Sermon - Luke 2:22-40 - The Humble Saviour
Read Malachi 2:13-3:5.
Read Hebrews 2:14-18.
Read Luke 2:22-40.
Itís a bizarre scene isnít it? A young couple and their gurgling baby enter the building to find a respected temple-regular striding over to them, he takes their kid, lifts him up and declares "Godís salvation!" If Iíd been there Iíd probably be saying "Simeon, itís a baby."
What is Simeon going on about? What does he mean when he calls Jesus ĎGodís Salvationí?
Well salvation, being saved, has a strong Ďfromí element doesnít it. Saved from drowning, saved from bankruptcy, saved from the Senior Tutor. So what is it that this baby will save us from? The passage read to us from Malachi is a considerable help here. Grab a Bible or order of service and have a look at it.
The book of Malachi is written some years after the Jews had returned from exile. The Jews of the time were complaining: werenít they the people of God? They perform the required sacrifices didnít they? They tithed. Why werenít Godís blessings raining down on them?
The book amounts to a long charge sheet against Israel. "You are just going through the motions" God declares through Malachi, "You donít care about my honour. You donít fear me. You sacrifice the rubbish, not the best. You grumble about having to tithe. You havenít kept yourself sexually pure like I commanded you. Truth is you donít know me."
I wonder if any of you here are in a similar position to Malachiís audience. Would you defend yourself before God by saying something like "Well I turn up to chapel! I say the right words. I take communion!" If asked whether you knew Jesus would you have to reply "Well, I know about him". It is possible to go to church every week for your entire life, and have Jesus say at the end "Get away from me, I never knew you." The Jews of Malachiís day managed it, are you, like them, just going through the motions?
That situation is serious warns Malachi because the Lord you are seeking, or perhaps pretending to seek, will suddenly come to his temple. But who can endure the day of his coming? Can you? He will come near for judgement. Some years ago I attended a CICCU talk entitled "How can a loving God send people to Hell?". The speaker began the talk by asking "Do you want justice or injustice?", the whole room roared out "Justice!". "Okay," he said, "partial justice or total justice." I began joining the response of the rest of the room "Total Just.. hold on a moment. Total justice means me as well."
The great problem of the human race is not Arab terrorists, nor big waves, it is that total justice is coming. We are going to be judged by the perfect judge who knows everything. Stop and think about that, actually everything. At our best we have made some half hearted attempts to honour his rule over the universe, but truth is we are rebels trying to claim weíre the rightful rulers of our lives. And he knows. The crime of high treason hangs over our heads. That is why we now live in fear of death.
But how on earth is a baby going to save us from that? The Church of England have made this sermon remarkably easy for me, weíve already read the answer in Hebrews. Let me paraphrase for you. God came in the form of a baby because we all started out as babies and to save us he had to be like us in every way, to be tempted and to suffer as we do, and just as we grew up so the baby Jesus became the adult Jesus. For generations the priests had sacrificed animals in the place of humans who otherwise stood to receive the consequences of their rebellion. But how can you pay the price of a human life with a baby sheep? You canít, those things were symbols pointing to the coming high priest, who at the start of his ministry is declared to be "The lamb of God, who takes away the sin of world". This is how the baby was Godís salvation, by becoming Godís sacrifice to pay the price of the treachery for all who will accept him dying in their place, and will end their rebellion, accepting him back as Lord. That was Jesusí great mission: he came to die. Already our passage in Luke has whispers of Easter, in v35 Mary is told "the inner thoughts of many will be revealedóand a sword will pierce your own soul too." Just a few days before his crucifixion, having entered Jerusalem Jesus declared "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came: for this hour." (John 12:23-24,27)
There is more however to the baby Jesus than that he became the adult Jesus. What does it say that God was prepared to lay aside heaven and come as a baby? Certainly it shows his love, but it is not mere magnanimity but something far more surprising and wonderful.
I have a hard time thinking of anything more humiliating than being a baby. Iím rather glad I canít remember it, because I suspect that if I could it would be a source of perpetual embarrassment to me. A baby is helpless, pathetic, without status. Thatís the way God came to us. Itís absurd, but the evidence is clear: the God who made the universe, is humble. Not just Ďdoesnít blow his own trumpetí not just Ďbereft of haughty mannersí but self effacingly sacrificial.
Until I started preparation for this Sermon I had always read Simeon as saying to Mary "He will cause many to fall, and an entirely different group to rise". But thatís not what Simeon says. Everyone who met Jesus fell, either into sin or down to reality. He caused many to both fall, and then rise. Simon Peter begins following Jesus by witnessing a miraculous catch of fish, falling at Jesusí knees and saying "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8), among the wisest words he says in the gospels. One of my friends puts it like this "Accepting the gospel is not free, it will cost you your pride". If you were challenged by the impending judgement Malachi talks about, and the salvation talked about in Hebrews please, please donít leave thinking "Be humble, right, thatís the way to save myself, be a doormat, thatís the route to heaven". I am not saying that at all, quite the reverse. It is perverse arrogance to think we can fool God by putting a polish on our rebellion. The stark, unpleasant truth is that we canít save ourselves. Coming into relationship with God will cost you your pride, because you will have to admit that you could never get there on your own merits.
What of those of you who accepted that unpleasant truth many months or years ago, who have a relationship with God because of Jesusí sacrifice, who now know Jesus as Lord? You learnt humility in admitting you could never merit right standing before God, now youíre called to follow the example of Christ, the humble saviour. How are you doing? I feel something of a hypocrite asking this because if thereís anyone in this room who falls far short of the standard Jesus sets, anyone who daily slips back into pride, itís me. I certainly donít speak as a perfected saint here. I wonder if, despite that you would listen to a couple of reflections on humility drawn from Jesusí example.
Humility doesnít mean developing an inferiority complex; Jesus was certainly not someone who struggled with a lack of confidence. Nor is it cultivating a doormat instinct as to accept that white is really black, in order to avoid disagreeing with anyone; Jesus never skimped on truth in order to be humble. Instead humility is letting go of status; it is saying "I donít desire to be held great by the world". I donít mean in the sense of "I donít care what you think", which is usually pride. Let me give you an example: a Chef who ignored his customersí complaints would be arrogant not humble. A Chef who listened, became the greatest cook the world has ever known, and was still prepared to do the washing up, that would be a humble man. Humility is the reverse of saying "That task is beneath me". Instead it is servant heartedness. It is the master washing his disciplesí feet, because they need washing.
Finally, if you work well, achieve much and receive praise, remember the words of the Apostle Paul: What do you have, that you werenít given?
Let me finish with a summary: We are rebels against the king of the universe, and he will bring justice but he was not content only to do right but acted also to make us right, even to the extent of laying aside his majesty and coming in meekness to die on a cross in our place so that anyone who admits they could never have saved themselves, and accepts Jesus back as King will not suffer punishment, but instead be welcomed into heaven. We who have acknowledged Jesus as King should live lives that reflect his character, including his humility.
Weíre going to have a song now that will help us to reflect on these things, as you sing do think over them, do respond to your conclusions. And do hunt me down with questions over dinner.