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Because he was their firstborn the parents had to be prepared to “redeem” their son for the price of five shekels (Numbers 18:16). An offering was also to be made and because Joseph was not a rich man, his offering was that in keeping with his economic status—“a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24).
But the pomp and ceremony of these presentations were not the highlights of this special day. Here, in the most sacred of all Jewish places, the parents of Jesus were to meet two extraordinary people through whom the future of their son would be further revealed.
The first was Simeon, “who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25. Alfred Edersheim comments that Simeon had three characteristics of the piety of the Old Testament saints. He was righteous, which revealed his relationship to both God and men; he was devout, practicing his faith sincerely as opposed to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; and he was waiting for the Messiah. Inspired by the Spirit of God, Simeon arrived at the temple at the same time as Joseph and Mary arrived to present Jesus. Further inspired by the Spirit, Simeon immediately identified this particular child as the Promised One, the Messiah.
“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to you people Israel’” (Luke 2:29-32).
While most Jews, including the future disciples of Christ, would stumble over the idea that the Gospel was for Gentiles as well as for the people of Israel, Simeon had no such problem.
But there was someone else present that day in the temple.
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher…She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 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 2:36-38).
John MacArthur notes that Anna probably lived on the temple grounds. “There would have been several such dwelling places for priests in the outer court, and Anna must have been allowed to live there permanently because of her unusual status as a prophetess” (One Perfect Life, page 59).
Edersheim writes of her: “To her widowed heart the great hope of Israel appeared not so much, as to Simeon, in the light of ‘consolation,’ as rather that of ‘redemption.’ The seemingly hopeless exile of her own tribe, the political state of Judaea, the condition—social, moral, and religious—of her own Jerusalem: all kindled in her, as in those who were like-minded, deep, earnest longing for the time of promised ‘redemption.’…And, blessed be God, there were others, perhaps many such, in Jerusalem. Though Rabbinic tradition ignored them, they were the salt which preserved the mass from festering corruption” (Jesus the Messiah, page 140).
To those who were not looking for the Messiah, Simeon and Anna were just old fools, blathering on about ancient beliefs and obsolete traditions, out of touch with the real world. But for those who were looking for salvation, what Simeon and Anna had to say about the baby they had met in the temple that day, was the first glimpse of the light at the end of a dark tunnel of history.
God spoke to a man and a woman that day in temple—He is an “equal opportunity” revealer of Himself. Salvation belongs to both, as does the commission to speak for Him and about Him. For Mary and Joseph this episode in the temple added another piece to the story they were living. They had lived the beginning and now had received a glimpse of how the story would play out: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will spoken against, so that the thought of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34, 35).
I wonder what they were thinking and talking about on their way home to Nazareth from Jerusalem that day? I doubt the conversation was about the price of pigeons or the glory of the temple or the congestion in the streets. I suspect they were talking about their Son.
Therein lies the clue. Listening to the Spirit, praying and fasting, looking for the Lord, talking about the Saviour, is a better investment of our time that most of which presently seems to occupy our time. As we begin a new year, perhaps now is the moment to consider now better to become the Simeons and Annas of our age and to be waiting with hopeful anticipation for the next coming of Christ.