Called to Witness
Isaiah 49:5, 6
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Explain who Simeon was and why his witness to the coming of the Messiah was so significant.
2. Understand that the promises of God are certain, even when they seem to be delayed.
3. Make a commitment to proclaim to others how he or she has seen God fulfill his promises.
How to Say It
Augustine. AW-gus-teen or Aw-GUS-tin.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Dec. 24—A Light to All Nations (Isaiah 49:5, 6)
Tuesday, Dec. 25—The Presentation to God (Luke 2:21–24)
Wednesday, Dec. 26—The Consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25, 26)
Thursday, Dec. 27—A Sign from the Spirit (Luke 2:27, 28)
Friday, Dec. 28—A Light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:29–33)
Saturday, Dec. 29—A Sign of Opposition (Luke 2:34, 35)
Sunday, Dec. 30—A Sign of Redemption (Luke 2:36–38)
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.”
Why Teach This Lesson?
Every person who has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior has become a witness to the story of the gospel. This person has experienced the power of Jesus Christ personally and has tasted the mercy and grace of God firsthand. That’s a use of the word witness in the sense of seeing or experiencing.
But witness also has the sense of telling. Do your students recognize the great opportunity and responsibility they have to tell the story of their salvation? No stories of salvation are exactly the same but each witness story is a lifeline to a drowning world. Simeon in today’s lesson is a witness to your students. He will inspire them, in a way, to go forth and do the same.
A. To Witness
When a crime is committed, the police always look for witnesses. When a disaster hits a community, the reporters for the evening news always want to interview a witness on the site. Many times people on the scene can hardly wait to tell what they know. This is a reminder that the verb witness has at least two meanings: “to see something” and “to testify about something.”
People see and testify not only to crimes and disasters, but also to good things. People who are getting married choose good friends to sign the marriage license in witness. They invite family and friends to witness the happy event. Life has many special moments that are good to witness.
In this lesson we will be introduced to a man who witnessed a great event of history. He was told long in advance of the great day; he spent his life waiting for the moment. The event was the arrival of the Messiah at the temple; the eyewitness was a man named Simeon.
B. Lesson Background
A striking element of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth is the mention of the man Simeon. While he bore the noble name of one of the tribes of Israel, absolutely nothing is known about him outside Luke’s few verses. Of the various things this text says about Simeon, the most important is that “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25).
While the presence of the Holy Spirit was not a common experience in the lives of the people of Israel, the Holy Spirit has been directly involved since the beginning (Genesis 1:2). In the Old Testament the Spirit came upon people whom God selected to do special tasks. To such people the Spirit gave skill in craftsmanship (Exodus 31:3), wisdom in leadership (Judges 3:10), or phenomenal physical strength (Judges 14:6). As king of Israel, David pleaded with God, “Do not … take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). Most importantly, the prophets were enabled to speak “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
As the Gospel accounts begin, it had been more than 400 years since the last Holy Spirit–inspired Scripture was penned (the book of Malachi). Today we will see that Simeon had received, at some point in his life, Holy Spirit–inspired knowledge of the coming of the Messiah. He had a firsthand privilege of seeing the infant Savior.
I. Witness by Obeying (Luke 2:22–24)
Our opening verses show several of the ways in which God calls people to be witnesses to their faith. The first is by obedience to his Word. Joseph and Mary demonstrate their respect for God by doing what he says. The purification of the mother and the redemption of the firstborn son are acts of submission to God’s law.
A. Purification (v. 22a)
22a. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed,
According to the Law of Moses, a Jewish woman is ceremonially unclean for 7 days after she gives birth to a son (Leviticus 12:2–4). On day 8 she is to have her baby circumcised (Luke 2:21). Then she is to remain in seclusion for another 33 days. During this period of nearly 6 weeks, she is not to touch any hallowed thing, nor can she go to the temple. When the 40 days of her purification are over, it is time for Mary and Joseph to take the baby Jesus to Jerusalem.
B. Presentation (vv. 22b, 23)
22b, 23.… Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
As Luke makes clear, there is more than one requirement of the law that Mary and Joseph deal with. One is Mary’s purification (Leviticus 12); the other is the presentation and redemption of their son. The two requirements are closely linked. Devout Jews perform this presentation in Jerusalem if at all possible. Once Joseph and Mary reach the city, they go to the temple so they can present their firstborn to the Lord.
The Law of the Lord gives a specific requirement for every firstborn male. Firstborn males belong to the Lord as his holy possession. This applies to both humans and livestock (Exodus 13:2, 12). This law reminds the people that the Lord had brought the Jews out of Egypt by slaying the firstborn of the Egyptians (Exodus 13:15).
The Lord also provided a way by which the newborn male could be redeemed or “bought back” at a price of five shekels (Numbers 18:15-16). From the very infancy of Jesus, everything in his life is done to fulfill all that the law requires (see also Matthew 3:15; Galatians 4:4).
Dedicated to the Lord
I am not a firstborn child. I am the second son (third child) born to the third son (fourth child) in my grandfather’s family. Yet when my mother was pregnant with me, my 70-year-old grandmother (a very devout Christian woman) dedicated me to the Lord. That may seem a bit brazen to some. After all, won’t the child grow up to make his or her own decisions about religion or anything else?
My grandmother never told my parents what she had done. She never told me either, as she died when I was only a few months old. She told only my aunt. My aunt did not tell me what my grandmother had done until I was 26 years old. At that time I was already engaged in a preaching ministry, and I was taking advanced studies to prepare for a career in Bible college teaching. It was an uncanny feeling to discover that I had been dedicated to the Lord’s service even before I was born!
Long before Jesus was born, he had already been dedicated to his task. His presentation in the temple was the formality that confirmed what God had predicted as far back as the Garden of Eden. Today—right now—you have the opportunity to dedicate yourself (or dedicate yourself anew) to serving God. You need not and should not depend on a parent or grandparent to do this for you. What choice will you make? —J. B. N.
C. Sacrifice (v. 24)
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.”
The parents also offer a sacrifice to God. In the Law of the Lord, the parents are told to offer a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6–8). If they cannot offer a lamb because of their poverty, they are permitted to offer a pair of doves or two young pigeons. (One of the pair would take the place of the lamb as the burnt offering; the other would be the sin offering.)
What Do You Think?
What inspiration can we gain from the fact that Joseph and Mary faithfully fulfilled their obligations under the Old Testament law, despite having been shown special, miraculous attention by God?
The offering of Joseph and Mary serves as a subtle reminder that these people are humble peasants. They do not have the means to offer a lamb as a burnt offering. This fact reminds us that God’s Son does not come to live in the palace of a king. He experiences humanity’s hardships; he suffers as the Son of Man (see 2 Corinthians 8:9).
II. Witness by Believing (Luke 2:25–29)
When God speaks, his people accept what he says as true. Thus we bear witness by believing. Although God’s promises may seem unlikely or even impossible, they are steadfast and sure. In these verses Simeon bears witness to God’s faithfulness by believing that the Messiah would indeed come in his lifetime.
A. Lifetime of Waiting (vv. 25, 26)
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 upon him.
Simeon is the name borne by a man who encounters Jesus’ family in the temple. This is a famous name, the name of the second son of Jacob by Leah; it is thus the name of 1 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
According to the way the world looks at people, there is little that is noteworthy about Simeon. In God’s sight, however, Simeon has an important role in identifying the infant Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon is a righteous man who is devout in the practice of his faith. This man is waiting for the consolation, or “comforting,” of Israel. He is part of the faithful remnant of Israel who still expects that God will comfort his people as Isaiah had promised (see Isaiah 40:1-2; 49:13). The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus later will call the Comforter (John 14:16), has a special presence in Simeon’s life.
26. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
The Holy Spirit has brought consolation into Simeon’s life by revealing a wonderful truth: before Simeon dies, he will see the Lord’s Christ. The Lord God has promised to send his Christ, his Messiah—his Anointed One. Jesus is the one anointed by God to bring deliverance. Many thousands of God-fearing Jews have lived and died without seeing the coming of the Messiah. But the Spirit has assured Simeon that he will see this event. How blessed Simeon is!
B. Moment of Fulfillment (v. 27)
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,
The Spirit previously has rested upon Simeon to reveal the coming of Christ. Now that same Spirit leads Simeon into the temple courts. Today is the day—the great moment has finally arrived!
What Do You Think?
How does the Spirit’s leading in our own lives compare and contrast with that of Simeon’s? How do we distinguish the Spirit’s leading from the impulses of the flesh?
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon notices a certain young couple who has come to present their child after the custom of the law. The Spirit has brought Simeon to this encounter with the child Jesus.
He Came by the Spirit
I am not what I call a subjective person, nor easily moved by warm fuzzies. I tend to think of myself as rational, thoughtful, and methodical. Perhaps that is why I am always a bit skittish when I hear people say, “It was a God thing.”
I know what they mean: they believe that God led them to a certain action that turned out to be beneficial to themselves and others. Yet I always struggle with the question, “But did God really do it, or was it just coincidence?” It’s not that I don’t believe that God works in marvelous ways or that he is incapable of direct intervention in our lives to accomplish his will. I just wish there were some kind of objective test I could apply that would guarantee that the event was indeed “a God thing.”
Even so, I cannot deny that God has indeed led people throughout history. Centuries ago, he led Augustine to England to begin the conversion of that people to Christianity. He led Boniface to Germany to begin the conversion of the tribes there. He led Luther through the turmoil of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. He led John Wesley into a significant revival in England in the eighteenth century. He led Dwight Moody into revivalism in the century that followed.
Perhaps I just need to have more faith in God’s leading. His leading is always better seen in hindsight than in present tense. Regardless, the Spirit led Simeon to the temple for a glorious experience with the incarnate Christ. Where or to whom might the Spirit lead you today? —J. B. N.
C. Words of Benediction (vv. 28, 29)
28.… Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
When Simeon approaches the parents, why do Mary and Joseph release their infant into his arms? Do they see the reverent joy in his eyes? Does the Holy Spirit also reveal the nature of this event to them? We don’t know, but there must be something both commanding and reassuring in Simeon’s bearing for the young mother to allow a stranger to hold her baby!
What Do You Think?
Simeon is content for his days on earth to end after he meets Jesus. How have you seen people respond to Jesus in their “golden years”?
Notice that Simeon’s praise is not directed to the child but to God, who has brought salvation to his people.
29. “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
What Do You Think?
What was a time when you saw God bring about a blessing after many years of waiting and expecting? What was your reaction?
Simeon’s words of blessing form a reverent prayer. After untold years of waiting and believing, now he is ready to depart in peace. Apparently he is an older man for whom death is imminent. The Christ child has come during Simeon’s lifetime, as God had promised. Everything is just as God said it would be. Following “Mary’s Song” (Luke 1:46–55) and “Zechariah’s Song” (1:67–79), this begins Luke’s third great canticle: “Simeon’s Song” (2:29–32).
III. Witness by Proclaiming (Luke 2:30–35)
The ultimate role of a witness is to proclaim what he or she has seen. A witness who sees but fails to speak up has failed to fulfill this function. Simeon gladly speaks out to everyone who will listen: the salvation of the Lord has come!
A. Good News for All (vv. 30–33)
30. “For my eyes have seen your salvation,
As a faithful witness, Simeon is eager to proclaim what he knows. With his own eyes he has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the child through whom deliverance will come. Indeed, his eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord (Isaiah 40:5; 52:10)!
Still, it must be admitted that Simeon has seen only a baby. There is nothing remarkable in the appearance of this infant. There is no golden halo over his head. But Simeon sees the baby Jesus through the eyes of faith. He believes what God has revealed through his Spirit. It is in this sense that Simeon can say he had seen the Lord’s salvation.
What Do You Think?
Simeon’s delight comes from knowing something about who Jesus is. How did you first react when you realized who Jesus is and what he has done for you?
31. “ … which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
Simeon knows that the arrival of Jesus somehow advances God’s plan of salvation in the sight of all people. There is important doctrinal truth here: God’s salvation is not just for Israel; it is for everyone. God’s love is being extended to the whole world. The universality of the gospel is a strong theme in the Gospel of Luke. See the next verse.
32. “ … a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon gets more specific. This child will be a light that will penetrate the pagan darkness of the Gentiles, as Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6 promise. This light will also be the shining glory of God’s chosen people. For Israel, nothing will be more to the nation’s glory than giving birth to the Messiah (Isaiah 46:13).
Christ does not come, therefore, to cast aside either Jews or Gentiles or to set them against one another. When this light penetrates the darkness, there will be illumination for all. In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew (Colossians 3:11).
33. The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
Simeon has spoken of the child in such glowing terms that Joseph and the baby’s mother are frankly amazed. While they themselves know special truth about Jesus, they are startled by words spoken by a total stranger. How can he know who this child is? How can he know about the salvation God would bring through him? But Simeon has even more to say!
B. Bad News for Some (v. 34)
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,
Visual for Lesson 5
Point to this visual as you ask, “In what ways will you be a faithful witness this week?”
Simeon now blesses Mary and Joseph, following with a special message for Mary personally. The coming of Jesus is destined for both bad news and good. It is the determination of God that it shall be so.
The bad news and good news are expressed in terms of the falling and rising of many in Israel. This points to a division within Israel. God has set Christ as the great divide regarding the destiny of every person. While Jesus is the source of salvation for all who obey him (see Hebrews 5:9), he is also the point of spiritual collapse for those who reject him. Though he is himself the sign and symbol of God’s love, he will be spoken against by many of those whom he comes to save. Tragically, such opposition is to be especially true of Simeon’s own nation (Isaiah 8:14; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:8).
C. Painful News for One (v. 35)
35. “ … so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Simeon has yet one more thing to say to Mary. There will be dark moments in her future because of Jesus. The height of her joy at the birth of her son will be matched by the depth of her anguish at the cross. As the nails pierce his hands and feet, and as the spear pierces his side, it will be as if a sword were piercing the soul of Mary. She will stand at the foot of the cross, staying by Jesus as he dies (see John 19:25).
When Jesus goes to the cross to die, he creates a great moral crossroad. When people see his sacrificial death, the thoughts of their hearts are revealed (Matthew 27:38–43). The idea of the cross is still outright foolishness to many (see 1 Corinthians 1:23). It has been wisely said, “Jesus is the touchstone of human hearts.”
A. To Witness Is to See
“I was there! I saw it with my own eyes!” Such are the words of a witness. To see, to hear, to feel firsthand—this is what makes a witness. Often a person will take special pride in the fact that he or she was present when some significant event took place. The greater the event, the more important the witness.
The birth of Jesus had been awaited with great anticipation. After so many centuries of preparation, God fulfilled the prophecies and promises. The miracle of the ages came to faithful members of God’s community. God chose them for their special roles; they became witnesses of what he had done.
Luke demonstrated how the shepherds were called to witness the newborn Messiah. Then he added Simeon, who had waited much of his life to see God’s anointed one. In the verses that follow today’s text, Luke also related how Anna, an aged prophetess, gave thanks when the holy family came into the temple.
Other people witnessed Jesus at age 12; still more witnessed him in his ministry. Near the end of the first century, the apostle John would look back and recall Christ, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (1 John 1:1).
B. To Witness Is to Tell
When people are witnesses to a big event, they are nearly always eager to tell someone about it. To witness is not only to see; to witness is also to tell. Joseph, Mary, Simeon—all in their own way became witnesses to the greatness of God. They believed what God said, obeyed what God commanded, and gladly proclaimed what God had done.
At the end of Jesus’ life on earth he told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” The apostles had been eyewitnesses to all he did, so they could testify to what they had seen. Even in the face of persecution they said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). In the words of the apostle John, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (1 John 1:3).
Christians are also called to be witnesses today. While we are not eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, we have experienced firsthand the power of his Word in our lives. Witnessing is a vital part of faith, and the world desperately needs to know what we know about Jesus.
Thought to Remember
No silent witnesses!
Our Father, we praise you for making salvation available to all people. Help us to be as eager as Simeon to tell others that we have met Christ. In the name of him who is our light and our glory we pray, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 155