The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Simeon and Anna’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 1/19/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/LCnpEC
Sermon text: Luke 2:25-38
Simeon’s Encounter with Jesus
We can learn a great deal about the operation of the Holy Spirit from the story of Simeon’s encounter with Jesus. As a basis for this entire discussion, we first want to establish that the Holy Spirit is a Person. He is part of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Member of the Trinity is of the same substance but different form. The Holy Spirit, though distinct from God, is just as much God as our Father Himself. This is important because we should expect to hear from the Holy Spirit in the same way we hear from other people: in conversation. We must never pray at God, but always to God with the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus. A proper understanding of exactly to Whom we are praying can improve prayer life immensely.
Luke 2:25-35 tells the story of Simeon’s encounter with Jesus. If you haven’t read it by this point, please take a moment to do just that and I’ll spare you a paraphrase of the narration. In these verses we see the Holy Spirit do three things in relation to Simeon: 1) He covers, 2) He speaks to and 3) He speaks through.
In the way of background information, v 25 tells us that Simeon was just and devout. There are two things to note in this description. The fact that Simeon was just and devout implies that he lived his life in such a way that he sought to be Christ-like. We must seek to be Christ-like in order to hear from the Holy Spirit in the same way and intensity as Jesus Christ did. In addition, Simeon was waiting for Jesus. He didn’t know exactly Whom he was looking for, but he had a tremendous sense of expectation. His entire life and livelihood revolved around his desire to see the Messiah! Ours should too. When we pray with expectation that God will move on our behalf and show us those things He has promised us, our prayers can shake nations as Jesus makes Himself known more fully to us.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Next (still in v 25) we see that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, as opposed to just in him. Why is this important? This should be taken as evidence of an experience called the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ as something separate and distinct from the salvation experience. At the moment of salvation, every new believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence is evident from that moment on. Some Christians have adopted the idea that when we are saved, that is all the Holy Spirit we are ever going to get. However, I would like to argue there is something more. There is a second experience called the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ that all believers should recognize. This is in addition to receiving the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. Specifying ‘in addition to’ is important because addition never subtracts; the baptism in the Holy Spirit never takes away from the importance of salvation, but only adds to our ability to live like Christ in light of it.
To clarify, let’s think about a sponge. A sponge can be bone-dry or soaking wet. The amount of water in the sponge does not change the molecular make-up of the sponge itself. The only thing the amount of water in the sponge changes is the ability of that sponge to be used as a vessel to pour out into other things. The measure of the Holy Spirit in every Christian operates the same way. John 3:34 says that ‘God does not give the Holy Spirit by measure.’ The Christian, however, can prevent himself from receiving the full measure that has already been given to him.
Acts 6:1-7 details a delegation process in the early church. The Hellenists accused the early church of neglecting charitable works. In response, the original disciples opted to put other men in charge of those works so they could remain devoted to ‘…prayer and…ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4). When looking for these ‘other men,’ the early disciples were very specific. They told the church to ‘…seek out from among [them] seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom [they might] appoint over this business.’ Nothing in the Bible is included by accident, and it is worth noting that these men needed to be ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.’ If the only infilling of the Holy Spirit we ever experienced happened at the moment of salvation, the disciples would have simply said, ‘Any Christian will do!’ But they didn’t. They specified that these men must be ‘full of’ the Holy Spirit, which means that some Christians can be nearly empty of Him despite still being saved. The end result of finding Christians who had received this second baptism in the Holy Spirit was that ‘…the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.’ The Holy Spirit is powerful, enabling mere men to accomplish much more than they could ever expect to accomplish on their own.
As more evidence, we turn to 1 John 5:8. This passage talks about three baptisms: the Holy Spirit, the water and the blood:
And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one (1 John 5:8).
As Christians, we are expected to be obedient in all three areas. At the moment of salvation, we are baptized in the Blood of Jesus; all our sins are washed away and we are made spotless: white as snow. As a step of obedience, we are then expected to pursue water baptism. Finally, we are expected to pursue baptism in the Holy Spirit. Note that these three baptisms are out of order in the text. Jesus was baptized in water, and when He came up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. Finally, when His Blood was poured out on the Cross, He was baptized in blood. Jesus was baptized in blood last so that we could be baptized in blood first, but we must seek out baptism both in water and in the Holy Spirit following salvation if we are to experience everything God has for us.
Back to Simeon
Next we see that the Holy Spirit speaks to Simeon. In v 26, the Bible details that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that ‘…he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.’ This means that the Holy Spirit had shown Simeon what to expect. The Holy Spirit had given him a picture; his spiritual eyes had been opened. We see a similar process in 2 Kings 6 where Elisha prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened. Immediately God reveals to the servant that ‘…the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha’ (2 Kings 6:17). God is always active all around us, even though we may be ignorant to most of what He is doing. We must always proactively cancel any doubt in our minds. Whenever we don’t think God is moving on our behalf, we must not ask ‘Why not?’ Instead, we should ask ‘What is He doing that I don’t see?’ In response to our persistence, God will open our spiritual eyes and show us exactly what He is doing.
Luke 2:27 goes on to describe how the Holy Spirit leads Simeon into the temple. Here we are introduced to the concept of being ‘led by the Holy Spirit.’ Simeon may not have known exactly what Jesus looked like, but the Holy Spirit led him to a specific place at a specific time so he would be sure not to miss the encounter. Ps 119:105 says that ‘…God’s Word is a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path.’ In other words, we don’t always get the entire picture at once. Many times we need to step out in the direction the Holy Spirit is leading us, and He will show us more as the need arises. As human beings, we like to see the big picture. But many times God reserves that right for Himself, and often it is for our own good.
It is worth noting the absence of any big, booming voice. Simeon simply needed to know Whom to expect and where he should go to look for Him. God often speaks through His Holy Spirit in a still, small voice. This has been true the vast majority of the time for me when receiving specific instruction. We would all love a big, booming voice all the time. However, when we are forced to listen with the utmost attention, our character develops in a way that would be impossible if God communicated with us in any other way.
Finally, we see the Holy Spirit speaking through Simeon in vv 34-35. Simeon prophesies over Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and they will remember his words for the rest of Jesus’ life. The prophecy speaks to Jesus’ destiny, and also to Mary’s eventual suffering at the sight of her Son nailed to the Cross. The Bible says that all believers are meant to prophecy (Luke 7:28). Yet fear hinders many of us from ever trying. How do you know God will speak through you? Open your mouth and trust God. Just as we know gravity will work when we drop something to the ground, we must know that God will speak through us when we open our mouths. But we must open our mouths. God will not give you a new word to speak until you speak out the one you have already been given. Just as we must pour out of a full cup before there is room to pour in, we must speak that which we have to receive more.
A Note on Tongues
The Bible says that the evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4). However, we would do well to remember (especially in the ‘charismatic’ circle, of which I am a part) that the evidence is never the goal. The Holy Spirit speaking to you and working in you is always the goal; tongues is simply the evidence. If I shoot a basketball at a hoop, my goal is not to have a perfect follow-through; it is to score points. The follow-through is only an indication that the shot was well executed. If I take a trip to Best Buy to buy a brand new, big-screen TV, I won’t come home bragging to my wife about the awesome receipt I took home with me from the store. The goal is the brand-new TV; the receipt is simply evidence of what has been purchased. If I ever need to contact Best Buy about the purchase, I have the receipt as the evidence and a reference. Whenever I need to pray to God, I have the Holy Spirit speaking through me with tongues as evidence.
Learning from Anna: A Spirit of Humility
Now we can turn to Anna, who teaches us a great deal about how we can position ourselves to hear from God. Luke 2:37 says that Anna lived a life of ‘…dedication, prayer and fasting night and day.’ For the purpose of this discussion, let’s ignore the activity and focus on the spirit (motivation) behind the activity. That is what we’re after: a devotion to God so extreme that we will do anything and everything we can just to get closer to Him. As Christians under the New Covenant and preaching the Gospel of Grace, we must always remember this: new behavior cannot produce change; change produces new behavior.
Anna teaches us that maintaining a spirit of humility facilitates our ability to hear from God. Luke 2:46-51 expounds on that idea. After being separated from Jesus, Mary and Joseph return to Jerusalem to find Him in the temple ‘…sitting in the midst of the teachers’ (Luke 2:46). Now when I used to read this passage I pictured Jesus standing on some type of platform, shouting and preaching to all the teachers as Someone who was quite obviously in charge. Yet this is not what the Bible tells us. We are told that Jesus was ‘…listening and asking questions’ (Luke 2:46), not preaching. Jesus knew His identity, and He knew His destiny. Yet He humbled Himself to listen to, and ask questions of, earthly teachers who ultimately could not teach Him one single thing. When we remain humble, God will speak to us.
Many times, either in the church office during the week or after service on a Sunday, I am asked a very logical question: What do I do if I’m not filled with the Holy Spirit? There is a simple test you can employ to find out if you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you ready? Say these words out loud: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ Did you do it? Great. Now read the following verse:
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit
(1 Cor 12:3).
If you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and can say it out loud, you are filled with the Holy Spirit! If you weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t have been able to say it!
Now, when you get back to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, all you have to ask for is a greater measure of something you already possess. Asking for a greater measure is infinitely easier than asking to ‘receive’ something if you don’t know what the reception is supposed to look like. Many times, when Christians talk about being ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit,’ we imagine some vague, cosmic collision whereby God blesses us with something we can’t quite explain and don’t know how to get. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not meant to be difficult. We already have the Holy Spirit living inside us; now we just have to ask for Him to permeate (saturate) everything we are! Imagine you’re sitting at the dinner table, one course in, but you’re just not full. What do you do? You ask for more, of course. If your host is gracious, you will receive more of that which you already have. God is a Most Gracious Host. After all, the Bible calls us to ‘greater things.’ How can we do greater things if we don’t have the same measure of the Holy Spirit Jesus had?
Living a Christ-Like Life
The end result of having the Holy Spirit cover us, speak to us, and then speak through us is a Christ-like life. The end of Luke 2 gives us a glimpse of what such a life might look like when describing Jesus:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).
We see several components of a Christ-like life described here which are worth examining. The first is wisdom. Wisdom means knowing exactly how to handle any situation in a way that would imply supernatural knowledge. Wisdom depends on circumstance, as the wise thing to do might vary from one situation to the next.
Stature, on the other hand, describes Jesus’ (and our) stance and position: our ability to spiritually impact a situation because of certain innate abilities that do not change depending on circumstance. Stature is static. Wisdom, while ever-present, is dynamic.
Finally, a Christ-like life will cause us to increase in favor, both with God and with man. There should be a certain ease to our earthly relationships as a result of the favor won on the Cross by Jesus Christ. The benefits of being a Christian do not just start when you die; they start the day you accept Jesus Christ into your life. Ps 27:13 promises us that we will see the goodness of the Lord ‘…in the land of the living.’ We must expect to see benefits to our relationship with God here and now, or else we are curtailing our ability to enlarge His Kingdom.
We also see here that it is possible to increase in favor with God. It is important to emphasize that favor is different from love. God will always love you infinitely regardless of what you do. He gave His Only Son on the Cross to prove it. But walking along the path God has laid out for you allows God to work with a certain ease. We must also emphasize that only God Himself increases your favor; you can never increase it yourself.
My prayer is that all of us would let the Holy Spirit cover us, speak to us and speak through us!
- by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.