When Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, they saw the Messiah, the One God had promised. Luke 2:22-38
Luke 2:22-38 tells the story of Simeon and Anna. Here are two individuals who had been waiting on the Promised Messiah. Verse 26 tells us that Simeon had been given a special revelation from the Holy Spirit convincing him that he would personally get to see the Messiah before he died. I tell you the Holy Spirit is all over the Christmas story. God does the sending of the Son, the Son willingly was made flesh and was born as a human, and the Holy Spirit was at work to move people into position, to prepare hearts and to give people eyes to see what was really going on. It was so in the life of Simeon.
Luke 2:25 tells us he was devout. That means he wasn’t what I recently called a “Hokey-Pokey” Christian. He didn’t put himself in and take himself out of a relationship with God. He was fixed on God and His promises. He was all-in with God and he believed what had been revealed to him. He believed he would see, with his own eyes, the birth of the Messiah. Verse 27 tells us that he was moved by the Spirit to go into the Temple courts. Something was about to happen, and he was supposed to be there. Joseph and Mary were bringing the baby Jesus, about a month old, to consecrate Him to the Lord. Simeon was going to get in on it and in a hands-on way.
Simeon would get to see what had been promised. He would get to hold the promise of God in his hands. He took the baby Jesus in his arms, and he praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Simeon then blessed Joseph and Mary. Led again by the Spirit of God, God used him to speak blessing over Joseph and Mary. I think that is just awesome. And then he told Mary they were in for a ride, that Jesus would be a controversial and even divisive figure, as people’s hearts would be exposed by His life. This little baby would reveal what was in the hearts of people, the good and the evil things that no one else but God could know and see. That wouldn’t be popular with everyone. It wasn’t the kind of party trick everyone was gathering around to see. Jesus would make some people very uncomfortable because the conviction they would feel in His presence would be heavy and unwanted. Sin was going to be exposed.
But oh, the grace of God to expose our sin. Unless we see that we are broken, how can we even reach for a Savior? And yet, not everyone would be happy about having their sinful condition revealed. As a result, some would make life and ministry hard for Jesus. And, Mary would have to suffer the anguish of watching Him be cruelly mistreated and die a violent death. Tough and prophetic words were spoken by Simeon, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In that very moment, Anna, a prophetess, came up to Joseph, Mary, Simeon and the baby Jesus. She didn’t miss it because she was always in the Temple. Always. She never left. Never. Verse 37 says she was there worshiping God night and day, fasting and praying. She walks over to the “baby dedication” and she started talking about the baby. She talked about Him as the Redeemer. To anyone else who had been waiting on the Messiah that God had promised for years, she told them, He had arrived. No one had to tell Anna that the baby being dedicated in the Temple that day was Jesus. She simply knew it.
Both Simeon and Anna had waited so long, faithfully watching and waiting for the Messiah to come and because they had never quit anticipating that God would fulfill His promise, because they never abandoned hope, they got to see Jesus firsthand. What do you see when you look at Jesus? Do you see the Messiah?
When the Wise Men saw Jesus they saw Someone worthy of worship.
Led by a bright star, they journeyed a long way. Scholars say traveled between 400 and 700 miles, to get close to Jesus. They weren’t just curious. They were prepared worshipers. What they had seen in the sky had pointed them to a special kind of King. It had pointed them to God. Matthew 2 tells us that they knew they would be inspired to worship before they ever found the Christ-child. They came with gifts to offer. Verse 2 of Matthew 2 tells us that when they got to Jerusalem they asked where the one born King of the Jews was because they had seen His star and had come to worship Him.
After their pit stop in Jerusalem they went on to Bethlehem and found the child, the baby or by this time, toddler Jesus. And they bowed down (verse 11) and worshiped Him. They worshiped Him with gifts that revealed His Divine and Messianic identity. They presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Many of you know and understand the significance of the three gifts, but for those who don’t, they point to Jesus’ true identity. Gold is valuable now. It was valuable then. The accumulation of gold was a way wealth was measured back in that day. It was associated with kings. By bringing gold with them, by parting with valuable gold, the Wise Men were revealing they believed Jesus to be royalty, to be a King.
I’ll just mention something else about the gold that I don’t believe to be a theological stretch at all. In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant that God had with His people, the place in the Temple where the priest would encounter the presence of God in order to office a sacrifice for the sins of the people, was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. There was an altar there that was overlaid with gold. There, in the Most Holy Place, there where the presence of God was to have been understood to dwell, there was gold. I don’t think we should gloss over the presence of God in a manger and gold being present at the same time because a manger became the holiest of places as God was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was lying there.
Frankincense is still used in parts of the Middle East and Africa. To get this aromatic gum resin, you have to scrape the bark of certain trees and then harvest these beads of resin once they dry. When those beads are burned as incense, there is a sweet aroma. It wasn’t used like the plug-ins that we use today on a regular basis. It was only used for special purposes, like ceremonial worship. In the worship of the Old Covenant, burning incense at an altar was actually prescribed by God. It had to be “pure frankincense” according to Exodus 30:34. It had to be consecrated to the Lord as “pure and holy.” It was the only incense that was allowed to be used. Do you see a parallel between pure and holy frankincense and Jesus, the sinless Son of God? The way the Wise Men worshiped was actually a kind of acting out of the qualities of the Savior.
And then there was the myrrh. It was also derived from the sap of a tree. It was actually used as anointing oil and a kind of medicine for healing. Myrrh was one of the main ingredients in the spices that were used to prepare a body for burial (John 19:39-40). Jesus came to heal. Jesus came to die to save us from our sins. They were worshiping Him in advance of all of His healing works and of His sacrifice on the cross.
There was also a Temple connection like the connection with the gold and the frankincense. Again, in Exodus 30, we read that liquid myrrh was a main ingredient of anointing oil that would be used to prepare or ready the priests, to ready the furnishings in the Temple and to prepare the instruments that would be used to make sacrifices.
The Wise Men weren’t offering worship to just any king. They were worshiping the one true King of Kings and Lord of Lords! What do you see when you look at Jesus? Do you see the One who is worthy of your worship?
The Shepherds saw Jesus as Someone worthy of being talked about.
When the shepherds received the “Good News of Great Joy” that had been told to them by the angels, Luke 2 says they went to see the Christ-child for themselves. The shepherds were great evangelists. They told everyone they could find that the Savior had been born. They stirred some hearts. They got some people thinking. They weren’t shy. People were perplexed that shepherds would suddenly be proclaiming the glories of God. The shepherds had seen the glory of God in a Bethlehem barn. The fact that God had come down, that God had come to common people, that Hope had entered the world, that a different kind of life was possible was so exciting to the shepherds that they couldn’t keep their mouths shut.
They believed what they had heard and seen was Good News for all people and they spread the word. All people. All means all. No matter your background, race, political ideology, lifestyle, socio-economic status, age or opinions. Jesus has Good News for you! It is the best news! The shepherds weren’t worried about what people thought of them. They didn’t want anyone to miss out on hearing about the birth of Jesus.
Listen to me, I really do agonize over people who haven’t yet given their hearts to Jesus. It keeps me up some nights. It stays heavy on my heart. It grieves me when I am uncertain that someone who is in a death or life health situation may not know the Savior, but at the end of the day, I am not responsible for anyone’s heart or decision. But what would bring me more grief than knowing someone rejected Jesus would be knowing that I never shared Jesus with them in the first place. I have the greatest news ever, and I have the privilege and responsibility to make sure others know what is available to them in Christ. What they do with that news is up to them, but more important is what I will do with that news. Will I share it liberally, freely, to all like the shepherds did? May it be so!
What are you talking about this Christmas? This pandemic should not be overshadowing the birth of the Savior. This election upheaval better not be the focus of our conversation, believers. Nothing is more important to talk about right now than Jesus. When you look at Jesus, do you see Good News worth sharing?
Joseph and Mary saw Jesus as Someone worth surrendering their lives for. What God asked of Joseph and Mary was big. They were going to have a baby before they had a wedding. They didn’t ask to be put in that position. People would talk, and it wouldn’t be good things they would have to say. Joseph was thrust into the adoption of a son. I wonder if he questioned if he was ready to be a father. Herod would order all of the baby boys around Bethlehem to be killed, putting Jesus’ life in jeopardy which meant they would have to flee to Egypt until King Herod had died and the all-clear was sounded. This young couple would begin their life together on the run and begin raising this Son without the help of family and the familiarity of their surroundings. Nothing about their lives would be the same. Ever.
Whatever Joseph and Mary had dreamed about, whatever five-year plan they had made, even the house Joseph would have prepared for them to live in…all was abandoned for the call of God. Yet they were blessed to have been part of God’s plan. They saw God as trustworthy and they welcomed the will of God and the opportunity to serve Him with their lives. And oh, the miracles they saw. Oh, the things they would have known and learned about God by parenting the Messiah.
The angelic visitations and dreams that accompanied the Savior’s birth weren’t the first and last. Oh, how Joseph and Mary would have been led in special ways by the Holy Spirit and by signs, wonders and miracles. Joseph was warned in a dream about the attempt on Jesus’ life which gave them time to escape to Egypt. The gifts the Wise Men had brought would have given them the resources they needed to leave and live away from home. Have you ever thought about how God was providing ahead of their need through those gifts the Wise Men gave to Jesus? Oh, they would know the provision of God in supernatural ways. Listen, those who surrender their lives completely to God, who trust God fully, who lean not on their own understanding, those are the ones who make room for the miracle of God to appear on a regular basis.
Oh, the will of God isn’t typically easy, but it is always worth it. It is the blessed life and the best life, and when Joseph and Mary looked at Jesus, they saw Someone worth giving their lives for. God doesn’t usually give us all of the details up front. I guarantee that Joseph and Mary didn’t know all they were signing up for, but they knew God wouldn’t ask anything of them that He wouldn’t also enable them to do, and Joseph and Mary celebrated Christmas by surrendering their very lives to the Christ-Child.
Joseph and Mary had a choice to make. Mary’s decision was firm. In Luke 1:38 she said, “I’m in.” Well, she said it a bit more flowery than that, but she said it. The same with Joseph, as he had plans to leave Mary and call the wedding off, but after hearing from God in a dream, he also made the choice to surrender to the miracle God wanted to do in and through his life. It’s interesting to me that nowhere in Scripture does anyone say, “I regret giving my life to follow Jesus.” Not Joseph and Mary. Not the disciples. Not the Apostle Paul. Not the leaders of the house churches in the early church. Judas regretted betraying Jesus. Peter regretted denying Him, but no one who completely sold out to Christ ever said, “What was I thinking? I have just wasted my life.” Not one. And to this day, I have never met anyone who has said such.
Each one of us has a choice regarding what we will do with God and what He wants to do with our lives. Yes, He offers the gift of salvation and that is free to anyone who wants to receive it, but God also wants next-level involvement in your life. God doesn’t just want your company in eternity; He wants to occupy your life in the here and now. And your level of surrender will determine how much or how little God can do in and through your life.
Of course we know, since we live on this side of Calvary, that Jesus lived a sinless life, that He paid the price for the sins of the world on the cross, that He rose from the dead on the third day and that because He ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came in His place, God is always with those who allow Him access into their hearts and lives. Jesus has given His all so that we can have it all. If you believe that, when you look at Jesus, do you see Someone who is worth surrendering your life for?
Herod couldn’t get there. He wasn’t going to recognize Jesus as a Messiah, a King, as Good News or as Someone worth giving up power and control to. Herod was the cruel, power-hungry King in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth. “Surrender” wasn’t in his vocabulary. When he looked at Jesus, he saw Someone who threatened to disrupt his life, Someone who might take the political spotlight from him and threaten his power. Herod wasn’t giving up his throne for anyone, not even the Son of God. Herod killed anyone that threatened his sense of security, even his wife and his sons. He was jealous, insecure and easily angered. He was so hated, that the historian, Josephus tells us, that Herod knew no one would mourn his death when he died, and he wanted that. He wanted to be mourned for, so he commanded that notable citizens of Jerusalem to be imprisoned and then killed whenever he died so that at least there would be a lot of weeping and mourning in Jerusalem at the time of his death. Fortunately, those orders weren’t carried out. What a miserable existence he lived. His way of life wasn’t liberating. He was a slave to his own broken expectations and demands.
Joseph and Mary humbly welcomed Jesus and rearranged their lives to become His parents. The shepherds enthusiastically embraced His birth as Good News. The Wise Men revered Him in worship. Simeon and Anna confirmed Him as the Messiah, but Herod? He was hostile towards Jesus. He wouldn’t give Him a chance. He died an unloved, lonely miserable man.
Many in our world are hostile towards Jesus. Like Herod, many won’t accept Jesus. Many see Jesus as a threat and reject Him to do life on their own. We see how well that is working out in our world today, don’t we? So many are living miserable, broken and lonely lives. Think about how different Herod’s life could have been if he could have seen Jesus for who He was and opened his heart to him.
Every one of us has to decide what will occupy the throne of our hearts. Will it be self or the Son of God? You see, what we live for is determined by what we see when we look at Jesus. How do you see Him today? Is the Holy Spirit revealing to you that He is, in fact, the Messiah? Do you recognize Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as Someone who is worthy of your worship? Does your life reflect that you believe it to be true? Is He Someone you are talking about on a regular basis with people who don’t know Him like you do? Have you surrendered every area of your life to Him or are you still trying to exercise control over your own life? Have you closed your heart and mind to the reality that Jesus has come for you, not to take life from you, but to give you life, the best life, a life you could never possess on your own?
Maybe you aren’t like Herod, seeking power, control or the things of this world. Maybe you can’t see Jesus for other reasons. Maybe because of the darkness of the world around us, the pandemic, the political division and corruption, the stressful education circumstances, the economic uncertainties…it’s all too much and you can’t see Jesus. When you can’t see Jesus, you have to trust His Word, friends. His Word will not fail. God will bring you through and will give you the ability to see Him, like He did for Simeon and Anna, if you will hope in His Word as they did. They lived in a dark time, but they held onto the Word of God and it got them through.
Maybe you can’t see Him because you just feel like you are too far away. Like the Wise Men, you are living in another “country,” another reality, far away from spiritual pursuits or truths. You aren’t sure if you have what it takes to get there, the energy or even the desire to make the journey. Press on. Don’t miss seeing Jesus because it might take some effort to take steps towards Him. The Wise Men would have missed Christmas entirely had they not made the trip. Maybe you can’t see Him because you don’t see yourself correctly. Maybe you view yourself like a lowly shepherd, like someone no one would want to be close to or someone no one could truly love. The shepherds were living a pretty sad and depressing life. No one but other shepherds would have anything to do with them. Maybe you can’t see Jesus because it’s hard for you to believe that someone would love you so much that they would want to be close to you and share life with you, the way Jesus wants to. Maybe you can’t see Jesus you weren’t raised to know God like Joseph and Mary were. You weren’t raised to understand how God works and you aren’t sure you can trust Him.
This Christmas, look at Jesus. Look at Him with an open mind and heart, and ask Him to help you see Him, to help you acknowledge His real identity and to surrender completely to His desires for your life.