Not unlike today, if you were to ask people some 2,000 years ago who Jesus is and what He came to do, you would get a variety of answers. Many answers would be versions of a “lesser than” Jesus — a rabbi and great prophet, or a political Messiah who will free Israel from the occupation and control of the Romans. When Jesus arrived, it was a dark and often confusing time for the Hebrew people. Over generations, God’s people, including the Jewish religious leaders, drifted far from God, and in the place of life-giving faith they created a legalistic, lifeless religion.
Amazingly, in the midst of all this spiritual darkness, hopelessness and confusion was a man named Simeon who saw with absolute clarity who Jesus is and what He came to do. How did Simeon manage to see and embrace what so many around him failed to see and embrace? Just as important, why should this matter to you today? Let’s answer the second question first. As long as you place your faith in any “lesser than” version of Jesus, you will live a “lesser than” life. The Jesus you place your faith in matters a lot.
Let’s look at Simeon’s story found in Luke 2:25-35.
Faith that Sees Who Jesus Really Is (vv. 25-32)
First of all, Luke did not mention the fact that Simeon was a Jewish priest in the temple, a title that would have earned Simeon respect and admiration from many. Luke instead focused on the kind of person Simeon was. In v. 25, he notes two traits about Simeon: he was “righteous and devout”. The word “righteous” is associated with God’s character. And, as applied to Simeon, means that he lived in such a way that consistently reflected the character of God in his life. The term “devout” refers to the fact that Simeon was devoted to gaining a growing understanding of God’s Word. These two traits made Simeon distinctive in his day, even among the Jewish religious leaders, because so few were truly grounded in the truth of scripture and many did not reflect God’s character in their lives.
Since Simeon was grounded in a growing understanding of the truth from God’s written Word and he was responsive to God’s lead in his life, he had a clear view of who Jesus is and what He came to do. Where so many were engaged in the rules of lifeless religion, Simeon had a vital, life-giving relationship with God.
Simeon knew that Jesus was God born into this world and that He came to transform this world one person at a time. He had a hope for the future so few had. He rejected the “lesser than” versions of Jesus.
Faith that Embraces What Jesus Does (vv. 33-35)
Simeon then warned Mary and Joseph that there will be contrasting responses to Jesus. One response is described as “falling”. This refers to those who will reject Jesus and create “lesser than” versions of who Jesus is.
But Simeon also points out that Jesus will “cause…the rising of many…” (v. 34b). The word, “rising” is a type of resurrection that carries two important implications. Those who choose to follow who Jesus is and embrace what He came to do, will experience first a spiritual resurrection — they will know a hope and depth of life not known in the world around them. Secondly, such people will experience a future literal resurrection that defeats death and ushers them into eternal life in the presence of a loving God.
Simeon arrived at such a hope-filled clarity about Jesus for three reasons:
1) He started in the right place: Simeon was grounded in the truth from God’s Word (v. 25) and responsive to God’s Spirit (v. 27). This genuine relationship with God helped him see what many missed about Jesus. He was in a place where God could speak to him and influence his life.
2) He allowed God to challenge his thinking. To allow Christ to challenge your thinking allows Him to show you what it means to perceive life from an eternal perspective instead of the immediate and temporary.
3) He was responsive to God’s Spirit. Simeon did not grow in his faith by simply learning. He grew by learning and doing. When God’s Spirit prompted him, he responded.
Are you placing your faith in a “lesser than” version of Jesus or Who Jesus is?
“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.’”