The Hope of All NationsDecember 30th, 2012 • Posted in Christmas, Luke's Gospel, Messages/Sermons • 253 views
2012 Last Sunday Message
THE HOPE OF ALL NATIONS
(What are we waiting for?)
Key Verse: 2:30-31
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.”
Today is the last Sunday in 2012. I can’t believe 2013 is less than 2 days away. 2012 went by quickly and was very eventful. In fact, it’s hard to remember every thing that happened. From a human point of view, 2012 might have been the best or worst year of your life. Spiritually speaking, however, every year could be the best because we see how we’re being transformed to have more freedom and confidence in God, being more hopeful that God’s ultimate redemption of our body is near. What do we expect in 2013? We hope for the creation of many more new jobs, an improvement in our economy and the termination of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We want many good things to happen in 2013. By the way, what is our ultimate hope? What is the hope of all nations? Is there any thing that is ultimately good for all people? What is it and how do we get it?
In today’s passage, as Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms he praised God. He predicted Jesus would bring salvation for the Jews and people of all nations by saying “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (2:29-32) Let’s think about what he meant when he said these words.
Look at verse 21. “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” Circumcision on the eighth day was Jewish tradition based on the Law of Moses. Jesus’ circumcision reveals his identification with the Jews and humanity. He was named Jesus, as God specified before his conception (Lk. 1:31). The name “Jesus” means, “the Lord (Yahweh) is salvation” or “the Lord saves.” The name Jesus is appropriate because he will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).
Look at verses 22-24. “When the time came for the purification required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with that is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’” Under the Law of Moses, a male offspring’s mother was considered ceremonially unclean for 33 days. So on the fortieth day after her son’s birth, the mother was to present a sin offering to the priest to atone for her uncleanness (Lev. 12:5). It does not mean bearing a child was considered sinful. There is a difference between ritual uncleanness and sinfulness. Although in Israel all sins are considered unclean, uncleanness was not always the result of sin. For example, Mary’s ritual uncleanness was not due to sin but to bearing a child. But the fact that Mary became ritually unclean through delivering Jesus is important because it indicates the reality of Incarnation. God actually became a man, and Jesus was a real human- “Immanuel-God with us.” Only people who are led by the Holy Spirit can recognize him as Christ (Mt. 16:16-17; Jn. 6:44).
Look at verses 25-26. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” We are not sure what Simeon did for a living. He could have been a merchant, farmer or doctor. It seems that he was neither a priest nor a rabbi. Yet, he was righteous and devout and eagerly waiting for Israel’s consolation in the Messiah. In his time, most Jews had waited for the political messiah who could destroy their enemy country, Rome, and establish Israel as the strongest nation on earth. But as we see in his song of praise, Simeon’s view of the Messiah was different. And his spiritual understanding far exceeded most Jewish religious leaders in his time. It’s because the Holy Spirit was on him. And the Holy Spirit personally revealed a special revelation – he would not die until he saw the Messiah with his own eyes.
Look at verses 27-32. “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in in his arms and praised God, saying ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’” During Advent, we learned three songs of praise: 1) Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat (1:46-55), 2) Zechariah’s song of praise, the Benedictus (1:67-79) and 3) the angels’ song of praise, the Excelsis (2:14). Simeon’s song of praise in verses 29-32 also has its Latin name, the Nunc Dimittis, which means, “Now dismiss.” These songs are recorded only in Luke’s Gospel and reveal the characteristics of God’s salvation. Using metaphors of a horn and rising sun, Zechariah clearly indicated that God’s salvation is entirely through God’s mercy. The angels’ song of praise, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”(2:14) also shows that salvation is by God’s favor not by human merit. Simeon said that God’s salvation is for all people, not just for the Jews. That’s unusual for an orthodox Jew to say. Yet, Simeon understood the Old Testament correctly. In fact, God’s initial plan of salvation was for all people, not just for the Jews.
For example, God promised Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelites, “I will make you into a great nation… I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will cruse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3) God’s original plan of salvation was meant to cover all people on earth, not just the people of Israel. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God also spoke about the scope of His salvation, “It is too small a thing for to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isa. 49:6) Simeon might have quoted from Isaiah when he praised God, saying “which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” If Simeon’s song of praise can be summed up in a sentence, it would be “Jesus is God’s salvation for all people.” This reminds us of the angel’s Christmas message to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid! I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (2:10)
Look at verse 33. “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” Apparently, Mary and Joseph knew Jesus was the Messiah. However, they did not fully understand that the extent of the Messiah’s ministry was for the Gentiles. Perhaps, they understood the Messiah to be a political leader, just as most of their contemporaries viewed him. So they marveled that Jesus is God’s salvation for all nations.
Look at verses 34-36. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘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. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon revealed that Jesus would be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel. What does it mean? It means that not all physical descendants of Abraham will be saved. In fact, Jesus would be responsible for leading many people in Israel to make an important decision. Some of them would reject him and fall spiritually while others would accept him and rise spiritually. How could Jesus be the cause of someone’s falling or rising? According to Simeon, it’s because the light of Jesus will reveal the thoughts of their hearts. In other words, although many people appear to be good and claim to not need a Savior, their inmost thoughts and selfish hidden motives will be exposed. In fact, there is no one righteous, not even one. Unless they are completely forgiven of their sins, no one can inherit eternal life. Therefore, providing grace of forgiveness of sins through his sacrificial death was the focal point of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Simeon especially said these things to Mary because she would suffer more than Joseph. Simeon said to her “the sword will pierce your own soul too.”(35) Mary said in her song of praise, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (1:48b) In spite of her humble state, she was indeed blessed to be the Messiah’s mother. Yet, she had to suffer much pain and sorrow, especially as Jesus was rejected by people and crucified. Yet, as Jesus rose from the dead, her pain and sorrow turned into great joy.
In verses 36-38, we see a prophetess, Anna, whose name is equivalent to the Hebrew name, Hannah. She was a very devout Jewish lady, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. Her husband had died seven years after their marriage, and she remained a widow until her present age of 84. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day: fasting and praying. I wonder why she fasted and prayed so much? For a good job or a nice husband? No, probably not. I believe she most likely fasted and prayed for God’s salvation of Israel (38). In fact, as Simeon was anticipating God’s deliverance, holding baby Jesus in his arms, she also joined them and gave thanks to God. She spoke to all who were looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption. Here we learn that besides Simeon and Anna, there was a group of people who were eagerly looking forward to God’s salvation. I am sure when they heard the news about Jesus, they rejoiced in God’s salvation.
The Messiah came to this world more than 2,000 years ago. He suffered and died for our sins and rose from the dead. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus our Lord gave us the grace of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And it is his promise that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:26). But we need to understand God’s salvation further and deeper. What does it mean that Jesus is God’s salvation? It’s more than not being punished for our sins. It’s actually very deep. So Saint Paul called God’s entire salvation a mystery of God. He said in Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” In order to understand the mystery of God’s salvation, it’s important to read and study the entire book of Romans. In fact, God’s salvation is like a precious jewel for our soul. It consists of Jesus’ sacrificial death. And we are being sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit and will be glorified by Jesus’ second coming.
Therefore, we must know that God’s salvation work has not yet been completed in us. It will be completed when Jesus comes again. Yet, we have the Spirit of God, dwelling in us, as the security deposit for our salvation. God’s salvation in Jesus is not a small blessing. What we, as God’s children, await is a great thing. According to what the Scripture testifies, the glory of God’s salvation is beyond our imagination. Saint Paul said in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” So what glory are we anticipating? It’s the glory of the resurrection body. When I was younger, I wasn’t really interested in the resurrection body because I felt good about my appearance. But now, as I see my hair falling out, more than ever I am interested in the resurrection body.
Recently Joseph Russell, my 90 year old Jewish neighbor, asked me to help him put up a tapestry on his wall. He was the one who brought me a poem, titled “Birthdays” and to which he added a few lines because the poem ended at the 90th birthday. Since, it was so touching, I am going to read it again. “Today, Dear Lord, I’m 80 and there’s much I haven’t done. I hope, Dear Lord you’ll let me live until I’m 81. But if I haven’t finished all I want to do, would you let me stay until I’m 82? So many places I want to go, so very much to see, do you think you could manage to make it 83? And if by then I’m still alive, I’d like to stay until I’m 85. The universe is opening up as I’d really like to stick to see what happens when I’m 86. I know Lord it’s much to ask; it must be nice in heaven, but I’d really like to stay until I’m 87. I know by then I won’t be fast and sometimes I’ll be late but it would be so pleasant to be around at 88. I will have seen so many things and had a wonderful time, so I’m sure that I’d be willing to leave at 89 … But maybe not!!! (Mr. Russell added) But Lord, now that I have every thing done, can I stay till I’m 91? And better yet if you can do, please keep me here till I’m 92!” It took more than an hour to hang up the tapestry. Afterwards, we talked about the picture of a tree on the tapestry. I asked him what kind of tree it was. He said that it was a tree of life. “A tree of life in the garden of Eden?” I asked. “I guess so,” he answered. Then he talked about other things. Coming back to my apartment, I was reminded of the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” What Mr. Russell really wants is life – the immortality, which Jesus offers us. In fact, what people truly desire the most is life, the immortality. No political or economic system can give us immortality. Only God can give it to us.
Indeed, Jesus the Messiah is the hope of all nations. As a gift, we received such a wonderful hope of eternal life. What a wonderful and priceless gift we have in Jesus Christ! The gift of eternal life is more precious than gold and jewels. Yet, some Christians still feel poor. Why? It’s because of their wrong values. The world is becoming more and more materialistic. So people tend to think that having more things and money will make them happy. More money may make life easier but not necessarily happier. You can become comfortably miserable. At the end of life, what would we take with us? Nothing. What we ought to seek is immortality.
Why would we have to seek it if we have already received it? It’s because immortality is like God’s treasure hidden in the field and only those who seek it can find and possess it. Remember the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl (Mt. 13:44-45). When we don’t seek immortality, we naturally seek something else resulting in serious consequences (Ro. 2:6-10). Likewise, Christians should eagerly look forward to the hope of resurrection. Otherwise, it’s easy to get spiritually sidetracked, burnt out, and unable to run the race of our faith to the end.
The time we live in now is very dark and might be one of the most challenging in history. Christian values and moral standards are questioned and despised. It’s not going to be easier for Christians to live a Christian life, not even mentioning spreading the gospel. More than ever, we need the clear spiritual goal of the hope in the glorious resurrection. As 2012 comes to an end, may we spend time thinking and thanking God for what He has done for us this year. Most of all, let us examine our selves and renew our spiritual goal. When we have the clear spiritual goal in the glorious resurrection, 2013 can be the best year of our lives no matter what happens to us. We can be transformed into the beautiful image of our Lord Jesus Christ and bear fruit of the Holy Spirit, like a tree planted by streams of water (Ps. 1:3). In 2013, we can be more loving, forgiving, patient, kind, gentle, free and confident in God. Like Simeon, Anna, and many holy saints in history, as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, may we continue to look forward to God’s ultimate redemption and run the race with perseverance (Heb. 12:1-3). Let us not grow weary in doing what is good and sharing the good news with others because we have the glorious hope of God’s salvation.