And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking 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. (Luke 2:25, 26 NASB)
Simeon is an anomaly in this account. He’s somewhat like John the Baptist, somewhat like Zachariah John’s father, and somewhat like a respectable old man. He does stuff by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which means, in his day, he’s really weird and unpredictable. On the other hand, he loves his people, and he loves his God. He’s probably one of the most upbeat people in the temple any time he’s there; and that’s with the people suffering under Roman rule and the religious leaders being ridiculously unrighteous.
Simeon the Enigma
As we read through the account of Jesus’ ‘presentation’, it’s Simeon and Anna who throw us for a loop, but this guy seems the tip of an iceberg. I’m left wanting to know more of Simeon’s story. What we’re told is is that he was righteous, devout, seeking the comforting of his people by his God, and that the Holy Spirit was on him. So, Luke specifically says, ‘on him’ rather than that he is ‘filled’. This seems like an ‘Old Testament’ reference where the Holy Spirit comes on someone for a specific purpose for a specific time. It’s not like the experience of followers of Jesus after His resurrection.
Simeon seems to be a holdover from the previous ways God worked with His people rather than a forerunner like John, already filled with the Holy Spirit before birth. He is still driven by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple to see what he was promised. And what about that promise? He was told he would not see death until he had first seen the Messiah of God’s people Israel. Why would God promise such a thing to anyone? And yet Jesus does something similar with His disciples, right before they witness the transfiguration.
Simeon the Musical Prophet
So, he goes. So he finds. And then he sings. Like the other pieces of Luke’s ‘prologue’, Simeon breaks into song in response to God’s fulfillment of His promise. But look at what he sings. This child will be a light; okay, we get that, this is used a lot with Jesus. This light is ‘into revelation of nations’. But he is also the ‘glory of Your people Israel’. Jesus is the glory of the people who rejected Him (at first anyway), and a revelation to those outside the promises of Israel.
But his song isn’t all he has to say. He also speaks directly to Mary (not Joseph?). He predicts that Jesus is ‘appointed’ (think ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’) for the falling and rising (the word for resurrection) of many. It’s an interesting choice of words here. I wonder if Mary told this to Luke just this way, if it got to Luke from someone else in this form, or whether Luke rephrased it for the purposes of this Gospel. He’s inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, so none of these options take away from what he wrote. But Simeon continues.
Jesus is also a ‘sign to be opposed’. Not the most comforting thing for a mother to hear. But he goes on to point out two other elements, and their ‘order’ and therefore, meaning, are odd. First mentioned is that a sword will pierce her soul, and then that the thoughts and hearts of many will be revealed. So, is it that Jesus as a sign will reveal the hearts and thoughts or the sword piercing Mary’s soul reveals these things? I don’t think it’s either. I believe that Simeon refers to the crucifixion, and as an event of opposition to Jesus, it is a sign, the piercing of Mary’s heart, AND reveals the thoughts and hearts of many.
Simeon the Example of Hope
As I said, Simeon is an anomaly in his day. He stands out as a righteous and devout man in a time when such seem in short supply. He seeks the comfort of his people in a day when they are under foreign rule and led by unrighteous religious leaders. It had to be a time when hopeless ran rampant, and yet he has hope. He knows he will see the salvation of God in his lifetime. When he does, he sees all the way to the cross. I don’t know if he sees beyond that, but he at least sees that far. He sees that the troubling aspects of his people that he is confronted with daily will be revealed and corrected by this child. That is the comfort, the salvation, the purpose of the Messiah he is looking for.
What are we looking for? Because if we’re not looking for what Simeon was looking for then we’re wasting our time. I confess that during work, I’m looking for a way out; after hours, a way to relax; with friends, a good time; and with my family, peace. Wouldn’t it make more sense to, in each of these situations, to seek the work of my Master? Doesn’t seeking His Kingdom, and His Righteousness make more sense than seeking the stuff of this world? What lesson can we learn from Simeon? How about the focus under the direction of the Holy Spirit that drives us to seek out the things of God first. Isn’t that the most sure path to hope? And hope isn’t another job, or another place, or different people, or better food, or a bigger house. Hope is only found within the boundaries of the Kingdom of our God.
What’s your view through the knothole?