Text: Luke 2:25-35
When Jesus Christ laid down his life on the cross of Calvary, it was an act not only of supreme love, but also of deepest humility. The Son of God lowered himself to become a human being, and then descended still further to submit to death, even the brutal, shameful, accursed death of crucifixion.
Yet even while Jesus was being executed, his Father sent visible demonstrations of the fact that here was no ordinary man, and his was no ordinary death. For God sent a supernatural darkness over all the land; he caused the curtain of the temple to be torn in two from top to bottom, and, strangest of all, ‘the earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.’ Thus did the Father witness to the divinity of his Son in his most humble and human moment.
As it was at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, so it had been at the beginning. Jesus, as the Christmas story reminds us, was born in great humility. Yet his heavenly Father did not leave himself without a witness to the fact that the child in the manger was God in the flesh. Angels heralded his birth. Shepherds came and worshiped him. Wise Men brought him precious gifts. And, in this passage, we learn of two more testimonies to the fact that Mary’s sin was none other that long-expected Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
The place is the temple in Jerusalem. The time is forty days after Jesus’ birth. The occasion is the consecration of Jesus, and the offering of a sacrifice in accordance with the ancient laws of Israel.
And for a few brief moments the spotlight falls on two people: an elderly man, named Simeon, and an elderly woman, named Anna. Anna is a wonderful example of joyfulness and hopefulness in old age. But I would like you particularly to meet Simeon, and to learn about his witness to the infant Saviour.
1. The person he was, v25.
Not a priest, nor a Pharisee, nor a teacher of the law. He was, to all appearances, an ordinary, elderly man. There was nothing to make him stand out in a crowd. But there was this about him: he was righteous and devout. Folks, if you and I cannot excell in anything else, let us strive to excell in righteousness and devoutness. Such qualities may be cheap in the eyes of the world, but they are precious in God’s sight. And there was something else about Simeon: he had been waiting patiently for ‘the consolation of Israel’ – for Christ’s coming. And we are in a similar situation: we are waiting for Christ’s return. Those who joyfully look for our Lord’s second coming in glory have often been sneered at as being ‘too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good’. But the truth is far otherwise, for in every age it has been precisely those who had the next world most clearly in view who have been of most use in this world. So it is no surprise to find that it is written that we should ‘live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.’
2. The promise he had been given, V26.
It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. How had this promise been given? We don’t know. Perhaps Gabriel had payed Simeon a visit too. When had that promise been given? We cannot tell. Maybe it had been a long time ago. In which case Simeon’s faith must have been sorely tested as he grew older and frailer and still he had not seen the promise fulfilled. Do you ever feel that God has kept you waiting a long time, and your faith has been sorely tested? Remember Simeon. Be assured that all God has never broken a single promise, even though he works to his own time-scale, and not our own. To those who feel desolate, God promises, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’. To those who have been hurt by the evil and injustice of this present world, the Scripture says, ‘according to his promise we wait for new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.’ For those who sometimes find it hard to believe that God is good, it is written, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?’ Even in the long dark days of waiting, we can, like Simeon, put our trust in the God whose promises are secure, whose word is for ever fixed in heaven.
3. The praise he offered, V28.
There in the temple, among the thronging crowd, the Holy Spirit whispers in Simeon’s ear: ‘Here is the promised one; this is what you have been longing for.’ And as the old man cradles Jesus in his arms, he looks down, and sees, not just a tiny, helpless baby, but the Lord’s Messiah, the Saviour of the world, the one who will bring light to the nations, and glory to Israel.
Let us take this to heart, if we are ever tempted to doubt in whom we have believed. Christian, Jesus is not just a pale Galilean, not some shadowy figure from the past, nor even a fine example of self-giving love. You hold in your heart what Simeon once held in his arms: Christ the Saviour. And as Simeon rejoiced, so can you. 1 Pet 1:8, ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.’
4. The peace he experienced, v29.
The picture here is that of a watchman who has been keeping vigil through the long, dark night. But now the day has dawned, the shadows flee, and golden sunlight bathes the hills and floods the valleys, and the master dismisses the watchman from his duty. His waiting is ended; his work is done; he can rest in peace. Once again, we can apply this to ourselves. The prospect of death holds many terrors for the ungodly, for deep down they know they must meet their Maker, and they know that they are unprepared. But those who, like Simeon, have met Christ, are ready to meet death. A godly person has peace with God, and is therefore prepared for the life to come. The apostle Paul was content to serve God in this life for as long as he was needed, but he added, ‘
I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.’
5. The prediction he uttered, v34f.
First, this baby will be a stone: the proud will trip and fall over this stone, but the humble will climb on it and be lifted up. Jesus will be both a stumbling-block to some, but a stairway to others. Wherever Jesus goes, he causes a reaction. There is no neutrality; we are all judged, in the end, on our reaction to, and our relationship with, Jesus. But such is God’s grace, that some who fell, later rose. Think of Saul, who hated Christ and persecuted his followers, who later became Paul, the great apostle. Think of James, one of the Lord’s brothers who did not believe in him during his earthly life, but who later became a pillar of the Christian church and, possibly one of its first marytrs. So there is hope for all.
The second part of Simeon’s prediction is that this baby will be a sign that will be spoken against. He will point the way to God, yet he will be hated for it. He will be the light of the world, yet the world will receive him not. He will be despised and rejected by men.
This reminds us that the gospel will always attract opposition in some quarters. We sometimes imagine that if only we can make our evangelism more user-friendly, our outreach more seeker-sensitive; if only we can lower the cringe-factor and raise the entertainment-value, then people will find the Christian faith more attractive. But we are not able, by our own efforts, to remove people’s opposition to the gospel, and we have no right to make the Christian message less offensive to the natural man than it actually is. When we have done everything that it is proper to do to make our witness lively and interesting and relevant, we should remember that it is our job to present the gospel as it really is, not as people would like it to be. You will recall that Peter was told by Jesus to ‘feed my sheep’; not to ‘entertain the goats’.
The third part of Simeon’s prediction is that this baby will bring a sword; a sword which will pierce Mary’s heart. She will be touched by his suffering, and will bear something of his reproach. What a prospect for a new mother to ponder! Let us remember that the Christian life is not a bed of roses; that there is a cross to be endured as well as a crown to be worn. But let us remember too that there is ample compensation for the severest of trials. ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’
And then, with a brief reference to the joyful witness of Anna, the scene fades. Before long, no doubt, Simeon and Anna went the way of all flesh, and were laid to rest, the one as full of joy as the other was of peace. As for the baby they had spoken of so movingly, he became a child, and the child became a man. He became a preacher and a teacher, a healer of the sick and the bringer of the kingdom of God. He fulfilled all the expectations of those two aged saints of God. He brought consolation to Israel and redemption to Jerusalem, but he also became a sign that was spoken against, because men loved the darkness more than the light.
And when they had nailed him to the cross of Calvary, there was a supernatural darkness over all the land, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and ‘the earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.’ And I just wonder – could it be? – that Simeon and Anna may have been those who were temporarily brought back to life, witnessing to our Lord’s triumph over death just as they had witnessed to his incarnation? I don’t know.
But I do know this: that Simeon and Anna will rise, along with all God’s people, on that resurrection morning when our Lord returns. Perhaps we shall even have the opportunity to meet them, and to say thankyou: thankyou for encouraging us to believe that we have a work to do for God however young or old we may be; thankyou for for showing us how to be hopeful in a world which sees little reason for hope; thankyou for reminding us that the child in the manger is divine; that the man Christ Jesus is God in human form, that he is the hope of Israel, and the Saviour of the world. May God help us to put our trust in him, to love and serve him, and to witness to him, just as Simeon and Anna did all those years ago.