Dear friends in Christ,
Normally when we think of what it means to die a peaceful death, we think of an elderly person laying on his or her bed saying, “Lord, I’m ready to go home.” Today I want to share with you a different kind of story. It is a true story that I heard from another pastor. It is the story of a four-year-old girl who was sick, and the doctors didn’t know why. For the past three days she had run a fever of 103. Her cheeks were swollen; her eyes puffed out. Her little body looked so tiny that it scarcely made a dent in the hospitable bed she was laying in. And together with her mother this little girl began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. And as they were praying big tears began to well up in her mother’s eyes and roll down her cheeks. And the little girl said, “Mommy, why are you crying? Because when I die, I will be in heaven with Jesus.”
Who would have ever thought that we would have a four-year-old Simeon: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace”? Whenever anyone confesses their faith in that way, it is something that you don’t easily forget, but especially a child. Four years old, but she knew! She knew what Simeon knew in our text for today also knew: salvation comes from Jesus.
Now it must have been quite the Christmas present for Simeon when he heard that he was going to see the Messiah before he died. The Bible tells us that even before receiving such news Simeon was one of the few Jews in Israel “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” And so, when the Holy Spirit informed him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ”, it must have been a wonderful surprise indeed.
Sadly, we don’t know much else about this man whose canticle we sing each time we receive the Lord’s Supper. Only that the Bible describes him as a “righteous” and “devout” man, and that the Holy Spirit was upon him.
But Simeon wasn’t the only one guided by the Holy Spirit that day. Luke tells us that the young mother Mary and her husband Joseph were also following the will of the Spirit. Perhaps you remember that according to the Law of Moses every firstborn son was to be consecrated to the Lord. It’s a word that we don’t use much today, but a word that means “set apart for” or “something belonging to the Lord”. And so, in obedience to God, Mary and Joseph took their baby Jesus and presented him to God in the temple. They went there to redeem him, to buy him back, by presenting an offering in his place, and that is how they happened to meet Simeon in the temple that day.
Not a coincidence, but rather according to God’s plan. For while they were there the unexpected happened. Simeon moved by the Holy Spirit walks up to them, and taking the baby Jesus in his arms, he bursts forth in a song of praise proclaiming the arrival of his Lord and Savior:
"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, light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (vv. 29-32)
In other words, “Here he is. Here is the one the world has been waiting for.”
Now it is important that we understand what Simeon is doing under the influence of the Holy Spirit. With these words he is pointing to the baby Jesus as the fulfillment of every single promise God had made to his people in the Old Testament. Every one of the prophecies ever made about the Messiah found its mark perfectly in the person of Jesus. It’s like hundreds of arrows all hitting the target in the same place. “Search the Scriptures,” Jesus once said. And then he added this: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:38-40). “So, if you want to find your salvation,” Simeon is saying, “if you’re looking for the way to heaven, you need look no further than the baby Jesus.” In him salvation has come. In fact, Simeon even calls him salvation. He says, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (v. 30).
I want to say to you that for as many times as we’ve sung this song without thinking about the words, they are packed full of comfort and deep meaning. For even though we may not like to think about death, all of us are going to have to prepare for it someday. Oh…we can try to ignore it by involving ourselves in the pleasures and relationships of this world. We can say, “It’s a long way off. I don’t need to think about that now. After all, Simeon was an old man. No wonder he was thinking about dying.” Again, we can say that…until a worldwide pandemic comes, or we hold a stillborn baby in our hands, or a sudden car crash kills an entire family. And it’s like all of a sudden we wake up and we say, “You know, things aren’t supposed to be this way.”
And it’s true. God did not create us to die. He created us to live. And so, every time a loved one dies, or when fear overwhelms us, it’s a solemn reminder that there is a problem in this world, and that problem is called sin. My sin. Romans 6:23 says it quite plainly: “The wages of sin is death.” Don’t believe it? Go look in a mirror. That gray hair that just insists on reappearing…those wrinkles that simply refuse to go away…all of these are signs and signals that our bodies are dying. And they’re dying because of our sins.
Which is not a very comfortable thought, you know. I’ll admit it’s not something that we like to sit around the Christmas table and discuss. Nor do I recommend it. And yet, I will say that there are times and places when we should discuss it. And we should think about it. And we should talk about it with our children so that they understand the reality of it.
But when we do so we want to make sure and tell them that for as big as a reality as death is, there is another reality in the Bible. And that this reality is just as real. It is just as certain. But even more than that, it’s so much greater than death, so much more powerful than death. Do you know what it’s called? It’s called a person. His name is Jesus!
Referring to this reality Simeon exclaims: “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (v. 30). “Your salvation Lord, I’m seeing it right now! I am holding it in my arms! Who would have ever thought that Life itself would take on human flesh and that although a baby, Jesus was nevertheless the caretaker, the provider of the elderly?
You see, there is a lot of comfort in that truth. Not just for the elderly but for all people. In the person of Jesus is found the answer to all the worry, crying, and pain that comes with the agony of dying in this world. And so, while it is true that the “wages of sin is death, the gift of God,” writes St. Paul, “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
That is what Simeon is saying with these words. He is saying that our salvation is 100% certain. And it is the language of certainty (is it not?) that Simeon uses to describe the salvation we have in the baby Jesus.
We read: “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…” “Lord, I’m ready to die, because I know that heaven is mine!” You realize that there aren’t a whole lot of people who can say that. They want to say it. They’re searching that kind of peace. And yet so many are looking for it in so many wrong places.
But listen to these verses from 1 John: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Knowing that makes a big difference in our lives. The difference is that when we’re faced with the question: “If you were to die tonight, do you know in which direction you would go?” You can say, “Yes.” You can say, “Yes, I do know where I would go if I were to die tonight. For when I die, I will be heaven with Jesus!”
That is amazing! I know my time is up here, but it’s something that fills my mind with wonder every time I think about it. Did you know that in the mind of God, we’ve already risen from the tomb with Christ. It’s true. In the mind of God, we have already ascended with Christ. It is that certain. In the mind of God, we are in Christ—so beautiful, so perfect, so clean, so completely covered with the holiness of Christ that God can hardly wait to give us all the glory that awaits us as his dear children. The Scriptures express this thought elsewhere when they say that “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear words like that I want to go back and hear them again and again. It doesn’t matter to me that we celebrate Christmas year after year. You don’t get tired of hearing that message.
Ask yourself: Is there any reason to be afraid of death? Any reason at all? No. In Jesus salvation has come, and in Jesus our salvation is sure. And so, we can say with confidence, “When I die, I will be in heaven with Jesus!” Amen.