By Res Spears
Message delivered December 30, 2018 at Liberty Spring Christian Church
We have been talking for the past month of Sundays about Advent, the season of waiting. And all of that waiting culminated with Christmas, which, of course, marks the birth of our Savior.
To review for a moment, Advent pictures the long age during which Israel awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise for a redeemer. You might recall that the four outer candles here represent the four centuries of God’s silence between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus.
God had been revealing Himself to His people through the Law, through the Prophets and through the poetry and wisdom writings of what we know as the Old Testament. But all along — ever since Gen, 3:15, the protevangelium (remember that?) — He had been promising them a Redeemer, a Savior who would be His perfect revelation.
So, at least in part, Advent looks back at the waiting for the fulfillment of this promise, the anticipation of that moment when God Himself would step into human history.
To be sure, there are secular manifestations of Advent today. The Elf on the Shelf craze is one example of how a holy observance has been adapted for secular usage. Advent calendars that highlight Santa, instead of Jesus Christ, are another example.
Understand that I am not preaching against either of those things today — I’m simply demonstrating that both the spiritual world and the secular world have taken hold of the season’s “waiting” theme.
In fact, the secular world is often even better at waiting with expectation — something we might define as watchfulness — than we are as followers of Jesus Christ.
We teach our children and grandchildren to awake on December mornings, eager to see what mischief the elf on the shelf has been up to overnight. But we do not teach them to watch and pray as they await the second coming of Christ.
And we fail to teach it, because we fail to do it ourselves.
We are so caught up in the business of THIS world that we ignore our Father’s business.
George Swinnock, a Puritan minister from 17th-century England had this to say about that:
“Do you not blush to think that worldlings are more busy and laborious about the low things, the rattles and trifles of this life, than you are about the high affairs of God and your soul, the noble and serious concernments of eternity?” [Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).]
One of those “noble and serious concernments of eternity” is watchfulness.
A moment ago, I defined “watchfulness” as waiting with anticipation. It includes both components.
Allow me to give you a couple of illustrations to help make that definition clear, and then we’ll get into today’s text to see how watchfulness applies to the lives of believers.
Now, suppose I decided today that I wanted ice cream. I could go out and stand beside Whaleyville Boulevard and begin WAITING for the ice cream truck to come by.
How long would you imagine I would have to wait?
Right. Forever. I could stand there a month and not see it, because it’s the wrong season for ice cream trucks. Indeed, I could stand there through spring and summer, and I would still not see it, because ice cream trucks don’t come to this part of Suffolk.
What would be missing from my waiting is a well-placed sense of anticipation. To anticipate something is to regard it as probable. We have no reason to regard ice cream trucks on Whaleyville Boulevard as something probable.
Now, imagine I was waiting for the ice cream truck in Downtown Suffolk. And imagine that it’s not December but, instead, some fine Saturday afternoon in June.
Then and there, I’d have reason to anticipate that I might see an ice cream truck, right?
So I’m standing and waiting on the sidewalk in one of the neighborhoods where the ice cream truck is known to come, and it’s the right season for it, and then I hear that awful music that ice cream truck drivers broadcast over their speakers to let children know they’re coming.
So I get in my car and drive home.
In this scenario, I’ve anticipated the arrival of the truck, but I’ll still get no ice cream. Why not?
That’s right, I stopped waiting.
Watchfulness implies both waiting and anticipation.
Now, let’s see how watchfulness was demonstrated by two devout believers in the early life of Jesus.
Turn with me, please, to Luke, Chapter 2, starting in verse 25.
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.Luke 2:25 (NASB)
We don’t know who Simeon was, but we see here that he was righteous and devout and that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
In other words, he was walking with God. Like Jesus when His parents discovered Him teaching in the temple at the age of 12, he was about the Heavenly Father’s business, doing the things that God had called him to do and avoiding the things that he should not do.
And one of the things Simeon was doing was looking. He was anticipating something important, the “consolation of Israel.”
One of the meanings of the word “console” is to offer comfort or refreshment, and it is this meaning the rabbis of that time hadin mind when they spoke of the promised Messiah as the consoler.
So Simeon was anticipating the comforter of Israel, He who would come and refresh His people, as had been promised for ages.
I see a parallel here with Joseph of Arimathea, the man who contributed the tomb where Jesus was laid after His death on the cross.
Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.Mark 15:43
This man was also waiting with anticipation for the kingdom of God.
Note that his waiting was not a passive act and that it included the danger associated with going before Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. It also included a sacrifice on his part.
He gave the tomb where Jesus would be laid.
So we see that watchfulness includes activity on our part, as well.
Look at the next verse in Luke 2, and you’ll see the activity Simeon’s watchfulness required.
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.Luke 2:26
The verb that is rendered as “revealed” here comes from a Greek word that suggests a transaction of business or consultation.
So what we can understand here is that Simeon’s revelation from the Holy Spirit was not the result of some divinely inspired impulse.
He had been praying for this revelation. He had been praying for the coming of the consolation of Israel, and the suggestion from the text — though it’s not explicitly stated — is that he had been praying for a long while.
Here’s the thing: God may bless this church. God may choose to fill these pews with people who want to set the world on fire for Jesus.
But if we are not praying for that — and if we are not getting our hearts in the right place with him, if we are too busy being about our business instead of being about His business — we cannot expect to see that blessing.
Simeon had been about the Father’s business, and that’s why he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there to dedicate Him to God.
And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God…Luke 2:26-27
I really want to bear down on this point about how watchfulness requires us to be about God’s business, so I’m going to skip Simeon’s prayer of thanksgiving, his recognition that Jesus would perform a saving work, and the blessing and prophecy he gave to this family.
For now, let’s skip down to verse 36.
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.Luke 2:36-37
Just as Simeon finishes his blessing, Anna steps up and begins giving thanks to God. It seems that she also has been waiting.
She had been married for seven years when her husband had died. Then, she spent either the next 84 years or the years until she met Jesus in the temple at the age of 84 — the text is unclear, but the distinction is not important — serving in the temple.
Now, we should not conclude from these verses that she lived in the temple — that would not have been allowed. Where the text tells us “she never left the temple, serving night and day,” we should see a figure of speech — something like, “She was always at church.”
And let’s be clear: She wasn’t always at church board meetings. She wasn’t always at church polishing the brass, though she may well have done that or something similar at times.
What Luke tells us here is that she was always at church fasting and praying. And it was while she was at the temple doing these things that God revealed Himself to her in the person of His son, who was just 40 days old at the time.
At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2:38
She is among those “who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
We use this word, “redemption” a lot in the church. Let’s be sure we understand its meaning.
The Greek word here, lytrosis, means “the experience of being liberated from an oppressive situation.” It was derived from the legal and commercial world, where it carried the sense of being ransomed or released for a price.
So in recognizing Jesus as the “redemption of Jerusalem,” Anna understood that God’s people (and mankind, generally) could not be redeemed — could not be released from their enslavement to sin — without a price being paid.
We know that Jesus paid that price at Calvary, where He became sin who knew no sin, where He was paid the wages of our sin, suffering death on a cross so that we lost sinners could be redeemed.
God Himself, incarnated in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, would pay the debt we owed for our sins. And Anna understood this.
But not only did she understand and give thanks to God for it, she did something else that is very significant.
She “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Just like Simeon and just like Joseph of Arimathea, Anna understood that the point of her blessing was that she bless others. So she went and told others.
The shepherds may have been the first evangelists, but Anna was the first woman to do that work.
She had been waiting with anticipation for many years; she had been watchful and devout and faithful; she had been praying and fasting and EXPECTING God to answer her prayers for a redeemer.
And so, when He came, she recognized Him, even though He was only 40 days old. She recognized Him, because she was being moved by the Holy Spirit.
We cannot expect to be moved by the Holy Spirit in this kind of way if we’re not being watchful.
We cannot expect to see where God is moving if we are not being watchful.
We cannot expect to experience the full richness of God’s blessings for us if we are not being watchful.
But here I feel that I must go back and repeat something: Being watchful does NOT mean sitting here in these pews and soaking up the sermon on Sunday morning.
I have struggled and prayed over whether to say this next thing. I know that some of you will stop listening when I say it, and then you’ll miss the explanation. So, please listen to it all: The last thing I want is for you to go home today or any other Sunday feeling good about yourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I love you all, and I wish for each of you to have joy and contentment in your circumstances.
But I don’t stand here and pour my heart out to you on Sunday — I don’t study and write and pray through the week in preparation for these services — so that you’ll leave this place at 12:30 feeling that you’ve checked the “God box” for the week or that you’ve been well fed and need to spend the week digesting.
My mother asked me the other day what I think God’s purpose was for bringing me to this place at this time.
Here it is, plain and simple: God has sent me here to make disciples who make disciples.
And if you’re not going out on Monday and discipling someone else — sharing the Gospel with someone, helping a younger believer understand how to draw closer to Christ, mentoring some fellow church member whom you know to be making choices counter to their calling in Christ — if you’re not doing some of those things nearly every week, then I am failing in my calling here.
I am not here to make you feel better about your relationship with Christ. If you are saved, then you already have the assurance you need; feeling better comes with doing the things Jesus called you to do.
- Pray earnestly.
- Strive for holiness.
- Give to the poor.
- Feed the hungry.
- Clothe the naked.
- Visit the sick and those in prison.
- Be content in your circumstances, knowing that you would not be in them if He wanted you elsewhere.
- Lift up your brothers and sisters.
- Stop complaining.
- Stop gossiping and trying to pretend it is something else.
- Stop tearing each other down and putting on a holy face about it.
- Cut off the relationships you have with people who lead you into sin, even those who call themselves Christians.
If you are truly a follower of Christ — the Christ who hung by nails from a cross while people mocked and jeered and cast lots for his clothing — if you follow THIS Jesus, then your watchfulness will include some or all of those actions.
MY Jesus — the only Jesus I know, and the only one who is real — preached his most famous sermon on a hillside, not in a church with polished pews and stained glass windows.
MY Jesus — the only Jesus I know, and the only one who is real — did not wait around in Nazareth for the crowds to come to Him. He went out and drew people to Himself.
MY Jesus looked for opportunities to draw people to the Father at weddings and funerals, whether walking along a path between villages or sitting at a well in a place where he was considered a foreigner.
MY Jesus was ever watchful for kingdom-building encounters, knowing that, as David wrote, “In [His] book were all written the days that were ordained for [Him] when as yet there was not one of them.”
MY Jesus had disciples, too, and He taught His with far more wisdom and knowledge than I will ever possess. After their three years with Him, they would have been the best-taught Christians who ever lived. Literally, they learned about Christ from Christ himself.
So which one of those disciples do we read about being simply satisfied to know he was saved, content to simply spend the remaining portion of his life contemplating his salvation?
Watchfulness requires ACTION. Following Jesus Christ requires ACTION. It’s FOLLOWING, for crying out loud. We can’t follow ANYONE from a seated position in a pew in church.
I think it is truly fantastic that this church is developing a spirit of love and unity. BUT THAT’S NOT THE END GAME. Those characteristics are supposed to serve a purpose, not to be an end unto themselves.
Anna could have left the temple giving thanks to God for allowing her to see the Redeemer. He had blessed her with the answer to her prayers. She could have died in contentment right there.
Same with Simeon. He could have simply thanked God, maybe tweaked the baby’s toe, and then went home satisfied that God had been good to him.
But BOTH of these devout believers recognized that GOD BLESSED THEM SO THEY COULD BLESS OTHERS.
Look at that verse on the wall. Read it with me.
She already HAD been telling people about the Messiah she knew was coming. And now that she had seen Him, she CONTINUED to do so.
Do you think she continued to fast and to pray?
Of course, she did. Anna realized that those things brought her closer to God.
But she never stopped sharing his hope, proclaiming His name. She was faithful in church AND faithful in evangelism.
Oh. And she was at least 84 years old. Maybe almost 100.
But it’s too much trouble for you to tell your neighbors about Jesus. That’s the pastor’s job.
It’s too hard for you to be Christlike at work. That’s asking too much.
Evangelism and discipleship are for the younger generations.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation, please do so today. I will be elated to talk with you about it at the end of this service. There is nothing more important in your life or, frankly, in mine.
If you have done so, then I join you in giving thanks to God for the immeasurable grace He has shown you.
But I do not stop there, and neither should you.
Go. Make. Teach. Do.
Go out into the world — right outside these doors is where the world starts. You don’t have to go to Haiti to make disciples. I wish that some of you would, because I know how doing so changed me. But I know some of you don’t like to even hear about Haiti, and I rarely talk about it here. So don’t go. But you’re called to go SOMEWHERE.
Make disciples. Every single one of us who follows Jesus Christ is supposed to make disciples. That’s the fruit that sets us apart from the world.
Teach them the commandments of Christ. Remember those? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
Do the things He has called us to do. And teach those you are discipling to do the same. Make disciples who can go out and make disciples.
It’s why I am here at Liberty Spring Christian Church, and it should be why you are here, too.
Living in expectation of the triumphant return of Jesus Christ means we are to be watchful. And being watchful means waiting with anticipation while doing the things Christ has called us to do. We cannot do those things from these pews.