I was moved to teach on the doxology and the benedictions, first of all, because of what they mean to me in my own devotional life. I turned to them in my own private meditations for refocus, for worship, for self-examination, for building up a faith. And then, as a result of that, I've been looking for opportunities to teach them to our church, because I believe they aid the people of God in looking up and seeing the greatness of God in these succinct statements of blessing and or doxology that are memorable and meaningful. We take them for granted, but they are there for our blessing and benefit. Wishing and Praise, by H. B. Charles, Jr. Visit Ligonier.org slash teaching series to learn more.
The Gospels tell of a man who, before he died, longed to see the Messiah, and God granted his desire. That's our topic today on Renewing Your Mind. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind with the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries R.C.
Sproul. Today we wrap up our Christmas series with one final lesson. The series is titled The Messiah is Born. All week we've been highlighting some of the more overlooked aspects of Christ's birth. During the next half hour, we'll hear the story of Simeon. He appears just once in the Gospels, yet his enthusiasm, his incredible anticipation of the coming Messiah inspire us to imitate him in his faith. Here's Dr. R.C.
Sproul. Anybody that knows me knows that one of my all-time favorite biblical characters is a man by the name of Simeon. Simeon appears very briefly in the New Testament record.
He plays almost a cameo role, but the role that he plays, I believe, is significant to our total understanding of Christ's coming to this world. One of the benefits of Luke's Gospel is that Luke records for us more information about the birth and the infancy of Jesus than any other New Testament writer. Let's look to Luke for a moment to get his version and narrative of the story of Simeon. We find this in the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, beginning at verse 21.
This is the narrative that follows immediately after the announcement of the angels to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus. Verse 21 of chapter 2 of Luke reads as follows, And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. As it is written in the law of the Lord, every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. The law of Israel required that each male child be circumcised as a sign of the Jewish covenant after eight days. But after 40 days from the time of the birth, the mother was called to go through a religious ceremony, which was a ceremony of purification.
And this is the law that Mary and Joseph are following according to the detailed prescriptions of it in the Old Testament. So after the 40-day period had elapsed, they bring the infant Jesus and, of course, the parents come to the temple for two reasons. On the one hand, to dedicate their firstborn child to the service of God, which was a traditional custom in Israel. As Luke repeats the Old Testament text here, that the first male child to come from the womb is to be regarded as holy, as set apart, as sacred, consecrated to God.
But in addition to this ceremony of dedication, there was also the rite of purification, which involved the offering of sacrifices, a burn offering, and a sin offering tied in together with our corporate fallenness as human being. Now, we know that the Old Testament had a special provision for these sacrifices in the event that the parents were poverty-stricken and couldn't afford the expense for a full-grown animal to be sacrificed. In the case of needy people, those who were destitute, it was allowed by this provision in the Old Testament to offer before God a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.
They were the least expensive creatures that were used in the sacrificial system. And that Mary and Joseph come and offer pigeons bears witness to their economic condition at the time of the birth of Jesus. And so, in obedience to the Old Testament law, they come to the temple for purification and dedication. And it's on this occasion that Luke tells us the story of Simeon. Again, if we look at chapter 2 in Luke's gospel, beginning at verse 25, we read this account. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And so he came by the Spirit into the temple.
And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God. Now, before we look at the blessing that Simeon utters on this occasion, let's just take a moment to look at the man. This is an old man who had received a message from God the Holy Spirit that in one respect was unlike all other divine revelations concerning the coming of the Messiah. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon the prophets, and they announced the future coming of the Messiah. And they prophesied that someday in the future Messiah would come. But on this occasion, Simeon is selected by God to receive a unique promise. God, by the Holy Spirit, says to Simeon, Simeon, you will not die until you first behold the promised Messiah. How would you feel if an angel from God came to you and said to you, I promise you that in your lifetime Christ will return to this planet?
There have been plenty of false prophets who have made that kind of promise to the people, and the people have been sorely disappointed. I can remember a few years ago being in San Francisco and going up on a high hill to the place where I was to speak, and on the way up I saw this large mass of people assembled by the side of a cliff. And I asked my host of that occasion, what are these people doing here? And they said, oh, this is part of a group of people who received the prophecy that today Jesus was coming back, and He was coming back on this hillside. And I saw all these people gathered there in joyous expectation waiting for the return of Christ. And when I returned later in the day back down the hill, they were still there. But the sun set, the day ended, they were still waiting. Many, many people have been deceived into thinking that the return of Jesus would be in their lifetime.
And so you can imagine how often they are ridiculed and mocked and laughed at for their ungrounded hope in the future. And when I think about Simeon, I can't help but read between the lines. I can't help but think of the torment that this man had to endure throughout his life. We don't know from the pages of Scripture whether he ever told anybody during his life that he had received this revelation from God that he would not die until the Messiah would come. But let's suppose for a minute he did. What would have been the reaction of his friends and of his neighbors? They would have thought the man was senile.
They would have thought he was out of his mind. I like to think that Simeon came every single day and came and approached the temple confines. And people say, what are you doing, Simeon? I'm coming to see if the Messiah has come yet. And he would check in the temple, no Messiah. He would go back home. And the people would wag their heads, and they would whisper behind his back saying, there's that silly old man. He comes here every single day. He thinks he's not going to die until he sees the Messiah.
Poor thing. Perhaps even then where Jerusalem was a tourist stop for people from all over the world, that the tour guides of Israel would drive their chariots through the streets of Jerusalem and say, over here is the temple, and over here is this, and over there is the fortress. And they say, and over here is this old man, the fool of Jerusalem, who every day comes around here looking for the Messiah. Now do you notice how that watchfulness of Simeon was described by Luke? He said that it had been promised to him that he would not taste of death until he saw the Lord's Messiah or the Lord's Christ. And he looked for the consolation of Israel. When we consider the titles that the New Testament ascribed to Jesus, we see that there are literally scores of them.
And here's one that is exceedingly rare. A title that finds its roots in the Old Testament, future prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the one who would bring God's comfort and consolation to a nation of people who had known and endured relentless years of suffering and of want, a people in need of consolation. And so in Jewish expectation, one of the titles that was used to describe the Messiah was that he was called the consolation of Israel, the one who in his very presence and in his very person would be the incarnation of the balm in Gilead. Remember the anguished cry in the Old Testament.
Is there balm in Gilead? That is, is there any healing for the people of God? The future of the New Testament in looking forward in the book of Revelation into the inner chambers of heaven itself talks about the trees that are planted along the shores of the river of life.
And the leaves on the trees are for what? For the healing of the nations. Well, the nation, Israel, looked to the future for healing, for comfort, for consolation. And that consolation was to be embodied in the Messiah. And so we read in Luke chapter 2, again in verse 26, it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
And so he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and he blessed God. Think of it, how many times, how many years, how many occasions had this man waited and waited and waited and searched and searched and searched and longed and longed and longed so that now his eyes are dim, he's grown old, and he comes now into the temple and he sees Mary and Joseph and the baby.
How many thousands of babies had he already seen? But he looks at this baby and instantly he knows this is the Christ child. Here's Joseph and Mary standing over there on the side holding their baby, and this old man comes over to them and takes the baby from Mary's arms and lifts it up and clutches the baby to his own breast and begins to praise God. And he sings a song, another song that has become one of the most richly beloved hymns in the history of the Christian church, a hymn that is called by the Latin title, the Nunc Dimittis. And so often is the case with these old hymns that bear Latin titles, the title is taken from the opening words of the song, just as the song of Mary is called the Magnificat because it begins with the words my soul doth magnify the Lord.
So Simeon's song is called the Nunc Dimittis because the song goes like this, now let us thou thy servant depart in peace. One of the oddities of the Old Testament as we read the lives of the great saints of the Old Testament who endure untold misery and pain and suffering is the frequency by which these saints begged God for the privilege of death. Their pain had been unceasing and they were tired and they wanted to go home. I remember when my grandmother approached her 90th birthday and she was smitten with various diseases and was most uncomfortable and she said to me one day in a spirit that was on the very rim of despair, she said, son, she said, I don't know why God won't take me home. Soren Kierkegaard said one of the worst forms of despair a human being can ever have is to want to die and not be allowed to die. Moses begged God on one occasion to say, God, if you love me, take my life. Job cursed the day he was born. Jeremiah longed for the release from this mortal coil.
Simeon had dedicated his life to obedience and fidelity to God in a hostile environment day after day enduring the rejection of his friends and finally he comes into the temple and there's the baby. There's the Messiah. That's all I need. I don't have to hang around and watch the public ministry. I don't need to see the miracle of changing the water into wine at Canaan. I don't have to see the transfiguration. I don't have to see the cross.
I don't have to see the resurrection. Just viewing the presence of Christ is all I need. Now, God, let me go. Let me depart. Let now thy 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 bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. I've seen it. I've seen the Messiah, the light of the nations. I look at this baby and I behold the glory of Israel, Israel's consolation, Israel's glory, and it is enough. It is enough.
Now let thy servant depart in peace. I'm not old enough yet to retire, but I am old enough for people to start talking to me about retirement. Do you have a retirement program? Do you have a retirement nest egg? Do you have a retirement?
And I look at them like they've somehow lost their minds. I say, what do you mean retire? You don't retire from the work of God. You may change the direction of your labor, but you don't ever, ever stop seeking to be faithful to God. I had a friend who was a missionary who was infirm and he was in his eighties and he couldn't do any physical work anymore. And so he said, I can still labor eight hours a day. I said, what do you do? He said, I pray.
That's all I can do. I wanted him to pray for me because he wasn't retired. But we long for the day when because Christ has come to bring consolation, to bring redemption, to bring salvation, that we can enter into our rest and behold Him face to face, even as Simeon looked into the face of Christ. What a great faith Simeon displayed in this story.
Dr. R.C. Sproul with a lesson titled The Consolation of Israel. This is Renewing Your Mind, the radio outreach of Ligonier Ministries.
Dr. Sproul will return with a final thought in today's lesson in just a moment. But first, by God's sustaining grace, Ligonier Ministries has experienced another good year of ministry outreach. We've hosted several well-received conferences and events, and your support has made this possible. We're profoundly grateful for the help you've provided for us financially. As we reach the final days of this year, would you consider giving a special year-end donation to help us finish strong? Your support allows Ligonier Ministries to reach people in your own community and around the world with the message of God's holiness. Contact us today with your donation of any amount.
You can make your request and give your gift at renewingyourmind.org. All this week we've been studying the various aspects of the birth of Christ. For example, Dr. Sproul taught on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Then we learned a lesson on the shepherds. They're popular characters in Christmas pageants, and most people are aware of the fact that shepherds were the first to celebrate Christ's birth.
But Dr. Sproul focused on the significance of these lowly nomads in the Christmas story. We'd like for you to have all five messages. Just contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll make the series available to you as a digital download. Plus, we'll send you the DVD of Dr. Sproul's series, What Did Jesus Do? That's a 12-part series that shows us why Jesus' life was so important.
R.C. explains what it means for Jesus to be the second Adam and what that means for us as believers today. You can request the series when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Our offices are closed today for the Christmas holiday, but you can still make your request online.
You'll find us at renewingyourmind.org. In our quorum deo thought for today, let me ask you a question. What would it mean to you to look visibly into the face of Christ? I think of the many scenes in the New Testament where people beheld Him face to face, those who were assembled at Golgotha and looked into the tortured, twisted face of Christ as He was making an atonement for our sins. I think of the women who came to the garden tomb looking for the body of Christ and were so distressed when they couldn't find it, and how they looked into the face of the one they thought at first was the gardener. And Mary realized she was looking into the face of the risen Christ, and she said, Rabboni, Master. Of those who saw His face at the transfiguration, that those who looked into His face as He was lifted up by Shekinah clouds, as magnificent as all of those events were, none exceeded in glory the single glance of Simeon into the face of a baby, because he saw and recognized the consolation of Israel, and it was enough. I'm Lee Webb, and thank you for joining us today. We hope you have a wonderful weekend, and on behalf of all of us here at Ligonier Ministries, Merry Christmas.
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