During the eighteenth century, John Newton, a converted former seaman and slave trader, wrote the following moving words in one of his many hymns:
‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows,
heals his wounds
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest’.
There is no doubt that Simeon could have stood alongside Newton and sung these words with sincerity and conviction. Everything he had longed for was encapsulated in that same name, Jesus – Jehovah-Saviour. The deep-seated sorrows, wounds and fears that had afflicted this sensitive believer in Jerusalem ceased in a moment of time when he saw and embraced Jesus, God’s salvation, Luke 2. 25-35. He challenges us today as to how much the name of Jesus means to us! Does it satisfy our deepest longings and stir within us the desire to worship God, as Simeon did? Is our constant prayer, ‘We would see Jesus’, John 12. 21?
It is not uncommon to discover commentaries where the authors remark how little we know of Simeon. Indeed, Ryle states, ‘We know nothing of his life before or after the time when Christ was born. We are only told that he came by the Spirit into the temple’.1 With due respect, nothing could be further from the truth! What Luke records of Simeon speaks volumes of his remarkable life and character. Clearly, he was one of the comparatively few exceptions in the midst of a sea of spiritual departure in Jerusalem. There were few, even among the religious leaders, who could have been described as ‘just [faultless, guiltless, virtuous, obedient] and devout [reverential, pious]’, v. 25. If this were all we knew about him, it would be sufficient to highlight his immense spiritual stature, even before the birth of Christ; indeed, his local testimony was impeccable.
It is encouraging to note that, even during the darkest periods of the history of this world, God has always had individuals, or a remnant, who would keep His commandments and maintain the testimony, no matter how low the majority had sunk. If we covet a similar testimony to that of Simeon, it will be beneficial to highlight the features that he displayed and seek to cultivate them in our own lives. The world is growing increasingly alienated from God, spiritually and morally, and the Lord needs those among His people who are, like Simeon, ‘blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation’, Phil. 2. 15.
He looked and waited patiently for ‘the consolation [encouragement, comfort, consolation, solace, refreshment] of Israel’, v. 25. There was much in Jerusalem that could have distressed, discouraged and depressed him; however, he refused to be distracted by such things and embraced fully God’s promise that there were brighter times ahead for His people. He would, no doubt, have meditated constantly upon the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned’, Isa. 40. 1, 2. It would have seemed to lesser men than Simeon that all this was just a forlorn hope. The religious leaders merely dampened the hopes of the people’s spirits with their legalism and negativity, whereas Simeon ministered consolation to them and fostered hope within them. Are we encouraging our fellow believers to look upwards and onwards to a brighter future? Are we comforting one another with these words, ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven … so shall we ever be with the Lord’, 1 Thess. 4. 16, 17.
He was led by the Spirit. Before we are given any details about Simeon’s life, Luke directs us to the fact that ‘the Holy Ghost was upon him’, v. 25. His words and actions were directed by the Spirit; indeed, the Spirit is mentioned on three occasions in this short section, vv. 25-27. He never spoke or acted on his own initiative; therefore, nothing happened by chance in his life. It was not by chance that he lived in Jerusalem and entered the temple at this precise moment in time. On two of only four occasions in the New Testament when the term ‘led by the Spirit’ appears, it is the daily life of the believer that is in view and not specific occasions when believers gather together, e.g., to break bread, pray and teach.2 It is not something that can be turned on like a light switch and power experienced on demand. If we are not ‘led by the Spirit’ for six days of the week, we will not be on the seventh. We are privileged, unlike Simeon, to live in times when the Spirit dwells within every true believer. God can, and does, impart great things to those who live in the good of this on a daily basis.
He listened to God’s voice through His word. Simeon’s statements at this time were not conjured up from his own imagination. It is clear that he had been totally immersed in the Old Testament scriptures from an early stage and his ear was open to receive what God had to say; indeed, his name means, ‘one who hears’. He had, without doubt, a particular place in his heart for the writings of Isaiah, who had lived and prophesied many years before in the streets of Jerusalem.
He learned about God’s Messiah and His plan of salvation. The Spirit of God had taught him much from the word of God about Christ long before He came. The common belief among many commentators that he must have searched intently the face of each male child that was brought into the temple and wondered whether he was the Messiah is somewhat wide of the mark. Others living in Jerusalem at this time, who had not spent time meditating on the scriptures, nor experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give them understanding, would have considered it impossible to identify an eight-day old baby as the promised Messiah; nevertheless, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple, without a moment’s hesitation or doubt, Simeon took Him in his arms and declared Him to be ‘God’s salvation’, v. 30. Even Mary and Joseph were amazed at how much he knew about the child, v. 33. He had, no doubt, learned through Isaiah’s prophecy that suffering and rejection would mark Christ’s pathway, vv. 34, 35. So detailed was his knowledge that he even foresaw the time when Mary would stand at the foot of the cross, and revealed to her that ‘a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also’, v. 35. How earnestly do we search the scriptures, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to learn more about the person of Christ? Christ’s words challenge us, ‘Search the scriptures … they are they which testify of me’, John 5. 39. No one knew this truth better than Simeon. We have the great privilege, unlike Simeon, of possessing the complete word of God to instruct us and the indwelling Holy Spirit to minister Christ to our hearts. What a privilege; yet, what a responsibility to live in the good of these things!
He loved, unconditionally. Simeon was not motivated by a harsh, critical or vindictive spirit. He embraced all people in his affections, both Jews and Gentiles. He longed for Israel to be comforted but he also foresaw the salvation of the Gentiles. He had learned from his meditations in the scriptures that the Messiah would be ‘the glory of … Israel’ but he also knew that He would be ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’, v. 32. Luke, the writer of this Gospel, was a Gentile; therefore, it is interesting to observe that he mentions the Gentiles first, then Israel afterwards. Are we guilty of doubting that the gospel is intended for all people? Do we, at times, albeit only subconsciously, act as if some people are outside of the scope of God’s salvation? Do we genuinely believe that ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’, Rom. 10. 13?
It is to be hoped that enough has been said in this meditation on Simeon to convince us that, short though the passage is, Luke has told us a considerable amount about this truly remarkable believer. The Lord is no man’s debtor; therefore, it is no surprise that He rewarded His faithful servant in a specific and personal way by promising him, through the Holy Spirit, ‘that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ’, v. 26. This must have been an immense inspiration and motivation for him to remain positive through one of the darkest periods in Israel’s history. May the prospect that we ‘shall see his face’ and that ‘his name shall be in [our] foreheads’ in heaven, Rev. 22. 4, motivate us to faithful service for Him, until He comes or takes us to be with Himself.
Simeon inspires us to pray:
‘Open our eyes, Lord
We want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch Him
And say that we love Him.
Open our ears, Lord
And help us to listen,
Open our eyes, Lord
We want to see Jesus’.