Christ Has Come!
Sunday School Lesson for December 22, 2002
Jesus’ Presentation at the Temple (2:21-24)
Following Jesus’ birth, Luke records the events of His appearance in the temple in conformity with the Jewish law. “On the eighth day” following birth all Israelite boys were circumcised as a God-ordained covenant sign and named. The child, born to Joseph and Mary and placed in the manger (2:7), was named in accordance with the divine command. It was the name “Jesus” which had been given to them by “the angel” prior to the time when “he had been conceived” (1:31). This name means “one who saves” or “one who delivers” and is the New Testament rendering of the Hebrew name Joshua meaning, “Yahweh is salvation.”
In addition to the requirements concerning circumcision and naming, the law also specified the rite of ritual purification for the mother of the child. Walter Liefeld describes this procedure:
According to Jewish law a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. On the eighth day the child was circumcised (cf. 1:59; Gen. 17:12), after which the mother was unclean an additional thirty-three days–sixty-six if the child was female (Lev. 12:1-5). At the conclusion of this period, the mother offered a sacrifice, either a lamb or, if she was poor, two doves or two young pigeons (Lev. 12:6-8) [EBC, 848].
According to the law (Ex. 3:2), the first-born male child was considered to be holy to the Lord and was thus “consecrated” to Him following birth (v. 23). The parents of the child were then ordered to redeem the child by the presentation of a sacrificial offering (Num. 18:16). The law specified “a pair of doves or two young pigeons,” depending upon the economic status of the family (Lev. 12:1-8). From the data provided by Luke, we can surmise that Mary and Joseph were of the poorer classes of Israel. William Barclay provides insight into this practice:
The offering of the two pigeons instead of the lamb . . . was technically called The Offering of the Poor. It was the offering of the poor which Mary brought. Again we see that it was into an ordinary home that Jesus was born, a home where there were no luxuries, a home where every penny had to be looked at twice, a home where the members of the family knew all about the difficulties of making a living and the haunting insecurity of life. [DSB, Luke, 19].
Simeon’s Encounter With Jesus (2:25-27)
Next, Luke introduces a man from Jerusalem named “Simeon.” He is described as being “righteous and devout,” and one who was faithfully and patiently awaiting “the consolation of Israel.” Luke also indicates that he was a man especially endowed with spiritual discernment for “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Apparently the Lord, in some unspecified way, “revealed” to Simeon “by the Holy Spirit” that he would not taste of death until he had “seen the Lord’s Christ” for himself. The “consolation” for which Simeon longed is probably best understood as the much anticipated comfort and blessings associated with the messianic era. These blessings are reflected in passages such as Isaiah 49:13; 57:18; 61:2. I. H. Marshall observes that Simeon was one “whose hopes would be fulfilled by the coming Messiah,” and therefore, he would be “equipped to recognize the coming Messiah and to speak prophetically about it by the fact that the Holy Spirit was upon him” [Luke, NIGTC, 118].
In response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit—“moved by the Spirit”—Simeon proceeded into the “temple courts” where he immediately encountered “the child Jesus” and his parents. In this encounter (also in v. 38) we find a recurring theme in Luke—the providential movement of God in the course of human history. Here, what on the surface appears to be a ‘chance’ meeting of Simeon and the family of Jesus, actually displays God’s sovereign involvement in the affairs of men. Indeed, He is Lord of all and will ultimately accomplish His redemptive purposes on the stage of human history.
Simeon’s Proclamation of Christ (2:28-35)
Upon seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon “took him in his arms” and offered praise and thanksgiving to God. His hymn of praise, known by the Latin title Nunc Dimittis (taken from the first line of the hymn—“now dismiss your servant”) is recorded in verses 29-32.
The words of Simeon’s song of praise caused the mother and Father of Jesus to wonder in amazement. Luke states that they “marveled at what was said about him.” Then, before Mary and Joseph could grasp the full implications of his words, Simeon pronounced a somewhat cryptic blessing directed particularly at Mary:
Anna’s Encounter With Christ (2:36-38)
Now another ‘chance’ encounter takes center stage as
Luke introduces an elderly
“prophetess” named “Anna” (for other female prophets of Israel see Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Neh. 6:14; Isa. 8:3). This deeply spiritual woman, an eighty-four year old widow, fervently worshipped God as she attended the temple and faithfully engaged in “fasting and praying” (v.37). That she “never left the temple” might indicate that she even had a residence within the temple compound itself. At any rate, like Mary was soon to experience, Anna knew great sorrow yet continued her faithful service to God.
Upon seeing Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus Anna approached them “at that very moment” and began to give thanks to God while speaking prophetically about the child. Luke observes that her message was specifically aimed at all those in Israel “who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (cf. Isa. 52:9). To speak of the redemption of Jerusalem was another way of describing “the deliverance to be effected by the Messiah” [Morris, 90]. The encounter with Anna, then, provided the opportunity for a public proclamation of Jesus’ identity and mission as the true Deliverer of Israel. No doubt, these words also supplied some measure of comfort and assurance for Mary and Joseph.
One: The humanity of Jesus—Carefully examine this story (vv. 21-24) and see if you can find the evidences of Christ’s full humanity that are apparent. Why did God have to become a man? Why is it critical to the Christian faith to affirm the humanity of Jesus?
Two: Encouragement in faithfulness—How did the timely encounters with Simeon and Anna serve to strengthen the faith of Mary and Joseph?
Three: The full meaning of Christmas—Look once again at the cryptic words of Simeon in vv. 34-35. Based upon this statement can you identify both the good and bad news of Christmas? Hint: Note the words “fall and rise.” How do the themes of salvation and judgment surface in the Christmas story?