How would you complete this sentence?
If I had _________________, my life would really sing.
Where we left things last week, Joseph and Mary are 90 miles from home in Bethlehem for the registration that Caesar Augustus issued for the Roman empire.
They made this trip with Mary being very pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem during registration, presumably her water broke and they had to find a place to have this baby. She gave birth to a son, like the angel said she would. Luke simply says she gave birth, wrapped the baby in some cloth, and laid him in the feeding trough. There would no doubt be an incredible learning curve for her and Joseph as they figure out how to raise this child.
But for now, as an Israelite woman, Mary has some ceremonial laws to start working on.
- Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord – Exodus 13. So she’ll have to take the baby and a sacrifice to the temple.
- But she can’t enter the temple unless she has first purified herself after giving birth.
This whole purification system was built on God’s holiness and that you don’t just waltz into God’s presence all willy-nilly. God is holy, which means he is special, set apart, unique, and if you wanted to come to the temple, into his presence, then you needed to be holy, special, set apart as well – and the language they used to talk about being ready to go into God’s presence or not was to be clean or unclean.(1)
According to the Law of Moses, contact with blood would have made her unclean for 7 days after the birth. Then, her baby boy would be circumcised on day 8 identifying him as Jewish, belonging to the people of God, and given his name. Then she would have to wait 33 more days before going to the temple to offer sacrifices so that she would once again be clean, or set apart, and could once again enter God’s presence and dedicate her firstborn son to the Lord.
Leviticus 12 says she has to bring two offerings to the temple: One is the burnt offering, which is for atonement of her sin, and the second is the sin offering, which is for things like touching dead bodies, contacting blood, and a few other things. These weren’t intentional sins or rebellion, but things you couldn’t help.
So, according to the law, Mary would have had to bring a spotless, perfect lamb from the flock for each offering. But, the law made provision for the poor, and if they couldn’t afford a lamb, they could bring two birds instead. The priest would kill the animal, sprinkle blood on the altar, burn some of the animal, and Mary’s sin and uncleanness would be atoned for.
Performing this ritual or any of the sacrificial ceremonies every time you wanted to go to the temple was to remind them that sin was costly. It separated them from God and brought death. They could see the blood. They could smell the smoke. They could see remains and ashes being carted off. Sin was costly. All this death was a visible picture of God’s judgment toward sin.
But at the same time, it was God’s two-fold grace that he would a) make a way for sinful people to enter his presence at all, and b) that he would accept substitutes. An animal as small as a pigeon could be killed to make me clean. That the death of a lamb or a goat would be accepted instead of me dying for my own sin.
These offerings Mary would have to offer would cover the uncleanness of childbirth, as well as atone for her sins, and make her clean again in God’s sight. So with that in mind, let’s turn to Luke chapter 2 and start at verse 21.
First of all, think about what has happened to Joseph and Mary.
- They both were visited by angels. Not something that happens every day.
- They have the physical aspects of Mary’s pregnancy, and probably the emotional, verbal, etc difficulties that went with that.
- They traveled 90 miles for the registration, and ended up giving birth in an unfamiliar town surrounded by animals.
- Now they have a newborn and are trying to figure out feeding, sleeping, washing, etc.
- They still don't know what all this means that Jesus is the Son of God – they don't know how things will all play out.
I think it’s fair to say we all go through these kinds of moments where it feels like our Jenga tower is wobbling and if one more piece gets pulled out from under us the whole thing is coming down.
The question of faith is what do you do when things seem out of control? What do you do when life seems wobbly? Do you double down on your efforts to figure things out? Do you wrap your fists even more tightly around your life to make sure things go the way you want?
I think Mary and Joseph give us a picture of what faith looks like in that kind of moment. There is a lot they don’t know, but they are obedient to what they do know. They know what’s right in front of them to obey and they do it. They observe the law of purification. They circumcise Jesus on the 8th day. They name him Jesus like the angel instructed. They bring him to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and dedicate him, according to the OT Law.
Sometimes it feels like the mundane things of life – paying bills, washing dishes, doing laundry, gassing up the car, cleaning the house all feel like they aren’t important – that we could be using our time to do something so much greater. But could it be that even in those mundane activities, God is still working his purposes? Could it be that washing dishes or mow the lawn does not push pause on God’s plan for your life, but is in fact one of those details that is all part of the plan?
So obediently, Joseph and Mary went up to the temple to present their 6-week old Jesus to the Lord. They are supposed to be bringing a lamb from the flock with them for the sacrifice, but it appears they don’t have the money. They go with birds.
In their own minds, they might be a little embarrassed to show up with only enough money to buy two doves. Maybe they are feeling a little ashamed standing in front of the priest saying we’re here to dedicate our child to the Lord, but we couldn’t bring a lamb.
And yet what they didn’t know is that they were in fact bringing a lamb to the temple – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! While she was embarrassed for not being able to offer a lamb for the sacrifice, she was standing in the temple of God, the place where his presence lived and met with the people, holding a pure, spotless, holy, Lamb of God in her arms wrapped in swaddling clothes, who would grow up to offer his own life as the once and for all sacrifice that would cleanse all who would believe from all of their unrighteousness. She was bringing the sacrifice who would one day end all sacrifices!
And just like we’ve seen in Luke 1, wherever Jesus shows up the Holy Spirit is there to point him out.
Luke 2:25-32 Skip ahead to verse 36… Luke 2:36-38
Looking forward to Israel’s consolation; the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, Simeon and Anna were looking forward to some good news for Israel. Something to comfort them and give them encouragement. The nation of Israel didn’t have its own country, no king from David’s family on the throne, and they were occupied and controlled by the brutal regime of Rome. They had God’s promise that one day a Savior king would come, deliver his people, free them from oppression, establish righteousness but they weren’t seeing it yet.
Remember it has been 400 years since any prophets or revelations from God. They were just looking for some good news; anything.
It’s not all that different from us today. We have God’s promise that Jesus is going to return. We have the guaranteed promise that one day sin and suffering and sorrow will be no more, that every tear will be wiped away, that all things will be made new, and yet here we are. We live with corruption and decay all around us. And sometimes we just want some good news.
Back to my question at the beginning: “If I had ___________ my life would really sing.”
For Jewish people in general, they would fill in the blank with, “Someone to rid us of the pagan Romans and enforce the Jewish Law!” The main problem is corruption in the government and that no one is listening to the law of God. Solution? Pray for the Messiah to come so he could drive out the Romans and establish the rule of Law – make sure people submitted to the scriptures– appoint people of righteousness, who believed like we do, to enforce the law. Legislate morality.
Some of you would agree with them. You would say your life would really sing if we had better leaders who will enforce Christian principles in our country, run out the bad guys, drain the swamp, and all will be well. The Pharisees led the charge in this camp.
Some of you might agree with another flavor of Jewish people called the Sadducees who would say what is wrong with the world is the Pharisees! It’s the conservative people trying to enforce religious practices and beliefs that are the problem. They believed in the morality of scripture, but ultimately the Bible is about how to LOVE other people. But all this talk about angels, judgment, sin, resurrection and so on is antiquated. Modern times call for modern thinking. So good news for a Sadducee would be if everyone could live by what is true for them, we would all be equal, and no one would be told what to think or do.
A third group of Jews called the Essenes decided, forget this – Pagan Romans, Pharisees and their law, Sadducees and their gobblety-gook; let’s take our ball and go home. Move to the desert, build communities with high walls and just do our own thing – govern ourselves and separate ourselves from the rest of the world. Solution to all the mess is to get away from it.(2)
But go back to verse 30 – Simeon holds up this 6 week old baby boy, and says to God, “I have seen your salvation!” Verse 38, Anna comes to the temple and now instead of praying FOR comfort, FOR good news, she is THANKING God for it.
I think what Anna and Simeon are rejoicing in as they look at Jesus, is that salvation is not an idea, it’s not a form of government, it’s not power, it’s not the freedom to do whatever we want, it’s not equality or legislation or justice – Salvation is a person. And his name is Jesus.
FALL AND RISE
Last week, we talked about the birth of Jesus being good news to all kinds of people. But you can’t just grab one section of verses and say that’s the whole story. Simeon is thrilled that his redeemer has come, but he also knows the reality that with Jesus comes a choice. With Jesus comes division.
Luke 12 – Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I came to bring much greater peace than that: peace with God! But that will force division on earth. Division in homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, and around the world. Even families will be divided over me.
Certainly the good news of Jesus is that his appearance will cause the rising, the resurrection of many. He will bring salvation to real sinners. He will act with compassion toward the weak, the poor, the oppressed. He will give rest to weary souls. He will give comfort to those who mourn. His blood spilled out for sin, his resurrection to give new life will be applied to many who are in need of forgiveness and grace.
But not everyone receives the resurrection. Not everyone will be born again. Some will reject the idea that power and wealth isn’t salvation. Some will reject the message that they are sinners who need a Savior. Some will refuse to repent. Not all roads lead to heaven. Jesus’ arrival will also cause the fall of many. Those who have elevated themselves will trip over him.
Jesus demands a choice. You’re either with him or against him.
Then Simeon turns to Jesus’ mother, and says, Mary, you’re especially going to feel the sting of this division. In Mark’s gospel, people came to Jesus and said your mother and your siblings are here. Jesus says “my mother and brothers are those who do the will of God.” That would be pretty hard for a mother to swallow. Jesus creates his own family of disciples, his own priorities.
Simeon is prophetically telling Mary that she will suffer great pain as she sees what the choices associated with Jesus’ ministry will bring. Humans will resist him. They will hate him. Oppose him. And kill him. That will be hard for a mother to watch.
SIGN THAT IS OPPOSED
It wasn’t but 50 years after Simeon’s prophecy that the Roman emperor Nero would be burning Christians alive. Eleven of Jesus’ 12 disciples would be martyred in horrible fashion. Simeon looks at this little child and says to his parents, “this child is a sign of something people won’t want to hear about.” They won’t just let him think differently – he will be opposed, and of course we know the rest of the story, that one day that opposition will pin Jesus to a Roman cross, whipped and beaten. But you have to ask the question – why did people hate Jesus so much? Why did they want to kill him so much?
EXPOSING THE HEARTS
Jesus exposes who we think our real saviors are. He exposes where we think freedom really lies. He exposes what we really love. He exposes what we really think will make our lives sing. He exposes where you really think salvation comes from. He exposes the people who say “I worship God” but their hearts are far from him.
How does he expose the heart? A couple ways:
- Romans 1 says he lets you have your savior. He turns you over to it. You want politicians to be your savior, go for it. You want influence on social media, go for it. You think your life will really sing if you have money – go for it. You think your life will really sing if you have power – go for it. In the end, you’ll be happy for 10 minutes and then you won’t be satisfied anymore.
- Another way he exposes the heart is by asking us to give up something dear to us. A young rich man came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to be saved, and Jesus said, “give all your stuff to the poor.” The young man went away sad because he hoped salvation would not be so costly. The sacrificial system itself was giving up something costly – the best of your sheep, goats.
- Another way he exposes the heart is through Holy Spirit conviction, through his word making us aware of pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, etc, and in his kindness, leading us to repentance.
But at the same time as Jesus exposes the hearts of people, he also points to God’s two-fold grace that God would a) make a way for sinful people to enter his presence at all, and b) that he would accept substitutes. He invites us to receive by faith the death of Jesus in our place, repent of our sin, to not just say “Sorry God” but to turn around and instead of living for self, begin living for God.
Back to the original question: “If I had _____________ my life would really sing,” – what if the correct fill-in-the-blank would be: “thankful, joyful obedience”? Would you believe that? Would that encourage you this morning?
See some of us probably want to put “Jesus” in that line… If I only had Jesus, my life would sing. But if you are in Christ, the reality is, you have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, right now, Eph 1:3. Meaning – all the beauty and wonder and inheritance and peace and joy that will be heaven is already yours! Colossians 3:1 says if you are in Christ, you are as good as in heaven already. Your life is hidden with Christ, and when he appears, you’re going to be given a new body, and you will be with him in glory. You already have been given the best news there is. Your life is going to really, really, sing one day!
THEREFORE, Colossians 3 goes on, for that reason, because you have so much already in Christ, Colossians 3:12-17
What if what would really make our lives sing is thankful, joyful obedience in the ordinary stuff of life, as the Spirit produces good fruit in us? It’s not very sexy. It’s not the kind of vision statement that is going to fill seats.
But it’s what Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna all put on display in this text, not to mention Jesus in verse 39, 40 – Jesus grew up and became strong filled with wisdom and grace.
Ordinary, everyday, Spirit-led obedience. Is this a works-based gospel, where what you do saves you? Do they have to be obedient in order to earn their salvation? Does this ordinary everyday thankful joyful obedience make them right with God?
No. The child they carried in their arms would earn their salvation and make them right with God.
- Overview: Leviticus
- Brooks Simpson in a message called Waiting For Better Things, October 17, 2010 (https://graceb3.org/resource-library/resources/waiting-better-things/)