The Savior's Song: Sung by Simeon
Welcome the the fourth and final part of our Advent series, which brings us to our final song from Luke chapter 2, verses 22-35.
The Scene (vv. 22-28)
The baby has already been circumcised and given the name Jesus. This is their firstborn child, so they are also presenting him to the Lord. And then, beginning in verse 25, comes a remarkable encounter. We’re introduced to our singer. And his name is Simeon. He’s only mentioned here in the Bible. We know nothing of his background. We don’t even know his age, though it’s typically assumed that he’s an old man given what we’ll hear him sing in just a moment. He doesn’t appear to be a priest. So he has no official role in the rite of purification. It seems he’s just a man living in Jerusalem.
But Luke is careful to give us his character qualifications, and what a character reference it is. This is a holy man who is wholly devoted to God (verse 25). And he’s patiently waiting and trusting God to keep his promise to bring comfort to Israel. He knows his Old Testament. He believes with all his heart that one day Isaiah 40:1-2 will be fulfilled: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.” He trusts God for his promised peace and pardon. And the Holy Spirit is upon him. And he’s received from the Holy Spirit a very personal promise (verse 26): he would not die before he looked upon God’s Messiah. And one day, the Spirit prompts him to go to the Temple. (This guy is walking in the Spirit!) And he obeys the prompting.
As he makes his way through the crowded Temple complex, he sees Joseph, Mary, and the baby. And somehow he knows. God reveals it to him: this is the promised One. Not either of the parents, but the baby. Imagine. What an incredible scene. Simeon, a stranger to Joseph and Mary, approaches them, probably with heart pounding and hands trembling and asks the young, protective, first-time parents, “May I hold him?” And by this time, Joseph and Mary have had so many unusual encounters, what’s one more. They hand the baby to Simeon. Verse 28 says “he took him up in his arms.” Even more literally we could translate that, “he accepted or received him up in his arms.” Simeon receives into his hands, the promised Comfort of Israel. And think about it, what we’ve already learned about this baby. Simeon received into his hands, the sovereign Creator of all things, including Simeon. The One in that very instant holds Simeon in existence by the word of his power. Simeon holds the Lord and Savior in his hands. And so is it any wonder that as he lifts Jesus up into his arms, he also lifts his voice in a song of praise? The Song (vv. 29-33)
And so we have what’s come to be known as “The Nunc Dimittis,” which is Latin for “now you dismiss.” Because of that first line of the song, look at it again, beginning in verse 29: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation.” God has kept his promise to Simeon. He’s seen God’s salvation. And just the sight of him is so satisfying, so fulfilling for Simeon that he declares that he can now die in peace.
Now, when we ask, what does this song add to the other Savior Songs we’ve studied this month, a definite theme emerges in the next two verses. And it’s a new theme. And this theme is very good news for every person. Look at it again with me, beginning in verse 30 again, “for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Here’s what the song adds: God’s salvation is for all people, including the Gentiles. Jesus is the Savior of the world. That’s why the next verse, verse 33, says: “And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.” Joseph and Mary are amazed at what Simeon pronounces about their son. The scope of this salvation they’ve been hearing about is being unfolded. It’s not merely salvation for the Jews. It’s for all people. All age groups. Kids, this is for you, not just your parents. It’s for the wealthy and the poor. It’s for every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Simeon takes the message of the gospel and he makes it global.
The Sign (vv. 33-35)
As Joseph and Mary are marveling at what Simeon has said, he blesses them. And then he turns specifically to Mary. Now there’s amazement and wonder here. I can imagine that Simeon has cried tears of joy. This is a happy scene. So what Simeon says next to Mary is completely unexpected. And we are meant to feel the weight of his words. And we’re meant to hear them as God’s words delivered by Simeon. God has spoken to Simeon and now God speaks through Simeon. And look at what he says (verses 34-35): “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
This is not the message you typically hear at Christmas. But it is an aspect of the Christmas message. And one that these verses will not let us ignore. Jesus, the baby in Simeon’s arms, is a sign from God that will be opposed. It’s appointed that he will be the cause of the fall and the rise of many. He won’t just happen to be the occasion for division. He is appointed for that purpose. He will be opposed. He will be rejected. He will be reviled. Christmas is divisive because Jesus is divisive. Jesus is a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling.
Now, what could be so divisive about this baby that everyone has been celebrating in the first two chapters of Luke? Well, Jesus is going to grow up. And he’s going to begin making some remarkable claims about himself. I am the Son of God (Matt 26:63). I am the giver of eternal life (Jn 10:28). I am one with God the father (Jn 10:30). I am the one who forgives sins (Mk 2:10). I am the great I AM (Jn 8:58). I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12). I am the future judge of the world (Jn 5:22-23). I am the door of salvation (Jn 3:14-16). I am the way, the exclusive source of salvation. I am the truth, the foundation of all reality. I am the life, the source of all life. And no one comes to God the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). I am the King of kings and Lord of lords and I’ve come to make a claim on everything and everyone. It’s all mine.
We cannot merely stay neutral in the face of these claims. No one can. We cannot possibly be casual about it. We either reject it. Or we submit to it. There is no in between. We either bow down in humility and so are raised to new life. Or we resist in pride and so fall into condemnation. We are either repulsed by the claims or we receive Christ completely.
This means admitting that you are sinful and selfish to the core. And because you are you need God’s forgiveness and you need his power to change and so you are completely dependent on grace. That causes some inward conflict. That reveals what you really think about yourself and what you really think about Jesus. What’s revealed is whether a person has a heart humble enough to trust in Jesus alone for salvation or whether a person is haughty and must be brought low. That is the way of salvation that so many oppose. And I plead with you, don’t oppose the Lord. Don’t reject his salvation today. Don’t be scandalized by Jesus’ claims. They’re true. He is who he claims to be. Trust him. He is your only way to peace. Peace with God, no more sin blocking a relationship. Peace with yourself, no regrets and shame, all things made new. Peace with others--God will make you a peacemaker. Submit to the Prince of Peace.
And the peace you experience when you trust in Jesus and all he claims to be and all he’s done for you, is just a foretaste of the perfect peace that’s to come. You see, we are waiting like Simeon. And we await the second Advent of Christ. He lived, he died, he rose, he ascended to heaven, and he promised to come back. And we’ve seen in this series that God keeps his promises. Here’s one way he states the promise, Hebrews 9:28: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” To completely save those who are eagerly waiting for him, like Simeon was waiting for him the first time. He’s coming to establish his Kingdom on earth. Creation renewed to unspeakable``` beauty, and we’ll live in it, in perfect fellowship with one another and with our God, with new bodies that cannot sin or feel pain or die. And the glory of God and of Christ will be our light forever. So we wait, like Simeon: righteous and devoted to God, in faith trusting that he will fulfill his promises, full of and dependent on the Holy Spirit. So content in Christ that we’re ready to depart in peace to be with him knowing that in him alone all our longings are satisfied.
*Adapted from Sung by Simeon, originally preached by Rick Gamache on December 24, 2017*
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