Episode 24 - Simeon (part 1) - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 23 we left off with Mary and Joseph in the Temple in Jerusalem for Jesus’ presentation and for the sacrifice for their purification. Jesus is somewhere around 40 days old at this point. Let this sink in for a second. Picture a real infant at 40 days old. He’s not a toddler yet, he still can’t even say a word – all he does is cry. He still doesn’t even have the strength to hold up his own head. It’s been over a month now since the shepherds saw the heavenly armies in the fields outside of Bethlehem and visited Mary and Joseph that night. And things may have settled down a bit in Bethlehem. The census was probably over and the family was probably settling in a little bit, grateful for a fresh start in life away from the scandal in Nazareth. And this is Yahweh in the flesh that we’re looking at, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same one who created all things. And He is the promised king of Israel, the Christ, the Messiah. And He’s that descendant from Abraham that will “bless” all the nations of the earth. Today we find Him in the temple in Jerusalem – the center of the religious life of Israel. Let’s read today in Luke 2: “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.” (Luke 2:25–26 ESV) Here we find out about a man named Simeon, depicted as a faithful and pious Jew. Unlike the religious leaders and Roman authorities steeped in corruption and wickedness, Simeon is given to us by Luke as a picture of the faithful remnant in Israel who was longing for their promised King and longing for the fulfillment of all of the promises God had made to them since their father Abraham. We’ve already seen back in Episode 11 how Luke has presented Zechariah and Elizabeth as “righteous”, and here we see Simeon described in the same way. Luke said he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”. This idea of comfort or consolation is from many passages in Isaiah all in context referring to the hope of deliverance for the nation. You can see those passages in Isaiah 40, 49, 51, 57, and 61. (Isa. 40:1; 49:13; 51:3; 57:18; 61:2). There was no hope that burned brighter in Simeon’s heart than that of the Mashiyach, the Christ, delivering Israel from her enemies and ushering in Israel’s long promised age of peace and light. Luke also says that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon. If you remember back in Episode 14, we saw that the Holy Spirit had come upon Zechariah at his son John’s birth. That’s when Zechariah prophesied. That same Spirit was upon Simeon here, and I think the point here is to establish his prophetic credibility. We’ll see more of this in a second. What is different from Zechariah, though, is that Luke tells us that it had been revealed to Simeon that he wouldn’t die before he had seen that seed, that descendant, that Messiah, that he was long-expecting. Notice the word used here – it’s the word “Christ”. This isn’t just a synonym for Jesus, nor does it mean that Simeon would have understood that his sins were going to be forgiven. The word “Christ” or “Anointed” is just the throne name of the kings of Israel. I take an extended episode called “Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ” to explain this in a lot of detail, so if this is a new idea to you, go check out that video on my website. You’ll find a link in the description below. Let’s keep reading in Luke 2: “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 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.” (Luke 2:27-32 ESV) So here we have two stories converging in the midst of the temple. The timing was absolutely perfect. Just as Mary and Joseph were in the temple, the Spirit leads Simeon there to find them. Now let’s bring this down to a real level for a second here, because I know the easy thing to do is just gloss over this in familiarity like it’s just a little more than a fairy tale. Imagine you’re Simeon, just put yourself in his shoes. You’ve been faithful to God your whole life, reading the Scriptures and longing with expectant faith for God to fulfill all of His promises, even in the face of Rome oppressing the nation, no Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem, and no glory of God in the temple, no large family as was promised to Abraham. But, you choose to trust God that He will actually bring what He promised to pass in the way that He promised it. And in the midst of your life the Holy Spirit speaks to you again and again and again in an undeniable way… “Simeon, before you die, you’re going to see that King you’ve been looking for – one who will deliver your people and bring to pass everything I’ve promised. You’ll see Him with your own eyes.” This really happened in the midst of real life with a real person in history. This isn’t just a story. What was it like that morning for Simeon when he woke up? Was it just another normal day? What was stirring in him as he was led into the Temple? What did he do when he saw, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus from a distance? Did he run to them? Did his heart begin to pound with joy and was he flooded with emotions? As he came to Mary and Joseph, he took up Jesus in his arms and he began to bless God and prophesy. Before I talk about what he said, remember who it is Simeon is actually cradling in his arms. This is the same person who’s going to come with power and fire and glory and with a whole bunch of angels. It’s the same person that even right now is in the heavenly temple being worshipped and adored. It’s the same person that made everything and is giving life and breath to you and me and every creature right now. That one. That Jesus. And Simeon held him! One of my friends likes to talk about the “I held Jesus in my arms club”. He jokes about a small, special club of people who will look at Him in glory in the age to come and say “I held Him.” Think about that. We’re really going to stand face to face with that Man one day. But there were real people just like us in history who actually held Him and looked at His little baby face. Oh, this is so precious! Spend some time meditating on this moment. Simeon says that what he had been promised by the Spirit had actually come true – that his eyes had beheld the true consolation of Israel and because of that, he could now die in peace and in hope. But even beyond Israel, Simeon prophesies that the baby he was holding would also be a light to the Gentiles. The heathen nations, not just Israel, would be blessed through this baby. And, what else is new, Simeon is actually quoting from Isaiah, keeping along the theme of God being faithful to His promises to Israel. The passage is Isaiah 49 verse 6: “he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV) Now remember in Episode 23, we talked about the promises made to Abraham all the way back in Genesis, and how circumcision was the sign to show who would actually inherit those promises because they were part of Abraham’s family. We have to keep those promises in mind here, because that hope is also what Simeon was so deeply rooted in, because Simeon, like all his fellow Israelites, was one of Abraham’s children. Do you remember how in the promise God made to Abraham He said that through one of Abraham’s descendants, all of the nations of the earth would be “blessed”? Well in Abraham’s context, “blessing” is a word with deep deep significance. When you see it in context to his ancestor Adam and the “curse” God had placed on humanity because of Adam’s sin, the idea of “blessing” becomes so much more clear. Though there’s a lot more detail that could be added to this, the “blessing” Abraham understood was the original “blessedness” of Adam. This is more than just being free from sin, but having a body that never dies, having Garden of Eden conditions restored on the earth, and God dwelling among men again. All of these promises were developed even more throughout Israel’s history, but it all began with Abraham. This understanding is so important for why Simeon said he could now “depart in peace” because He had seen the Lord’s Christ. If resurrection wasn’t part of his hope and it really was just about the crushing of Rome, why would Simeon seemingly be fine about dying and not getting to actually see the restoration of Israel and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises? It seems to me we gloss over that point way too quickly. For Simeon to be waiting for the “consolation of Israel” also meant he was waiting for the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled, which included “blessing”, which in Abraham’s context as I’ve already said is clearly the “blessing” of eternal life, as opposed to the “curse” of death which began with Adam. Don’t make “blessing” just be an ethereal or spiritual idea. It means Simeon saw the descendant that had been promised to Abraham and his hopes of resurrection were sure because of that descendant. Oh, this is just so awesome, because it even has to do with us Gentiles. According to Isaiah 49, which we just read, this “salvation” would reach the ends of the earth. And so here we are, two thousand years later, with the same Holy Spirit and the same hope as Simeon, yet as Peter would later say in 2 Peter 1, a hope that has been “made more certain” – that the light or the revelation of God, who He is, what He’s like, how He feels, what He expects of humanity, why He created us, that all of that would be made clear to all the nations through the glory of His people Israel, just as all of the prophets had prophesied. This is why passages like Romans 9 through 11 are so significant, and here we see just a small portion of what Paul develops there. And the one who would bring all of this to pass is the baby cradled in Simeon’s arms, the 40-day old boy named Jesus. We’re out of time but in the next episode, we’ll look at what else Simeon says here in the Temple. He’s really setting the stage to give us an idea of one of Jesus’ main purposes in His first coming. He begins to introduce the idea of division. This point is almost always missed, but it’s so significant, so we’ll look at that next time.