Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses continues a study of the passages from the Gospel according to St Luke which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.
These omissions are unfortunate. Today’s reading ties together Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah with the Presentation of Jesus — as Messiah — in the Temple. It would be useful if more churchgoers, particularly young people, understood the significance of Simeon and Anna’s presence with the Holy Family at this moment. They truly understood Who the infant Jesus was.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.
Jesus Presented at the Temple
22And 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 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 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. 27 And he came in 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, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Last week’s post concluded the story of Zechariah (Zachary), the priestly father of John the Baptist. The Archangel Gabriel struck him deaf and dumb at the altar in the Temple for unbelief that his aged and barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son who would announce the coming of the Lord.
It is important to know that John the Baptist, according to Gabriel’s instruction to Zechariah, became a Nazirite monk (as had Samson and Samuel in the Old Testament), which explains his appearance and diet. In return for taking the Nazirite oaths, God granted these men certain powers — e.g. prophecy or physical strength — which worked to His glory and for His people.
I mentioned last week Matthew Henry’s observation that Zechariah’s silence and deafness, which lasted a little over nine months, signified something greater: the permanent sidelining of the priesthood of Aaron — of which Zechariah was a part — for that of Christ Jesus.
Today’s reading recounts the first part of our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, which many Christians remember on Candlemas Day, February 2.
Candlemas should not be confused with Jesus’s Circumcision, commemorated on January 1, which the Gospel writer mentions in Luke 2:21.
The purification rite of circumcision is a parallel to infant baptism. St Paul made the case for the discarding of circumcision for the embrace of this holy Sacrament. In writing about Luke 2:21, Henry makes the case for infant baptism (emphases mine):
certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.
His commentary adds this about the name Jesus:
At his circumcision, according to the custom, he had his name given him; he was called Jesus or Joshua, for he was so named of the angel to his mother Mary before he was conceived in the womb (Lu. 1:31), and to his supposed father Joseph after, Mt. 1:21. [1.] It was a common name among the Jews, as John was (Col. 4:11), and in this he would be made like unto his brethren. [2.] It was the name of two eminent types of him in the Old Testament, Joshua, the successor of Moses, who was commander of Israel, and conqueror of Canaan; and Joshua, the high priest, who was therefore purposely crowned, that he might prefigure Christ as a priest upon his throne, Zec. 6:11, 13. [3.] It was very significant of his undertaking. Jesus signifies a Saviour. He would be denominated, not from the glories of his divine nature, but from his gracious designs as Mediator; he brings salvation.
Note how Mary and Joseph faithfully observed Jewish laws. They could have said, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t apply to us. If you only knew how holy our Son is!’ As such, they had Jesus circumcised and presented in the Temple. Jesus would also go on to observe Jewish law during His earthly life — as well as asking John the Baptist to confer the first sacrament on Him. From their example, we should infer that the observance of the Sacraments and life of the Church is necessary for us to follow.
In prefacing the story of the Presentation, Luke employs the words ‘according to the Law of Moses’ (verse 22). He goes on to cite the importance of a firstborn son ‘in the Law of the Lord’ (verse 23).
Henry drew a parallel between Jesus’s blood drawn during His circumcision and the subsequent purification rite with His Crucifixion and the forgiveness of believers’ sins:
our Lord Jesus, though he had no impurity to be cleansed from, yet submitted to it, as he did to circumcision, because he was made sin for us; and that, as by the circumcision of Christ we might be circumcised, in the virtue of our union and communion with him, with a spiritual circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11), so in the purification of Christ we might be spiritually purified from the filthiness and corruption which we brought into the world with us.
Luke mentions the obligatory sacrifices — ‘in the law of the Lord’ (verse 24). Henry says that the usual offering for a firstborn son included five shekels as well as an animal sacrifice. Luke makes no mention of the money but records the animal sacrifice of either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Some Bible scholars think that better-off families might have bought a more expensive animal, perhaps a lamb, to sacrifice. The priests knew a family’s financial status and accepted the sacrifice that they could afford.
When reading this account, it is worth taking into account the state of the Jewish religion at this time in history. In one of his sermons, John MacArthur cited a theologian, William Hendrickson, who described the religious and political dissension:
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.
This situation parallels our own in many parts of the world. Our political systems are oppressive and we await a better time. Spritually, many of our churches and theologians are unbelieving or legalistic. There is a small remnant of the faithful who are true believers, despite the more than 1 billion in the world who call themselves ‘Christian’.
Among the remnant of true Jewish believers were Simeon and Anna. We’ll look at Anna’s prophecy next week. Today we’ll come to understand Simeon — Simon.
Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit was moving through Simeon, a devout man who had no time for worldly religion or temporal deliverance. He was, in the traditional Jewish sense of the term, ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, the Messiah. Luke describes Simeon as ‘righteous’, meaning ‘right with God’ (verse 25) — not self-righteous.
Indeed, Simeon was so close to God that the Holy Spirit revealed that he would not die until he saw the Son of God (verse 26). Imagine having so much faith. Would that we all had Simeon’s faith today.
Who was Simeon? Henry writes that we cannot know for sure, although Jewish records say that the great teacher and rabbi, Hillel, had a son named Simeon, known for his prophecy. The Jewish hierarchy gave Simeon the title of Rabban, the highest they could give to a doctor of the faith. If this is the same Simeon, he was made the head of his father’s theological college and the Sanhedrin. Later, Simeon made it clear that he did not believe the Messiah would bring temporal salvation; with that, he was unceremoniously deposed from his posts at the Temple. As such, Henry says, the Mishna, the Jewish book of traditions, omits his name.
Another aspect of Simeon is his age. For centuries — in writing and artwork — we have understood Simeon to be elderly, on the verge of death. Yet, Henry tells us that some scholars believe that Simeon was not that old and that his father, Hillel, was still alive at the time of the Presentation. Other scholars add that Simeon was the father of Gamaliel, a Pharisee:
One thing objected against this conjecture is that at this time his father Hillel was living, and that he himself lived many years after this, as appears by the Jewish histories; but, as to that, he is not here said to be old; and his saying, Now let thy servant depart intimates that he was willing to die now, but does not conclude that therefore he did die quickly. St. Paul lived many years after he had spoken of his death as near, Acts 20:25. Another thing objected is that the son of Simeon was Gamaliel, a Pharisee, and an enemy to Christianity; but, as to that, it is no new thing for a faithful lover of Christ to have a son a bigoted Pharisee.
As we do not know, let us focus on Simeon as we see him, inspired by the Holy Spirit and in the Temple. Note how he enters the Temple, directed by the Holy Spirit to do so at a particular moment (verse 27).
Verse 28 tells us that Simeon took the Christ Child into his arms. You can imagine what that must have been like for this holy man. He must have embraced Jesus, holding Him close, very close. Think of how you hug your own children or grandchildren. Simeon’s embrace was at least that intense — probably moreso.
Simeon praised God and, in his prayer, cited the Old Testament. In verse 29, acknowledging that he can now depart the world in peace, Simeon refers to Genesis 15:15:
15As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.
From that, it is possible that Simeon lived for many more years. Again, we have no way of knowing.
In verse 30, Simon alludes to Isaiah 52:10:
10 The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
In verse 31, he refers to Psalm 98:2:
2The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
And in verse 32, to the following — first, Isaiah 42:6:
6“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
then, Isaiah 49:6:
6he 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 as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
25In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.”
And Isaiah 46:13:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.”
Simeon’s faith offers an excellent example to us today. The more I read this passage and the commentary, the more marvellous and moving it becomes.
This is a good passage to study with children. Simeon’s profound belief in God and His goodness speaks to all of us, especially to our young.
If Simeon was Hillel’s son, he was no doubt steeped in Scripture from a very early age. Hillel’s instruction would have helped to shore up Simeon’s faith from childhood. As the years passed and with further study and prayer, Simeon’s belief grew ever stronger. Because of this, he also knew discernment, enabling him to reject the false teachings of his peers in a temporal Messiah. This is why confessional clergy stress the importance of children’s learning — and memorising — Christian doctrine and the Bible. These go hand-in-hand with the power of prayer; children do well to memorise simple prayers as soon as they are able; I could say the Lord’s Prayer and others from an early age and recited them regularly, so it is possible.
If we help to shore up the faith of our young from their earliest years, they are more likely to strengthen their faith throughout their lives. Present the Bible and the Church winsomely — as clergy like to say — so that they long for it every day, in the same way that they enjoy their temporal treats.
Don’t wait for Sunday (or private) school to do it; start early at home by demonstrating your own parental good example.
Luke alludes to the importance of religious practice and the young in next week’s passage.
Next time: Luke 2:33-40