What Child is This?
A sermon preached at Howick Baptist Church in 2013. You can watch or listen here.
Christmas is a wonderful time of year, a time often associated with joy, cheer and the “good things in life.” At the same time, for some, Christmas is often depressing and painful. We remember painful Christmases of our past, or lonely Christmases of our present/future.
As I have reflected on the significance given to Christmas within the wider culture and even the church in my lifetime I have recognised some trends.
In my youth it would have been somewhat common to see even nativity scenes setup in public venues. This certainly did not represent a cultural acceptance of the Biblical story, let alone its significance. Yet, there was still an acknowledgement of the story’s right to be present within society.
As you are well aware in many places within our culture today it is politically incorrect to even say “Merry Christmas”. It has become simply “Happy Holidays”. Of course in New Zealand where what is called a “vacation” in the US is called a “holiday” here, “Happy Holidays” is even more of a meaningless term which could simply express well wishes as one heads out camping on your Summer holiday!
Within the church, I see something similar. The broader church is generally behind society and culture. This is both dangerous and helpful. Dangerous in that the larger church is heading in a destructive direction. Helpful in that we can see where it is headed and can shout warnings across the bow.
Within the larger church there was a day when the birth of Christ would have been declared for its theological, sin remitting significance. “His name shall be called Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”
Yet today, the Christmas story, even within the church has become in many cases nothing more than a “nativity story.” It is cute story about a lovely baby born to a dear young lady in a manger. It is almost a lullaby, something one could easily fall asleep to.
We must be careful. We must be vigilant. We must determine to never let the truth of the incarnation of the Son of God be anything less than the earth shattering, foundation shaking, window rattling, heart changing truth that it is.
The Biblical account of Who this Child is, is anything but sentimental!
Let us consider the account of one man’s reaction to seeing Jesus for one of the first times he was brought out “in public.” Luke 2:22-35
Read – Luke 2:22-35
I want to consider with you the setting and the man Simeon briefly, and then focus our attention on the content of Simeon’s words.
The text tells us that this event took place “when the time came for their purification.”
We know from verse 21 this follows Jesus’ circumcision. It is possible Joseph, Mary, & Jesus would have travelled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the circumcision which took place 8 days after Jesus birth. The distance is only six miles. If so, then this is their second time to Jerusalem.
Either way the time given within the OT Law for the purification of the Mother after childbirth was 40 days.
So on this trip to Jerusalem Jesus is 40 days old. Just over a month.
It seems likely this visit takes place before the arrival of the Wise Men which Luke doesn’t record, but is recorded for us in Matthew. One reason for thinking this is the fact that Joseph and Mary in this passage can only afford the sacrifice of those who are poor (turtledoves or pigeons) which would not have been the case if they had the gold given by the Wise Men.
It is unclear who the “their” are who need purification. Generally it was only the mother who was considered unclean after birth for these 40 days. However, seeing Joseph would have likely played a significant role in the birth of Jesus due to their circumstances, his contact with blood, etc. would have made him unclean as well.
The text says they came up for two reasons (in reverse order from how they are listed):
- To offer sacrifice according to the law. This was the required payment offered for the first born. A reminder of God’s deliverance of Israel’s first born during the exodus from Egypt.
- To present Jesus to the Lord. This is above and beyond what is required in the law and shows the deep piety of Joseph and Mary. They were godly parents who desired to honour the Lord with all they had. This echoes the dedication of Samuel by Hannah in 1 Samuel.
Simeon, the man:
If I can say this, what is significant about Simeon is how insignificant he is!
We know very little about this man. Though we do know he “was righteous and devout and he was waiting for the consolation of Israel”. He isn’t given a title or position. It would be reading too much into the text to see him as a priest or even as a prophet in a formal sense.
This is significant. What Simeon was waiting for, was for God to fulfil His promises. Simeon knew his Old Testament. Particularly Isaiah, Haggai, and Malachi where God had promised to send His Anointed One/His Messiah to bring comfort to His people. He even promised in Haggai and Malachi that He would one day visit the temple!
The person who is emphasised here in not Simeon, but the Holy Spirit. In verses 25, 26, & 27 the Spirit is mentioned three times.
Luke is recording this account in such a way that we will firmly grasp the reality that everything that happens and is said by this man in the temple is from the Spirit of God Himself. This is not mere dedication. The Spirit of God is proclaiming profound and prophetic truths about this infant on this occasion!
So as Joseph & Mary arrive with Jesus into the outer precincts of the temple, Simeon takes this 40 day old baby into his arms and under the power of the Holy Spirit declares:
- God has kept His Word to Simeon. We were told this back in 26. Simeon had been given a miraculous promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the “Lord’s Christ.”
We need to remember, Christ wasn’t Jesus second name. As a name, Jesus was a rather common. In common vernacular Jesus would have been known as “Jesus son of Joseph”. Christ is a title. It is the Greek word for the Hebrew word, Messiah – the Anointed One/Promised Redeemer. To see the Lord’s Christ was to see the one Who had been promised since Genesis 3:15, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David! To see the Lord’s Christ was to see with one’s eyes the fulfilment of all the Old Testament. To see the Lord’s Christ was to look upon God in the flesh! This is no sentimental baby; this is the Lord’s Christ!
- The Spirit of God declares through Simeon, this child is “God’s salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples.”
This child is himself God’s salvation. It isn’t that He “represents” God’s salvation. He is God’s salvation. We’ll see more of this soon.
God has not provided His salvation in a secret place but right out in the open before all peoples. In fact, throughout Luke’s account he goes overboard to set the events of Jesus’ life (especially His birth) within the timeline of Roman history. You can see this in 2:1 & 3:1.
- The Spirit of God declares through Simeon, this child is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
This is a phrase taken straight from the Old Testament. This is what God called Israel to be, but they failed over and over again. They were to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The Gentile nations where supposed to be able to look at Israel and see the character of God displayed in their obedience to His Law. Where they failed, Jesus would succeed. He is the True Israel!
- The Spirit of God declares through Simeon, this child is “for glory to God’s people Israel.”
God has not forgotten Israel. The Messiah has come through them, for all! This is truly glorious… But the Spirit’s message isn’t complete yet. Simeon will say more…
Upon hearing this magnificent prophetic blessing given over their new born, infant son Joseph and Mary are speechless. Simeon though is not. He now speaks directly to Mary.
- The Spirit of God declares through Simeon, this child is to be a wedge of division!
This is where the modern day church’s presentation of the cute baby in the manger gets confronted head-on. This isn’t the description of a promise of peace on earth and goodwill towards men. We cannot recreated the historical Jesus to be nothing more than a sentimental thought displayed in pretty pictures intended to be nothing more than a means of external, surface unity.
Within Israel, Jesus is the source of the falling and rising of many!
Even one who can claim physical lineage to Abraham himself must come to terms with Who Jesus is. What Child is this? He has been appointed by God as the Messiah. He is either accepted on those terms which leads to blessing (rising) or He is rejected which leads to judgement (falling). There is no third option.
Jesus has been appointed as a sign that is opposed.
This baby brings division. Many will/have opposed Him. He cannot be ignored and He cannot be trivialised.
Jesus’ very existence reveals the thoughts of people’s hearts.
Again, what one thinks of this baby means everything. What Child is this? He is the Son of God, born in the flesh, born to die for the sins of His people.
What one thinks of Him will ultimately determine what one thinks of everything in this life and the life to come!
My friend is you have never come to terms with the reality of the identity of this child you must today. You may be visiting for the first time today. You may have sat in one of these pews for years. The question is still the same – What Child is this?
Have you accepted the truth that He is the very Son of God in the flesh who died and rose again paying the penalty for the sins of His people, satisfying the righteous requirements of God, bearing the Father’s wrath in your place? Have you confessed your sin and trust in Him-alone for full and final forgiveness?
My Christian friend, having done this are you thinking of Jesus rightly during this Christmas season?
Has He become to you nothing more than the subject of a cute story, a sentimental add-on to the busy holiday season?
Or do you have unbiblical and therefore unrealistic expectations for this child?
Do you see the parenthetical statement Simeon shared with Mary in verse 35? Simeon was prophesying to Mary of the great pain she, herself would suffer as a result of being the mother of the Messiah! At least we know that for 3 ½ years of her son’s adult life she would have watched him being rejected and maligned by the Jewish leaders culminating in false accusations, illegal trials, and a murderous crucifixion!
Yet, even for you & I…
To align oneself with this child is to stand with One Who divides.
Don’t be surprised my brother or sister-in-Christ.. as you stand with the real, Biblical Jesus for all of Who He is, even during the festive holiday season you may find yourself at odds with those who do not want to be accept Him for Who He really is.
It is not our job to be belligerent or rude, of course. Yet, we will increasingly find ourselves in a numerical minority as we hold fast to Who this child really is.
However, let us never forget that 1 + God is always a majority and secondly, this same Jesus has promised to return for His people.
Like Simeon of old who was found waiting for the consolation of Israel. Let us be found waiting for the coming of our Lord and let us be ones who have stood faithfully and firmly upon the truth of Who He is!
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
Let us pray!