The Real Jesus
Two weeks ago I was standing in line at Walmart waiting on my turn at the milk cooler. The lady in front of me reached back and grabbed my hand and said, come on. When I asked where we were going, she turned around red faced and apologized because she thought I was her husband. Have you ever had a similar experience? Maybe you were walking in the store and thought you saw someone you knew, but it was the wrong person? Maybe you called out to someone, or reached out to shake someone's hand, or worse hug someone only to realize that they are not who you thought they were? A case of mistaken identity can leave you embarrassed at worse or help you make a new friend at best. But sometimes mistaken identities can have a pretty severe consequence.
I wanted to set the table this morning by talking about mistaken identities because as we start this new series we need to check something out. So here’s our baseline question: If I were to ask you to describe Jesus, how would you identify Him? When we talk about Jesus what picture comes to your mind?
Some of us would describe Him as the Baby Jesus. We like this version of Jesus, small and unassuming. This type of Jesus is cute and rarely makes demands of us. We like that we can live however we want to as long as we give Him enough of our time to keep Him from being fussy.
Some of us would describe Him as the Blue Eyed Jesus that you see in the famous paintings from the Renaissance era. This type of Jesus likes children and spends His days petting lambs. To be honest this Jesus is a pushover, and we like Him because He's soft and doesn't make demands of us.
Then there is the Hipster Jesus, who wants us to give money to the poor and never drink coffee out of Styrofoam cups. He’s the environmental Jesus, if you want to go to heaven then you must recycle.
Some of us believe in a Angry Jesus, who is so put out that we needed Him in the first place. He is mad at us because of our inability to be good, so He spends His days smiting us. We don't necessarily like this Jesus, but we live in fear of Him because He is the God we deserve.
When I was in High School I was introduced to the Laughing Jesus. And for someone who grew up with the Angry Jesus this was exciting. Laughing Jesus can be your friend and someone you could hang out with. This picture of Jesus is relaxed and non threatening, it meets the needs of those folks who want a Jesus who they can hang out with while eating pizza, and watching football.
Some of us believe in the Crucified Jesus, who is supposed to bring hope, but we struggle with how much power He has. After all He allowed the Romans to spit on Him and humiliate Him before they killed him. We have seen the pictures, and even have this cross in our house, but we’ve seen it so much that it has lost any real appeal or power.
Our struggle with Jesus is that there are so many different views of who or what He is that we don’t really know. And when you add the fact that we have been taught to be very suspicious of anyone who wants to lead us, we get really confused. I mean is Jesus the Jesus that calls everyone to come to His table, or the one that is driving folks out of the temple with a whip? Is Jesus just another politician that makes promises that He cannot keep, and deep down we know that He never will. Or can He actually keep His promises; which is actually a much scarier proposition.
The reason that we need to start by looking at your picture of Jesus is because the picture that we have of Jesus determines an awful lot about how we live our lives. That’s why for the rest of this year, in our Bible classes and from this pulpit we are going to look at the Story of Jesus. Our Sermons are going to come from my favorite Gospel, the Gospel of Luke. Our Bible Classes are coming from Mark and John, because they all tell the wonderful story of the only one qualified to be out Lord and Redeemer. I would like for you to read through the gospels twice before the year is over. It’s a pretty good read and shouldn't take you very long, but it is going to help us as we take this journey.
Let me set out a couple of things I deeply believe as we get started: I believe that Jesus came into this world as a baby, He grew in wisdom, and power. I believe that Jesus cared for little children, and cared about the oppressed; but He was much more than a social agenda or someone we could hang out with. I believe that Jesus got angry and turned over a few tables in the Synagogue; but He is love personified. And I believe that Jesus was crucified for my sins, but it was not because of His weakness that He endured all of that, it was a show of His love.
What I hope to accomplish over the next 17 weeks is for us to get a good look at Jesus, who He was and who He is today. Its time we took a fresh look at Jesus, because how we see Jesus determines how we see His bride the church, how we see the world, and how we see ourselves. I want to use the Gospel of Luke because he introduces us to some ideas and people that are not found in the other Gospels.
Luke 2 starts with a celebration of the Birth of Christ. Then it jumps ahead 6 weeks and the passage reads like a warning from Luke that this story is not going to be what you expected. Much like all of those incomplete pictures of Jesus’, if we focus on one part we miss the true Story of Jesus. So we go from a time of celebration to six weeks later the story becomes about suffering.
In Luke 2 we are introduced to two people, Simeon and Anna, who are significant players in The Story of Jesus. They knew who Jesus was and they had spent their lives waiting for Him. They are both living in a world where suffering has become a way of life. As we turn the page of history we see that God steps into the story to deal with our suffering by sharing it himself.
Simeon is Waiting For .
We’re introduced to Simeon in Luke 2:25. “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.”
We don't know a lot about Simeon and he is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. What we do know is found in this passage. He was righteous and devout in His relationship with God. He was waiting for Christ, and the Holy Spirit promised that he would live long enough to meet the Messiah. The people of Israel had waited hundreds of years for the Messiah to come and in an expression of grace God promised Simeon that he would see Christ in his lifetime.
One of the things that I hope you remember from our study of The Story is that during the time between Malachi and The Gospels, there were 400 years where things didn’t go to real well for the nation of Israel. God was silent and they were under Roman rule. They had lost their political independence and were now living in fear of Herod. Many Israelites were wondering if the Messiah would ever come.
Verse 26 shows us that Simeon had good reason for his hope and anticipation: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon’s expectation focused on the comfort that Christ would bring.
We can find hope in the fact that one of the popular titles for Jesus was Comforter. The people were longing for the Messiah to come and bring His comfort to them. The desire to be comforted is a universal human need. We all struggle with loneliness and insecurity from time to time. If you go all the way back to Genesis you will notice that we have always had a need to be with other people.
In the garden Adam, had everything he could want, a job, food, a one on one relationship with God. But there was still a need in his life to be comforted by someone with skin on them, so God gave him Eve. And for the last 6,000 years we have shared that longing to have someone who would come into our lives and give us comfort.
Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Simeon is in the temple courts at just the right time to meet Mary and Joseph. When he looked at the baby, he knew that God’s promise had been kept. Here was Immanuel, “God With Us,” to make everything right and to eliminate rejection, fear, and loneliness.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: "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."
When Simeon saw Jesus he instantly knew that God had not only fulfilled the promise made to him, but also the promises of the prophets to send comfort for both Jews and Gentiles. The text says that when Mary and Joseph hear these words they marveled. I would imagine that Mary and Joseph were keenly aware that there was something very special about their son. The visit by Gabriel, the virgin conception, and the visits of the angels were huge signs that Jesus was not normal. But, I believe they were still trying to wrap their minds around who this Jesus really is.
Simeon continues his role as a prophet as he turns to Mary and reveals what Jesus' role as the Messiah will include. Jesus is not going to receive a hero's welcome as the Messiah. Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a political savior, to rescue them from Roman occupation. If Jesus would have done that, He would have been crowned king of Israel and had the highest popularity rating ever. But, Simeon knew this wasn’t the case, Jesus was very controversial and even divisive. His teachings and life cause some to trust Him with their lives and souls. And His life and teaching also served as a stumbling block to those who could not see the real Jesus.
There were crowds of people who loved Jesus, but those crowds were fickle and after teaching a hard truth many in the crowd would hate Him. Eventually, because of His love and teaching, His opponents would kill Him. That is exactly what Simeon prophesied in verse 34, This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
While it is true that Mary, Joseph, and those who love Jesus will have some dark days in their future, those dark days cannot overshadow the truth that the Messiah had come. God kept His promise! This Child has come to save His people from their sins. For Simeon there was not a greater blessing than to see the Messiah that God had sent. The dream the Lord had given him had come true.
Luke writes his gospel so that we would know what happens when the kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of the world. Luke invites us to watch as the prophecy comes true. He wants us to see Mary as her son is rejected by the very people He had come to rescue. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus brings comfort, because that is what we long for. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus brings us what we really need, if we are only willing to accept His gift.
Anna is Waiting for .
One of the reasons that Luke is my favorite Gospel is because he includes the stories of women, slaves, and those less fortunate. In his gospel alone there are 43 references to women and he specifically mentions widows. This is amazing, when you consider the fact that in the first century, widows were often neglected and exploited. It is in this society that Luke remembers to mention Anna, a prophetess, who had moved into the temple after her husband died.
As I was looking through commentaries and other books trying to research Anna, I was shocked that everyone wanted to talk about verse 37. Let’s start with verse 36 to get the context: She was very old, having lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood, And as a widow even for eighty- four years. She did not go out from the temple enclosure, but was worshiping night and day with fasting and prayer
There are two points that the commentators want to argue about. First they spend a considerable amount of time talking about her age. Does the text say that she was 84 years old or older? Some of them even help us with the math: she was probably married at 14, then married for 7 years, and then lived as a widow for 84 years old that would make her 105. So they debate if she was 84 or 105.
The second point they are overly concerned with, is did she actually live in the temple 24 hours a day 7 days a week, or does the text just mean that she was there every day to worship God?
Here’s what I think, I think we have missed the point. Luke does not introduce us to a widowed prophetess just so we could talk about her age or where she sleeps and eats. The reason that we are introduced to Anna is because of what she was waiting for. She spent her days looking and longing for to the same person Simeon was, but for a different reason. Instead of looking for comfort, Anna was looking for forgiveness.
Luke tells us about Anna so we could see what happened in verse 38: “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Redemption is such a beautiful word. Redemption is related to the idea of captivity.
In the Old Testament the Israelites would celebrate the Passover to remember their redemption from Egyptian slavery. Today we celebrate with the communion feast to remember that God has redeemed us from our brokenness and selfishness.
Anna was longing for the very thing that we long for today, redemption. Whether we acknowledge it or not, everyone is longing for God to show His love and power and to release us from the slavery of sin. When Anna saw Jesus she could not help but to join in the song that Simeon was singing and share that song with others travelers who are weary. Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about Him to everyone who was longing for redemption. Here, at last, was the One who would save His people from their sins.