My wife Sarah and I are expecting a baby in April, so one of the topics of conversation this Christmas has been what to call the little one when it arrives. Sarah received a text message from a friend a few days ago which said “Had a dream last night that you had twins at 27 weeks. You had a boy and a girl and called them Thomas Oliver Potter and Rita Rainbow Potter – how weird is that?” We’re not taking that dream as guidance, especially as we’re expecting just one, not two babies. And, as some people say, you can’t really name the child before it’s born – when you see it you’ll know if it’s a James or a John, or a Rosamunde or a Priscilla, or whatever names are on our shortlist by then.
Mary and Joseph didn’t have a shortlist, because their firstborn got his name not just before he was born, but before he was conceived. There was no discussion, the angel just said to her:
“You are to give him the name Jesus”. (Luke 1.31)
And we’re reminded of that in the first verse of our New Testament reading, which you might like to have open in front of you. it’s Luke 2.21:
“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”
So Mary’s Son was called Jesus, which means Saviour. You’ve probably heard about the church notice-board that proclaimed in large letters “JESUS SAVES”. Someone had grafittied underneath “and Ronaldo scores on the rebound”. Another church poster had printed “JESUS IS THE ANSWER”. And in marker pen underneath “what was the question?” That illustrates that a statement like “Jesus saves” needs unpacking. What does it mean that Jesus is saviour? What kind of saviour is he? What does he save from? Who does he save, and how?
In this text, Luke answers those questions for us. The setting is a trip to the temple to offer sacrifices connected with childbirth, and to present Jesus to the Lord God. And as Mary and Joseph enter the temple courts, a man walks right up to them, as if he’d been expecting them. This is Simeon, and he has been expecting them, Or rather, he has been expecting Jesus. Verse 25 tells us Simeon was righteous and devout – that is, he loved God. And the result of that is that he waited for what God had promised. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel – the time when God would come to save his people. And the Holy Spirit had shown him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ; the Messiah – the King that God had promised to send to save his people. When Simeon sees Jesus, somehow he knows this is the one. He lifts the baby from his mother’s arms. And Simeon tells us what it means that Jesus is the saviour. Let’s see what Simeon says about Jesus in verses 29-32:
29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
Simeon says, in effect, now I’ve seen this child, I’m ready to die, because I’ve seen the saviour. And he calls Jesus a light that does two things: a light that reveals and glorifies.
So the first thing that I want to point out is that Jesus reveals God. He’s a light for revelation to the gentiles.
The Bible says that we all know God – at least, we know enough about him from creation and our conscience to know that he exists, that he’s good, and worthy of our praise and thanks and honour. But we didn’t want to keep that knowledge. Romans 1.28 says of humanity
“they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.”
And so, we’re spiritually blind. The first way we need saving is that we need to see God, to know what he is like, so we can relate to the Lord of the universe. But we can’t, unless God speaks to us, and shows himself to us. Throughout history people have tried to know God through looking inside themselves, or out at nature, through rituals and religious practices. But all that gets us nowhere. We need God to reveal himself to us. And he has done just that in Jesus. Jesus shows us what God is like.
And Jesus reveals God for everyone. Simeon calls him a light for revelation to the gentiles, or nations. So there isn’t another way to know God aside from Jesus, through other prophets or philosophies. Only Jesus fully reveals God to us. Jesus said:
“Whoever has seen me has seen the father.”(John 14.9)
And John says about Jesus in his gospel:
“No-one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, who is at the fathers side, he has made him known.”(John 1.18)
As we read about Jesus in the gospels, and see the his holiness and his love; his indignation against evil, but his compassion on sinners; his words that still waves and speak life to the dead… we see God in human form.
Do you want to know God? Then get to know this man Jesus. We can do that by reading the accounts of his life in the New Testament. If you have never done so properly, will you make 2009 the year you read through at least one of the gospels, to see for yourself how Jesus shows us God? If you’d like to do that you could also consider coming to Christianity Explored to look closer at Mark’s gospel and ask any questions.
The first way that Jesus saves is that he reveals God. Here’s the second way Jesus saves: he restores glory. or as Simeon says, he is a light, for glory to God’s people Israel.
What is ‘glory’? First of all it refers to God – It’s the splendour of who God is and what he is like. Glory is the “wow!” factor. It’s a word that sums up the excellence and beauty and perfection and greatness of God. God is glorious, and Israel had glory because God lived among them. In the OT God came to live among his people, first in the tabernacle in the desert, and then in the Jerusalem temple. God’s purpose was that the world might see God’s glory in Israel, and come and worship. Israel’s glory is the fact that the God of glory lives in the middle of them.
But Israel persistently hardened their hearts against God and rebelled. So God removed his presence from them. The prophet Ezekiel had a striking vision where he saw the glory of the Lord leave the temple. God moved out. And that was the most terrible judgement they could face – being forsaken by God. Israel had lost its glory
In many ways the story of Israel is the story of the world in microcosm. From our first parents Adam and Eve, we were created to display God’s glory to the world as he lived among us. But we rejected God and so gave up his glory. Romans 1.23 says we
“exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Our idols today may be more sophisticated than creatures shaped from wood, but we still seek glory in created things rather than the creator. So God cast us out of his presence. We are
“without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2.12)
Having lost God’s glory, we seek glory elsewhere, but don’t find it. We feel that life should be amazing and satisfying, but there’s something that eludes us. Some people seek it in wealth, but those who gain great wealth are just as likely to kill themselves. Incredibly successful people are ultimately not satisfied. Some seek that lost glory by pursuing pleasure, or even in family relationships, but whatever it is, we don’t find what we’re looking for, because only God can really be our glory. Saint Augustine was a restless pleasure seeker until he was converted. He said
“O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in thee”
But Jesus restores glory to Israel and to us, because Jesus is God coming to live among us again. John writes:
“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
In Isaiah Jesus is called “Emmanuel”, God with us. And Jesus transforms his people to reflect God’s glory more and more as they become more like him. To people like us, who would otherwise be alienated from God, this is great news. Jesus saves us by restoring God’s glory to us.
Jesus saves by revealing God. Jesus saved by restoring glory. And here’s the third thing: Jesus saves by ruling the world.
Remember – the Holy Spirit had shown Simeon he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, or promised King. The Old Testament teaches us that this King would rule justly, rule forever, and rule the whole world. We just have to take a look at the news to see the need for a King like that. There’s corruption, greed, hatred, murder, genocide. We need a King who will rule the world in righteousness and judge evil. Jesus is that King.
But this is where we get uncomfortable. We want Jesus to sort out the problems of the world and crush evil, but the problem – the evil – lies in us. The Times asked a number of well known figures to write essays on what is wrong with the world. The Author GK Chesterton replied in a letter:
“Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, GK Chesterton”
That’s right isn’t it? Most of the problems in the world are caused by the selfishness of people like you and me. So what will happen to us when Jesus rules the world?
Well look at verse 34, where Simeon says more about Jesus.
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel”.
In other words, Jesus determines people’s eternal destiny. Some people will fall to judgement, others will rise to life. Why? Look back to what Simeon goes on to say:
“…and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (verses 34-35).
In what way is Jesus a sign? Ramzi has small stickers inside his books that he lends out, on which is printed: “This book belongs to Ramzi Adcock”. The stickers make a clear point, especially if you’ve been holding on to one of his books for too long. I think that’s the kind of sign Jesus is. God put Jesus on the earth as a sign that says “this belongs to me”. And that’s why Jesus is spoken against. That could be out loud – by denying that Jesus is God, or that he should have any say in how I live my life. Or it could be silently saying in the heart “I won’t have Jesus as King”; or just ignoring him. Ignoring the sign is equivalent to speaking out loud against it. And people speak against Jesus because they won’t submit to his rule.
And so that’s the way our hearts are revealed. We don’t want this man, Jesus, to be king over us. Because if he is king, we can’t run our lives as we see fit anymore. The Bible tells us that all of us are like this. “All have turned away” (Romans 3.12).
So here’s the question. If Jesus is appointed for the falling and rising of many, but we all reject him, how come some people rise? There’s just a hint, but a clear hint, in the last thing Simeon says to Mary in verse 35:
“a sword will pierce your heart also.”
As this comes after the prediction of hostility towards Jesus, it’s a clear reference to the pain that Mary would undergo throughout Jesus’ ministry, as he is despised and rejected. But it seems to especially fit at the end of his life when he was executed by the Romans. Mary would be watching, and see her son in agony on the cross.
And the bible is clear that Jesus had to be rejected and suffer and die, and that he did so for us. You see, Jesus was everything we’re not. As a human, he was faithful where we failed. Where we give up on God and his glory, Jesus sought God’s glory as his number one goal. Where we reject God as king, Jesus always submitted to his father. He lived the life we should have lived and dies the death we should have died. On the cross, Jesus fell under God’s judgement, that we might rise with him and be saved.
So to sum up, how does Jesus save us? He reveals God to us, he restores God’s glory to us, and he rules for us. And he does those things especially in his death. It’s in Jesus’ death that he reveals God as passionately opposed to sin, yet compassionate for sinners, as the Father exercises his wrath on our sin on Jesus instead of us. In his death Jesus was shut out from the glory of god in judgement, that he might restore that glory to us who forfeited it. And Jesus was fully obedient to his father even as far as death, qualifying him to be King over the world for our good. That’s how Jesus saves us.
Now, we’ve seen that being saved by Jesus isn’t automatic – because of Jesus, there will be some who rise, and some who fall. So, to conclude, how do you know if Jesus is your saviour?
You know it if you can respond to him like Simeon did.
Simeon recognised Jesus as the saviour:
“My eyes have seen your salvation” (verse 30).
That’s important. He saw Jesus as more than just a baby. If Jesus is your saviour, you’ll recognise him as that. Not just a man, not even a good man or a prophet, but the one who lived and died to bring me to God. If you’ve not yet seen that, can I urge you again to read, or re-read one of the gospels.
Simeon waited for Jesus the saviour. God’s Holy Spirit on him,
“he was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (verse 25)
. Simeon waited for Jesus’ first coming, but if we’ve seen who he is we’ll be waiting for his second coming. His work – revealing God, restoring glory and ruling the world – won’t be complete until he returns. so Christians are people who wait. That’s how the apostle Paul characterizes the conversion of some Christians he writes to in Thessalonika:
“you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”(1 Thessalonians 1.10)
This waiting isn’t a passive sitting-around-doing-nothing. It goes with serving God, living to please him, rather than yourself. But there’s a definite focus on the future, because you know that your salvation isn’t finished until he returns.
Lastly, and I don’t know how to put this better – Simeon was set free by Jesus the saviour. He praises God saying
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” (verse 29).
Having seen Jesus, Simeon was ready to die. Not resigned to death as the inevitable fate, but ready to die in peace. And if you know Jesus as your saviour you’ll be ready to die in peace. Equally, you’ll be able to live in peace. The thing isn’t living or dying, but that knowing Jesus as your saviour sets you free from the need to control your own future. Knowing Jesus brings contentment in whatever situation you face. As Paul says in Philippians,
“to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1.21)
“I can do all things [put up with any situation] through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4.13).
Simeon shows us his response by praising God, and we can do that now in prayer and in our last hymn. So let’s pray.
Father, thank you for sending Jesus the saviour.
We praise you that Jesus shows us what you are like;
We praise you that in Jesus you live among us in your glory;
We praise you that Jesus is King of the world;
And we thank you that Jesus lived and died for us.
Please help us to see Jesus as the saviour, and wait for him, and rejoice in him, in whose name we pray,