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December 31st, 2018

Destined

When God acts, he is prompting an active response from us.

Luke 2:25-35

 

A year of action

2018 has been a year of action. It’s been characterized by strong verbs.

Linda and I traveled – a lot – and so did our family members. Much of the travel was related to the first year of our grandson’s life – our going to Hawaii, Portland, and San Francisco to see him, or his coming to see us with his parents and aunts.

We celebrated – my Mom’s 90th birthday, our 40th wedding anniversary and 40th college reunion.

You surprised us for our 25th anniversary at Corinth with a big celebration.

As a church family, we mourned the deaths of some of our oldest church members – near or over 100, some of our lifelong, faithful servants, and several members who died unexpectedly and way too soon.

We welcomed new babies and new families, including a new member of our pastoral staff we hope will be part of this ministry for many years to come.

We paid in full our debt for the West Campus and improved our parking and sound and signage with our Corinth Legacy campaign.

We supported individuals and families and our entire culture as we deal with the opioid crisis and with an epidemic of anxiety.

We prepared for our 150th anniversary as a congregation in 2019.

We focused attention on Gospel Justice and began dreaming of how we can free our neighbors from the generational cycle of poverty.

We dedicated the Corinth Hope Center in Matagalpa, Nicaragua and shared in the ministry expansions at Safe Harbor and Nisporeni, Moldova.

None of that even includes the very ordinary actions of church body life – we worshiped and taught and served and gave and comforted and equipped one another to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serve in the world.

Ecstasy

We don’t pay enough attention to the four stories in Luke 2 that follow Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. By focusing only on the first twenty verses, we miss three-fifths of what Luke thinks is important about the early part of Jesus’ earthly life.

A contemporary Christian painter name Ron DiCianni has portrayed today’s passage of Scripture very poignantly in a work called “Simeon’s Moment.” This is how the painter describes his work:

In this painting I tried to let Simeon’s face tell the story. Ecstasy. I have a feeling Simeon clutched that baby like no other. He knew that he held the ‘light’ of the world, which I symbolized by the star emanating from the Baby. Intertwined through them both, I put a map of the world with its obvious symbolism that Christ came to impact the whole world, and not just the Jews, as most of the people would have concluded. Those lands, like North and South America, as well as others, were not even known to Simeon’s world, but God knew all along that you and I would need a Saviour. Simeon’s tear was put in to reflect deep joy. But the more I contemplated it, the more I realized it could symbolize that Simeon also might have known that this Baby was born to be crucified. That was why He came.

Action-packed

What strikes me about the painting is the action portrayed, frozen in that moment. Since I’ve had a few moments like this one during the last year while holding my grandson, I can somewhat relate. Simeon is holding Someone so much greater than even my grandson (which is hard to believe, I know). What I want you to notice is the string of action verbs Luke employs.

Waiting (25). We don’t know much about Simeon other than this story.  We don’t even know how old he is, although from his words and actions we probably are right in presuming he’s nearing or beyond normal life expectancy. What we’re told is that he’s “righteous and devout,” and because of that, he’s waiting. The ability to wait with grace reflects spiritual maturity. Everything doesn’t have to happen now.

The next two verbs describe what the Holy Spirit had done for him. The Spirit had revealed (26) to him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. On that day, while waiting as he had been for all these years, the Spirit moved (27) him to enter the temple courts.

When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to do what the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God (28). We’re not told how he knew, except for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Here is what DiCianni called “Simeon’s Moment.”

Promised (29) and prepared (31) are the key verbs that describe what God has done as Simeon bursts into praise. This is one of the four “songs” recorded in Luke’s gospel as part of the “musical” that is Luke 1-2.

For Simeon’s part, he has seen the salvation of the Lord (30). How powerful for him to have had this moment to lay his physical eyes on the One for whom he and his people had longed.

We then get the response of Joseph and Mary. They marveled (33) at what Simeon said, or sang. This is one of Luke’s favorite words in his Gospel as he describes the response of people to God breaking into space and time through Jesus.

Then Simeon blessed (34) the little family, but in doing so turned to Mary with what seems to be a mixed blessing. There’s “destiny” involved here, but it’s not a totally positive destiny. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

None of that compared to the dagger that came next – literally. I don’t mean that Simeon literally stabbed her, but the word “dagger” is in his “blessing.” He continues, “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too” (35).

What we have here is hardly a snap shot of the kind that parents want to take of every moment. Luke wants this to be an action-packed video imprinted on your mind. There’s initiative, there’s movement, there’s emotion, there’s prediction, there’s confusion. Mary, Joseph, and Simeon are doing. Most of all, God is working. The Father who promised has prepared his salvation. The Spirit is hovering over this entire scene and guiding the participants as they move.

When God acts, he is prompting an active response from us.

Paul

Simeon is someone who prays with purpose. The Bible says that he was “eagerly expecting the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.” He was someone that was actively seeking out when the Father was going to send the Messiah, and continually praying about it.

This is a universal problem. We, as sinful people, have a hard time maintaining passion in prayer when our prayers don’t get answered right away. Our prayer tends to diminish over time. You and I can rattle off the Lord’s Prayer, and say the words in a way that doesn’t mean anything. It’s easy to lose passion when you pray over and over again, without results. But that line, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” is exactly what Simeon was praying for, and exactly what he saw.

The Holy Spirit has two roles in our prayer. Romans 8 says the Holy Spirit takes our prayer, and correctly interprets it. The Holy Spirit also empowers prayer. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the disciples cannot stay awake in prayer.

When Danielle and I were dating, I went to go meet her father. He was as pagan as the day is long, he was an antagonistic atheist. I knew I was going to go into ministry, and I knew he was opposed to everything I believed in. So I began to pray for him, and my prayers were passionate. After Danielle and I got married, we would hold hands and pray for him together. We prayed and prayed. He didn’t change; in fact, he became worse. And over time, when we didn’t see the results we wanted, our prayers became rote. Simeon prays differently. We are called to follow his example and pray with purpose and with passion.

The second thing we are called to do is seek the Savior. I love what happens in verse 30. Simeon knows the Bible; he knows what we have been studying in Isaiah. He says, “I have seen the Savior.” The beauty of God, the glory of God, and the presence of God is only given true meaning and realized in our lives when we know the salvation of God.

Simeon follows this declaration by saying, “now I can die in peace.” We say this every now and then in my family. If one of our kids makes an A or we see our daughter in her first prom dress or I finally don’t burn the cheesecake, we say “Well, now I can die in peace.” But Simeon really means it! He has seen the salvation of God, and it’s a person – Jesus Christ.

About two years ago, I went and did a wedding for Nathan and Kirsten White. The got married up in Ashe County in a mansion on top of a mountain. They were getting married at New Year’s, and there was a lot of snow. It was beautiful up there, but the roads were all covered in snow. At one point, I couldn’t drive any farther; my car began to slide backwards. So I backed the car down a little bit, backed into a switchback, parked facing down the mountain and put the emergency brake on. Then, in my cowboy boots, I hiked the last 250 yards up to the top of the mountain.

That was great, except that during the rehearsal, it kept snowing. Through the rehearsal dinner, it kept snowing. Was it beautiful? Yes. Was it glorious? Yes. Was I in the presence of other wonderful people? Yes. What did I not have? Security in my salvation. I was secure in my salvation in the Lord, but getting down the mountain? No!

There are so many people in our world who like Jesus and think his teachings are beautiful. They like what he said about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, letting the children come to him. They know and have seen the beauty of God, but they are going to die in their sins because they have not seen the salvation of God. Here we are in this incredibly beautiful part of our country. We get to see the glory of God in creation. But even people who see the glory of God can die in their sins because they have not seen the salvation of God. We can even come into the presence of God, we can come twice a year at Christmas and Easter, or we can be with God all the time, and still die in our sins because we don’t know the salvation of God.

The beauty of God, the glory of God, and the presence of God are all given its meaning when you know the salvation of God. The salvation of God is not a concept, it’s a person, and the person is Jesus Christ. Simeon’s greatest joy is that he was holding the One who would deliver all of human kind. Have you seen the beauty of God? Good. Have you experienced the presence of God? Great. Have you seen the glory of God? Excellent. Do you know the salvation of God? Have you given your life to the Savior, the salvation of God?

 

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