The Change of Watch

luke_8863cAt the end of a shift a nurse transfers the care of her patient to her incoming replacement. A sentry on guard at a military encampment maintains vigilant watch until he is relieved. Simeon is not just ending a shift, but as his song in Luke 2:29-35 indicates, his service marks the end of an era of longing and the introduction of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

God has given you his salvation in Christ. You have seen the Lord’s Christ. Having described the birth of Jesus, Luke mentions that he received the covenant sign of circumcision, Luke 2:21. He was identified with his covenant people in order to redeem them. Then, 40 days after his birth, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple. Why was he there? Because, ever since the Exodus, where the firstborn sons in Egypt died, the firstborn were offered to the Lord. In the case of human babies, of course, an animal was offered in place of the child. Jesus was presented in the temple following the offering brought by his poor parents—according to the law (Exodus 13:2,12; Leviticus 12:8). The offerings were required, not because of our humanness, but because of our sinfulness. Although, as Luke 1 makes clear, Jesus was the Son of God, the sacrifice still had to made for him. His first appearance in the temple is not as the object of worship, first of all, but as a truly human baby, identified with us as sinners. The Child whom Mary and Joseph presented was identified to Simeon by the Holy Spirit as the Lord’s Christ, whose coming he had awaited, Luke 2:26. The Baby is the anointed of the Lord, set apart for his messianic work. He, the Christ, is also the Lord, the sovereign God. Note how the angel identifies him, Luke 2:11. Christ may have been brought to the temple in obedience to the law, but Simeon recognizes that this is not just a baby, he is Simeon’s Lord. He is your Lord. The Lord’s Christ is Christ the Lord.

The sovereign Lord has established a new era. Simeon uses a name that refers to God’s power, Luke 2:29. As a slave or bond servant, Simeon is now ready to be released from duty. He had been faithfully waiting for the coming of the Lord’s Christ. His waiting had been, not a passive interlude, but an anticipation which was active with prayer and service of the Lord. He gives expression, not just to his personal longing, but to the expectation of the covenant people, looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Simeon’s words call you to acknowledge God as your sovereign and to submit each area of your life to him. Recognize that the new age has replaced the old. The time of anticipation and shadow had been replaced by the reality of God’s presence in our sin-cursed world. The child in Simeon’s arms is Immanuel! Luke’s record of Simeon’s actions and words shows that in this event God is active in human history. Simeon’s words mark the change of watch. The new era has been inaugurated. The coming of Christ is an accomplished reality. “Simeon’s words give powerful expression to the thought that Simeon, having beheld Christ in fulfilment of the divine word concerning his life, has fully performed his service. His watch is concluded with the arrival of the One for whom he was waiting.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, p. 53). Yet there is still a future aspect to Christ’s coming. Like Simeon, you live a life of anticipation. Be sure that your daily life reflects the One for whose return you long and pray and work. Does your use of time, the job you have, the entertainment you seek, reflect your status as a servant waiting for his Lord? A soldier on guard duty must not be found sleeping. Are you really awake?

Examine your relationship with Christ. The Child causes the rising and falling of many. He is light to the Gentiles. Simeon understood Isaiah 42! This was good news to Theophilus. It is good news to you. It continues to be good news which must be carried to the ends of the earth. Luke’s two volume work will emphasize the universalism of Christ’s work. God’s intervention in human history cannot be confined to one nation, to one people. But even at this early point, long before the Great Commission, long before Pentecost, long before Paul’s missionary journeys, Luke prepares you to recognize that the good news must, by its very nature, spread throughout the world. He is the glory of the covenant people Israel. What had been there temporarily in the pillar of cloud and fire has now become a reality. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, John 1:14. You rise or fall in relation to Christ. You might expect him to be popular, but he brings division and conflict. The coming of Christ involves confrontation, but let it be the conflict of the kingdom of God, not personal abrasiveness. The division cuts right through Israel, Luke 2:33. It is not enough simply to be part of God’s covenant people. God’s covenant demands whole-hearted obedience, and the judgement of the covenant falls on those whose lives do not conform. Simeon’s prophecy asks you where you stand in relationship to the Christ Child. Do you trust him as your Savior, and serve him as your Lord? Since none can present perfect obedience to God, your relationship to his Christ is absolutely important in your standing before him. He is light and glory for you only as you trust in him. “Jesus is the Inescapable One—sooner or later everyone must take up a position with regard to Him and must choose for or against Him. A man’s attitude towards Him reveals and defines the real quality of his character. It is not an outward ‘doing good’ or a ‘good life’ that counts before God and reveals the deepest inclination and character of a man; what really matters is his attitude toward Christ. On this, and on this alone, the eternal weal or woe of everyone depends. He who in his pride of self-satisfaction despises Christ thereby dooms himself to everlasting ruin. But he who humbles himself under His mighty arm is raised up by Him to everlasting salvation.” (Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, NICNT, pp. 122-123). As you do trust in him, rejoice. The longing of Simeon is supplemented by the reference to Anna, an elderly widow, who virtually lived in the presence of God in the temple. Her response of thanksgiving also involves speaking about the Child. She has the Holy Spirit-given grace to recognize that the redemption of Jerusalem is to be accomplished, not by military might, but through this child, present in the temple that day.

Christ reveals the thoughts of your heart. Your innermost being is open to him (disturbing thought!). Don’t trust in externals. Christ knows the real you. Instead of trying to hide, turn to him today and daily. Simeon warns Mary that a sword will pierce her heart. He is foretelling Christ’s suffering and death. But through the suffering and beyond it, lies the glory of the salvation which God has prepared for his people. Simeon can request permission to go off watch because the glory of the Lord has been revealed.

At a point in time, roughly 2000 years ago, the glory of the Lord was revealed. And at some unpredictable point in the future, the glory of the Lord will be revealed in the coming of the Lord’s Christ. Your time belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever changes the future brings will be minor compared to the changing of the watch that Simeon witnessed–apart from the final realization of that change at the end of this age.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.