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TEXT: Luke 2:22-35
SUBJECT: Songs of Salvation #5: Nunc Dimittis
Did you go Christmas caroling this year?
When I was a boy, many Christians caroled this time of year, but now, hardly any do. We had carolers every year back then, but now? I can't remember the last time any came by the house, and this is a real shame, because--if anything in the world deserves to be sung about, it's the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
People sometimes tell me, 'You're living in the past', and there's truth in what they say. The Bible forbids this, but I have a very hard time complying with it. Solomon wrote--
Do not say the former days were better than these,
But, in some ways, they were. Christmas caroling is one of the ways. I think we ought to revive the lost art, and if we do, we'll be following an old and honored tradition, dating back to the first Christmas, the day Jesus was born, a few months before that day, and forty days after. The first ones to hear of His birth sang in celebration, and we'd do well to join them.
How many songs were sung to Him and by whom, we cannot say because the Bible does not provide a complete telling of any part of His life, including the first part. What we can say, however, is this: Christ's coming was sung by at least four people an a host of angels.
The first song was sung by His aunt Elisabeth. We call that The Benedicta; when she finished her song, His mother Mary, took up hers, The Magnificat. A few months later it was Uncle Zacharias's turn with his Benedictus; on the day Christ was born, the angels sang The Gloria; and now, one last song will be sung in His honor, by a dear old man named Simeon. Following the Latin Bible, it's called--
The Nunc Dimittis.
Or, 'Now You Dismiss'.
Before we get to the song, however, let's have a look at its setting. Luke begins with the date, v.22--
When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were completed...
The Law he has in mind can be found in Leviticus 12, and refers, not to Jesus Himself, but to His mother. As you all know, childbirth is a messy business, with blood and other icky things involved. Under the Mosaic Law, these icky things made a woman unclean--not sinful, but unclean, excluded from the public worship of God and the fellowship of His people.
When a boy was born, the mother was unclean for forty days. When the days were over, she was then commanded to come to the altar and present an offering to the Lord for her cleansing. If she was a wealthy woman, she would bring a sheep; if poor, a brace of turtledoves would suffice.
Mary and her husband were poor, of course, and so they brought the doves to God. The heads were then wrung and the blood dripped onto His altar. He would take that blood in the woman's place, and pronounce her clean, back in communion with His people and fit for His worship.
This was the purification rite, and Mary, being a devout Jew, kept it to the letter.
There was a second part to the ceremony as well; Luke hints at it in the last part of v.22--
To present Him to the Lord.
That is, their baby, Jesus. In Numbers 18:15-16, Moses stipulated that the parents had to ransom their son from the Lord; in other words, God owned the boy, and the parents had to buy him back for five shekels of silver. This was what most parents did.
But Mary and Joseph did not. Instead of paying five shekels to God for Jesus, they gave their Son to God, as Hannah did many years before. This made Jesus--in a ceremonial sense--
Holy to the Lord...
That is, set aside for His service in a special way.
This explains that somewhat disturbing passage in the next chapter, where Jesus, going up to Jerusalem at Passover, does not come home with them. When they found He wasn't with them on the road to Nazareth, they came back to the capital in a tizzy. When Mary finally found Him in the Temple, she chided Him for His thoughtlessness--
Son, why have you done this to us? Your Father and I have sought you anxiously!
Her exasperation caught the Lord flat-footed! For it was not He who was thoughtless, but His parents--
Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?
In other words, they had given Him to the Lord as a baby and now they want to take Him back! But the fact is, from the day of His presentation, His home was the God's house, not Joseph's!
Jesus is now formally, publicly, and forever dedicated to God, a dedication from which He would never waver.
At this time, there was an old man living in Jersualem by the name of Simeon. Luke doesn't tell us what family or tribe he belonged to, how he made a living. or whether he was retired or not. All we know about his natural life was that he was near the end of it.
Luke doesn't care much about his body, but he has a keen interest in his soul, the kind of man he is, v.25--
This man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel.
Just is another word for 'righteous' and this means he was a law-abiding man, obeying, not just the traffic laws or the criminal laws, but the Law of God. Was he sinless? Nobody but Jesus is that, but Simeon did his best to obey the Lord, and when he failed, he confessed his sins and offered the appropriate sacrifices.
He was also devout and this has a more religious meaning, something like 'godly'. In other words, he not only kept the Law of God, but he kept it from the heart: He was a godfearing man, a man who loved the truly loved the Lord!
Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, it has never been easy to live a godly life; holiness is never in fashion; humility before the Lord is always despised, laughed at, and persecuted. What Paul said of his day is equally true of our own--and Simeon's--
All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
How did he maintain and nourish a godly life? The latter part of v.25 tells us. He was--
Waiting for the Consolation of Israel.
To 'console' means to comfort and to fortify, to defend and justify. The man had never known a moment's peace--and how could he? His people were slaves to vicious and hateful enemies. Some of their enemies were external, the Romans, in particular, and other Gentiles who infected Judea with their idolatry, their love of money, pride, immorality, and all the rest.
But being a wise man, Simeon knew that not all their enemies were 'on the outside'! Israel's worst enemies were inside of them! For they, too, were living by the values of this world! Even their most respected men were shot through with--
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
For all their long prayers, they were still devouring widows' estates! Though they never failed to wash their hands, their hearts were still dirty! They looked like the temples of God, but were, in fact, tombs full of rotting bones and stinking flesh!
Simeon had heard all the self-help plans, but he also knew their futility. Only God could set things right! Only He could bring salvation to His people.
But would He? All the prophets said He would, but the facts testified against them! Israel had been enslaved for five hundred years, and there was no sign of things changing any time soon. The Roman Empire was near the peak of its power and the people of God had never been more sinful.
Through all this, Simeon waited and waited...and waited.
Then something happened. The Holy Spirit told him he would live long enough to see the Christ. Certainly he didn't live long enough to see Him crucified, Risen, or seated at God's Right Hand, but that was fine by Him. For the Cross is not our Savior and neither is the Empty Tomb. Christ is our Savior! He is the King, and when He shows up, God's Saving Rule is guaranteed!
Not long after he got the Good News, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to go to the Temple. Did he know the Spirit was moving him? Or did he go up that day on 'his own' not knowing it was the Spirit who prompted him?
In any event, when he got there, he saw the usual swelter of people, including a young couple presenting their baby boy to God.
There was nothing impressive about the couple: no haloes over their heads, no sign of belonging to David's family, and the turtledoves only proved their poverty. As for the Child? He looked like any other--
No form or comeliness...;that we might desire Him.
But however ordinary the Baby looked to other people, Simeon saw His--
Glory, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Wending his way through the people, Simeon took the Child into his arms, praised God, and...started singing for all to hear--
Lord, now you are letting
Your servant depart in
According to your Word;
For my eyes have seen
Which you have prepared
before the face of all
A light to bring revelation to
And the glory of your
When the parents heard the old man's song--
They marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.
Both Joseph and Mary had been spoken to by angels; they knew of their Son's virgin both and His high destiny and yet Simeon's praise is so fulsome that even they're taken aback by it! As well they should be. For what mere man--no less baby!--could contain in Himself all the prophecies of the Old Testament and all the hopes of the world?
Only One Man is worthy of that praise--
The Man Christ Jesus.
...Who is a man, but not only a man, for in this Man--
God was manifest in the flesh.
READY TO DIE
With the coming of Christ, Simeon is ready to die. Whether he dies sooner or later, in pain or in his sleep, surrounding by his wife and children or all alone, makes little difference to him, because whatever the circumstances of his death, the Lord is--
Dismissing his servant in peace.
The old man can die without regret or worry or fear. He has nothing to regret because his sins are forgiven; he has nothing to worry about because He is reconciled to God; He has nothing to fear because His hope for Heaven is secure.
What are the grounds of Simeon's confidence? Not himself or his heredity, his good works, or his intentions. The man can die in peace because Christ has come, and because he knows that in Christ, all the promises of God are made good!
What has God promised His people? Far too many things to name, but let me sum them up in a word: The Lord has promised to be our God and to make us His people. And with Him as our God we have nothing to fear, not even death can threaten us because Christ is the Resurrection and the Life!
I Corinthians 1:30 calls Him--
Our wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
If we're righteous, God's Law has no claim on us; if we're sanctified, we belong to God; if we're redeemed, He bought us with the Precious Blood of Christ!
Many Christians think it is very 'spiritual' to want to die: I'm not one of them! Life under the sun is the gift of God and a unique opportunity to serve Him by serving others in need. We ought to live this life with all we have. Like David, we ought to--
Serve our generation by the will of God,
and then fall asleep.
But when it's time to die, we can do it without regretting the past or fearing the future. For what Simeon claimed for himself belongs to all of God's people--
The end of that man is peace!
Simeon--and all who hope in Christ--enjoy salvation, now and forever. Notice how he describes this salvation. First, he says, it is God's salvation--not man's or any other creature's, and this means it is the product of Almighty Power, Infinite Wisdom, and Eternal Faithfulness. God's salvation could no more fail than God can fail!
As if this were not enough, Simeon adds that God's salvation has been--
Prepared before the face of all peoples.
It's not a half-baked salvation, a slapdash redemption, an ad-hoc deliverance, but something God meticulously planned.
When did God start planning it? He never 'started' planning; the plan was in place before time, Ephesians 1:4--
Just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him.
Was the plan fulfilled in eternity? No, it progressed over time, with some of the high points being the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the anointing of David, and the return from exile. But as important as these events are, the plan of God climaxed in the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of these events were still future to Simeon, but they're all in the past to us. But even though the events themselves are in the past, their results are ongoing. Because Christ was born, crucified, raised and now sits at God's Right Hand, we are infallibly saved, everyone is who puts his faith in the Lord!
So, the salvation Simeon rejoiced in was God's carefully planned salvation. Then he says one more thing about it: it was done in public! He prepared His salvation--
Before the face of all peoples.
Only the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, but they were not the only ones to know about the crossing. They Egyptians knew about it first hand, of course, and so did the Canaanites whose hearts melted at the news. The Exodus was done in broad daylight, for all to see and inspect and think about.
This means, God is on the hook, you might say, to finish the work He began that day. Moses argued this way when the Lord threatened to kill the Israelites in the wilderness. If He did that--Moses reminded Him--what will the nations think? They'll think God was able to get His people out of Egypt, but not get them into the Promised Land. In other words, He would look bad, either too weak to finish the job or not sufficiently committed to it.
If God's reputation was on the line then, it is doubly so now. If the death of Christ does not atone for our sins and His resurrection does not secure our justification, the Lord will 'lose face' with His creatures, an unthinkable prospect!
Some Christians think salvation depends on our faithfulness to God! They've got it backwards! Our salvation depends on God's faithfulness to us! And if He wants all creatures to admire and celebrate His faithfulness, our salvation is sure!
SALVATION FOR ALL!
The salvation that Christ brings into the world is for everyone, both Jew and Gentile. For the Gentiles, Jesus is--
A light to bring revelation.
The coming of this salvation reorients the Gentiles by showing Divinity is not in their countless idols, but in the God of Israel, whose glory shines in the face of Jesus Christ
If it's a light to Gentiles, it is--
The glory of Israel.
The glory he speaks of here is the glory that shone in the Holy of Holies, where God's Presence abode between the Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.
Though it really was there at one time, it no longer is--even in Simeon's day it had been absent for centuries. But the glory that departed the Temple almost six hundred years before the birth of Christ, has returned--but no longer in the old Temple (which was destroyed), but in the Temple of Christ's Body!
God's people have always longed to walk in the light of God's countenance, and with the coming of Christ, we do. Jewish Christians do and so do Gentile Christians. The middle wall of partition was torn down with the coming of Christ, for God never aimed to save one nation alone (or mainly), but planned and is now executing His plan to become--
The Savior of the world!
I hope you go Christmas caroling next year--even if you can't carry a tune in a bucket! But in the meantime, edify yourself and others with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, including the Song of Simeon!
God bless us everyone! Amen.
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