My Eyes Have Seen
Series: The Miracle of Christmas
“My Eyes Have Seen // Message @ JRCC – Sunday, Dec 18, 2011
Text: Luke 2:25-40 // Series: “The Miracle of Christmas”
Good morning, everyone, my name is Brad Sumner, I’m part of the teaching and leadership team here at Jericho Ridge. Well, it’s only 7 more sleeps till Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait! Sometimes it feels Christmas takes a long time to come, doesn’t it? I mean, when you are a kid, it feels like Christmas takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R to arrive. I can remember one Christmas our family was staying at a giant ranch in the Rocky Mountains and younger brother and sister and I were in a loft area up above where my parents were sleeping on Christmas Eve. And I can distinctly remember waking up every hour and asking them “is Christmas here yet? Is it time to open our presents? No, how about our stockings?” And I think it was that year that my parents instituted a new rule – that stockings could NOT be opened or even asked for before 5 AM. Which, now that I am a parent, Meg and I have moved back to the much more reasonable hour of 7 AM. But so much about Christmas is about waiting, isn’t it? Waiting is hard work. And, frankly, I’m not very good at it.
As a culture, we’re not very good at waiting, either, are we? We are into buy-now pay-later schemes. They’re called Credit cards. We can’t wait anymore until 7 PM on release date for the showing of a movie, so we get in line for a midnight showing. We don’t want to deny ourselves good food at the holidays, so we say we’ll diet & exercise later – and then we forget.
No matter how you slice it, we end up spending a good portion of our lives waiting. Waiting to grow up and get our drivers license. Waiting for the prospective employer or client to call us back. Waiting for that acceptance letter or that cheque to come in the mail. Waiting for answers to our prayers. Waiting for God to show us what He wants us to do in a given situation… I wonder if this kind of waiting, waiting on God, that is, is almost harder in some ways. Because sometimes God reveals things to you in part and then you have to wait for them. Think about how many people in the Bible had to wait for a period of time before they received what God promised them. Read Hebrew 11! Abraham was told he would be the father of many nations but he had to wait decades for a son. David was told he would be king, but the current king hunted him down and forced him to live in caves on the run for years before David ever saw a crown or a throne. Think of the words of the Old Testament prophets for whom God peeled back the fabric of time so they could peer into the future and speak hope to the people of Israel of a Messiah, a redeemer and deliverer who would come to set them free. And then things got worse politically, spiritually, economically and in almost every other way… They waited for 200, then 400 then 600 years and still no Messiah.
In circumstances like these, it can become very easy to get discouraged. To give up hope and to give up on the promises and plans that God has for your life. Many of you have been there. Some of you are there right now. I know that Meg and I have been there. I remember a time in our relationship when we couldn’t have kids and at the same time we were moving houses but our new place was not yet ready to move into. We had been so focused on these two objectives – get a kid, get a house; get a kid, get a house; get a kids, get a house - that all else had become obscured. And yet both of them seemed to be slipping through our fingers. We had cried out to God in prayer but He seemed distant and silent. It was like we couldn’t see around the next corner and it was so humbling and frustrating. And then one day we were reading in Psalm 113 and verse 9 jumped out to each of us as a promise from God for our unique situation. The verse reads: “He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD”. We sensed from the Lord that this was His special promise to us – that He would settle us into our home and that He would provide children in His timing. And in sharing that with each other, the waiting period didn’t change, but our perspective sure did. At that moment, we had nothing else to go on and nothing to lose and so we clung to God’s promise to us. And several months later, we settled into our townhouse. And then several months after that, we were blessed by God with our firstborn son. When God promises you something and you still have to wait for it, yes, it can be faith-building, but it can also be very, very hard. Waiting for anything worthwhile is hard.
Our Advent series here at JRCC is entitled “The Miracle of Christmas” and this morning we are going to look at a character in the Christmas story in Luke 2 who was well accustomed to waiting. In fact, God had revealed something very unique but at the same time, very opaque to him. His name is Simeon and we find his story in Luke chapter 2 just shortly after the perhaps more familiar portions of the birth of Jesus. Let’s pray together as we begin our study of God’s Word this morning.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 2:25. If you look at verse 20, that is where the traditional Christmas narrative stops. But if we continue moving you see that Mary and Joseph, being devout religious Jews, followed the required protocol and after traipsing from Nazareth down to Bethlehem for the census, giving birth in a stable or cave, they show up with their infant at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to dedicate their firstborn son to the Lord. And it’s here that we meet Simon. Follow along with me as I read Luke 2:25-32 (two slides).
The 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt was fascinated with this section of Scripture. He made numerous sketches of it and some of his earliest and his latest works as a commissioned artist was of this scene in the temple. This particular painting is entitled “Simeon’s Song of Praise” and the thing that captures me about it is what we can see and what we can’t see about Simeon’s backstory. Now, we don’t know a lot of details about Simeon’s life outside of what the text tells us. We learn that the defining feature of his life was that God has given Simeon a promise: that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Saviour. And yet he’s been waiting now for years. He’s getting old, you can see it in this picture. And when the Bible says you’re old, you’re really old! So if I am Simeon, every day I get older and older and I don’t see Messiah, I am getting a bit more concerned that my health is going to give way before God comes through. I’m getting concerned that I’m starting to develop cataracts in my eyes and spiritual callouses on my heart that might not allow me to see what God has promised that I’m supposed to see. I’m beginning to ask questions like “how will I know it’s Messiah?” and “what if I’ve missed him already but just don’t know it?” But the text tells us that far from being discouraged by the passing of time, Simeon in his old age is “eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.” Despite the delay in the promise, Simeon is still confident that God will come through. Our title this morning comes from Simeon’s mouth in Luke 2:30: My eyes have seen, and so we want to ask ourselves today what can we learn by seeing the world through Simeon’s eyes? I think the first thing we can learn is Simeon’s capacity to listen to God. Because Simeon sees through the eyes of faith, Simeon sees the world through the lens of what God has revealed to him, not what God has hidden from him. It’s like this… I don’t know where you hide Christmas presents that you have purchased but not wrapped for your spouse or your kids, but at our house, we hide them in mom and dad’s closet. And sometimes, if I am less than careful and don’t put things away properly, you can see a small piece of the gift sticking out here or there in the closet. And for many of you who have a hard time waiting, no names mentioned – you know who you are – if you see a little piece of something, it’s all you can do to keep from prying or digging into it. But not Simeon. Simeon is content to see in part and to know in part. God revealed very little to him – only “you will see Messiah before you die” – there are no other details as to how, where, when, who this might be… But Simeon sees the world through the eyes of faith in God, who has always proven Himself faithful. And this is what keeps him listening for the whisper of God’s Spirit, not only for that first promise but also for daily guidance and direction.
Look at verse 27… One day, the Spirit of God whispered to Simeon and told him that he was to go to the temple that day. And so he listens and then he goes. I am convinced that this is deeply connected with his character. The text tells us that Simeon is devout and righteous. Simeon identifies himself in verse 29 as God’s servant, one who does the bidding of his master. And so when Simeon gets the impression deep in his heart “I should go to the temple today” he doesn’t respond like I usually respond when God asks me to do something. When God whispers to me I will often ask “why do you want me to do that God? That doesn’t seem very logical or very practical. I don’t have money to give away right now. I don’t have time for that right now, I’m pretty busy, you know, God!” But Simeon has a different perspective… It’s not that he is some super-spiritual robotic automaton (“yes, master, whatever you say”). Simeon has simply learned to trust and obey. When God speaks and says go to the temple, he may not know why or for what purpose but he goes. Which highlights an important biblical principle…
– A pre-disposition toward obedience is a necessary precursor for God to give you direction
In other words, God is not going to tell you what He wants you to do if you have already made a decision in your heart not to be obedient to what He says. So many times we pray and we say “God, show me what house to buy or what service opportunity I should participate in or what Life group I should join in January?” but secretly we have our comfort zones so well established that when God shows us what He has for us, we say “no, no God… Don’t be ridiculous! I can’t do that on Monday nights – The new season of the Bachelor is on January 2nd!” Here’s the hard truth: if in your heart you have already set up a list of reasons why you can’t or won’t respond with Simeon’s “yes” when God speaks, God may just end up deciding that He’s not going to talk with you about these things anymore. It’s called having a hard heart and it’s a dangerous spiritual position to be in. You see, the thing to remember is that
- Saying “NO” to God is always an option, but what will you miss out on?
You’ll miss out of the adventure of a life lived in humble obedience to God. A life that is full of wild adventures and deeply profound moments and experiences of God’s presence and His blessing that only the obedient know. If you want to read a good story about what this looks like in our day and time, pick up a copy of Russ’ wife Sandy’s book “Off the Map”. I don’t want to miss out on what God has for me – I want to see the world through Simeon’s eyes, I want to position my ears to listen to God, I want to position my feet so that I am willing to go where God tells me to go… And we continue reading in this text, we are going to see the Simeon not only uses his ears and his feet, he also uses his eyes and his mouth...
In verse 33 the text says “Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him”. I love how Rembrandt again, portrays this moment in one of his very first works as a professional artist entitled Simeon’s Prophecy to Mary. My favorite part of this painting is the look on Mary’s face – I’ve blown it up for you a bit, it’s still a tad hard to see, but look at her expression. It’s a mixture of stunned silence and a quizzical “What the heck is going on around here!?!”
Because this guy Simeon, remember, they’ve never met him. They don’t know that he’s a devout man of God. They don’t know that he’s been given a promise by God. All they see is some crackpot old dude come rushing toward them, grab their baby and start speaking a prophetic word over the child… That he is God’s salvation revealed for all the nations. The he is the fulfillment of all of the promises of God to his people Israel.
And here’s the connection to the Miracle of Christmas… Simeon is actually miraculously permitted by God to peer forward into history and to
- He Sees
What Jesus’s birth means, not only for Mary and Joseph, but also for the nations and for all peoples of the world down through history, including you and me. Simeon is miraculously gifted by God to see something that isn’t done yet. That hasn’t happened yet. He holds baby Jesus in his arms and
– Faith allows him to see what is yet to be realized
If you are a parent, you have hopes and dreams and wishes for your kids but the truth is, you just don’t know how that’s all going to turn out. Things could go south on you. Relationships could sour. Dreams and hopes can go unfulfilled. But just like the prophets of old, Simeon blesses them and then he speaks prophetically to Mary. I love the way that the Message translation puts these words with stunning clarity and precision:
“This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.”
- Luke 2:34-35 (The Message Translation)
This word is not only for Mary, but it is for you and I here today… Because as Simeon speaks prophetically, forth-telling the life and mission of Jesus, he speaks and challenges each of us as well.
- He Speaks
The imagery of his prophecy comes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, chapter 8:14-15 and chapter 28:13-16. These are verses often referenced in the New Testament in places like Romans 9 and I Peter 2. The central idea is that
– Jesus is God’s litmus test for response…
The person and work of this infant will be a dividing line, not only in history, but in each and every heart as well. Because Jesus
- He fulfills God’s promise of a Redeemer
- He reveals that salvation is available to all
- He forces a choice in every heart, which has deep and eternal implications
In Jesus, God is saying “it’s here! My plan for the restoration of all things, including your life, is ready for you and I invite you to participate in it and with me. Join me by receiving Jesus and know salvation.” And look what the invitation brings to those who receive it: JOY! That’s why the songs of Christmas resonate (they practically buzz) with such hope and joy. Because on that first Christmas, the baby was born that would fulfill God’s promise to crush the work of Satan and to heal every human heart who embraces relationship with Him. But you have to choose to embrace Jesus. Many will oppose him, the text says – this was true in his day as well as in ours. But this choice forces honesty in a way that few other choices in your life will. What you choose to do with Jesus becomes the defining mark of your life.
Rembrandt’s last painting, which was found incomplete upon his death in his studio, is about Simeon’s response to God’s revelation. Look at the posture of response he takes in this piece. Simeon listened with anticipation and faith. He went in obedience. His eyes saw and believed the salvation of God, and his mouth spoke a word of praise. Perhaps that’s you today. Where are you at in your heart today? As we draw closer to Christmas, perhaps you need help hearing from God on an issue. The prayer team is available and would love to pray with you. Perhaps you need to make a recommitment to being obedient to something that God has asked you to do or somewhere He is asking you to go. Perhaps you are too busy and caught up in your own priorities and concerns so that if Jesus was right in front of you, you wouldn’t be able to see Him.
Russ and the team and going to come and sing an original song entitled Hope Has Come. And as they do, I want to pray with you. I want to pray particularly with those who have never yet responded to Jesus as God’s litmus test for response. Who have not yet embraced the salvation offered so freely and graciously. Would you pray with me? ‘God, I believe your salvation as revealed in Jesus, is for me here today.’