world will be saved it is only through this gospel. All are responsible to believe this salvation. Interestingly, Paul says that all have fallen short of God’s glory but then he also adds, “being justified as a gift of His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God demonstrated publicly as a propitiation…” (Rom. 3:23-25). The effect of sin was universal and the offer of salvation is public and universal.
This is God’s great salvation; it is not hidden and obscured from man. It was a gift of God’s eternal plan and a universal offer to all mankind. Since God has prepared this salvation and made all mankind responsible to believe it, then we (like Simeon) must also be bold to proclaim and declare it. Are you looking for opportunities to talk to unbelievers about the salvation that has been prepared for them by God through the advent of Christ? (This might be a good week to talk to unbelieving family members.)
The salvation of Christ is also unique because it is a light of revelation to the Gentiles. You must remember the setting of these words to recognize the importance and power of them. It was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary had come to give an offering commanded by the Mosaic Law. Joseph and Mary and Jesus and Simeon and the priests were all Jews, living in Israel. While the Old Testament repeatedly said that the Jews were to be a light to the Gentiles and the Abrahamic Covenant said that Israel would be a blessing to all people, Jewish tradition created a barrier and wall between the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles.
It is in that cultural context that Simeon utters the words that Jesus was a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Christ’s came to earth to come to His chosen people Israel (Jn. 1:11). But He also came to redeem people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Jesus came as the Savior of the world (Jn. 1:29 — the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world). It is Christ who came to remove the blindness of even the Gentiles who were living in darkness so they might see the light of His glory and enjoy Him forever (Acts 13:47; Rom. 15:8-12).
And Christ’s salvation also is the glory of Your people Israel. For something or someone to be glorious means the reality of their condition and situation is revealed. For Simeon to say that Christ’s salvation is for the glory of Israel is to say that the fulness of what Israel is to God is going to be revealed.
Nothing else reveals the unique nature of Israel’s relationship to God and His character like the salvation that comes from Christ. If you want to see the glory of Israel, look to Christ and what He did to save the people God promised to make His own for all eternity. Listen to what Paul says about Israel’s salvation (Rom. 9:1-5).
No one else could provide salvation for Israel, the Gentiles, and all people. This was a salvation particular to God and from God. God prepared and designed it. Then God implemented the prepared plan. And then God culminated and brought the salvation to fruition in the Advent and cross of Christ. He accomplished everything He planned and promised.
Of course, the plan also included the death of Christ. As Simeon held the Christ-child in his arms that day, he also noted, “this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel…and a sword will pierce even your own soul…” (vv. 34-35). Jesus would become a stumbling block to some and a blessing to others — and the blessing was only through the cross. As Simeon anticipated, Mary’s heart was happy at His birth, but it would be pierced in agony at His death.
Few people look at babies and anticipate their death. No one looks at that unblemished skin and the soft features of the face and sees a crown of thorns on that head or whip marks on the back or nails piercing the hands and feet. But Simeon anticipated that — or something like it — in foreshadowing Christ’s death. And the salvation that would come through Christ and the death Christ would endure were satisfying to Simeon. Long he had looked for and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, and on that day, he saw and held the Messiah who would be the redeemer of mankind. And it was all he needed. He was satisfied. Christ was enough for him. Christ was the great and only joy he needed that first Christmas.
Is Christ enough for you? Or do you want or “need” to have something else? Are you dissatisfied when you have “only Christ?” If you could have everything that there is in Heaven — gold streets and magnificent jeweled gates and no worries about food and clothing and perfect relationships and freedom from sin, but Christ was not there, would you be okay with that?
Are you one who needs, as C. S. Lewis said, “Christ and…?” Do you like Jesus, but you want Him with something else? Just like you prefer your coffee with cream, your ice cream with hot chocolate, and your biscuits with gravy, do you like Jesus with something else that makes life a little easier and more palatable?
The story of Simeon reminds us that what we need is Christ — and nothing. He is enough. When we have Him and have seen Him and touched Him and been saved and redeemed by Him, we can say with Simeon, “I can depart in peace.” I have enough; I need nothing more. That’s our Christmas joy.