Archives For 2016 Advent

Introduction

The text of Scripture serves as a fitting conclusion to our Advent series on The Songs of Christmas: Mary’s Song (Magnificat), Zechariah’s Song (Benedictus), the Angels’ Song (Gloria in Excelsis), and Simeon’s Song (Nunc Dimittis). Each of them praised God for His goodness, His faithfulness to His covenant, His grace, His salvation, Jesus Christ.

As the songs recorded in Luke’s infancy narrative in chapters 1 and 2 focus on the birth of Jesus, this song focuses on the death and resurrection and exalted status of Jesus, and he is praised for redemption purchased. This was the purpose of Jesus’ birth!

With the New Year, many commit themselves to do “new” things by making a list of resolutions. The Bible is also filled with new things. One of them is “a new song,” the focus of our final advent devotional. Not only is Revelation 4-5 a fitting conclusion to this series, it is an appropriate way to begin the New Year, learning to sing a new song which focuses on redemption. As Isaac Watts wrote and we sing,

Come, ye that love the Lord,

And let your joys be known;

Join in a song with sweet accord,

While ye surround the throne.

 

Let those refuse to sing,

Who never knew our God;

But children of the heavenly King,

May speak their joys abroad.

Overview

John has just completed writing letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3). Chapters 4 and 5 constitute one vision, worship on the throne room of heaven. Chapter 4 sets the stage for the drama of chapter 5. Chapter 4 describes John’s initial vision of what he sees in heaven’s throne room, while chapter 5 describes the unfolding drama of what is happening in the throne room.

Jon first of all sees a door standing open in heaven, and there was a voice that beckoned him to “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place” (4:1). While John was in the Spirit, he saw before him a throne with an occupant (4:2). The occupant was God Himself and the throne signified His supreme, absolute authority over everything – the transcendence, majesty, and sovereignty of Almighty God (4:1-6a). He was surrounded by twenty-four thrones upon which twenty-four elders were seated. This refers to (The elders are an exalted angelic order who serve and adore God as the heavenly counterpart to the 24 priestly and 24 Levitical orders [cf. 1 Chron. 24:4; 25:9-13].)

In the center around the throne were four living creatures, an exalted order of angelic beings, who lead the heavenly hosts in worship and adoration of God (4:6b-8a). The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are both an exalted order of angelic beings, while the four living creatures lead the praise and worship, the twenty-four elders follow their lead: praise the “Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (4:8b). Praise and worship of God is unceasing, and is based on his attributes: holiness, omnipotence, and eternal existence (4:8b-9). The living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God, who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever. Day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

To a persecuted church and an exiled John, these truths would have been a great source of encouragement and strength. As the four living creatures praise and worship God, it leads the 24 elders to fall down before God and worship him also (4:10). The twenty-four elders praise God directly for his creation (4:10-11). They say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

John sees a scroll in the hand of the One who is seated on the throne, but no one was found worthy to open it or to look inside it. Overwhelmed with grief, John wept (5:1-4). The scroll contained writing on both sides (5:1), which speaks of fullness, completeness, plenitude. This scroll contains the fullness of all of God’s purposes in judgment and blessing. It contains the full account of what God in his sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the world, which rests in God’s hands. No one was found worthy to open the scroll. John wept, not because of ignorance, he did not know what God’s plans were, but rather because of an apparent frustration of God’s purposes. One of the elders comforted John. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David has triumphed. He is worthy to open the scroll (5:5). So God’s plans are not thwarted, but actually fulfilled by the Lion, the Root. When John looked at the One described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he actually saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne (5:6-7). The slain Lamb is the One who took the scroll from the One who sits on the throne, God the Father.

Worship was not confined only to God as the Creator, but also included the Lamb who alone was considered worthy to open the scroll (5:5). No one other than the Lamb was worthy to disclose the plan of Almighty God. As John looked at the victorious, triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (5:5), to surprise he saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne, which looked as though it had been slain (5:6). Ultimate victory comes through sacrifice, the death of a Lamb who lives again. There is no greater display of universal adoration and worship as when the Lamb took the scroll from the One sitting on the throne (5:7).

Various countries have images that reflect might, strength and power. One would think the proper symbol for Christianity would be the Lion, certainly not a helpless, slain lamb. But the Lamb is the ultimate source of strength, power and hope, for the slain Lamb still lives. He is the ultimate outworking of God’s plan – overcoming death and sin through death itself and resurrection. God’s plan required the death of the God-man. It is appropriate that the One who is the outworking of God’s plan should disclose God’s plan (cf. Jn. 1:18; Heb. 1:2).

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (5:8) and they sang a new song (cf. Ps. 96, 98) praising the Lamb for His redemption (5:9-10). Then innumerable angels joined in the heavenly chorus and sang of the worthiness of the Lamb (5:12). Finally, the climax is reached when all creation sings to the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (5:13). This magnificent scene of worship is brought to a close by the four living creatures, who began the singing (4:8), as they cry, “‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped (5:14).” The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a new song, a song focused on the Lamb’s redemption. God was praised and worshiped in 4:11 for creation. Here the Lamb is praised and worshiped for redemption.

The Redemption Song: The Person, Ground, Extent, and Purpose of Redemption

The Person of Redemption, The Redeemer – The Lamb is the only one worthy to take and open the scroll: “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals (Rev. 5:9). They sang a “new song.” This was not the song of creation, but the new song of redemption. The idea of a new song grows out of the Psalms. In 98:1 we read (sing!), “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” In other words, every new act of mercy calls forth a new song of gratitude and praise. The song to the Lamb is a new song because the covenant established through his death is a new covenant.

It is interesting to note that the statement, “You are worthy” is the cry with which the Emperor’s arrival was celebrated. Any new Caesar or King would be addressed, “You are worthy.” But it is extremely important for us to remember that ultimately no king, Caesar, emperor, president or any other created being is worthy to disclose the plan of God and to fulfill it – only the Lamb of God. He alone is the one who is worthy to take the scroll from the hand of God and disclose and enact its contents. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders were joined by innumerable angels in singing about the worthiness of the Lamb. They sang, “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12). The first four are attributes of the Lamb while the last three are related to our response to him. As one says of praise, it is “the inevitable climax of it all . . . the one gift that we who have nothing to give to him who possesses all.”

The Ground of Redemption – The Lamb is worthy because of his death: “because you were slain” (Rev. 5:9). Jesus, the Lamb of God, is worthy simply because of who he is. His worthiness is grounded in his essential being. He is, in fact, very God. Yet his worthiness does not solely attributed to who he is, but also what he did. In this text, the Lamb is worthy precisely because he was slain. His worthiness is attributed to his great act of redemption. As the great church Father Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “Without ceasing to be what he always was [God], he became what he was not [man].” And I like to add, so that we might become what we could not (children of God).

As was stated earlier, God’s plan is worked out through the sacrifice of a Lamb, the God-man. As Jesus said during his earthly ministry, the Son of Man “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Paul reminds believers they were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). In this verse, “with (at the cost of) your blood” denotes the pure price paid for the purchasing, the redemption. We were redeemed at the cost of Christ’s death. He alone is worthy, and his death is the ground of redemption.

The Extent of Redemption – Through the death of the Lamb, people from every tribe, language, people, and nation were ransomed/purchased: “you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). Redemption is not universal in the sense that everyone will be redeemed. But it is universal in the sense that it will include people from all kinds and classes of people. Those who are redeemed, those who comprise the church, recognize no national, political, cultural, or racial boundaries. There is no elitism base on anything, only humility because the Lambs is the only One worthy.

This gives meaning to the texts that speak of God’s desire for all to be saved such as as 1 Timothy 2:4 or 2 Peter 3:9. Some suggest that God’s plan is fulfilled and all will ultimately be saved. Others, suggest God’s plan is thwarted due to the free will of man. This text teaches that God’s plan is fulfilled in the redemption, the salvation of all people, not without exception (universalism), but rather all without distinction. This means there will be people from every tribe, language, people and nation who are redeemed.

The Purpose of Redemption – The Lamb purchased these people for God. They were made to be a kingdom and priests to serve God:  “you ransomed people for God . . . you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (Rev. 5:9, 10). As a kingdom they shall reign and as priests they serve. The purpose of redemption is to serve God, it is for God, not for us. This is the consistent witness of Scripture – saved to serve. Worship is an engagement with God in all of life. All we do, whatever it is, is for him, to serve him. This is the purpose of redemption.

Conclusion

As we thank God for creation (4:11) and for the Lamb’s redemption (5:9), we join with all creation in their song of praise, thanksgiving and worship of God and the Lamb: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).  Added to this throng of worshipers, the four living creatures said “Amen” and the elders fell down and worshiped (5:14).

Ponder and Pray

Ponder and pray, prepare and pray, and pray as we begin a new year. Here are a few questions to aid you.

  1. Why would this scene have been so important to a group of Christians who were facing severe persecution? What is the significance for us today as we face turmoil and tribulation?
  2. How is the One who is sitting on the throne described? How is the Lamb described?
  3. What are the reasons that God and the Lamb are praised? (Look at what is said in the songs.)
  4. Notice that the four living creatures sang a new song. Every new act of God’s mercy calls forth new songs. What are the new songs you should be singing? What are the new songs that you will sing this new year?
  5. The heavenly scene depicted in Rev. 4-5 is what heaven is all about: worship of God and the Lamb. If you were to go to be “with the Lord” today, would you be ready? Would the unceasing worship be reflective of your present life, or would it be foreign? Would it be boring or would it be your very life?
  6. Make worship an uninterrupted reality in your life this year!

The Incarnation

Greg Strand – December 30, 2016 2 Comments

At this time of year, we celebrate the incarnation: “the act whereby the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing  to be what he is, God the Son, took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature, ‘and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.’”

Many of have been taught about the incarnation through reading the historical accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And there are other biblical texts that also address the incarnation, e.g.. John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:2 , along with some early Christological hymns such as Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Hebrews 1:2b-4. Added to this are the recollections of the Christmas story being reenacted as part of the annual church children’s Christmas program. And added to this are the hymns and choruses associated with the truths we celebrate at Christmas, including the heart of Christmas: the incarnation.

I remember well when many of these teachings of the person and work of Christ crystallized for me in the fall of my first semester at TEDS. One of my first courses was God, Man and Christ. It was an incredible learning and worshipful experience. We would begin each class with singing and prayer, and then the professor would begin the lecture. It wedded together theology and doxology, biblical truth and worship.

At the conclusion of the semester, my wife and I traveled home to visit family for the Christmas holidays. It was a lengthy trip, so we listened to Christmas music. As I was driving, Charles Wesley’s classic Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on the radio. Having learned this song as a child, I sang along. Now on the other side of this course at TEDS, I sang with a new, different and deeper meaning. In verse 1, the expression “God and sinners reconciled”  had new significance. When we got to verse 2 and I sang the phrase “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity” I was overcome with the importance and reality of the incarnation and I wept.

Since that course, and many others, and since that experience, and many others, I have been drawn to know God in all his fullness. Although I confess sometimes it can be knowing for the sake of knowledge, in my more sanctified moments it is theological knowledge for the sake of knowing God for the purpose of the worship of God.

Any understanding of the incarnation begins with the text of Scripture, as noted above. Then those texts must be understood within the canon of the Scriptures, so that there is an engagement with the theology of the texts of Scripture, a theological theology, which begins in God and ends with God. Furthermore, we consider how the church has understood these issues and articulated them throughout the history of the church.

This methodological format has been followed in the recent book written by Steve Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. In light of the remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, which we remember and celebrate at Christmas, Steve highlighted 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation. He has focused on texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries. I include only the summary statements, so I encourage you to read the whole essay as an aid to the worship of God in all his fullness, particularly as we focus on the incarnation.

  1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son.
  2. As the eternal Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, he is the full image and expression of the Father and is thus fully God.
  3. As God the Son, he has always existed in an eternally-ordered relation to the Father and Spirit, which now is gloriously displayed in the incarnation.
  4. The incarnation is an act of addition, not subtraction.
  5. The human nature assumed by the divine Son is fully human and completely sinless.
  6. The virgin conception was the glorious means by which the incarnation took place.
  7. From conception, the Son limited his divine life in such a way that he did not override the limitations of his human nature.
  8. But the Son was not limited to his human nature alone since he continued to act in and through his divine nature.
  9. By taking on our human nature, the Son became the first man of the new creation, our great mediator and new covenant head.
  10. God the Son incarnate is utterly unique and alone Lord and Savior.

Steve will be joining us for our EFCA Theology Conference. He is one of a line-up of excellent speakers we have to address key biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues related to the Reformation, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, along with its legacy in in the EFCA.

You can register here. Plan to join us!

Contrasts of Christmas

Greg Strand – December 24, 2016 Leave a comment

When we ponder the incarnation we are confronted with numerous contrasts. These contrasts get to the heart of the miraculous work of God. In many ways, Paul’s brief “but God” (Eph. 2:4) summarizes these twin contrastive truths, which help us to understand the gravity and glory of the incarnation.

As you read these statements, please pause to read, ponder and pray through the Scripture texts. Use these texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries as an aid to worship of God in all his fullness, who is the one who, in the fullness of time, “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Jesus experienced a human birth (Lk. 2:11), that through him we might have heavenly birth (Jn. 1:12).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Jesus’ resting place was a lowly manger in a stable (Lk. 2:7), so that we might have heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:2-3). 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3

Jesus became a member of the human family (Matt. 2:11), so that we might become members of the family of God (Gal. 3:26). 

“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus was made (made himself) subject to others, i.e., he obeyed them (Lk. 2:51), so that we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be made free (Gal. 5:1).

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Jesus’ glory was concealed (Phil. 2:6-7; cf. Jn. 17:1-5), so that we might receive glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7

“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4

Jesus became poor (Matt. 8:20), so we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

 Jesus’ birth was welcomed and celebrated by the lowly and despised shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), while our new birth is welcomed and celebrated by angels (Lk. 15:10).

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Herod sought to destroy Jesus through death (Matt. 2:13), but Jesus destroyed Satan and death through his death (Heb. 2:14-15).

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15

These eight contrastive truths are thoughts from Donald Grey Barnhouse, who served as a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for many years at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1927-1960). James Montgomery Boice, who also served at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000), summarizes these great contrasts in the following way (The Christ of Christmas [Minneapolis: Grason, 1983], 59):

When we put these texts together we see a great pattern. We see that Jesus endured a human birth to give us a new spiritual birth. He occupied a stable that we might occupy a mansion. He had an earthly mother so that we might have a heavenly Father. He became subject that we might be free. He left his glory to give us glory. He was poor that we might become rich. He was welcomed by shepherds at his birth whereas we at our birth are welcomed by angels. He was hunted by Herod that we might be delivered from the grasp of Satan. That is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It is that which makes it irresistibly attractive. It is the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Eight days after Jesus was born, he was circumcised (2:21), according to the law (Gen. 17:11-12), and given the name Jesus (2:21), just as the angel Gabriel had said (1:31). Jesus was circumcised to identify with Israel; He was/is our representative, and is the one who is preeminently a son, the chosen One (Lk. 9:35). [Jesus undergoes baptism for the same reason].

Joseph and Mary were pious, law-abiding Jews (2:22-24, 39). After the time of Mary’s purification (40 days after birth, Lev. 12:2-4, 6), they traveled from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem to present their firstborn, Jesus, to the Lord (2:22; cf. Ex. 13:2; Num. 18:15-16) and His service (I Sam. 1-2), and to offer a sacrifice in accordance with the Law of the Lord (2:24; cf. Lev. 12:8). The Law stated that one was to offer a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove as a sin offering. If one was poor and could not afford a lamb, then either two turtledoves or two pigeons would be sacrificed. Joseph and Mary’s offering was that of the poor which identified with those Christ came to save (1:52; 4:18-19; 6:20).

The Historical Context

The focus of this fourth and final song is Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. When he saw the baby Jesus, his wait was over. He took him in his arms and praised God. Simeon’s praise and prophecy are known as Nunc Dimittis.

In obedience to the law, Joseph and Mary had their baby boy circumcised on the eighth day, and named him Jesus. They do what all Jewish parents would have done who had given birth to a Jewish son. In the Old Testament, the law stated tan any son of Abraham should be circumcised on the eighth day (Gen. 17:11-12; Lk. 1:59). In the baby’s circumcision he was identifying with his people as their representative leader or as a representative human. But the main emphasis of this text of Scripture is on the naming of this baby boy – Jesus – not his circumcision. The name means save or salvation, which aligns closely with how he was referred to in 2:11: “Savior, Christ the Lord.” Jesus is his name, Christ is his title, and Savior is his purpose.

After the prescribed time of purification, according to the law, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present their firstborn to the Lord and to dedicate him to the Lord’s service (Lk. 2:22-23). The law stated that the mother of a male child was unclean for 7 days and then had to be confined for 33 days before traveling to the temple to offer a sacrifice. The presentation of the firstborn to the Lord (Ex. 13:2, 12, 15) and the dedication of the firstborn to the Lord’s service (1 Sam. 1-2) were both commanded in Scripture.

The sacrifice they offered for their purification was that of the poor. One of the birds was for the burnt offering and the other for the sin offering (2:24). In Leviticus 12:2-4, 6 a lamb and turtle dove are to be offered unless you cannot afford it. Then it was to be either two turtle doves or two pigeons. There offerings emphasizes different aspects in the process of communion with God. The sin offering emphasizes punishment or retribution for sin borne by the animal instead of the worshiper. The burnt offering emphasizes complete, whole consecration to God, which includes utter destruction of sin and uncleanness – the animal sacrifice is completely consumed. Even here we look forward to Christ as the final offering to which all the animal sacrifices find their fulfillment. As Mary and Joseph make the offering of the poor, they identify with those their son, Jesus, came to save (1:52; 4:18-19; 6:20).

While Joseph and Mary were in the temple with Jesus, they were met by an old man named Simeon who said great things about Jesus (2:25-35). We will say more about Simeon below, as we focus on his “song.” There was also an old prophetess named Anna who continually worshiped in the temple. She too gave thanks to God for Jesus and tied Jesus in with the redemption of Jerusalem (2:36-38). Anna was married but lost her husband at a young age and never remarried. She was a pious woman. Although she did not live on the temple grounds, there would have been a place for her to stay, and she was there daily, fasting and praying. We are told that she worshipped night and day. Anna’s activity pictures a person whose life is totally focused, consumed on serving God (as the burnt offering, totally consecrated, consumed).

Anna, too, encountered Jesus while in the temple. She gave thanks to God for this child-Redeemer, and also spoke to the crowd about Israel’s redemption through this child – he would redeem those enslaved to sin (2:38). The focus is on the Redeemer and the new age ushered in with his birth. Anna reveals that before the Messiah came, one could be decent and live a good life. But it is an unfulfilled life, which reflects a life absent true, real, lasting and abiding life. That is why John’s words are so apt: “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4:9).

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the law, they returned home to Nazareth (2:39).

The infancy events began in the temple with Zechariah (1:5ff) and ended in the temple with Jesus (2:41-51). After all the events of Jesus birth, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19). After an early fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy regarding the blessing and pain brought about in Jesus, while he tarried in the temple that caused his parents concern when they could not find him, Mary “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51). Jesus’ public life begins in the temple and it ends by him replacing the temple or becoming the true ultimate temple that the earthly temple foreshadowed. Humankind, both male (Simeon) and female (Anna), praise God for Jesus.

A Word About Simeon

Simeon was in Jerusalem waiting for God’s appointed consolation (2:25). Israel’s consolation referred to the hope of deliverance for the people. In the Old Testament various agents brought God’s consolation, but a primary agent who was anticipated was the Servant of God. This desire for consolation or deliverance characterizes the believer or God-fearer in Luke (6:23-24; 17:22-37; 21:25-36).

He was clearly a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led man. What was revealed about Simeon was his spiritual condition, not his vocation or his age. He is righteous and devout, an exemplary saint. The text states “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). Verses 25-27 reveal his character is a result of the Holy Spirit, his life was guided by the Holy Spirit. He had received a special work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (2:26). He was anxiously waiting. Simeon received a promise that God would not let him die without seeing the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ. The Lord’s Christ, the Messiah in verse 26 is linked with the consolation of Israel in verse 25. It was for this that he waited. But he trusted that God’s word was sure and it would be fulfilled so he did not wait hopelessly. Rather he waited hopefully.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, he went into the temple courts and there he met face to face Jesus, the consolation of Israel (2:27). Once again we see Simeon being guided and led by the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Simeon went to the temple and while there his wait was terminated as he met Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Can you imagine his elation and excitement – his wait was now over, but more importantly God’s promise, which always comes true, had been fulfilled.

Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God (2:28). I can imagine that Simeon was overcome with gratitude to the point of tears. As he grabbed the baby Jesus, we can see tears streaming down his face, his knees growing weak, almost to the point of needing to sit down. The praise then completes the excitement, the joy he feels over the fulfillment of God’s promise. This leads him to sing a song of praise to God for the fulfillment of the prophecy, and also to utter a prophecy about the future ministry of Jesus.

The Theological and Doxological Response

Now that he had seen Him, his life could end in peace (2:29), because he had seen the Lord’s salvation (2:30), which is to be for all people (2:31). Simeon also prophesied that Jesus would cause the rising and falling of man in Israel and Mary’s soul would be pierced (2:33-35). In the midst of this worship Simeon “sings,” the fourth and final songs Luke records of the infancy narratives.

The song emphasizes that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem his people, and through the song he utters a prophecy of the future ministry of Jesus.

God is praised for the fulfillment of his promise (2:29-32). God is addressed as the sovereign Lord who is faithful to his promises (2:29). God is the Lord, Master over everything. He determines the beginning and the end. What he has ordained will occur. What he has spoken, will come to pass. Here Simeon praises the sovereign Lord who was – and remains – faithful to his promises, and in his kind mercy he allowed Simeon to live to see and experience the consolation of Israel, in the Lord’s Christ, Jesus.

Simeon, God’s servant, can now depart in peace (2:29). In the Greek text, “Now” stands at the beginning of this sentence and is there for emphasis. In the coming of Jesus, “now is the time – the time of the consolation of Israel. (It brings to mind Paul’s urgent and timely exhortation, where the same word is used: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2, emphasis mine).) Simeon is God’s servant. He refers to himself as “your servant,” much like Mary referred to herself (1:38), and is a fitting contrast to the description of God as the sovereign one. Simeon is like the watcher who can now leave his assigned post because the anticipated event has come. Now the watcher is ready to die and he can depart in peace because he has seen and held the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 16:33), sent from the God of Peace (Phil. 4:9; Rom. 16:20) and experienced the peace of God (Phil. 4:7) because he was at peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

The reason Simeon can now depart is because he has seen the Lord’s salvation, a light, prepared in the sight of all people: revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel (2:30-32). In the coming of Jesus, salvation come. This is why it was essential for Simeon to experience it. Then and only then can he depart, not under a burden, but in peace. Although Simeon was a righteous and devout man, he was not prepared to depart in peace until he met Christ. Only then he was ready. This salvation was not outside of history, given to a few special people. It was done within of history in the sight of all people. God intends to extend to all the salvation that comes in Jesus. The light is Jesus himself and he comes to shine in the darkness (1:79). The effect of this light will be revelation will to the Gentiles – the Word, and glory to Israel, the Shekinah glory. God is acting for his people. This explains how he will be the consolation or deliverer.

Jesus’ future ministry is described (2:34-35): “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”

Jesus’ ministry will cause pain for his mother, Mary. The reference is to the pain that Jesus’ ministry causes Mary, as Jesus creates his own family of disciples and his own priorities, and his suffering because of it. This is seen early in Jesus’ ministry. After a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, they returned home, and assumed the boy Jesus was with them. After traveling a day, they realized he was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem looking for him, and continued to search for him three days before they found him – in the temple. Upon being questioned by Mary, he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (2:49). Although this was reflective of Simeon’s prophecy, his parents did not understand what he meant by this (2:50).

Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many people. Please will either be drawn to Jesus or stumble over him. Those who reject him are headed for a fall, while those who receive him in faith are headed for a rising, a blessing. The sign will be that of resistance, contention and rejection of Jesus and his ministry. Simeon addresses how people will respond to Jesus. He will be resisted and rejected. For those who resist, Jesus will not be a hope of promise fulfilled, but a figure who is to be opposed. Although Jesus is God’s hope, not all will respond positively to him. The reality of this experience will “pierce through your own “[Mary’s] soul.”

The purpose of Jesus’ ministry will reveal where hearts really are before God. Jesus will expose those who do not believe. How humans respond to God’s promise is made evident by how they respond to Jesus, as that will reveal their thoughts (cf. Heb. 4:12). And that response results in eternal spiritual death or eternal blessedness with the Lord.

Mary pondered and treasured all of these truths in her heart. Simeon states that “thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” in responses to Jesus. With this in mind, ponder these questions, treasure these truths in your hearts, and worship him.

  1. How did Joseph and Mary respond to the Law?
  2. What kind of a man was Simeon? How is he described?
  3. Why does Simeon praise God? What is the significance of what Simeon says about the Lord’s Christ?
  4. What kind of a woman was Anna? How is she described? What does she say about Jesus?
  5. If you were to die today, could you sing with Simeon, “now dismiss your servant in peace?” Have you encountered the Prince of Peace, so you can experience the peace of God, the One who brings salvation?

May God’s favor be upon you and may you receive His peace during this Christmas season!

 

Mary became pregnant with Jesus (1:31), the God-man, through the power of the Most High, the miraculous conception (1:35). After receiving this news and acknowledging her trust and dependency on the Lord, she visited Elizabeth, her relative (1:39-40), who was in her sixth month of pregnancy (1:36). After arriving and greeting one another, Elizabeth notes John leaped for joy in her womb at the voice of Mary, in reality in the presence of the Messiah, Jesus (1:41-45). Mary responded in song, known as the Magnificat (1:46-55).

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months (1:56) at which time Elizabeth and Zechariah gave birth to John (1:57-66). In spite of requests from their family, Elizabeth insisted on naming him John. When they asked Zechariah, he agreed in writing that his name would be John (1:59-63). Immediately after writing John, “his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. . . . Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (1:64, 67). Zechariah’s blessing of God, his prophecy is his song, the Benedictus (1:68-79).

Mary sang her song after the announcement of her miraculous conception (1:46-55). Zechariah sang his song after the birth of John, their son (1:68-79). Six months later it was time for Mary to give birth.

The Historical Context

Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the whole Roman Empire (2:1). This decree calls for the registration of provincial citizens for the purpose of assessing taxes. All those who lived under Rome’s authority were required to register. The decree was issued by the Roman leader, Octavian, Caesar Augustus, the great nephew of Julius Caesar. He came to power as the Roman dictator in 27 BC, and reigned until his death in 14 AD.

Luke portrays Augusts as the unknowing agent of God, whose decree leads to the fulfillment of the promise made by God long ago, that a special ruler would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-2). This occurred while Quirinius was governor of Syria (2:2). Luke places Jesus’ birth in history, in the context of world history. It is not just part of history, it is about to make history because all people be affected. Even though the exact date of the census is not known, the fact of the birth is certain!

This meant Joseph had to return to his ancestral home to register, and Mary, his betrothed, accompanied him (2:3-5). They traveled to Bethlehem, the town of David, because Joseph was from the house and line of David. Luke makes the connection to Old Testament promises, which fulfills prophecy. On the human level, all of this seemed to be senseless and useless, nothing but a bother to a man with a pregnant woman who was not even yet his wife. And yet, they were all engaged in the process of fulfilling prophecy that had been spoken by God 500-750 years earlier.

At the right time, in the fullness of time, while in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus and he was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger because there was no room in all of Bethlehem (2:6-7). Once again – this is not a mistake. It took place at just the right time: When the time had fully come” (Gal. 4:4). God is behind the timing of events, and the time is always perfect. These humble beginnings are also part of God’s plan for it becomes the sign by which the shepherds will recognize the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

After Jesus’ birth, an angle of the Lord appeared to shepherds to inform them of this good news (2:8-9). Not only did Jesus have a humble beginning, but his birth was announced first to humble and lowly shepherds (cf. 1:38, 52; 4:16-18), whose testimony was oftentimes not accepted in the court of law as credible. This means that if this was a fabrication, the birth would have been announced to credible witnesses. Instead, in the providence of God, and because it is a valid historical account (Lk. 1:3), it is recorded as historical fact: the angel appeared to the shepherds. The context in which the angel appeared was that “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (2:9), which illumined the darkness of the night sky, a reference to the Shekinah glory (Ex. 16:10).

The Theological and Doxological Response

The announcement of Christ’s birth was given by an angel: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’” (2:10-12). The shepherds were frightened. The angel calms their fears. The angel’s appearance is not for judgment, but for bringing good news. He communicates the wonderful event of Jesus’ (“Christ the Lord”) birth, which is good news and results in great joy for all people (2:10). The sign is that they will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger (2:11).

The angel’s message contains six major truths regarding the birth of Jesus. First, the announcement is “good news.” The term for good news is gospel. The gospel is something God has done in sending his Son to be the Savior. Second, this birth which is good news causes “great joy.” The greatest joy in the world is that the Lord Jesus Christ became a man, the God-man. God delights to send his Son to be the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42; 1 Jn. 4:14). This also informs us of what ought to bring us true joy. Third, this fact has a bearing on “all the people.” This good news of the gospel is not only for the shepherds, but this is good news of great joy for all people. The gospel, the coming of Jesus is for all people, the hope and peace for the world. Fourth, the reason the message is good news and is cause for great joy is because “this day” the birth of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” has occurred. Fifth, the birth of Christ the Lord is in the line of David, a Davidic king (2 Sam. 7:8-16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14), and the fulfillment of a prophecy, as he will be born “in the city of David.” Finally, the truth of all the angel communicated with them will be authenticated with a sign – a babe lying in a manger.

After the angel pronounced the birth of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11), joining the angel was a “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying” (2:13) (known as Gloria in Excelsis): “”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (2:14)!

You will notice there are three word pairs: glory-peace, heaven (highest)-earth; God-men. The KJV translates this verse as follows: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Note the three part division: (1) Glory to God in the highest, (2) and on earth peace, (3) good will toward men. Rather, it seems that the two-part division as reflected in the ESV (and NASB, NIV, NLT) is more accurate: (1) Glory to God in the highest, (2) and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

This verse, the angels’ song, did not address the “good will” to be manifested on earth by human beings toward one another (KJV). Although that is not bad or wrong, the text does not teach that it is a horizontal reference. It does not refer to the “good will” as the disposition required of human beings to be recipients of the peace, “peace among men of good will,” as if we earn God’s peace by being good natured, neither does it refer to the “good will” or esteem that some people might enjoy among others. Rather, good will was to be understood of God’s “good pleasure” given to those whom God has favored with his grace (cf. Mary in 1:28, 30). This becomes a common phrase, albeit a technical phrase in first century Judaism, for God’s people, his elect, those on whom God has poured out his favor. God is the one who offers and grants peace, and those who are the recipients receive God’s peace through his grace.

In sum, the angels’ message consists of two major truths. First, God is glorified for who he is and for what he has done. The heavens rejoice and praise God for the outworking of God’s salvation, the unfolding of redemptive history culminating in the birth (and life, death, ascension and return) of Jesus, the Savior, Christ the Lord. Second, peace is extended to those upon whom God’s favor, his grace, rests. The people to whom God draws near through Jesus will experience the life and peace God bestows, which has vertical implications such that we are now at peace with God (Rom. 5:1), and also horizontal implications, in that we are now at peace with one another (Eph. 2:14-17). This is good news of great joy for all people.

Worship was the response to this announcement of good news. After the angels departed, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby (2;16), just as they had been told (2:20). They responded obediently to the message given by God through the angels. Immediately they began to tell others about this good news. They spread the word (proclaimed) about the arrival of the Savior who is Christ the Lord. People were amazed at what they heard (2:17-18). Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. She worshipped God privately and in the quiet of her heart (2:19; cf. Ps. 95:6-7). The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praised God. They worshipped corporately, publicly and boldly (2:20; cf. Ps. 95:1-2).

Here are some questions as we ponder over and pray through the truths expressed in the angels’ song:

  1. What is the historical context in which this all occurs? What lessons can we learn about our own historical context and God’s sovereign control over it?
  2. To whom did the angel (singular) appear and what is the significance?
  3. Why were the shepherds afraid? What calmed their fears? What fears are you experiencing this season?
  4. What was the message given to the shepherds by the angel? What is the significance? What promises of God do you need to be reminded of this season?
  5. When the angels (plural) appeared they sang a song. What did they sing? What do you learn about our condition and need, and God’s offer of grace, mercy and peace, and our message and hope for all people?
  6. What do you notice about all those associated with the birth of Jesus? How will the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ affect you this season, and will your response be that of worship?

May we receive the good news with great joy and worship, and may we share that good news with all people! O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!