Date: August 4, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 2:22–2:40
Our passage this morning continues the theme that began last week with the shepherds. You’ll recall from last Sunday that the lowly shepherds were the first people to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth, and in response, the shepherds had the privilege of being the first witnesses to Christ. It was an unlikely group for God to choose, but that’s part of the glory of the gospel – God uses ordinary and unlikely people to spread his Word. And so it was with the shepherds. They received the good news, they believed it, and then the shepherds witnessed to what they had heard.
In today’s passage, that theme of testimony continues, and just like those lowly shepherds, the testimony comes from some unexpected people. Luke introduces us to two total strangers – Simeon and Anna. They haven’t appeared in the story so far, they don’t know Joseph and Mary’s family before this encounter, and we never hear from either of them again. They are total strangers, and yet, Luke presents them as authoritative, faithful witnesses. Perhaps you heard it when we read, but Luke very clearly stresses the reliability, even the authority, of these witnesses:
Three times, in vv25-27, Luke emphasizes the Spirit’s work in Simeon’s life. The Spirit is upon him, the Spirit promises he will see the Christ, and the Spirit leads him to the temple on the very day Jesus arrives. Three times, Simeon is connected with the Spirit, so that Luke’s point is clear. This is a reliable, Spirit-led witness, and we should listen to him.
And then notice v36 where Anna is described as a prophetess. Again, the point has to do with the Spirit. Anna is a vessel for divine insight, for Spirit-led revelation of truth. Now, she doesn’t speak as extensively as Simeon, but still, the point remains. She is a reliable witness who gives truthful testimony to who Jesus is.
You see, Simeon and Anna may be strangers, but their role in the passage is clear and important. They are witnesses to Jesus’ identity. They testify to the truth regarding this Child.
That means our job this morning is to listen to their testimony. That’s what you do with a reliable witness, right? You listen to them. And that’s our job this morning. We need to process this entire scene by asking really just one question – Who is this Child, Jesus? In terms of identity, who is he?
And as we listen we’ll find that God’s Word gives us five answers. Let me give them to you in advance: #1 – Jesus is Faithful to God’s Law. #2 – Jesus is Comfort for God’s People. #3 – Jesus is Light for the Nations. #4 – Jesus is the Dividing Line of Humanity. And #5 – Jesus is the Redeemer of Those who Wait for Him. Five truths regarding Jesus’ identity. Let’s begin, then, in vv22-24 with the first truth – Jesus is Faithful to God’s Law.
Jesus is Faithful to God’s Law
V22 gives us the setting for the entire scene, and that setting is quite significant. Notice what Luke writes, v22 – “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” The setting is the temple in Jerusalem. Remember, the temple is the center of Israel’s religious life. This is where God’s presence was said to dwell on earth, and this is where the sacrifices for sin were offered. The entirety of Israel’s religious life is focused here, at the temple. And it’s to the temple that Joseph and Mary bring their Son.
But we should also note the reason Jesus is brought to the temple. His parents bring him in order to observe the Law of Moses. Leviticus 12 gave very specific instructions for mothers following childbirth, so Mary comes to obey those instructions. She comes to offer the necessary sacrifice, as you see there in v24. And then Exodus 13 also gave detailed instructions regarding every firstborn Israelite. The firstborn had to be redeemed, since God said that every firstborn belonged to him. That’s the reason why Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s firstborn, is brought to the temple – in order to observe the Law of Moses.
But did you catch how thoroughly Luke makes this point? He doesn’t simply mention it in passing. Luke hits this point over and over. Three times in three verses, Luke mentions the Law. Notice again – v22, the Law of Moses; v23, the Law of the Lord, and v24, the Law of the Lord. Verse after verse, Jesus is presented as faithful to the Law. But then notice the end of the passage, v39. Again, Luke makes the point – “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee.” Sometimes simple repetition is enough to make the point, and that’s true here. Clearly, Luke wants us to see that Jesus has been faithful to the Law, even from his earliest days.
Now, why does this matter? Why is Luke making this point so emphatically? Brothers and sisters, it’s because Jesus’ faithfulness to the Law is essential for the good news of the gospel. We typically think of salvation primarily in terms of having our sin forgiven, and that is absolutely true. In order to be saved, we need a sacrifice that atones for, that pays for our sin. And praise God, the Lord Jesus paid that price with his own blood. But just as important as forgiveness, salvation also requires that God’s commandments be kept, that God’s Law be fulfilled. That’s something you and I could never do. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus did live in perfect obedience. He did fulfill God’s Law.
And because of that fulfillment, brothers and sisters, believers are now counted as sons and daughters of God. You see, Jesus’ obedience is essential for our acceptance before God. Galatians 4, the apostle Paul gives one of the most encouraging summaries of the gospel in the entire NT, Galatians 4.4 – “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoptions as sons.” Did you hear that, brothers and sisters? Adoption into the family of God – there’s nothing greater than that! And why is that adoption possible? Because Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the Law in perfect faithfulness.
It’s only a hint at this point, like a seed that will sprout more fruit later. Jesus has more faithfulness to display. But even in seed form here, we see the truth of who Jesus is. He is the One who is faithful to God’s Law, and in his faithfulness, unfaithful people like us are saved.
Jesus is Comfort for God’s People
The second truth about Jesus’ identity brings us to Simeon’s testimony, vv25-30 – Jesus is Comfort for God’s People. Now, we’ve already seen that Simeon is a Spirit-led witness, but there are a few more features we should note about Simeon. You’ll notice in v25 that Simeon is very pious. Notice v25 – “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout.” Now, Luke is not saying Simeon is perfect or sinless. Rather, Luke’s point is the same as with Zechariah from chapter 1 – Simeon is devoted to God and faithful to God’s Word.
You’ll also notice that Simeon is very patient. Again, notice the end of v25, where Simeon is “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Now, what does that mean – the consolation of Israel? As we’ve come to learn in Luke so far, the answer is found in the OT, particularly the prophet Isaiah. If you’ve read Isaiah lately, then you’ll know that the prophet often warned God’s people that exile was coming. Because the people had broken God’s covenant, God would send them away from his presence. That was Isaiah’s warning.
But in the midst of that warning, Isaiah also spoke words of consolation that would sustain God’s people. Isaiah 40 is a good example. God says, “Comfort, comfort my people…speak tenderly to Jerusalem…that her iniquity is pardoned.” You see, even as God’s people faced judgment, they did so with the hope that comfort was coming, that God himself would save his people in the end. And that is what Simeon patiently waits for. The consolation of Israel is nothing less than the salvation of God’s people. Simeon, then, is patient. He is waiting for salvation.
But in the midst of the waiting, we should also note that Simeon has a promise. Look at v26 – “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.” Now, we don’t know how long exactly Simeon has been waiting, but his waiting is hopeful. Simeon has this promise that he will see the Christ before his dies. Putting it all together, what do we learn about Simeon? He is pious, and he is patiently waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
Then, notice what happens in v28. Jesus comes to the temple, Simeon sees him, and God keeps his Word, v28 – “Simeon took him up in his arms and blessed God saying, ‘Lord now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation’.” I hope you see in this moment the faithfulness of God. God has done for Simeon just as he promised. And yet, this moment of faithfulness to Simeon is, at the same time, much bigger than Simeon, isn’t it? Notice that in keeping his promise to Simeon, God is also keeping his promise to all of his people. Here’s what I mean:
Notice in v30 where Simeon says, “my eyes have seen your salvation.” Now, what exactly does Simeon see? He sees Jesus, does he not? He sees the little baby boy held there in Mary’s arms. Simeon sees God’s salvation because he sees the Christ. And that is the ultimate picture of God’s faithfulness. That’s why this is bigger than Simeon. In keeping his promise to Simeon, God keeps his promise to his people. Simeon sees the consolation of Israel because he sees Jesus. God, then, has been faithful to his Word.
And so, we’re hearing this same truth again, aren’t we – the truth that God always keeps his Word? Week after week, the Lord is saying this to us, and I just wonder if it’s because we’re so prone to forget it. God’s always keeps his Word, and therefore, as God’s people, we can always bank our lives on what God has said.
In fact, brothers and sisters, this is part of Simeon’s testimony to us. Sure, we do not have a personalized promise like Simeon, but we do have every promise given to us in God’s Word. And since God never changes, his faithfulness to Simeon is the assurance of his faithfulness to us. Listen, this is how the saints of old give us their encouragement. This is how their lives strengthen our faith. If God was faithful to Simeon and Mary and Zechariah and Abraham and David and Hannah and Moses and Isaiah, then God will surely be faithful to you. The promise he kept to Simeon is a testament to the rock-solid reality that he will keep his word to us. And therefore, we can trust him, and he will never fail us.
And if we doubt that faithfulness, brothers and sisters, if we struggle to believe that God will never fail, then let’s fix our eyes on the One whom Simeon sees there in the temple – the Lord Jesus. If we doubt God’s faithfulness, then let’s remind ourselves that we have been given the greatest assurance God could ever give. He has given us his own Son. That’s really the heart of Simeon’s testimony, brothers and sisters. In seeing Jesus, we have this unshakeable comfort – the truth that God is faithful.
Jesus is Light for the Nations
That’s the second truth – Jesus is Comfort for God’s People. The third truth also comes from Simeon’s testimony, this time in vv31-32 – Jesus is Light for the Nations. After mentioning salvation in v30, Simeon now goes on to describe what this salvation means for the world. Notice vv31-32 – “that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” We should note that word prepared in v31. The idea here is of God’s sovereign work to accomplish salvation. This is the work God has been doing down through Israel’s history. He has been preparing for his promised salvation to come into this world, and now, Simeon says that salvation has arrived in Jesus.
But you’ll also notice in v32 that Simeon mentions Gentiles along with the nation of Israel. The Light of Christ comes into this world, and he brings glory to Israel and revelation to the Gentiles. Now, what is Simeon getting at here? His point about Israel is pretty clear. It is through Israel that the Messiah comes. It was Israel who received God’s promises and covenant. It was Israel who heard God’s Law. And it is now through Israel that Christ comes into this world. God’s salvation is to the Jew first, as Paul says in Romans 1, and that is Israel’s glory. The Light of Christ illuminates how the roots of God’s salvation begin with Israel.
But what about revelation to the Gentiles? What does that mean? Again, we have to look to the OT for insight. And when we do, we find that the OT actually has a consistent expectation that God’s salvation would one day spread out to all the nations of the earth. It started, in fact, with God’s promise to Abraham. Do you remember that, Genesis 12? God said he would bless Abraham and then through Abraham, God would bless all the nations of the earth. Even with Abraham, there was a global emphasis.
But it went beyond Abraham as well. The OT prophets also anticipated Gentiles coming to know God’s salvation. Listen, for example, to what God said in Isaiah 49. God is speaking here of the Servant of the Lord, the One who would redeem God’s people. And God 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 a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
That’s precisely what Simeon foresees here in Luke 2. It is through Jesus that God will bring light to the Gentiles’ darkness. That’s the revelation v32 is talking about. Through Jesus, God will reveal himself even to the Gentiles. You see, brothers and sisters, this is an essential piece of the glory of Jesus Christ. He is the Savior of all who believe – the Jew first but also the Gentile as well.
Now, you may be asking, “Ok, I see the OT connection, but why does this matter for Christians today? What’s the point here for us?” That’s a good question and the answers are incredibly important. For one thing, this matters because it explains why the church is central in the redemptive plan of God. Why can we, a group of probably exclusively Gentile people, consider ourselves part of the people of God? Why can we claim a share in the steadfast love of the Lord? Only because Jesus is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. Only because the gospel is good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. You see, this is not merely an obscure theological point, brothers and sisters. For the church today, this explains who we are. This is essential for our hope and salvation. We should rejoice that Jesus is Light for the Nations because it means even us Gentiles have come to know the One, True, and Living God.
The second reason this matters is because it reminds us of the church’s mission. Again, Simeon’s words are prophetic, and he looks forward to the mission of the church. The logic is easy to follow. If Jesus is Light for the Nations, and if we, the church, have been entrusted with his gospel, then surely our calling is to take that gospel to the very ends of the earth. How will the nations hear unless someone preaches? How will the darkness be pierced unless someone brings the Light of Christ? That’s our mission, brothers and sisters. We’re called to make disciples locally and globally. To be sure, not every one of us will go the ends of the earth, but some of us must go. Are we at least willing to consider ourselves as the ones called to go? What’s more, are we looking for the open doors right here, today, in our own neighborhoods to bring the Light of Christ to the darkness? If Jesus is Light for the nations, and if we, the church, have been entrusted with his gospel, then surely our hearts should be willing and ready to obey where and when God opens the door for the gospel.
Jesus is the Dividing Line of Humanity
That’s the third truth about Jesus’ identity – he is Light for nations. The fourth truth gives us the last word from Simeon, this time in vv33-35. Jesus is the Dividing Line of Humanity. Things take a sober turn at this point. Jesus’ parents marvel at Simeon’s song in v33, but then v34, the tone changes. Notice what Simeon says, v34 – “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” Here we are reminded that not everyone receives and believes the good news about Christ. Some will reject Christ, which is what Simeon means what he says some will rise and some will fall. Christ is the cornerstone, as it says in Psalm 118. And while some stand on Christ and are saved, others stumble over him and fall in judgment. There will be some who reject Christ.
But along with that rejection, Simeon anticipates opposition as well. To put it simply, humanity’s natural response is to resist and oppose the Lord Jesus. Remember, brothers and sisters, this world is opposed to God and to Christ. This world hates the gospel. That’s why the apostle John speaks of that unholy trinity in 1 John – the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our natural inclination is to go along with the world in opposing Christ. And that’s what Simeon is getting at here. Some will rise, some will fall, and some, perhaps we could even say many, will oppose Christ.
And therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised, brothers and sisters, when we encounter opposition. We shouldn’t be surprised when the culture moves against us. God has told us such things will come, and he told us so that we would be ready and prepared to be faithful. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We vastly underrate the importance of simply but clearly holding fast to the truth. Every church wants to see gospel advance, and I pray God gives that to us in our day. But in a culture of opposition, let’s also remember the calling to stand firm, to hold the line on the gospel.
But still, the sober tone continues into v36. After predicting Mary’s heartache in v35, which we’ll see as the Gospel continues, Simeon speaks of how Christ will expose each and every human heart. Notice v36 – “so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” In short, the gospel of Christ is the dividing line of humanity. How a person responds to the gospel reveals their allegiance and even their eternal destiny. Notice back in v34 that there was no middle ground. You either rise with Christ in salvation, or you fall under his judgment. On the last day, no one will be neutral before the Lord. Through his gospel, Christ exposes the human heart in order to reveal where every person stands before the Living God.
I want to pause here for a moment and speak to those who may not be trusting in Christ today. Perhaps you are here, and you recognize yourself in Simeon’s words about those who oppose Christ. Perhaps God is allowing you, even now, to see the state of your heart – that you do not know Christ as Savior and that your sin is still held against you before the Holy God. Friend, if that’s you today, I pray that you would listen to the good news from God’s Word and believe that Jesus Christ alone can save. Yes, it’s true that some will reject Christ and face his judgment on the last day, but friend, the last day is not here yet! Today is the day to hear the gospel, repent of your sin, and believe. Won’t you believe today? Won’t you lay down your opposition to Christ and turn to him in faith, trusting that he saves all who trust in him?
Jesus is the Dividing Line of Humanity, but by God’s grace, we can stand on Christ and rise with him on the last day. God’s Word is calling you, even now, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Redeemer of Those Who Wait for Him
And that brings us to the final truth about Jesus’ identity, this time from vv36-38. Jesus is the Redeemer of Those Who Wait for Him. Luke now shifts from Simeon to Anna, who as we said at the outset, is a reliable, Spirit-led witness to Christ. What we should note about Anna is that she is dependent upon and devoted to God. This stands out very clearly from Luke’s description. She has been a widow for most of her life, v37 tells us, and instead of remarrying, she has depended on God in faith. What’s more, Anna has devoted herself to the worship of God, again v37 tells us, spending her days fasting and praying in the temple. Dependence and devotion – Anna, then, is a picture of those who wait upon the Lord. Her hope is in God’s Word, and her entire life is marked by a faithful confidence that magnifies God’s trustworthy character. In other words, Anna is a picture of humble, patient faith.
And notice where that faith leads, brothers and sisters. Listen again to v38 – “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna joins with Simeon in recognizing and praising the Messiah. The redemption of Jerusalem refers to the same idea as the consolation of Israel. Both find their fulfillment in Christ. But think about this moment for Anna. For decades, she waited, and now in his grace, God has allowed her to see the Redeemer of God’s people. And not only does she see, but Anna also has the privilege of witnessing to who Jesus is.
What a picture of the faithfulness of God to his people! Decades may go by, and the waiting may appear to be pointless. And yet, in the end, God is faithful to his Word. God is faithful to keep his promises. That’s the encouragement here, brothers and sisters, and it’s where I think we should close. Anna’s life is an encouragement to perseverance, to keep walking by faith even when the road is long. Those who wait upon the Lord, like Anna, are never put to shame because God never fails to do as he promised. Let’s be encouraged, brothers and sisters, to continue walking and waiting by faith. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Anna and Simeon, trusting that God will do precisely as he promised. And as we wait, let’s devote ourselves to the great work of God’s people – the work of testifying to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.