Simeon & Life with God December 29, 2019
Matthew 1:18-25 Rev. Donald W. Hackett
Centre Presbyterian Church New Park, PA
Life with God – This is what is all about! Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of God’s loving and cosmic initiative. God’s goal is to be deeply engaged in a relationship with you and me. This past year in our preaching we combined spiritual practice with scripture study to deepen our connection with God.
For the whole year we used a daily devotional, A Year With God by Richard Foster & Julia Roller, as our guide. My sermons dug into one of the scripture texts and the faith practice introduced each week. Whether you realize or not we covered seventeen ways to go deeper with God. We looked at:
1) prayer, 2) study, 3) confession, 4) worship, 5) serving, 6) secrecy,
7) guidance, 8) meditation, 9) solitude, 10) fellowship, 11) fasting,
12) chastity, 13) submission, 14) sacrifice, 15) silence, 16) simplicity,
and 17) celebration.
If you want to review these practices, I will leave my copy in back or you can order a copy or kindle version online [https://www.christianbook.com/a-year-with-god/richard-foster/9780061768200/pd/768200].
To wrap this year, I wanted to look at a person in the Bible who learned well how to have a deeper life with God. His name Simeon and we meet him in the Temple in Jerusalem. As we know from Matthew 1, baby Jesus was named eight days after his birth. The next religious ceremony for Jesus was purification as required by the Law of Moses. Let me give you some background. We read in Leviticus 12:2-4,6-8:
“Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding… “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”
Mary and Joseph needed to wait at least forty days before Mary could enter the Temple. The ceremony was for her purification and to present Jesus, their first-born son to God. This how Luke 2:22-24 describes it:
When the time came for the purification rites 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 what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24
There were all types of offering made at the Temple. Here we see a sin offering and burnt offering for Mary and a presentation of the first-born male required by Law at the cost of five shekels. Numbers 18:14-16 reads:
“Everything in Israel that is devoted to the Lord is yours. The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
Why Temple Sacrifices
It is good to step back and remember why all these Jewish religious laws were required. Author Jeremiah K. Garrett summaries the sacrificial system this way: The system was an outward expression of a person or community’s inward desire to restore the broken relationships between humanity and God and humanity and the world. https://www.seedbed.com/5-offerings-old-testament/
Mary and Joseph follow the Law and go to the Temple because they want to be connected to God and enjoy life with God. All these requirements were like steps in a dance to help them. When they arrive at the Temple, they have a surprise waiting for them…Simon! Let’s read the passage in your bulletin together.
Scripture Luke 2:25-35
Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying,
“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully:
This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!”
There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years.
She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
So when Joseph and Mary had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!
- Simeon is righteous
Did you notice how much is said about Simeon in one sentence?
Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
That is quite the one-line resume. Let’s break it down. Simeon lived in Jerusalem, so he was a city man. He also was righteous. What does that mean? Joseph, the husband of Mary, was described as righteous as well, so this is an important concept to understand.
- A righteous person is one who has committed him or herself to loving God and people. Righteousness is the direction of our lives.
- A righteous person thinks of others and acts on it.
- What makes a person righteous is not by doing things to impress God.
- Rather, righteousness is all about moving toward a healthy relationship with God.
- Then is response to God’s love, we step out to serve others.
Application #1: Becoming Right with God
Righteousness is a quality we all can embody. When you and I are transparent with our motives before God, that is the first step. As we bring our struggles to God, we put ourselves in a position to be changed by God. Righteousness is something only God can do in us. To enter that right relationship with God, we allow the love and grace of the Son, Jesus Christ to pour over us.
I love a good shower. It is a great feeling to have water washing over us and making us clean. That is what God does for you and me. As we come seeking the forgiveness Jesus Christ offers, God’s Spirit washes us from the inside out. If you want to become righteous, you invite God to live in you, forgive you, and you will be right with God. A righteous life, like Simeon’s, slowly develops as we look to God to work in and through us. We partner with God in our daily decisions, especially when they are difficult.
- Simeon is devout, looking for the restoration of Israel
Not only is Simeon righteous, he is devout and looking for the restoration of Israel. Simeon enjoyed his friendship with God so much that he kept coming back for more! Devout means one is devoted, focused, intentional about his or her goal. Simeon’s goal was God. He wanted as much God in his life as he could get. In fact, he wanted it for everyone. Simeon was looking forward to the day that God would rule all nations.
I think “restoration of Israel” here is more than the Jews having control over the physical geography of the Holy Land. I think Simeon as a prophet (and not a politician) saw the big picture. He says in our passage, “For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” This is a global perspective where all people are welcomed in God’s kingdom. It is like our prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
Application #2: How do you and I become more devout?
How you and I become more devout? A step at a time. We decide to do little things that can bring us closer to God. We offer a prayer at the beginning and end of each day. I find that if we pray that way, we will find ourselves praying more throughout the day. We read a devotional during the day and watch how the Holy Spirit will use that to instruct us through the week. Prayer, study, silence, serving, and worship are all steps to becoming devout. Simeon practiced these things and so can we.
- The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon
Finally, this last descriptor is very telling of Simeon, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to be upon a person? This has been a confusing concept for many throughout the history of Christianity. Who is the Holy Spirit and what is his purpose? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with me? It all can sounds holy spooky!
I think we need to hear the angles say to us in this area, “Do not be afraid!”
Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit would come upon certain people for specific reasons. Like on Samson to fight in battle or prophets to see and tell what God wanted. In the New Testament we see the Holy Spirit coming John the Baptist in the womb and on Mary to conceive Jesus. Today that same Spirit of God is here living in the hearts of everyone who has welcomed her in.
The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is God coming to us in a way we can receive.
Jesus promised that when he left, he would send his Spirit to live inside of us.
In John 14 Jesus says:
“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!”
Application #3: How do you and I become at home with God’s Spirit?
Practically, how does this work?
First, we choose to believe that Jesus the Christ is the one sent by God and invite him to rescue us and live in us. That is how it starts. Like Mary, the Spirit comes to live in us by invitation.
Second, we listen to this Spirit and allow God to direct our lives. We move over out of the driver’s seat. Jesus take wheel! Not just in emergencies, but in all our priorities and decisions we seek God.
Third, we surrender. We put our grand plans on the table and ask God to guide and use us in powerful ways. Our small dreams make way for God-size dreams.
Fourth, we pay attention. I heard an interview with Father Gregory Boyle, a priest who works with gang members in Los Angles [https://homeboyindustries.org/our-story/wheres-g/]. He said what helps him stay focused on what God is doing is the phrase, “Now. Here. This.” By repeating this phrase as a prayer or mantra, he is brought back to focus on the “Now” of this present moment, the “Here” of where God has him in that moment, and the “This” of the person or situation that needs his immediate attention. Now. Here. This. May that be our prayer for 2020, as we as individuals and a community of Jesus Christ deepen and serve.
Please join me in prayer:
Here I am God and here we are. We are yours. We are created and loved by You. Go with us as we learn to go with you this coming year. Please be patient with us as we learn the steps of faith in this new season. In Christ, Amen.