Just a few weeks ago the Associated Press had a story in our local paper that caught my attention. I would like to just read a paragraph or two of it. Its dateline is Jerusalem. It says: "A barely legible clue - the name "Simon" carved in Greek letters - beckoned from high up on the weather-beaten facade of an ancient burial monument. Their curiosity piqued, two Jerusalem scholars uncovered six previously invisible lines of inscription: a Gospel verse - Luke 2:25." ("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.") The article says "This is believed to be the first discovery of a New Testament verse carved onto an ancient Holy Land shrine. The inscription declares the 60-foot-high monument is the tomb of Simon, a devout Jew who the Bible says cradled the infant Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah."
Isn't that interesting? Simeon lived all those centuries ago. He is mentioned only here in the New Testament, and yet he still is involved in reenforcing the faith of those of us who believe that the New Testament is the word of God and that Jesus Christ actually lived, and that he is who the New Testament says he is. That is no surprise, though, because Simeon has always been involved from the time we meet him in trying to say to us that Jesus really is the Son of God.
The appearance of this great and good man in this scene in Luke 2 is here to tell us from a man who could be trusted that Jesus is someone special and that salvation has been brought through him. This morning we are going to explore what this passage tells us about this man, Simeon, and let it reenforce our own joy in the salvation of the Lord.
Let's begin by noticing what the passage tells us about the occasion of this event. There are really two important things at work here in this situation. One has to do with the laws for purification for Mary after she had brought this child into the world, and the other has to do with the presentation of this first male child to the service of the God of heaven.
On the one hand the Bible says that they came for the purification according to the law. The law required that forty days after a Jewish lady had given birth to a son, she be brought to the temple and that sacrifice be made for her purification and for her reinstitution into the fellowship of worship. It didn't indicate that somehow something sinful had been done. It had to do with the ceremonial laws for cleanness that were a part of the law of Moses. As called for in Lev. 12, the woman would come and there would be a lamb and a bird used for sacrifice. One would be offered for her purification. The other would be offered for her fellowship with the Lord. The law provided that if it were a circumstance where the family was in need, where there were not enough material resources to provide both a lamb and a bird, in that case in the mercy of God two birds could be used. I am told that that would cut the cost to a family into about one-tenth of what it would have been otherwise. It was a way of God saying "I will accept a substitute when your need is greater than your ability." That is what happened in this situation here.
At the same time, they brought the child, if he was the first male child, to be presented to the Lord. The Old Testament story is that when Israel was in slavery in Egypt, that God in delivering them passed over the land and took the first born of all of the families in Egypt. But for the children of Israel who were protected by the blood of the lamb as God passed over, their first born were to be given to him. As the story continues, God decided that instead of taking all of their first born, he would take the tribe of Levi to serve as his priests. And then the first born of all others in the land could be redeemed. A substitute price could be paid. Five shekels could be paid and then that first born could live and could engage in life however they saw fit in the law of God. That is what is happening in this situation here. The one involved a sacrifice that ended in purity. The other involved a redemption that ended in being presented to the Lord.
There are a couple of details here that we want to be sure and reflect on for just a minute. One of them is the care with which the family of Jesus was observing the law of God. It is interesting that five times in Luke 2 the law of the Lord was mentioned. God was using people who were conscientious and concerned about what he wanted in order to bring his son into the world and to present his salvation and to make it available to us all. God still uses people who have consciences that care about what his will is and what his word calls for. He was doing so then, and he does so now.
And it is interesting, in the second place, that both of these things that were being accomplished involved substitutes. I wonder if it wasn't a way of picturing ahead of time for all of us that God was sending his Son to give himself up a ransom for us all. I wonder if it wasn't a way of saying that here is the meaning of the ministry that is about to begin. God is going to allow someone to do something in our place, to do for us what we had not the ability to do. So, here in this situation, as someone put it, they brought the Lord of the temple up to the temple of the Lord. And, as it has been said, the Redeemer was redeemed so that he might serve as God's will for him provided.
That occasion gives us the opportunity here to meet a man who is so impressive - the man Simeon. It is interesting that there are traditions about Simeon's identity. Some have suggested in history that Simeon was the son of the great Rabbi Hillel, and that he was the father of the great teacher, Gamaliel, who taught Saul of Tarsus. It has been suggested that Simeon himself was a great rabbi and that he was president of the Sanhedrin in his day. As far as I know, there is no evidence that proves that. But it just suggest to us that here is a man who has always been regarded as a great man.
In his own time, the Bible says, he was "righteous and devout." That tells you two things about him. In the first place, he is a good man. In relationships with his fellow men, this was a person who treated people right and who met his obligations to his fellow man. He was righteous. On the other hand, he was devout. That is, he was a good-fearing man. The word that is used here suggest that he was someone who was cautious and conscientious in reaching conclusions and coming to his judgments. Luke then has used a man who was known for doing what's right and being trustworthy and who was undoubtedly someone who was conscientious and devout in his obligations to God, and he shows us what this man says from the beginning about Jesus.
In this situation, we are told that Simeon was "waiting for the consolation of Israel." That is another way of saying that he was living "for the hope of Israel." It is not anything different than what is said about Anna a little bit later in this chapter in verse 38, where it says she was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. It is nothing different from what is said about Joseph of Arimathea in Luke 23, verse 51, where it says that he was "waiting for the kingdom." It had to do with the background of the promises of the great prophets. This idea of the consolation or the comfort of Israel was one of the great promises of what the Messiah would make possible for mankind. In Isaiah 40, for example, the prophet began, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended. Her iniquity is pardoned." That comfort was what was going to happen when the Redeemer came. And Simeon, in waiting for the Consolation of Israel, was waiting for pardon. He was waiting for deliverance. He was waiting for God to comfort his people.
And further, we are told here that "the Holy Spirit was upon" Simeon, and that someway it had been revealed to him that he "would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." Notice the contrast between those two things - seeing death and seeing the Lord's Christ. I take it from this passage that Simeon was by now an old man. It doesn't specifically say so, but I think it indicates that he was looking forward to being given the privilege of departing from what, in some ways, were the burdens of this world. He was longing for that because he was looking for the Consolation of Israel and because of what God had promised him already. In the providence of God, now, that man Simeon, that mother and her child and her husband, all come into the temple at the very same time. In the drama of that moment, this Simeon who had been told he would see the Lord's Christ takes that child up in his arms. He sees the fulfillment of his hopes and what he has been waiting for and looking for. He, under the guidance of God, understands who this is and what he will do. And his response is thanksgiving.
That brings us to the third scene in the drama in verses 29-32 - something which is later turned into a song. The blessing of Simeon has been sung many times. The first line of it in Latin "Now dismiss," has been made the title. It focuses on three great thoughts. We will start at the end of the song at verse 32 to show three things that Simeon gave thanks for when he saw Jesus.
The first thing is, according to verse 32, that there would be glory for Israel. To you and I that seems easy to say, and it may not make too much of an impression on us. But if you realize the background of it, it would be so deeply moving to Simeon and all who heard him that day. In the Old Testament in Exodus 40 when the tabernacle had finally been completed according to the pattern that God gave Moses, the Bible says that that cloud of light and the glory of the Lord came and filled that tabernacle, and that Moses nor anyone else could go in it. That cloud, the glory of the Lord, stayed there to show God's presence with his people. If it departed, they departed with it and went wherever God took them. The glory of Israel was what that represented. They had the privilege of being the people of almighty God. He gave them the covenants; he gave them the promises; he gave them the prophets. All those things contributed to their glory. But this passage says from Simeon, "When my eyes saw the salvation of God (when I saw the Lord's Christ), then I saw the light that is for the glory of God's people, Israel."
Secondly, I want you to notice that Simeon saw a light for the nations. Verse 31 and the first part of 32 say that when he saw the Lord's salvation that he had prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Notice how widespread is Simeon's view of the impact of Jesus. The prophets, especially Isaiah - Isaiah 42:6; 49:6 - talked about the one who was coming to be a light to the nations, something to dispel the darkness of ignorance and of superstition and of fear and of evil and of ungodliness. That is going to be wiped out, even among the nations, he says here. There will be a light to shine. Well, that is what Simeon saw in the coming of Jesus. The Lord in his ministry would say, "I am the light of the world," John 8:12. And the idea of the preaching of the gospel would be to hold forth the word of life like a light to everybody around, according to Philippians, chapter 2.
Simeon said, "I saw the glory of Israel. I saw a light for the nations." And third, Simeon said, "I see peace for the individual." Notice. "Now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation." I don't know what kinds of struggles Simeon may have faced during his lifetime. I know there must have been many just by the fact he is now talking about departing in peace. But the idea for someone who has been through a long journey, who has had to hold on to the Consolation of Israel, for him to be able to say "I can now depart in peace because I have seen what the Lord promised me I would see," was a privilege. If you and I could come to the end of our days and say to ourselves, "Now I can depart in peace," it would be a blessing. No wonder Simeon is thanking God for what he saw here in this passage. You and I ought to thank God too for the privilege of seeing his salvation through the Lord Christ.
The song, however, is not where the passage ends. Simeon saw the implications of what he was saying. Simeon saw that the gospel is not just a nice feel-good story, and that in the real laboratory of history, it had some drastic implications, some powerful implications for the world and for all the societies of mankind. Notice verse 34, as Simeon blessed them, he said to Mary his mother, "This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel." What do you think he meant by that? Sometimes it has been taken as if the fall and the rising were talking about the same group of people. And that it means that many would fall in humility and repentance and then that God would raise them up in forgiveness and life. On the other hand, sometimes this falling and rising is taken to refer to two different groups of people. I think this is probably how I would take it. Some would stumble over Jesus and be offended in him. To some people, he would be something that they just could not accept and they would die away from God before they would accept it. To some, he would be someone of such attractive power, such drawing power, that he would lift people up from sin and from degradation and make something out of their lives, something far superior to what might have been otherwise.
Secondly, notice that Simeon understood that Jesus would be for a sign that is opposed, if you notice the end of verse 34. A sign is something which points toward the one who sent it. Jesus would be a sign of the Father and of the Father's will and of the Father's work, but he would be a sign who would be spoken against and opposed. Sometimes it was from religious leaders. Sometimes it was from political leaders. Sometimes it was from people who were suppose to have been his disciples. Gospel story shows one time after another people speaking against Jesus.
Third, Simeon said to Mary, "A sword will pierce through your own soul, also." The word he uses for sword here is the same word in the Greek Old Testament that is used of the "sword of Goliath," a great, broad sword. You remember Mary standing there a ways off from the cross, hearing Jesus say out of the seven recorded statements that we have from the cross, "Woman, behold your son." And then to John, as if entrusting her to his care, "Son, behold your mother." The idea being, look what Mary must have endured as the ministry of Jesus came to an end and its fulfillment.
And then Simeon said, "So that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Jesus is the great revealer of men and women. He shows who we really, truly are by how we feel about him and how we respond to what he has done for us. Just as wax may be revealed to be wax by heat while clay may be revealed to be clay by heat - one softens and the other hardens - there is something about the identity of Jesus and something about his person and something about the news of what he has done for us in dying and being raised up again that reveals the difference between the heart of the lover of God and the heart of the one who would live for self.
That is what Simeon is saying in this great passage. His statements were amended by an older woman named Anna. Really all we know about the early childhood of Jesus is this episode here and then something that happened when he was twelve. Aren't you grateful for Simeon? A man who was looking for the Consolation of Israel and who recognized it when he saw it and who thanked God for it.
If you and I had the ability to recognize what was before us in the gospel, how would we respond to it? Maybe there is someone here this very day who longs for the peace that came into Simeon's life when he saw the Lord's Christ, - someone who would be willing and ready today to confess their faith in Jesus and to be baptized into him for the forgiveness of sins. Maybe there is someone here and that peace is just missing and you would like to have the prayers of your brothers and sisters in Christ or maybe you are here and you are following Jesus and just need to be encouraged by knowing for sure that you have placed your faith in the right place. If that is you, I hope you will take that encouragement today. If we can help you in some way, won't you come while we stand and sing together?