Sunday, July 18, 2010

Luke Part 9: Simeon and Anna

Text: Luke 2:22-39

This section of Luke describes how Jesus was presented at the temple, and the responses of Simeon and Anna to His birth.

This was a spiritually dark time in Israel. Israel was under the rule of the Pharisees, with their insistence on legalism and works-righteousness. They were also under the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. Yet there was still a loyal remnant who clung to a hope of redemption through faith in a Redeemer. This remnant is represented here by Simeon and Anna.

We know Simeon was a faithful follower of God. Luke mentions in v.25 that he was "righteous and devout" and that "the Holy Spirit was upon him." Most importantly, He was waiting for the Redeemer, the "Consolation of Israel". Verses 29-32 contain his praise to God upon seeing Jesus, the promised Redeemer.

As in each of the songs of praise recorded about Jesus's birth, the message contains the theme than the beginning is as good as the end. Jesus was still just a baby, yet Simeon praises God that he has "seen Your salvation". This salvation was going to be a "light of revelation to the Gentiles." Think of the difference the gospel light has made in the world; compare the liberty and blessings enjoyed in lands where the gospel has flourished and the bondage and oppression in lands where it has not been received and lived upon!

Notice that Jesus life and death would be "the glory of Israel". There is not a future plan for national Israel. Jesus is the glory of Israel! The redemption of ethnic Israel will occur as Jews repent and believe in Him.

In verse 33, we see that Joseph and Mary marveled. It's interesting because they had already seen so many amazing prophecies regarding Jesus. Yet they still marveled and were amazed. Have we grown numb to the things of God, or do they still cause us to marvel and be amazed?

Finally Simeon prophesied to Mary that, according to God's plan, Jesus would bring about the rise and fall of many in Israel. He would reveal people's hearts and would be a "sign" -- something to give direction and show the way -- to be opposed. This is the "doctrine of twos" -- there is no neutral ground with Jesus. Either He will make you to rise or you will be cast down. You can follow the sign, or oppose it. You must either obey Him or reject Him.

Anna, like Simeon, was another member of the faithful remnant. We know very little about her, except that she was an older widow, a prophetess, and that she served constantly in the temple. Like the shepherds, she was, as a female, from a less-regarded group and, like them, she was entrusted with the gospel, which she shared to her fellow believers.

Anna and Simeon are a witness to us today. Let us be led by the Spirit to follow their example in these ways:
  • To marvel and stand amazed at God's goodness
  • To embrace Jesus
  • To know His presence
  • To follow the Spirit and be led by Him
  • To rejoice
  • and to tell others as we go

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Luke Part 8: The Birth of Jesus

Text: Luke 2:1-20

This passage is probably one of the most familiar in all of Scripture. We must be careful not to allow ourselves to be made complacent by familiarity, because it is a truly remarkable and amazing passage.

In the first several verses, the facts surrounding the census are laid out. In Luke's typical systematic style, he establishes the historical setting: during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the first census taken during when Quirinius was governor in Syria. Thus, we see God working, moving in this world through the hands of sinful men. Caesar thought he was ordering the census of his own initiative, but in actuality he was performing God's bidding, ensuring that the prophecy of Micah 5:2 would be fulfilled and that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Note also that Joseph and Mary obeyed the civil authorities even though it was a great difficulty for them.

Verses 6 and 7 describe the birth of Jesus. What is truly remarkable about His birth is that He was born to such extreme poverty. Although the rulers of the world live in great luxury in order to please themselves, Jesus came in great poverty to serve others.

Next we read of how the message came to the shepherds. Shepherds were rough and tough, living out in the fields defending the flock. Yet when the angel appeared before them, they were "terribly frightened". Our conception of the appearance of angels, if accurate, should picture angels as fearful beings -- a single angel could make a group of tough men tremble.

Shepherds were also on the bottom rung of society. Yet God chose to send the good news of Christ's birth to them, again confirming the pattern of using the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the strong and wise in this world. Jesus did not exclude classes. If he had been born in a king's palace, these shepherds would have been denied access. But he was born in a lowly stable, where they were free to come and worship.

The message from the angels indicated that Jesus was "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord". Three names of Jesus, indicating:
  1. He was the Savior, the One to save God's people from their sins.
  2. He was Christ, meaning the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One God had designated.
  3. He was "the Lord", the Greek title for "God". Jesus was God in the flesh.
After the shepherds found Jesus and worshiped Him, they returned to their flocks. But on their way, they became the first Christian missionaries, telling whomever they met about what God had shown them. The word from God had changed them: they went on their way rejoicing!

From this passage, we see that from the beginning, Jesus was outside the norm, outside the realm of the religious elites. The angels went to nobodies, not to people in positions of prestige. God was entrusting a revelation to men who, in the world's view, were totally unqualified. God trusted them to keep and spread the gospel He had given to them.

Will we, like the shepherds come "in a hurry" to Jesus? Will disregard the inadequacy of the messenger, taking the good news with rejoicing and spreading it to all we come in contact with in our daily living?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Luke Part 7: Zacharias' Prophecy, Continued

Text: Luke 2:76-80

This post discusses the second half -- the second sentence, actually -- of Zacharias' praise after his son was born and he became able to speak again. In the first sentence of his praise, Zacharias discussed the coming Redeemer and the deliverance He would bring. In the second sentence, he speaks more specifically about his son, John. He describes John's role as a forerunner and lays out some of the great things God would do through him.

First, in verse 76, John was to be a "prophet of the Most High". What was his mission? What was he going to do? He was to "go before" the Lord and "prepare His ways".

How was he going to "prepare His ways"? This is described for us in verse 77: He was to tell God's people about his plan of salvation. This plan of salvation was radically different from what the Jews of that time may have been expecting. It was not deliverance from Rome, or any thing else physical. It was a spiritual deliverance. Jesus was coming to free His people from their sins. That would be the role of the Messiah. John's mission was to spread that good news.

Verse 78 describes more completely what the salvation will be like. This forgiveness will not be by works; it will not be something earned. Rather, God will grant forgiveness because of his "tender mercy". The adjective "tender" tells us something about God -- He shows Himself to be kind and gentle towards His children. The "Sunrise from on high", the Sun of Righteousness, will come to us -- not coming to us to crush and overwhelm us, but to "visit us", to commune with us.

He is coming (v. 79) to bring light to those who sit in darkness and guide our feet on the path of peace. This is a comparison to two groups of people. There are those, on the one hand, who have no knowledge of Christ. They are in darkness, willful ignorance of Him. They "sit" in this darkness, indicating that they have accepted this condition. To some of these, Christ will shine his light and convert them into those who are on "the way of peace". Note that the Christian life is portrayed as a "way". The Christian life is elsewhere portrayed as a "walk". It is a progression, a growing into greater and greater knowledge and light. (See Prov. 4:18)

We are called to be like John the Baptist. What he was about is what we should be about: letting our light shine in all that we say or do to point others to Christ.

Finally, a quick note on verse 80: Notice that John the Baptist did a unique thing. Normally, a son of a priest would be expected to follow his father into the ministry, first serving him, then training and finally becoming a priest himself. But instead, John went out to the desert. He did not grow up within and was not trained by the religious power structure of the time. He was taught by God out in the desert. God was instituting a new thing -- the Old Covenant system was passing away.