When Jesus was presented at the temple as a baby, Simeon saw the fulfillment of his hope for salvation. This weekend’s sermon explores the nature of that hope, and challenges the common view that our hope is for an escape from the world.
Over the centuries, Christians have experienced far worse pandemics than the one we are currently experiencing. And over centuries, Christians have gone through social, political turmoil far worse than our current crisis. Whatever befell them, Advent was the time where Christians were reminded that the Messiah who came to us on that first Christmas morning would come again. However bad things may get, however hopeless the situation seems, Advent reminds us that it will not always be this way.
Under God’s covenant, Israel would be a light to the nations as they lived in obedience to God. Leading up to focus passage, Israel had proven unfaithful in this call of God and therefore had been in exile. As a result, a Messiah was promised who would come and be the faithful covenant keeper and deliver Israel. With this background in mind, Simeon was promised that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah.
This sermon focuses on the content of Simeon’s hope. What is the nature of God’s salvation, which should determine the nature of our hope?
Simeon’s hope was in Jesus, not in what Jesus was going to do with him individually in the afterlife. His hope was in what Jesus was going to do on this earth in this history. It was about how Jesus, as the embodiment of Israel’s identity and mission, was going to be the means by which God was going to fulfill his promises in the here and now.
Much of contemporary thinking about end times and life after death is more platonic than biblical. Plato taught that matter is less real and that the spirit is more important. Therefore, hope for salvation is a hope for an escape from the world. When the body dies, it goes to heaven. This kind of thinking led Christians to conclude that Jesus would come and rescue us from the material world and take us out of it.
In the New Testament, the hope is in a future bodily resurrection. We hope that our bodies and the earth will be made new, not that we will escape the material realm and enter into some kind of “more real” spiritual one. The hope of the New Testament does not draw a line between the spirit realm and material realm. It’s not a salvation from the physical world, but a salvation of the physical world. God actually loves matter. He created it! In fact, God became matter himself as a man and he works to redeem all of it.
The good news of the gospel is not that we get to leave earth and go to heaven, but that we get to be a part of bringing heaven down to earth. Our goal is not to escape earth but to bring heaven to earth. This is why we pray “Let your kingdom come, which means, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are manifesting a little slice of heaven now in the midst of the world that does not exhibit anything that looks like it. This defines the hope that Simeon had and should shape ours today.
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