What Do You Think about Jesus?
The First Sunday after Christmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:33-40
In Christ Jesus, who was brought to Jerusalem as a little Baby and who would later return there to give Himself as our humble Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
According to people who study this sort of thing, each of us has tens of thousands of thoughts every day. That’s a lot of thoughts, though I’m not sure how it is possible to count them. Most of our thoughts we keep to ourselves. Sometimes people catch us daydreaming and ask us what is on our minds. That can be a hard question to answer. Maybe we can’t explain what we are thinking, or we would rather not say. But sometimes our thinking is obvious to those around us even when we have not shared it. They can tell what we are thinking by the things we say and do.
Simeon occupied himself with thoughts about the Messiah. He believed the many prophesies telling about the coming Savior. A few verses before today’s lesson, Simeon is described as a man “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luk. 2:25). He did not know when this promise would be fulfilled until God the Holy Spirit revealed something wonderful to him. It was revealed to him that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26).
While he waited, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, and the Baby Jesus was born. Because he was the firstborn son of Mary, Jewish law required that He be presented to God in the temple forty days from His birth. So Joseph and Mary carefully prepared for the short trip from quiet Bethlehem to bustling Jerusalem. When they got there, they purchased two turtledoves to offer as a sacrifice according to the custom of the law.
As they ascended the steps toward the temple, they were met by an older man, a man they had never seen before. Simeon was directed to them by the Holy Spirit, and he gently gathered the Child in his arms. What was he thinking at this moment? The evangelist Luke tells us that he “blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’” (vv. 28-32). His prayers had been answered. He now looked upon his Savior and the Savior of all peoples. Now he could depart this world in peace.
And what were Joseph and Mary thinking about all this? They “marveled at what was said about Him.” But Simeon was not finished. He blessed Joseph and Mary. Then he looked at Mary and said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” That was a troubling follow up to his positive words of promise. It was a prophecy that the Holy Spirit granted him about this Child. Simeon said that some would reject Jesus, and some would believe in Him. Mary would suffer while He suffered. Because of Him, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.
The thoughts of many would be revealed from what they said about Jesus and how they treated Him. Many of the scribes and Pharisees showed the true condition of their hearts by their spiteful words toward Jesus and their various attempts to take His life. But Jesus did not need them to speak and act to know where they stood. He knew what they were thinking. He could read their hearts. At one point He said to them, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mat. 23:28).
On the other hand, He found faith in hearts where others would not have expected it. He saw faith in the heart of a Roman military commander (Luk. 7:9), in the heart of a prostitute (7:50), and in the heart of a tax collector (19:9). A person’s pedigree, social standing, or past were not reliable indicators of his or her standing before God. The thoughts of these outcasts were revealed by their humble trust in Jesus, while the thoughts of the hypocritical religious leaders were shown by their proud rejection of Him.
So where do you stand? What Do You Think about Jesus? I suppose your presence here goes a ways toward answering that question. If you didn’t believe in Jesus, why would you be in church? But going to church, participating in the service, and giving offerings does not automatically make you a Christian. The thoughts of many are revealed not by what they say and do on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning, but by how they are the other 6 ½ days of the week. Do your friends, co-workers, and neighbors know you are a Christian or would they find this surprising? On the other hand, having an outwardly holy life does not make you a Christian either. The scribes and Pharisees were outwardly holy too.
Every one of us here can think of times that we said or did things which were not at all consistent with our faith. We tried to justify our behavior at the time, but we know it was wrong. We know we sinned. We can think of other times that we were just going through the motions of being a Christian. Maybe no one else knew our thoughts of anger or jealousy or covetousness or self-righteousness. They did not know how much these thoughts consumed us, but we did. We had everything together on the outside, but we were churning on the inside.
Our sins on the outside and on the inside made us feel guilty. Maybe we still feel guilty about the things we said or did or thought about a long time ago. We might hope that the further away we get from the sin, the more our memory of it will fade. But we can’t hide anything from God. He already knows. The psalmist says that the LORD discerns our thoughts and knows what we will say even before we say it (Psa. 139:2,4).
If He wanted to, God could number our sins. He could list them all. But He does not hold our past sins over our heads. Instead He invites us to leave our sins at His throne of grace. He inspired Isaiah to write these words, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-9).
We expect God’s judgment for our many sins, but His thoughts are not our thoughts. God loved us even in our sin. He sent His only Son to endure the fires of hell for us, so we would be spared eternal punishment. He forgives our sinful saying and doing and thinking. He forgives our bad behavior, our weak faith, and our self-righteousness. In Jesus, God’s thoughts toward us are clear. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa. 1:18).
God wants you to confess your sins to Him. He knows them already, but it is important for you to acknowledge them. You do this in church, but repentance should be an every day activity. At the same time that we confess our sins, we also apply His Word of grace to ourselves: Jesus was born under the law to live a holy life for me. He died on the cross to save me.
Through this Gospel message, the Holy Spirit also sanctifies us. He works to plant holy thoughts in our minds. He works to form good spiritual habits within us, like the ones we see in Anna. Anna’s husband died just seven years into their marriage. She could have been bitter about this. She could have blamed God and questioned His love for her. But instead, she trusted in the Lord and waited for His blessings. She spent her time in the temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” And when she saw the Christ Child, “she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
This is the joyous response to our salvation that the Holy Spirit works in us too. Like Anna, we go to church to hear God’s promises, and we worship Him with disciplined and prayerful lives. Like Anna, we also share the hope we have with the people around us. We let it be known that God loves sinners—including ourselves—, and that He sent Jesus to redeem us. In this way, we function as lights of God in a dark world. We do not seek to call attention to ourselves but to Him who died for all peoples.
You and I think thousands of thoughts per day. Our thoughts are not always directed toward God, but His thoughts are always directed toward us. He leads us to recognize our sins and to see in Jesus our holy Savior. With Simeon and Anna we can praise Him to the end of our days until we “depart in peace” from this life to the next.
+ + +
(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)