In the Temple

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Luke 2:22-25

You’ve heard the Christmas story, but what comes next in the life of Christ?

Luke 2 is one of the most familiar and beloved of all the Bible’s chapters, because it’s the chapter that contains the Christmas story. But Luke 2 does not end with the shepherds around the manger, worshiping the baby Jesus and telling Mary about their encounter with the heavenly host. After the shepherds depart, after the angels have all disappeared and the echos of their songs of glory to God in the highest and peace on earth have died away, the story of Jesus’ life goes on. Luke continues this chapter with two additional incidents involving the child Jesus. The common element linking them is their location – both events take place in the temple in Jerusalem.

Laws Observed

The first incident happened when Jesus was only six weeks old. Here it is:

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2:22-35, NIV

We assume from the Christmas story that Jesus was born in some sort of stable or cave, because Luke says that there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the normal place of lodging, and that Mary’s newborn infant was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what happened next, but Joseph and Mary must have found a house somehow in Bethlehem (or maybe been taken in by relatives) because they remained there for some time – what Luke refers to as “the time of their purification according to the law of Moses” (v. 22)

The Old Testament law stipulated three requirements whenever a child was born, in particular a firstborn male child. First, the baby had to be circumcised on the eighth day after he was born, at which time he was also named.

Second, in the case of a first-born, the parents had to offer money as a redemption price for the child. (Because every firstborn belonged to the Lord, the money was given in place of his life.)

And finally, after 40 days, the family was required to go to the temple to offer animal sacrifices marking the end of the mother’s time of ritual impurity. The law called for two sacrifices on that occasion: a lamb as a burnt offering of thanksgiving and a bird as a sin offering. But if the family were poor and the sacrifice of an expensive animal was beyond their means, they could substitute a second bird for the lamb – which is what Joseph and Mary did (v. 24).

It is remarkable how much emphasis Luke places upon the fulfillment of the Old Testament law’s requirements. Luke, as you may know, was a gentile Christian – as far as we know the only non-Jew who participated in the writing of the Bible. Moreover, Luke’s gospel was intended for a primarily gentile audience, people who might not have been expected to be interested in the rather obscure provisions of the Jewish ceremonial laws concerning childbirth. But these details of the post-Christmas story bear witness to Luke’s method as a writer. They show how carefully he investigated and reported everything about Jesus. Luke’s accuracy in telling the whole story of Jesus’ life gives a high degree of confidence in the historical value of his entire gospel.

The details of Jesus’ circumcision and presentation in the temple testify to something else as well. They tell us the kind of human family into which Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary were faithful and devout people. They cared greatly about God and wanted to obey his law in every particular, as did Jesus himself throughout his life. He came, as he himself later said, not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and his whole life demonstrated a perfect obedience to all of the law’s requirements, including the ceremonial ones.

A Prophet’s Prayer

So it was that Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem from Bethlehem in order to fulfill the law’s ritual requirements at the temple. There they met an elderly man in the temple. This godly old man was called Simeon. He was devout, religious, completely devoted to the Lord. And he was eagerly waiting and looking for the promised Messiah, the Savior of God’s people – what Luke calls “the consolation of Israel.” But the most significant thing about this aged saint is that he had a special gift from God that enabled him to recognize the true identity of the little baby in Joseph and Mary’s arms on that special day in the temple.

Luke relates that Simeon not only was righteous and devoted to God but that he had also been specially touched by the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would live to see the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed One, the Christ. For many centuries devout Jews had been watching and hoping for the coming of this savior and champion, the divine deliverer who would rescue God’s people from their enemies and who would establish righteousness and peace throughout the earth. Now, on one momentous day, Simeon was prompted by the Spirit to go to the temple. As he moved across the open court in front of the temple building, he was led to a young couple holding an infant, just coming to offer their sacrifices for purification. Taking the baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon began to praise God. Many of us know Simeon’s prayer in the beautiful version of the King James Bible.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

vv. 29-32

Simeon’s grateful prayer to be allowed to die in peace expresses a number of truths that all believers hold in common. First, it expresses submission to the will of God. The word Simeon uses for God is an unusual one. It’s not the ordinary word in the New Testament for “Lord” but rather a term referring to an absolute ruler. One modern version translates the word as “sovereign Lord.” Simeon is acknowledging the sovereignty of God, a fact in which he finds great comfort. He knew that his whole life, just like ours, was in God’s hands, and that the same God who promised he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah was more than able to keep that promise.

Second, Simeon’s prayer expresses a wonderful sense of fulfillment. He has lived to see his fondest hope realized, beyond all expectation. I wonder what are you looking for in life. What is it that you most want to see, what do you long to possess beyond any other thing? So many of our earthly expectations are doomed to be disappointed. Things just don’t turn out the way we had hoped. We never quite get what we most desire, or if we do receive it, we find that somehow it doesn’t live up to our expectations. Life can be so heart-breaking.

But there is one expectation that will never be disappointed, one hope that is always fulfilled. It is hope in the promises of God. Ever since the first promise made in the Garden of Eden that some day a daughter of Eve would bear a child who would give Satan his death blow, God’s faithful servants had been longing and looking for that child. How long, I wonder, had Simeon himself been waiting for the promise to be kept? He had grown old waiting. But God never forgets a promise. He never fails to fulfill one. All who trust in him can never be disappointed. So now the day had come and there the child lay in Simeon’s own arms. Can we imagine how full his heart must have been? Surely he could have echoed these words of the psalmist: “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:1-3).

Finally, Simeon expresses thanks for salvation itself: “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Salvation was actually Simeon’s deepest need, just as it is ours – salvation from the sin that permeates us like an inoperable tumor; from the guilt that lays heavy on us blocking our access to God; from death and hell which are the natural end of every life lived in estrangement from God. All those ceremonies and sacrifices of the law, all those ritual purifications shouted one message loud and clear. We do need to be cleansed, but not from ceremonial uncleanness. Rather, we need purification from the defilement of sin. We need a sacrifice, a substitute – not the blood of pigeons or a few coins in a box, but a sin bearer whose perfect obedience and voluntary death can pay our debt and cover us with his righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Judgement Prophesied

In a marvelous way the Lord opened Simeon’s eyes that day in the temple, so that he could not only recognize Jesus but also see what Jesus would do for people. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many,” Simeon declared, “and to be a sign that will be spoken against” (v. 34). Simeon speaks about the joy of salvation but also the sorrow of suffering and the reality of judgment. Christ’s salvation is for anyone who will believe in him. It embraces gentiles as well as Jews. It is intended for all the nations of the world, as Simeon so clearly saw (v. 32). Christ is a light to lighten the gentiles. He does offer hope for everyone, but it is a hope that comes at a great price. The shadow of the cross falls here into this story across the baby Jesus and his mother. Simeon prophesies to Mary that a sword will some day pierce her soul, for Mary’s son would bring division. Some would rise because of him to eternal life but others would fall over him, stumbling against him. Some would see him and rejoice while to others he would be a sign spoken against. He would bring joy, fulfillment and life but he would also arouse hostility, opposition and hatred, rejection. Why should people hate one who never did anything but good? Yet hate him they would, and their hatred would bring him one day to a cross.

It’s still the same today. Jesus is the light of the world, the savior of the nations. But not everyone accepts him. Not all embrace him by faith. Jesus is either the cornerstone of your life or a stumbling block. You either build everything you are and hope for on him, or you trip over him and fall.

Which is it for you? What are you doing with Jesus the Christ? You can’t be neutral. He’s not a philosophy or a theory. Do you love Jesus as your Savior? Do you rejoice, like old Simeon, to see his coming? Can you face the end of your life with peace because your eyes have beheld him? Do you worship Jesus? Do you serve him as Lord? It is precisely on this point that you will either rise or fall.