by John MacArthur
Scripture: Luke 2:25-30
Again, this morning, in our time to look at the Word of God, we turn to Luke chapter 2. Luke is giving us firsthand eyewitness testimony to the identification of the child who has been born in Bethlehem, none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. And we're looking at verses 21 to 39, righteous testimony to the Savior. This is the second message in that section.
As you know, if you know the gospel of Luke, or if you've been with us, the writer, Luke, has recorded his divinely inspired account of the birth of the Savior, the Son of the Most High God, the Lord Christ. And with that birth, redemptive action, redemptive purpose, redemptive accomplishment is initiated because the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Lord, the King has arrived.
Luke's account is impeccable historically, carefully thought out, as we have already noted many times, fastidiously detailed. There's no reason at all to question his record, especially when you realize that his record is corroborated by two other writers, namely Matthew and John. Matthew and John both record the birth of Jesus Christ...Matthew from the historical side and John from the divine side. And those accounts perfectly agree with Luke's account.
But Luke was a very consistent, very faithful writer. He was consistent historically, he was consistent as well with what was expected by his readers and he knew that Jewish readers had been basically used to testimony being affirmed as the Old Testament required it by two or three witnesses. And so Luke, having given his impeccable account nonetheless, once he has pleaded the account of the birth of Jesus Christ, from verse 21 down to verse 39, brings in to his account the testimony of three witnesses...the parents of Jesus, an old man named Simeon and an old woman named Anna. It isn't whimsical, it's very critical. No one could ever say that there was no corroboration as to the identity of this child and had someone read only the gospel of Luke and had not Matthew, as would be true in many cases early on, had not the gospel of John and perhaps were questioning the validity of what Luke wrote, the testimonies of the parents of Jesus and of Simeon and of Anna would bear great weight on the credibility of Luke's gospel.
As I noted last week, Luke passed over some very familiar elements of the Christmas story. He tells us nothing about the wise men. He tells us nothing about Herod and the slaughter of the innocence. He tells us nothing about the little family escaping into Egypt. Instead of all of that information, which, of course, is left to Matthew to tell, Luke looks at eyewitnesses, corroborating the identity of the child through faithful testimony.
And as I noted for you last time, if you're going to have a witness who is to be believed, then you must establish their credibility. And Luke does precisely that. It is critical that we understand the credibility of Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna, and they are by all tests as righteous as anyone could be living in the land of Israel at that time, if not more righteous than most and maybe as righteous as any. The godly virtue of these witnesses is established and is critical so that their testimony cannot be impeached in any way by anything in their lives. And so here comes confirming testimony to the fact that indeed the virgin Mary brought a child into the world who is the Messiah, the anointed Christ, the Lord, the Son of the Most High God Himself.
And, first of all, last week we looked at the testimony of Joseph and Mary, the parents. And, of course, it's a fair question...did His parents believe in Him? Well we know His brothers and sisters did not. It tells us they didn't believe in Him until after His resurrection. Did His parents believe in Him? Did they believe that the child that they held in their arms was the Son of the Most High God, God in human flesh? Did they believe that He was the Messiah, the anointed one, the Savior of the world? And the answer is absolutely they believed that and Luke wants to give their firsthand and personal testimony.
First of all, it's important to establish that Joseph and Mary were righteous. It is said literally by the text of Scripture, by God the Holy Spirit Himself in Matthew 1:19 that Joseph was a righteous man, even though he was just a teen-ager, just maybe 14 years old or so. He was a righteous man. He would be considered a man after having become 13 years of age he would have entered upon his manhood, he was designated a righteous man. No one would ever question whether or not Mary was righteous. Mary was righteous and Mary's righteousness is clear in the indication that the Spirit of God selected her out of all the possible young girls to be the mother of the Messiah. She is righteous as indicated by the wonderful Magnificat in chapter 1 verse 46 and following where she says, "My soul exalts the Lord," and that was the character of her life. She was one who exalted the Lord.
So Joseph was righteous and Mary was righteous and five times in this passage, verse 22, 23, 24, 27 and 39 it tells us how they were committed to fulfilling the Law of the Lord, the Law of Moses, the Old Testament Scripture. They were obedient. They honored God. They were fastidious as much as possible in obeying what they knew was the will of God as expressed in the Scripture. So you have righteous and obedient people who are really God's people, they are true believers. Whenever the Bible says someone is righteous, it isn't saying that they gained some personal level of righteousness on their own. Whenever the Bible says someone is righteous, it means that God has declared them righteous not by virtue of anything they have done because it tells us in Romans, "By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be made righteous, or justified," same word. You can't get righteous on your own, it is a gift of God to those who come in penitent faith and acknowledge their sinfulness in their need of grace. And so it was that Joseph and Mary belonged to God, they were a part of the believing remnant in Israel. They were true believers. They were God's own. They were declared righteous by faith, not by works, no one can by works. They belonged to God. They were a part of that true remnant in Israel.
Now their testimony, having established their righteousness, their testimony is given in two scenes that take place. One in verse 21 takes place eight days after the child was born and that is the scene of circumcision. The second is in verses 22 to 24 which takes place 40 days after His birth when He's a month and ten days old and that takes place at the purification.
The first circumcision ceremony obviously occurred when the child was circumcised. The second purification ceremony occurred after 40 days and that's when the mother having been ceremonial unclean for 40 days, according to the Old Testament law, is then brought to the temple and at the temple she offers a sacrifice for her purification. And then and only then can she enter in to the temple and the worship of God. Both of those are symbols, ceremonies given in the Old Testament, to point up the sin of man. Circumcision, obviously, as we have said was an indication on the outside of how desperately a man and a woman needed to be cleansed on the inside. And purification was the same thing. When a woman had a baby, a male child, for 40 days she was ceremonially unclean, couldn't go to the temple. And that illustrated the fact that people were sinful and separated from God until a sacrifice was given and then they could have access to God and that, of course, pictured the Messiah. All people are separated from God without the sacrifice of Christ, and we went into that detail last time. If you want the full message, it's available for you, of course, on tape.
But they went to those two very traditional ceremonies...the circumcision which would occur in some environment in the very place they were staying in Bethlehem area, and then there would be this purification which took place at the temple where a sacrifice would be offered. Now at the circumcision, I pointed out to last time, they give testimony to their knowledge of the child because in verse 21 it says, "They called Him Jesus just exactly as the angel had told them before the conception." You remember the angel had come to Mary and told her she would conceive and she would have a child and His name was to be Jesus which means "God saves," or "Jehovah saves." You remember that the same thing happened to Joseph. The angel came to him and said you're going to have this Son and His name will be Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. He will be, they knew, the Messiah, the Son of the Most High God, God in human flesh, virgin-conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary without a man and this child would be called Jesus saves because He would save His people from their sins. They knew all that. Did they believe it? Yes, it is confirmed because they named Him Jesus, indicating their confident faith in the words of Gabriel, the angel, to them.
And then in verses 22 to 24 when they came to the temple, they came to do two things, really. They came for purification and they came to pay a five shekel...five shekels of silver ransom price. Every firstborn male had to be given to the Lord. You just sort of offered him to the Lord for the Lord's service. You didn't have to go to the temple to do that, but while they were there they went beyond that, as we saw last week...and I'll tell you what I mean by that.
But they went to the temple and they went to do the purification ceremony and, no doubt, while they were there they paid the five shekels silver ransom price that was levied against all the firstborn of every tribe but Levi. All the Levite firstborn sons were priests and because the rest of the firstborns were excused from the priesthood, instead of becoming priests they paid five shekel silver ransom price, sort of ransoming them from priestly service, providing funding for the priests so they could function. They made a contribution that way to the priesthood without necessarily having to be priests.
So they went through the circumcision ceremony and the combination of purification and paying that ransom price at the temple, both of those. They gave testimony to the identity of the child at circumcision by His name. They gave testimony to His identity at the purification ceremony, at the end of verse 22, because it says they presented him to the Lord.
It was not required that you would take your child to the temple and present him to the Lord. He was the firstborn and He was offered to the Lord in a special way to serve the Lord, but that wasn't done at the temple. That was a very unusual thing to do, indicating that they went above and beyond because they understood who this child was. In a very real sense they're saying...this isn't even our child, we have to come and give Him to You. They must have felt certainly at least like Hannah did back in 1 Samuel 1 and 2 when given the child Samuel she realized the Lord had caused a miracle to happen so that she could conceive and have a child. She knew the child belonged to the Lord in a special way, took the child, literally left him at the temple giving him to Eli the high priest, Samuel became both priest and prophet in time. Very much like Hannah, Joseph and Mary realized this child isn't theirs and they go to give the child to God in a very special act, realizing this child of all children ever born is uniquely God's virgin-born, the Son of the Most High God.
So it is clear to us that Joseph and Mary by what they did indicate their affirmation of the identity of the child. Nothing in the circumcision indicates this is the Messiah, every Jewish boy had that. Nothing in the purification indicates that this is the Messiah, all the Jewish who had a boy would do that. Nothing in the presentation of the five shekel ransom price would indicate this is the Messiah. But taking Him to the temple, naming Him Jesus, presenting Him to the Lord were their clear testimonies as to the identity of this child.
So they were righteous young people who did know the identity of their child, were devoted to God, obedient to His law and going beyond that gave the child back to God. Later on they weren't too surprised to find Him in the temple. They had headed home to Nazareth, He was still back at Jerusalem in the temple. When they asked Him why, He said, "I must be about My Father's business." And there was an increasing dawning or realization of what it meant that this child belonged to God, as we shall see as the story unfolds.
Now the next witness that is called to, as it were, into court to give testimony to the validity of the claim to messiahship, to give testimony to this child, is a man named Simeon and that starts in verse 25. Let's meet him.
"Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon and this man was righteous and devout, looking 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 to...in the Spirit into the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to carry out for Him the custom of the law, then he took Him in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Now, Lord, Thou hast let Thy bondservant depart in peace according to Thy word for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.'" You can stop at that point.
I find Simeon a fascinating character. Very little is known about Simeon because there's nothing more than what we have here. But very little attention, it seems to me, is even given to what we have here and it fascinates me.
Notice very carefully the scenario that surrounds this scene. It can be sort of identified in a couple of terms. The nation Israel was apostate and hypocritical. That sort of sums it up. For the most part, the whole nation of Israel was largely in a condition of being unsaved. They...they talked about God on the outside, they had a certain zeal for the legalistic approach to things, they had traditions that they were committed to, but their heart was far from God. They were basically apostate and legalistic. They were hypocritical.
There were only a few righteous. In fact, when the church is established on the day of Pentecost, at the close of the full ministry of Jesus after His death and after His resurrection and the three years of ministry, only 120 believers are gathered in the upper room in the city of Jerusalem. It was always a very small group really looking for the Messiah, just a very small group.
Well, here's one of them. Of the situation in Jerusalem and in Israel at the time, William Hendrickson writes, "To be sure, conditions were bad, very bad, in Israel at the time of Israel's birth in Bethlehem. Think of loss of political independence, cruel King Herod, externalization of religion, legalistic scribes and Pharisees and their many followers, worldly-minded Sadducees, the silence of the voice of the prophets. And in the midst of all this darkness, degradation and despair there were men who were hopefully looking forward to and earnestly expecting the consolation of Israel. There were such men and women too, already mentioned were Mary and Elizabeth and in a moment Luke is going to add Anna to the list," end quote. And is a short list, a very short list. Most of the population of the nation Israel rejected Jesus Christ, as we know from the story that unfolds. There was just a very small remnant of true believers in the land at the time the Messiah arrived and here is a man who is one of them.
Verse 25 says, "Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon." Four hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Malachi, whose prophecy ends our Old Testament, said that the Sun of righteousness would rise with healing in His wings. And the Old Testament then closes with a prophecy of the coming of Messiah which occurred 400 years later. Many of the people in Israel paid very little attention to that promise, but there was a remnant of people in the nation that looked to the fulfillment of Malachi's promise and they were anxiously waiting for the arrival of the Sun of righteousness, this man was one of that small group.
His name is a common name and we know nothing about him except what is written right here. He just walks in to the scene and walks out. We know nothing before really, and nothing after about him at all. And the name, as I say, is common. In fact, Simeon was the name of one of Jacob's sons and so there was a tribe of Simeon, a very, very common name, as indicated in Genesis 29:33.
Now, Simeon has a wonderful meaning. The word "Simeon" means "God has heard." When Simeon was born, he's probably an old man when we meet him here, when he was born many years before this and his mother and father were trying to come up with a name for their little baby boy and it was probably the eighth day and it was time for his circumcision and naming, they chose by the providences of God, and the working of God, no doubt, moving them the name "God has heard." And, of course, that was a wonderful, wonderful hope in the hearts of Israel that God would hear their cry, particularly their cry for a comforter, for a Messiah, for a deliverer, for a King, for a Savior, and that was certainly the cry of Simeon's heart. So all his life he cried to God and in the later years of his life he was crying out to God to bring the Messiah. Wonderfully in the end, God heard, the Messiah came. Simeon means "God has heard."
Most likely he was an old man and most likely he was near to death because, as you noted when I read the passage, he told the Lord that he was ready to die. He was ready to go because he had seen the Messiah and the Lord could let His servant depart in peace, in verse 29. So it must have been that he was long in years and he lived most of his life and the only thing left to wait for was the Messiah. And when the Messiah was there, he was ready to leave and go to heaven.
Simeon really is a representative, sort of personifies expectant Jews. He personifies the true, believing, saved remnant in Israel who believed in God for their salvation, trusted in salvation by grace through faith and not by works. Even though they didn't know of Christ because the Messiah hadn't come, they knew God could only save them by grace and faith because they couldn't keep His Law and they couldn't earn salvation. They were penitent and they were believing and trusting. And they believed the Old Testament scriptures. They believed the prophets who said the Messiah would come and deliver them from their enemies and their oppressors and their sins. And they lived expectantly waiting for the Messiah, living godly lives.
Now Simeon is described in several categories. First, as to his spiritual character verse 25 says, "This man was righteous and devout." Now that seems like a very simple statement. I'm telling you, folks, it's loaded with meaning. He was righteous and devout. Whenever the Bible says somebody is righteous, it means they are justified before God. It doesn't mean they earned their righteousness, that's impossible. When the Bible says somebody is righteous, it means that God has declared them righteous and God only declares sinners righteous when they trust in God for their forgiveness, not in their own works. And God applied the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which hadn't even happened to Simeon because Simeon knew his sinfulness and he knew he couldn't earn his salvation. He cast himself on the mercy of God. God declared him righteous on the basis of what Christ would do in bearing his sins in the future. He was a righteous man. Whenever the Bible says a man is righteous, or a woman is righteous, it means before God they are considered just because their sins have been paid for and they have been forgiven.
He was a true believer and right with God. So he had been justified. And then it says about him he was devout. Now what do we mean by that? Well, the first word "righteous" means he was justified, and this word means he was sanctified. If you were justified in the Old Testament, you were sanctified too. Justification, the work of God to declare you just, also carried, I believe, a changing component. I believe something happened even in an Old Testament person's life that changed the inside and they began to become a lover of God's Law. Witness Psalm 119 and that's a heart of a just man, a man made just before God and a man being sanctified by God.
The word "devout" simply talks about the fact that this is a man who was concerned for the things of God. In fact, the classic translation of this, very often this word "devout" is, and mark this, "cautious." That's a great word. He had been justified by God through his faith and he was cautious, which is to say he was careful as to how he treated God and responded to God's Word. He didn't live an irresponsible life. He lived a very careful, cautious life...careful to obey God, careful to honor God, so as to bring glory to God and to be an example to others. This...this defines his character. He was a man who was justified, he was a man who was sanctified. This is a true remnant man. This is a true Jew. Not all Israel is Israel, not every Jew is a true Jew, Paul said. And he was right, here's a true one, here's one who truly knew God. Here is a one who has been declared righteous by God and who lives a life that is cautious and careful, careful to honor God, careful to obey God. That's his character.
Let's look at his theology. His theology is indicated also here. It tells us in verse 25 he was looking for the consolation of Israel. He was looking for the consolation of Israel. He was a futuristic pre-millennialist. He was not an amillennialist, he was a pre-millennialist. He was looking for the consolation of Israel, the paraklesis, the help of Israel, the comfort of Israel.
In other words, he had a hope for the coming of Messiah. He had a hope for the coming of the King who would bring the promised Kingdom, the Kingdom that had been promised to David in the Davidic Covenant, the blessings the flourishing that would come when the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant took place. Everything promised to Abraham he thought would actually happen, everything promised to David he believed would actually happen. And all of that that was promised to Abraham, promised to David was reiterated repeatedly through the prophets, most particularly Isaiah and he believed the Old Testament and he interpreted it literally and he took it at face value and he was looking for the consolation of Israel. He was looking for a hope. It wasn't just personal. He wasn't just looking for personal salvation, he was looking for the national deliverance, he was looking for the promised Kingdom when the nation would be delivered from oppressors and enemies and most particularly delivered from sin and iniquity.
What do you mean by that? I mean this is a man who cared about his people. You remember the Apostle Paul was so passionate about the salvation of Israel that he said in Romans he could almost wish himself accursed for the sake of his brethren and almost...almost passionate for Israel's salvation to the point where he could say, "If I have to go to hell in exchange for them going to heaven, I'm almost at that point." That's pretty great passion.
Simeon was one of those kinds of men. He was...he was a true believer. In fact, he was better than Paul. Before Paul was converted he didn't have that passion. Before Paul was converted he was a lost, legalistic, unconverted Jew. Not like Simeon. Paul wasn't a part of the true remnant. Simeon was. He was looking for the Messiah, not just for him but for the nation. He cared about his people. He cared that they were in sin. He knew that legalism didn't save. He knew the Pharisees were leading the population into legalism and the Sadducees were leading the population into liberalism, denying the resurrection, denying the supernatural, denying angels. And he knew that the Zealots were leading the people into politicism where all they wanted to do was start an insurrection and a rebellion and a war against Rome. And he knew that the Essenes were leading people into monasticism where somehow they go out in the desert and in some kind of acts of self-denial bring upon themselves the salvation of God. He knew all that was wrong, he knew what the truth was. He was a just and a righteous man, a man cautious and careful about the law of God and a man who took the Old Testament at face value, believed the actual consolation of the nation Israel would come. And by consolation he means the comfort of Israel, the help of Israel, deliverance from enemies and pressures...oppressors, and most of all deliverance of sin.
And by the way, in especially distressing times, such as the Roman occupation or the onslaught of the Greek Empire under Antiochus Epiphanes, those kinds of times intensified and heightened the hope of the Jewish remnant. Things were so bad they long all the more, not to be just delivered from Rome, that was part of it because the Abrahamic Covenant promised them blessing and the whole land which was now not theirs, and the Davidic Covenant promised them sovereignty and the King and rule over the world and that wasn't theirs. But most of all, the New Covenant which also had been promised by God promised them forgiveness and cleansing and a new heart and an implanting of the Holy Spirit.
I think all of that was in the hope of Simeon. He wanted it all to come for the people Israel. He wanted to see the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, Davidic Covenant, New Covenant, all of it come to fullness and the worse the times were the more they longed for it. The worse his nation got the more his heart ached about it. When would it come?
Interesting little note here. You see the word "consolation," that really refers to Messiah. The only one who could bring the consolation is the consoler. The only one who could bring the paraklesis to help or the comfort, is the comforter and the helper. And it is Messiah. In fact, the rabbis called Messiah Manacham. Some of you heard the name Manacham Baken(??), Manacham is the name of Messiah, it's the word for comforter. They were looking for the manacham and that was born in the text of Isaiah because Isaiah had said that the Messiah would be a comforter. In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, this is such rich truth here, Isaiah 40 verse 1, listen to what Isaiah says, and this is promise from God to His afflicted nation, "Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God." Wow, God is planning to bring comfort, same idea as consolation. "Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God, speak kindly to Jerusalem, there's coming a helper, a comforter, consoler." There's coming a time when Israel's warfare will end, her iniquity will be removed. That's what they were looking for, the comforter, the consoler who would bring the comfort and bring the consolation.
Down in verse 10, Isaiah 40, "Behold, the Lord God will come." Who is the comforter? None other than the Lord God Himself. "He'll come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, His recompense before Him." I love this, verse 11, "Like a shepherd, He will tend His flock, in His arms He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom. He will gently lead the nursing ewes." That's comfort...tender scenes like a shepherd, picking up the little lambs and carrying them and gently feeding them. The comforter will come.
Then in chapter 49 of Isaiah, we are reminded of verse 8 and following. "Thus says the Lord, In a favorable time I have answered you. In a day of salvation I have helped you. I will keep you, give you a covenant of the people to restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages." In other words, I'm going to give you back your land. This reiterates Abrahamic Covenant promises. And I'm going to do all kinds of wonderful promises. Verse 10, "You're going to stop hungering, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The sun is not going to strike you down for He who has compassion on them will lead them." God's going to show compassion, "Guide them to springs of water. Make all of My mountains erode." And I'm telling you, there are some mountain roads in Israel today that are frightening. He's going to flatten them all out. Highways are going to be raised up so that they'll be made equal.
Down in verse 13, "Shout for joy, O heavens. Rejoice, O earth. Break forth into joyous shouting, O mountains. For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted." Chapter 51 of Isaiah, verse 3, "Indeed the Lord will comfort Zion. He will comfort all her waste places. Joy and gladness will be found in her." She's going to be made like the Garden of Eden. The desert is going to be like the garden of the Lord. Chapter 57, again the prophet says the same thing in verse 18, "I have seen his ways but I'll heal him, I'll lead him, I'll restore comfort to him." And then over in chapter 66, the last chapter in Isaiah, we'll close with this one on this thought, verse 10, "Be joyful with Jerusalem. Rejoice for her, all you who love her, be exceeding glad with her, all you who mourn over her that you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts that you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom, for thus says the Lord, Behold, I extend peace to her like a river and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream, and you shall be nursed, you shall be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees as one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
You can understand where Simeon got his ideas, didn't you? I mean, it's unmistakable. He knew the prophet Isaiah and he knew that Isaiah had prophesied comfort and there wasn't any comfort there. The people were deep in sin, apostasy, unbelief, legalism, liberal theology. The people were under oppression from their enemies. It was a dark and despairing time. And here is this faithful man, a part of this little small tiny group of truly justified and sanctified Jews, in the midst of that apostate and hypocritical nation and he is looking expectantly for the coming of the great Manacham who will bring the promised comfort that God had given to the prophet Isaiah.
Now that is the man as to his character and his theology. As to his unique anointing, go back to verse 25 again. This is the third category. It says of him, "And the Holy Spirit was upon him." This is a remarkable man. He's exemplary as to his character. He is exemplary as to his accurate interpretation of the literal prophecies of the Old Testament. He's exemplary as to his theology. And finally, he is a marvelous example of a special anointing from God for special service. It says at the end of verse 25, "And the Holy Spirit was upon him."
Now what does it mean when it says the Holy Spirit was upon him? Now let me give you some broad brush theology here so you'll understand the Old Testament. Anybody living in the Old Testament before the cross, before the day of Pentecost, was saved the same way...by grace through faith. They just...they just knew God would provide a lamb, God would provide a sacrifice, that God was willing to forgive their sin, that God would have a way to do that. They didn't know what that was, but they trusted God for their forgiveness and their salvation, and didn't trust in their own works.
Now no sinner dead in trespasses and sins as all sinners are through all of history could come to that conclusion on his own. In order for anybody to come to the understanding of the truth, it had to be done by the Spirit of God. Even Jeremiah said, "The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?" And the prophet also said that a leopard cannot change his spots, and a man cannot change his skin. It's outside of a man if he's ever going to change, therefore anybody ever who's brought to repentance and faith is brought there by the working of the Spirit of God. That was true in the Old Testament, as it is any time.
So, the Holy Spirit was there to convict them of sin, to show them their failures against the Law of God, to bring conviction to their heart, to produce repentance, to elicit faith, to draw them to God, to cry out for mercy, grace and forgiveness. Even to understand that God would have to provide a substitute, a sacrifice which was pictured in all the Old Testament sacrificial system was the work of the Spirit to help them to understand the meaning of the Old Testament and to understand it accurately. It was the work of the Spirit, therefore, to bring them to justification and it was the ongoing work of the Spirit to cause sanctification. It was the Spirit who was moving them along in obedience. It was the Spirit that was assisting, obviously, in the life of Simeon so that he was devout, that he was cautious and careful in obedience to the law. I mean, they couldn't live without the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who justifies and sanctifies anybody in any age.
Now there's a sense in which there's a new expression, new dimension of the work of the Spirit this side of the cross, but it doesn't mean at all that they were without the Spirit. That's why Jesus said to His disciples before He died, "He has been with you...He has been with you." You wouldn't even...you wouldn't even be able to know God, you wouldn't be able to know salvation at all if He hadn't done the work in your hearts. So that's not what this means.
Whenever you see in the Old Testament the expression "the Holy Spirit came upon someone," it doesn't mean that before that He wasn't anywhere around. It simply is a phrase that indicates an anointing for a special responsibility. Most often it had to do with speaking for God. The Holy Spirit came upon someone and he spoke for God. It could have been deeds that were done, such as in the case of Samson when the Spirit came upon him, it was something that he did. But predominantly it's an indication of a special anointing beyond the normal work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of true believers and familiar to any student of the Old Testament.
If you've been listening carefully as we've been going through Luke, you should understand it. Because if you go back to Luke 1 and verse 15 it tells us that the Holy Spirit filled John the Baptist when he was still in his mother's womb. Now that is a special anointing going on. Filling him in a special way for the amazing prophetic work that was ahead of him, even filling him in a special way so that while still in the womb he could make movements in the womb that affirmed that was being said outside. God prompting him even as a little tiny unborn child to do that for the expression of divine purpose. So when John was filled from the mother's womb, that had to do with his unique anointing which was going to be, verse 16, to turn back the many sons of Israel to the Lord their God, be a forerunner of the Messiah, turning the hearts of the fathers back to the children, the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, make ready a people ready for the Lord. He was going to do prophetic work and speak for God.
Later on in verse 41 it tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and immediate she cried with a loud voice and said, "Blessed among women are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb." She gives a word from God when she's filled with the Spirit.
Now interesting difference. John was filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb for a life time of prophecy. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at a moment for one verse of prophecy.
I think it's fair to say Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, we know that because it says, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you," verse 35. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary not only coming upon Mary to plant the Son of God in her womb, but came upon Mary and as a result, verse 46, Mary then spoke divine revelation. "My soul exalts the Lord," in her Magnificat. Over in verse 67, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied.
So we see a consistent pattern with Luke indicating to us that the Holy Spirit's coming on someone is indicative of a special anointing to speak for God. And here it happened in a case of Simeon. "The Holy Spirit was upon him." So we know something about his character. We know something about his theology and something about his unique anointing. This is one special man.
Now we don't know anything about him beyond that. He appears to just be...just a guy, a guy in the middle of a lot of folks, having no particular rank, or we would assume that might be identified. He's not a priest. He's not somebody known to the population. He may not have been famous. He's just a non-descript guy who was just one righteous, devout man with an accurate theology believing in the literal prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah who would be the Manacham, the Comforter, who would bring the Kingdom that had been promised to David with all the blessings promised to Abraham. He had already received the benefit of the New Covenant applied to him, though it even hadn't ratified yet until Jesus died. And he was a man uniquely anointed with the Spirit of God.
Now the Holy Spirit's pretty picky. He picks some classy folks in this whole story. Zacharias and Elizabeth, righteous people. Mary, the...certainly the purest of the pure girls. And I'm telling you, Mary gets overplayed by the Roman Catholic Church but she doesn't deserve to be painted in mockery and smeared with elephant dung and hung up in a gallery anywhere. That is a...that is a horrifying affront to the sweet, righteous character of this child of God, Mary. It should be a...it should be as distasteful to us, more distasteful to us than to anybody. But these are righteous people and when the Spirit of God came upon them, these were precious folks God had chosen very carefully. That would be true in the case of Simeon, as well. He is one of the guys I want to meet when I go to heaven. I just need more information. Unfortunately I won't be able to send it back to you. You'll have to wait till we all see him.
So this is a man the Spirit of God comes upon. Now when the Spirit of God came upon him, what did He tell him? This is interesting, verse 26. Some time in the past the Spirit of God was on him and to give him a message from God and here's the message. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn't see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Now that is amazing. Boy, that is really rare. That is rare.
The Holy Spirit came upon him for the purpose of revealing to him from the divine God Himself that this man wouldn't die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. You're going to live till the Messiah gets here, nobody gets that kind of information. I mean, can you imagine the practical...the practical working out of that information? His wife is saying, "You know, Simeon you're eating too much of that stuff, you could get sick."
"I won't die! Messiah's not here."
"You know, I'm worried about you, Simeon, you're climbing up that cliff, you're taking a long journey, something could happen to you."
"I won't die. Messiah's not here." Trying to convince people all the way along that you're not some kind of kook. He knew he wouldn't die till the Messiah came. On the one hand that's a wonderful milepost in your life...wow...to have a terminus point, to know exactly what has to happen before you can go. That's an amazing way to live your life. And I imagine it sort of created some spiritual pressure on the guy, too, because at every moment he would be looking for the coming of Messiah and that would be a very...a very powerful influence to motivate him to true heart examination, wouldn't it? It also would fill him with tremendous excitement because he knew he was living in messianic times, he knew it was going to happen in his life time. And that's why I kind of think he was already pretty old. I don't know how soon...or how early this prophecy had come or how soon it had come prior to this text. We don't know if it was weeks before, days before, years before that the Holy Spirit told him that but he...we know some time has elapsed because of the verbs here and he's just waiting for the coming of Messiah. And what tremendous information to have. I mean, he was already a true Jew, he already hung on the...on the words of Isaiah, was waiting and waiting and waiting for the salvation of his people, the deliverance, the promises to come to pass, waiting for it all, his heart filled with anticipation and he knew it was coming in his life time.
People ask me all the time, "Do you think Jesus is coming in our life time? Do you think the Rapture's coming in our life time?" Come on, I know no body knows the day or the hour. They'll say, "But...but, do you think you might have an idea?" No I don't have an idea, I don't know. I'm one of the nobodies. Nobody knows and I'm one of those. I don't know, I don't know. But it would be interesting to know.
Simeon did. He knew when the Messiah would come. He must have lived in constant expectancy. He didn't know the calendar, but he knew it would be in his life time. This is a remarkable guy. This isn't just any guy. This is a righteous man. This is a man with a sound understanding of the Old Testament who can rightly divide the Word and understands the prophecies as they were intended to be understood. And this is a man who has been especially anointed with the Spirit of God. And Luke is pulling in a witness that really is the supreme credible witness. What is his view of this child that was born? That is very important.
Well, verse 27, "And he came in the Spirit." Well, this means something's going to happen. "In the Spirit" simply means the Spirit's leading him. This thing is coming to its climax now and there's a certain day, 40 days after the birth of Jesus and he's prompted by the Holy Spirit. That's what it means, he came in the Spirit to go down to the temple, not naos, that word for temple means the holy place in the Holy of Holies, but hieron, the big area, the huge area, the courtyard outside, that would be the place he would go because that's the only place that women could go, the Court of the Women, and Mary would be there with Joseph and the little baby, and that's where they would meet. God providentially had named this man "God has heard," and God by His Spirit providentially prompts his heart and he decides that exactly the right moment he's going down there.
Now if you've ever been to the temple mount, it's a huge area, it is a massive area. And today it has several different levels of terraced concrete stone, massive grounds there. You can ascend up from the southern steps into that area, you can come in from the west, come in a smaller entrance from the north side. And people go there and collect and there are thousands of people milling around there. The temple isn't there so the orthodox Jews don't go there. There are signs outside on the wall which surrounds the temple mount forbidding entrance for fear that they might inadvertently step on the Holy of Holies, or where it was. And so they don't go there, but other Jews who are conservative or reformed or purely secular go there and they see it for its traditional value. And then, of course, the Muslims have built a great mosque there, supposedly on the very stone where Isaac was to be offered and you can see that stone in the center of the mosque. There's another mosque to the south, the great silver mosque and the great massive gold domed mosque that you've seen in pictures of the old city. And on that ground are Muslims everywhere and some Jews and tourists and it's thousands of people typically milling around that area.
It would have been very much like that this day. There would have been people everywhere. And God in His wonderful providence has this meeting between Simeon and the Messiah and neither are looking for the other. Joseph and Mary don't know anything about Simeon, he doesn't even exist in their world. And Joseph and Mary don't exist in Simeon's world. But the Spirit of God leads Simeon into that place and Joseph and Mary are there with this little baby and that wouldn't have been uncommon because women were having babies and purifications were going on and there might have been other women doing the same thing, there would be other ceremonies, other sacrifices and all kinds of families there. And Luke is so low key because, you know, those little details aren't really critical to us, all he says is he came into the temple and when the parents brought in the child, Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the law, then he took him into his arms and blessed God.
Now we don't know how they met. And we don't know how the conversation started that indicated to Simeon that this was the child. We don't know whether it was the Spirit of God that prompted Simeon that that was the child and he may have walked up and said, "The Spirit of God has led me here and the Spirit of God has prompted me that the Messiah is here, can you give me some information?" As to which they may have replied, "Yes, here He is." We don't know how that happened but that's not a problem for God who created the universe, to make sure a meeting occurs on the temple ground was easy.
So they were there, as it says in verse 27, when the parents brought in the child, Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the law. What that simply means is they were there for the purification of Mary, the 40-day sacrifice, they were there for the paying of that ransom redemption price which went to the priests to sort of ransom Him from priestly service because He was born of the tribe of Judah and not Levi. They were there to do that which was required by the Law. He came in the Spirit. By the way, that phrase "in the Spirit" is used four times in the book of Revelation and you can see that John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, means a special leading of the Spirit to bring a person to a particular intercession for divine revelation. So here he comes and somehow they met. And there's so much in there that I would like to find out. I wish it just had a paragraph about Simeon's attitude and what he was thinking. All it says is they met and he took him into his arms.
He took Him into his arms, the little baby. One can only try to imagine what he was feeling when he scooped that little soft warm baby out of Mary's arms and pressed him to his...his chest and then perhaps leaned down and as the Christmas song says, "Kissed the face of God." One can only imagine what kind of joy flooded his heart, what kind of thrill came over him as he realized that the promises of God had come to pass and he was holding in his hands the Messiah, the Manacham, the Comforter, the Consoler of Israel, Savior of the world. A very different gesture than when a few years later the Jews got Jesus in their hands and whipped Him and scourged Him and beat Him and crowned Him and nailed Him to a cross.
But for now, it's all joy and it says, "And Simeon blessed God." Now that's a...Luke is the master of understatement, isn't he? As I say, he's the Jack Webb of writers, "Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts." He would have made a great policeman, as well as a great historian. He just tells you he blessed God. I can imagine filling that word with so much.
Now I get a little..I understand a little about Simeon. Simeon had lived his life with anticipation. I'm sure he started out reading the Old Testament. I'm sure, like any Jewish child, he was schooled in the Old Testament and he knew well the prophecies of Isaiah. But there was a point in his life when those prophecies became very personal and very powerful at that point of his justification when he truly believed and became a child of God, a true son of God. And all of a sudden the prophecies took on new meaning and he longed for the coming of the Messiah and he longed for the great blessings promised to Abraham and he longed for the Kingdom promised to David and he longed for righteousness, peace and joy which were promised. And he longed for the forgiveness of the sins of Israel. He longed for the King to come and he then received a special blessing because the Spirit of God came to him and told him that he would live until that moment. And so his anticipation was heightened and heightened and heightened and here, all of a sudden, in one explosion of blessing he lets it all go because the fruition, the fulfillment has occurred and he holds the Manacham in his own hands, something every Jew should have hoped for as the ultimate blessing. He was filled with joy.
And you know what? He was filled with joy because of what he believed would happen, because of what he believed. He hadn't seen it. For him the Messiah was nothing but a helpless baby. He couldn't see beyond that. The Holy Spirit didn't tell him a lot about what was coming. He told him a few things, we'll see those next time. He didn't know what was going to come but he knew the Manacham had come, he knew the Comforter was here. He knew salvation had come and he says in verse 29, "Now, Lord, Thou doest let Thy bondservant depart in peace according to Thy word for my eyes have seen Thy salvation."
I can identify with Simeon. Oh, I don't know what it would be like to have a word from the Holy Spirit, you're going to live to see the Messiah come from a Jewish perspective. I don't know what it would be like to live your life in anticipation of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah relating to the first coming of Christ. But I'll tell you something, I understand the thrill of Simeon, I get goose bumps like he must have when I read this because I know things that Simeon never knew. I know what the Messiah did. I know that He is the Savior because He has saved me. I know that He saved His people from their sins because He has continued to save a remnant in Israel. And I know as Simeon will later say that His righteousness and His salvation will extend to the Gentiles because I've seen the gospel go to the ends of the earth and I've seen people from every tongue and tribe and nation and people embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I've seen the church. I've seen everything Simeon only could have anticipated. It's a joyous moment, it's a magnificent moment to bless God if you're looking up toward it, or if you're looking from it as we are. It's a moment of all moments, a moment of all moments and he saw it right. He didn't just say, "A baby has been born," he said, "My eyes have seen Thy salvation." Salvation is synonymous with the Savior. And so he says in verse 29, "Now, Lord, Thou doest let Thy bondservant depart in peace according to Thy word."
What does that mean? Well, he starts his song of praise, by the way, this is a...the next in a long line of songs of praise. One came from Elizabeth, one came from Mary, one came from Zacharias and one came from the angels and now there's a fifth one from Simeon. This song of Simeon which starts in verse 29 is called Nunc Dimittis, from the two first words in the Latin, "now Lord." Just as the Magnificat was named from the opening words and the benedictus of Zacharias, the Latin words, the traditional title for this is Nunc Dimittis, now, Lord. It's at this precise moment, now. I love that. Now, right now, Lord, I can go, I can die. And that little statement "depart" simply means "dismiss me." Let me die, let...depart in peace...is a Semitic expression for "let me die, I am now ready to die." And notice the terminology, "Now, Lord," he doesn't use Kurios, a more common New Testament word for Lord, he uses despotes, sovereign master, "Now, Sovereign Master, You can let Your slave die according to Your Word." It's done.
Now this is pretty strong testimony. I have no doubt that Simeon believed this was the Messiah, do you? How did he believe it? Joseph and Mary told him. Again I say, there was no halo around His head and He wasn't a 40-day old infant spouting profound theology. He was cooing in His mother's arms. Joseph and Mary, no doubt, reported to him the tremendous, amazing, miraculous account of how it all had come to pass and affirmed their testimony to him and he, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, understanding the providences of God by the Spirit that led to the moment, knew this was the moment. Now...he says...Lord, right now I can die, get me out of here, it's the moment I've lived for. You told me I'd live until I saw the Christ, I've seen the Christ, I'm ready to go.
What tremendous testimony. So firm is his testimony that he's willing to die. This indicates to me, at least, that probably he was old, probably he was ready for heaven. Probably his life is so much behind him that there's no much left and certainly you can't top this. I've seen Him, Lord. I've held Him. And in that contentment and in that confidence, release Your slave, set me free from this world into Your glorious presence. The waiting is over, the watching is over, the hoping is over. Messiah is here. His heart is settled and at peace and he can go to the presence of the God he loves to serve. "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation." I have seen and held and kissed, as it were, the Savior.
This man is utterly unknown to anybody. And yet he is a crucial witness to who this child is, with a remarkable place in redemptive history. What a privilege. Isn't it wonderful how God sometimes plucks the most obscure people for the most critical purposes? And what is his testimony? We'll find that out next time, along with that of an old lady named Anna.
Father, we are so thrilled at this glorious moment. It almost feels that we are there in the temple ground, standing there, almost as if we had the little baby in our arms, heard the little soft noises and felt the beat of the little heart, realized this is God in human flesh, this is the Savior of the world. O put us into Simeon's sandals, help us to understand the joy of the moment, the fulfillment of the moment, the glory of the moment when the Manacham has arrived, the Comforter, the Savior of sinners, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We thank You, Lord, for what we know that Simeon couldn't know, we know the power of His salvation and that extends to the ends of the earth. Father, how we thank You for showing us the glories of the Christ way beyond Simeon. But it should be enough for us as it was for him, to believe the Old Testament. Father, my heart grieves for Jewish people who just aren't like Simeon, they will not embrace the Comforter so they'll never know the comfort. They will not embrace the King, they'll never know the Kingdom. They will not embrace this Son of Abraham, Son of David so they'll never know Abrahamic blessing or Davidic Kingdom promise. They will not come to Him. No wonder He wept, now wonder You weep, no wonder we weep. And may many, Father, in Israel and many outside Israel all across the world embrace the Christ as Simeon did and bless You for bringing us Your salvation through Your Savior, Jesus...in whose name we pray. Amen.
© 2011 Grace to You. All rights reserved.
Testifying to Jesus: Simeon, Part 2
by John MacArthur
Simeon and Anna
by Edward F. Markquart
The Consolation of Israel
by Jerry Goebel
Simeon - Luke 2:25
by C. H. Spurgeon
Christ, The Glory of His People - Luke 2:32
by C. H. Spurgeon, 1868
Nunc Dimittis - Sermon on Luke 2:29-30
by C. H. Spurgeon, 1871
Your Salvation - Sermon on Luke 2:28-30
by C. H. Spurgeon, 1878
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Mayaltho
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