Dear radio friends,
Every sincere Christian who seeks to conform his life to the standard of God’s Word is confronted again in these days with the Christmas season. Even the most ignorant and ungodly person in our society knows that this has something to do with the birth of Jesus Christ — the coming of God’s Son into the world. But if you were to ask today the question, “Why did Jesus come? Who is He? What did He appear to do?” you would be met with the grossest ignorance, perversion, and superstition. You would be told that this was God’s reaffirmation of the dignity and value of mankind. You would be told that it was a lesson to make room for others, even for God. Others would say, “Well, it has to do with the call to live in peace with mankind, or faith in human goodness.”
Do you know why Jesus came? Do you? Amid all the crass materializing and frightening paganism of this season, do you know why God’s Son came in our flesh?
We want to direct our mind and heart today to a word of God from the lips of an aged man called Simeon. You will find those words in Luke 2, beginning at verse 25. We direct our thoughts to his words because there we receive a very clear explanation of Christmas.
We want to know the reason for the birth of God’s Son in order that we might worship the Christ-child even as Simeon did. We must be clear in our mind and heart, and the Scriptures must be the light to guide us through all the babble of the world’s Christmas. For this is not simply an academic enterprise that we have today, but we say these words from Scripture in order that we might embrace this only Savior by faith and bow before Him in total submission. That is our intention. That is why we proclaim to you today, “Christmas in the Words of Simeon.”
Who was Simeon? The Bible tells us very little about him. In the passage I referred to we find that Simeon, an aged man, had spent his days waiting in the temple — waiting, we read, for the consolation of Israel. God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had held the Christ-child, the promised Savior, in his arms.
We are told that Simeon was a just man and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Ghost was upon him. He was a true believer in the midst of the Phariseeism of that day, with all of its disgusting self-righteousness which the Lord was going to condemn. He was in Jerusalem and at the temple where, in just a few (33) years they would crucify the Son of God in the flesh. He was a man filled with the Spirit of God, a true believer. He was just, that is, a justified man. Along with David, he believed that this Christ-child was the One who would pay for the sin of his own heart — his sin against God. He was a devout man, that is, he took very seriously his obligations before God and governed his life by the Word of God. He was an expectant man. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. That is, all of his hopes were based upon the Christ, the One whom God had promised, for this One would console Israel. He would be for the comfort of God’s people. And he was a spiritual man. The Holy Ghost was upon him. God, by His own power, had come to dwell within the heart of Simeon.
That is who he was: a justified, devout, expectant, spiritual man — waiting for the promise of God to him to be fulfilled.
And that happened. We read, in the context, that Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple forty days after Jesus was born. There were two Levitical laws which brought them. In Leviticus 12 the law prescribed for the purification of a mother after the birth of a child. The woman was unclean for forty days. On the fortieth day she was to come to the temple for purification.
The other Old Testament law related to the birth of a firstborn son. Mary and Joseph came to the temple to do what must be done for the birth of a firstborn son, to redeem that son either by the sacrifice of a lamb or, in the case of poverty, by a pair of pigeons or turtledoves. They have brought the baby up to the temple in fulfillment of the requirements of the Old Testament law.
Then we read, “And he,” that is, Simeon, “came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God.” This evidently took place in the outer court of the temple where women could go. We have a very amazing and striking event: the aged Simeon, who had long hoped and relied upon God’s promise, now is led by the Spirit to identify the child, to take the child into his arms. Why would Mary yield her son to a stranger? How did Simeon know that this was the Christ-child? We are not told that. Those questions have no consequence. God omits them so that the emphasis might be exactly where He wants it to be — the aged Simeon, led by God, holds in his own arms the long-awaited Messiah. And Mary, who had so long pondered in her heart the words of the angel and of the shepherds, now sees a man whom she had never met before, and yet this man makes her feel something to release the child into his arms.
Then Simeon explains what has happened, explains the whole wonderful message of the birth of Jesus Christ in this world. He says, first of all, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Literally, “Now Thou art releasing Thy slave, according to Thy word and in peace.”
Simeon uses a word for “Lord” that means, literally, “despot, master.” His words picture himself as a slave being released to the life that is to come. “O Lord, Thou art my master. On earth my place was to do Thy will. Now Thou art releasing me from one sphere of worship in this earthly temple, and one sphere of service, to a higher one, where I might serve and glorify Thee perfectly.”
But then he speaks about Jesus Christ. He says, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” Now, if you understand those words, you understand the purpose for which Jesus Christ was sent to the earth. The words of Simeon emphasize three things: salvation, prepared, and all people. “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” That is what the birth of this Child is all about. Literally, he says, “Mine eyes have seen Thy saving thing.” That is a very unique construction. That is, “Lord, in beholding this infant, I am beholding the mighty thing that Thou art doing to save Thy people.”
Simeon sees in the Christ-child the thing that God is doing. Do you? He sees the incarnation, the coming of the divine Son of God into our flesh, as the work of God, the thing God does. He sees Calvary. He sees this Child as the thing that God will do. God, sending His Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, to condemn sin in the flesh, that we might be the righteousness of God in Him. He sees God’s work of providing salvation for His elect children in His Son — by giving His Son to be born, to carry all of our sins up to the cross, and to be raised from the dead. In this way God will save and deliver us from our sins.
You see, Simeon had a mind, by the grace of God, that was filled with biblical concepts. In his mind the great issues were: God, sin, judgment, pardon, forgiveness, holiness, heaven. These were the building blocks of his mind — the issues upon which his mind dwelt. And this, to him, points out the true meaning of the coming of Jesus Christ. He could not think of the Christ-child in his arms without thinking of the purpose for which He came — to deliver us from our sins.
Press that question to your heart for a moment. What do you think about when you think about the birth of Jesus as you read the Christmas story? Children, what about you? December 25. What do you think about? Do you think about all the things you are going to get — all the things you want? Is that what you see? Dad, what do you see? Days off, a holiday? Mother, what do you see? Do you dread the holiday planning? Is that all you see? Or does your mind turn to the things of salvation brought to you by the grace of God? The people of God, those whose minds are filled, by the grace of God, with these great issues of God, sin, forgiveness, holiness, and heaven, see in the birth of Jesus Christ the one that God has given, the thing that God will do to save us from our sins.
Simeon’s words go on. As I said, they emphasize the fact that this was all prepared. Simeon says, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” The meaning is easy to understand. God had prepared this. That word refers to a planning, to forethought. What is Simeon saying? He is saying that Christ’s birth was not an afterthought of God. From all eternity God knew that He would do this. You must not think that God created man in Paradise first of all. Of course, He did that. But you must not think that when God created man and saw that man fell that God would then say, “Well, now what?” And now Christ is some last-minute arrangement because God was caught in a pinch. No! This Child was prepared of God, the eternal forethought, the eternal plan, or, according to the words of Scripture, predestination. God’s pre-determination. That He would save His people from their sins according to a predetermined plan, even as He announced in His own words through the angel to Joseph. That truth, that God, from eternity, has predetermined salvation, who shall be saved by His Son and who shall be left, according to the judgment of God, in their sins.
This is not some hobby horse that we ride here in the Reformed Witness Hour. This is Scripture. When we tell you that we dare not look upon Jesus Christ and divorce Him from God’s purposes in eternity, that this Child arrives according to the eternal will of God which was ever with God, we do not tell you something of our own devising. This is not our own spin on Christian theology. This is Scripture. This is what Simeon says. God’s purpose and plan have now come to light, says Simeon. God has foreordained this in His own eternal thoughts. He has conceived all of this. Now He is executing His thoughts. So the Scriptures may say that we are chosen to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. One belongs to Christ by God’s election, which was an eternal decision of God. We may read in Revelation 13:8 that Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world — in God’s thoughts God has provided for salvation in His own Son. God sent forth His Son. It pleased the Father. This is part of what God had prepared in the depths of His own heart in order to reveal His own glory — the glory of His grace. It was prepared.
I ask you a question. In this holiday season, no doubt, you are going to sit down at a wonderful meal, a family-gathering, a Christmas dinner. Everything is going to be well-prepared. There are going to be steaming meats and plates of vegetables and everybody’s favorites. There is going to be a very beautiful décor. There is going to be plates and silverware. As you walk into the room, do you think that the dinner just happened? Do you think it was just “thrown together,” as a wife will sometimes say? You had better not try saying that. No, no! Very plainly there was some thought there. Someone gave it some careful thought. And if you are wise, you will realize that and thank her too.
Now, when you look at Jesus Christ, do you think that that was just thrown together? Oh, no! You must see that someone had very careful thoughts about what we needed and that He, in grace, the Almighty God, made complete preparation and provision for us in His Son.
Finally, Simeon says, the meaning of the birth of the Christ is that this salvation is prepared for all people, literally, for all peoples. Then Simeon goes on to say that Christ will be the light for the Gentiles, that God’s salvation might be known unto the ends of the earth.
Simeon is telling us that this salvation that God has prepared in Christ Jesus, this salvation that He is now accomplishing in the giving of His Son, is a salvation for all peoples, all nations. It is not for one racial group. It is not for one cultural segment of mankind. This salvation shall not know ethnic barriers. Simeon is proclaiming that the gospel is going to break the bounds of the Jewish nation. And the redeemed of God shall be those whom He has chosen out of every nation, tribe, and tongue. All the nations of the world, from the farthest reaches of the known world. God is going to show this after the birth of His Son — see Matthew 2 on the visit of the wise men from the East, the Magi. Why do they come? Not simply to be a feeble excuse for us to give gifts on Christmas. That is not why they are in the Bible. No, they are the firstfruits of the nations. Christ is proclaimed as the One who shall be the light unto the Gentiles, unto the nations. Isaiah had proclaimed that those who sit in darkness have seen a great light. Now Simeon says that God’s salvation, which has been prepared eternally and now is being accomplished in the birth of His own Son, is the light that God will have for all the people of the earth. All of His children, from every nation, tribe, and tongue, shall be saved in this one Christ Jesus. And all shall be brought together, by the wonderful love of God and through His Word, to bow down and to worship Him.
Do you understand now the meaning of Christmas? Do you understand it as Simeon did? He embraced it with all of his heart. He held this Christ-child in his arms as a sign of faith embracing the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then it will also be our concern, as those who personally by the grace of God belong to this Savior, that we will preach and teach the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout all of the world. Relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to preach and to teach the truth that Christ is the Savior. We are called to proclaim that we are to rejoice in God and in His mercy revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We are to proclaim the truth that once we too were in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord, that He is Savior, mighty Savior, who saves by His grace and word. And we shall be zealous that this light shine clearly. We will be zealous to have the gospel preached in truth. We will be zealous to have missions conducted in faithfulness to the Word of God. Do you see His glory — the glory of this Christ-child? Then you will pray that the gospel may go forth in its saving power unto all the earth, the light that is prepared to shine upon all peoples of the earth.
Do you know the true meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ, personally? Have you been brought into loving attachment to this Christ-child? Has the Holy Spirit given you to see Him as the One to whom you belong, the One who is your Savior? By the grace of God, we respond: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest all things. By Thy grace, I acknowledge my sin. But I see the wonder of God’s provision in Jesus Christ the Savior.”
Then you will speak as Simeon today. You will speak the true meaning of Christmas. And you will proclaim the word, “Oh Lord, my master, I am a slave to do Thy will. My great desire is that I might be a light of this glorious gospel and that this gospel may shine even unto the day when all His own shall be gathered home around Him and we will rest eternally in the arms of the Savior.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word. And we pray that Thou wilt bind it to our hearts. We thank Thee for the wonder of Thy love, that Thou hast so loved us as to give Thy Son in our flesh. We confess, O Lord, that it is all of Thee, all of Thy grace and mercy. Give us now in our life to look unto Him and to glorify Him in all that we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.