Text: Luke 2:21-35
…And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just 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. So he came by 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…”
It’s the New Year once again, and people are making resolutions. Some resolutions are mundane but very practical and important. “This year I’m going to give up arguing on facebook.” Some are playful. “This year I’m going to give up setting goals I can’t achieve.” We make some resolutions with the full knowledge that we will never keep them. “This will be the year that I lose those fifteen pounds.” But other times New Year’s resolutions give us the chance to get serious about ourselves. They give us the chance to take an inventory of our life and see if we’ve been making good progress. They make us ask big questions about life goals and achievements.
I wonder, what do you want to do before you die? Have you ever asked yourself that? What are the dreams, the accomplishments that are deeply important to you? Have you been focusing on them? Do you have a good reason to think you’ll do them? Why or why not? Resolutions and life goals give us a chance to evaluate ourselves. We can see what we think is really important, and we can see if we really do think it’s important by how seriously we pursue it.
In our text this morning, we see a man who achieved his life goal. He was a man of no particular importance. We know nothing about his background. The only thing we know about him is that God has promised him a very important life goal. God had promised Simeon that before he died, he would see the Messiah. This was the “consolation of Israel” which he had been waiting for all his life. And God kept His promise. Simeon did see the messiah. He saw God’s salvation. Simeon saw Jesus.
Simeon and the Messiah in the Temple
Who is Simeon and why is he introduced right after Christmas? Luke’s gospel spends the most time of all the gospels on Jesus’ birth, and Luke gives us a few scenes immediately after Jesus is born but while he is still an infant. Simeon shows up during one of these infancy narratives. Jesus’ parents have brought Him to the temple in order to offer the customary sacrifice for newborns. You can read more about the requirements for this in Exodus 13 and Leviticus 12. The sacrifice signified that the firstborn especially belonged to God. The implication is that the newborn himself ought be sacrificed but that God would accept a substitution in his place. The sacrifice also purified the mother, since childbirth rendered women ceremonially unclean.
This is the setting for us to meet Simeon. As we said earlier, he is no one special. You might assume that he’s a priest, since we are in the temple, but Luke does not call him that. Luke just says that Simeon was “a man in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25). He was probably a prophet, since the text also says “the Holy Spirit was upon Him,” but he doesn’t seem to be otherwise known. The way that the action is described, Simeon runs into the temple courts and interrupts Joseph and Mary as they are on their way to make the sacrifice. “So he came by 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” (Luke 2:27-28).
There’s something a little comical about that scene. Simeon, a stranger, rushes in, grabs the baby Jesus, and breaks out in song. He’s seen the messiah, finally, and it’s so stupendous that there’s nothing to do but to sing, to worship.
And sing he does. Simeon sings because he has finally reached his goal. He has seen the thing that God had promised. You see, even though we don’t know much about Simeon, we know what really counts. Simeon was “just and devout” (Luke 2:25). Simeon had also been given a promise by God. “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 2:26). Now, standing in the temple and holding this baby, the prophecy has come true. He has seen the Lord’s Christ. He has seen the messiah.
Simeon’s song is all about realization. “Master,” that’s actually the precise term there. It refers to a person to whom you are indebted or bound. “Master, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:28-29). This is it. God was faithful. Simeon has made it. He has seen the consolation of Israel. He has seen salvation. Now he can die in peace. All the important stuff has been accomplished.
“My eyes have seen Your salvation.” What have they seen? They have seen the messiah as a baby. Simeon sees God’s salvation when Simeon sees the Savior, when Simeon sees Jesus. This little babe is the consolation of Israel, the salvation of the world.
Jesus is also the light of revelation to the Gentiles, as Simeon goes on to say. This is a fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. Isaiah 11:10 says, “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.” There’s also Malachi 1:11 “‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Simeon realizes that all of these prophecies are being fulfilled in the Christ child. This will be the salvation of the world, and it will be the glory of Israel. That last line is important to. God’s salvation is “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of [His] people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Israel was a chosen people. They had a special role to play. But their particular glory was in being elected as the line of the messiah. Israel was the channel by which the messiah would come, and when He did come, He would enlighten all of the nations, Jews and Gentiles alike. This happens in the New Covenant, in the Church.
Simeon is overjoyed. He has seen the promised messiah. He has reached his life goal. The hope of his people Israel and the salvation of the world is here! And yet there’s a dark tone at the end. Simeon wants us to know that this salvation will come at a great cost. Jesus’ ministry of salvation does not look like the way that the world would expect. It is not glorious as defined by men. Jesus’ work comes by way of death and resurrection.
Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
This is quite the turn, and it reminds us that Christmas has always had elements of sadness, from the very beginning. Even while the parents are marveling and Simeon is singing, we learn that “this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” The Greek there could be translated literally as, “This one has been set up for the downfall and resurrection of many in Israel.” Jesus will bring salvation, but this salvation will require a great shakeup. It will bring many down, leveling mountains and humbling the proud. It will even require His own death. The resurrection will come, to be sure, but it only ever comes after the death.
Mary too will suffer. Her soul will be pierced. You can imagine the grief of the cross. Mary was present there, watching her son die. And while she may not have understood it all at the beginning, she had plenty of reasons to suspect that something bad was going to happen. She anticipated danger, pain, and sorrow her entire life of motherhood.
This is important to remember when we suffer in this life. When we experience pain and hardship, we shouldn’t think we are the first ones to go through it. As Peter puts it, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). This is how it has always been. Jesus suffered. Mary suffered. The apostles suffered. We suffer.
This suffering is for a reason though. It is “so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35). Whose hearts? In context, the hearts being revealed are those who “contradict” or “oppose” Jesus (see vs. 34). Those who oppose Jesus will be seen for who they are. Just like Isaiah, Jesus is called to preach to people who will largely reject Him. He is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense. The ultimate example of this is when the Jewish leadership, the leaders of God’s covenant people, reject the messiah that their God had sent them. “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ (John 19:15).
So Jesus revealed the thoughts of those who opposed Him. He showed them to be false Jews, hypocrites, and sons of the devil. But Jesus also reveals the thoughts of our hearts when we suffer. The way we handle challenges in our life, God’s hard providences, shows what’s going on in our heart. It shows what we believe.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). When you let out a momentary slip under pressure, sometimes that’s all it is– A release of steam. Just a feeling. And it’s gone. But often, it’s a revelation. It shows us what’s really going on on the inside. For the Christian, affliction should make us more holy. It should draw us nearer to God. It should create perseverance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:3-4).
Are you growing in perseverance? Are you growing in character? Are you growing in hope? The answer to those questions reveals the secrets of your heart. Any great accomplishment requires hard work and sacrifice. Perseverance means continuing even under those burdens. But if you lack character and hope, then you quit. Our life of faith as Christians must be one of persevering, of bearing our burdens and the burdens of others but always in hope, for the sake of Christ. As we do this, the secrets of our hearts are revealed, the secret of gospel contentment and mysterious spiritual peace. And that is a revelation that shines on others and enlightens them as well. The way we carry ourselves under affliction is a testimony to our savior and can be a form of evangelism.
Simeon is a man at the end of his life. The “departing” that he sings about is his death. He has been living a life of waiting and expectation, looking for the Lord’s Christ. And now he has seen the Christ. He can depart in peace. His goal has been reached. But it wasn’t easy. It took patience. And Simeon didn’t live to see everything. He died knowing the sure promise of God, but also knowing the trials and afflictions that would accompany it. And then he died trusting God to complete the work. He died as he lived, in faith.
This too is an important lesson. As we set goals, we should work hard. But we know that God alone ordains what comes to past. God writes our stories. And only God really makes things happen. We must trust Him.
And we must evaluate our hopes and goals. Are we hoping to see God’s work in God’s timing, or are we looking for our own thing? If we are looking for our own thing, then we will always try to make it happen ourselves. And if it doesn’t, we will be discouraged. We will lose hope. We will reveal our true heart, one that is not of faith.
But if we have put God’s kingdom first, then we can wait. We can trust Him. Even when it doesn’t look like how we think it’s supposed to look, we can depart in peace. And so let us consider what we are looking for and with which eyes we see. Let us walk by faith and look for God’s salvation.
Let us pray.