He is a Light to the GentilesPastor Lutzer | December 15, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Gentiles needed light. They were mired in philosophical, moral and spiritual darkness, but Simeon testified that Christ had come as the Light to the Gentiles.
The light of Jesus Christ came, bringing life and offering guidance. The good news is this: the light that reveals also heals. Yes, our sins are exposed, but He came to heal our sinfulness! When we come to the light, we, like Simeon, can live and die in peace.
You don’t have to be around Moody Church very long before you realize that we’re always talking about Jesus, and not only talking about Him but also worshiping Him. And the reason for that is because we are preparing for heaven because, after all, in heaven Jesus is going to be central. The worship of the Lamb is going to be the theme of heaven forever and ever, and we are getting ready for heaven.
A number of years there was a liberal Episcopal minister by the name of Bishop Pike. He actually died in the Judean Desert looking for the Dead Sea Scrolls, but because he didn’t believe the Bible he thought he knew what lay on the other side. His son committed suicide, and after his son committed suicide he noticed that when he came home (that is, when Bishop Pike came home), no matter how he left the curtains they were always drawn in a certain way that his son liked. Not only that, the clock on the wall would often stop at the very moment that his son died. So he thought to himself, “I’m going to get in touch with my boy. He’s trying to connect with me.”
So Pike went to a medium and thought he was connecting with his son. And then he wrote a book about it (which I read many years ago) entitled, “The Other Side.” In this experience of going to a medium he thought he was connecting with his son because he didn’t believe the Bible, and he didn’t know that the Bible teaches that there are familiar spirits, that is, spirits who are familiar with the person who lived. And so in the communication process these spirits sometimes show up because they knew the person and will actually impersonate the person and say some things about them. One of the questions Pike asked was this: “Do you hear much about Jesus on the other side?” And I’m paraphrasing now, but his son said essentially, “No, Dad, we don’t hear a lot about Jesus here on the other side.”
Now you’ve heard me say this before. If you die and you are in a place where you don’t hear a lot about Jesus, you are in deep trouble, and in deep trouble forever. I’m reminded of the words of Dante, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” So that’s why we worship Jesus here because we know that we talk about and worship Him here and we are going to talk about and worship Him forever and ever and do so very gladly. Aren’t you glad we know what the future holds? (applause)
In this series of messages we are answering the question Who is He in Yonder Stall? After singing that beautiful song, we are reminded of the question, and today, once again we are going to give an answer to that question as to whom He really is. In the first message I pointed out that He was the Son of God. In the second message He’s the Savior. Today He’s the light to the Gentiles.
Let me paint the picture from Luke 2. Would you turn there in your Bible please? We must understand historically that in those days there were certain rituals that took place when a male child was born. For example, the first ritual is in Luke 2:21, and that is that after eight days Jesus was circumcised, and He was called Jesus because the word means God saves or Savior. So that’s the name chosen for Him by God as communicated to the angel. And so Jesus is circumcised.
There’s a second event and that is this, that when a woman gave birth to a child, for 40 days she was considered to be impure, but not morally. She could go about doing all the housework and having all the interactions, but she was not allowed to go into the Temple until 40 days later. And when they went into the Temple they were to offer a sacrifice and there were various prescriptions. You could bring a lamb, and so forth, or two turtle doves or two pigeons, and that’s what they brought according to the text, as you’ll notice there in verse 24, indicating again that Jesus was brought up in a very poor home. He knew what it was like to have to make do because money was scarce. They were not a wealthy family. Even though Joseph was a carpenter they were still quite poor actually, and so that’s what they brought to the Temple.
There was a third ritual and that is that the firstborn was to be dedicated to God. Now the firstborn, of course, was very important in the family line. All others also – the children – belonged to God, but the firstborn was special and they would take him into the Temple to present him to the Lord. There would also be a payment made. It would be as if they were buying him back from God, redeeming him as a symbol of redemption. So all that is happening because Jesus was born into a very Jewish-observant home, a home that was committed to fulfilling the details of the Law.
And what was happening in Israel? Well, there were many people who were looking for some kind of a deliverer because remember they were under Roman occupation. Everywhere you went you saw Roman soldiers and it was humiliating because, after all, the Jews were God’s chosen people, and here they are under the thumb (under the heel) of the Roman Empire.
Not only that, but there were high taxes. The Romans would tax them and that wasn’t a very happy occasion. None of us enjoys paying our taxes. Remember that line that says, “I’m supposed to pay taxes with a smile. I tried it but they actually want my money too.” (laughter) Well, you know what taxes are like. And there was control. Wherever you went there were these Roman soldiers who wanted to tell you where you could go, what you could do, and so forth. And so they were looking for another David who would be able to fight like Goliath and conquer the Roman legions that were there and bring about the independence of the Jewish nation.
But there was also a small group called a remnant. They were actually called the “quiet in the land” based on Psalm 35 where you have a reference to the quiet in the land, and they were looking for a different kind of deliverance. They knew that there was a problem more serious than Rome and that was the problem of sin in the human heart, and they were looking for the redeemer, the deliverer, who, yes, might eventually rid them of Rome, but what they really needed was a Savior to save them from their sins.
And that introduces us to a man here in the text whose name is Simeon. We think that he was an old man. The Bible doesn’t say he is but he’s soon expected to die so I assume that he was old, but let’s notice the description of him. What a remarkable man! Verse 25: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could say that about ourselves?), waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
Isn’t there a peace in The Messiah where it says, “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,’ says the Lord?” That’s based on Isaiah 40. It’s looking forward to the time when God is going to bring deliverance, and Simeon was looking forward to that time, that great time of deliverance, waiting for the consolation, waiting for the comfort that Messiah would bring to Israel. And notice three references to the Holy Spirit in relation to Simeon. He was looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. That’s not said about a lot of people in the Old Testament.
Now after the time of Jesus the Holy Spirit is actually within all those who trust Christ as Savior, but here the Holy Spirit of God came upon Simeon, an Old Testament expression. Not only that, it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. He knew that someday before he died he’d actually see the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ. And furthermore, he came by the Spirit into the Temple, because remember he has to meet Joseph and Mary at just the right time.
So he comes, being led of the Spirit, into the Temple. He lifts the baby Jesus into his arms. Don’t you wish you would have had a cell phone camera and could have taken a picture of that? We have many diagrams of it, many paintings of it, but Simeon is holding the baby Jesus and he gives what in the book of Luke is really a fifth song. You’ll notice that first of all in Chapter 1 you have the song of Elizabeth, of Mary and Zechariah. In chapter 2 you have the song of the angels, and now you have Simeon’s song – famous lines.
Let’s look at them as if we are reading them for the first time. “He took Him up in his arms (Jesus was about 6 weeks old) and 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.’” Just that far!
He talks about being a light to the Gentiles. Now this is an Old Testament expression. Simeon was led of the Holy Spirit, but he was taught in the Scriptures. For example, in Isaiah 49 it says, “Is it too small a thing for You to be the Redeemer of Israel? No, I’m going to make You a light to the nations, a light to the Gentiles, so that My salvation gets proclaimed to the ends of the earth.” Again, we see here that Jesus isn’t just the Jesus of the Jews or the Jesus of the West. Jesus stands as the Savior of the world.
Now notice what the Bible says about the need for light. It says, “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.” Why did the Gentiles especially need revelation? Well, the Law and what God had communicated to the prophets was actually quite limited to Israel. Now they were supposed to share the light, which they didn’t do very well at all but the point is that the Gentiles basically were without any special revelation. They had natural revelation. They had the stars in the heavens. They had conscience and they would be judged by that, but there was no specific revelation to the Gentiles so they walked in darkness.
First of all, I’d like to say a word about philosophical darkness. I have to hand it to you Greeks. I won’t ask whether there are any Greeks here. I know that there are some who are but I have to tell you, hands down, that I personally believe that Plato and Aristotle were two of the smartest men who ever lived. Could you imagine writing books, and 2,500 years later PhD students studying philosophy are still writing books about Plato and Aristotle and Socrates. I mean, that’s just unthinkable, and the fact that they lived at the same time and that Plato actually taught Aristotle is amazing. And yet after all of their metaphysical reasoning that some of us read years and years ago, they could not ultimately come to light. They could only speculate. Why? Is it because they weren’t brilliant? They were incredibly brilliant, but philosophy students, please note this. Philosophy does not have the building blocks necessary for us to understand ultimate reality and God.
I’m just quoting here from Aristotle himself in his book on the Epics. “Wretched race, children of chance and tribulation, why do you force me to tell you the very thing which it would be most profitable for you not to hear? The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach. Not to have been born, not to be - nothing, that is the best, however, the second best thing is for you to die soon.”
Hopelessness! Brilliant! But philosophy needs the light of God’s revelation. We need God to step out of heaven and say, “This is what God is like, and this is why He created the world.” Philosophy can’t get us there, so there was the darkness of philosophy.
There’s not only that kind of darkness but moral darkness. Here you are. You know you are following your own desires, driven by desires, and your conscience troubles you, but where are you going to find peace? Where will there be actual forgiveness and a heart change?
I feel sorry for those today that are into secular psychology and secular psychiatry because in the end there is no hand from heaven to help the clients. You are just left with your own struggles and somehow you are trying to make sense out of them. You are trying to deal with them but there is Seneca. Seneca said, “Oh that a hand may come down from heaven and deliver me from my besetting sin.” And in the secular world today there is no hand from heaven coming down and bringing deliverance. So there is moral darkness.
There is spiritual darkness. The Bible says that the nations groped after God. They did the best they could with what they had but they could never have the assurance that they really connected. So that’s why Simeon is saying that Jesus is going to be a light to the Gentiles. And what that means is that Jesus, as a light to the Gentiles, is really the light of the world. You know Jesus didn’t say, “I am the light of Jerusalem. I am the light of the Jews.” He said, “I am the light of the world.” And the invitation to come to that light is given to all people. Everyone listening to me today – you are invited to come to the light of the world. So according to Simeon, Jesus is going to be the light of revelation to the Gentiles as predicted several times in the Old Testament.
But furthermore, light is really needed for life, isn’t it, because the light is going to bring the life? In fact, life also brings light, as it says in John 1, but what we need really is to be made alive. The Bible says that in our natural state we are in trespasses and sins – dead. Jesus is able to make us alive. Jesus is able to help us see the big picture of who we are and what our need is.
You know sometimes without Jesus we are like ants on a Rembrandt painting. We notice the change in color. We notice the roughness of the canvas, but we can’t see the big picture. When Jesus comes He is able to connect us to God, to answer the big questions of life, to speak about eternity with the same authority that He could speak about the things of nature, to be God a very God. What a revelation that came from above to earth in Jesus Christ and to give life to connect us with God!
Some of us have been reading Kirsten Powers. You maybe heard about her. She’s been a Democratic strategist and Fox News contributor, and she got saved recently, and there is an article about how she was a reluctant follower of Jesus because she basically was atheistic in her thinking. But through a series of events she began to have a hunger for reality and God. That’s always a good thing. If you are listening to this and God has birthed within you a hunger for God, cultivate that hunger because it only comes because of His grace.
But eventually she was in a Bible study, and I’m quoting now directly from her testimony as an atheist and a skeptic because somebody challenged her and said, “Well you know as a secularist you should have an open mind.” Well, yeah, okay! So she went to the Bible study over a period of time.
She said, “I remember walking into the Bible study. I had a knot in my stomach. In my mind only weirdos and zealots went to Bible studies. I don’t remember what was said that day. All I know is that when I left everything had changed. I shall never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, ‘It is true. It is completely true.’ The world looked entirely different. The veil had been lifted off of it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.” And that’s what happens when you connect with God. The light gives us life.
Now the light also is necessary for guidance. I won’t say too much about that except to say (And I think I told you this once and this sounds really weird) that I got lost in a closet at home that is scarcely big enough for you to turn around in because it was totally dark and I couldn’t find the door. And even when I did, it was confusing. There were some shelves and I was just saying, “I don’t know how to get out of here.” Have you ever really been in a dark place? (laughter) Now imagine living in a maze. And that’s basically where many people live today. They try this and they try that, and somehow it never comes together for them. They can’t find their way. The Bible says that there are those who stumble in darkness and don’t know what it is that they are stumbling over. Am I stumbling over a piece of gold or a piece of coal? It’s hard to know in the real dark, dark place. And then there’s just a little bit of light. What a difference that makes! Immediately you know your surroundings. So light is needed for guidance.
Light is also going to be rejected. You’ll notice that Simeon isn’t finished. “And His father and mother marveled at what was said about Him (that was said about Jesus). And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and the 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.’”
Jesus is going to be the revealer of hearts. You’ll notice that there are three figures of speech there. The first is a stone. That’s the imagery. The Scripture says, “for the fall and the rising of many.” Jesus will explain this later that He’s like a stone. If you fall on Him and are humbled He will receive you. If not, eventually the stone falls on you. So there’s a stone.
There’s a sign that is a miracle. Jesus is going to perform miracles that are going to be opposed. And then to Mary personally, “A sword will pierce your heart.” And some of you dear mothers who are listening to this, even though the words weren’t directed to you, you know about that sword, don’t you, when you see a child dying, or going off on the wrong road? And Mary will eventually stand there at the cross. But not everybody is going to accept the light.
Let me now help us to bring this down so that this message becomes transforming, and help us to understand what is at stake. First of all, let me say that you will never see the light in Jesus unless you are looking for the light. You’ll never see it unless you are looking for it.
You know Rebecca and I love to attend the Christkindlmarket. In fact, when we were in Vienna they had just set it up, and it was so cold, but to walk among the shops, to drink some hot cider and to buy a few trinkets for the Christmas tree, we just loved it. And you can do that here in Chicago too by the way. We’ve done it just downtown. It really is the Christ Child Market. That’s what it is.
How many of those people are looking for the real Christ? That’s the question. Most of them are just going by. Now that was true also in Simeon’s time. You know we read this and we think, “Oh, you know, they took this baby and they handed him to the priest Simeon.” There’s no evidence that Simeon was a priest. He was just an old man in the Temple, looking for the consolation of Israel, and was led of the Spirit to be there in the women’s section, though men, of course, could also go into the women’s area where Jesus was with His mother. And he’s wandering around and suddenly the Lord says, “Look at that baby. That’s what you are looking for,” because he was looking for the consolation. He was looking for the light. If you don’t look for it you’ll never find it.
Now the very fact that you are listening to this message is a good sign. Some of you perhaps have never trusted Christ as Savior, and you are hearing this message. I hope that within you there is a desire to find the light, to finally find reality. If not, you can miss it.
It is a tragedy deserving of tears that when Christmas is evaluated in our wonderful country, it is evaluated purely on the basis of what was sold, and whether or not it was a good season. And we do have to ask the question, “Where is Christ in the midst of Christmas?” The multitudes walk by and have no idea what it is.
When we were there in Vienna I’m sure that no matter whom you would have asked among the multitudes, “Who really is Christ to you?” they’d have thought of the merchandise, the lovely bargains, the wonderful evening at the Christkindlmarket. It’s tragic! Are you looking for Him? I hope so because if you look for Him you will find Him.
Secondly, the light that reveals is the light that heals. You see Jesus doesn’t just shine a light on us because He wants to embarrass us or shame us. Jesus shines a light because He wants to really heal us but we can’t be healed until we see that we need to be. So the light reveals, but the light also heals.
Now Jesus said, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil,” so if you want to continue to live in darkness, that’s your choice, but in living in darkness there’s no possibility that the light will heal you because the moment the light comes it dissipates the darkness. Is your heart open to the Lord today so that light can shine in?
Whoever you are, the sum total of who I am and who you are, are the thoughts, the attitudes of the heart – what we did this last week with our thoughts, our feelings and our attitudes because man looks on the outward appearance, and the Lord looks upon the heart. That’s who we are. I encourage you to come to the light today, to confess your need so that you might receive healing and help because that’s why the light has come.
There’s a final lesson and that is this. When we accept the light, we die in peace. Your Bibles are open again, aren’t they? I hope that they stay open. You’ll notice that he begins in verse 29, “Now Lord, You are letting your servant depart in peace.” Some translate it, “Now I am ready to die,” which is clearly the implication. That word depart is sometimes used for people who have a tent and they are putting the tent down and they are departing on the next leg of their journey. Sometimes it is used for a ship that has been tied up and now the ship is ready to depart, and so they take away the anchor, they take away whatever it is - the rope or the chain that has been keeping it in the harbor, and it is departing. Quite literally it could be translated this way. “Now Lord, dismiss your servant. I’ve done my job. I’ve finished my work. You’ve fulfilled the promise to me. I saw the Lord’s Christ before I died. And therefore now I can be dismissed in peace.”
And that’s the way in which God intends His children to die. Now the reality is that because death is so final (because even those who write books about what will happen one minute after you die don’t know exactly what’s on the other side of the curtain), it can be a time of apprehension, but it doesn’t have to be.
Years ago I told you about a very well-known preacher whose name I will not mention necessarily, but he had been the pastor of a large church, he was the president of a seminary and he helped Billy Graham during Billy’s early years of ministry. And I had the privilege of meeting him once or twice when I was at a Bible conference. And I read about his death. Even he was deeply troubled, and apparently some people said to him, “Well, look at what you’ve done. Look at the books you have written. You are the president of a seminary and the pastor of a large church. Think of all the sermons that you have preached.” It brought him no peace. But then someone else said, “Please remember that all that is in effect washed away. We are received and we are welcomed by God purely on the basis of the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin, and that gives us an entry into the kingdom of God.” And as a result of that he died in peace.
How would you face death now? That’s the question. The baby, about whom we are going to sing, and who we are invited to adore, is the light. He’s the light that came to redeem us from our sins and prepare us for eternity. What a marvelous Savior – a light to the Gentiles, and a light to all who desire to believe. Will you?
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Our Father, we thank You today for the coming of Christ. We thank You that because He is the Savior not just of the Jews, but He’s also the Savior of the Gentiles, and the light to the world, that we are invited to participate in that light. I pray that those who have struggles in their soul at this moment may come to the light, to receive Christ as theirs, to know that His death satisfied Your requirement so that when we believe we are accepted and welcomed into Your heavenly kingdom. Bring about the transformation, and the cleansing that the light brings, and we ask Lord that we shall adore Him, the Savior and the light of the world. In His name we pray, Amen.