(8) “The Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:21-38)
The excitement of the shepherds’ visit to
Bethlehem lasted only a few days. The registration was finished and the crowds
of visitors dispersed toward their respective homes. But it appears that Joseph
and Mary chose to remain and make their residence in Bethlehem. This is evident
from several hints that come later in the story:
When the wise men finally arrive, they find
the family in a “house”(Matt. 2:11);
Jesus is called a “child”, no longer
a baby (Matt. 2:8,11);
Joseph, when bringing his family back from Egypt
after their exile, first intends to go into Judea (Matt. 2:22).
Why would Joseph and Mary choose to begin their
married life, after the birth of Jesus, in Bethlehem? For one reason, we can
imagine that, in the absence of any other signal from God, they would conclude
that the birthplace of God’s Son should also be his home. Bethlehem,
“the city of David” their illustrious ancestor, with its proximity
to Jerusalem, would strike them as the proper place. Then, of course, who could
blame them for seeking a new home when Nazareth held memories of ugly gossip
centering around their precious child?
“On the eighth day, when it was time to
circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he
had been conceived” (Luke 2:21).
The circumcision of Jesus was a routine affair,
probably performed by the rabbi of Bethlehem, with a minimum of ceremony. Little
did he know that the tiny manchild who came beneath his knife would spend all
his lifetime “cutting off the flesh” in the fullest, most spiritual
sense, of which this circumcision was only a ritualistic
“Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of
the Hebrew name “Joshua”, which signifies “savior”. That
name, Joshua, was rich in tradition. It had been used before, and would by
itself attract no attention. This, too, was a part of God’s plan. If the
child had been named Immanuel (or some other name taken directly from one of the
Messianic prophecies), it might have been almost a public proclamation of his
Messiahship. That, of course, would not have been desirable at that
When the days of Mary’s purification were
ended (forty days in all: Lev. 12:2,4), Joseph brought her and the child to the
temple at Jerusalem, just a few miles to the north. The purpose was twofold.
Firstly, Mary must offer a sacrifice of cleansing from childbirth, in this case
specified by Luke as two doves or two pigeons (the sacrifice of the poor: Lev.
12:8). The second purpose was to present Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:22), and to
offer a sacrifice of money (five shekels) for the redemption of a firstborn son
(Num. 18:15,16). Jesus was born “of a woman... under the law” (Gal.
4:4), and therefore in need of cleansing and redemption himself. However,
despite the best efforts of Joseph and Mary, this child could not be truly
redeemed with any gift but the sacrifice of himself. This he would accomplish
more than thirty years later, in a sacrifice sealed by his own blood. All the
laws of cleansing and purification were mere pointers, down through the ages, to
this one who would become the perfect sacrifice, accomplishing his own
redemption (Heb. 9:11,12), and — wondrously — ours
The temple of God
Pause a moment to gaze upon Herod’s temple.
It was one of the wonders of the ancient world, awesome and majestic, pure and
white and dazzling. Into its beautiful courts comes a little
There are crowds on every side; moneychangers and
cages of birds; sacrificial animals and rich-robed Sadducees. Here and there
little cliques of earnest Pharisees engage in debate. We smell the odor of
burning flesh from the altar, and in the background a choir sings holy chants.
It is the house of God.
There are, however, two houses — the one
house visible and ostentatious, richly appointed and luminous and lovely and
altogether awe-inspiring... the other “house” a tiny child. The
“temple of God” is held in his mother’s arms. The “mercy
seat” has been fashioned by God out of a woman; that “mercy
seat”, and not the golden one hidden behind the lavishly decorated
curtains in the Most Holy Place, is the place where He will meet with man. The
baby held by his young mother is to be — all in one —
“altar” and “offering” and
Stand up and take notice, you blind men! Then bow
down before your king. But no... not yet... some years must pass first.
Meanwhile Joseph and Mary prepare to offer the sacrifices of the poor before
Jesus was poor
Jesus was poor. Surely, if at all possible,
Joseph and Mary would have provided the very best sacrifice; not the poorest,
since they knew what a unique child this was. They evidently had no
What does it really mean to be poor? Since God
would not deny His Son anything really necessary, then it must be concluded that
it was in his best interests to be materially poor. Therefore, material
deprivation is not poverty at all, Scripturally speaking. As Jesus grew older
there were many things he could do without, that “richer” children
might take for granted. He could not, however, do without a loving family, where
parents placed the Word of God first every day. Are our priorities for our
children the same as God’s priorities for Jesus?
One who waited
Before the little family could accomplish their
purpose, however, there was enacted a scene of touching significance:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called
Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of
Israel” (Luke 2:25).
How often is waiting the lot of believers! How
well do they wait? What do they wait for? Jacob had waited for the salvation of
God (Gen. 49:18), as had Isaiah (25:9). David had waited on the Lord, to see His
goodness “in the land of the living” (Psa. 27:13,14). The old man
Simeon waited for the “consolation of Israel”.
The “consolation (or comfort) of
Israel” is a phrase which recalls the words which open the second major
section of Isaiah’s prophecy, after the historical interlude of chapters
“Comfort, comfort my people ... speak
tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been
completed, that her sin has been paid for” (40:1,2).
Thus opens the great Messianic section of
Isaiah’s writings, where, setting his eye on the far horizon, he
contemplates the suffering servant of Yahweh, a man of sorrows and acquainted
Can we then imagine how Simeon had occupied his
time as he waited, poring over the prophecies of Isaiah, studying that one book
of Scripture practically his whole life, all for this one moment? Perhaps the
stories of the Bethlehem shepherds had put him in final readiness for this day,
and now it had finally arrived. Led by the Spirit of God, the old patriarch was
drawn to the temple (v. 27). Can we imagine Joseph and Mary halting in their
steps as Simeon approached them, in flowing robes, with white hair and fierce
eyes, practically the reincarnation of Isaiah himself? He took the baby in his
arms, with all the dignity and tenderness of a grandfather. There they stood, at
the end of one age and the beginning of another. In Simeon could be seen the
lingering twilight of a day that had waxed old and would soon vanish, along with
its beautiful temple. The old man with wrinkled brow typified the nation and the
law, long past their years of glory, and soon to be displaced. In the babe in
his arms could be seen the first light of dawn of a new day of glory, a glory
that would never fade away.
Everything that Simeon did and said here may be
best understood within the framework of that most Messianic of the Old Testament
Luke 2:26: “The Lord’s Christ (or
Anointed)”: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the
LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Isa.
Luke 2:27,28: “He went into the temple
courts... took him in his arms”: “The Lord... (in) the temple...
Holy, holy, holy... for my eyes have seen the King” (Isa
Luke 2:29: “Sovereign Lord, as you have
promised, now dismiss your servant in peace”: “The righteous
perish... and devout men are taken away... from evil... they enter into
peace” (Isa. 57:1,2).
Luke 2:30: “For my eyes have seen your
salvation”: “Her [i.e., Jerusalem’s] salvation like a burning
torch... your Savior comes” (Isa. 62:1,11).
Luke 2:31: “Which you have prepared in the
sight of all people”: “The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the
sight of all the nations” (Isa. 52:10).
Luke 2:32: “A light for revelation to the
Gentiles”: “A light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6). “I
will also make you a light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 49:6). “Your
light has come... Nations will come to your light” (Isa.
Luke 2:34: “The falling...”:
“For both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall... many of them will stumble; they will fall and
be broken” (Isa. 8:14,15).
Luke 2:34: “...and rising of many in
Israel”: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who
dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy” (Isa.
Luke 2:34: “A sign that will be spoken
against”: “A sign: The virgin will be with child” (Isa. 7:14).
“I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in
Israel” (Isa. 8:18).
Luke 2:35: “And a sword will pierce your
own soul too”: “Pierced for our transgressions... oppressed...
afflicted... cut off from the land of the living” (Isa.
Simeon was ready to die after seeing the
Lord’s Anointed, the embodiment of all his hopes. Today we have greater
knowledge of the gospel of Christ, because the things still future to Simeon
have been fulfilled and chronicled for us; but do we have the faith that he had?
Some men, chained in the shadows of remembered misfortunes, grow cynical. Some
are imprisoned by old failures and lose all hope. Some are greedy and
self-centered; they feed upon themselves and grow old before their time. Other
men, like Simeon, are always young; they live in hope of tomorrow, and they are
lifted out of the tedium of daily life by great expectations.
Simeon boldly proclaims the offer of the gospel
beyond the exclusive preserve of Judaism, to the Gentiles of the world (v. 32).
His confidence and far vision pointedly contrast with the reluctance and
indecision of Peter and the Lord’s other followers who had to be
practically coerced into approaching the “common” and
“And a sword will pierce your own soul
too” (Luke 2:35).
Simeon, with greater vision than the later
believers, saw also the sword. “Now, therefore, the sword will never
depart from your house,” Nathan had told David (2 Sam. 12:10); and it was
true. The sword will always remain where there is sin, since without bloodshed
there can be no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). David himself, longing for the
remission that only One could provide, saw the sword also:
“The man... must be fenced (mg.
‘filled’) with iron and the staff of a spear” (2 Sam. 23:7,
“A band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psa.
The circumcision on the eighth day and the
sacrifices on the fortieth day, with their bloodshed, were preludes to the
scourge, the thorns, the cross, and the spear — pains felt keenly by Mary
as she came to see more and more of her son’s mission.
Every mother knows that her child is born to die
one day. Like it or not, there is a “sword” for each of us. We all
bear our “crosses” every day, as we carry about these bodies doomed
to death. We may, however, all choose what “death” we will die
— either eternal death or the “death” of our ambitions and
desires in this world:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt.
For each of us who seek to walk in Christ’s
steps, salvation is on the other side of suffering — whether it be a brief
and fiery trial, or long years of temptation and waiting. We cannot step around
the sword or leap over the flames; we must walk straight forward, and Christ
will walk with us.
“I did not come to bring peace, but a
sword” (Matt. 10:34) — a sword, so that “the thoughts of many
hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:35). So it was when the sword came
— the innermost thoughts of each heart would be revealed. Peter,
previously strong and fearless, would deny and weep. Judas, always cool and
calculating, would betray Jesus and then, despairing, would hang himself. Strong
men would flee in fear, while women would show surprising courage. A great
counselor, who was afraid to be seen with Jesus when he was alive, would fling
away caution and compromise, and boldly associate himself with an executed
It is the same for others. As men participate by
faith in the fellowship of their Master’s sufferings, their own hearts are
revealed. Those who thought they were strong in faith fall and rise again,
finding a greater strength than they ever imagined through their own human
weakness. Others betray Christ with a look or a word or meaningless affection,
then find their pride to be an impenetrable barrier to repentance; they
“fall” and never rise again.
One who served God
There was also in the temple an elderly widow
named Anna (or Hannah). She was the daughter of Phanuel (or Peniel), and of the
tribe of Asher. The three names may be taken together to present a pleasing
thought: Hannah — grace; Peniel — the face of God; and Asher —
happy or blessed. Hannah was blessed to look upon the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), beholding the glory of
the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John
Jacob’s dying prophecy concerning his son
Asher was: “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies
fit for a king” (Gen. 49:20, RSV). With Anna the moment had arrived for
the fulfillment of Jacob’s words. Anna had devoted herself, after her
husband’s early death (Luke 2:36,37), to a life of service in the temple.
She had endured long years of barrenness, as she awaited the flowering of
God’s promise. Never did her faith waver; like Simeon, she knew the words
of the holy prophets. Now her hope had borne fruit; she who had hungered and
thirsted after righteousness (Matt. 5:6) was now filled with “royal
“Coming up to them at that very moment,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward
to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
The last Old Testament seer spoke of a nation
that, in the main, had turned from God. Only a few kept their faith:
“Then those who feared the LORD talked
with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was
written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his
name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day
when I make up my treasured possession [jewels: KJV]’ ” (Mal.
More than four hundred years had passed since
Malachi had spoken those words. But still a remnant was to be found: some young,
like Joseph and Mary; some older, like Zechariah and Elizabeth; and some truly
aged ones, like Simeon and Anna. “They shall be mine,” says the
Lord, “when I make up My jewels.”
How much we need the older ones! They are there,
at the meeting, week after week, often not in the best of health. They encourage
us by their presence. Like Moses, they stand higher on the
“mountain” and see more clearly the promised land. We too see the
promised land, through their eyes.
Joseph and Mary take the child and leave the
temple. This latest encounter, like the earlier ones with the shepherds,
impresses upon them that the baby is no longer theirs alone. He belongs to God,
and all the ages of the world.
Every parent must learn this lesson, like Hannah
with Samuel, the asked-for son devoted to the Lord and His tabernacle at an
early age. True love does not seek to possess another totally, but rather to
give him up in devotion to a better cause, to see him fulfill his higher
destiny. Such love is exemplified by God, who so loved us that He gave up His
Son to death (John 3:16). We should so love our children that we willingly and
eagerly give them up to God.