“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
It's glorious to sing that Christmas carol, that great hymn of the faith. It's also good for us to know it wasn't written for Christmas, that it wasn't written about the joy of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. That hymn was written in anticipation of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory to claim His church and to bring His kingdom in fullness. That actually doesn't make it less appropriate to sing at Christmas. If anything, it makes it more appropriate to sing at Christmas because we're declaring two truths simultaneously, the Lord has come and the Lord is coming.
Here we are at this time of the year. You look at this room, it's the same room 365 days a year, but it's deployed for some very special purposes just a few days a year. A service like this, the decorations in the room tell us that this is the time of the celebration of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Christmas and that makes this particular commencement just a bit special. We get to gather together just as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and accompanied by at least part of the larger culture is paying heed to the fact that the Lord has come.
An occasion like this, just looking around the room you recognize reflects some kind of magnitude, some kind of moment. There's a reason why we're here. There's a reason we are dressed as we are dressed. There's a reason why there's a particular joy in the room. There's a reason why people have come from many different countries indeed to be here in this room today and why there are people of so many different ages in this room simultaneously. This is not an accident. This is a moment in the history of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a moment in the lives of these graduates. It is a moment in the lives of marriages and families and congregations.
And so there's a heavy sense of the meaning of this moment, and there is great, great gratitude that the Lord has allowed us and the Lord has given us even such a beautiful day for us to gather in this place, to declare the fact that the Lord has come and that the Lord is accomplishing His purpose in His church and in the world through the sending out of ministers of the gospel and missionaries of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So as we gather together, we do what Christians do. We pray, we read scripture, we declare the faith, and we turn to scripture because in a moment like this, it's not just the natural instinct that we turn to scripture, it's the instruction of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ that we turn to scripture.
I want to direct our attention this morning to the Gospel of Luke in chapter 2, and in particular, I want to start reading in verse 22. By the Holy Spirit Luke tells us, "And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of God, every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
"Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him, 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. And he came in the spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Lord, you are now letting your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation that you prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'
"And His father and mother marveled at what was said about Him and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul also so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.' And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin and then as a widow until she was 84. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day, and coming up at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem."
What an incredible passage. I believe it's one of the neglected passages for the Christian church, particularly this time of the year. Sometimes it's read as a way of getting to somewhere else. I don't think that's adequate. Here in this passage where the parents of Jesus, that is to say His earthly parents, His mother, Mary, and Joseph, they have brought Jesus to the temple according to the law and He is coming as the firstborn son to be presented in the temple. You need to understand the background of this is that that is the command of God, that is the practice of all faithful Jews, and it's happening with a lot of noise, it's happening with a lot of families, it's happening with a lot of activity there on the Temple Mount right up to the temple itself. But out of all of those babies and out of all of those celebrating families, out of all those moms and dads, out of all those infants, there is one, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple, what we find, who we find in the temple are two witnesses, Simeon and Anna. Now this is in fulfillment, of course, at least as an echo, of Deuteronomy 19:15, and that passage in the law code of Israel, it is said that one witness is not sufficient, there must be two witnesses. When Jesus is brought to the temple, there is not just one witness, there are two witnesses. Simeon is the first.
On this same occasion last year, I turned to that focus in this passage to Simeon. It is Simeon who utters some of the most amazing words found in the entire scriptures concerning the identity of the Christ. Simeon had come in the spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him according to the custom of the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms and blessed God and remember those words, "Lord, you are now letting your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation that you've prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
So here you have Simeon, and Simeon who is righteous and devout, knows the Bible, and what he accomplishes there is this masterful biblical theology in which by the Holy Spirit Simeon announces who this child is, and what is declared here is that He is both savior and messiah. He is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. Now look at verse 33. We're told that His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him. It's such an incredible passage. We're told here that even as Simeon made this declaration, do you realize Mary and Joseph are still learning who Jesus is? And do we understand that for both Mary and for Joseph that continues throughout the lifetime of Jesus, for Joseph throughout his entire lifetime, for Mary all the way to the cross and the empty tomb? It's an amazing reality. Mary and Joseph are learning who this baby is progressively. Now Mary was told a great deal of course by the angel, but she's still learning who this baby is.
And then Simeon speaking to the father and the mother, particularly to Mary, His mother, said, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed." And then speaking directly to Mary, and remember Mary is this celebrating mother who has come into the temple with her firstborn son to make this presentation, and listen to what Simeon says to her, directly to Mary, he says, "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also." Imagine being told as a young mother, "Your heart is going to be broken. This child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel and is a light unto the nations, but He's also a sign of contradiction. He's also one who will be opposed, and a sword will pierce your heart also so that the thoughts for many hearts may be revealed."
The next passage which is in this larger section is the focus of our consideration today, verses 36 to 38, because it's not just Simeon who was there in the temple along with all the cacophony of all the things that are going on in the temple. Jesus, this one baby out of all the babies brought to the temple, Jesus is one baby boy brought to be circumcised among all the other baby boys who were there for the same reason from all of Israel. It's not just Simeon who speaks to them, it is also Anna who is there. And if the entire passage I think is too often neglected, these particular verses are even more often neglected. I think they're absolutely key to our understanding of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the identity of Christ and His mission, the fulfillment of the promises of old.
We remind ourselves beginning in verse 36, "And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin." Now we need to admit that's a complicated sentence, okay? A complicated sentence. If we study this sentence minutely, we come to the conclusion that Anna is very, very, very old. Now how old is she? Well, it appears that at least by the strict reading of this text that she has been a widow for 84 years. All right? You consider how old she had to be when she was married, even if that's 12, she's a very old person and especially by the standards of this day. She could have been more than 100 years old, and there she is at the temple on this day.
But whether she's 84 or about 100, it's hard to tell. The fact is that she was married at one point as a very young woman and then she has lived for a very long time as a widow, and she becomes an illustration to us of a consecrated God-honoring widow. But it's not just that, she's identified in the most astounding way as a prophetess, and we know the role of the prophet and we know there are not that many prophetesses named in the scriptures themselves, but this is not a compliment being paid to Anna. This is a biblical identification of this woman as a prophetess. It's an incredibly honored word. Here is this elderly woman, no doubt many people passed her and thought nothing of her. She is not speaking, and here's the most amazing thing. We have all of these words spoken by Simeon. We have none of the words spoken by Anna, but Anna's right here in this passage and we don't have a word of hers to quote. But she's a prophetess nonetheless, and we do know the substance of what she was saying.
She's identified quite simply, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, advanced in years having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin and then as a widow until she was 84. Here's the point. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. It's the reason it's hard to understand exactly how old she is because the reference to the 84 years could be the period she was in the temple after she was married.
In any event, she's been there a long time, but the most important issue is who she is and what she was doing. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping and fasting. She was worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. So it's a picture of absolute consecration. Here's this woman, Anna, and she is advanced in years, but she's been in the temple a long time. Why is she in the temple? It is because she is in the temple waiting for someone. She is waiting for someone to appear, just as Simeon was waiting for someone to appear, and as Simeon was waiting for someone to appear, once he saw Jesus, he declared who the Christ is. Anna has been waiting night and day. She has been praying night and day. She's been fasting night and day. She's been worshiping night and day.
And then look at verse 38, "And coming up at this very hour." Coming up, that means up to the temple. "Arriving at the temple this very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." In the context coming immediately on the heels of the passage concerning Simeon, it appears that she was coming up even then. She observes what Simeon observes even then. She probably heard the words that Simeon spoke, but as Anna, the prophetess who immediately begins to connect the dots, she gave thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
It's a beautiful picture here of faithfulness, verse of the faithfulness of God. Here you have these two people in the temple, Simeon and Anna, and the one thing they recognize on this day is that God has done what He had promised, a savior who is Christ the Lord, a messiah, the consolation of Israel. If we're not shocked by this, shame on us because how many could possibly recognize in an infant, in a tiny, week-old baby boy, the promise of all the prophets through the centuries, the consolation of Israel, the savior of the world.
It is an amazing passage. Anna becomes the second of the witnesses here, and even as Anna joins Simeon in this witness, behind them was waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting because we look at these lifetimes and we look especially at Anna who's described as being so very old, but so many others had died so many centuries before having heard the promises but not seen the fulfillment of the promises. It is the glory of Anna and of Simeon, or in this case of Anna, the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, it falls to Anna to be the prophetess who recognizes the baby Jesus and immediately recognizes who she sees. No more waiting. And coming up at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. It's a messianic promise. It's a reference to the fulfillment of all the promises of God, the consolation, the redemption of Israel.
Well, here we are at a hinge of history. Everything in this passage is about before and after. Before and after, promise and fulfillment. They're not exactly the same thing, but here all of a sudden the hinges are joined together. Before and after, promise and fulfillment. Israel had been waiting. Israel had been anticipating. Israel had been longing for the fulfillment of the promises, and here is the fulfillment of all of those promises, all the promises of God in a baby presented at the temple. All of history now is riven in two. There's a before and there's an after, and in all of human history there is no before and after that comes anywhere near close to before Bethlehem and after Bethlehem.
Well, as we look at this, we recognize that Anna is fulfilling a biblical role here. She is indeed functioning as a prophetess. She saw Jesus. She began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. I want to point to those three phrases, number one to speak of Him. Now there's another linguistic issue here. The context is extremely helpful. Without the context, it might be confusing. To speak of Him. Who is He? Because the passage says she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Well, no doubt she was speaking of God the Father who is the one who made the promise. She's speaking of the covenant God of Israel who had redeemed Israel, had saved Israel, had chosen Israel, had protected Israel, and had given the promises to Israel. No doubt when she speaks of Him, she's speaking of the Father, but she's speaking of the Father's accomplishment of His promises through the son, and the son is the baby who's in the temple right now, to speak of Him, yes, the Father, yes, the son, yes, the one true and living God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ and speaking of Christ.
She began to speak of Him, and notice the next phrase, to all who were waiting. You know, in the history of the Christian church, this has been a recognized challenge. The challenge is how exactly do we celebrate Christmas honestly. It's because we try to work in to our anticipation of December the 25th or the Christmas Sunday closest to the 25th. We try to build in to our anticipation waiting, but we're not very good at it. It's because we're not waiting the way that those who were in the temple that day had been waiting. We in our lifetimes have never been waiting in the way that Simeon was waiting. We've never experienced the waiting of Anna. We haven't experienced the waiting of God's covenant people of Israel for a messiah who was promised. We're on the other side of that history, and as a matter of fact, all of us in this room are about two millennia on the other side of that happening.
No, we're still waiting, right? And even singing that hymn, Joy to the World, reminds us that we are waiting. We are waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ to be made manifest. We are waiting for Jesus to come and to claim His church. We're waiting for Jesus to come in glory and to come as judge. We are waiting for that, but we're not waiting for a baby to be born in a manger. We're declaring the truth that that baby who is none other than God in human flesh, the second person of the trinity, Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, we're not waiting for that baby, but we kind of sing as if we are just to remind ourselves. We speak of Christmas as if we are, and people are rightfully doing scripture readings of the promises just to remind ourselves that Israel did wait, that sinners did wait, that the world did wait until the incarnation had happened and Jesus had come.
The unique historical moment of this end of the first week of the life of baby Jesus when He's brought by Mary and Joseph to the temple and these two witnesses are in the temple, Simeon and Anna, I just think we are really helped as we think about Christmas. We're really helped by thinking about Anna. I think as we think about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ and what it means, we really are helped by Anna just as we're helped by Simeon. I think that as we are celebrating this day with these graduates arrayed before us, we really are helped by Anna because there aren't just two statements here. There are three. Number one, she began to speak of him. Number two, to all who were waiting. Number three, waiting for what? For the redemption of Jerusalem.
As we are here for this commencement ceremony, as I say, there have been a lot of these before. No doubt for most of you in this room, this isn't the first you have ever attended, and every single one of them has some very familiar features, common features. Somebody is going to hand someone a representation of something. The graduates here are kind of counting on that, and all those diplomas are stacked up right there, all right? So between now and when we leave, those boxes are going to be empty and these hands are going to be full. There's a sense in which we could do that in a hurry and just call out their names. We could just throw them at them and say, "Find yours and take it home." But we don't do that. We've gathered here to say some things, to hear some things, to sing some things, to declare some things because this moment is not going to happen again. We're not going to have this same congregation in this room, and so we don't want to misuse a moment of this.
So I want to speak to the graduates. Why are you here and what does all of this mean? Well, it means that we are here in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it means that we are here in order that the truths that are declared in this passage, the truths declared by Simeon and the truths declared by Anna are the truths that you take to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and to the nations hungry for the gospel. It is not only Anna's task honored here, it is our task. It is your task to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who are waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
You know, it seems to me there's a little category shift going on here and I think it's good for us to mention it and that is this, a lot of the people who were in Jerusalem knew they were praying for the redemption of Jerusalem. A part of your mission, a part of the Christian church's assignment is to take the gospel to people who do not yet know they are waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, but we know, you know and I know they are waiting. They are waiting with a need that goes beyond anything they can describe. They're waiting with a hunger that goes beyond anything that they may try it can't satisfy. They're waiting for good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are waiting. They just don't know who, for whom they are waiting.
The task of Christian missions, the task of Christian evangelism is to take the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that good news that was declared by Simeon, that good news that was recognized by Anna, and to take it to the church and to take it to the world, to take it to the nations, to those who are waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. This is taking place in the temple. It is taking place in Jerusalem. It is taking place with Simeon and with Anna, but they become paradigmatic examples for us. They become illustrations for us, so the faithful response to the truth of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great good news of the gospel, the news of, yes, Christmas in the festival of the incarnation.
But the important thing to recognize is that Luke wasn't writing this in order for this passage to be read at Christmas. He was writing this for this text to be fundamental to the faith of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ 365 days a year till joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king. We're here today with such joy because we know that every single one of you has an absolutely crucial role to play in that great purpose. We're here today with such great joy because we know that the Christian church has been gathering together in one way or another, in one place or another, by one name or institution or organization or whatever or another in order to celebrate that God is calling out ministers of the gospel, missionaries to the nations.
Now, we've come to this point of an academic graduation because the seriousness of this calling has been translated into the most serious courses of study, and every single one of you has fulfilled all the requirements of this course of study, and you and I know, we all know, that is a remarkable achievement. You could have gone to a far less demanding school. You could have ordered your degree by mail. You could have printed it up on a copy machine. Don't do that. You didn't do that. You're here because you followed the call of God, and a part of that call was to prepare for a lifetime of service, to step into the pulpit, to lead a church, to feed and teach the people of God, to take the gospel to the ends of the nations, to plant churches and take the good seed of the gospel to the ends of the earth, and so we're happy about that.
Everybody's happy about that. People have come from all over the world in order to be here to make very clear how happy they are. I'm happy about that because if we don't graduate students, we don't have a reason to exist. I'm happy about this even as I presided at more than 60 of these ceremonies. I'm happy about this because I look at you and I realize that God is absolutely faithful to His promises, and the older I get and the longer I fulfill this role, the more in wonder I am at what God does through individuals like you. Redeemed by the blood of the lamb, called by the Holy Spirit, deployed for the glory of God in Christian ministry and missions and service, I'm more and more amazed at what God does.
I'm also able to speak with a joy and a happiness that comes from having come to know and having come to realize what God does over time with those who go out to take the gospel and to preach the word. And so you're following a long line of those who come before you, and by that long line now don't just press back to 1859 when this school was established, although we believe that was an important beginning of an important part of the story, but that long line goes back to Jerusalem. That long line goes back to prophets and apostles, and you have to understand the joy in this room to see that long line joined by the many who are here.
You look good in these academic robes. It's a sign of seriousness. It's a sign of the fact that we're actually stating wearing very ancient outfits that something serious is taking place here, and that something serious has a history, it has a story, and this is a continuation of that story. My exhortation to you is be resolute. Be faithful because the church of the Lord Jesus Christ deserves and needs to be served and led and fed by those who will, in season and out of season, do nothing but teach the unadulterated word of God, who will do nothing but preach the gospel in all that saving power, who would do nothing but to maintain, to preserve, to protect, and to teach the faith once we're all delivered to the saints.
Here we are in this room and it's about time that we turn to handing out those diplomas. As I say, we can do it in a hurry. We could do it without fanfare, but brothers and sisters, this calls for some fanfare, but more than that it calls for worship, and that's why we are here for the preaching of the Word of God, for the singing of these great hymns of the faith, for prayer, and for the joy of Christ's people. I just ask you this day to look around this room. I ask you this day to look at these graduates and ask yourself, "Is God not faithful to His promises?" And then let's just go back in memory by the power of God's inerrant and infallible word to that day in Jerusalem when Simeon said, "Your servant can now depart in peace," and when Anna said, "We must speak of Him to all who've been waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." Two good examples for all of us to follow.
Let's pray. Father, we're just so thankful for all you've given us in your word and the examples of Simeon and of Anna. Father, we pray that we will have full joy this day and these graduates will have full conviction, full passion, full commitment to do nothing other than to do nothing less than to serve you without reservation and with joy until the end of their days. Father, we pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.