The Benefits of Waiting for the Comforter

Jesus said he is the Comforter, the Consolation, the Advocate, and he would send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will comfort, help, intercede and guide us while we wait for the return of our Consolation.

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5; 42:5-7; Luke 2:22-35; 2:29-32 (text)
December 26, 2010

Introduction

"The Purification of the Virgin" by Gabriel Blanchard, 1682

"The Purification of the Virgin" by Gabriel Blanchard, 1682

Finally, the promised Seed of the Woman, the Offspring of Abraham who would be the Blessing to All Nations, the Prophet greater than Moses, the Son of David who would be the Everlasting King, has come! He was born of a woman, but conceived by the Holy Spirit. Although “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19), because of God’s love for his people, he came down from heaven and humbled himself, and “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7).

If Adam did not willfully sin because of Satan’s temptation, Jesus would not have to humble himself. But Adam did break God’s covenant of works, plunging all humanity to sin and the curse of death. From eternity past, the all-knowing God saw this event, and ordained his Eternal Son to come down to earth and fulfill the perfect obedience that Adam failed to accomplish. This is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). And this is also why Paul also said, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:4-5).

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Because he was born under the law, right after he was born, he started “fulfilling all righteousness” of the Law (Matt 3:15). On the eighth day, he was circumcised, according to God’s covenants with Abraham and Israel. And on the 40th day, his parents Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple. No, this event in his young infant life was not done to be the basis of what most evangelicals call today as infant “dedication,” a substitute for infant baptism. Why so? Because when the family went to the Temple, it was not to “dedicate” him to God, as is often thought of today. It was again, to fulfill all the righteousness of the Law, “as it is written in the Law of the Lord… to do for him according to the custom of the Law” (Luke 2:23, 27). It was an Old Testament ceremony!

You see, in Leviticus 12:3-4, there was this provision for what a woman would do after she gave birth to a male child: “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. Because a woman was “unclean” after she gave birth to a child, she had to go through a purification rite.

What about Jesus? Did he have to go through a purification rite? No, his presentation at the Temple was a commemoration of the most historic event in Israel’s history: the Passover during the Exodus. When God sent the Angel of Death on the tenth and last plague against all the land of Egypt, all the firstborns of Egypt were killed. The firstborns of Israel were spared, but how? God instructed each family to slaughter a lamb without blemish, and paint their doorpost with its blood. When the Angel of Death sees the blood on the doorpost, he would “pass over” that house without slaying the firstborn there. To commemorate this event, all Israelite families are commanded to redeem their firstborn sons with bloody animal sacrifices on the 40th day after they were born, Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine… Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem(Exod 13:2, 13).

Thus, the family’s visit to the Temple on that day was not to “dedicate” Jesus to the Lord, but to perform Mary’s purification rite and redemption of their firstborn son. If you perform this ceremony today, you’re doing a Temple ritual made obsolete by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, in effect, dishonoring his sacrifice. And if you insist on “dedicating” your children, why is the mother not “purified”? Why are there no animal sacrifices? And why are children who are not firstborns and who are not males dedicated?

This great Passover event happened 1,500 years before Jesus was born. For all those centuries, Israel looked forward to a coming Redeemer. Isaiah, writing about 700 years before the first Christmas night, called this Redeemer “the Consolation of Israel.” In our text, Simeon also looked forward to this coming Consolation until the last days of his life. And when the Spirit revealed to him that the Child named Jesus was that promised Consolation, he was ready to be “dismissed” by God from his earthly pilgrimage. With reverence and joy, he burst into a song of praise and thanksgiving for God’s salvation for all peoples through this infant son.

Comfort in Life and in Death
The description of this man Simeon was very short and simple. He was an old man who lived in Jerusalem, “righteous and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” The other main characters in the drama of the birth of Jesus were also described similarly. Zechariah and Elizabeth were “both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). The angel told Mary that she had “found favor with God,” which means that she had received God’s good grace (Luke 1:30), and Joseph was “a just man” (Matt 1:19).

All of these people were living by faith, believing in God’s promise of the coming Consolation of Israel, even when centuries have passed since they last heard of this prophecy. While waiting for their promised Redeemer, they lived godly and righteous lives, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and obeying God’s commandments. Three times, Simeon was described as walking in the Spirit, the same words used of the Apostle John when the Revelation of Christ was given to him on the Lord’s Day. The Spirit was Simeon’s guide in all of his life, until he received revelation that the Consolation of Israel had finally arrived!

You who believe in Christ 2,000 years after his birth: you also walk by faith. You also walk in the Spirit. How can you still believe in his promised Second Coming when 2,000 years have come and gone since he promised that he would return? How can you walk in the light that Christ has revealed to you, not walking like you used to when you were still an unbeliever? It is only because you walk in the Spirit, and not in the sinful nature. If you’re like Simeon, you’re able to walk in God’s favor by the indwelling Spirit guiding you. You’re able to obey God’s commandments because you’re immersed in God’s word and your soul is nourished by the sacraments on the Lord’s Day.

How are you able to persevere through all your afflictions, temptations and even persecutions? It is only through “the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor 1:3-4). How are you able to wait for the Lord’s answer to your prayers for so long? Waiting for the Lord is a virtue given only by the Spirit to believers. It is only through Christ who strengthens you.

We don’t know how long we have to wait for the appearing of our Consolation. It may be next year, in 10 years, in 100 years. It may or may not be during our lifetime. But while waiting for our blessed hope, let us “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit 2:12-13). If you walk by the Spirit, your life will surely produce fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

Then, like Simeon, at the end of your life, you are able to say to God, “Now let your servant depart in peace.” You have peace with God, because Christ has made you a friend with God. Christ has reconciled you with God, he was raised for your justification, and because you are justified by faith, you have peace with God. At the end of your life, you are able to say, “I’m ready to meet my Consolation, because I have peace with God.” Like Abraham at his death, “you shall go to your fathers in peace” (Gen 15:15), and reunite with them in joy.

Salvation for All Peoples
Simeon waited all his life for the Consolation of Israel. Who is this “Consolation”? Isaiah 40:1-2 tells us, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.” In the Greek translation of the original Hebrew of these verses, the Greek word for “comfort” was parakletos, which is usually translated as “comforter,” “helper” or “advocate”—like a lawyer who helps defend an accused in court.

Jesus told his disciples before he died on the cross that he would send “another Helper… the Holy Spirit” (John 14:16, 26). This is why the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the “Paraclete,” from the Greek word. What Jesus was saying was that he is the Comforter, the Consolation, the Advocate, and he would send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will comfort, help, intercede and guide us while we wait for the return of our Consolation.

When Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he said he has seen the salvation that God has prepared from eternity for all peoples. He was echoing the angel’s announcement to Joseph that this Jesus will save his people from sin. And the people of God consists of many from all tribes, languages, peoples and nations of the world. Simeon quotes the prophecy of Isaiah 52:10 about the coming Comfort of Israel, The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.Two hundred years before Isaiah’s prophecy, King David also prophesied this worldwide salvation, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you (Psa 22:27).

Luke then classified all the peoples of the world into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. This infant child would one day give salvation to both groups of people: to Gentiles living in a dark world, not belonging to God’s people, without hope in this world, and without God; to Jews, who were once God’s people and God’s glory, but now suffering because they have broken God’s covenant. Luke knew that Simeon’s prophecy about the Comforter also came from Isaiah and the Psalms:

Isaiah 42:6—“I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.”

Isaiah 46:13—“I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

Isaiah 49:6—“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 60:2b-3—“The LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Psalm 98:2-3—“The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.”

Jesus himself spoke of his coming as light to the world living in darkness:

Luke 24:47—“’Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.’”

John 8:12—“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Apostle Paul preached the same Comforter to the Gentiles, quoting Isaiah 49:6 in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:47). When he appeared to defend his preaching of Christ before the Gentile King Agrippa, he said Christ sent him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Furthermore, Paul declared that Christ came to “proclaim light both to our people [Jews] and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:18, 23).

Conclusion
As we continue to ponder on the coming of Christ in this season of rejoicing, let us also take to heart the words of comfort of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.

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