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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Is Faith the Gift of God? What Does Jesus Say? | Main | Recovery After Sin by Dr. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) »

    Images of the Savior (2 – His Presentation in the Temple)

    Luke 2:28-31 Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your word: For mine eyes have seen your salvation, Which you have prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

    The next glimpse we have of our Savior in the gospel accounts is that of his formal presentation in the temple, forty days after his birth, in accordance with the law of Moses. On this occasion, a dear and faithful servant of the Lord, Simeon the priest, takes up Jesus in his arms and pours out a sincere and fervent blessing for having finally seen the Savior. In this sacred history we may learn, among other notable things, that Christ Jesus our Savior is the central Person of all history. Let us look first at the occasion for this prophecy of Simeon, and second at how central must be the One of whom it is made.

    The first thing that must capture our attention is that Jesus was being brought before the priest, at the demand of the Law, for the sake of purification. This was the purpose of the blood sacrifice, which was, in this instance, (due to the poverty of his parents), a pair of birds. This Mosaic ritual underscored the fact that, from conception, humans are stained with the guilt and disgrace of sin. Since the fall of our father Adam, all mankind has been guilty before God, and, apart from the shedding of innocent blood, without any hope of reconciliation. Blood is the demand of God for the rebellion of each one of us. It must be innocent blood, to atone for our guilt, and ultimately human blood, as we are human. It is to this symbolic ritual that Christ was submitting himself.

    But beyond just the rites of purification, Christ was also coming before the priest for the rite of circumcision. Circumcision signified the removal of the sinful flesh. Circumcision is necessary for one to approach God, but not the physical circumcision to which Christ submitted. For a sinful man to be reconciled to God, his heart must be circumcised, that is, his sinful, fallen nature must be removed. It was this reality to which the rite of circumcision pointed, a rite which Christ voluntarily took upon himself that day.

    Moreover, Christ was coming before the priest to be redeemed. The Mosaic law demanded a certain price for the redemption of all firstborn sons in Israel, because, at the great occasion of God’s redeeming his people from Egypt, he purchased the lives of all Israel’s firstborn with the blood of the passover lamb. God had bought the lives of his children with blood, and the price of redemption gave a constant reminder to that fact (Exodus 13:11-15).

    For all these purposes, Christ was going to the temple, to be presented before the priest, in accordance with the means that God had established. It was at the temple and before the priest that God had ordained these means of grace for his people. If they would partake of the gracious redemption, purification, and cutting away of the sinful flesh that God had provided, they would have to do so before the priest. Although these physical rites were not in themselves efficacious – for that required of the one to whom they were done a faith which looked to the Messiah who would perform the realities of which these rites were but pictures – nevertheless, they were at that time a necessary and God-ordained means for grace and salvation.

    Such was the dignified office of the priest. And yet the true priest understood that he had no real authority to purify, to cleanse, or to redeem, nor yet did any of the ritual practices that God had commanded him to carry out. The true priest understood that they were all mere pictures of the One who was coming, who would indeed have the authority actually to accomplish all the things which were offered in pictures to the Old Testament worshiper. The true priest looked through the lens of the ritual law and saw Christ, the One who would accomplish everything promised by his own perfect life and innocent blood.

    And such a priest was Simeon. He faithfully discharged the duties of his office, but his heart was always reaching beyond the picture and longing for the Fulfiller of all the promises. His was the heart of a true Israelite, for he looked beyond the outward appearances of Judaism and waited for the One who was the true Substance of all Israel’s blessings. And when he saw Christ, he knew that his waiting had ended forever.

    How unexpected must Simeon’s reaction have been to those Jews who were still blinded and hard of heart! To all appearances, he should have been the one conferring benefits upon this small child. He should have been offering life, redemption, and salvation to the baby who had come before him to be subjected to the rites of the law. But how differently did he perceive the situation, when he recognized in this infant the One who would accomplish every reality which he was offering in picture form only. Here is the paradox brilliantly set forth: the child who is coming before the priest for the rites of salvation is thereby named the Savior – for this is what is signified by the name with which he was christened: Jesus, the one who would save his people from their sins. This is the occasion of the prophecy of Simeon.

    Now, let us reflect on how central in all of history must be the child of whom this prophecy was given. When Simeon saw the child, he blessed God, and called him, “the glory of your people Israel.” How pregnant with meaning is this ascription! Everything by which God’s chosen people differed from the nations around them, everything which set them apart, everything by which they were said to be blessed, is summed up in this child in Simeon’s arms. Just think how blessed this people had been: God had chosen them of all the families of the earth, he had provided for them, redeemed them, guided them, protected them, used them alone as the vessel by which he would pour out every good blessing upon the entire world. And everyone of those blessings is contained within this infant. Everything which Israel had to glory of, everything they could ever boast of, was to be found in this tiny Savior. God gave Israel all her glory, he gave to her every blessing from the creation of the world, when he gave to her Christ. Christ is the sum and substance of every good thing bestowed upon God’s people throughout all of history. He is the substance of every type, the fulfillment of every promise, the fount of every blessing ever showered upon us from the good hand of God.

    But not only is Christ the sum of every blessing given to Israel: he is also the one source of hope, peace, and light for the whole world. Thus Simeon extends the blessings of the Savior far beyond the borders of Palestine when he calls him “A light to lighten the Gentiles.” There is no corner of the earth to which the blessings of Christ’s coming will not reach. Christ is the sole glory of God’s people Israel: but even this vast description is far too small for him. The whole world cannot contain the good things which he would accomplish for fallen man. And so the greatness of our Savior’s mercies explode beyond the bounds of Israel and overflow to the whole world, as the prophet Isaiah had written, “I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6,7).

    We can only begin to see how central to all of history is this little child when we consider that he was the One standard by which would issue the rise or fall of every Israelite (Luke 2:34). In fact, he is the One standard by which will issue the rise or fall of every man who has ever lived. Every man that will confess this little child as Lord and Savior of all will rise to the very heights of glory and peace and reconciliation to God. Every man that denies or is offended by this little child will fall an utter and irremediable fall. Everyone who strikes his foot against the Stone of stumbling, the Rock of offense, the Stone which the builders rejected, will be crushed to powder. Everyone who bows down before this great Rock will be built up on the solid Cornerstone as a holy habitation of God (Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:44; Ephesians 2:19-22).

    Dear brothers and sisters, there is only One source of every good thing offered to us! There is only One fountain from which springs every blessing! There is only One Reason and Purpose for all of human history! There is only One who can satisfy for all eternity! There is only One in whom all fullness dwells (Colossians 1:19). That One central person of all history is the child that appeared before Simeon the priest so long ago. Come drink of him and be forever satisfied.

    Posted by Nathan on July 19, 2006 08:23 PM

    Comments

    I read your excerpt on Simeon today.(the priest who held Jesus in the temple) Dec. 22, 07. I was thrilled to learn from your study. I thank you for writting it in laymans terms. I received so much from your writing. Sincerely, Lisa

    Lisa,

    Thanks so much for your kind words! May God bless you with an ever-increasing knowledge of himself this Christmas season.

    In Christ,
    Nathan

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