Monday, February 08, 2010

Luke 2:21-40 Commentary

Jesus Presented in the Temple
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord" [a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." [b]
25 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 on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss [c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel."

33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 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, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. [d] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Dig Deeper
I mean no offense if you happen to be in the medical profession, but the fact remains that I just do not like going to the doctor. If I can at all avoid going I will in a hot minute. In fact, the only reason that I usually go to the doctor is that my wife has made an appointment for me without my knowledge or consent, then springs it on me shortly before the appointment, and puts pressure on me until I go. It doesn’t always work that way, but it’s usually something along those lines. There are a lot of reasons that I don’t really care to go to the doctor but one of them is the way that most of them communicate. I’m not at the doctor’s office for small talk. I’m not there so that you can dance around things and make me feel better and feel positive about something. I want a straight shooter. I want someone that’s going to get down to business and tell me the real deal, whether good or bad. A few years back when we were living about 100 miles from where we currently live, my wife found a doctor through her interaction with him as a nurse and thought I might like him. I went and she was right. He was great. He didn’t try to tell me jokes or set the stage to make things palatable. If things were good, he said so. If they weren’t, he said so. When my cholesterol level went up a little he said “It can’t be your activity level, what do you eat?” I told him that I ate a couple pounds of sausage and cheese each week. He then responded by saying, “That’s fine, that’s fine, if you’d like to die soon.” I like that. Tell me like it is. That will get my attention and let me know the truth without wasting my time.

Maybe it’s because Luke was apparently a doctor, at least most historians believe that to have been the case, but Luke is a little like that doctor. He’s a straight shooter. After setting the stage and letting his readers know that there is a new king who is about to make claims as the rightful ruler of the world, we might expect some flowering language about how mighty, loveable, and successful this king is going to be. Yet, he doesn’t do that. Instead he gives it out straight. This will be the king of the world but his life won’t be a bed of roses and not everyone is going to love him. As bluntly honest as Luke has already been about the humble and unimpressive circumstances of Jesus’ birth, perhaps we should have expected more straight talk. Luke has definitely told it like would be. I like that. It gets our attention without wasting our time.

The opening verses of this section demonstrate to the reader that Mary and Joseph were not wild-eyed revolutionaries bent on raising a child that was going to be groomed to overthrow the status quo. They were God-fearing and law-abiding Jews who followed the customs and laws of the Jewish people. They had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day as was prescribed by the law (Lev. 12:3). They also likely took place in three separate ceremonies as verse 22 likely describes a trip to Jerusalem that would have taken place over a month after verse 21. The three ceremonies that they likely would have been a part of were the purification of a woman after forty days of the birth of a child (Lev. 12:2-4, 6); the presentation of the firstborn to God (Ex. 13:2, 12, 16; 34:19; Num. 18:15-16) and the dedication of the firstborn into the service of the Lord (1 Sam. 1-2). Luke’s detail that they offered doves also demonstrates that Joseph and Mary were of modest means (Lev. 12:8).

As they bring him into the city, much to their surprise, they find that Simeon had been waiting for them his entire life. He longed to see the Lord act on his promises and send his Messiah and the time had now come. We aren’t told much about Simeon himself other than that he was a faithful, God-fearing man. He knew that the hope of Israel and the world would only come through the sovereign work of the almighty God. Simeon was waiting for the Messiah because he knew that God was faithful. When he finally lays his eyes on Jesus, he knows that God has finally fulfilled His promises. The Messiah is here and Simeon feels like he’s seen all he has to in this world. Yet, he doesn’t just get to see the Messiah, the Spirit inspires and allows Simeon to hold the Messiah in his arms and to deliver an incredible prophecy concerning the life of this unique baby. This was no doubt a point of marveling to those who heard him that day and something that must have encouraged the Joseph and Mary to all the more wonder who and what he would be. Yet, Simeon’s words still ring true today and challenge us to see the same things that he saw in the life of Jesus.

Simeon declares six important truths about the Messiah that he was now holding in his arms. First, that he would bring deliverance and salvation as Simeon declared that “my eyes have seen your salvation.” The time had come for God to deliver his people from their true slavery of sin. Second, that he would fulfill the ancient promises to Abraham that his descendants would be bring blessing to all people of all nations and would dispel the darkness of being separated from God. He would be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. God came as a man to demonstrate what a life of genuine humanity, free from sin, would look like. All people will be judged based on whether they reject or accept his life as their own.

Not everything about this child would bring joy though. Those who would harden themselves to the way that God’s kingdom would break into the present age would find themselves quite opposed to God’s Messiah. The third specific thing that Simeon declared to Mary and Joseph was that this child would provoke derision and be rejected by his own people as many would speak against him. Fourth, he would cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. Jesus would be “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Isa. 8:14). Although some would rise on this stone, many would stumble against it and be crushed by it. This is not a popular message in world that wants desperately to value every point of view so that none might be seen as the one truth. The danger of truth is that it shows all other options to be false. Fifth, because he was the truth revealed by God, this child would determine the destiny of the whole world (v. 34). Those who embraced him would become part of the family that God had promised to Abraham, but those who rejected him would be outside of God’s family forever. This child would not only cause division among his own countrymen and, indeed all people, but the sword of anguish over her son’s ministry and message would pierce the world of his own mother.

The stark fact for every human being is that what we do in our lives with that baby that Simeon held in his arms over 2,000 years ago, determines our eternity. This is what Simeon meant with the sixth reality of the Messiah which is the fact that by his life “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Simeon’s prophecy is that his words not only were fulfilled during the life of Jesus, they remain as true for people today as they were true during Jesus’ lifetime.

Luke, always the careful reporter, gives us a second witness from this witness to the Temple. Anna is a devout woman who had dedicated the balance of her life to praying and fasting for the arrival of God’s redemption of his people. She had suffered through Israel’s barrenness for long enough and longed desperately for the time to come for God to give birth to his plan to fulfill his promises.

Apparently Luke couldn’t help but see obvious connections between his account of Jesus here at the Temple and the account of Samuel’s birth in 1 Samuel and is eager to bring out the parallels at several points. Luke, no doubt, felt that, like so many other Old Testament accounts, the birth of Samuel pointed ahead to the coming of God’s Messiah. The parallels between these opening chapters and the birth of Samuel are many. We are told of the presentation of the child in both accounts (1 Sam. 1:22; Lk. 2:22). Hannah sings praises of thanksgiving (1 Sam. 2:1-10), while Anna (which is the same name in Hebrew as Hannah) praises God and gives thanks. Eli blesses Samuel’s parents (1 Sam. 2:20) and Simeon, we are told, blesses Jesus’ parents (Lk. 2;34). We are told in both accounts of the boy continuing to grow in stature and in their grace and favor with the Lord (1 Sam. 2:21; Lk. 2:40). The Temple plays a major role in both accounts as both boys are in the Temple without their parents (1 Sam. 3:1-18; Lk. 2:41-51). Finally, both accounts come to a close with similar words about the importance of God’s word, his wisdom, in the continued growth of the child (1 Sam. 3:19; Lk. 2:52).

As we reflect back on Luke’s telling of Jesus’ first visit to the Temple we cannot help to think of his last trip there in the days before his death. Simeon’s dark words, and Luke’s blunt telling of those words, remind us that opposition, division, suffering, and death will be part of Jesus’ vocation and life. This is what happens when the kingdom of God clashes with the kingdoms of the world. The kingdoms of the world are defeated through suffering and death. Let us, as followers of Jesus, constantly remember that we are called equally to confront the kingdoms of the world and that we are called by the master to follow his example of victory through death (Lk. 9:23-26). The strongholds of the world are defeated and demolished when we lay down our own lives and walk as Jesus walked (1 Jn. 2:6). May we never back down from that challenge.

Devotional Thought
You may well have already made your decision of what to do with Jesus Christ but have you really taken stock of the ramifications of the fact that every single person will face eternity based on the decision that they have made to seek salvation and embrace Christ or to reject him? Do you have an urgency about that fact when it comes to sharing your faith with those around you? Who can you share your faith with today?

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