Big Idea: Jesus is good, a consolation, and controversial.
We dropped off a Christmas gift to our upstairs neighbor a few days before Christmas. We caught her wrapping presents and watching Christmas movies, and I guess most of them were Christmas romances. She had one complaint: the movies all end with a couple getting together. She said, “That’s a good beginning of the story, but what happens after? What’s the rest of the story?”
I feel a little like that around Christmas. The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are called Advent. It’s the season preceding Christmas in which we look forward to both the first coming of Jesus and anticipate his return. Some people are really strict about Advent. For instance, they refuse to sing Christmas songs during Advent. And you’ve probably heard the song about the twelve days of Christmas. What you may not realize is that the twelve days begins on December 25. Christmas doesn’t end on the 25th. It just gets going.
That’s how I feel about the Christmas story. We’ve been looking at the Christmas story in the book of Luke over the past few weeks. It’s tempting to pack up and move on to other things. But the Christmas story doesn’t end with the birth of Jesus. There’s a lot that happens after the birth of Jesus, but these events aren’t well known at all.
But this passage is important because it tells us a lot about who Jesus is. We learn that Jesus has three characteristics, and these three characteristics call for three specific responses from all of us here today.
Let’s look at the story and see what we learn.
Jesus Is Good
If you look at verses 21 to 24, you see a lot of signs that the law is being fulfilled through Jesus’ birth.
We need to back up a little. We tend to think of the law as a negative thing, as something that hems us in and keeps us from being fulfilled. The Bible presents the very opposite picture. The law is given as an act of love from God so that we can learn to live like he does. The law reflects God’s character. The closer we stay to keeping God’s law, the closer we are to living in line with what God is like. The law is not oppressive. It’s actually liberating. “Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us” (Tim Keller).
Our problem is that we have not kept God’s law. It’s the reason the world is such a mess. And if you ask how far this problem goes back in our lives, you have to go back right back to the very beginning. Nobody had to teach us to throw temper tantrums. Nobody had to teach us to want to take other people’s toys. Nobody had to teach us to be self-centered. Lawlessness comes naturally to all of us.
The story of the Bible is the story of human failure. Every time God shows mercy to people, they go and mess it up. It’s discouraging. As long as there’s this lawlessness in the world, there’s no freedom. There’s nothing we can do that will bring the peace we need into this world, because everything is corrupted by our sinfulness.
That’s why Luke spends some time introducing us to the goodness of Jesus. Right from the beginning, Jesus is different from the rest of us. It’s a little glimpse of a theme that will develop throughout the rest of the accounts of Jesus’ life. Jesus is good.
- He’s circumcised. Circumcision is the physical mark that God gave his people to identify them as his people.
- Mary is purified forty days after the birth of her child, just as Leviticus 12 teaches.
- Jesus is presented to God as the firstborn, fulfilling Exodus 13:2 and other passages: “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
- Jesus is dedicated to the Lord’s service, just like Samuel was hundreds of years earlier (1 Samuel 1-2).
On one hand, this wasn’t completely unusual. On the other hand, it’s essential. Luke is laying the groundwork for us to understand exactly who Jesus is. Right from the beginning, Luke is establishing that Jesus is good. Jesus’ parents go beyond what’s required in the law. From his birth, Jesus lives within the bounds that God has kept.
As Jesus’ story continues, Luke expands this theme. In Luke 4:34, a demon cries out to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” When they kill Jesus, we read, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’” (Luke 23:47).
Luke is already laying the groundwork for us: Jesus is good. He’s uniquely qualified to keep the law. Jesus is good where we’re not.
How should we respond to this? Human nature relies on our own goodness to measure up to God. Our problem: our goodness is tainted. Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” We just spent the past week with someone who has a nut allergy. It’s not enough to be mostly nut free. The slightest contamination could be enough to cause big problems. God is like that. God cannot see evil; he cannot tolerate the slightest sin.
Which makes Jesus’ righteousness so important. God can look on Jesus’ life because Jesus was righteous. And the Bible teaches that God imputes his righteousness to us, so that his righteousness becomes ours. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is righteous, so we can trust him rather than relying on our own righteousness.
If you haven’t done so already, then look to Jesus’ goodness and stop trusting your own. Jesus’ goodness is our only hope. Put all your trust in his righteousness and trust in him alone.
That’s the first characteristic of Jesus in this passage: he’s good. Here’s the second:
Jesus Is a Consolation
In verse 25 we meet a man, Simeon. We read:
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. (Luke 2:25)
As soon as he sees Jesus, he erupts in poetry praising God that he has had the privilege of seeing God’s salvation.
But I want to focus on that phrase in verse 25: consolation of Israel. Consolation means “the act of giving relief in comfort and affliction.” I don’t know of any better term to describe Jesus than this.
In the context, Simeon is tapping into Jesus as the answer to Israel’s greatest need. Over the centuries, Israel has realized that their only hope is that God would send someone to deliver the nation. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to his war-weary and sin-weary people. He’s the one that was promised long ago as the rescuer of his people.
But Simeon has more than just Israel in mind. We see this in verses 30 to 32:
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.
John Piper says:
Jesus Christ is the consolation of the Father’s open arms to Jew and Gentile.
Jesus Christ is the consolation of the universal amnesty of God held out to the world of rebellious creatures.
Jesus Christ is the consolation of God as we look back on all sin and hate and anger and guilt and shame and doubt and failure.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:13: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has consoled his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
So it makes sense to set your heart on Christ…because if there is any deep longing in your heart for a consolation and comfort that this world cannot satisfy, it is because God is preparing you to recognize and receive his gift: Jesus Christ, the consolation of Israel. Don’t seek it anywhere but in him.
We need consolation — and God has given us Jesus as the answer to that need. Our response: look to Jesus for relief. “Let us acquaint ourselves with Christ, and we shall never be at a loss for comfort. Let us live nigh to him, and we may defy all the powers of earth and hell” (Charles Simeon).
Jesus is good, and Jesus is a consolation. Luke tells us about one more characteristic of Jesus:
Jesus Is Divisive
Simeon tells us one more thing about Jesus, and we read it in verses 34 and 35:
Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)
Simeon rains on the parade. The first two characteristics of Jesus in this passage are nice: Jesus is good and Jesus is a consolation. This one isn’t so nice. Jesus is divisive. Jesus is a consolation for many, but he will also be opposed. Jesus comes not as a universally popular Savior, but opposed by many, and Jesus’ own mother will partake of those sorrows.
Jesus himself said later on, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Wherever Jesus Christ comes, with whomsoever he may come in contact, he is never without influence, never inoperative, but in every case a weighty result is produced … Never does a man hear the gospel but he either rises or falls under that hearing. There is never a proclamation of Jesus Christ (and this is the spiritual coming forth of Christ himself) which leaves men precisely where they were; the gospel is sure to have some effect upon those who hear it. (C.H. Spurgeon)
When it comes to Jesus, there’s no middle ground. Jesus calls for a verdict. You either trust in him or you’re opposed to him. There’s no middle ground. You must decide. Either he is your fall or he is your rising. Jesus reveals your heart. You must trust him, because there’s no other option except that you oppose him.
Today’s the last Sunday of 2018. I love that you’re here today. And I love that we’re looking at Christmas one more Sunday, because there’s a lot that happens after his birth.
And I’m glad we’re looking at my favorite subject today: Jesus. There’s no better way to wrap up the year than to talk about Jesus. There’s no better way to end the year than to think about Jesus, and to think about his characteristics:
- He is good, so we can trust his goodness instead of our own
- He’s our consolation, so we can look to Jesus for relief
- He’s divisive, so we must either follow him or oppose him
As we complete this year, will you now trust him, look to him for relief, and follow him? Don’t delay. Let’s do that now.