Light to the Gentiles: International Purposes of God, Luke 2:22-40, January 30th.
Why are you here? I mean, why are you here?
Not being rude, but why are you here, online this day?
What happened that has drawn you to worship Jesus?
Was there a moment in your life when things began to change? Or for as long as you can remember the Lord Jesus has been the centre of your life?
Probably part of it, is because someone told you – maybe a Sunday School teacher, maybe a minister, maybe a close friend or a godparent, or maybe it was some talks on social media.
But then, someone told that person – your godparent, your teacher, the minister, the guy or woman on social media. And someone told them…
I come from the UK and particularly Northern Ireland. I could talk about those who helped me to believe in Jesus, in Northern Ireland and at university in England.
But the point I want to say is that as you keep going back, you get to a point where, well, no one knew about Jesus, no one heard about the cross, or the incarnation or anything…
And that is the same for your nation in whichever one you are watching or whichever one you come from.
And yet here we are today…
Paul wrote in Romans 10:
‘’For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. ‘’ How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘’How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’’
Why are we here? People brought the good news.
Good news about a young man born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and around 33 years later,was crucified outside that city but then was raised to life, and then ascended weeks later, and who will return physically, publically, in the future.
Good news God intended all to hear.
That was how it all began with us. And that was the purpose of God, his international purposes…
Yet it all began in Israel. And Simeon saw who Jesus was and what God’s plan was…
Why are Joseph and Mary there?
Joseph and Mary are bringing offerings to the Temple, as required by the Law. Jesus is just over 40 days old. They have been all this time in Bethlehem.
Why is Simeon there?
He is an elderly man. The Holy Spirit was upon him – we remember such words from last week, when Jesus applied the words of Isaiah 61 to himself, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. The Spirit is upon Simeon. But the Spirit is active within him. The Spirit has spoken to him – he has heard and he has put faith in those words – he will see the Lord’s Christ before he dies. He is a man not only open to the speaking of the Spirit, he is open to the nudges, moves of the Spirit. He is in that area because ‘moved by the Spirit he went into the temple courts.’
The Spirit’s promise is fulfilled.
As he holds the baby Jesus, he says, why He is there:
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of all people.
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And for glory to your people Israel.’
Simeon then blesses the parents and speaks prophetically to them about what Jesus will mean to Israel when he is a grown man, and the suffering that will come to him and his mother.
These words by Simeon are known as the Nunc Dimittis. It is one of the four hymns in the first 2 chapters of Luke. There is the hymn from Mary – the Magnificat. The hymn from Zechariah – the Benedictus. The hymn from the Angels – Gloria in Excelsis – Glory in the Highest. .The Nunc Dimittis, like the other three hymns in Luke, are found in Anglican worship. Commonly the Nunc Dimittis may be read or sung at a service where a Christian has died…
But in this hymn, each time you sing it, you are hearing and you are declaring God’s international purposes. ‘For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people. A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
In the temple courts, a Jew declares to a Jewish family, that the Messiah – who is their son – is for the Jews and for the Gentiles, the non Jews. The plan of God is for the world.
This is the first time, in this gospel, where it is so explicitly said.
This vision of God. This Plan of God, at the end of Luke 24, it is even more clearly put by Jesus: ‘’Repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’
It is clear, his disciples are to have an outward movement, with the message about Jesus, to all nations – that is a pretty big task.
And in case that wasn’t clear, it is even more explicit in Acts 1: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’’ In their mind that meant at least across the Roman Empire and to the tribal groups beyond the Empire’s boundaries…
This vision is shared on other occasions. In Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16, Jesus tells the disciples ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’’ In Matthew 28 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…’’
In Revelation 5 we hear this purpose expressed: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased people for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation.’’
Later, John has another vision, after the first 6 seals are opened: ‘’After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that non-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.’’
That is a lot. Joshua Project – a Christian prayer organization which focuses upon the people groups unreached or barely reached with the gospel – they state, if you count a people group only once – whether it exists in one country or in other countries, there are 10,330 people groups. John sees, all these 10330 people groups represented in praise. Wow. He sees it fully fulfilled what Simeon declared ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles.’
A Light of Revelation to the Gentiles.
Returning to that temple court. Simeon’s words is drawing together the broad vision within the prophets. ‘your salvation prepared in the sight of all people.’ That recalls Isaiah 52: 10 ‘The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.’’
That phrase ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles.’
Zechariah in the Benedictus has said the Christ was the rising Sun come from on high to visit us, who sit in darkness. Now this light, Simeon says will visit the non Jews. As Caesar’s decree affected the whole known world, and influenced Jesus birth, Jesus birth will shape the whole of the known world…
If you follow this phrase in your reference bibles, you will be led to Isaiah 42:6. There are four servant songs. Isaiah 42 and 49, Isaiah 50 and of course 52-53.
Isaiah 42 says: ‘I will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.’ Very similar words isn’t it.
Isaiah 49:6 – second song – ‘I will make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’ Jesus became identified with the Servant, who was mentioned. In these songs, there are themes of total obedience, fearless witness, and the endurance through suffering – themes we see in Jesus. But these songs – as we have said – see the Servants – and therefore Jesus ministry – to have worldwide repercussions.
And the Church embraced that vision. In Acts. Already Jesus has been identified by the Church as the Servant. When Phillip is talking to the Ethiopian Eunuch, he explains how Isaiah 53 is about Jesus. Then on the first missionary journey by Paul and Barnabas, they are rejected by the Jewish community in Psidian Antioch. They respond to the people saying they will now turn to the Gentiles with the Gospe, and they quote Isaiah 49: ‘’Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.’’
The Servant’s work was, among other things, to bring ‘light to the Gentiles’. God had international purposes. And Paul and Barnabas understood, the church was to continue to be about the work of the servant.
Later, years later, when Paul is sharing his testimony and defence – a mixture of both – to King Agrippa. Paul is still convinced of what he believed years before in Antioch: ‘’I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Christ would suffer and as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.’’
The Church has embraced that vision of God’s international purposes.
Vision shared in the OT, which of course goes all the way back to Genesis 12: Abram told to go out from his country, his family, his father’s household, to go to a land God would show him, so that God would make him into a great nation, and that all the families and nations of the earth would be blessed through him. This promise was confirmed and repeated to Isaac and to Jacob.
The Church heard the call of Jesus to go out, from their countries, families, household and to go to lands, perhaps they had never seen before. To bring the blessing of the good news of the kingdom.
And in Revelation the Church is reminded, in vision of why Jesus died – to purchase with his blood, people from everywhere.
And people have responded to that vision down through the ages. Anglican women who travelled around dangerous areas of the Congo or Mozambique, teaching, praying, caring while men were away at wars. Or Chinese church leaders who travelled often at great risk to minister to unregistered groups of believers even in the dark days of severe Chinese persecution. Or Methodist preachers – many only just in their 20s, who travelled all over England, Wales and Ireland in the c18th.
In the fifth to tenth centuries, there was the Celtic Christian movement. “Ardently missionary with a strong focus upon scripture and personal piety, the Celtic movement had a major impact on the evangelization of the British Isles, Western Europe and Northern Europe.’’ This movement began with Patrick, and includes among its ranks Columba, Aidan, Columbanus, as well as Willibrord – who evangelized the Frisians – and Boniface who became the apostle to central Germany. Someone said of these Celtic missionaries – “They were conscious they had received Christianity by Mission and were determined to do the same for others.” (MacCulloch, p341).
Willibrord and Boniface were to significantly the cause of the gospel in the Netherlands in the c8th. Boniface and Willirbrord were born England. Yet they people someone who left their home country, like many of the Celtic missionaries before them and around them, and like many since to bring the good news to those who did not know it.
When I was preparing to move to the Netherlands, to become the chaplain here at All Saints, I met with my Bishop of my Diocese in Lichfield. Jonathan Gledhill. Sadly he has passed away recently, truly a good and faithful servant of the Lord.
But Bishop Jonathan knew the story of Willibrord well. He said, you look back to how the faith had been brought to Netherlands in many ways through missionaries from England, and part of the Church in England. And, that continues to be part of the role of the Church of England within the Netherlands, to continue to walk in Willibrord’s footsteps, continuing to bring the good news within the Netherlands…
In Scripture, there is a promise of a universal ingathering, and Simeon reminds us of that purpose of God in his words. Already much has been fulfilled far beyond what could have been expected in the NT times. ‘’The family of Christian believers has become a global community. The Christian faith has taken root in hundreds of cultures.’’ Peskett, p153.
‘’And yet, because of population explosion, there are still millions of men and women and child who have not had the opportunity of a life saving personal encounter with the good news of Jesus Christ.
For this reason there is still a need to follow in the steps of Jesus the Servant,
who will preach and live out the good news,
who will plant and establish evangelizing churches,
and who will hope and pray for the new heavens and new earth,
for the new holy city coming down out of heaven from God, whose temple is the Lord God Almighty and whose light is the Lamb,
who look forward to the time when the nations will walk by its light,
and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.’’ Peskett, p153.
Then the purposes of God in the OT and NT will be fully and finally full-filled.
who caused the light of the gospel
to shine throughout the world
through the preaching of your servant Paul, Barnabas, Willibrord and many others:
grant that we may follow him in bearing witness to your truth in our lives and actions,
so that the day comes nearer when truly people from every nation, every tribe, every people and every language will stand before the Lamb and give praise to him.
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,