What Are You Waiting for?

Luke 2:22-38

It seems like there’s been a lot of waiting this year. From those early days of optimism, when we were so young in March, when we were waiting at home for just two weeks until this virus thing died down. Then we waited for the summer and good weather to kill it. Now we’re waiting for vaccines. We waited for the election, then waited for the results, and now are waiting to see how the transition of power goes. We are mostly waiting for life to go back to normal, when we can go out to eat, watch our kids play sports, and gather with our families; when we can see people’s entire faces; when we aren’t dominated by fear. We are waiting.

You know who else was waiting? The Jewish people during the time of Jesus’ birth. They were waiting for Rome to go away. They were waiting for freedom and for self-governance. They were waiting to not be oppressed with taxes by a foreign power. They were waiting to return to the glory days of King David. In the midst of their waiting for military, political, and economic freedom, Jesus was born, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

As I was going through Luke this year, I was struck by two people who got to meet Jesus when he was presented at the temple. Not only did they get to see Jesus, but the Bible is clear that God specifically rewarded them by showing them Jesus. They are Simeon and Anna. Why them? Why those two? I think it’s because they were waiting. Now, all of Israel was waiting, but Anna and Simeon were waiting for something different

First, let’s read what Simeon was waiting for. Luke 2:25 says “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.” He was not waiting for freedom or a military deliverer or earthly power at all. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. What does consolation mean? It means comfort or rescue. Okay, so rescue could still mean a military rescue right? Well no, he was waiting for the Savior who would rescue Israel from sin, and not only Israel, but the Gentiles too. We can tell that by his blessing in Luke 2:29-32 which says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 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.” Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, a permanent consolation, that could only come through God’s Son, who did not stay in heaven, but came down alongside us, to walk with us, to give His life to reconcile whoever believes to God. A revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Because Simeon was waiting for this, he didn’t miss Jesus.

The other person who got to meet little Jesus was Anna. She was a widow of many years who spent her time fasting and praying night and day in the temple. What was she waiting for? We find this in Luke 2:38 which says, “and coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” She was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Now, what does that mean? Redemption means to be bought back from sin, to be free from the guilt of sin. Anna was waiting for the one who could free us from sin.She knew she was a sinner, and not only that, but that her sin was a bigger problem that the Roman occupation. She was waiting for the one who could redeem her, who could reconcile her to God, and she met Jesus. She not only met Him, but told of Him to others who were waiting for the same thing, for redemption.

It struck me that neither one of these people were saved out of their circumstances. After they met Jesus, they still lived under Roman rule, they still paid too much in taxes, they still weren’t politically free. But they were consoled, they were redeemed, they met Jesus, and did not miss him. They had a Savior who came alongside them. The rest of the book of Luke contains many people who missed Jesus, from the pharisees and religious rulers trying to trap and get rid of him, to the disciples who lived and walked with him but still missed Jesus at times, waiting to rule in the kingdom they were sure He was bringing. The only people who are sure not to miss Jesus are the ones who know they are sinners, who know they are in need, who come to Jesus to seek consolation and redemption. Those people never miss Jesus.

So in this time of waiting, I realized I should not spend so much of time waiting to be delivered out of these circumstances, waiting for better, more normal days. “Normal” may be weeks away like we first thought, or months away. Who knows? In my impatience, while I focus on my circumstances and being delivered out of them, I might miss Jesus. What I need to be focused on is my need for redemption, my need for consolation, my need for a Savior to walk alongside me as I navigate this uncertain world, and not only my need for those things but the needs of my loved ones, my countrymen, and the world. We all need consolation. We all need redemption. When we come to Jesus with that, we find it, and we find Him. 

This Christmas are you weary of waiting? Are you weary of coronavirus and lockdown, of political unrest and uncertainty all around? Then come to Jesus. Come to Him in your weariness, with your needs. Bring them to Him. As Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come to Jesus in your need and find consolation. Find redemption. Find a Savior to walk alongside you. Find Him.

Wake Up

This year in my Bible study we’ve been studying the book of Romans. It’s been a
great book to study, the foundation of many Christian doctrines. Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, starts out in Chapter 1 telling the pagans that they are sinners, which the religious found awesome. Then Paul turns around in Chapter 2 and tells them, hey guess what, you religious are sinners, too. Then in Romans 3:23, everyone is a sinner, which is a bummer, but it’s okay because then Paul spells out God’s plan of salvation.  He tells how God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place for our sins, that we might be the family of God. This good news culminates in Romans 8:1 which says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:35 reveals that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So, there you are Christian. You are a sinner, but you have put your trust in Jesus, so now there is no condemnation for you, and nothing can separate you from God’s love.

Paul has written all this down, and Romans is a long book. Churches at that time would have read the entire letter out loud. As you can imagine, attention may have waned a
bit as all the chapters were read. This is why I love Romans Chapter 13 where, right in the middle of the chapter, Paul basically says, “Wake up!” Romans 13:11 says,“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

You hear that? Wake up because salvation is near. What does that mean? Well, we understand “wake up,” because we are often distracted and busy and not about what life is about. “Salvation is near?” What does that mean? Well, you get one life right? Your chance to choose Jesus is right now. You don’t get another chance to choose Jesus, and since you’re alive right now your chance is right now. That is also true for everyone currently alive on planet earth. Wake up! Salvation is near.

In many ways, I think coronavirus and the chaos it has caused has brought this verse to fruition. We were living like life goes on forever, right? Busy doing what we do: kids,
jobs, sports, leisure. Now, suddenly, we can’t live like that anymore. The fragility of life is
apparent and on our minds every day. Coronavirus has told the whole world to wake up!

Paul also lived in a time where the world was told to wake up for salvation is near, a time of chaos where things seemed out of control.

I was on Facebook the other day — you know, the number one place to look for news and
advice on how to live your life. One post had a list of how to maintain some sanity during chaotic times. It was full of things like: maintain a normal schedule by setting your alarm and going to bed on time, and dress for the social life you want, not the social life you currently have. So, basically, stop waking up at noon and wearing your pajamas all day. It struck me what most of the list had in common. It gave you control over something. Control over your schedule, how you dress, what you eat.  We like that. We like to have control. It sets our minds at ease.

We like control, but coronavirus has shattered that. It has shattered all illusions of control that we have. We don’t have control over when our kids go back to school, whether there will be a graduation ceremony, what our jobs will be like, or even if we can find toilet paper at the grocery store. It’s all out of our control. One morning we thought we had control over all these things, and then overnight we didn’t.

Paul’s life was a little bit like that, too. He was a Pharisee living the law as well as he
could. He had control over his religion and his daily activities. Then Jesus came, stopped him cold on a road, blinded him, and said, “You are going to follow me now.” Paul lost all control. Think about it. He couldn’t see. He was taken to someone’s house who had reason to hate him and was totally dependent on him.

From then on, his life was directed by God, and not in his control. Preaching in the synagogue? Awesome! Some zealous Jews will plot to kill you, so out the window in a basket to preach at the next place. Spread the good news of Jesus to both Jew and Gentile? Cool! Well, some dudes vow to be on a hunger strike until they kill you. Want to comfort the Christians in Rome? Great idea! You can go there as a prisoner, but oh, by the way, you’ll be shipwrecked on an island along the way, a snake will bite you on the hand, and everyone will sit around waiting for you to swell up and die.  But Paul “shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.” (Acts 28:5)

He continued off to Rome, a prisoner, chained to a guard, preaching about Jesus to anyone who would listen until they killed him. All the while, with these crazy things happening to him, Paul continued on and wrote verses like Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Also, Philippians 4:6-7, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Why? How? How could his life be so out of control and yet, he was content, at peace,
and continually serving the Lord? Because of everything that he taught us in Romans. He was a sinner, who Jesus saved. His eternity was secure. Nothing on earth could separate him from the love of Jesus. He was loved and led by God, and there were people all around him who didn’t know Jesus. The time of salvation was near, so it was time to wake up and live a life that made sense in light of that. God was in control of his life, both present and future. Trust me, you don’t want to get bit by snakes unless God is in control of your life. Paul was, as the kids say, woke. He knew what he was about, and each curve ball was just another opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus to go out.

As I think of coronavirus, this is what I want to focus on. Jesus is my savior, I am loved by Him, and my eternity is secure. Coronavirus has woken the world up to the briefness and fragility of life. So, the time of salvation is near, and I need to live a life that makes sense. I must take opportunities to let people know the hope I have that they can have, too, that they can have peace and security in a time of chaos. Especially this Easter week. Use social media or whatever means you have to spread the Gospel of Jesus. It’s time to wake up, for the hour of salvation is near.

Who Defines Love

Love is definitely the operative word in our culture these days. We hear that “love is love,” or in Christian circles, “God is love. Period.” From liberal to conservative, everyone can agree that they want to do the loving thing. We just can’t agree on what the loving thing actually is.

I propose that in order to determine what the loving thing actually is, we need to first figure out who gets to define what love is. When two different people are defining what love is, you’re going to get two different answers. For example, a toddler wants to eat nothing but cookies for dinner, but her mother insists on feeding her a protein and fruits and veggies. Now, the toddler is going to define the loving thing as someone giving her a cookie for dinner. She will perceive this as loving, not only because cookies satisfy her hunger, but because they will taste awesome while they are doing it. Clearly, to her, the loving thing is to give her cookies. The mother, on the other hand, will define love as giving her child a healthy meal. This is clearly the loving thing because the healthy meal will not only satisfy her hunger, but will give her body and brain what they need in order to grow and develop in a healthy way. These two are at odds on what the loving thing to do is, and this disagreement (if it’s anything like my house) may go on for years.

Who is right? Well, we know, based on experience and scientific research, that the mother is right on what the loving thing is in this scenario. It is loving to give a toddler a healthy meal regardless of the fact that the toddler does not perceive that to be loving. The toddler has limited understanding and has elevated her feelings and desires over what is good and loving. The mother has greater wisdom and discernment in this matter. The mother should define love despite the protestations of the toddler.

If the mother had greater wisdom and knowledge in this scenario, then in real life, no one has greater wisdom and knowledge than God. Therefore, God is the one who defines what the loving thing to do is in our world. He is the source of wisdom and knowledge. He created us. He can define what the loving thing to do is. He tell us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thought are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In our limited wisdom and knowledge, we can not always discern what the loving thing to do is, so we must turn to the source of knowledge to discern. This is especially true when we are dealing with what is sin. Our thoughts and feelings and desires cannot define what is sin. Only God can.

Referring to the fact that God has delivered us from the corruption of the world to partakers of His divine nature, 2 Peter 1:5-7 states “For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” I can’t help but think there is purpose in love being last in this list. To accurately be able to discern what is the loving thing, we need to have the other parts of the list in order.

We need faith; that is, we need to believe that God is, and that the Bible is His word to us. To that we add virtue; we need to want to be like God in moral excellence, goodness, and righteousness. To that we add knowledge; we need Biblical knowledge to know what God is like and what He desires. To that we add self-control; we need to act on what we have learned and discipline ourselves. To that we add steadfastness; we need to stay fixed on what we have learned and to steadily aim to become more Christ-like. To that we add godliness; as we walk in this matter we become imitators of God. To that we add brotherly affection; now we look outward to others, to the church, the bride of Christ, and our desire is to serve the church and see her become more like Christ. Finally, we add love; now we can define love as God defines it and desire to see God’s redemptive love change people and save souls. This is a proper love whose foundation comes from God.

There will always be sins we struggle with, part of love that we don’t always understand. Like the toddler, we may grow to see God’s wisdom, why He defined something as sin or why He said no to something. Some things, we may wrestle with all our days on earth and only understand once we reach heaven. In either case, we rest on this: God defines love, God is love, and nothing can separate those who have found Christ Jesus from His love.