Charles Eliot was the president and then, in retirement, the president emeritus of Harvard University. During the summer of his 90th year, he made his way slowly down the road from his cottage in Northeast Harbor, Maine, to the cottage of his neighbors, the Peabodys. Mrs. Peabody greeted him warmly and invited him into the living room. After a brief conversation, Eliot asked if he might hold her new baby.
Mystified, she lifted her infant son from his crib and laid him in the arms of Harvard’s venerable president emeritus. Eliot held the baby quietly for a few minutes. Then, with a little gesture of thanks, he returned him to his mother, explaining, “I have been looking at the end of life for so long that I wanted to look for a few moments at its beginning.” (In Reader’s Digest [8/83].)
We all need hope. Especially in old age, but also at all other points in life, we need hope. One of the blessings that comes along with the little ones God entrusts to us is hope.
And yet, the hope that comes with children is an uncertain hope at best. There is always the uncertainty of disease or death. What parent of a newborn has not gone in by the crib in the middle of the night and put his or her ear down close enough to make sure that the little one is breathing? If the child survives disease or an early death, there is the uncertainty of this evil world. Crime, child molesters, drunk drivers, the threat of terrorism or war, and economic instability make every parent worry about the kind of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in.
Given these uncertainties, when we meet an elderly person who is filled with hope, we need to sit up and take notice. Here is someone who could be pessimistic, cynical, filled with fears and anxieties. But he is brimming over with firm hope. We had better listen. We might learn some things.
Simeon was such a man. When he held the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple courtyard, we see more than just an old man taking hope in any newborn. Rather, we see an old man who has put his hope in the promises of God. This was no ordinary newborn! He was the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. As we observe this elderly saint with this child in his arms, we learn some valuable lessons about the hope we all so desperately need:
Those who hope in God’s promises in Christ will be rewarded.
Let’s look first at the hope that Simeon had and how it was rewarded. Then we will look at the object of his hope.
Simeon is described as “righteous and devout” (2:25). “Righteous” means that his behavior in the sight of God and towards his fellow man was in accordance with God’s standards. He wasn’t a phony, practicing his good deeds to be seen by others. He quietly and consistently obeyed God, even when people weren’t looking.
“Devout” has the connotation of reverent. It sometimes means careful. It means that Simeon wasn’t careless about the spiritual life. While you can skim over these two words in a flash, they reflect a lifetime of cultivation. No one accidentally becomes righteous and devout. Simeon cultivated his walk with God.
The key to Simeon’s righteous life can be seen in his view of himself in relation to God. In verse 29, the word “Lord” is an unusual one, used only five times in reference to God. We get our word “despot” from it. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that it means “absolute ownership and uncontrolled power.” Simeon saw God as the Sovereign Lord who had prepared His salvation (2:30, 31) and had graciously allowed Simeon to see it. And Simeon saw himself as the slave of this Sovereign Lord. Slaves have no rights. They belong to their owner and their only obligation is to obey. Simeon had a high view of God and a humble view of himself.
Keep in mind the times in which Simeon lived. The Jewish religious leaders were largely political and not deeply spiritual. There had been no prophet in Israel for 400 years. Israel had been oppressed by one foreign power after another during those long centuries, and even now they were ruled by the corrupt Herod under the dominion of Rome. It would have been easy for Simeon to get caught up in the political fervor of the times and to wonder skeptically, “Where are these great promises of God for His people?” But instead, he was righteous and devout.
If we hope in Christ, we must take care to live righteously. We will view God as the Sovereign Lord, our Master, and ourselves as His slaves. We will comb His Word to determine how He wants us to live, and we will walk with Him every day. To hope in Jesus Christ means to live righteously.
He was “looking for the consolation of Israel” (2:25). This refers to the time prophesied by Isaiah (40:1-2) when God would comfort His people and remove their sins by sending His Anointed One, the Messiah. How long had Simeon been looking? Probably all his life! It would have been easy for him to think, “Generations have come and gone and these promises have never been fulfilled. Why expect that it will happen in my lifetime? Just settle in for the long haul, and give up this notion that Messiah will come.”
Do you live expectantly? Do you expect God to answer your prayers, or are you surprised when one gets answered? Must have been a coincidence! Do you expect the Lord to return soon? Maybe you’re thinking, “Come on, people have been expecting that for 1,900 years, and it hasn’t happened.” But those people were the better for living each day expecting Him to come in their lifetimes. In our day, the signs of His coming are all around us. Will the Son of Man find faith in us when He comes (Luke 18:8)? People of hope live expectantly, waiting on God to fulfill His promises.
In case you missed it, the Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in verses 25-27: “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit…” “He came in the Spirit into the temple.” Here is an Old Testament saint, living before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and yet he probably lived more in the fullness of the Spirit than most Christians today!
Have you ever asked yourself, “If God were to withdraw His Holy Spirit from me, would I even notice the difference?” Would your week have gone any differently than it did if the Spirit had pulled out? To walk by the Spirit means to depend on Him consciously for everything you do. You depend on Him to resist temptation. You ask Him for insight into His Word. You rely on Him for the right attitude in the midst of trials. You seek Him for wisdom in difficult decisions.
When you live in the power of the Holy Spirit, your life is marked by hope in God. Paul wrote (Rom. 15:13), “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Joy and peace and hope are the opposite of depression and anxiety and despair. That verse does not just apply to certain personality types, or to those who are in relatively trouble-free situations. As you learn to live in the fullness of God’s Spirit, the God of hope will fill you with His joy, peace, and abounding hope! If you lack these things, don’t get more depressed in hearing me say this. Get on your knees every day and ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. To hope in Christ means to live righteously and expectantly in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God rewarded Simeon’s hope, so that he held in his arms the Lord’s Anointed, as the Holy Spirit had promised. Simeon was a fulfilled man. There is no hint of regret in his voice, no bitterness, no remorse at having spent his life as he had. He was rewarded in at least three ways, which apply to all who hope in God:
I will show in a moment the amazing grasp of spiritual truth that Simeon possessed. When Jesus was born, King Herod had to call for the chief priests and scribes to discover what the Old Testament said about the place of His birth. They could give the correct answer, but they missed the fact of it. It was revealed to humble shepherds and now, to this godly old man who had been waiting on God for this very event.
Simeon understood through the Holy Spirit that this very Child in his arms was the Lord’s promised Anointed One. He knew that not all would welcome Him, but that there would be opposition resulting in much anguish for Mary (2:34, 35). From Isaiah the prophet, Simeon knew that this Child would be for Israel “a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over” (Isa. 8:14). The commentator, Godet (A Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke [I. K. Funk & Co.], p. 88), shrewdly observes,
Simeon discerned beneath the outward forms of Jewish piety, their love of human glory, their hypocrisy, avarice, and hatred of God; and he perceives that this child will prove the occasion for all this hidden venom being poured forth from the recesses of their hearts… We feel that this old man knows more about the moral condition of the people and their rulers than he has a mind to tell.
Even the disciples seemed to be caught off guard by the opposition Jesus faced. Especially they didn’t expect the cross. But Simeon seemed to know that God’s Anointed would cause division and opposition. He knew that God’s revelation was also for the Gentiles. His understanding of the things of God enabled him to be stable and unaffected by the currents of evil around him.
That’s the kind of understanding we should seek as we hope in Christ. While we must be careful and diligent students of God’s Word, the kind of knowledge we should seek is not just academic. We should pray that we would have insight into the ways of God so that we would have divine wisdom to discern our times and live in godliness in this evil day.
For Simeon, this one moment in the temple made all his life worth the living. His deepest desire in life had been to see the consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ. Maybe he expected to see a powerful king riding on a white charger or sitting on a throne. What he actually saw was a common couple with a newborn baby, going through the everyday ritual of cleansing and presentation as prescribed in the Jewish law. But the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon, “This is the one.” He responded, “I’m ready to die now that I have seen this Child!” His godly desires had been fulfilled.
Proverbs 10:24 states, “The desire of the righteous will be granted.” Psalm 34:10 affirms, “They who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” Psalm 84:11 says, “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 37:4 promises, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Where did we ever get the idea that if you follow the Lord, He will make you miserable? As a loving Father, He will satisfy the desires of our hearts if we hope in Him.
This does not mean that the Lord will grant all our selfish wants. Each of those promises contains a condition. He grants the desire of the righteous. They who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing. He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly. He gives the desires of the heart to those who delight in the Lord. When you delight yourself in the Lord, His desires become your desires. The focus of your prayers becomes, “Father, hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If you are hoping for your kingdom to come, your hope will be frustrated. If you are hoping for His kingdom to come, your hope will be abundantly fulfilled, because His kingdom will come in power and glory.
Those who hope in Christ will be rewarded with an understanding of the things of God and the fulfillment of their godly desires. Also,
“Now, Lord, let Your bond-servant depart in peace, according to Your word” (2:29). The picture is of a sentinel being relieved of his watch. Simeon has watched for Messiah all his life. Now he has seen Him and is ready to be relieved of his duty and go home. He was ready to die in peace because he had seen Jesus Christ.
You are not ready to die until you’ve seen Jesus. I do not mean, “see Him” literally or in a vision. What I mean is, you are not ready to die until you have seen Jesus Christ as God’s anointed Savior, and you have welcomed Him into your life as your own Lord and Savior. But once you know that the blood of Jesus has covered all your sin so that you can stand before the Holy God in the righteousness of His Son, then whether you live for another 60 years or 60 hours, you can know that the sting of death is removed because Jesus bore it for you. You’re ready to die in peace.
I just finished reading a powerful book, Richard Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, written in 1649. The subtitle is, “A Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in Their Enjoyment of God in Heaven.” For almost 400 pages he develops the theme that the great hope of Christians is not in this life, but in heaven. Our focus on heaven is to shape our every day in this fleeting life. He argues, “For he that fears dying, must be always fearing; because he hath always reason to expect it. And how can that man’s life be comfortable, who lives in continual fear of losing his comforts?” (p. 224). The believer whose hope is truly in Christ and not in the things of this world is ready to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Phil. 1:23).
So to hope in Christ means to live righteously and expectantly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who hope in Christ will be rewarded. But how can we know that our hope is not just wishful thinking? How can we be sure that our hope will not disappoint us?
Everything we hope for is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. If He is not who the Bible proclaims Him to be, we have put our hope in an empty wish. Note how Simeon describes the child in his arms: He is “the consolation of Israel” (2:25). He is “the Lord’s Christ,” the one prophesied of throughout the Old Testament (2:26). He is God’s “salvation” (2:30), “a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (2:32). He “is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel” (2:34). This is no common Child! Briefly note four things about Jesus Christ:
Although this text does not mention Jesus’ virgin birth, it is important to affirm it here. Liberal critics, who try to undermine the authority of God’s Word, pick up on the reference to Jesus’ father and mother, and that they were amazed at Simeon’s words (2:33), and conclude that Luke here used a source that was unaware of the virgin birth. In the previous chapter (1:26-38) Luke makes the virgin birth quite plain. Either Luke was stupid to use a source within the space of a chapter that contradicts what he just affirmed or the critics are stupid. Take your pick!
The reference to Jesus’ father and mother is simply the outward perspective. The fact that they marveled shows that they were in the process of collecting the various pieces of the puzzle as to who this Son of theirs really was. The fact that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit while she was still a virgin preserved Him from sin and means that He alone is qualified to save us from our sins.
But although Jesus was sinless, He yet identified Himself with us in our sin. He was circumcised according to the Law (2:21), a picture of God cutting away the sinfulness of our hearts so that we are set apart unto Him. He was dedicated to the Lord as the Law prescribed. His mother went through the ritual purification required by the Law. Later, Jesus would submit to baptism under John. He did not go through any of these rituals because of His own sinfulness, but that He might be identified with the people He came to redeem from their sins.
God chose the nation Israel as His means of bringing salvation to all the earth. Jesus was the light of God’s revelation to the Gentiles, who were outside the covenant people of God. That God used Israel to bring salvation to the world brings glory to Israel as His chosen people. When Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God brought a partial hardening to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and then all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25, 26). But the point is, Jesus Christ is not only the Savior of the Jews, but of any person from any nation who will call upon Him. It is the glory of the gospel that wherever it goes, no matter how primitive or pagan the culture, when people believe in Jesus Christ, their lives are transformed as they are delivered from the penalty and power of their sins. Jesus is God’s salvation for everyone.
He “is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed” (2:34). For men to fall, they first must be standing. The meaning of this verse is that those who view themselves as upright before God in their own merit will stumble and fall over Jesus because they refuse to lay aside their pride and to trust in Christ alone for salvation. But those who confess their sin and their need of Him will be raised up to eternal life. Jesus’ coming brought opposition from the proud because He revealed the thoughts of their hearts. Just as the sun rises to give us light, but it also casts shadows, so Christ who came to bring salvation also brought judgment to those who refuse to submit to Him.
A sword would pierce Mary’s soul (2:35). This is a prophetic reference to the anguish Mary would feel as she witnessed the crucifixion of her son. Simeon may had in mind Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced through for our transgressions,” or Zechariah 12:10, “They will look on Me whom they have pierced.” Through the Holy Spirit, Simeon understood what even the disciples failed to grasp until after the event, that the Christ had “to suffer these things and to enter into glory” (Luke 24:26). Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness from our sins (Heb. 9:22). If you are trusting in your own goodness to get into heaven, you will fall on judgment day. But if your trust is in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who is God’s only Savior, you will be welcomed into God’s holy presence on that day. Can you say with certainty, “Jesus Christ is my salvation?”
If Christ is your salvation, you can have hope no matter how difficult your circumstances. During World War II, some American prisoners in a German concentration camp secretly received word of the Allied victory three days before the Germans heard of it. During those three days, their circumstances were no different. They still suffered all the privations they had become used to. But their attitude changed dramatically. A wave of hope spread among the prisoners. Victory and liberation were assured! They could endure those last three days because they had hope.
Whether you’re suffering from a deadly disease or grieving over the loss of a loved one or facing overwhelming trials of some other nature, you can have hope if you will trust in Jesus Christ as God’s salvation for you. He has won the victory over sin and death and hell. Those who hope in Him will not be disappointed!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation