James Merritt - Stay On the Lookout
Believe it or not, this is a tough time of the year for a pastor. Now, put yourself in my position. Let me tell you a couple of reasons why. If there's one time of the year when people come to church and think they know just as much about the subject as the pastor does, it's Christmas. Because, you think about it. How many times have you heard the Christmas story? How many times have you read the Christmas story? Most of us know it by heart. I mean, how many Christmas sermons have you heard? How many Christmas truths have you learned? And you've heard it over, and over, and over, and some of you, except for the fact this is kind of, you know, your gig on Christmas Eve, it's kind of the thing that you do, deep down some of you are wondering, okay, what's he going to say today that I haven't heard before?
I want to tell you the story of an old man in the Bible, and some of you kids in here, you'll like this. This is a story of an old man in the Bible. He had actually been on the lookout for Christmas from the day he was born. Every day, he prayed for Christmas. Every day, he could not wait for Christmas to come, and he was finally rewarded. As a matter of fact, he lived in the Christmas spirit from the time he was born until the day that he died. And he was so vigilant and so diligent that he actually prayed for the first Christmas all of his life.
Now, I don't know how old this man was, somewhere in his 60s, 70, 80 years of age, and I'm sure there were many times he thought what you and I think sometimes, I don't think God's hearing my prayer. I don't know whether God's gone deaf, or I don't know whether God's asleep, but I keep praying and asking for Christmas and it never seems to come. And we've all had those times where we kind of wonder, does God really hear our prayer or not? There were two little boys. They were spending the night at their grandparents' house, just a few weeks before Christmas. And, it was bedtime and the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers.
Well, the youngest little boy got on his knees first, and he began praying at the top of his lungs. I mean, he was literally yelling this prayer out, and it went like this. He said, Oh, God, give me a new bicycle for Christmas! And he paused for a moment and he got louder, and he said, God, if you are in heaven, give me a bicycle for Christmas! And the third time, as loud as he could say it, he was saying, Dear God, on your honor, give me a new bicycle for Christmas! Well, his brother looked at him and he said, why are you yelling? God's not deaf. And the little boy said, no, but grandpa is! Now, there's an old grandpa figure like in the Bible who may have thought God was deaf, but He really wasn't. And what this old man tells us is how all of us should always be on the lookout, not just for Christmas, but because of Christmas.
So, if you brought a copy of God's Word, or you want to look on your iPhone or smart pad, or whatever you want to use, I want you to turn to the Gospel of Luke. If you don't know much about the Bible, you know, you can Google it or whatever, but there's Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, the second half of the Bible, you've got four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. It's the third Gospel. I want you to turn to Luke 2. Some of you have probably figured out who this old man was. If you don't, his name was Simeon... not Simon, but Simeon. And, unlike Joseph and Mary, he had not witnessed the birth of Jesus. He really wasn't there when Christmas first took place. Unlike the wise men and the shepherds, he never went to Bethlehem. He never saw Jesus when He was a baby.
As a matter of fact, by the time we're going to read this story in Luke 2, Jesus is already about six weeks old. How do we know that? When a baby boy was born into a Jewish home, after eight days that baby boy was circumcised. 33 days later, Jewish families were required to take their baby up to the temple and make a sacrifice for that baby, kind of like what we would call today a baby dedication. So, what's going on here is Mary and Joseph have now left Bethlehem. They've walked the five miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and they've gone to the temple, and they're dedicating this little baby. So, you've got this old, gray-haired, bent over, wrinkled, white bearded, step-slow, old man, making his way to the temple, and we know, as we're going to see in a moment, he went to the temple all the time. Every time the temple doors opened, Simeon was there. He was a very, very godly man.
And so, you've got this picture of this old man going up to the temple. We're going to pick up the story 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 on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people, Israel'".
Now, it's true that Simeon was not actually there at the very first Christmas, but Christmas was still there for Simeon. And the way this story unfolds is really, really a sweet story, because the gift of the Messiah that God had promised thousands of years earlier to the Jewish people had finally arrived, wrapped up in swaddling clothes and brought into this temple. And as we study this old man and realize just what a great day in his life that it was, it teaches us how we ought to be on the lookout not for Christmas, but because of Christmas. We need to be looking at Christmas the way Simeon did. Three quick things I want to share with you. Number one, we need to look at His birth in the past. First thing we need to do with Jesus, and what we're doing right now, we look at His birth in the past.
Now, if you think about it, Christmas is when everybody's on the lookout, right? Children tonight, many children, they're on the lookout for Santa coming down the chimney. If you're a grandma, you're on the lookout for runaway reindeer, okay? If you're a preacher, you're on the lookout for a fresh Christmas sermon. If you're a shopper, you're on the lookout for a last minute bargain. Christmas tells us we should always be on the lookout, and we begin by looking backward at the past, and this is what's kind of amazing, that we've got half the world, in fact over half the world today will kind of stop what they're doing, and they're going to be looking back at the birth of this baby. Well, who was this little baby that Simeon held in his hands? Why was this old man so excited to finally see this baby being brought into the temple? Because Simeon knew, remember, that this day would come before his days were over.
Listen again to Verse 26. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah". Now, think about that. Simeon knew every day when he got up, I'm not going to die today, because that Messiah hasn't come. So, I won't be afraid of a sword, I won't be afraid of a spear, I won't be afraid of an arrow, I won't be afraid of any man, I won't be afraid of any warrior, I won't be afraid of any soldier, because God has promised me, you will not die until you see the Messiah, and the magic word there is Messiah.
See, a lot of people don't realize. They think that when they call Jesus, Jesus Christ, they're calling Him by His first and His last name. Back then, people didn't have last names. Jesus was His name. Christ was not His name. Christ was a title. The word Christ, the Greek word, literally means anointed one, and it means Messiah. In other words, this wasn't just a human baby. This was the Messiah that God had promised the Jewish race for thousands and thousands of years. Now, here's what's kind of interesting. It's not unusual to remember and honor other people's birthdays. I had a birthday a couple of days ago, and many of you were so kind and Facebooked, and texted, and e-mailed, and I'm so grateful.
Well, I'm not anymore at my age. I don't even want you to remember it anymore! But, there was a day and time it was a kind of a cool thing, right, when you'd remember my birthday? But, here's what you don't care about. You were kind enough to, you know, wish me a happy birthday, but you don't really care about my birth. In other words, you're not really interested in, how did it happen? Nobody's ever e-mailed me and said, hey, I'd like to know, what time were you born? How much did you weigh? How long were you? What was the doctor's name? Did you have a safe trip coming out of the womb? I mean, nobody ever e-mails me and asks me those, not that I would remember! But, nobody ever asks me those questions. And yet, Jesus, we're not just interested in the day of His birth, we're actually interested in the very birth of His day.
And why is it that year after year, we can't wait to look back at His birth? It's because we now know what Simeon knew. This was no ordinary birth, and this was no ordinary baby. There's never been a birth like this birth, and there's never been a baby like this baby. This was God in the flesh. This was the child who would bring peace to the heart and joy to the soul. The reason why we know Christmas is no ordinary day is because this was no ordinary child. There has never been a birth like Jesus', and never will be. There's never been a child like Jesus, and never will be, because He wasn't just the son of Mary, He was the Son of God, and that songwriter got it right. It is the most wonderful time of the year. Why? Because we celebrate the most wonderful birth in history, and here's the amazing thing.
This is something I still find it hard to get my arms around. It's not just that this baby was welcomed into this world. Everybody welcomes a new baby into this world. I've had several people today either show me a picture of their newest grandson, or I had one couple that brought up their baby, he's only like, four weeks old. They wanted me to see their brand new baby. Everybody welcomes new babies into families. That's not a big deal. But, this baby wasn't just welcomed, he was worshipped. Now, get your arms around that. Now, I'll admit, and if you're a grandparent, you can relate to this. I come close to doing that sometimes with my grandkids, okay? I mean, a little bit close, but I really don't. But I mean, can you imagine?
Now, think about this. He was worshipped after He was born! A star shines its heavenly light on the place of His birth! Angels from heaven come down and give a free concert in honor of His birth! Wise men and stargazers travel hundreds of miles, and months, and years, just to kneel before Him, and praise Him, and give Him gifts! And today, almost three billion people around the world will stop everything they're doing just to honor His birth! Why? Because it was no ordinary birth. This was no ordinary baby. And that's why we look back at the birth in the past. But then, Simeon took another look. Not only did he look at His birth in the past, we need to look for His blessing in the present, because listen to what happens.
Simeon takes his eyes off the past, and I want you to imagine. Let's kind of go back 2,000 years. You're Simeon. You go to the temple all the time. You've seen hundreds, thousands of babies dedicated. You've seen hundreds, thousands of parents do what Mary and Joseph are doing, and maybe you're walking up those temple steps and you know, you're still praying. Well, maybe this will be the day the day. Maybe this will be the hour. Who knows, but you're not really expecting a whole lot, because you've done this over, and over, and over, and still no Messiah, and still no promise kept, still nothing's happening that's extraordinary. And just imagine, all of a sudden you're walking up, and you see this baby, and you see that baby, and you see this baby, but then you see that baby. And all of a sudden, your eyes lock on that baby, and nobody has to tell you. Nobody has to say a word. Deep in your heart, that's the baby.
It wasn't just love at first sight, it was Lord at first sight. And just imagine, Simeon walks over to Joseph, and they don't know him, he doesn't know them. They've never met. And this old man, bent down with age, probably with trembling, shaking hands, he walks over to this mother, and the mother's kind of giving him the eye. And he walks over to her, and he reaches out those trembling, shaky, old hands, and he says, may I? And something in Mary's heart says, Mary, it's okay. You can trust him, Mary. And that old man picks up that baby, and without any shame whatsoever, without any embarrassment whatsoever, at the top of his lungs so everybody in that temple court could hear, he says these words. "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation".
Now, listen to what he said. He said, Lord, time to go. Get the preacher. Build the casket. Dig the grave. Ready to go. You've kept your promise. I have now seen...now, look what he said. Not just the Savior, "I have seen your salvation". He's ready to go now, because you know what really he was saying at that moment in his life? I've accepted that baby as my Messiah. I've trusted that baby as my Savior. I'm not just looking at a baby, I'm looking at a Savior. I'm looking at salvation in the flesh. I've now seen the one thing everybody must see, everybody should see, and everybody had better see before they die. I have actually seen and experienced the salvation of the Lord.
And see, when you truly understand what happened to him at that moment...if you'd have gone up to Simeon at that moment and you said, Simeon, what has happened to you, here's what Simeon would have told you. I've just experienced the greatest blessing I could ever experience in my life. You're just holding a baby! I'm not holding a baby. I'm holding my salvation. I'm holding the only hope I have to go to heaven. I'm holding the only way that I know I can have a real relationship with God. Because Simeon knew what you and I had better know, and that is the greatest problem we have in this world is sin, and the only solution to our sin problem is salvation, and the only one who can bring the solution of salvation to the sin problem is a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior.
And so, Simeon knew, at that moment in his life, I've got the one thing I've been looking for, the one thing I need, the one thing I've got to have, the one thing I've meant, cannot leave this earth without, or I'm not ready to leave this earth. I've got salvation. And when you receive salvation, and you understand what it is when you receive salvation, you can't help but understand, you have the greatest blessing on a daily basis you will ever have in your life. That's why the one thing every follower of Jesus Christ can be thankful for every day is salvation, because think about it. Salvation means I've got the favor of God on my life. I've got the blessing of God on my life. I've got the peace of God on my life. I've got something that will never, ever end, because there's two things that happened to Simeon that happen to every person once they receive Jesus Christ.
There are two things that will never, ever happen to you again once you come to Jesus and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. Two things. You'll never again be lost, and you'll never again be left. You have God's pardon forever. He forgives all of your sins, not most of them, not some of them, not many of them. He forgives all of your sins, and you have God's presence. He will never leave you or forsake you. I got thinking about this the other day. If someone came to me and they said, you can have everything, not just anything... you can have everything this world has to offer...everything, now think about it. Everything, if you will give up your salvation for five seconds. I wouldn't do it! There is no blessing like salvation. There is no blessing that comes to know I've got the peace of God, I've got the pardon of God, I have the presence of God in my life, and I'm going to tell you something.
We don't know how much longer Simeon lived after this day was over, but I'll tell you one thing I guarantee you is true about Simeon. He never saw any day the same after that. He never saw a sunrise the same way. He never saw the sunset the same way. He never saw other people the same way. He never saw himself the same way. He never saw God's Word the same way. He never even saw God the same way. His whole mindset had changed, because he knew, from the moment he held that baby in his arms, and the moment he had taken that baby into his heart, he had the blessing of God on his life every single day.
So, that's why when Christmas comes, and even after Christmas goes, we not only get to look back at the birth, His birth in the past, we get to look at His blessing in the present, but it's not finished yet. Because of Christmas, not only do we look back at His birth yesterday, not only do we look at His blessing today, but we also look for His breakthrough tomorrow, His breakthrough in the future. Now, I want you to listen to these last words Simeon said, and we'll wrap this up. He said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation". Now, listen to this. "Which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles".
Who are the Gentiles? That's us. That's you and me, okay? There may be a Jew in here somewhere, I don't know. But, most of us are Gentiles. That's us. "And the glory of your people, Israel". Now, do you see that word there? He says "You may now dismiss your servant". He didn't have to say that. He could have just said you can dismiss your servant, anytime you want to. He said, no, "You may now dismiss your servant". That's a timeline word. Now, why is that so important? Somebody asked Yogi Berra one time, my favorite philosopher, somebody asked Yogi Berra one time, they said, Yogi, what time is it? He said, you mean now? Well, yeah, I mean now. I mean right now. Well, Simeon said, you know what, Lord? This is a now moment. This is what Simeon was saying. Lord, I know now what's happened.
Now that this baby has been born, now that your Messiah has come, you have reset your clock, and ever since that little baby was born, that clock has been ticking. And one of these days, that clock is going to strike a note, and that clock is going to strike a chord, and when that chord is struck, time will be no more. And this Jesus, who came the first time, is coming back a second time. The first time, He was placed in a manger. The second time, He'll be seated on a throne. And see, when you read this story about Simeon and you realize, here's a man that lived 40, 50, 60, 70, maybe 80 years, and every day of his life he would pray, God, is today the day? Is now the week? Is this the time? Is this when the Messiah is going to come?
And every day, he'd go to the temple, and he'd look at every little baby that came. Not him, not him, not him, not him, not him, and finally, the baby comes. And Simeon reminds us, unlike what we're told in secular universities...no, history is not just a series of random events that's going nowhere in a hurry. History's on a path, and God's directing that path, and one of these days, the path of history is going to end at the second coming of Jesus. And what I want you to understand is this, and this is why we sometimes miss Christmas altogether. We get into a bad habit with Jesus. You think about it. At Christmas, what do we do? We leave Him in the manger. Before Easter, what do we do? We leave Him on a cross. After Easter, what do we do? Put Him back on the cross.
Well, that's not the whole story. The first Christmas is to whet our appetite for the second coming. Because yesterday we looked back at His birth, today we look for His blessing, but tomorrow we look for His breakthrough, and I want to tell you why this is such a big deal to me, and why it is sometimes we miss this. See, Christmas is not just about His being born, though that's the beginning of the story. But, it's just the beginning of the story. It's not the whole story. That little baby grew up and became a man, and that little baby lived a perfect life, and that little baby died on a cross, and that little baby came back from the dead, and that little baby is alive right now, and that little baby is coming again!
Go back 2,000 years from the time that little baby was laying in that manger. There's never been one year in 2,000 years where all the world had perfect peace. Go back and check it out yourself. Not one year, not one! There's always been a battle, always been a skirmish, always been a war going on somewhere, for 2,000 years. And yet, God Himself said, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward those men who have good favor". Well, Christmas isn't over, and Christmas isn't ended, until that little baby comes back. Because I want you children...I know we've got some kids in here, so I want all of you kids to listen to the pastor. The reason why this is the season to be jolly is not because we're looking for a jolly, big, fat guy in a red suit. Okay, that's not it. The reason why we ought to be jolly is because we're looking for a risen King on a white horse.
When He came the first time, there was no room for Him in the inn. When He comes back the second time, everybody will make room for Him. When He comes back, here's what's going to happen. The graves are going to give up their dead. The devil's going to give up his war. Kings are going to give up their crowns. The world's going to give up its rebellion, and all of us who are on the lookout will give out our worship. So, as we celebrate another Christmas, I just want you to remember, as we look back at His birth, in the past, and we are looking for His blessings in the present, we're to be looking for His breakthrough in the future, because this is what Simeon closed his little speech with. "Just as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the Son who rose from the grave is coming back again. Be on the lookout".