The First Sunday After Christmas December 29, 2013
136, 99, 138(1-4,6), 94
And Joseph and His mothermarveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then 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.”Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
In Christ Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
A whole new way of life begins with the arrival of a child, especially for first-time parents. New parents face a brand new learning experience and a whole new world of joy and blessing. As parents look at their tiny gift from God they may well wonder what their son or daughter will do in life. What kind of hardship and success might he face? How might they prepare their child for what he will face?
We shouldn’t doubt that Mary and Joseph had the same kinds of questions and feelings as any other parents. While it is true that Joseph was only a step-father to Jesus, he certainly loved and cared for Jesus as if He were his own. Like any other parents, Mary and Joseph were undoubtedly PARENTS who WONDERed ABOUT THEIR NEWBORN CHILD. Simeon’s words to Mary and Luke’s report concerning Jesus’ childhood answer these parental questions: I. What will He grow up to be? II. What will He face in the world? and III. What about now and His childhood. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless our meditation.
Mary and Joseph had come to Jerusalem in order to fulfill two parts of God’ law. To better understand what Mary and Joseph came to do, we go to God’s Old Testament Law.
When God delivered the Children of Israel out of Egypt, the tenth and final plague was the killing of the firstborn. Because God spared the firstborn of the faithful in Israel, He said that the firstborn of Israel belonged to Him. “Consecrate (set apart) to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine” (Exodus 13:2).
The firstborn animals were to be given back to the Lord in sacrifice. If someone wanted to keep a firstborn donkey he could redeem it by offering a lamb. If he chose not to redeem the donkey, he was to break its neck. All of the first born sons were to be redeemed.
Years later, when God formally established the priesthood in Israel, rather than taking all of the firstborn males—who belonged to the Lord because of what happened in Egypt—as priests, God took all of the males from one tribe. God made an exchange, all of the men from the tribe of Levi in exchange for the rest of the firstborn. However, there were more firstborn males than there were Levite males so the people were required to pay a redemption price to the Levites to make up the difference.
So even though God claimed the Levites in exchange for all the other firstborn, parents of firstborn males were still required to present their child to the Lord, bring the appropriate sacrifice, and pay the redemption cost to the priests.
This presentation of a first-born son was one purpose which brought Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem.
The second reason for coming to Jerusalem was Mary’s purification. When a woman gave birth to a son, God said she would be ceremonially unclean for seven days. If a woman gave birth to a daughter, she was declared unclean for 14 days. These 7 or 14 days were the days of the woman’s personal impurity. During that time anything she touched became unclean and had to be purified.
In addition to these days of personal impurity, God added 33 more days of purification in the case of a son and 66 more days in the case of a daughter. During this second period of time, what the woman touched was no longer automatically unclean, but she was not supposed touch anything sacred nor should she come into the temple.
When all of the days were completed, the woman was to come to the temple and have the priest offer a lamb as a burnt offering of thanksgiving and trust in God. At the same time, a young pigeon or turtledove was to be offered as a sin-offering for the forgiveness of sins through faith. If a mother was not able to afford a lamb for the burnt offering, a young pigeon or turtledove could be used as a substitute, and that is what Mary did.
While Mary and Joseph were in the temple to present Jesus and to sacrifice for Mary’s purification, they met Simeon. We are told that Simeon was a believer who was eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. God had somehow revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. From this, it is often concluded that Simeon was an old man, but nothing in Scripture indicates that this was the case. We simply don’t know how old he was.
After Simeon had taken Jesus in his arms and praised God for sending salvation through the child and for allowing himself to see it first-hand, we hear that “Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.” [v.33]
Both Mary and Joseph had been told by an angel that Jesus would be the Savior; and yet the full impact and all the details involved would be a source of never-ending marvel for them. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us to hear that “Mary kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Consider all of the “marvelous” things that had already happened. First, the angel’s message to both Mary and Joseph; then the actual birth of God’s son from a virgin; the shepherds’ arrival and worship; many of those to whom the shepherds spoke also likely came to see Jesus; and now, just 41, days after Jesus was born, a complete stranger in the temple knew all about Jesus and spoke about the salvation which God would bring through this child—a salvation and light even to the Gentiles!
While Joseph and Mary marveled, Simeon blessed them and then said to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel…(yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” [vv.34-35]
All of the Christmas announcements declared Jesus to be the long-awaited Savior. Simeon’s words agreed with those announcements and added more information. This child was already the Savior of the world, but not until He had grown into adulthood would His earthly ministry take shape and become evident to the world. Simeon’s words looked ahead to that time.
As Mary, the young mother of our Lord, stood in the temple of Jerusalem she heard about another day when she would stand outside the same city at the foot of a cross and watch her son, now still an infant, die above her.
A sword of pain would pierce through the heart of a loving mother as she witnessed the rejection and hatred directed toward her son. The sword of deep grief would stab into Mary’s own soul when she would see the hatred of the world lead to Jesus’ death. Yet, the same events which would pierce Mary’s heart with sorrow would also reveal the hearts of many. Jesus’ preaching and suffering and death would reveal the true nature of hearts. The hearts of the Pharisees, Scribes, and other unbelieving Jews would be exposed and revealed to be hearts that proudly relied on themselves and their goodness and their own arrogant interpretation of God’s Word.
Jesus’ preaching and suffering and death would also reveal repentant believing hearts—like those of Zaccheaus, the sinful woman, Peter, Paul, and many others who saw their sin with grief, understood their own helplessness, and looked to Jesus and His cross for help and salvation.
From birth to death to resurrection Jesus is the Savior of the world who gave Himself for sinners. He gave Himself so that through Him we might have life. That, Mary and Joseph, is who this child is and what He will grow up to do.
Simeon told Mary what kind of an environment Jesus would face as He grew up and it would not be entirely friendly. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.” [v.34]
When Jesus went about teaching and preaching, there would be many whose hearts would be pricked by His words against their sin. All of their illusions as to what they themselves could do would be shattered. Any ideas of self grandeur and self-worth would fall. They would see their own self-reliance fail. They would fall and fall hard, but Jesus would also raise them up. He would raise them up with His Word assuring them that He came to rescue them from their sins. When the fallen heard Jesus’ words of hope and help He became precious to them.
Anna, whom we also meet at the temple, is an example of someone in Israel who was “raised up” by the child in Simeon’s arms. “Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” [v.36-38]
Unlike the Gospel report concerning Simeon, we are told that Anna was definitely old. She was married for seven years and a widow for 84, which leaves her at an age of over 100 years old. Like Simeon, Anna was a faithful believer eagerly waiting for the Savior. Like Simeon, Anna was overjoyed and filled with thanksgiving to see her young Savior. Like the shepherds in Bethlehem, Anna’s joy led to a glad sharing of the news with others.
There would also be many in Israel who would fall because of Jesus and not be raised up. Those who rejected Jesus and refused to hear His Word would remain in their unbelief. In the end, all who cling to their unbelief will bring Jesus’ decree of eternal damnation upon themselves.
Peter described the rise and fall resulting from Jesus in this way, “to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient…a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:7-8). Paul noted to the Corinthians that Christ crucified is “…to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeksfoolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). To the Galatians, Paul speaks of the “offense of the cross” which led to his persecution; and again to the Corinthians he said that his preaching was to some “the aroma of death unto death” and to others the “aroma of life unto life” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
As a result of the coming rejection and hatred toward Jesus, Simeon said, He would become a sign to be spoken against. As Jesus grew in popularity, the leaders spoke against Jesus and threatened that anyone who confessed Him as the Christ him would be put out of the synagogue (cf. John 9). The “speaking against” Jesus is also directed against His followers. When Paul arrived in Rome, some of the Jewish leaders there said, “we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect (Christians), we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” (Acts 28:22).
Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word have been, are now, and always will be a “sign spoken against,” a source of contention, and the cause of upheaval in the world. There is no neutral ground. One is either for Christ or against Him. An uncaring attitude might be considered to be neutral toward Him, but ultimately that too is an attitude against Him.
Truth and faithfulness in a world that is sinful and which loves falsehood, will cause contentions. Jesus and His Word are absolute truth and will cause divisions in this sinful world. Jesus Himself said the same thing, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35).
Even though Simeon and Jesus Himself said otherwise, people still like to preach and believe that Jesus’ primary purpose for coming to earth was to bring peace and tranquility on the earth. They will then seek to do anything they can, even to the point of denying part of the truth of God’s Word, in an effort to establish peace and remove all contention. Jesus is our Redeemer who came to bring us a far better peace than that which the world gives (cf. John 14:27). Jesus came to give us peace with God by removing our sins and their guilt and condemnation.
Simeon told Mary that in the world her Son would face was opposition, hatred, and controversy from others—so too, do all His followers.
“So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” [v.39-40]
These two verses are Luke’s summary of Jesus’ first twelve years of life. A few more details come from Matthew’s account. From Matthew we know that although Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth after these events in the temple, their return was not immediate. First, they returned to Bethlehem, then the wise men came, then they fled to Egypt, and then they returned and lived in Nazareth.
The time in Jesus’ life from when He was 41 days old to when He was the twelve-year old in the temple, and the time from when He was twelve to when He began His ministry at age 30, are periods of time about which Scripture is virtually silent. This has not stopped many from speculating on events from Jesus’ childhood. Traditional writings outside of Scripture have many examples of miracles with which Jesus was supposed to have amazed His childhood friends.
We too might wish we had a little more information about Jesus’ childhood. However, such information would only satisfy our curiosity—or whet it more—and would not serve toward our salvation. God did not have His Word recorded as a biography of Jesus nor a volume for entertainment and amazement at all of the things Jesus did. The Word was written for one purpose alone “…that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:31). So whenever we find something “missing” we can rest assured that what God has told us is all that we need for our salvation and the rest is unnecessary.
However, before we become too disappointed at how little we know about Jesus’ childhood we should note that God tells us more than we might think. Luke described Jesus’ childhood in much the same way as he described John the Baptist’s childhood. He grew physically, He grew emotionally, He grew intellectually, and He grew in His knowledge of Scripture. As Joseph and Mary raised Jesus in the way of God-fearing parents and instructed Him in the Word of God, God’s grace was upon Him and blessed Him in His childhood, adolescence, and then young adulthood.
In other words, Jesus grew and matured just like any other little boy. Luke can summarize Jesus’ childhood so simply because it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Scripture’s silence concerning Jesus’ childhood is actually a great testimony to a vital part of our salvation. The fact that Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood was, by outward appearances, just like anyone else’s shows that He was indeed true man. Jesus didn’t come to earth as some kind of super human being whom everyone would notice as remarkably different. He took on our form, became like one of us, and was found in appearance as a man so that He could be our substitute and Savior.
If Joseph and Mary wondered about what kind of childhood Jesus would have, the answer was that it would be very typical of other children. Throughout Jesus’ childhood, the only notable difference from any other son was that He was without sin. Naturally, the lack of sin in a child would make a difference in the household, but to those on the outside who didn’t know who Jesus truly was, Jesus would just have appeared to be an exceptionally “good kid.” Also, Mary and Joseph and their own children were sinful so the household would have still appeared very typical.
The young child Jesus, upon whom Mary and Joseph gazed, was the Redeemer who would save sinners and be rejected by sinners. He was 100% man while at the same time still holy and 100% God. At the time that Simeon held Jesus in his arms Jesus looked just like any other baby and most of what He would accomplish was still prophecy and lay in the future.
Simeon knew what would take place and now we know what has taken place. So is it any wonder then that as we look upon this newborn child we too would join with Simeon to say, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word: For my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.