The Salvation of the Lord

Dr. Brian Allison

December 15, 1981, exactly 15 years ago today, the country of Poland was put under Marshal Law. The Polish people experienced oppression through being subjected to military rule. Lech Walesa provided leadership to the popular revolt. He spearheaded the fight for personal freedom and social deliverance. Various nations were sympathetic to the Polish situation and cause, but they were reluctant to get involved. At that time, the Poles were waiting for deliverance, a 'salvation', from military tyranny.

What is that kind of personal and social experience really like – the experience of being oppressed, and hoping for someone to intervene, hoping for some power to bring deliverance? Well, that was also the situation of Israel at the time of the birth of Christ; they experienced political and military oppression. The Roman government ruled with an iron fist. Within that social milieu, the people of Israel looked expectantly for a deliverer, for salvation. For instance, when Jesus was brought to the temple, as a newly born baby, in order to be presented before the Lord, we read of the prophetess Anna, who came into the temple: "And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lu. 2:38). There was an air of expectancy. Many in Israel were looking for God to come and to set them free. They were looking for the Messiah.

Simeon's prophetic words concerning Jesus refers to this matter of deliverance. He uttered what has traditionally been called the Nunc Dimittis ('Now You are sending'). He declared, "Now, Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Lu. 2:29-32).

The setting of this prophetic word of salvation

Before we examine these verses, let us first consider their setting. Verse 21 of Luke 2 reads, "And when eight days [after the birth of Jesus] were completed before His circumcision [lit. so as to circumcise Him], His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb." According to the Mosaic Law, on the eighth day after birth, male babies were to be ceremonially circumcised indicating entrance into the covenant community (see Gn. 17:9-14). Verse 22 – "And when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord." Following the eighth day after the birth of a male Israelite, thirty three days were appointed for ceremonial purification (sixty-six days for females); during which time the mother was considered religiously unclean (see Lev. 12:1-5). After the thirty three days of purification, the mother and father were to come into the temple and offer an atoning sacrifice for the sake of ceremonial cleansing (Lev. 12:6-8).

The parents were to offer an atoning sacrifice, a turtle dove or a pigeon, as well as a burnt offering (an expression of thanksgiving and homage), preferably a lamb. If the devotees were too poor to bring a lamb, they could bring a turtle dove or a pigeon for the burnt offering as well. Further, if the new baby were a first born male, he had to be ceremonially presented to the Lord. Thus, verses 23,24 – "(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'EVERY first born MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD'), and to offer sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, 'A PAIR OF TURTLE DOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.'" When Israel came out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, the Lord smote the first born of Egypt, but spared the first born of Israel. Accordingly, all the first born of Israel belonged to the Lord. But God decided to take the Levites (who were to serve in the tabernacle and temple) in exchange for the first born of Israel. As a result, Israel had to come and present a redemption fee for their first born sons. Mary and Joseph carried out this practice.

We further read in verse 25, "And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous [he conformed to the Law] and devout [he was a man of piety, worshipping God], looking for the consolation of Israel [most likely a reference to Isaiah 40:1-5]; and the Holy Spirit was upon him." Verse 26 – "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 [the Messiah, the One destined to bring deliverance]." Simeon came into the temple, controlled and motivated by the Spirit, and took the baby Jesus in his arms and blessed God. Mary and Joseph had come to present the baby to the priest in order for Him to be presented before the Lord, but God had His appointed man to receive the baby. Thus, we come to verse 29 of the passage.

God's salvation has come

Simeon declared, "Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word" (Lu. 2:29). Now, the image that Simeon had in view as he considered his relationship to God is instructive for us. He called himself a bond-servant, a slave. Now, it does not come out in this particular translation, but that term translated 'Lord' is better translated 'Master'. It is a term that is used 11 times in the original Greek text. We find it, for instance, in 2 Peter 2:1, which reads, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves."

So, when this man Simeon uttered this prophecy, he viewed himself as a bond-servant in relationship to the Master, the One Who rules over slaves. Do you see Jesus as your Master, and that you are simply a bond-servant? Do you see yourself enslaved to Him, that you are to do His bidding and fulfil His will? Is that how you pray – "Speak Lord, Master, for your servant is listening" (cf. 1 Sam. 3:9ff.). Apparently, Simeon recognized that God is the sovereign One Who is able to command and expect an immediate response.

Notice specifically what Simeon mentioned as he referred to this Master-slave relationship. He said, "Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart." As the Master, the sovereign Lord of glory, God Himself determines the time of our death (euphemistically, our departure from this world). God has picked the day, and the very hour, when He will call us home, or will cause us to go to the grave. He orders the times and seasons (cf. Acts 1:7). It is reported that John Wesley uttered on one occasion (although this statement is credited to various individuals) that he was immortal until his Christian work was done. God is the Lord of providence.

Furthermore, often the Lord prepares us for the time of departure from this world; and in His inimitable way He often communicates to us that hour, especially if we have been endeavouring to faithfully serve Him. He witnesses with our spirits that the hour has come to leave. It was certainly true of the Lord. Throughout the ministry of the Lord Jesus, His 'hour had not yet come' (cf. Jn. 2:4; 7:30). But when it did come, He knew it (see Jn. 12:23,27). This experience is not only true of Christ, but of many of God's servants – those who have been appointed a task, those who have been given a mission, even as Simeon was. Simeon was to be a watchman, a light-bearer. It was given to him to see the Christ, to acknowledge and confess the Christ, to witness to the consolation of Israel. And having fulfilled this strategic ministry, he was to depart from this world.

The apostle Paul knew the time of his departure from this world. Recall what he wrote to Timothy, his protégé, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Tm. 4:6). And God will choose your time too. My Christian friend, you are immortal until your work is done; and when your work is done, you will go home. You will not stay a second longer. Incidentally, we need to thank God for His servants who have served faithfully. Yes, we mourn at their departure, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We believe that God raised Christ from the dead and that one day, He shall raise them too. And one day we shall see Him, as well as those who have died in Christ. So, we rejoice in those who have run the spiritual race, those who have gone before us. They did not stay a second too long. At our departure from this world, we immediately enter into the presence of God.

But notice further, God fulfils His word. Again, verse 26 reads, "And it had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." And he saw Him, and his heart rejoiced. God always fulfils His word. He is a faithful God. I do not know what your past experiences have been, or the difficulties and trials which have come into your life. Maybe you are feeling weary, broken, or discouraged right now. Maybe you are filled with doubt and uncertainty. Maybe you are wondering about the goodness and love of God. Listen, God fulfils His word! He is a promise-keeping God because He is a good God. Never question the goodness of God, no matter how dark the hour becomes, no matter how gloomy the day appears. Never doubt the goodness of God. God's word is sure. He always honours it. Psalm 18:30 reads, "As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him." Psalm 12:6 reads, "The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times."

Granted, you may have to wait awhile for God to fulfil His word or promise. For example, God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Abraham was 75 years old. At that time God said to him that He would make of him a great nation. How long did Abraham have to wait? Twenty-five years! Often when we pray to the Lord and He gives to us a word or promise, we want it fulfilled immediately, don't we? We are impatient creatures. Isn't that true? We, for instance, want to be healed now. Many of God's servants had to wait years before the answer came. My beleaguered saint, God may say a word to you; He may confirm a promise in your spirit; He may communicate a clear message to you in the context of the mystery of prayer; and you may have to wait years before it is fulfilled. He wants you to be patient. He wants you to wait; but have this assurance that His will shall be fulfilled. He is indeed a faithful God. So, it was with Simeon – "Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word."

Notice the tenor of Simeon's language here. Do you sense the joy emanating through his words? Do you sense the man's fulfilled hope? When hope is fulfilled, the result is joy. Proverbs 13:12 reads, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is like a tree of life." Hope changes your disposition and makes the whole world seem lovely and beautiful; that is the power of hope. When a baby is about to be born, there is great expectation of that new life. What is the experience at the actual birth? Joy. So Simeon, in having his hope of deliverance fulfilled, experienced joy. And as a Christian, you are now living in hope of the fullness of salvation which is to come, and thus you should be living in joy. "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your soul" (1 Pe. 1:8,9). Is that your experience as you think about, and live in, that hope? As a Christian, you already know that this hope will be fulfilled; you know it! That is why you need to be rejoicing today. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

Salvation is in a Person

Notice that reference to Simeon's fulfilled hope is found in the following verse – "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation" (vs. 30). Salvation is found in a Person. Now, that is not profound, but it is true. Deliverance comes by way of a Person. There are some who hope in an economic system to save, for example, Marxism. There are some who hope in a political system to save, for example, Western democracy. There are some who hope in a philosophy, such as utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number – to save. There are some who hope in some ideology, like feminism, to save. But these things do not save. When I was at university, as an unbeliever, I majored in philosophy and psychology; and one reason why I did so was because I thought that in some way these disciplines would provide me with a path for my 'salvation'.

Some of the ideas that I spun out, some of the ideas that I entertained, would make your hair curl; but I became immersed in philosophy and psychology because I thought that they would provide the means by which I would be liberated from myself and from this world; that I would reach some kind of ultimate truth and experience. Do you know what I discovered – the bankruptcy of human ideas and self – made utopias. On the backdrop of that mélange of 'dead-end' philosophizing, in my third year of university I discovered that salvation is in a Person, and only in a Person, and not just in any person; but salvation is in the God-man, even Christ Jesus.

When the apostles Peter and John stood before the rulers and elders of Israel, Peter proclaimed, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ not only brings salvation, but He is salvation. It is only as you are in union with Him, it is only as you participate in His life, it is only as you become spiritually identified with Him, that you will experience the fullness and the glory of salvation. So, Simeon said, "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation."

Have you come to realize that? What are you looking to in order to be saved? Are you looking to fate to save you? Are you looking to some world soul or world mind to save you? Are you looking to some cosmic force to save you? Are you looking to yoga and transcendental meditation to save you? I went that route as well. As I look back now, I see how stupid I was, sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at the flame of a candle, and droning, "Uhmmm, uhmmm..." Are you looking for some nebulous power to save you; perhaps, your own ideas, however fanciful and bright they may be (and I am sure you have some tremendously profound ideas)? No! Salvation is in a Person, and only in a Person. What that means is that you must be rightly related to Jesus Christ, and not simply to what He teaches, but to Him. There are those who adhere to Christian doctrine; there are those who can spout off at the drop of a hat the intricacies of orthodoxy, and yet they know absolutely nothing of the saving power of the Gospel. They are not rightly and personally related to Jesus Christ. Are you rightly and personally related to Him? Do you really know Him? You need to seek Him, you need to believe in Him, and you need to follow Him. You must come to the point where you can confidently say as Simeon said, "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation."

God has planned and provided for salvation

Salvation is not only in a Person, but it is solely of God – "Which [salvation] Thou hast prepared" (2:31a). God alone saves; no one, absolutely no one, can save himself. Psalm 49:7-9 reads as follows, "No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him – for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever – that he should live on eternally that he should not undergo decay."

My non-Christian friend, you may have heard this point before, but I will say it again, your good works will not save you, your personal merits will not save you, your family heritage will not save you. You cannot save yourself. You need to understand that. You are totally, absolutely, irrevocably dead spiritually in your sins. You can no sooner call forth spiritual life within yourself than you can cause the sun to stand still. What I am saying is this: you need to come to God on His terms. It is either His way or no way. Do you see what that means? It means that you must give up your independence; it means that you must give up your pride; and that may be the most difficult thing that you will ever do. You must surrender your will to His will, and say as Simeon said, "Master." It will mean that you must say 'no' to your dreams, to your aspirations, and to your wants. You either come to Jesus Christ on His terms or you do not come at all.

Again, you cannot save yourself. It does not matter how good you are. It does not matter if you have attended Church for years. It does not matter if you say your prayers every night before you go to bed. It does not matter if you tithe to the Church. It does not matter if you actively serve in the Church. The only thing that will save you is the grace of God given to you by God. Only God can save you, and He offers that salvation to you now, if you will have it. That means you will have to say 'no' to yourself; that means you will have to humble yourself. You will have to confess that you cannot deliver yourself. You will have to cast yourself before Him, acknowledging your helplessness and your need. You need to say as the publican in Luke 18:13c, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" Will you do that, my non-Christian friend? Will you confess and repent of your wrongdoings and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour? If you do, He will save you and make you one of His own.

So, Simeon prophesied that God has prepared this salvation. Do you realize what is implied in making such a statement? He implied the greatness of the love of God. God has made provision for His fallen creatures. God has supplied for, and addressed, our desperate, moral condition. Again, that is the language of grace. Grace has abounded! God has prepared His salvation for undeserving sinners. He is a God of love. Christ died for sins; He died for the sin of the world; and He has personally died for you, if you believe in Him. In your acknowledgement of your sin, in your confession of your pride and your independence, in your humbling of yourself before Him and believing in Him, Christ has died for you; and in that moment of confession, He is yours.

God offers salvation to all peoples

Simeon continued, "[Salvation] which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples" (2:31b). We should rejoice in the universal scope of the Gospel. God's salvation is offered to all peoples, not simply to Israel, not simply to a religious elite. No, this salvation is to be witnessed and experienced by all. Christ is the only Saviour of the world (see Jn. 4:42; 1 Jn. 4:14). God in His love and in His mercy offers Christ to all the nations. He is given not simply to Israel, but to the French, to the Italians, to the Poles, to the Russians, etc; to the Muslims; to the Buddhists, to the Hindus, etc.

And having prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples, God now summons everyone, everywhere, to repent and believe in the Gospel (cf. Acts 17:30,31). He summons every single person to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ – every boy, every girl, every man, every woman, regardless of your racial background, your ethnic heritage, your educational abilities, your social status. He freely gives His Son to the world. What an amazing thought! We are reminded of that well known verse in the Scriptures, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

God not only demands, He commands, that you believe in His salvation; and to do anything less is to scorn Him, for He has graciously prepared for us a deliverance from sin and from His wrath. Will you be among those peoples who come and embrace God's salvation? Luke 13:29 reads, "They will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God." My non-Christian friend are you saying, "Well, this offer cannot be for me. I cannot be saved. I am different. You do not know what I have done. You do not know where I have been. You do not know what I think"? Listen. Salvation is for all peoples, even you; and that is good news. I do not care what you have done or where you have been or who you have been with, if you are willing, God is able. Doubt no more! The Gospel is for you, if you will have it. Christ is for you, if you will have Him. Won't you come? He is freely presented to you.

God's salvation is revealed in light and glory

Notice lastly, that God's salvation, Jesus Christ, is particularly revealed in these two ways – "A LIGHT OF [better translation, 'for'] REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (vs. 32). As the salvation of God, Christ is the light of the world (see Jn. 8:12ff.). That is, He brings spiritual light (i.e., truth) in His Person and through His teaching, and by that light He reveals God's ways, God's person, and God's salvation. He makes known who God is and what God requires, and how a person can be rightly reconciled and related to Him. Jesus Christ is also the glory of God. This One is the Shekinah (lit. 'dwelling of God') glory, the One Who actually has dwelt and does dwell in the midst of His people. He is the visible presence of God as the incarnate God. Jesus Christ has come to Israel in fulfilment of the promises of God made to the forefathers.

Do you notice how Mary and Joseph responded in hearing Simeon's prophecy? We read, "And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him" (2:33). Let me ask you, have you been amazed in reading these things about Jesus Christ? Or have you said something like this, "Well, just another Gospel message?" Are you amazed at what you have read? Have you rejoiced? My non-Christian friend, have you wondered at this One who could love so much, and give so much, for us who deserve so little? That is what Christmas is all about. I could give you no better gift than the truth of these verses on which I have commented. The salvation of the Lord is yours, if you will have it. Won't you take it now?