On the 30th of December, I was given the opportunity to preach again at St John’s. I was grateful for this, and hope what I produced was used by the Holy Spirit to those attending. The passage was Luke 2: 22 – 40; the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
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.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 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.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into 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.
One of my first thoughts when looking at this passage was just how much detail was packed into it. There’s enough material here for me to preach three or four different sermons. So I’d like to start with prayer that the Holy Spirit will use what I’ve written to bring the gospel to bear on our hearts.
Almighty Father; you are the God who descended from Heaven and became a human child just like us. Your Son Jesus represents a light to all nations and the glory of Israel, for it is in Him that You brought to fulfilment a plan of redemption for the world. I pray that during this sermon you allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts so we might remember the gospel; to have its weight further imprinted on our hearts, minds and souls. Grant us the understanding and humility we need to come to You with empty hands and hold fast to the work of Your Son; we pray these things in your Son Jesus’ name, Amen.
I love cars. I won’t say I know a lot about them, but I love them. I especially love fast cars with big engines in them. I watch a lot of Top Gear and love to see them test drive super cars with big engines in them. These machines are built with one specific purpose in mind – speed. They’re built to go as fast as possible. There is one car they test drove a while back called the Bugatti Veyron. This machine can achieve a top speed of 437km/h; it was designed specifically for this one and only purpose. The whole car is aerodynamically designed, it is lowered to achieve maximum grip, the spoiler helps to push the back wheels down so it can defy the laws of physics to achieve this outrageous speed. This is what it was designed to do.
People, too, are built with a purpose. Just like cars we are designed to fulfil this purpose. The English philosopher Thomas Carlyle understood this when he wrote ‘The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.’ He understood that people need a purpose because it forms the focus for our decision making and shapes the relationships we grow. It becomes a driving force in our life; something that gives us meaning and worth whilst giving us a reason to persevere. We are made to pursue and live out a purpose; this is what we were designed to do.
To give an example: if you believe your purpose is to be a musician, then the decisions in your life are geared around music. You learn about how to do new and different things musically, you make friends with musicians; you dedicate time to making music. Musicians spend many hours practicing their skills so they can become better musicians and perform. They sacrifice their time to travel and do gigs. In short, their lives revolve around music because this is what they see is their purpose. Like the musician, every person has a purpose; the only difference is what we see our purpose is.
This passage is about the purpose of Jesus. I think it is easy to forget that Jesus had a purpose. We often tell people what Jesus did; He died on a cross, He redeemed us from our sins, He rose again. These are all very important things, so don’t hear me saying that they are not. But do we actually know why He came to do these things? Do we look through the bible with a mind to understanding what it is the bible tells us Jesus purpose was?
Or, do we think about our purpose? What is your purpose in life? What are we living our lives for? This passage puts our purpose under the microscope by showing us what Jesus came to do and how this impacts us. Let’s have a look at it in two parts: ‘The purpose of Jesus’ and ‘The restoration of purpose’.
The purpose of Jesus
To understand Jesus’ purpose, we need to have a look at the history of God’s people. We’re told in the Old Testament that God judged His people for their disobedience to the covenant; as a result, He allowed the Assyrians to come in and destroy the northern kingdom of Israel before the Babylonians carried off the southern kingdom of Judah. This began a long period of exile for the people of Judah.
Throughout this time prophets from God spoke to the people. They described a ‘messiah’ who would come and liberate them from their exile. Isaiah depicts Him as ‘the branch of the LORD… beautiful and glorious’ (Is 4:2-4) and that He will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Is 9-1-7). He goes on to detail that the messiah will be a Son of David; a ‘shoot… from the stump of Jesse’ (Is 11:1-10) and one that God will say ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight’ (Is 42:1-4).
This messiah was looked for by the people of God. Over many years prophets continued to speak to the people of God before finally, after Malachi, the prophets went silent. No longer did God send messengers to speak to them. God’s voice was silent for four hundred years while His people battled foreign rule.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, God’s people were waiting. English minister Dick Lucas says, ‘Many people were looking for God to do what He always did; deliver His people’ and this is true. They were waiting for His intervention; they were waiting for the Messiah. Luke’s recording that Simeon was waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’ in verse 25 confirms this. Consolation referred to another passage in Isaiah (40:1), which states ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God’; Isaiah is using vivid imagery to tell us that God is going to come and literally save His people from the captivity they were suffering and set them free.
But what is the salvation that the messiah is bringing? Is it just salvation from foreign occupation or is it something else? This is where it gets exciting, because the prophets paint a brilliant picture of the messiah for us. Isaiah tells us He is a redeemer for those who repent (Is 59:16-20) and that He will bear the burden of peoples sin and intercede for their transgressions (Is 52:13-15). Zechariah tells us that He will remove sin from the land in one day (Zech 3:8-9) and that He will come as a king, bringing salvation and gentleness as He rides in on a donkey (Zech 9:9-10). This messiah, this figure that is referenced by the prophets isn’t coming just to free the people of God from foreign oppression; He’s coming to free them from the oppression of sin! This is His purpose.
This salvation wouldn’t be restricted to just Israel. In verse 32 Simeon states Jesus will be ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles.’ What this means is that Jesus wasn’t coming to just save Israel; He was coming to save all people. The word ‘light’ is helpful here because people in the dark are drawn to what is bright. Since the Gentiles were considered to be ‘in the dark’ regarding who the true God is, it shows that Jesus would draw all humankind to Him by the very nature of who He was; like moths drawn to a light, the Gentiles too would flock to Him.
Simeon’s statement is remarkable. Most of the Israelites considered redemption to be an act God would commit for His own people and this was the only purpose of the messiah.
But there’s one more thing the messiah was coming to do. We need to look at the last part of Isaiah’s prophesy in order to fully grasp the bigger picture.
The restoration of purpose
Let’s take a look at what Isaiah says in chapter 65. The prophet writes:
‘Behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered… behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness… no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days… The wolf and the lamb shall graze together…’ (Is 65:17-25)
This is incredible imagery. Most commentators agree that what God is identifying here is that the salvation His messiah will bring isn’t just a salvation from sin; it’s a complete removal of all the effects sin has in our world. Jesus is going to actually restore the world back to the way it was at the Garden of Eden.
Restoration is a word we don’t often hear. When I think of restoration I think of home improvement. I think about TV shows that present the viewer with people who buy up old homes that are completely run down. These people then return the house to its former glory; they paint the walls, they repair the plumbing, they fix the floor boards, they landscape the backyard, they retile the roof. At the end of the show you see the people who have been involved overjoyed at what they have done; they’ve taken something broken and renewed it. This is what I picture when I hear the word restoration.
Restoration of the world is very similar to the restoration of a house; the difference is simply a matter of scale and effect. In chapters 3 to 11 of Genesis commentators note that three critical relationships are broken by sin and its effects; the relationship humankind shares with nature (Gen 6-8), the relationship humankind shares with each other (Gen 4, 11) and most importantly the relationship humankind shares with God (Gen 3). Restoration of the world ultimately means the renewing of these three specific relationships.
Jesus’ restoration of these three relationships will have a dramatic impact on the world. Sin and its effects will be wiped away and enormous, positive changes will take place. These changes include the end to poverty, the end to war, the end to violence, the end to pain, the end to hunger, the end of sickness, the end of divorce, the end to separation from God, the end to death. This is the purpose that Jesus came to fulfil and this is what restoring the world will accomplish. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph marvelled at what Simeon said (2:33).
But Simeon also had a warning here. We see in verse 34 that he tells Mary and Joseph that Jesus would be the cause for ‘rising and falling as well as a sign that will be opposed’. What does this mean?
Simeon realised that Jesus’ purpose challenges what we believe our purpose is. If Jesus as the messiah came to restore the whole world, then part of that is restoring human purpose. This means what we believe our purpose is now, isn’t right; and this is difficult for us to accept.
You might be thinking ‘Why is it wrong?’ I’ll give two reasons. Firstly, we didn’t make ourselves. The apostle Paul has a great understanding of this and explains it in his letter to the Romans (9:21). He gives the example of a potter and clay and suggests that God is the one who creates us and gives us purpose just like a potter uses clay to create an item with a purpose; we are like the clay because we are shaped and crafted and created with purpose by the creator of the universe. If we want to know what our purpose is, we can only find out from God.
Secondly, our purpose is wrong because it is self-determined. When we decide what our purpose is, our own sinfulness gets in the way. What happens is we create a purpose to serve ourselves rather than serving God and others. This means any purpose we come up with is corrupted by sin no matter how good our intentions are.
This is what Simeon is identifying when he says ‘…and the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed’; he knows the impact sin has on our hearts (2:35). He knew that sin distorts our life and will make us determine a purpose for ourselves that isn’t the one we were made for. The result is we find a purpose that is about us. It becomes a selfish purpose designed to give us what we want. I realise this isn’t going to be a popular thing to say nor easy to hear but it’s the truth.
This is the heart of the challenge. We can rise or we can fall; we have a choice. If we choose to reject what Jesus is saying, which we can do, then we live in violation to the way we were designed. We can continue to determine our own purpose, we can continue to state ‘This is my purpose’. It’s a legitimate choice.
But to reject our design is similar to putting a square peg through a round hole; you can force it in, but it wasn’t designed to go there. It’s a rejection of our design and that means it’s a rejection of God and how he has made us. Because God has made Jesus LORD over all, to reject God is to invite judgement. This is the consequences of our decision to live our own purpose instead of the purpose God has made us for.
The other option is to accept our true purpose, which is far bigger than just ourselves. The American pastor Rick Warren understood this when he wrote ‘The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfilment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God.’
To live in reference to God and fulfil our true purpose is to look to the one person who entered the world with the only purpose that didn’t serve Himself. We need to see the purpose of Jesus for what it is; a sacrificial life dedicated to restoring the world for our benefit. Jesus gave up everything in heaven to come to earth as a child so that we might gain heaven and everything else in it.
He suffered violence on the cross, was betrayed by His friends and was forsaken by God the Father. He did this to correct the broken relationships we have with God and the world so we might live in a restored world without violence; a place where our friends don’t betray us and we are never forsaken by God our Father. This was His purpose; to serve us rather than Himself.
But we must also see that He didn’t choose this purpose for Himself; everything was the will of His Father. He lived His entire life in submission to God and drew His purpose from what the Father designed Him for. We see in verses 22 to 24 that Jesus fulfilled all the law of Moses that was required of Him because this was part of the purpose God had designed for Him. In John 5 Jesus says ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’ (John 5:19). He later says He does nothing by Himself but seeks instead to please His Father (John 5:30).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, when He knew He was going to die, He says ‘Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Jesus knew what was going to happen, He knew this was His purpose, He knew what was going to happen, but He submitted to the will of the Father. He did so at a cosmic cost to Himself and fulfilled His purpose by serving the entire world. This is the wonderful and complete goodness of Jesus; He knew we couldn’t fulfil our purpose so he came and did it for us as our substitute. And what drove Him to do it was love. He loved us.
This really is the scandal of the gospel. This is why Luke wrote the gospel; so Theophilus would have ‘certainty concerning the things you have been taught’ (1:4). Why did Theophilus need certainty? Because what Jesus came to do was just so incredible that Theophilus needed some assurance it was true.
We need to see this just like Simeon has seen it. In verse 30 and 31 Simeon says ‘my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people.’ It seems utterly remarkable to me that Simeon simply knew what Jesus came to do or even who Jesus was; it’s not like Mary and Joseph came into the temple with a massive sign above His head saying ‘Messiah’. How did Simeon see this? How did Simeon know that this completely normal looking baby was going to come and do all this?
He knew because the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. If we want to have this revealed to us we need to pray to the Spirit to unveil it before our eyes like a person having a blindfold taken off their face. We need to pray and ask that we can see what Simeon saw; that we too can get the understanding he had and have the truth of what Jesus came to do melt our hearts. Because when we see it, when we fully understand what He came to do, when the weight of it presses down on your heart, then we our eyes will be opened to the incredible news of the gospel.
When we see Jesus for who He is, then we can find our purpose.
There are two things that make up our purpose and a dynamic that drives us to do them. I’ll try to be brief.
The first is we must surrender to Him. We must let God be God, and stop trying to sit in His seat. He is the creator, not us. He designed us with a purpose; we didn’t make ourselves. It’s at this point you’re probably going ‘Check, I’ve done this.’
The word surrender is a military term. It means the complete and utter forfeiture to someone else; everything you have is no longer controlled by you. When God asks us to surrender to Him, He isn’t looking for 30% of our lives, or 50% – He wants everything. He wants our money, He wants our spare time, He wants our love, He wants our devotion, He wants our career, He wants our education – He wants our life. Do we give that to Him? Are we making career choices with Him in mind? Are we making relationship choices with Him in mind? Are we using our money with Him in mind?
To surrender to Him means giving up what we want and letting Him determine our decisions for us. This doesn’t mean we sit by and wait for lightning bolts or voices from heaven; it means asking ourselves what we’re doing in our lives. It means making choices with what we think God wants in the situation. It means not buying that extra St George jersey and using the money to serve Him.
Because the more we surrender to His will and trust in His love for us the more we will become what He designed us to be.
C. S. Lewis wrote ‘The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be… it is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I begin to have a real personality of my own.’
As Lewis says, the more we give ourselves up to Him, the more we will find our true purpose flows from what He has created in us and the way we were created to be. As we surrender to Him, we will find ourselves serving Him. This leads into my second point of what we need to do.
God made us to do many incredible things. Look around you – we have musicians, technicians, doctors, consultants, artists, teachers, carers, business people, social workers and many, many more skills that cannot be sufficiently named. We are a talented bunch of people and there are only about 40 or 50 of us in the room.
God built us to use these skills for Him and everyone around us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians ‘…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ What Paul is identifying is we were made to do good things with the skills God created us with.
The more we serve God and love Him, the more we will love our neighbour and serve them. The more we serve our neighbour, the more we will discover just how uniquely gifted we are and how God has placed us in specific circumstances to carry out a purpose. It is when this happens that we begin to get an idea of what our purpose is and what God put us on this earth to do.
Our purpose is to surrender and serve Him.
Finally, the dynamic that drives us to surrender and serve God is faith. The author of Hebrews writes ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for…’ (Heb 11:1) The word ‘hope’ in the biblical context means a life-changing certainty about what’s going to happen. In short, the author is saying ‘Hold on to what we know is coming!’
This is what we need to hold onto; the knowledge that Jesus is coming back and He will restore the world to the way it is meant to be. We are assured that Jesus is coming back because He rose from the grave; this is the certainty Theophilus was looking for and it is the certainty we must hold onto in our day to day lives.
The apostle John writes of that day that Jesus ‘…will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’’ (Rev 21:4-5)
Indeed, He will. For that is His purpose.
Let us pray.
Father God, you sent your son Jesus into this world as the messiah so He may restore the earth to its original design. Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit that we may have faith in His work and place our trust in what He has done for us. Grant us that we might surrender wholly to you, and serve you all the days of our life. In Jesus name, Amen.