Luke 2:25-35 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
Verse 35 of our text speaks to what happens when the subject of Jesus comes up whether during Christmastime or all throughout the year. What people say, think and do with Jesus has a lot to say about what is in their heart. Jesus was God in the flesh on the scene to reveal to us what was really in our hearts, to expose to us who we really are, how we fall short of the holiness of God and why we need a Savior.
This man, Simeon, had been waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the One he called the “Consolation of Israel.” (Remember that Christmas Carol we sing that says, “Israel’s strength and consolation hope of all the earth Thou art? That line is in “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. The Consolation of Israel is Jesus!) Simeon had been told that the Messiah would be born in his lifetime (Vs. 26) He had been waiting for the consolation He would bring to the world.
Now the word “consolation” has the idea of comforting and encouraging someone. It has the sense that you are consoling someone with your efforts. There is a word of consolation for sure that Jesus brings as He does offer us pardon from our sin. It is a huge comfort to think that we don’t have to carry our sin around and that we can have eternal life rather than eternal death which sin brings. That kind of comfort is the fulfillment of Scripture that was prophesied in Isaiah 40:1-2 where we read: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”
When we walk with Christ we know His presence brings comfort and His words bring comfort. We know the strength He provides gives us comfort. But Jesus isn’t always all about comfort. The song says, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” yes, but there isn’t always comfort when Jesus, the Light of the World, sheds His light on the condition of our hearts. Sometimes rather than comfort there is conflict. Sometimes rather than comfort there is confrontation. Sometimes rather than comfort there is conviction. What’s in your heart this Christmas?
Jesus becomes a divider of people. Those who believe on Him and trust Him for salvation are on one side and those who ignore Him, those who outright reject Him, or those who reduce Him to prophet status are all on the other side. There is no middle ground when it comes to what happens with Jesus.
Whether you and I agree on what is going to happen at the end of time as we know it, whether people think baptism in the Holy Spirit means you have to have the evidence of speaking in tongues or whether Christian people agree on if a woman can preach or pastor J are all things we can agree to disagree on, but what you do with Jesus, my friend there is no wiggle room there!
We love to talk about Jesus the Prince of Peace at this time of year, and peace He does bring. But what did He say of Himself in Matthew 10:34? “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Oh, He didn’t come with the purpose of creating division, but the reality is that His coming has brought division because people have to choose what they will do with Him, whether they will accept Him as the Messiah or reject Him, and in so doing, they will create division between them and those who make the opposite choice.
I’m quoting a lot of songs this morning, so I’ll just throw in another! “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” Peace will never be the reality of earth until every heart is submitted to the Prince of Peace because there will always be a division and struggle between those who accept Jesus and those who don’t. Simeon got it. Simeon understood that Jesus was going to be a subject of controversy and conflict. And the way people would respond to Jesus would reveal what was in their hearts.
Jesus’ coming revealed what was in Mary’s heart. It was a humble heart, a heart of submission. It was a heart that sought to take it all in as she pondered things in her heart and even as she marveled over what was told to her by Simeon and held Jesus’ future in her heart.
You see the exact opposite in the heart of King Herod. Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 2 tells us about King Herod’s selfish, murderous heart. The birth of Jesus threatened King Herod. What if people followed Jesus instead of him? How would the arrival of this popular infant King threaten Herod’s throne? When confronted with Jesus all Herod could think about was maintaining power and control. He ordered all babies two and under to be killed in hopes of taking Jesus out in the process.
Yes, the coming of Jesus reveals what is in our hearts for sure. It’s more than just acceptance or rejection, however, that Jesus presence reveals. Once people invite Jesus into their hearts and lives, His presence begins a process of transformation that isn’t possible without uncovering some of our heart issues, and each one of us has them. Jeremiah 17:9 is one of the first verses I learned as a child. It says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked who can know it?” We are all born with a heart problem and only when we engage Jesus in our hearts do we allow ourselves the exploration process that helps us begin to look into the depths of our hearts and identify things that need to be evicted from our hearts.
You see, just because you may be a believer this morning doesn’t mean Jesus has stopped calling for a response from you from your heart. Just because you have had a conversion experience doesn’t mean Jesus is finished with or now no longer interested in your heart. In fact, I think Jesus is more interested in our hearts after we come to Him than ever before. Salvation is just the beginning. What thoughts of your heart does He need to reveal this morning?
Jesus came in a humble way to earth. He left the splendor of heaven and came to be born in human flesh. He lowered Himself more than anyone of us could ever lower ourselves. He stooped. He came down to our level. He came to a humble place. Bethlehem was a humble little town. There was no red carpet. There was no fanfare. He was a King who left a palace to be laid in a manger, an animal trough. His manifested presence occupied a place of humility.
Don’t we want the manifest presence of God in our lives? Let’s have a humility check this morning. Jesus said of Himself in Luke 5 that He didn’t come for those who thought they were well, but only for those who would admit they were sick and in need of His help. It takes humility to accept Jesus, but it also takes humility to walk with Him daily. We all have issues. For some people their issue is giving up control and allowing themselves to be led by the Spirit of God rather than by their own understanding.
Do you know who resisted Jesus the most as He walked this earth? It was the religious leaders. The people who were supposed to be able to demonstrate what it meant to be in a relationship with God, the people who knew the Scriptures the best, the people who were living to keep the Law of God. They were the most resistant to Jesus. Luke 22:1 tells us the chief priests and scribes wanted to put Jesus to death. Their fatal flaw was that they were trusting in their own goodness and understanding to save them. They had subscribed to a works righteousness system that they falsely believed would save them. They put their faith in their personal goodness, their perceived rightness, and their spiritual prowess. Rather than recognize their limitation and inability to save themselves and to look to Jesus for salvation, they started plotting ways to kill Him.
Beware of a religious spirit. Beware of a works righteousness. Beware of being lulled into a false sense of spiritual security because you are a nice person, you don’t break the law, and you attend church most Sundays. If our faith is in anything but Christ alone, our hearts need to be humbled this morning. Look back at the second part of verse 34. What did Simeon say about Jesus? “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. People who thought they were good to go with God, people who thought they had done enough to impress God, when Jesus came on the scene He was going to expose the truth that what the religious elite had trusted was the wrong thing completely. Those with a religious spirit would fall. However, those impoverished and with nothing impressive to offer God would be raised up in Christ as they followed Jesus. And that reality threatened those who wanted to call the religious shots. If people started following Jesus rather than the works righteousness path of following religious laws that the religious echelon had created, then they were no longer in control.
The Apostle Paul had to confront religious spirits in Galatians 3:1-5 (NIV) 1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
No one had a religious spirit more fixed as a lifestyle than the Apostle Paul. He was so committed to his religiousity he even justified the killing of those who followed Jesus. Listen, people with a religious spirit are so committed to their way that they are blind to see that it is the wrong way, even the complete opposite way to the way of Christ. Paul couldn’t see it until he was hit between the eyes and behind the pupils of his eyes with a blinding light and fell to the ground on that Damascus Rd. Once he encountered the Resurrected Christ and took some orders from Him, his sight was restored by physically and spiritually.
We love to quote Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, but we also have to remember as believers that we are to live in Christ the same by. We live by grace through faith in Christ and not in ourselves.
Yes, a religious spirit can still be a problem for all of us who have grown up in church or who are faithfully attending church. It can creep up in several ways:
- We might engage in Comparison Christianity. Jesus addressed this right out of the shoot: Luke 18:9-14-9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
If you have ever looked at someone and said about them, “At least I don’t __________________” and that makes me a better Christian than them, you might have a religious spirit. Too many times our eyes are on people rather than focused on Christ. We are justifying a whole lot of sin by thinking that our sin isn’t as grievous as someone else’s sin therefore it is ok. “Well, they sleep around, and I am only involved in a sexual relationship with a person to whom I am committed. We aren’t married, but we are committed.” What? Well, we might go out on Saturday night and party like they do, but at least we get up for church on Sunday. What? Our measuring stick has never been other people. When we slip into eternity it won’t matter what Sally Smith or Joe Davis did and if we thought we look a hair better to God than they might. Our measuring stick is the perfect One, the Holy One, Jesus the Christ, and we can’t ever measure up to Him, so we accept the grace of God and engage in the process of Holy Spirit transformation to become as much like Him as possible rather than try to gauge our lives off of the poorer performance of someone else. It isn’t about being better than someone else. It is about accepting the perfection of Christ and admitting we aren’t good enough. And since we aren’t good enough we can’t rest in our own works but only in the finished work of Christ on the cross!
The only place we can admit such things is in our heart of hearts. How is it with yours this morning?
- We might have an outward form of Christianity but no ongoing progression of our life with Christ which means we are engaging in worthless worship.
Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”(NIV)
In other words, we might be going through the motions of attending church and maybe even opening our mouths to sing the songs of worship and bowing our heads at prayer time, but our hearts have lived without affection for and devotion to Christ on a regular, daily basis. It is possible to go through the motions of Christianity and not truly be following Christ.
We may value the traditions of the church. We may enjoy the music of the church. We may desire the positive atmosphere of the church, but it isn’t about tradition or an opportunity to have a spiritual warm fuzzy. Just because we come to this place and enjoy it while we are here doesn’t mean our hearts are in the right place. It doesn’t even matter if we wear a TVCOG t-shirt out in public and proudly tell people “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” The question is, “Are we truly worshipping God with our lives?”
Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The only place we can be humble is in our hearts. So, if I read Micah 6:8 correctly, walking humbly with God means my heart is committed to justice which means I want things that are wrong to be made right here on earth. It means I seek to do the right thing with people, not the selfish thing, but the right thing, not the vindictive thing, but the right thing. It means I seek to give mercy, a helping hand, an open door, and forgiveness freely without judgment, without shaming, without belittling, without condemnation even when I think people deserve nothing. How committed is your heart to those things?
When we do those things even when we think people don’t deserve our help or our forgiveness or whatever, it means we are suspending our judgment of them and allowing God His rightful place as judge over them! And that leads me to my next point
- This Christmas Jesus may want to deal with our religious hearts by pointing a finger at our jeering judgment of others. It is true that Scripture says we can know followers of Christ by the fruit or lack of fruit in their lives. It is true we are to be discerning and wise. But we must admit we don’t truly know the condition of a person’s heart. We can be way too quick to judge someone by their appearance, their status, their family (let’s face it we can’t pick our families, so ….) or whatever.
Whether someone is in a three-piece suit on Sunday or any day of the week or someone is in jeans or sweats doesn’t matter one iota to God. I have actually had people call our church before ever attending to ask what the dress code was because they have been in churches before where if you didn’t wear a certain kind of clothing you weren’t permitted to come. How that kind of bologna grieves the heart of God. (Yes, I said “bologna” in the sanctuary. J I know, I am really spicing up my language, aren’t I?) People with that kind of religious spirit wouldn’t even admit Jesus into the church with his long hair and dirty feet.
Beyond that kind of superficial judging, we need to love and respect all people and go out of our way to engage with people regardless of their appearance, regardless of their hurt, habit or hang up. Whether people swear or do drugs or have a past or have a present or are self-destructive or whatever their current status is, we are called to change the status quo and we can’t do that if we judge people and can’t get close enough to touch them with the Gospel. And Holy Spirit, please help us find a way to engage people of all other faiths, including Islam, with convicting and convincing power. Jesus is the only way, and our job, our responsibility, our commission, our charge, our mission is to take the lost to everyone. We need Holy Spirit courage to push past our fear and to see everyone as a person for whom Christ has died. Every unsaved person you know is like a person in a burning building. We have to run in to rescue. Time is running out.
I want to mention one more way a religious spirit can creep into our lives if we aren’t careful, and I will call this one:
- False Fineness. We can be good at pretending that we are ok and all is ok when in fact things are caving in around us. I’m not suggesting spilling your guts to everyone around you all of the time. But I am speaking about living a sincere, authentic and interdependent Christian life. We need each other. We can help; each other. When you are depressed, when you are hurting, when you are overcome by a circumstance in life, that isn’t the time to distance yourself from God’s people. We are called to love and support each other, but we can’t do that when we aren’t aware of what kind of support is needed.
False fineness is often the result of people thinking that because they are a Christian that they can or should be able to handle it “on their own.” Faith will be enough. God is enough. They don’t need anyone’s prayers. Others are worse off than they are so they don’t want to bother their Christian friends with their issues. So we often suffer in silence and wait until circumstances are too complicated for anyone to help when if help had been asked for in the beginning, something could have been done.
The other reason for false fineness goes back to the pride that was mentioned at the beginning of this message. We stay “fine” because we don’t want anyone to know the truth. We would be embarrassed or ashamed of the truth getting out. Again, your truth doesn’t need to be known by the masses, but it may need to be known by a few Christian friends who can pray for and support you. It is the truth, and embracing the truth that will set you free to explore healing, free to explore wholeness, and free to explore a new future after one of life’s devastations. Don’t run from the truth, and don’t keep it only to yourself.
The Heart of Christmas. It’s worth exploring. Jesus has come not only to provide our hearts with salvation, but to initiate a time of exploration, a time of meditation, a time of contemplation. What’s in your heart this Christmas? What needs evicted? What needs to be shared? What needs to be healed? Will you give your entire heart to Jesus this season?