Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Simeon - a Man of Destiny

Destiny is a great word. It points to something that is about to happen to a particular person or thing. It always concerns their fortune; the unfolding course of events that eventually defines the lasting impact they have. It is recognised by the legacy that they leave once they are gone. To live with a sense of destiny means we live with a sense of purpose; for God has determined that each of us has a role to play in life that will further His purpose. To say yes to His will is to say yes to that purpose and live with destiny. The impact of such people is like a ripple in a pond. It goes way beyond their immediate sphere of influence. These are the people God uses to release destiny in others. This is what Jesus did with the twelve disciples. By connecting to His destiny they found their own. And they in turn affected others.

There are two people who stand out in this way in the Gospels. They are Simeon and Anna; two old people. Without Luke’s record we would never know the significance they had in the life of Jesus and His parents. Let’s take a look at Simeon. We will look at the person and then the prophecy of Simeon. As to the person he is truly a man of the Spirit. Luke tells us three things about this man that seem to distinguish him from others living at the time. He was righteous, devout and the Holy Spirit was upon him. By righteous the scriptures mean that he was upright. He did the right thing. He operated out of conviction, not convenience or compromise. But not only was he righteous, he was devout. He had a relationship with God that was real. Devotion to God was part of his makeup. He took time to pray, to listen and to respond to God. This is summarised by the next phrase, “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”

Notice also three things that displayed the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. The first is that Simeon lived with a sense of destiny. He lived with an expectation that he would see the ‘consolation of Israel’ before he would die. This was specifically revealed to him by the Spirit. As each year passed and he got older, he stayed in faith. Contrast this to Zechariah the father of John the Baptist. He prayed for a son. As time went on he seems to have forgotten about his own prayer. For when the angel appears to him in the temple Zechariah is incredulous. The result was nine months of silence. Only at John’s circumcision was his tongue finally loosed. As he wrote the name of his son and so brought his heart into agreement with the angel’s pronouncement, his tongue was loosed. Now he poured forth a prophetic utterance regarding the future ministry of his own son. All were amazed. What is God up to?

Simeon on the other hand had no such relapse. His faith and disposition was constant. All we know is that the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would behold the salvation of Israel before his death. As things grew worse in Israel, Simeon’s faith was steadfast. We don’t know how the Spirit did this. There is no record of an angelic visitation. In a sense Simeon is a prototype of the New Testament believer. We too have the Spirit and receive things revealed by the Spirit, 1Cor 2.10. What is important is how this affected his whole life. It caused him to live for and anticipate the moment. Unlike others, he knew God was going to act on behalf of His people. He didn’t know when. And not knowing kept him in readiness. He was watching and waiting, watching and praying, living for his moment of destiny.

Then it happened! The Spirit prompted him to go into the temple. He is truly ‘led by the Spirit’, a prototype of the believer post Pentecost. He is obedient to a simple prompting. Go into the Temple – Now! And there was Jesus, a baby. I wonder what went through Simeon’s mind in that instant. I’m sure it was not that he would see a baby. Yet as he looked on this small boy, now forty days old, he realised this was the one in whom God had entrusted the future of the world. Our destiny was in His hands and Jesus was in Simeon’s hands. What joy filled this old man’s heart. Listen to his words:
“Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples. A light for the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel”, Luke 2.29-32.

Now Simeon begins to speak under the inspiration of the Spirit. He begins by blessing God. He has a worshipping heart. Notice the emphasis on God’s hand and activity – Your servant....Your word....Your salvation....Your people.... It all belongs to God. Simeon is God’s servant who has received God’s word about God’s salvation for God’s people. As Paul teaches, all things are “of Him and through Him and to Him”, Rom 11.36. We are left in no doubt who is initiating this whole process. Simeon has positioned himself to be the mouthpiece for the Lord. He doesn’t carry the title of prophet. That is reserved for Anna, an old widow of eighty four years of age. Again, like the NT believer, he just speaks what is in his heart – and it is filled with prophetic significance. For right at the beginning of his gospel Luke makes it clear that this is a universal gospel. And Simeon is the first to see it and declare it. Jesus is to be a light for the Gentiles and as well as the glory of Israel.

Having blessed God, Simeon now blesses Mary and Joseph by focusing the next part of his prophecy on the destiny of Jesus, “Behold this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes a sword shall pierce through your soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”, Luke 2.34-35. As he held Jesus he saw God’s salvation. He saw the destiny of Jesus. The life and ministry of Jesus would cause many to rise and fall. The secret thoughts of men’s hearts would be revealed. None would remain neutral once they encountered Him. We see this amply displayed in John’s gospel. The first 12 chapters cover nearly three and a half years of ministry. From chapter 13-17 we have the events of only one night. Chapters 18-20 deal with the arrest, trail, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus culminating with His appearance to Thomas 8 days after the resurrection. And the final chapter happens a little while later.

If we look at the first 12 chapters of John, which covers the bulk of Jesus public ministry, it is evenly divided. The first 6 chapters outline His rise in popularity. But from chapter six onwards there is a change. For the first time there is a division among the people over Jesus. From that time even some of His disciples turned back and followed Him no more, Jon 6.66. This division over Jesus persists everywhere He goes from then on; See John 7.26-31, 40-43; 8.30, 59; 9.28-38; 10.19-21, 39-42; 11.45-46; 12.37,42. Each of these instances demonstrates the fulfilment of Simeon’s prophecy. No one could encounter Jesus and not face the condition of their heart. He saw that Nathaniel was an Israelite ‘in whom is no guile’, Jn 1.47. He revealed to the woman at the well her lifestyle of five past husbands and a man she was not married to along with her thirst for living water, John 4.1-26. He exposed the secret love of riches that had captured the heart of the rich young ruler, Matt 19.16-22. Over and over the thoughts of many hearts were revealed. Some responded and it caused them to rise. Others rejected His words and fell.

And Simeon is bold to say to Mary – “yes a sword shall pierce through your soul also”. Notice two things in this encounter. Simeon focused on the destiny of Jesus, not Mary. Out of the mouth of Elizabeth, her cousin, we get an accurate picture of Mary’s role. She is ‘blessed among women’, not ‘blessed above women’, Luke 1.39-45. Mary’s own testimony is that future generations will call her, ‘blessed’, Luke 1.48. She was chosen to bring forth the Messiah. Her character is revealed in her willingness to say yes to this difficult task. Elizabeth commends her as a woman of faith, Luke 1.45, ‘Blessed is she who believed...’ The second thing is that she will not be immune to having her heart revealed. Simeon speaks of a sword piercing her soul. The sword has consistently been used throughout scripture to speak of the word of God. Heb 4.12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. When Solomon had a difficult decision to make between two women fighting over a baby he called for a sword – literally. And it revealed the heart of the real mother.

As the living word, Jesus brings to light what is hidden. It is not so much that He causes division. It is more that He reveals the division that is already there – hidden beneath the surface. This is an integral part of His ministry, His destiny. To live in such a way that all things come to the light, John 19-21. And this is what we are called to as His church. Like Jesus the early church enjoyed a period of popularity, Acts 2.47. They enjoyed favour with all the people. But in process of time there arose a persecution and they were scattered, Acts 8.1. Like the Master the early church was destined for the fall and rise of many. This is part of our destiny today. Popularity is not wrong, provided we are clear that we don’t take our cues from the praise of men. When that happens we sit silent, when we should speak, John 12.42, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”.

As a church we are not here to intentionally offend people. The gospel is about being all things to all men. But the gospel has bite to it. It presents us with a challenge. It exposes the bankruptcy of human goodness and requires us to place faith in a Saviour, the Saviour. Without Him all men will perish. It is perhaps this unique claim that makes the message of salvation so challenging to our culture and time. There is ultimately no middle ground. The good news is that God is concerned with the direction of the heart. Is it moving towards Him or moving away? This is the real issue. We tend to think in terms of crossing a line from unbelief to faith. But John shows us in his gospel that it is like a journey. It is about following. In John 6.66 some turned back. But Peter and the others kept going. They didn’t understand Jesus, but they knew that He had the words of eternal life. And they pressed on.

I pray that you take inspiration from Simeon. Live with an expectation that is born in God. His word will come to pass. Like Simeon, each one of us is a child of destiny. There is something important for you to do. Simeon’s real moment came at the end of his life. Everything was preparation for that event. And what an event! What a moment! What an impact he had on Mary and Joseph and all those in the Temple. And having fulfilled his role he was content to bow out, in peace; “Lord now You are letting your servant depart in Peace...” What a great way to go! Peacefully. Jesus too had a sense of completion in John 17.4, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do”. He knew when His hour had come. Paul too shared in this blessing, 1Tim 4.6, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. Each of us should be able to come to the end of our life with a sense of completion. This means that we take time to listen to God so that we know why we are here. We know what it is we are required to do.

Live with a sense of destiny by being open to the Spirit to give you revelation. Nurture it in your heart. Let it grow there. Habakkuk had to wait. As he did he received words that gave expression to the vision that was in his heart. And God showed him that it was for others to run with, Hab 2.1-3. Even if you have to wait you will be able to do so joyfully. Be led by the Spirit into all that God has for you. It will release destiny in others. Prophetic moments like that of Simeon entering the Temple have great impact. Live for those moments. Heaven sees. Heaven knows. Finally speak by the Spirit. These are the words that have true value. These are the words that make a lasting impact and shape the destinies of others. This is what the church is called to be. This is what truly makes us salt and light.