“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
— Luke 2:25
What are you expecting for this new year, 2014? Where will you find your comfort this year? “Comfort” is what the word consolation in our text means. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel—the comfort—that God had promised to Israel. And the Holy Spirit had told him that one day he would see it.
Some of you may be approaching this new year with a sigh of relief. You have felt a lack of comfort in your life and you think, “At last, 2013 is over. Maybe 2014 will be different.”
The Christmas season brought some joy and happiness. In millions of homes, praises were sung, and in thousands of churches around the world, the season of celebration took place. There was rejoicing throughout the world because a little baby was born in a manger. For a moment it was as if the angelic song that the shepherds heard was reechoed in every heart. The great message “Fear not!” brought some comfort to our hearts.
But that is done now, isn’t it? We are in a new year. Many people already have almost entirely forgotten the first note the angels sang—“Glory to God in the highest!” We are ready to move on. It is a new year: 2014!
Perhaps we have forgotten that the whole purpose for Christ coming into this sin-filled world was for the glory of God. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem had been promised centuries earlier in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree. Christ came to frustrate the work of Satan and to bring back a fallen people to their Maker and Lord.
Although Israel received the promise that the Redeemer was coming, many people had forgotten about it. Perhaps they had not forgotten—they just filed it away somewhere in the back of their heads. It was time to move on. And so they went on, eating, drinking, and being merry as in the days of Noah before the flood.
The Messiah’s coming into the world had become a matter of traditional belief but not of vital faith and hope. There was no comfort in it. If their hearts were stirred up at all, it was because of God’s work in the past. Remember those ten plagues and how Moses delivered us up out of Egypt? Remember the great King David? Remember the wisdom of King Solomon? Remember the glory of the first temple? They remembered the history but not the promise—not what God was going to do in the future. They observed all the religious forms, but they failed to interest themselves in the promise of the coming Messiah.
Even when some strangers stirred up all of Jerusalem by asking, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” no one in the entire city had enough interest to go with the wise men to Bethlehem to see what had happened—a child who was born a king.
The Consolation of Israel
Simeon seemed to be the exception to the rule. Whereas the shepherds symbolized the average person on the street, Simeon represented the testimony of a wise elder who has walked with God. The Bible tells us that Simeon was a devout man living in the city at a time when it was far from holy.
He was looking forward to the consolation of Israel. While the multitudes were comforting themselves with what God had done in the past, Simeon lifted his eyes to the heavens awaiting the fulfillment of the promise—not what God had done, but what God was yet to do. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Once Simeon had received the promise, he waited for its fulfillment.
Simeon demonstrates what it means to be a believer. Faith is being sure of what we hope for (Heb. 11:1). That means waiting in faith—not for what God has already done, but for what God has promised he will do.
How often Simeon must have walked to the temple waiting for what God had promised to do. Would the consolation of Israel be a great warrior king like David or a great prophet like Isaiah? Perhaps he would be like Moses, calling down horrible plagues upon the Roman government that was currently oppressing them as the Egyptians had done centuries earlier.
Then one day it happened. As good Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph brought their firstborn son to the temple when He was forty days old to dedicate Him to the Lord. As they came into the outer court to make the necessary sacrifices, they were met by an old man. Much to their amazement, the old man asked to hold the baby. Even more amazing are the words that he spoke:
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.
Understand what an incredible moment this is—the Old Testament saint holding in his hands the New Testament, the Word become flesh. Simeon was seeing with his own eyes what God’s people had waited centuries to see. He was holding in his arms the salvation of God: not a great king, prophet, or priest, but a little baby.
Here was this young peasant girl and her husband making the most meager sacrifice. They were so poor that all they could afford to sacrifice was a pair of doves, but in her hands was the greatest sacrifice of all—the sacrifice that would give light to the Gentiles and glory to the people of Israel. Simeon did not have any doubt that this was the promise of God fulfilled. He looked at the tiny baby with the eyes of faith and realized afresh the wonder, sovereignty, and faithfulness of God. He had seen God’s salvation. He held it in his arms.
The Consolation of All People
In many ways this moment when Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms was unique and unrepeatable. Jesus will never be a baby again. None of us will ever be able to actually hold the holy infant in our arms the way Simeon did. While that may be true, however, so is this: neither Simeon nor anyone else can be saved by simply holding the baby Jesus in his or her arms. Jesus still had to live the perfect life, die the atoning sacrifice, and rise to eternal glory. There is no salvation without the cross or the empty tomb.
And so in another sense this moment in Simeon’s life is not at all unique. Many people throughout history can identify with Simeon’s words. After many years of living by faith, they continually praise God for the promises he has made and kept. They have found God to be faithful. Their hope is in the promises of what is yet to be: the new heaven and earth. They are able to say with Simeon, “Now dismiss your servant in peace.”
In many churches on New Year’s Eve the minister reads a list of those who have gone into glory. What a comfort when we are able to say that they were ready! They had the comfort of knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior. They knew the promises of God had been fulfilled for them through Jesus Christ.
What will 2014 bring for you? Are you able to say the words of Simeon? Can you say, “Lord, I’m ready at any time. My eyes have seen your salvation”? You do not have to hold the little baby Jesus in your arms to say that. You have to hold the risen Jesus in your heart.
Anyone who has seen Jesus with the eyes of faith is prepared to die. Trusting in the living, dying, risen, and ascended Lord will bring you the same comfort and peace that Simeon had in Luke 2. When, in faith, you trust that God has accomplished everything for your salvation, you can also trust that God has prepared a place for you where there is no sorrow or pain and every tear is wiped away.
Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people.” The Consolation of Israel is not just for Israel. The baby that Simeon held in his arms was not just for Simeon to see. The salvation that the sovereign Lord promised in the Old Testament was not just for Israel. It is for Jews and Gentiles alike.
Certainly Luke 2 contains an incredibly Jewish story. All the people we read about are Jewish: Simeon, Anna, Mary, Joseph, and, of course, Jesus. Even so, in this passage Simeon takes the gospel with all its promises and comfort and makes it global. Simeon makes clear that Jesus is the Savior of Gentiles as well. People of all cultures, countries, and customs must come to Jesus as their Savior.
You must come to Jesus Christ as your Savior. You are to be reconciled to God through the Christ. No matter who you are, you are called upon to embrace Jesus by faith in the saving grace of God provided through his Son; faith that receives the promise of God’s salvation even though you may not completely understand it; faith that receives Jesus as the only begotten Son of God.
We begin 2014 by acknowledging an event that happened in the past: the death of God’s Son on the cross of Calvary. Through His death God has provided the way for sinful people to be reconciled to himself.
Yes, the consolation of all the ages has come. In him you will find the comfort for which your heart yearns.
The Final Consolation
But you cannot stay there.
We are much like the Israelites in Simeon’s day. We have gathered around Bethlehem’s manger with our children. We have even used the occasion of Christ’s birth to talk about his death. It is well that we do so. We must be reminded again and again of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. We can never be grateful enough for what our Savior has done for us.
Even so, we should not be like the Israelites were before the birth of Jesus, looking only to the past but indifferent about the future. The author of Hebrews tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for. That means waiting in faith—not for what God has already done, but for what God has promised to do.
We are drawing ever nearer to the final consolation of God’s divine purposes. Christ is going to come again. He will inaugurate the new heaven and earth in which all the effects of sin and death will have vanished.
We cannot be satisfied with things as they are. We cannot just walk away from 2013 and once again become engrossed in the material things of the present as if that were our only concern. There are many who do. Like Israel, they have a wonderful historic faith. They know the Bible and believe it to be true, but they do not have the consolation of Israel; they cannot find true comfort in God’s Son. They have no assurance in their hearts.
Certainly we must believe the past events in our salvation’s history. We must also focus on the promises that God has given to us—not just the promises of the past already fulfilled in Jesus Christ but the promises of the future as well, also fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We are to focus on the certainty of this future glory that awaits all who have a true faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. The glorious Holy City, the New Jerusalem, has been guaranteed to us by Christ’s initial coming into this world. He will come again.
Like Simeon, we await the consolation of Israel. He was satisfied with the first coming of Christ. Having seen the infant Jesus, he could say, “Now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
We too have been to the manger. That alone should not satisfy our hearts. Neither should Calvary. Neither should Pentecost. There is a greater day a-coming—greater than any the world has ever known—greater than Christmas, greater than Cavalry, and greater than Pentecost. It is the day when our faith shall become sight.
Sin and death will be unknown. There will be no sorrow, no sickness, no pain or suffering. Every tear will be wiped away. God himself will dwell with us! That is what we are waiting for. It is for this consolation we long and pray.
The Holy Spirit promises to each one who believes in Jesus Christ that we shall see that glorious day. We look forward to Christ’s second coming. And we can never be fully satisfied until that day has come.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.