Bible Readings: Is 61.10-62.3; Ps 148; Gal 4.4-7; Luke 2.22-40
The Royal Commission into sex abuse provided countless examples of how so-called “Christians” had misused their privileged positions. In mid year the media was saturated with claims of heightened rates of domestic violence in Evangelical Churches. And towards year’s end 2/3 of the country made it plain that it didn’t accept the traditional biblical teaching on marriage.
2017 has been a painful year for God in Australia.
2017 has been a painful year for God in Australia.
With the legislating of assisted suicide in Victoria the devaluing of the end of human life is taking hold just as it already has for the start of life. Things are definitely not right in our country but most Christians live in a denial of just how bad things are.
This state of denial is manifest in our failure to fast, pray and prophesy, the spiritual realities which dominate our Gospel reading today. If we are ever to see a shift in our nation back to the Lord we need an encounter with the presence of Christ (Luke 2:25) communicated by the Spirit bringing consolation, hope and liberation from the fears that hold us back from confronting the growing wickedness surrounding us.
We need the prophetic assurance that the aged Simeon and Anna possessed that God has acted fully and finally in Christ to put things right. These holy people were familiar with Isaiah’s overwhelmingly positive word of a coming deliverance.
Today’s reading about God’s coming righteous reign begins with, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God,” (Isa 61:10 cf. Isa 60:18; Isa 62:1, 10-11).
Isaiah is excited because “righteousness” means “putting things right”.
We used to pride ourselves as a nation our nation as a place where everyone could be given a “fair go”.
In an age of big banks, a refugee crisis, scandals over the treatment of women and children and the seeming insoluble problems surrounding Indigenous peoples such optimism has been replaced by cynicism at everything institutional, including the Church. If the message about God coming in Christ to put things right is to be hearable once more we must shake off the image of the Church as a teacher of morality and rediscover that Jesus himself is our righteousness (Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; 1 Cor 1:30).
In God’s eyes to “do the right thing” is to trust in Jesus in a way that will mean entering into the dynamic of the power of the Spirit expressed in prayer, fasting and prophecy in our Gospel reading.
BEYOND THE LAW
A phrase like “according to the Law of the Lord” appears 5 times in our passage from Luke (Luke 2:22, 23, 24, 27, 39). And when Simeon is described as “righteous and devout” it means he was someone who had fulfilled the expectations of the Law of Moses (Luke 2:25).
Anna is likewise presented as a blameless person.
But the passage doesn’t dwell on morality but on a common expectation. Simeon is “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” whilst Anna is “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:25, 38 cf. Isa 52:9; Isa 61:2).
These seniors were visionary and expectant about a cause to which they had dedicated their lives to in prayer.
We should never underestimate the power of the prayers of old people.
Through my involvement in a weekly prayer and testimony meeting in the city I have heard hundreds of stories over the years and plenty of them mention how even when they were living far from God but he/she knew they had a praying grandmother pleading for their salvation. (Interestingly, never a grandfather – why is that?).
Of course their grandmother wanted them off drink or drugs and in a job happily married and so on. But wise grandmas/grandpas understand that having a happy settled life isn’t the main thing. Coming to Jesus is the main thing. Knowing the Lord as Saviour is the main thing, this was what Simeon and Anna were praying for.
They understood that the righteousness God required through his Law somehow depended on the coming of “the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:27); but they could not have understand how the Messiah would accomplish this.
But this side of the cross we see a prophetic truth in Simenon’s words to Mary, “vs.34 “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed vs.35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35).
Only through opposition to Jesus’ ministry could our need to keep God’s law be taken away. The Law’s purpose to reveal to us the extent of our sin and our need for a Saviour (Rom 5:20) reached its goal in Christ’s substitutionary death as a lawbreaker in our place (Gal 3:13).
God has put things right between him and us not through law but through Christ, as Paul testifies in our Galatians reading for today, vs.4 “But when the right time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, vs.5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5).
Anna and Simeon were in the temple at the right time not because they were directed to be there by some law or through coincidence, but because they were praying people led by God’s Spirit.
THE SPIRIT COMES
Simeon was led by the Spirit (Luke 2:25, 26, 27) so that he might see “the Lord’s Christ” before his death. Moved by the Spirit his words that Jesus would be “a light of revelation to the nations” are as God-breathed as the message of the angels on Christmas night, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). In the coming of Christ salvation was opened up to all.
Once he had seen the salvation that is in Jesus (Luke 2:30; cf. Acts 4:12) Simeon could express perfect calm in a way that renounces the ancient proverb that no one cheerfully welcomes death. ““Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Luke 2:29). He looks forward to dying in indestructible peace knowing that life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel (Phil 4:7; 2 Tim 1:10). Sometimes theologians don’t understand the things revealed to old saints.
When I was in theological college the future successor of the famous Francis Schaeffer was being interviewed by one of our lecturers, who commented that they both agreed that death could never be a good thing.
When I approached the lecturer and queried, “What about the Song of Simeon?” he had nothing to say. Simeon was not fearless about death because he thought he was good enough to get to heaven, but because in seeing Jesus through the Spirit he knew to whom he was going.
With a Spirit-filled heart he was already experiencing the inheritance of every Christian; vs.6 “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” vs.7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4:5-7).
Who remembers the words of this song; “I’m No longer a slave to fear I am a child of God”. These are wonderful words but why is it that so many of us are afraid to speak to other people about Jesus. This is a problem Anna didn’t have.
The text isn’t 100% clear about Anna; she was either 84 or had lived as a widow for 84 years, making her about 105.
What is clear is that when she had been widowed Anna made a choice to remain single and dedicate herself to a lifestyle where by prayer and fasting she could intercede for the salvation of God’s people (Luke 2:38).
She was constantly looking to God to set things right.
Paul lifts up this vision of widowhood in 1 Timothy 5:5; “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day”.
This is spiritually potent stuff; but why is such a simple lifestyle of godliness so rare today?
Why is it that so many Christian women are too busy watching TV, going on cruises, going out to coffee, eating with friends.
No wonder our country is in a mess.
Many are concerned about the future of their grandchildren, but unless there’s a revival in prayer the future of your great-grandchildren will be hellish (I can’t’ think of a better word).
I think the most remarkable thing about Anna wasn’t her wonderful prayer life but that once she saw Jesus no one could keep her quiet about him, “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38).
This ancient lady was the first public preacher of the gospel and her message was that in Christ God puts all things right.
Simeon and Anna are the main actors in our story, but the pictures put on the screen today help us reflect on the impact of these old prophets on the teenage Mary and Jesus. Although they both already had angelic visitations and experienced spiritual inspiration about Jesus’ identity, “his father and his mother were amazed at what was said about him.” (Luke 2:33). Any revelation about Jesus is always amazing.
The astonishing impact of the ancient Simeon and Anna on the youthful Mary and Joseph is radically counter-cultural to our time. That young people are impacted by the prophetic testimony of Jesus through old people goes against our natural expectations. We all “know” that young people today suffer from the usual arrogance of youth as well as a sense of superiority fuelled by technology.
Our natural wisdom tells us that, but the Spirit of Jesus tells me that he still can operate through senior saints in the prophetic realm in revealing Christ with a heavenly wisdom that will amaze the young.
Sadly, the lifestyle of Simeon and Anna: prayer, fasting, the leading of the Spirit, prophecy, are alien to most Christians today, old or young.
This is because our minds are enslaved to powers that bind our thinking to everyday things day after day (cf. Col 2:8, 20).
Jesus came to redeem us from such powers but this can only happen if we make a decision to walk in his way of sacrifice.
If we would be people of prayer, fasting, prophecy and the Spirit’s power we must re-evaluate what we look forward to; without a serious lifestyle change in the Australian Church 2018 will witness an intensification of pain for God and for our nation.
If you are an older person it’s not right that the things you most look forward to are a comfortable retirement, peace and prosperity, time with grandchildren, holidays etc.
If you are young person it’s not right that you live as if your first call is family or career; your first call is to seek Jesus, whatever it takes.
Old or young, God is calling for mature men and women who will make the difficult choice for a lifestyle of simplicity and prayer dedicated to knowing more about Jesus and making him known to others.
In a few weeks we will commission our new ministry teams, upon which, I believe, the whole future of St Mark’s depends (cf. Acts 13:1-3). If we embrace a mindset which looks forward above all things to seeing the saving power of Christ to set things right our future assured.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 30th December 2017 | St Mark’s
Author: Dr. John Yates
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