The Sunday After Christmas on Luke 2:25-35
Initial Sermon delivered by
Seminarian Daniel P. Mensing
in Oak Forest on
In the Name of Jesus Christ, our newborn Savior, dearly beloved hearers of His precious Word:
This Sunday falls between two very special seasons of the Church year, namely, Advent and Epiphany. During the Advent season we focused on the several modes or ways in which Jesus our Lord comes to us, and in the Epiphany season we will see how Christ manifested Himself here on earth by word and deed as the long-promised Messiah and Savior of the world. But our text for today provides us with a simple transition from the one season to the other. Just five days ago we celebrated with joyful hearts the birth of our Lord Jesus, that is, His coming in the flesh in fulfillment of God’s gracious promises (Is. 7:14). And now in our text for today we examine the encounter of the aged Simeon with the newborn Savior.
St. Luke tells us in verse 22 of our text that approximately forty days after the His birth, in accordance with the Ceremonial Law, Mary and Joseph “brought [Jesus] to the temple to present Him to the Lord” (c.f. Lev. 12:2-4). Even though the news of the Savior’s birth had been proclaimed by the shepherds in the streets of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, it did not spread very far. In fact, as we see from our text, Simeon had no idea that the Messiah had already come into the world. We see in verse 25 that he continued to wait in confident anticipation for Him. There is a word for this anticipation of Simeon, namely, “hope.” Hope is that which confidently expects future blessings from God and deliverance from tribulation on the basis of His gracious promises (Apology, Art. III, Triglot, p. 192). Now here in our text, in the encounter of Simeon with the baby Jesus we note this specific result of God’s promises as it is manifested in Simeon’s proclamation. Here we see that
God’s Gracious Promises Give Us Hope
… (I) the hope that Old Testament believers had; (II) the hope that the aged Simeon had; and (III) the hope that we in the New Testament have.
In the first part of our sermon we will examine how the gracious promises of the Lord gave hope to the Messianic believers of the Old Testament. In order properly to do this, we naturally must find out what the hope of the Old Testament believers was. In the first verse of our text (v. 25), Saint Luke introduces us to Simeon. “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” We read that Simeon, an example of the Old Testament Messianic believers, waited in confident anticipation for the “consolation of Israel.” But why were they in need of this consolation? One doesn’t give consolation to those that are happy, but rather to those who are grieving. Peace is not spoken to the fearless, but to the fearful. Comfort isn’t spoken to those who are secure, but to those who are in torment (Isaiah 61:1-3). So why was Israel in need of this consolation? Indeed Israel was grieving and was fearful and tormented by what they had come to know from God’s Holy Law, and rightly so. From the Law of God they had come to recognize their sin and guilt before God. In the fourteenth Psalm, verses 2 and 3, King David writes, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” His son, Solomon, writes in Ecclesiastes chapter 7, verse 20, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” These Messianic believers acknowledged God’s wrath, death and damnation as having been earned by them because of their sins. The prophet Ezekiel writes, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). It was this condemnation from God’s holy Law that brought terror to their consciences, broke their hearts (Jeremiah 23:29), and worked in them sincere contrition for all of their sins. Yet God did not leave them to despair; for in His infinite mercy, God promised to them gracious consolation in the sweet news of His Gospel.
This is the situation in which Simeon and the other Old Testament believers found themselves, as we see from the beginning of our text. They were waiting for the fulfillment of God’s merciful consolation. What was the nature of this consolation for which they hoped? In spite of the corruption of their human nature and the wretchedness of their sins, by which they deserved nothing but God’s wrath and displeasure, God promised to all mankind forgiveness of their sins, reconciliation and peace with Him as the gift of His unmerited grace and mercy. On the slopes of Mt. Sinai, after Moses interceded on behalf of the children of Israel who sinned by worshiping the golden calf, the Lord passed by and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). The psalmist David writes in Psalm 86:5, “For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.” This comfort of the Gospel was not without a foundation, because the basis of this consolation was the Messiah’s vicarious atonement that He would accomplish in the fullness of time.
All of this, God revealed to mankind throughout the Old Testament, “by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:70). Already in the Garden of Eden, the Lord had proclaimed this Gospel, namely, that the Seed of the woman, which is Christ, would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). And in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord described the substitutionary suffering and death of the Messiah in detail (Isaiah 53). The punishment which sinners deserve, the Messiah bore. The death that sinners deserve to die, He died. The pangs of hell that all transgressors are to suffer, Christ suffered. This was the necessary price of Israel’s consolation. Isaiah speaks of this resulting consolation in his 51st chapter saying, “For the Lord shall comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (v. 3).
Understanding now what the Old Testament believers were waiting for and how this would come to pass, let us also consider how they were able to have this hope of consolation. As we noted before, hope is the confident anticipation of blessings promised. We do not create this hope in our own hearts and minds, but the Holy Ghost creates it in us by means of the Gospel (Psalms 119:49). The Old Testament believers were able to have hope of God’s consolation of peace and comfort by faith in God’s sure, certain, and infallible promises. One of the most notable examples of this in the Old Testament is the patriarch Abraham. We read in Romans 4:20ff, that Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that, what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform.” And 2,000 years later, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, expressed this same hope in chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel that the Lord would “perform the mercy promised to our fathers …and…remember His holy covenant” (v. 72). This hope sustained all Old Testament believers as they waited patiently for God’s fulfillment (Romans 8:25).
It was this same hope that Simeon had as an Old Testament believer. We will now examine how the gracious promises of the Lord gave hope to him. As our text unfolds, we see that Simeon’s hope was two-fold. First, as a Messianic believer, he waited for the universal promise of consolation as did all Old Testament believers (Luke 2:25); for we read that Simeon was “just and devout,” characteristics that are only spoken of true believers, for “the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Hebrews 10:38). From this description we know that Simeon was righteous in God’s sight by faith in the promised Messiah, and “walked in the spirit” in his life of sanctification (Galatians 5:25). In addition to the spiritual blessings that the Lord graciously bestows upon all His children, Simeon was granted a special gift of the immediate presence of the Holy Ghost, who revealed to him that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). It was to the fulfillment also of this second, special promise that Simeon looked forward in hope.
Just as Simeon’s hope was two-fold, God’s fulfillment was two-fold. We read in our text that Simeon “came by the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him after the custom of the Law, then took he Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of thy people Israel’” (Luke 2:27-32).
In fulfillment of His universal Messianic prophecies, God had sent His long-promised Messiah into the world! Having been brought into the temple by the Holy Spirit of God, Simeon was able to recognize who this baby was. He picked Him up in his arms and praised God for His unspeakable Gift. Simeon described this baby as “[God’s] Salvation.” This baby was the only Savior of the world (Acts 4:12). We read in the Old Testament that the Lord Himself was the Salvation of His people (Isaiah 12:2), and it was this Lord who was now incarnate, that is, in the flesh and present among them, as His name, Immanuel, shows, “which being interpreted is ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Simeon testified that this Salvation of God was not prepared in a hidden fashion, that is, in secret and darkness; but rather God prepared it openly, publicly demonstrating His plan of salvation for all mankind — “prepared before the face of all people.” The prophet Isaiah foretold this already in his 52nd chapter saying, “The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the Salvation of our God” (v. 10).
Simeon also described this Savior as “a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of [God’s] people Israel.” By this simple description, Simeon testified to one of the greatest elements of the Gospel, namely, God’s universal grace. This Savior was not only sent for the salvation of the Jewish people, but even for the Gentiles – for you, and for me! Concerning this Light, Isaiah prophesied saying, “Arise, shine; for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy Light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). Here we see that this Light was both for the enlightening of the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people. The blessings of the Savior were not to be limited to a certain race or class of people, but were intended for all mankind.
Here in the temple, in fulfillment of God’s special and personal promise to him, Simeon lifted the infant Savior up into his arms. The Lord had promised that Simeon “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Now Simeon blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation” (vv. 29-30). Simeon’s hope was fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12)! There was no need to hope anymore for the Savior’s arrival, because He was now here (cf. Romans 8:24). Simeon could now depart in peace, having seen God’s Salvation with his very own eyes.
Having concluded his prayer of praise, Simeon foretold of the results of Christ’s earthly mission. We read, “And Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary, His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). As we learn from the Holy Scriptures, Christ and His teachings are offensive and a stumbling block of foolishness to all those who do not believe (cf. I Peter 2:8; I Corinthians 1:18). As a consequence of their unbelief, many in Israel, who were familiar with the Messianic prophecies, would stumble and fall at His teachings, not in such a way however that it would be impossible for them to be restored. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 11:11, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid.” According to the election of grace, many in Israel would be restored to faith in the Savior. Simeon also said that Christ was “set for a sign which shall be spoken against” (v. 34b). This Savior of the world and His work would be despised, rejected of many and contradicted (cf. Isaiah 53), not only in His Passion, but also in the preaching of His Apostles (Acts 13:45). All of this would happen, Simeon instructed Mary, so “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” that both the faith and the unbelief of many would become evident by their reaction to Christ’s Word and work.
It is on this note that Simeon’s interaction with the little family is concluded according to our text. Simeon’s hope of the coming Messiah having been fulfilled, he could now depart in peace, knowing that Christ would accomplish what He was sent to do, namely, to render in time what God had already in eternity accepted as the purchase price of reconciliation and peace with Him, namely, Christ’s vicarious atonement (II Corinthians 5:19). To us now in the New Testament, we look back in the Scriptures to what He did accomplish for us.
Having this assurance and all the blessings that come with it, we now look forward in anticipation to what God promises to us. Already having brought us to faith through the saving power of His Gospel, the Holy Ghost assures us that we already have the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that Christ came to earn. Thus, by faith, we already have God’s salvation and the sure inheritance of everlasting life in heaven, as the Apostle Peter writes in his first epistle, chapter one, verse 4, “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” Therefore we also look forward in anticipation to the redemption of our bodies on the Last Day. The Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Romans that we are waiting “for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). In the meantime, while we wait for that day when we shall “meet the Lord in the air” (I Thessalonians 4:17), we also anticipate all of the continued blessings that God promises to give to His dear children during this life — gifts both spiritual and temporal (Romans 8:28-32).
The primary blessings that we expect are the spiritual blessings. The Lord promises in Philippians 1:6, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Therefore we make it our first and foremost priority to be and remain members of the Invisible Church by sincere faith in our Redeemer. This is of the utmost importance because it is in this Church (the Communion of Saints) that we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation (Luther’s Small Catechism). It is also important to be and remain in a true visible church that properly and regularly uses God’s ordained Means of Grace, namely, the Gospel and the Sacraments, whereby faith is strengthened and preserved in us.
In addition to our spiritual needs, we also hope for the continued temporal blessings for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and confess with Dr. Luther in his explanation of the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed, namely, “daily bread” and “all that we need to support this body and life.”
But on what basis do we hope for all of these things? On what does our hope rest? First of all, our hope rests on the immutability, or changelessness, and on the faithfulness of God’s gracious promises and assurances in His Word. The writer to the Hebrews teaches us that, “God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:17-19a). When God makes a promise, we should never doubt that He will be true to His word, “for He is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23). We see this faithfulness demonstrated in His fulfillment of the promised redemption through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:15, 28). God made good on His Word then, and we have every assurance that He will make good on His Word to us now. Where do we see this fulfillment carried out? In God’s own revelation to us, namely, the Holy Scriptures that give us in inerrant (perfectly accurate and unmistakable) words the record of God’s fulfillment and His assurance of our salvation.
Now, how do we have this hope? How are we able to look forward in anticipation of all of these things? By faith, we like Simeon of old confide in God’s gracious promises, counting them as true and certain (Hebrews 10:23). Having this confidence, we look forward to what God has promised to us, namely, continued peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and everlasting life in heaven (Romans 5:1; John 3:16; Luke 2:29).
Therefore, let us take comfort in Simeon’s words of praise, knowing that by faith, we too can exclaim the very same thing. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant[s] depart in peace according to Thy Word.” By God’s grace we have been enlightened by the Light of the world (v. 32). By faith, our eyes have seen the Lord’s Salvation, which He prepared before the face of all people (vv. 30-31). As a result, we can all look forward to a peaceful departure when our time comes to leave this world (v. 29). Until that time, may “the God of patience and consolation…the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:5, 13). Amen.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo gloria!