Sermon for the Memorial Service for Joe Hagen (July 28, 2007)
“A Man Like Simeon” (Luke 2:25-32)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to all of you family members and friends of Joe.
Ninety-four years old. Wow. Just think what things a ninety-four year-old man has seen in his lifetime. Life-changing inventions, world-changing events, a host of personal experiences...some we can talk about...some we can’t. But a memorial service shouldn’t be so much about the person who died. Sure, it’s important to remember him and what he meant to us. But a memorial service really should be a time to remember what God has done for the person who died. That’s where true comfort lies. You will have a chance later on and in the years to come to share your memories about Joe.
So let’s talk about an old man. No, not Joe. First I want to talk about the one you heard about a few moments ago by the name of Simeon. It’s assumed that Simeon was an old man. St. Luke describes him as a righteous and devout man who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke also writes that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” In other words, he was waiting for the day when God would finally send the Savior whom he had promised so long ago.
Somewhere along the way, through some means which the Bible doesn’t tell us about, God had made it clear to Simeon that before he died he would see this promised Savior. One day, Simeon came to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Inside the temple courts, he viewed a man and a young woman carrying their baby. They were there in response to God’s Old Testament requirements...to offer a sacrifice in order to dedicate their child to God and purify the mother after childbirth. Once again, we don’t know exactly how, but Simeon knew that the child in that mother’s arms was no ordinary baby. This baby was the Messiah. This baby was the Christ. This baby had come to save the world from sin and death and eternal separation from God. And so Simeon approached the mother, took the baby in his arms, and said,
“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 peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon knew that he could die in peace. God’s promises had been fulfilled. The Savior of the world had arrived. And he had seen that Savior with his own eyes. As Simeon peered into the face of that little baby, he “saw” God’s salvation, for salvation had come in the flesh of Jesus Christ...the forgiveness of sins for both Jew and Gentile alike.
As True God and True Man, Jesus Christ was without sin his entire life. He kept all of God’s commandments perfectly. And he was crucified with the weight of the world’s sin upon him, dying the death that you and I deserve for the ways we have not kept God’s commandments. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Bible also says, “the blood of Jesus...cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” By trusting in the finished work of Jesus at the cross, you and I have forgiveness and eternal life. It’s nothing that you and I can do on our own. It’s entirely a gift of God’s unmerited favor, as St. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Not only did Jesus earn the forgiveness of sins for us. He also proved that he has the power over death which is a result of sin in this world. He proved this when he rose to life again on Easter morning. And now, the Bible tells us that all who are baptized into Christ have a share in Christ’s own resurrection. You heard this verse right at the beginning of today’s service. It’s from chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, where he writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?...For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” The body of a Christian may very well be placed into the ground. But a day is coming when Jesus will return, just as he promised, and all baptized believers in Jesus will be raised to life, just as Jesus came forth from the tomb, never to die again.
Did Simeon understand all this? I don’t know. The only thing the Bible tells us is that he knew that the little baby he was holding was the Savior. I don’t know if God had revealed all the details to him. Nevertheless, he could sing, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.”
I read and sang those words to Joe several times during the last week of his life. At 94, he was ready to go to his home in heaven...and can you blame him? I know he didn’t relish leaving his wife and family. To the very end, he was concerned with others. He had a hard time speaking, and we had a hard time understanding him. But he was truly concerned about those who were in pain over his pain.
Now I don’t know exactly how old Simeon was. He could have been in his 90’s. The Bible just doesn’t say. Still, Joe had a lot in common with Simeon.
Simeon was righteous...and Joe was righteous. Now that doesn’t mean that Joe was perfect. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But the very next verse says that we are “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Joe was justified. That means he was declared not guilty by God because of what Jesus did on the cross for Joe. And that means he was righteous.
The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon...and the Holy Spirit was upon Joe. He was filled with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized and his sins were washed away, just as Peter told the crowd in Acts chapter 2, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Joe confessed faith in Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and the Bible says that “No one can ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Simeon was devout...and Joe was devout. He came to church practically every Sunday, even in his old age and frailty. Simeon worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem and found the Savior Jesus carried by his mother Mary. Joe worshiped in this “temple,” in this house, and found Jesus, not as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes...but as the Crucified and Risen Lord revealed through God’s Holy Word that is read and preached here and through Christ’s very own body and blood received in Holy Communion.
And that’s why Joe could “depart in peace.” God’s promises had already been fulfilled in Christ. Joe was righteous and devout because he was forgiven in Christ. He was God’s baptized child, given faith in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Joe was at peace with God. He recognized the voice of his Savior in God’s Holy Word. He is with his Savior right now. And one day—like Simeon in the temple gazing on the face of the baby Jesus—Joe, too, will get to gaze on the face of his Savior with his own eyes, on that great and final day of resurrection.