Back to Sunday morning this week where we have been looking at the Christmas story. Yesterday’s passage was the presentation at the temple and it’s important to know that the there is a time gap between verses 21 and 23. The circumcision and naming took place eight days and the Lord’s birth whereas the offering for the purification took place after forty days.
For me the passage is about a number of contrasts, Heaven and earth, the past and the future, joy and pain and falling and rising.
Heaven and earth. Some of the events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus are very much out of the ordinary whereas some are quite mundane. This was of course a miraculous birth, a virgin birth, a heavenly name and angels singing but the parents do everything according to the Law of Moses, a sacrifice of two turtle doves for their purification (the Lord Jesus and his mother) an offering that indicates that this was a poor family. This is a contrast seen throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry, he had unique authority over sickness, sin and death yet was at times hungry, thirsty and even wept.
We are dealing here with a crucial area, the Lord’s nature or who he was and is. It is a subject that is central to many of the ancient creeds and separates sound doctrine from heresy. Even more importantly it shows us that the Lord Jesus able to bring salvation because he is both human and divine.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God, Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made man,
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end. (Nicene Creed)
The past and the future. There are several hymns early in Luke’s gospel, like the rest, Simeon’s hymn has Old Testament references (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6). Simeon speaks of a light to the gentiles; a phrase from Isaiah and uses it to picture the future ministry of the Messiah. For Christians today it’s difficult to imagine how ground breaking this was in the first century. The very idea that the gentiles were part of God’s plan even surprised the early church (Acts 11:18). Simeon takes Isaiah’s prophecy, 700 years earlier and applies it directly to Christ.
Joy and pain. For Joseph and Mary, the first Christmas was a time of great joy, there had been a number of angelic visitations and a truly miraculous birth. Luke tells us that Mary treasured these things in her heart (Luke 2:19 & 51). Anyone who has been a parent will understand the concept of holding on to memories that are precious. Simeon’s words “a sword will pierce your own soul too” stand out as he warns of anguish to come. The shadow of the cross is clear even in the very earliest days of our Lord’s life; this is Luke’s first reference to the death that Christ would endure. We read in John 19:25 “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother”. We can only wonder how Mary felt with this sobering prophecy.
And as she watched him through the years
Her joy was mingled with her tears
And she’d feel it all again The glory, and the shame
And when the miracles began
She wondered, who is this man
And where will this all end
‘Til against a darkening sky
The son she loved was lifted high
And with his dying breath
She heard him say ‘Father forgive’
And to the criminal beside
“Today-with me in Paradise”
So bitter yet so sweet
(From Thorns in the Straw by Graham Kendrick)
Falling and rising. Simeon did not say, “My eyes have seen the Messiah”, he said “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). So we see that salvation = Jesus, he is the source of salvation and this message is right through the New Testament. It is also true that Jesus divides opinion. Even shortly after his birth while some came to worship others wanted him dead, and this continued all through his life and even today he inspires hatred on the one hand and worship from those who love him. The human race is divided by how we respond to Jesus Christ. When we think that God gave his son for the world, how else can we respond but to bow before him and worship him as Lord of all.
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
“Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”’ (1 Peter 2:7-8)