Sunday, January 1, 2012

Luke 2:21-38

"Expert Witnesses"
MasterPiece Church

Lord, you have given the Bible to be the revelation of your great love for us, and of your power and will to save us. Grant that our study of it might not be made in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts -- but that we might wisely hear your words, note, learn, and inwardly digest them so that we might become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.

I know that you’re all chomping at the bit to hear my Big 3 predictions for the year 2012.

1. In regard to the presidential election -- I predict that approximately 50% of the people will be extremely unhappy with the outcome. 40% will be mildly unhappy.

2. In regard to the Super Bowl -- I’m fairly confident that once again the commercials will overshadow the Super Bowl.

3. In regard to the economy -- In a cost cutting measure the US will start to do away with the paper note dollar bill -- but only after the election.

Now let’s hear you predictions.

(Read the cards that people have submitted.)

Anyone want to add one?

Those are all interesting opinions -- but I’m wondering if any of us have the kind of credibility that would make us “expert witnesses.” I mean, I’ve got a fairly good track record for predicting presidential election results -- sometimes four years in advance. (I’m not saying that I endorse the winners or vote for those who I think will win -- often I do not -- but that I’ve done a pretty accurate job of picking them.)

But does ABC or NBC ever call me and ask for a prophecy? I don’t have enough pundit traction to make me a credible expert witness -- in spite of my track record. And it’s probably just as well. I may be extremely accurate but I’m not always articulate.

In our passage this morning we meet two expert witnesses -- maybe three -- that Luke calls upon to testify to the significance of the arrival of Jesus into the world.

One is a man named Simeon. It does not say anywhere in the text that he is an old man but the words of his blessing in vs. 29 seem to imply that he sees himself nearing the end of his life. “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in piece, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation...”

Anna on the other hand is identified as being “very old.”

So, I’d again like to hear what you think. The first questions are: How are Simeon and Anna alike? And then -- how are Simeon and Anna different from each other?

Yes, both seem to be extremely credible people. Let me recap a little here -- perhaps add an idea or two. Both seem to be old. And in the ancient world -- as with most cultures today -- you gain status and credibility with each year. Unlike in our youth oriented culture, age is seen as a blessing. More years = more wisdom.

In vs. 25, Simeon is described as righteous and devout -- AND he was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come save Israel.

In vs. 26 we learn that God had somehow revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. The word “messiah” means anointed one.

In Greek the word is christos and we often translate it as _________ (Christ). Christ is not Jesus' last name. It is a title -- Jesus the Anointed One.

It was a title that was used of King David in the OT and then it developed some during the times of the prophets and intertestmenental period and came to mean a savior. The messiah would be a savior.

At that point in the first century the messiah or Christ was seen as a political figure who would come save the Jewish people from outside oppressors and re-establish the throne of King David -- bring justice and peace the Jews.

So the first century Jews were interpreting everything that Jesus said and did through that grid.

And this is probably why Jesus was reluctant to use the term to describe himself.

Yes, he did eventually admit that he was the Messiah but the first century Jewish understanding of what that meant was not consistent with what God was actually doing through the Messiah.

Yes, he would be in the family and tradition of David. Yes, he would be the Savior. Yes, he’d be the Prince of Peace and the poster child of radical justice.

But he wasn’t going to make it happen according to conventional common sense practical political wisdom.

And his mandate and mission was greater than what everyone was imagining -- so much so that most people, steeped in the traditional understanding, would miss it. It wasn’t just political or even moral -- but eternal -- and in a way that would stand all the expectations on their heads.

Jesus obtained the messianic victory through sacrifice and by conquering death itself. This would be his messianic mission. And it wouldn’t just be for the Jews but for the world. Simeon picks up on a theme prominent in the prophets  (Isaiah 40:5; 52:10) but not common in the first century understanding of the Messiah.

Vss. 30-32 -- “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” “all people”... “a light to reveal God to all nations...”

The word there is ethnos -- from which we get our word ethnics -- people groups. Nations are not nation states in the contemporary understanding -- but people groups.

Yes, this baby is the glory of the people of Israel but he is also the revelation of God himself to the rest of the world.

So Simeon is an expert witnesses employed to tell Luke’s readers that in spite of the fact that Jesus hadn’t carried out the mission in the way that people expected (remember Luke is writing at least 30 years after Jesus was doing his thing on earth) he really was the anointed one. That was evident even from the time of his birth -- as demonstrated by these expert witnesses.

Note as well, that Simeon was a credible expert witness because, “The Holy Spirit was upon him...” (vs. 26)

Then if you look at verse 27 Luke says that Simeon was led by the Spirit to the Temple. His presence when Mary and Joseph were there at the temple was not coincidental.

And because he was led by the Spirit, his testimony is then also the testimony of the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of God.

So there are two witnesses at this point -- Simeon and the Holy Spirit.

Then along comes Anna. Anna was old, a widow most of her life, she lived in the temple courts. Vs. 37 -- “She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.”

She is identified as a "prophet" in vs. 36.

A prophet is one who speaks on behalf of God. A prophet is literally the “mouthpiece” of God. Sometimes it involves foretelling the future -- making predictions -- but mostly not. It was more FORTH-TELLING than FORETELLING.

In the OT there are seven women identified as prophets -- Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Luke’s declaration puts Anna in that stream. So, when Anna is speaking it is God’s message that she is speaking.

In verse 38 Luke says that “She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”

In other words, she was telling everyone that Jesus is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Who knows how much of that message she truly understood but she knew that the baby Jesus was the one.

A little interesting tidbit -- Luke identifies her as of the tribe of Asher. Asher was one of the 10 northern tribes of Israel that had been all but wiped out by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. They were scattered to the wind. Yet here is a witnesses from that tribe living in Jerusalem -- faithfully serving the Lord. A surprising remnant. How did that happen?

Also, notice that she is called -- "Anna." Does that strike any of you as odd? What if I told you that Anna is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Hannah.

This wonderful old and faithful prophet woman has a Greek name. If she is such a devout Jew why doesn’t she go by the Hebrew version of her name?

In many ways Anna is a fusion woman -- an early hint that this Messiah would not just be for those who are rigidly Jewish in their orientation. And indeed, as Luke tells the story of Jesus and the church -- that is exactly where he is going with it.

Volume 2 of Luke’s account is the book of Acts. And that’s the story of how the Jesus movement went from being a small Jewish sect to a global force which included non-Jews -- a third way.

And here in chapter 2 we have with the name Anna, one of the first small signs of where things are going -- completely Jewish in family credentials -- perhaps even the fulfilment of the lost tribes returning home promise -- living in the Temple worshipping God day and night. Yet she has a Gentile name. And a Gentile reader of Luke’s gospel in the first century would have likely picked up on that fact.

There are two expert witnesses -- three, if you count the Holy Spirit, who seems to be behind their predictions -- their prophecies.

These are highly credible witnesses -- confirming that the Jesus baby is the messiah -- not just for the Jews but for the world -- a Savior.

Verse 34 -- “Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

The disruption that Jesus will cause -- and the revelation of Israel’s true heart -- even the wounding of Mary herself, who saw her son die on the cross on behalf of the world. None of that is an afterthought. It’s not accidental. It’s all a part of the plan revealed early on.

I have a final question: In all the gospel accounts the writers are selective in the information they present to press their points. How does the inclusion of Simeon and Anna (not included in the other gospels) help Luke make his point?

Someone want to take a stab at that one?

They are the expert witnesses, in the right place at the right time, to demonstrate that from even in his infancy Jesus was God’s chosen one -- the Savior. And if that’s the case then we, Luke’s readers, best take him seriously.

Here is my key point this morning: Through the prophetic messages of Simeon and Anna we have credible expert witnesses pressing us to take Jesus seriously.

The story of Jesus’ birth isn’t just a cute fable or another theme village in the magic kingdom. Jesus didn’t come so we could have a holiday -- or to make our lives interesting -- or even to turn us into nice generous gift-giving people.

If you look at the overall flow of Luke’s gospel it is clear that his goal for 2012 -- and all other years -- is to develop mature, convinced, and convincing follower of Christ Jesus -- that is, people who stake their lives on Jesus and follow him into whatever and wherever he leads.

Are you going to follow Jesus in 2012?

Let's pray --
 Lord God, we live messy and complicated lives -- mixed ambitions and motives. Sometimes we’re angry because of the way things turn out. Sometimes we’re depressed because we can’t control the world around us. This is a messy place and we’re dealing with messy people -- including ourselves. We acknowledge our need of a Savior and to be a part of what the Savior is doing in the world.

So, just as we leave the old year behind we leave behind as well the old godless way of doing things -- the business as usual mentality that things can’t and won’t change. We embrace divine optimism and commit ourselves to follow Jesus this year -- this day -- this hour -- this minute. So we mark this new year by starting or renewing our commitment to follow Jesus -- trusting that he will change us so that we might become his mature, convinced, and convincing followers. Amen.

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