Featured Items Ritchie Christian Media

Occasional Letters: "Behold, there was a man" (Lk 2.25)

D Newell, Glasgow

I think we all instinctively love variety. On the informative CMI website Mark Harwood writes about the stunning, multifarious beauty of planet earth: "The delicate blue shell of the atmosphere, the deep blue of the sea, the brown continents, the white polar caps and smudges of cloud, all in stark contrast with the pitch blackness of space with its myriads of stars, make the earth the most beautiful place in the universe" (http://creation.com/created-to-be-inhabited). An essential component of beauty is variety, and our God has built delicious diversity into the world He created for our present habitation. In a similar way His written Word is made up of contrasting literary genres, all designed to bring spice to our daily diet of spiritual nourishment. Historical narrative, legislation, architectural plans, poetry, biography, doctrinal instruction – a book can never be boring with such a vast range of interests. That's why I always find it a particular joy to return to the four Gospels because in them, perhaps more than anywhere else, is variety aplenty. Romans, Galatians or Hebrews are mentally demanding because each letter is a tightly argued and single-minded doctrinal thesis; as a result the reader cannot afford to relax for a moment lest he lose the thread. But in, say, Luke's Gospel, we meet with a marvellously exhilarating mixture. Narrative, biography, sermons, parables, miracles, conversations, poems, and Old Testament quotations all make for compelling reading.

Let's consider a minor character who features fleetingly on Luke's busy and variegated canvas. Simeon gets only eleven verses in what are normally called the infancy narratives, but what an impression he makes! Here's the section, with its introductory signal, "behold [look]":

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Lk 2.25-35).

Luke's inspired account is organised so as to draw our attention to three things about Simeon: his person (vv.25-27), his praise (vv.28-32) and his prophecy (vv.33-35). As to his PERSON, he was a righteous (just) man. Now, this important word includes two distinct but related ideas. Everything we learn about Simeon indicates that positionally he was righteous in God's sight by faith, like Abraham, who believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Gen 15.6). That is to say, he was saved. But he was also practically upright in his lifestyle (like Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1.6). It's the difference between standing and state. If we are right with God, justified by faith in Christ Jesus (Rom 5.1), we should seek by grace to behave in a right way. More, he was a reverent (devout) man, careful to give God the honour which is His due. In a society increasingly cynical and careless it is imperative that believers maintain the highest standards of veneration. This will govern our deportment in the meetings of the assembly as well as our conversation in the world. He was a reading man, well instructed in the Old Testament, aware of God's promises of blessing for Israel through the coming Messiah. To appreciate why Israel's messianic hope should be called "consolation' we have only to turn to Isaiah (see 12.1; 40.1; 51.3,12; 52.9; 61.2; 66.13) where we find glowing prophecies of comfort which come to a head with John Baptist's announcement in Luke 3.4, quoting from the very chapter of Isaiah which begins "comfort ye my people". The Lord Jesus will be the future consolation of repentant Israel just as He is the source of all well-being for His people today. Clearly Simeon was familiar with his Bible. Only by regularly and carefully reading the Word do we come to an understanding of God's programme. But he was also a responsive man. He did not simply know intellectually about Messiah's coming, he was eagerly "waiting for", expecting this grand event. In keeping with the meaning of his name, "hearing", he truly paid attention to and lived in the good of the Scriptures. Shouldn't we be living in the light of the Lord's soon return for His church? Finally, Simeon was a regulated man, controlled by the Holy Spirit, who rested on him, revealed truth to him, and directed his steps ("he came by the Spirit into the temple"). Today the Spirit of God does more: He actually sets up permanent residence inside His people (Rom 8.9), instructs us through the Word (compare Eph 5.18 and Col 3.16, where the results of being filled with the Spirit are identical to letting God's Word make its home in us) and, as we submit to Him, guides our paths.

This man was privileged to see and hold the Lord's Christ (1 Jn 1.1). Not surprisingly, he was so overwhelmed with gratitude to God that his words are a model of PRAISE. He was thankful ("blessed God"), worshipful (the term "Lord" is the unusual despotes, meaning absolute sovereign) and humble ("thy servant"). Simeon was fully satisfied ("let [me] depart in peace") for, having seen the long promised Messiah, he wanted nothing more. We often assume he was an elderly man who died almost immediately after this episode, but Scripture does not say so. What is clear is that meeting the Messiah was the high-spot, the pinnacle, of his life. His praise, therefore, is gladly submissive ("according to thy word" refers back to the Lord's pledge in v.26), Christ-centred (completely taken up with the child in his arms, whom he identifies as God's "salvation"), and Biblically intelligent (for he knew from passages like Genesis 12.1-3 and Isaiah 49.6 that God's promised blessing would spill beyond Israel to Gentiles). Israel's Messiah was the hope of the world. No wonder Joseph and Mary marvelled at his words.

But that's not all. His startling PROPHECY looked ahead to a ministry which began 30 years later. This Messiah would be a stumbling block to many (causing them to "fall", like the great house in Matthew 7.27). And indeed the nation as a whole tripped over Him because, with His radical call to repentance, He was not the kind of Messiah they wanted (Is 8.14-15; 1 Pet 2.8; Rom 9.32-33). Others, surrendering to His claims, were raised up (the word means "resurrection") to blessing which would eventually issue in resurrection glory (2 Cor 4.14). He would be a solemn sign to Israel, for the Messiah, wickedly "spoken against" (Ps 2.1-3), is the great exposer of the heart. When men encounter the Lord Jesus, like the two robbers at Calvary (Lk 23.39-43), they either spurn Him or submit to Him. Neutrality is impossible. He would even bring a sword into Mary's soul, language which cryptically anticipates her grief at the crucifixion (Jn 19.25-27), the culmination of human hostility against God's Son. All this truth from one never mentioned again in the Bible! But don't forget Simeon. We may not be able to share his unique privilege, living as he did at an unrepeatable moment in history, but we can all seek to emulate his outstanding piety.

To be continued.


Back issues are provided here as a free resource. To support production and to receive current editions of Believer's Magazine, please subscribe...

Print Edition

Digital Edition

Copyright © 2017 John Ritchie Ltd. Home