The Gospel of Luke: Jesus Presented at the Temple
Luke 2:21-38 An elderly devout man and woman see the Savior and their hope is fulfilled
“And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
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. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Luke 2:21-38 NASB1995
A story that is also unique to the first chapters in the Gospel of Luke is the visit by Mary and Joseph, with Child in their arms, to the Temple in Jerusalem eight days after the birth of Jesus, around the time of His circumcision. The family encounters an elderly “righteous and devout” man named Simeon who holds the Child and speaks this blessing (Nunc Dimittis) to God. Another elderly and devout woman named Anna , who is a prophetess, is nearby and she is also moved to fervent thanks by seeing the child. I love this Rembrandt painting of the imagined scene. The famed Dutch artist actually did three paintings in his lifetime of Jesus in the Temple with Simeon; Anna is not apparent in this version. Notice the light in this painting - it all comes from the Christ Child in Simeon’s arms. Mary looks on with wonder, taking in all these events, which follow the appearance of shepherds out of nowhere a few days earlier after His birth to worship the Child. In the full painting (this is a detail) things are happening in the muted background, with people coming and going to the Temple.
I have a confession to make. I have been reading the Bible every year for years online using a plan and this is the first time I have actually had this story in front of me where it made an impression because I am forced to dig into it to write this devotional. God’s Word is full of these discoveries, no matter how many times you read the Bible. This is like the prophecy of Zacharias, a beautiful gem right out in the open that people probably skip by or read in a hurry to get to the more “interesting” adult ministry years of Jesus. At our church, we have these journals that we just started using in September that have daily Bible readings in which you read, research, reflect and respond in prayer to the passages for that day; there is also room for taking notes at the weekly services and small group gatherings. These have been earth-shaking for us, like going from watching amateur pick-up baseball games to attending the Major Leagues, even the World Series. Where I used to spend maybe 15-20 minutes on a Bible plan, including reading a devotional and racing (as my eyes might glaze over) through the texts for the day, I have now devoted upwards of two hours on many days really digging into the passages, using commentaries and Bible analysis tools to enhance my understanding so I can reflect and respond. We were really happy at church on Sunday that our next journal that starts on January 1 was available for purchase. Thanks to God for these journals!
Back to the Temple visit…it is thought this event happened before the Magi visited the Holy Family and before Herod’s decree to kill children in the area of Bethlehem under the age of two, forcing the family to flee to Egypt. Temple law per Leviticus 12 required the sacrifice of a lamb for a newborn son, but there was an option for poorer families to offer up two doves or pigeons. Obviously, Joseph was of modest means and they had yet to receive the gift of Gold from one of the Magi visitors, so they make this offering. Simeon is full of the Holy Spirit, which has told him that he will not die until he sees the Christ. He immediately recognizes Jesus as this fulfillment of God’s promise and he holds the Child, declaring a blessing to the Lord and recognizing that he can now depart in peace as he has seen the Lord’s salvation, which is a light to the Gentiles and the hope of the people of Israel. He also warns Mary that a “sword will pierce her soul”, prophesying that the road ahead will be difficult, to say the least. Jesus is a stumbling block for many, as the opposition to Him then and now makes apparent. Anna sees this blessing occur and becomes a messenger of God, telling others of this wondrous occasion.
Simeon has his hope fulfilled by God and so did Anna. When you are heading into your last years on Earth (or even if you are young and vigorous) hope is the best thing to grasp and not give in to fear. Hope is the foundation for believers, along with faith and love. We can hope when there is despair. We can hope as our righteousness grows and our joy increases. We can hope in our salvation and our eternal life. We can hope when temporary circumstances are dragging many down. We can hope when there is economic or political turmoil. We can hope when there is war and famine and oppression and persecution. Our hope is in the Lord, as bond servants (obedient slaves) of the Most High. Wishes are what we want, in our selfish and double-minded lives. Hope is what God wants for us. Be like Simeon and be filled with hope and leave the wishes behind.
A Christmas Carol that sprang to mind to end these devotionals from the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke is “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, written by Charles Wesley in 1744 and set to various musical scores (depending on denominations):
1. Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
2. Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
My next series of devotionals will do a deep dive into the glorious passages found in the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18). Some of my devotionals may look at a single verse at a time because of the depth of meaning. The Apostle John had some of the most remarkable insights into this most remarkable event in human history.
Dear Lord - Thank you for the hope of the long-expected Jesus. May I be like Simeon or Anna, rejoicing in seeing the fulfillment of your promises and growing in hope, devotion, righteousness and peace. In Jesus name, Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is in the Public Domain.