That Was Nice – What’s Next?

(Please read  Luke 2:21-40, NLT.)

One of the ways you can test someone’s patience is to note how quickly after a big event they say, “That was nice – what’s next?”  If something like that comes out of their mouth the moment after you finish your Christmas feast, you know you’ve got a real problem!

We’re in a similar situation here at church, right?  We’ve got Advent and the Christmas Eve service behind us, the new year ahead of us, and so this is an appropriate time to say, “That was nice – what’s next?”  As an offering to start our thinking about that question, allow me to offer the following Internet gleaning from Pastor Perry Noble’s blog.

“Perry Noble is the founding and senior pastor of New Spring Church in South Carolina. The church averages 26,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses throughout the state. Perry is a gifted communicator and teacher, convicted about speaking the truth as plainly as possible.”

I’m adapting his blog to offer Eight Ways to Occasion Growth in a church:

Clarify the Vision.

Focus on Trying to Please God, not Everyone Else.

Passionate Leadership.

Meaningful Ministry.

Making Plentiful Prayer a Priority.

Willingness to Take Risks.

Obedience to the Scriptures.

Unselfish Attitudes.

We’ll also take a cue from what we read in Luke 2:21-40; three examples of the next steps.

Thesis = Jesus’ parents, along with Simeon & Anna, are examples to us of what the next step of faith can be.

Joseph & Mary: Obey the word of God (21-24).

Joseph and Mary obeyed God’s commands in three faithful actions.  First, as the Law commanded (see Genesis 17:10-14), eight days after birth, Jesus was named and circumcised.

Second, the PURIFICATION ritual Mary undertook.  Forty days after giving birth, a wife was declared to be pure (Leviticus 12:2-6).  Verse 24 indicates Joseph and Mary gave the alternative offering, the one allowed in the Law to parents too poor to afford 5 shekels (Leviticus 5:11; 12:8).

The third refers to Jesus as the first-born son (sorry to you later-borns).  This ceremony was called “Redemption of the First Born,” and was commanded in Exodus 13:2 and Numbers 18:16.  The first-born was considered to belong to the Lord and parents were required to give 5 shekels to the priests in order to “buy him back” from God.

How you and I obey God’s commands.  Thankfully, we don’t have to obey the civil and religious laws of the Old Testament.  The moral law is affirmed in the New Testament, but it is not a means of salvation; instead, it is a consequence of salvation.  Jesus simplified things a lot for us when He affirmed t/t entire Law of God is summarized in two commands; Love God & love your neighbor as yourself.

Simeon: Praise the works of God (25-35).

How Simeon expected God to do great things and praised God when they came to pass.  Here’s how Luke described Simeon.

RIGHTEOUS = didn’t violate God’s Law.

DEVOUT = “God-fearing;” respectful.

EAGERLY WAITING FOR THE MESSIAH TO COME AND RESCUE ISRAEL (see Isaiah 40:1; 61:2).

THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM:

The Spirit REVEALED TO HIM THAT HE WOULD NOT DIE UNTIL HE HAD SEEN THE LORD’S MESSIAH = this kind of revelation comes from God (see Jeremiah 33:2).  In Simeon’s case, God had made a personal promise to him that had national and international ramifications.

THAT DAY THE SPIRIT HAD LED HIM TO THE TEMPLE = unlike Anna, Simeon was not there every day, but God had directed His steps there at the right time.

Revealed to him that Jesus was the Messiah.

Predicted the effect of Jesus’ life on the world and upon His mother.

We all like to look at babies and think about the potential they have, but Simeon goes beyond that, with spiritual insight.  Here’s how Simeon described Jesus.

YOUR SALVATION = As we’ve learned, this is the purpose of the Incarnation.

A LIGHT TO REVEAL GOD TO ALL THE NATIONS = Notice that the promise of extending salvation to the non-Jews is mentioned before the parts pertaining to Israel.  God wants all people to be saved (see 1 Timothy 2:4).  This was hinted at in the Old Testament and made plain here.

THE GLORY OF YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL = the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.  This is the reflected glory of God, made evident in His people.

DESTINED TO CAUSE MANY IN ISRAEL TO FALL, BUT…A JOY TO MANY OTHERS.

The cross is also a dividing line; an offense to those who refuse to believe, a source of joy for those who do.

Note there is no middle ground here; no moderate position.  People will either collapse or be lifted up.

SENT AS A SIGN FROM GOD, BUT MANY WILL OPPOSE HIM = Jesus revealed the will of God and worldly-minded people were opposed to hearing the truth.  Their opposition ran so deep, they killed Him.

THE DEEPEST THOUGHTS OF MANY WILL BE REVEALED Two things:

Jesus knew the thoughts of all the people around Him and He sometimes exposed their hypocrisy.

Their reaction to Jesus revealed their thoughts @ God.

AND A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR VERY SOUL = A warning of the grief Mary would feel while she stood at the base of the cross, watching Jesus die.

How you and I can expect great things of God. As was the case with Simeon, expecting great things begins with having the Holy Spirit within, and that only happens as we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  As Simeon did, we put all our hope in Jesus.

Anna: Witness to the wonders of God (36-40).

How Anna witnessed to others about God’s wonderful answer to their waiting.  Here’s what Luke revealed about Anna.

She was a PROPHET: the religious folk recognized her gift for bringing God’s messages.

THE DAUGHTER OF PAHANUEL FROM THE TRIBE OF ASHER

The notation of her heritage is meant to reinforce her Jewish heritage.  Anna was a well-known & recognized part of the community as well as a fixture in the temple.

ASHER was one of the ten tribes that belonged to the Northern kingdom.  She was something like a Samaritan.

She was a WIDOW and had been for a long time.  One of the distinguishing features of Anna’s life was that she had managed so long to take care of herself in a very male-oriented culture.

SHE NEVER LEFT THE TEMPLE BUT STAYED THERE DAY AND NIGHT, WORSHIPING GOD WITH FASTING AND PRAYER = Anna may have been such a familiar sight, people tended to overlook her.

Here is what Anna revealed about Jesus.  The text implies that she affirmed what Simeon had said about the baby.  SHE TALKED ABOUT THE CHILD TO EVERYONE WHO HAD BEEN WAITING EXPECTANTLY FOR GOD TO RESCUE JERUSALEM = this language is similar to that used for Simeon.

You and I are waiting for the Second Coming and we need to witness to others about it in similar fashion.  The subject of the Second Coming can seem too good to be true, too supernatural, that we feel a little sheepish talking about it. However, we want that day to see as many people saved as possible, so we need to talk about it, especially with those who are unsaved.

Jesse C. Long, Jr. preached a message on Luke 2:21-40 entitled “Jesus’ Dedication: Holding God’s Baby”at Lubbock Christian University in January, 1998.  Here’s how he described the birth announcement of his child.

“The birth of my oldest daughter was announced on February 28, 1983. JoAnn invited me out to a new French restaurant in town. After we placed our order, the waitress presented me with two carnations, one pink and the other blue. A note said: “Honey, you are going to be a wonderful father.” I was taken back. I didn’t know this lady. Was she trying to frame me, or what? When I was finally able to put two and two together, I bent over the table and gave her a big kiss — JoAnn, not the waitress. The other patrons in the restaurant clapped. They got it before I did. A waitress announced the birth of our first child. The archangel Gabriel visited Mary and announced the birth of God’s own Son. Mary broke out in song and glorified God. My daughter Laurel was announced and I couldn’t eat my dinner.”

According to the traditional Church calendar, we are now in “Christmastide,” the twelve days of Christmas about which people have sung.  It’s actually officially Christmas until Jan. 6, when we observe Epiphany, the appearance of the wise men.  So, if Advent flew by you and you didn’t make any announcements about the birth of Jesus, you now have more than a week to catch up.  Don’t be shy; let the world know what you know – we can be saved from sin because Jesus became one of us!

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