“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on this feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: look into the temple, gaze at its sacred environs, consecrated, set apart as the place where God meets man. What do you see? You see hundreds of people gathered; peasants and princes, priests and paupers. You see animals; lambs and bulls, doves and pigeons. Your ears are assaulted by the bleating of the sheep, the bellowing of cattle; they can smell death, they know what is coming. Your nose is attacked by the stench of burning flesh; sacrifices placed on the altar, offered as a burnt offering to the Lord. And you see blood; rivers of blood, flowing from the bodies of slaughtered animals, flowing out of the temple and into the valley below. Blood on the robes of the priests, blood sprinkled on the altar, blood staining the pavement. What you see is the worship life of Israel; for thirteen hundred years the blood has flowed first from the tabernacle and now from the temple.
What you see is the price of sin. You see the cost that God required of His people; the blood of animals flowed as a substitute for their own blood. You see the price of transgression, flowing like a river from the temple, and you see live and in color what God thinks of sin and unholiness. You see that you have far been too casual about your sin. If you had to watch an animal die because you had rebelled against God, perhaps it would make you think twice about speaking those harsh words, looking at that website, or cheating your neighbor. It’s supposed to be your blood, but in grace God provides with the blood of another. Sin isn’t pardoned without blood. See the animals lined up to die; see the priests carrying the knives. If you had to stand beside a river of blood, maybe you would understand that lust, anger, and coveting aren’t just thoughts in your mind, they are offenses against God. You see the cost of your sin, and you shudder—it is nauseating to see the result of your transgressions, flowing out of the gates of the temple.
You see crowds of people who have been trained by a lifetime of sacrifices to understand the cost of sin. They are leading animals; sacrifices purchased with what money they have, animals purchased for the sole purpose of being put to death. In the crowd, you see a young couple, carrying a baby and two birds. They bring the offering of a poor mother; she was supposed to bring a lamb, but in Leviticus God allows the poor to bring “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” She has come to be purified from her ceremonial uncleanness forty days after the birth of her son, as God has commanded her through Moses. Two pure white birds will substitute for her uncleanness; they will be put to death so that she can be brought back into the full religious life of her people. And she brings her son, to dedicate him to the Lord, “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.’”
You see two people placing themselves in obedience under the Law. You see Mary, the virgin mother, who conceived through the powerful working of the Word of God. She is a faithful believer, and obedient to God’s Law, she offers the sacrifice. She places herself under the Law. She does the same for her Son. You see Jesus, the child born to the song of angels. You see Jesus, who the angel Gabriel says “will be called Holy—the Son of God.” You see this infant, who is greater than Moses, who spoke the words of the Law into his ear, being placed under that same Law, being presented in obedience with the command. There is only one human being in the history of the world that was not subject to the Law’s demands, and you watch as He is put under its authority.
The obedience of mother and child is a sharp contrast to your disobedience. You see the faithfulness of Mary, the humble submission of her Son, and you see as in a mirror your own rebellion. He over whom the Law had no authority was obedient to it; you over whom the Law has every right to demand everything, even your own life, live in revolt against it, refusing to see the consequences. This little child puts you to shame. In His faithfulness, you see your unfaithfulness, your chasing after other gods and other priorities. In His humility, you see your pride, arrogantly thinking you can live in sin without consequences. In His holiness, you see your impurity, as you have soiled yourself with the filth of a life lived in one transgression after another.
You look at this child and you see everything that you are not. But still, He is there, in the temple, being placed under the Law. Look closer into the face of this child. Yes, He is pure, yes He is holy, yes He is truly God, the Son of the Most High. But He is also Mary’s Son. Look at the virgin-born: is He not also true man? Yes! He is like you in every way, except without the stain of sin. The same organs, the same tissue, the same blood. This child breathes the same air, eats the same food, needs naps and nightly rest like the rest of us. You see the One who was “made like His brothers in every respect.” The Christ child is a child; the infant Jesus is an infant. He is true man, born of the virgin Mary, true man from the moment of conception; He passes through every stage that we did, from zygote to embryo to baby. He is like you in every respect, except without sin.
He who is pure is placed under the Law of sinners. He, the only human being not subject to the Law, is presented on the fortieth day in obedience with it. You look at this child in the arms of His mother, and you see your substitute. He who is like you in every respect stands in your place, the sinless One in the place of sinners, in the place of you. The Law had authority over you; you watch as He is placed under its authority in your place. You watch as He is placed under its penalty in your place. What is that penalty? You only need to turn your eyes away from the child and back to the organized chaos of the temple to remember the answer. What do you see? Blood.
Fast forward thirty years. You watch as the child Jesus, placed under the Law in your stead, grows in obedience to that Law, resisting every temptation, living the life that you could not, living a perfect life in your place. Now look upon the holy city Jerusalem once again, but not to the temple. There is a new place of sacrifice. Look at Golgotha, gaze at its cursed environs, consecrated, set apart as the place where man puts man to death. What do you see? You see a crowd of people gathered; peasants and princes, priests and paupers. You see three men, nailed to the wood of their crosses. Your ears are assaulted by the cries of the suffering, the insults of the crowd; they can smell death, they know what is coming. Your nose is attacked by the stench of death; a man nailed to the cross, offered as the innocent One in the place of sinners. The Law, which placed Him under the sentence of death on His fortieth day, is now carrying out this sentence. And you see blood; rivers of blood, flowing from the body of Christ, flowing down the cross and into the valley below. Blood on the garments of the soldiers, blood sprinkled on the dirt, blood staining the wood of the cross. What you see is the worship life of Israel coming to its fulfillment; for thirteen hundred years the blood has flowed first from the tabernacle and then from the temple, and now it flows from the hands, feet, head and side of Jesus. It flows for you; this Jesus who lived in your place also died in your place.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
On February 2nd, the world just sees a child, carried in the arms of his dirt-poor mother. On Good Friday, the world just sees a man, hanging upon a cross, maybe innocent, maybe guilty, but who really cares? People die every day. Perhaps the same number of people watched the presentation of Jesus as saw His crucifixion. To most of them, He was simply another person; but not to Simeon. You see an old man run to the poor mother and father, wild joy in His face. You see Mary’s expression of shock and even fear as he takes the child into his arms. But then he says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees what you see in the face of this child: this is the salvation long-prepared, for Jew and Gentile. He doesn’t look to heaven when He says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,” he is looking into the eyes of a forty-day old baby. For this child, true man, born of the virgin Mary, is also true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and He is truly Simeon’s Lord. Look at this child, and what do you see? Your Lord. Look at the cross, and what do you see? Your victory. His holiness substituted for your impurity; His perfect life substituted for your sin; His death under God’s wrath substituted for the penalty you deserved. Where do you find salvation? In the flesh of Jesus; only as true man could He stand as our substitute. You cannot grasp God for your good unless He is grasped in creaturely forms. The deeper you submerge Jesus in the flesh, the better it is for you. That is why you eat of His Body and drink of His Blood in the Lord’s Supper; that is why you leave the table singing these words: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people.” Your eyes have seen His salvation; at the temple on the fortieth day, at the cross on Good Friday, and at the table on the Lord’s Day. Depart in peace, according to His Word, Amen.