Around Christmas, we, at this church, considered the theme: Seeking A Saviour. I suggested that the whole world is seeking a saviour. Everyone longs for a better world without sadness and crime and war and pollution. The message of Christmas is that there is a Saviour and he is Jesus.
We also thought about the shepherds and the magi, who sought the Saviour.
I want to continue that theme because todays’ passage describes two wonderful, elderly saints who were also seeking the Saviour. There are many positive things said about Simeon and Anna. Simeon was righteous and devout. The Holy Spirit was on Him. He had received a promise from God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. He was led by the Holy Spirit into the temple courts at the very time Mary and Joseph came in to dedicate Jesus to God and to offer the sacrifices that were required for purification after a birth. Simeon was clearly a godly man.
The description of Anna is shorter but equally glowing. She was a prophetess. She was old and for many years had never left the temple but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying. They were devout, godly people. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have Simeon and Anna in your church?
But there was another thing that was true of both of them: they were waiting for the Saviour. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”. Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. Waiting for the consolation of Israel; waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Jews believed in two ages: the present age and the age to come. The present age, obviously, is the age in which we live but they believed that God would intervene in history, bringing the present age to an end and initiating the age to come. The age to come is the age of perfection when God reigns as King.
We live in an age of struggles and pain. The Principal of Bethlehem College is one of our closest friends. He was here (after the service) a few weeks ago. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the school is faced with the deaths of three people doing short-term mission work in Kenya. There is all the trauma for the families of those killed as well as the school community, their church communities and so on.
That is just one incident among dozens of tales of suffering that are on the news every night and millions of tales of suffering that never make the news – our stories. That typifies the present age. It is an age of pain. We live in a broken world – a beautiful world that is also a horrible world.
But the age to come is the one prophesied in the Old Testament when the Messiah will reign with justice and righteousness for ever. It is the age in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain; when God’s people will dwell in His presence. They will be His people and He will be their God.
The Jews believed in a perfect age to come. That was the hope they held and longed for. It would be ushered in by a cataclysmic intervention by God in history – indeed, by the coming of the Messiah.
That is what Simeon and Anna were waiting for. “The consolation of Israel” would be the time when God would redeem Israel and set His people free after all their suffering. They would be consoled. The Roman occupation was just one in a long list of foreign conquests. No wonder they longed for the Messiah and the new age. “The redemption of Jerusalem” refers to exactly the same thing.
We sometimes have the impression that the whole nation was waiting for the Messiah but, actually, many had possibly given up on the idea or didn’t really believe it. Later, during His ministry, Jesus obviously reignited this messianic hope but at the time of His birth maybe many simply were getting on with life – tired and hurting under the pressures of this world but with no real expectation of divine intervention.
Not so, Simeon and Anna. They were godly people waiting for God’s intervention. Around them was a group of equally godly, hopeful people – the group that Anna spoke to about the baby Jesus.
The Jewish “two age” understanding of history is actually the Christian understanding too. Jesus talked often about “the present age” and “the age to come”.
Luke 18:30 [Those who have sacrificed for the sake of the kingdom of God] 30 … will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Matt 13:39-40 [When explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares] …The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
We see there that the close of the age is a time of judgement.
The disciples asked Jesus:
Matt 24:3 …”Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
The disciples understood the close of the age as when the Messiah would come to establish His kingdom. Interestingly, they understood, even at that stage, that Jesus was the Messiah and would return.
And, of course, Jesus finished the Great Commission by saying…
Simeon and Anna were waiting – waiting with eager anticipation, longing for God to intervene. That also is the attitude of godly Christians. We long for Jesus to return. This world is not our home. We long for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come”. It is a prayer of longing.
To Titus (2:13) Paul talks about Christians “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 9:28 talks about Jesus returning to save “those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”
The second-to-last verse in the whole Bible says “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
That expresses the Christian’s longing for the coming of the Messiah which will be the end of this present age and the beginning of the age to come. This is the good news: the age to come is the good news.
But if we are still waiting for that to happen, how come Simeon and Anna got so excited 2000 years ago?
The two ages overlap.
Simeon and Anna recognised the Messiah. This baby was the one for whom they had waited. Isn’t that remarkable in itself – that they should that that a helpless baby was the Messiah? God obviously, supernaturally revealed to them that Jesus was the Messiah. Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit into the temple courts. Amongst the crowd was a young couple with a baby and Simeon knew that that baby was the Messiah. Anna obviously was drawn by the Holy Spirit to them as well. Both of them experienced enormous joy at seeing the promised Messiah. God had intervened in history. The new age had begun.
The Pharisees once asked Jesus (in Luke 17:20-21) when the Kingdom of God would come. He replied, “You cannot see the coming. It is not something you can point to because the Kingdom of God is among you.” In other words, I think, Jesus was saying that the coming is not a single event. The Kingdom is already here and it is growing. Jesus told a number of parables about the Kingdom being like yeast that works away slowly in the dough or like a tiny mustard seed that grows to be a large tree. With the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom was present. Every time someone was healed – a blind person saw or a leper was cleansed ; every time a person was delivered from a demon or a dead person raised or someone was forgiven by Jesus, that was God’s Kingdom. In Jesus the Kingdom had arrived and Simeon and Anna were absolutely right to celebrate. God had intervened. The new age had begun.
But the Kingdom of God co-exists with the broken world of pain and we still wait for its fulfilment. One day, Jesus will return and there will be no more sickness or crime or hatred. The Kingdom has been initiated but we still wait longing for its fulfilment.
As we wait, we can learn some lessons from our fellow waiters, Simeon and Anna.
Firstly, their joy was in meeting the Messiah. Jesus is the Saviour. Jesus is the One who ushers in the new age and who enables us to be part of it as we put our faith in Him.
Simeon immediately gave thanks to God for allowing him to see the Messiah and that he could now die in peace “for my eyes have seen your salvation” – a salvation that, significantly, Simeon understood was for all the world. For us also, it is when God opens our eyes to the Messiah that we will have the same peace.
Simeon also perceived by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that there would be two different reactions to Jesus. He would cause the falling and the rising of many. He would be spoken against. He would reveal the thoughts of people’s hearts. Mary herself, Simeon warned, would experience great sorry; a sword would pierce her heart when she saw how Jesus would be opposed. Some people will receive Jesus as their Saviour. He would cause them to rise. Some would reject Him and, as a result, they will fall.
We cannot be neutral in our response to Jesus. We must decide whether we will be for Him or against Him. Have you recognised, and rejoiced in, and welcomed your Saviour?
Secondly, waiting doesn’t mean being passive. We don’t know what Simeon did but Anna, although she waited, continued to prophecy and to worship day and night with fasting and prayer.
We too wait, and long for, Jesus’ return but we do not sit on our hands. While we wait, we continue to worship God and to serve Him by ministering to others. Are you? Is yours a life of worship and service, including…?
…and this is the third point: having met the Messiah, Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the age to come. She was able to tell them that God had acted; that their Saviour had come.
While we wait, our role too is to tell all who will listen about the Messiah. Christians expect that one day God’s Kingdom will come in all its fullness and there will be no more pain or sorrow. That is our hope. That is the good news. We cannot keep that future to ourselves.
Can I ask you – do you expect that God is going to intervene and establish His Kingdom? Are you one of those who is waiting eagerly for Jesus to return? If so, it is very easy to see why the result is joy and peace, isn’t it? It also follows very naturally that we will tell others. We want them to experience God’s perfect future too. We need to tell them because entry into God’s Kingdom depends on their response to God’s Messiah.
If you have no expectation of God intervening or of a coming perfect world, can I just say that this is the good news of the gospel? Please find out more about it. Please ask your Christian friends, do some reading, pray. You can be like Simeon and Anna: close to God; looking forward to God intervening, and having joy and peace that comes from having met the Messiah.
- Given the descriptions here, what do you admire about Simeon and Anna?
- Are you comfortable with the explanation given in the sermon regarding the Jewish view of history and Simeon’s and Anna’s waiting? What would you want to add or amend?
- Are you comfortable with the suggestion that that is also the Christian understanding? (There are further scriptures listed below.)
- How much is “waiting” a part of Christian living? (There are further scriptures listed below.) How would you describe that waiting?
- Are you someone who is waiting for the return of Jesus?
- What else does the Bible say about what we do while we wait (e.g. 2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3)?
- What are the implications of this for a) how we might declare the gospel, b) the responsibility to witness to Jesus?
1) Passages about the “two ages” understanding of time
- Matt 12:32
- Matt 13:38-40
- Matt 13: 49-50
- Matt 24:3
- Matt 28:20
- Mark 10:29-30
- Luke 20:34-35
- 1 Corinthians 2:6-8
- 1 Corinthians 10:11
- Ephesians 1:20-21
- Hebrews 2:5
- Hebrews 6:5
- Hebrews 9:26
2) Passages about Christians waiting for Jesus’ return
- Matt 24:42
- Luke 12:37
- Luke 21:34-36
- Romans 8:18-25
- 1 Corinthians 1:7-8
- Titus 2:11-14
- Hebrews 9:28
- 2 Peter 3:11-14
- 1 John 3:2-3
- Revelation 22:20