2012-01-15 Finding Our Purpose in God’s Purpose (Luke 2:21-40) Circumcision of Christ
(Luke 2:21-40 ESV) And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 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. 27 And he came in 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, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
When we understand God’s purposes in Christ, we can better find our purpose in the world, and that is, to be God’s helpers to accomplish God’s purposes. God uses his people to advance his kingdom in the world. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples, and us, to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven, as we are enabled by God, is our greatest achievement. Certainly, this can be done in a number of ways throughout life.
Let’s take a look first at understanding God’s purposes, then look second at finding our purpose in his purposes.
Illust. Story of me and Linda Cerveny in college during my BC days. I said, “I want to have something to tell others that will make a difference in their lives.” Little did I know that in the next year, I would become a Christian and have the most important something to tell others that will change their lives.
Gal 3 and 4 help us understand the purposes of God in Christ. Gal 4.4-5 tells us – and notice that it has a double purpose clause, that is there are two purposes included:
“When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law in order that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
So on your outline, #1 is ________, #a is ______________; #b is _______________
- Understanding the purposes of God: Jesus was born _under the law_
- That he might redeem _those who were under the law__
- That we might receive _the adoption as sons_
Why was Jesus born under the law?
- After the fall, God’s covenant promise of restoration was given first to the seed of Adam and Eve and was later reiterated to Abraham and his seed who is Christ. (Gen 13.15; Gal 3.16ff)
- God’s law was later given because of sins until the seed, Christ, had come. (But the covenant remained intact.) (Gal 3.19)
- When Christ came, he fulfilled the law by obedience to it and thus received the promise. (But the law remained intact.)
- Jesus was born under obligation to fulfill the law (like any other man). Only he could do it perfectly – first, so that he might redeem others who were born under the law who could not do it perfectly and thus were in bondage to sin.
- And second, so that those who believe in him might receive the adoption as sons, the promise of God through Christ. The faithful are adopted into the family of God and thus receive the promised inheritance of Abraham and Christ his offspring or seed. (Gal 4.4-5)
More on this when we study Galatians in detail.
God’s purpose in the appearance of the Son as a child born under the law, was two-fold –
- That he might redeem men and woman also born under the law
- That we might receive the adoption as sons – the inheritance as sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ
Second, as his adopted sons and daughters, I suggest, the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple is an illustration of what other passages in Scripture tell us about how we might, like Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna, find our purpose in God’s purposes in Christ.
- (Finding your purpose in God’s purposes)
The first way we find our purpose in God’s purposes is
- Obeying _the Scriptures_
The main point of our story today – Luke’s purpose in writing – was to show that Jesus’ parents were obedient to do all that the Scriptures told them to do – and in so doing, they fulfilled God’s purposes in the world.
Look at vv 21-24 – at how many references there are to their “doing everything according to the Law of Moses”, and then look at v 39 which says the same thing. These form what is called an inclusio – they begin and end the passage – and tell us what is the main point of the passage.
Still young, but faith, Mary and Joseph – by doing what they should do according to the Scriptures – as their faithful ancestors did for centuries, found their purpose in God’s purpose.
Likely, they did not know what all they were accomplishing in God’s purpose as they were doing it. They were simply doing what the Scriptures told them to do – for a new child and for the mother of a new child. But in so doing, God accomplished his purpose.
Let’s look at what they did, why they did it and the results of obeying the Scriptures.
What they did.
- They named him Jesus in obedience to what the angel of the Lord told them
- They circumcised him on the eighth day according to the law
- They went up to Jerusalem to perform Mary’s purification according to the law
- They presented Jesus, their first born son, to the Lord according to the law
- They offered the appropriate sacrifice because they were poor according to the law
Why they did it. Because they were devout young Jews who obeyed the law from their hearts. They were not hypocrites merely going through the motions to try to appease God. They truly wished to serve the Lord with their heart, soul, mind and strength. Mary by faith said earlier to the angel, “Be it unto me according to your word.” Joseph, in response to the angel’s message earlier, by faith took Mary to be his wife even though she was with child, kept her a virgin till the child was born, and called his name Jesus.” (Mat 1.24-25)
The results. They accomplished God’s purposes on Jesus’ behalf. Through them, He fulfilled the law, as he was intended to do even before he was able to do it for himself. Jesus would later say, “I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Mary and Joseph found their purpose on behalf of their son by obeying the words of Scripture
Likewise, when you and I do what the Scriptures tell us, we find our purpose in God’s purpose. For example, what does the Scripture say about raising your children? There are certainly many good books out there – and before our children were born we read them all and thought we had all the answers – until the children came along.
But the best source – and the one that most of the best other books are based on – is the Bible itself. You certainly have to dig around to find the passages about children and child rearing, but if you read through the Bible on a regular basis, you will have a foundation, not only for child-rearing, but for everything else pertaining to life and faith.
Do you look primarily to other sources for guidance on how you should live your life – if you’ve visited a bookstore or the internet lately, you know there are plenty of other sources – in the self-help section or the religion section or other sections – or do you look to the Bible itself?
Mary and Joseph looked to the Scriptures to know what to do after Jesus was born, and the result was that Jesus was set on a course of obedience to the Scriptures throughout his lifetime that fulfilled God’s purpose.
What role do the Scriptures play in your life?
Is it just a book your parents read, but your copy merely sits on the shelf? If you don’t know what it says, you have to depend on what others tell you it says. That’s good, but that’s not maturity. Maturity is reading it for yourself, and listening to what others in your faith community say about it, then deciding how you should respond to it. Then you can better fulfill God’s purposes in your life. Before I became a Christian, I simply wished that I could do something that would change people’s lives. But after becoming a Christian, and reading his word diligently and carefully, I knew what to do to make a difference first in my life and then in others lives.
We leave the results to God. As we are obedient, He can make all the arrangements, as we will see.
Illust – There was a missionary who went to a tribe of people who lived way back in the jungle. For many years he taught them the Bible. When one day, he took a group of the tribe’s leaders to his own country in the west, the tribal leaders saw many things that were unfamiliar – paved streets, skyscrapers, crowds of people and more. What was gratifying for the missionary was not how amazed they were at what they saw, but rather what they said when they saw these things – in every case they compared these new things to images of things the missionary had taught them in the Bible. The paved streets reminded them of the streets of heaven, the skyscrapers reminded them of the tower of Babel, the crowds reminded them of the thousands of thousands around the throne of the Lamb, and so on.
Do you think Biblically or do you think primarily based on what you read in other literature or the newspaper or information on the internet? All those other things are good, but if we can’t think biblically, we don’t have a way to filter all that other information.
We find our purpose in God’s purpose by reading and doing what is found in Scripture and trusting to God to work out the details.
Second, we find our purpose in God’s purpose
- Trusting _the Spirit_
That’s what Simeon and Anna did. On this day, both Simeon and Anna encounter Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus. Among other things, this passage indicates that both Simeon and Anna were responsive to the working of Holy Spirit – both in the actions and in their words. Simeon was simply a faithful elderly Jewish “man of Jerusalem” and Anna was a faithful, elderly Jewish “widow.” Both were in the temple on that day.
Of Simeon, it says “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.” “And he came in the Spirit into the temple.” Of Anna it says she spent most of her time in the temple…“And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God” as she saw the child.”
Both Simeon and Anna were directed by the Holy Spirit to arrive at the right place at the right time in order to see the child Jesus and his parents, to serve as further witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the child Jesus.
They were carrying out their normal activities, and by the providence of God, were directed to arrive at the right place at the right time to see and interact with the child Jesus and his parents.
If you’ve studied the temple compound, you know that it covered approximately 45 acres of ground. That’s more than a half-mile wide and a half-mile long. Walking at 1 mile per hour – that’s about average for an extremely elderly person as Simeon and Anna were – it would take thirty minutes to walk from one side to the other or 45 minutes to walk from one corner to the other, not counting going up and down stairs and opening doors. Yet there they were at just the right time and place to see the child.
Those of you who are teens and young adults – Do you ever wonder how in the world you will find your mate? Or what you should say to him or her when you do meet? Do you have to search match.com or christianmingle.com every night to find the one for you? I suggest that the Spirit ultimately will lead you to the person God intends for you. By God’s providence through the guidance of the Spirit, you will be in the right place at the right time. I always took comfort in knowing that even when I wasn’t actively looking for my wife that God could arrange the circumstances so that I would not miss her. As we looked for a house in recent months we felt discouraged at times, but took comfort in knowing that any delay was God’s delay and that he would eventually lead us to the right place at the right time.
You may be looking for a place to live or a job or something else. You may find the person – or the house you’re looking for, or the job you’re looking for, the ministry you’re looking for, or something else – through a search engine, or through your church, or through a community group that you attend, or through work, or through your friends. The Spirit of God can use any of those means. Like the Spirit of God directed Simeon and Anna, he will direct you.
Gal 4.6 says, “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, by which we cry, “Abba Father!” Elsewhere it says, “All who are born of the Spirit are led by the Spirit.” The Spirit of God will direct the affairs of your life so that it will fulfill his purposes through it. You may not understand why or how certain things happen at certain times, but you can trust him to work all that out.
Third, we find our purpose in God’s purposes by
- Watching and waiting _for the consummation_ – the return of Christ in glory and power with the clouds.
Simeon and Anna were waiting for what they called the consolation of Israel, and the redemption of Jerusalem. These elderly saints represent the remnant of faithful Israel who were waiting for the Messiah to fulfill the promises of God to Adam and to Abraham and to all Jews and Gentiles. He would be the means of salvation to all peoples – a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of the people of Israel.
In Jesus, a new age dawned. The age of promise was over – for the most part. The age of fulfillment has begun. God’s salvation through Messiah has begun – in the birth of the promised child, who would give his life as a ransom for many. Simeon and Anna, though they were old, looked forward to what God would do next to accomplish his purpose in the world. They looked back only in gratitude for what God had already done, but didn’t want to go back and stay there.
We are living in that new age – after the inauguration of God’s kingdom in the humiliation and initial exaltation of Christ. We are living in the continuation of the kingdom while the Lord gathers all who would come to him.
But now we are looking for yet another age, the consummation of God’s kingdom in the glorious return of Christ in power and glory. The Scriptures instruct us over and over to watch for the coming of the Lord. They say he may come at any time, so we should be ready, we should make preparation in our hearts, we should work while it is day for the night is coming, we should invest our time and talent and treasure in the things that last, in the things that make a profit for our master, the things that accomplish his purposes. We should pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”
Yet many of us are more interested in the things of the world and accomplishing all of our own goals. We don’t really want to pray, “Come Lord Jesus, because we’ve got plans and we don’t want God to interfere with them.
Some of us are afraid to invest our time or talents or treasure lest we should be judged harshly by the master. He may think we haven’t given enough or done it well enough, so we don’t even try, like the man who buried his master’s treasure. We should remember that the master said, “you should have at least put in the bank and earned some interest for me.” In other words, at least do what you can!” You may have what you consider small talents, but you should use what you have lest they be taken away too. In so doing, you accomplish God’s purposes. You may not know how, but God will take care of the details. Simeon and Anna didn’t know when or how God would bring the Messiah, but they looked forward to it, did what they could, and rejoiced when they saw it.
I commend Simeon and Anna for continuing to look forward to the next item on God’s agenda. Many elderly people are tempted to look only backward to “the good old days.” But those who are filled with faith as Simeon and Anna were, are always looking forward even if it might seem more uncomfortable for them. They want want God wants even if it means some uncomfortable change for them.
Finally, we find our purpose in God’s purposes by
- Telling _the story_
Like the angels and the shepherds before them, they testified to who the child was and would become.
Simeon told Mary and Joseph and all who were standing nearby that the child would be the means of God’s salvation for all people both Jews and Gentiles.
But he didn’t sugar coat the story. He told them Jesus would bring comfort and conflict. He would lift up those who were oppressed, but he would be opposed by those in positions of power who were more interested in promoting their own agenda than in promoting the purposes of God. His presence would reveal the truth or falsehood of people’s hearts and his death would cause his own mother bitter grief.
Anna, likewise “gave thanks for the child” and spoke of him to all who were waiting for redemption of Israel.” She gave thanks to God, and she shared the good news of God’s purpose through the child. Like the angels and the shepherds before her, she testified of what she had seen.
For believers there is a natural overflow of thanksgiving to God and testimony to others from our lives. As we see what God is doing in the world we give him thanks and we tell others about it. Like Jesus’ disciples, we are sent to make other disciples. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” We gather for worship, we are sent into the world. As we go, we share our testimony of what God is doing, what he will do, with those around us. When Jesus sent the 12 and the 70, he told them to share the gospel of the kingdom wherever they went. And if they were not received, they should just move on and leave the results to God.
He knows in our day who is “waiting for the redemption of Israel” whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. He will direct them and us so that they will hear the good news and respond in faith. Like Simeon and Anna, we are to simply make ourselves available as vessels God uses to accomplish his purposes in the world.
Remember, God has accomplished and is accomplishing his purpose in redeeming the world through his Son Jesus.
Believers in Christ, whether we are young are old, find our purpose in the purposes of God.
Like Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna, as we obey his word, trust his Spirit, wait for his coming, and tell his story, we can participe in his purposes –– and find our purpose in his.