Words of wonder from a forgotten figure
Simeon is not as well known as the shepherds or the wise men, but he tells us far more about the meaning of Jesus’ birth.
Whenever we think of the people who saw the Lord Jesus Christ as a newborn infant or as a young child, our minds instinctively turn to the shepherds and the wise men.
Both feature in nativity scenes, on Christmas cards and in carols such as ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ and ‘As with gladness men of old’; and we may be familiar with their stories.
The shepherds were local Jews, ordinary working men, attending to the needs of their flocks in the fields of Bethlehem when an angel appeared to them during the night and announced the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord.
By way of contrast, the wise men were not Jews, not local, and not ordinary working men either. Intrigued by the appearance of a distinctive star in the sky, they travelled a considerable distance, convinced that this unusual stellar phenomenon signified the birth of a king.
Shepherds and wise men
By different means, these two very different groups of people were led to the Saviour-King.
Both the shepherds and the wise men went in great anticipation and expectation, and having seen the one to whom both the angel and the star had directed them, they returned with great joy and praise to God.
The words they spoke during their visits are not recorded. The conversations that they doubtless had with Mary and Joseph are shrouded in mystery. All we are told about the words of the shepherds is that Mary pondered them in her heart.
And all we know about the visit of the wise men is that they presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. Of all the people who saw Jesus as an infant, only one man’s words are recorded.
We don’t know what the shepherds said; we don’t know what the wise men said; and we don’t even know what Mary and Joseph said. But we do know the words uttered by a frequently overlooked resident of Jerusalem when he saw the infant Jesus.
The Bible tells us that a man named Simeon had spent his life longing for and looking forward to the day when God would send the promised Saviour; and the Lord had shown him that he would fulfil his promise during Simeon’s lifetime.
Simeon would not die until he had seen the promised Christ in the flesh. True to his word, God made sure Simeon was in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought their six-week-old son to Jerusalem and made it plain to him that this child was the promised Saviour.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel’ (Luke 2:29-32).
Seeing the Saviour
Imagine how Simeon must have felt to be holding in his arms the very infant through whom God was going to fulfil his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all the Old Testament prophets!
With his own eyes, he was gazing into the face of the Saviour himself — the one who was going to deal decisively with sin and restore men, women and children to a right relationship with God.
Simeon tells us that not only was Jesus born to be the climax of God’s revelation to his chosen people, but he was born to bring a true understanding and knowledge of God to the Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples) as well — to people who hadn’t enjoyed the privileges that the Jews had known for two millennia.
One Saviour for all
The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Saviour for the whole world. He came to save both unenlightened Gentles like the wise men from the East, as well as faithful Jews like the shepherds of Bethlehem.
But Simeon gave advance warning that Jesus would not receive universal acclaim. Even among the Jewish people, there would be conflict over him. ‘This child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against’, Simeon declared.
In remarkable words, foreshadowing the bitter anguish that Mary would suffer as she witnessed her son die on the cross, Simeon forewarned her, ‘a sword will pierce through your own soul also’.
Thirty-three years later, as Mary saw Jesus die that cruel death, Simeon’s words may well have reassured her that this was no mistake, but all part of God’s plan.
Without Jesus’ sacrificial death, none of us could ever be saved from our sins and put right with God. In order to save sinners and bring the light of the knowledge of God to every nation under heaven, Jesus needed to die and then to rise again.
Simeon didn’t know all the details, but he knew and rejoiced in the fact that the baby he held in his arms was the promised Saviour and the only Saviour — the Saviour that every one of us needs.