Salvation's Song (Luke 2:21-40)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Waiting can be really frustrating. Standing in long lines, being put on hold, or being stuck in heavy traffic can feel like real time wasters. In the process of waiting we can get distracted and begin to focus on things that are not of great importance.

Though there may be a long line, there are some things worth waiting for, and there are things not worth waiting for. Although each of us may place a different priority on what is and what isn’t worth waiting for. In this passage we are introduced to two obscure people who had waited for a long time, and they learnt that it was unquestionably worth it. But what they waited for was of eternal benefit. 

These individuals were waiting for the great day in which the promised Messiah would appear. As they were waiting, there was a lot going on in the world and in their local scene. Caesar Augustus was unrolling his plans, which had global consequences. In Israel there were various legalists (Pharisees), the liberals (Sadducees), and the nationalists (Zealots) doing their thing.  But there was a small remnant that didn’t get caught up in any of those things. This small remnant was making much of the promise of the Messiah and they were keeping their eyes on His arrival. They were unwavering and immovable in their willingness to wait for this great day and be faithful as they waited.

This passage begins with the setting and then we will focus on the song of two faithful believers. It begins with Joseph and Mary’s visit to the temple. The Law of Moses stated that a mother of a male child would be unclean for seven days, and on the eighth day the child was to be circumcised. Then for thirty-three days she was to continue to be viewed as unclean and then make a journey to the temple to sacrifice a lamb and a turtledove or pigeon (cf. Lev. 12:2-6). If the lady was poor and unable to provide a lamb, she was allowed to offer two pigeons or two turtledoves. In addition to this, they were required to bring their firstborn to the temple and dedicate him to the Lord (Exodus 13:2).

These are the events occurring in verses 21-24. You will notice that when it came to offering the sacrifice Mary didn’t offer a lamb but provided the offering of someone who is poor (2:24). She makes a sacrifice, but due to their circumstances is unable to offer a lamb for the Lamb of God that she dedicated. 

This setting is significant because it shows us that Jesus qualifies as the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of sinners. His parents carefully followed the requirements of the Jewish law, and it is then demonstrated that from infancy, Jesus kept all the legal requirements of the Law. This is important, because if He is going to save sinners, a part of this mission is that He will become their substitute in suffering the wrath of God on their behalf. In-order to qualify He must be a sinless substitute. If Jesus is going to be the Sovereign seeking Saviour who saves sinners, He must qualify and a part of this qualification is that He is perfect. We broke the Law and are therefore under the just judgment of God. Jesus however kept the Law, and by means of faith in Him, God will impute that to our account (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). 

In response to this occasion, there was a lot happening behind the scenes. In the world and in Israel there was a lot going on politically and religiously. But something far bigger was happening, God was preparing the stage for the arrival of the promised Messiah. As Joseph and Mary display their obedience to the law of God, going about these tasks, they are met by two people that were in the temple grounds waiting.  

In this passage we have two songs of salvation. It is fitting that one is from a man and one is from a woman. It reminds us that salvation expands to male and female. These two individuals are a part of the small remnant that have not been consumed by the things happening in the world or in Israel, but have steadfastly set their eyes on the Lord and His promises. From these two we will consider the praise from a man (2:25-35) and the praise from a woman (2:36-38).

1.            THE PRAISE FROM A MAN (2:25-35)

In this section of the passage we are introduced to a man that lived in Jerusalem named Simeon. We are not told anything about his appearance or accomplishments, we are simply told about his piety, praise and prophesy. This appears to be an unknown man that simply loved God and longed for the day God would send the Saviour who brings salvation to lost sinners. 

His Piety

He is described as “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). This reveals that he was a child of God. His faith and trust for salvation was in the Lord, and He displayed a life of faith in which he was committed to God. His life of faith was being lived with the expectation of the great day in which he will see the promised Messiah. Luke also adds that “the Holy Spirit was upon him”. An example of what this meant for him is described in verse 26, “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”. A special promise was made to him, and only after this was fulfilled, he would be able to die. So he lived his life waiting and expecting to see the One who would be the Saviour of sinners. 

Now we know that Joseph and Mary had to come to Bethlehem because of a political decision and decree that had been made by Caesar. All this was a part of God’s plan, not only to fulfill the promise that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but so that He would fulfill His word to Simeon. The amazing moment came when Joseph and Mary arrived at the temple with the baby Jesus. This young unknown and insignificant couple are in the temple grounds going about the duties required by the Mosaic law, then suddenly this stranger approaches them and takes the child into his arms and praises God (2:27-28). All this happened by the Divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. Simeon now responds to this great occasion with praise and prophecy. 

His Praise

In following the usual Jewish custom he raised his arms and then said, 

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32).

He acknowledges the fulfillment of God’s promise that He will see the One who brings eternal comfort before he dies. Because this has happened, he is able to “depart in peace” (2:29). Now we don’t know how old Simeon was, but it appears that he was waiting for a long time and now is at an age when he could die. Regardless, his eyes have now seen the greatest thing anyone could ever see, and that is Jesus Christ. 

If you have seen God’s salvation you can be like Simeon and be ready to depart in peace. Every one of us will depart one day. The Bible tells us that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Many are not ready to depart because they have not looked to Christ and because they are holding onto the things in this world too tightly. Once Simeon saw Christ, he was ready. We cannot look upon Jesus Christ as Simeon did, but we can see Him with the eye of faith. Peter tells us,

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

He continues his praise, “for my eyes have seen your salvation” (2:30). By means of this child, Divine deliverance will come to lost sinners. This Child is the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of sinners. Salvation from sin comes from no other, and Simeon saw the One who will bring this about with his own eyes.  This salvation that Jesus Christ brings extends to Jew and Gentile. He said, “that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:31-32). God made a promise that He would send a light to the nation so that His salvation would reach the ends of the earth (cf. Is. 49:6). 

His Prophecy

After Simeon offered this praise unto God for Jesus, Joseph and Mary “marveled at what was said about him” (2:33). A lot had already been revealed to them by the visits from the angel, the interaction with Elizabeth, and the visit from the shepherds. Now, this man named Simeon, who had been waiting for this day praises God for the salvation this Child brings. Simeon now moves from praise to prophecy. He blessed them and then said to Mary, 

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (2:34-35).

This is a comforting and confronting statement. This Child’s mission of salvation will be divisive. Not all will receive Him and this Child will bring down all of His enemies. Jesus Christ divides this world into two groups. It doesn’t matter what’s your gender, education, accomplishments or political affiliation. You are either in the group that He brings down or you are in the group that He raises up. All those who oppose Him and refuse to trust Him will fall. All those that repent and come in faith He raises up.

Mary is warned that she will experience great pain in the process of this Child fulfilling His mission to save. The pain will be so great that it is described as a sword piercing through her soul. That same soul that magnified the Lord (1:46) will also undergo pain. This pain will came as a result of seeing Christ suffer for our sins.

This is the praise for salvation from the man named Simeon. We now move onto the praise from a woman. 

2.            THE PRAISE FROM A WOMAN (2:36-38)

In this next section we are introduced to another member of the faithful remnant in Israel. It was a woman named Anna. Apart from this passage we don’t know anything else about her. Here we are told that “there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four” (2:36-37a). As a prophetess, she was granted the ability to speak the Word of God. Being the “daughter of Phanuel” and coming from “tribe of Asher” reminds us that she is a Jew, and is to be seen as a part of the faithful remnant of Israel. Luke adds that “she was advanced in years”. She was only married seven years and then became a widow.

Her Piety

Many decades have passed, and what characterised this time period is devotion and dedication in her service to the Lord. Luke now describes her piety and praise. He writes, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (2:37b). Here is a lady that committed herself to live her life in service of God as she waits for the arrival of the Messiah. An application of this is seen in 1 Timothy 5. In this chapter Paul talks about qualified widows in the church that give themselves to extraordinary service. These opportunities are called extraordinary because of what is required of the widow’s qualifications and activities. Paul says, “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (5:9-10).

This portion of the passage is not talking about qualification for financial support, but rather qualifications for faithful service. Such opportunities will involve a participation and dedication to the ministry that is not available to other women because of their necessary responsibilities (cf. 5:14). The qualified woman who serve in this role will be able to assist the elders and deacons in tasks relating to teaching and assisting younger women in the home (Titus 2:3-5); visiting the sick and showing hospitality to only mention a few. The Bible is clear on women’s ability to serve and minister in important and influential ways.

Her Praise

Now we learn about the praise she offers to the Lord. While she was there in the temple grounds, the very thing she was waiting for had come to pass. Luke tells us, “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38). Praise to God flowed from her lips as she saw His Word fulfilled. 

CONCLUSION

This passage ends with a summary statement,

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:39-40)

This reminds us that Jesus qualifies as the sinless Saviour. He became man that He may die in our place. He adhered to all the Law that we broke, so that He may represent us as our sinless substitute. He grew and experienced the changes of human life so that He would be our sympathetic Saviour. 

This passage teaches us two powerful lessons. Firstly, Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. He perfectly qualifies as the sovereign seeking Saviour of sinners. From His infancy to His death, He perfectly obeyed the Law that we broke. He came into this world to save, and He achieved what He come here to do. Jesus Christ came in fulfilment of the promise of God then, and He will come again in fulfillment of the promise of God.

Secondly, no matter what goes on in the world, our country, or in our church, we are to long to see Jesus Christ. While we wait for Him, we are to devote ourselves to a life of godliness and gratitude. Simeon and Anna are helpful examples of such faithful living. Will you be a part of the distracted or the devoted?