JESUS PRESENTED IN THE TEMPLE
Key Verse: 2:32
“. . . a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
We’ve probably all yelled at one time or another, “I can’t see! Turn on the lights!” In a pitch dark basement we can bump into sharp objects, break things, or even get sick after being exposed to mold or other unhealthy things. This darkness is a metaphor for spiritual darkness. We may have plenty of physical light and see just fine but be living in spiritual darkness. What is spiritual darkness? And what does it mean that Jesus is our light? In today’s passage we hear from a man named Simeon what Jesus’ birth means. He calls the baby Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” It’s a message of great hope for our dark world. May God open our hearts and speak to us through his word today.
Look at verse 21. Here the word “circumcise” immediately jumps out at us. Just like any other Jewish baby boy, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. It’s a bit surprising that the author Luke, a Gentile, tells us that Jesus was circumcised. But it wasn’t to teach us to be circumcised; it was to show us what Jesus came to do for us. Galatians 4:4,5 says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
In verse 21 we also see that at his circumcision he was also given his name. In the ancient world, people didn’t pick a nice-sounding or fashionable name for their new baby. Names were chosen from among a family’s most devout ancestors, and it was believed that the name chosen would determine the child’s character and destiny. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” It may seem obvious for the baby to be named Jesus, because the angel had already given Mary this name (1:31). But Luke makes it a point to remind us that the parents named him “Jesus.” It emphasizes their obedient faith and trust in God’s purpose for this child.
Luke goes on to give more details about this. Look at verses 22–24. We notice here that “the Law of the Lord” is capitalized, and repeated four times in today’s passage (see also verse 39). God had given his people specific instructions on what to do when a baby was born. First of all, after delivering a baby boy, the mother was considered ceremonially unclean for 40 days, during which time she was not allowed to come into God’s temple. Secondly, every firstborn male was to be consecrated to the Lord. Thirdly, an offering was to be made. In these things God was training his people to be holy and to remember his grace to save them from slavery through his plague on the firstborn son. Joseph and Mary carefully obeyed the Law of God in detail, and even went beyond it. They presented this new baby boy in the temple, to dedicate him to God. It’s a good example for parents. If we want to be good parents we need to do many things for our children. But what’s most important is to obey God’s word and to dedicate our children to God.
In mentioning these details Luke is telling us about not only the parents’ obedience but also the character of Jesus. Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world, the long-awaited Messiah. But the details surrounding his birth were very ordinary. He was circumcised, just like everyone else. His mother went through the period of purification, just like everyone else. An offering was made on his behalf, just like every other newborn boy. As we know, when people think they’re special, they don’t think they need to keep rules or laws. Famous, powerful people frequently break speeding or parking laws. In history many kings have thought they were above the law. Some parents treat their children as “special,” exempting them from mundane chores or activities. But through his parents’ obedience Jesus became like the most ordinary person (Heb2:17).
We also notice their offering. Look at verse 24. The usual offering made for a baby boy was a lamb and a dove or a pigeon. But Joseph and Mary offered “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” It was an exception made for poor people. It tells us that Jesus was born into a poor family. Who wants to be poor? Almost no one. Jesus was the Savior of the world, but at his birth his parents couldn’t afford even the ordinary offering. It reminds us of 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”
In verses 25–38 two amazing people, Simeon and Anna, appear right at the time he’s presented in the temple. God already had been working in their lives for many years, just has he’d been doing in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their testimony right at the time of Jesus’ presentation in the temple makes the meaning of his birth even more believable.
Who was Simeon? Read verses 25,26. The name “Simeon” means “the Lord hears.” Before Jesus was born the world was so dark. God seemed to have abandoned his people, giving them no word for the past 400 years. During that time they suffered so much under the world’s oppression, and especially under their own sin. They needed God’s consolation, God’s comfort. In those dark times Simeon was a man of faith and prayer. He must have been praying for many years for God to keep his promise and send the Messiah. Clever, worldly people would consider Simeon a foolish old man, a nobody. But God saw him as one of the most important persons in the world. Simeon held onto God’s promise. Many had turned away from God, but Simeon lived a devout life in reverence of God. God was so pleased with him that he put his Holy Spirit on him. God also revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. God’s promise was Simeon’s greatest treasure, and he received the greatest blessing. Read verses 27,28. Most people had no idea of the great thing that had happened in their midst. But God led Simeon to experience the greatest privilege: to hold the baby Jesus in his arms.
Many young people are given privileges for which they have no appreciation. But what did Simeon say in response to his privilege? Look at verses 29–32. Simeon was so grateful to God. He was deeply aware that God had graciously answered his prayers. Now he could see with his eyes God’s salvation for all human beings. We learn from Simeon how to live as godly people in a godless world. He held onto God’s promises, prayed, and never gave up hope in God. He didn’t get engrossed in small things; he wanted to see with his own eyes God’s promise come true, to send the Savior of the world. And he was faithful to pray for God’s people to the end of his life. God’s work and history doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens through people like Simeon.
What did he say about the baby Jesus? Let’s read verses 30–32. He calls Jesus God’s salvation. He says he’s “a light for revelation.” Simeon knew very well what it was to live in dark times. But he was convinced that Jesus is a light for revelation.
To live in darkness may sound cliché, but it’s a very real experience for so many people. Despite all our material wealth and technology, people can still be so dark. We see all around us the darkness of racism and selfishness, of anger, hatred and bitterness, of loneliness, fear and sorrow, of guilt and despair. Living in darkness people struggle just to survive, or to gratify their desires. But in darkness we have no meaning, purpose or direction, and worst of all, no truth. As we continue in darkness we gradually lose our humanity and become ugly. The 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote that human life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutal and short” (Leviathan, xiii). Even earlier, the Apostle Paul described human beings’ spiritual darkness as having “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Ro1:31). In many places in our world today there is so much darkness. So many people don’t really know God. So many are pursuing the wrong things. So many are so spiritually sick. So many seem so far away from God, and so hopeless. Sometimes this darkness can even seep into the souls of Christians. Especially when we don’t stay close to Jesus and start depending on ourselves, this darkness can overtake us.
But Jesus, God’s salvation, was born to be our light. As a light for revelation, what does he “reveal”? He reveals our sins. But even more than that, he reveals God’s love and his saving grace. He gives us “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of [our] sins” (1:77). He shows us the hope of God’s glory and of his amazing kingdom. His light is for “the Gentiles,” meaning, for all the people of the world, no matter who they may be—any race, any culture, any mentality or religion, any confusion or human state. Jesus can give light even to the person in the worst darkness. In our spiritually dark times it’s easy to become negative about many things, including college student ministry. But Jesus is still a light for revelation to today’s college students, too.
Luke emphasizes the importance of how we respond to Jesus. Look at verses 33–35. The “sword” that pierced Mary’s soul would be the day she would watch him die on a cross. But here, verse 34 is key: Those who believe in Jesus will “rise;” those who reject him will “fall.” Many people today say, “Who cares?” They seem to get away with whatever they want. In our world, success seems based on many unjust things. But that’s not true. Actually, life’s ultimate destiny is determined by how we respond to Jesus.
Who was Anna? Look at verses 36,37. If we do the math, she was probably about 105 years old. Like Simeon, this super old lady seems too intense. But she was a very precious person in the sight of God. She’d lived most of her adult life as a widow. But she didn’t spend all those years in regret, longing for a husband. She used the freedom of being single to worship God night and day and pray for her people. Like Simeon, this old lady was a “mover and shaker” in God’s redemptive history. God used her faith and prayer as an important part in sending the Savior. Look at verse 38. She greeted Mary and Joseph and their baby and gave thanks to God. And then, even this old woman went around comforting others and telling them about the good news of Jesus’ coming.
Let’s read our key verse, verse 32, again. This Christmas may Jesus’ light shine in our hearts newly. May he reveal how much we need God, and how great God’s grace and love for us are. This Christmas may Jesus be our glory. And may he inspire us with the conviction that he’s a light for the Gentiles. May he renew in us a passion to pray for all the people of the world to experience his light. May God help us learn how to obey his word and dedicate our children to God. Finally, may God help us learn how to live like Simeon and like Anna in dark times, holding on to God’s promises no matter what, and praying.