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Intro: I have a picture of my brother and I at Disney world. I don’t remember going to Disney world, I only know I was there because I have a picture. I remember finding this picture and asking my mom about it – what other cool stuff did they do before I was old enough to remember? Jesus may have felt similarly as he first heard of the story we’re going to be looking at today, the account of his presentation in the temple when he was about 6 weeks old. A baby dedication is a significant event in the family. Yet, as significant this event was in his family, we will see that God broke interrupted that occasion to announce in greater detail than we have seen before in Luke the significance of Jesus, not merely to this peasant family, but to all in Israel and even beyond, to the whole world.
“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present 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”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Contrast Between the Law and the Spirit
Luke very intentionally is portraying Jesus’ family as very devout in adhering to the Jewish law.
• v. 22: according to the Law of Moses.
• v. 23: as it is written in the Law of the Lord.
• v. 24: according to what is said in the Law of the Lord.
• v. 27: according to the custom of the Law.
• v. 39: they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord.
Five times Luke highlights the adherence of Jesus’ family to the Jewish law. Interestingly, Luke does not seem to be very interesting in explaining all of the details of the purification rites to his Gentile audience – the only real detail he gives is that Jesus family offered a sacrifice appropriate to their status as a low-income peasant family. Instead, it is evident that, as he has done throughout the origin story he’s been telling in these first chapters of his gospel, Luke is firmly establishing this family as being fully obedient to the Jewish law. Luke does not have a negative view of the law, he has spoken of Joseph and Mary, and Elizabeth and Zechariah for that matter, as being righteous and blameless according to the law. Perhaps Luke is responding to Jewish or Gentile detractors, who minimize Christ’s connection to Judaism. In any case, Luke is picturing this devout family practicing their religion, going to the temple, praying for their child, when suddenly something completely unexpected occurs.
Verse 25: Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God
Just as much as Luke emphasizes Joseph and Mary being led according to the Law of Moses, now he introduces this man Simeon who is led, yes by the Law, but more importantly, by the Spirit. Just like Zechariah and Elizabeth he is also described as being righteous and devout, yet:
• vs.25: The Holy Spirit was upon him
• vs. 26: It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
• vs. 27: and he came in the Spirit to the Temple
• vs. 29: according to your word (Not the Bible – the prophetic word spoken to him that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ.)
It should be pretty evident to us that Luke is highlighting the contrast here between being led by the Law versus being led by the Spirit. But we need to be careful in our critique. Luke is not negatively denigrating the Law, he is not slamming Judaism, or harshly critiquing religion and its institutions, as so many today are so quick to do. Luke appreciates the devout obedience of Mary and Joseph, yet notes that the Spirit is now breaking in and doing something new. Simeon’s interruption of Jesus’ dedication at the temple, is an interruption of the Holy Spirit into the religious system of Judaism.
Simeon is therefore a very significant individual. A man filled with the Spirit, given revelation by the Spirit, led to the Temple to publically prophesy by the Spirit. To understand how significant Simeon it helps to understand how the Jews of Simeon’s day understood the working of the Spirit. Like Luke – they understood the Holy Spirit primarily to be a Spirit of prophesy. However, they believed this prophetic gift of the Spirit had ceased after the last of the writing prophets. They were cessationists. After the bible (OT) was written, God became silent. Yet, they also believed that the Holy Spirit would once again become active during the Messianic age, when as Joel prophesied, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:28–29 ESV). Simeon, publically prophesying in the Temple heralded nothing less than the dawning of the Messianic Age.
Simeon’s Message: God’s Salvation in Jesus.
So what does the Holy Spirit lead Simeon to do? Interrupts the baby dedication service (can you imagine) and holds up the baby like Simba and praises God because he can now die after seeing the Lord’s Messiah. Is that all? No. Simeon has a message to pronounce in the temple in connection with this child.
And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation …
In seeing Jesus, He saw salvation. Though he was already at the Temple, a place of mediation between the people and God, someone greater than the Temple had now appeared. Luke emphasizes as he has done previously in these infancy narratives, that God’s salvation has already dawned on humanity in the coming of Jesus. Simeon’s understanding of salvation draws heavily on the book of Isaiah, particularly the servant songs of Chapters 40-66. We have already read in verse 25 that Simeon was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. This word “consolation” is a key word in that portion of scripture, indeed it is the word that opens that section:
“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, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:1–11 ESV)
This is the salvation that Simeon is looking for and which he proclaims in the temple. “Our Comfort, our Consolation is here! Behold your God!” The message is both inclusive and exclusive.
Simeon’s Message is Inclusive
“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.”
Again, using words and images from the Servant Song of Isaiah, Simeon emphatically declares that the Salvation to be realized in Christ will be for all people. This is particularly ironic and potentially subversive given that Simeon is making his proclamation in the Temple, which is the heart of the Jewish system of worship. Gentile’s were allowed onto the massive platform surrounding the Temple, yet around the temple structure there was a 4 ½ foot tall wall with 10 gates through which only Jews could enter. Now we don’t know where in the temple compound this occurred, most likely it happened in the court of the women, which was the furthest Mary would have been allowed to enter, in which case no non-Jewish people would have been present. Yet Simeon’s words break through the walls, Just as Isaiah had previously prophesied. The Lord’ s Messiah would be a light for revelation for all peoples – for Gentiles, non-Jews. This light of Christ slowly dawned on the Jewish followers of Jesus, until Acts 10:34–35: “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Simeon was indeed a herald of the new Messianic Age when God would tear down the boundaries between Jew and non-Jew, male and female, slave and free. God’s Salvation in Christ was inclusive.
Yet God’s Salvation is Exclusive.
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Again drawing on Isaiah: “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
Simeon issues the first note of caution in the book of Luke, that not everyone will gladly receive the Lord’s salvation. Through the child will be a Rock of salvation, a foundational cornerstone that God is laying to build a new Spiritual temple of praise, many will stumble over him, and even oppose him. Simeon suggests to Mary that it will pierce her heart to see her beloved Son so opposed. Jesus will be the line in the sand. Many religious people will not cross. Many moral people will not cross. Many spiritual people will not cross, because Jesus will show us God, show us our sin, and reveal the thoughts of our hearts.
See I can pot luck my spirituality. There is a new movie out, the Life of Pi, in which the main character Pi is a spiritually precocious child who is exploring the potential of a syncretistic blend of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam that he’s begun to practice. Religious truths are vital for the stories they project, but we shape the stories as much as they shape us. I predict the movie will do well and resonate with many, because we want to shape God in our image according to our own sensibilities. Our culture bristles against exclusivity.
The Immediate Response
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Here’s the immediate response to the preaching of the gospel by Simeon. Another woman, Anna comes up and begins giving thanks to God. Here’s what we know about Anna –
• She’s old. Luke has had a focus on senior saints in these opening chapters.
• She’s suffered. She lost her husband at a young age
• She’s poor. With no other means of support she has lived a beggarly existence at the temple.
• She’s single.
• She’s a stranger. She is from the tribe of Asher, one of the Northernmost tribes, from way out in the sticks, now living in Jerusalem.
She’s the lowly, she’s the hungry, she’s the powerless, she’s the marginalized. And of all the people in the Temple that day, she approaches Simeon and Jesus’ family and not only gives thanks, but also begins to speak of the Lord’s Salvation to all who were waiting for it. Simeon’s prophesy is immediately coming true. The lowly are raised, the movement is starting. God’s salvation is dawning.
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”