The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  
 
    






Guest Sermon - January 13, 2019
 
Pastor Arnie Johnson
Sermon Title: "NEVER GIVE UP"

OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 62:11-12 (NIV) The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.'" They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.
 

New Testament: Luke 2:21-40 (NIV) When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord", and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."  There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.  


Epistle: Heb 10:35-38 (NIV)
"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.  But my righteous one will live by faith.

 

LET US PRAY: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, our Lord, our Strength, and our Redeemer. Amen


                   Have you ever wanted to give up?? Just stop and quit? Have you ever felt you could go on no longer? Have you ever become discouraged at times, especially when a promise someone had made did not seem realistic? Well, if so, you are certainly not alone. Simeon and Anna must have felt like that at times as they waited for years and years, even long decades, for the gift of the promised Messiah. The Gospel of Luke is quite clear that they had even grown "very old" in the process of waiting. Most of us would probably have given up if we had waited until we were of the ancient ages Anna and Simeon had attained. How different history would have been if either of these two prophets had said "Oh well, I'm old now and have waited all my life for this Messiah to appear that God promised. It doesn't look like it will happen after all in my lifetime! Someone else needs to do some waiting. I've done my time! I deserve a little comfort before I die, and I think I’ll quit this fiasco and just go back to my family and live a little before it's all over. I'm tired of all this hard living in the temple and the cold stones for a bed! Living a dedicated life to God is for the younger set anyway!"


                 Certainly no one could have blamed them if they had said this, but what a reward they would have missed! Yet, they had a choice just as we do, to focus on the "problem" or the "promise". They could have been "looking down" at their discouragement, but instead they chose to "look up" and focused instead on trusting God and His promises.  And because of this choice, they did not miss the incredible marvelous reward and gift God had promised them!  And so, we wonder what can we learn from Anna and Simeon? What was their secret that enabled them to persevere through hard times and long years in remaining faithful in worship and service to God and walking in trust in a dedicated life to the Lord? Surely their lives could not have been easy ones. And yet the miracle remains that a promised gift is made even more precious by the patience required in the “waiting time” as the expected and mundane is finally transformed into the magic, and a surprising reward occurs when an unexpected gift finally does appear.


                   And so it was with Simeon and Anna in the temple when they first beheld the Christ child after many long years of waiting for God’s gift of the promised Messiah!  For our New Testament text this morning reminds us that: “… there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him, "When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, may you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2)

It is clear to us from Luke’s account that St. Simeon was a man, not only of the Holy Spirit, but of great patience and endurance as well. His name in Hebrew means “one who hears”. It is obvious from Simeon’s use of scripture and his prophecy at the consecration in the temple of Jesus, that He was a highly intelligent scholar and a deeply religious man who knew from his study of the Old Testament such as what we read in Isaiah this morning that the Messiah was to come. He had prayed not only for deliverance for Israel, but also for the opportunity to remain alive just long enough to cast his eyes on God’s gift of the Messiah. This was no small request he made of the Lord, for he was a very old man when the infant Jesus was consecrated in the temple.


               During the consecration and dedication of Jesus to God by his parents Joseph and Mary, Simeon breaks forth into prophetic praise and song and proclaims:For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people,… a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2)  In Simeon’s prophetic proclamation, the child Jesus is equated with the Hebrew word for "your salvation" in Luke 2:30. It is not accidental that Jesus' name, in Hebrew “Yeshua” (a form of the name "Joshua" or “Jesus” in Aramaic), means literally, "salvation." So it is that Simeon looks on the child named "Salvation" and says, "My eyes, Lord, have seen your salvation...."  It is also remarkable that Simeon sees Jesus' salvation as extending to all people -- Gentiles and Jews alike as one people!


                   Likewise we were also told of the great patience and long years of waiting displayed by the 84-year old prophetess, Anna, who had spent many patient years praying and waiting in the Jewish temple for God’s gift of the promised Messiah. For this morning’s scripture also reminds us that, “There was also a prophetess, Anna, ….. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:15-40 -NIV)


              While we do not know a great deal about either Anna or Simeon, some facts do emerge quite clearly.  We do know that the name “Anna” in Hebrew means one who “praises God” and that she was from the lost tribe of Asher. Having believed in the prophecies of the Old Testament all of her life, she was the only woman in the Temple to greet the infant Jesus. Married at age fourteen and widowed at twenty-one, Anna was still in attendance at the Temple when the baby Jesus was presented for consecration by Mary and Joseph. At the sight of the child, whom she instantly recognized as the Messiah, Anna’s thankful spirit burst forth into joyous thanksgiving to God. She later spoke continually of the forthcoming freedom and redemption that the Messiah Jesus would bring to Israel to all who would listen! We don't hear the exact words of her prophecy, but it seems, like Simeon's, to consist of inspired thanksgiving and speaking about the child to other believing people who are present. She kept on thanking God and publicly telling people the Good News that the Messiah had come in the form of the infant Jesus. We also notice that Luke uses a special Greek word for "redemption" that Anna is using which focuses on the "experience of being liberated from an oppressive situation." Like Simeon, who looks forward to the "consolation" or comfort of Jerusalem, Anna looks forward to the time when Jerusalem will once again be free from Roman oppression. By the way, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church today honor both Anna and Simeon as saints and prophets.


And so we see from reading the NT scripture today, that indeed God had a perfect plan. This is the same message the angel spoke to the shepherds on Christmas night: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (2:10) The prophecy that the Messiah and Israel would be "a light for the Gentiles" was first spoken by Isaiah in 49:6 when he said: "I, the Lord, will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."(Isaiah 49:6) And so it is that Simeon told Mary prophetically, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Simeon had received a prophecy from God as to the future of this special child who would grow up to save the world but would die a painful death for future generations. What a duty to have to tell Jesus’ mother the whole truth as to what Jesus would become and do, and then open her eyes as to what would happen to Him. Could you or I have done it? Would we have had the obedience to God or perseverance? Yet, Simeon serves as an inspiration for all of us to remain faithful to the truth as we await the fulfillment of God's promises each day, and accept the Comfort promised to us by the Holy Spirit. By his faithful patience, and his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, Simeon has given us the gift of his prophetic song of beauty, so that we can celebrate with him today the gift of God's Messiah to a despairing generation and tired world.


As Simeon is holding the baby Jesus, Anna then approached the Holy Family. She, too, recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but she has a very different reaction: “At that moment, she came and began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38). She is 84-years old, and not yet ready to quit! She wanted to evangelize! Like the disciples who followed her, she was passionate to share the Good News of Christ Jesus.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was the first to have the Good News announced to her, but Anna was the first to fully understand and preach the Good News! Unlike Simeon, Anna was not just visiting the Temple for the day; she was there all the time. According to Luke, Anna “never left the Temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). In other words, Anna was dedicated, committed, and she persevered! Yes, a messiah had arrived, as Simeon recognized, but, as the prophetess Anna realized, a new era, with a new and living voice of prophecy, had dawned!


And now, in this new age in which we live, the living voice of God will continue to speak through the Holy Spirit and each of us. Anna was only the first in a line of prophetic disciples who would continue to speak about Jesus to all around them.


Yet, that first Christmas, the Christ child came at a particular point in time, but for many, like Mary and Joseph, the significance of the event was only understood gradually over time. But the prophetic insight into God’s intentions is a gift which keeps on giving and renewing the people of God. And at the outset of a long chain of such prophetic insights stood Simeon and Anna, one satisfied that prophecy had been fulfilled, and the other pointing to the future, a future as bright as the promises of God!


And so Simeon and Anna remain models for us all! Simeon showed us through his perseverance how we can remain faithful people even in the midst of an unfaithful secular world. We can choose to follow God, even in despairing and hopeless circumstances, when we look up to the Spirit of God as the answer and avoid looking down and being consumed by negative thinking and hopelessness. Simeon understood patient waiting. Although he lived in a period of spiritual emptiness, he believed God and waited for the renewal of his religion and people. We need more Simeons today, my friends, who can persevere for the victory of truth and divine love in our conflicted churches and hurting country. May we all have the perseverance to wait upon the Lord and pray for revival to raise up godly men and women that will lead the Church to a renewed holiness of life and service.


And, since Anna never left the temple, it is not surprising she came upon Mary and Joseph and Simeon holding baby Jesus in his arms. When she saw baby Jesus, it would have been understandable if she could have felt sad for herself for never being able to have children and being widowed at such a young age. Instead, she thanked God, "...and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Only God knows the powerful effect Anna’s prayers have had for us all. One thing is sure, the world still has hope, because someone like Anna gave her life praying for the revelation of the Messiah.


             And so we realize that in today’s passage in Luke, we are not merely reading about two old people. We are presented with two heroes of the faith who are shining examples to us all to not "quit and give up" but to persevere and "look up" to find the power of God beyond our problems and tiredness. One waited patiently on God to fulfill His promise to see the consolation of Israel. The other hoped in God by a life of prayer, fasting and worship. God answered both of their life-long prayers through the baby Jesus. From these saints of endurance, we can learn we never need to become burned out and tired Christians who stop eagerly placing our hope in Jesus. Let us thank God for giving us Jesus as our Hope and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.  Let us pray that God may also help us to pray, endure, hope, and persevere as Anna and Simeon did.  Or as our Epistle reading today in Hebrews reminds us, "And so do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith."


 So, what is the marvelous gift we received so many years ago that we still enjoy some 2,000 years later? That marvelous gift is of course the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  And all we have to do to enjoy this gift 24/7/365 is to continue to daily invite Jesus into our hearts, to live within us as we go about our daily lives. That seems like a simple task, but sometimes it becomes very hard when we have illusions of self-sufficiency and forget that we are God’s people, created in God’s image for God's purposes.

And so, my dear friends, may we all reach out today, believe, and take hold of the marvelous gift that God has given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior who is always with us in all circumstances offering healing, hope, peace, joy, endurance, patience, abundant life, and that victory that overcomes the world!


So May It Be, Amen

Would you join me in prayer? Lord Jesus, help us to persevere in times of waiting and discouragement when your promises seem so distant. Help us to remember that You came in the fullness of time to the earth in your first coming and yet will come again in Your perfect timing whenever we are in need. Come then into our lives today.  Come, Lord Jesus, and give us the joy of Your presence and a sense of the powerful reality of Your resurrected presence. Help us to persevere in holy waiting and prayer, so we too may receive the great reward of your presence that has been promised. Grant us endurance and patience as we await the revelation and fulfillment of your perfect plan in our lives. And so in peace and joy we worship You Son of God, Son of Man, Lord of Life, Savior of the World and marvelous gift. May we all walk today with the courage of Anna & Simeon and live so God can use each one of us! Amen.