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7. The Greatest Baby Dedication Ever (Luke 2:21-40)

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Christmas as it is celebrated in our culture in north America is often portrayed in very idealistic terms - a perfect baby who never cries, lying in a cozy crib rather than a feeding trough in a smelly, dirty barn; candles twinkling in the house windows rather than the curtains drawn in darkness for fear of the Roman soldiers; snow gently falling on a winter wonderland rather than the stark reality of life in a morally and spiritually dark era.

In this article we’re going to be looking at the beautiful scene of Mary and Joseph dedicating their baby Jesus to the Lord, and as they do so they encounter an old man and old woman who saw in Jesus not a cute little baby but a crucified Saviour, not a cozy manger but a cruel cross, not the twinkling lights of Bethlehem but the tragic darkness of Calvary.

This passage gives us a final glimpse of Old Testament believers, devout worshippers of God who were living in the anticipation and expectation of the coming of the Messiah, represented here by Simeon and Anna. This is kind of the grand finale of the Old Testament - the end of a magnificent procession of faith from Abraham on; the end of a great expectation of God’s mercy in the Redeemer; the fulfillment of everything that these pious people of faith had anticipated for centuries; the ultimate expression of the love of God to his waiting people.

Here we see the newborn Child, the Savior, not in relation to the innkeeper of Bethlehem, not in relation to the shepherds, not in relation to Herod, not in relation to the magi, but in relation to these two faithful saints. Upon instantly recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah, Simeon utters a profound prophecy about Jesus and Anna speaks a true testimony about Jesus.

Our subject in this passage is “The dedication of Jesus.” As with John the Baptist, so here with Jesus, his birth is directly connected to an old prophecy and to a new future. In this passage we see the truth that God is faithful to his people.

This passage divides into three little scenes. The first is ...

I. The Birth Rites Of Jesus (2:21-24)

Mary and Jospeh are obedient to the two Mosaic birth rites – circumcision and dedication…

A. The Rite of Circumcision (2:21a).

Circumcision on the 8th day was a requirement of Jewish law. The circumcision of Jesus is important for at least three reasons:

1. It indicates Mary’s obedience to the law.

2. It brings Jesus into a covenant relation with God and the nation, through whom God was accomplishing his redemptive purposes for the world.

3. It connects Jesus to Abraham through whom this religious ritual was instituted (Gen. 17:9-11).

Apart from the Jewish legal requirement, circumcision also has many medical benefits as modern science now knows, such as: (1) On the 8th day, a baby’s vitamin K levels prevent the baby from bleeding to death; (2) Women married to circumcised men have far lower levels of uterine cancer; (3) Circumcision is hygienically beneficial for preventing infections. In this rite, then, we see the wisdom and love of God, as well as the parents’ devotion to the law of God.

It was customary to name the child at the time of circumcision. In accordance with the angel’s instruction, his name is “Jesus” (2:21). Jesus is the Greek form of “Joshua” in the Old Testament. It was a very common name at that time. It seems that names may have followed trends back then just like today, and undoubtedly every parent wanted a baby like their great leader Joshua. Joshua means “savior” or “salvation.” Perhaps Joshua’s parents called him by that name because they wanted deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptian taskmasters, to be set free from slavery. Perhaps for that reason they named their child Joshua, savior., so they named their child Joshua, savior.

Jesus came to be King, Lawgiver, Prophet, Priest, and Judge, but his name did not reflect those functions either in their position or authority. No, he was named “Jesus,” a name which speaks of mercy, grace, redemption for a lost world, Savior. This is how he wants to be known and the relationship he wants with us, Savior. His name portrayed who he was and his purpose for coming into the world, Savior.

The name of Jesus divides the world. It is precious to those who believe but despised by those who don't believe. But the Bible says that in the final day, the name of Jesus will be revered by every person (Phil. 2:10-11).

Let me ask you: Is the name of Jesus precious to you? Do you know him as Savior? This is a life and death question. You may recognize him as a miracle worker. You may agree that he spoke like no other man. You may acknowledge that he exercised authority over people and nature. But do you know him as Savior? Do you have a relationship with him as your own Savior? Do you believe that he is God come in flesh? Do you believe that he will one day judge the world? Do you know him as your Redeemer from sin, guilt, and Satan’s power? Can you say: “He is my Savior?” Is he the One you turn to for peace of conscience, comfort of heart, rest of soul? Is the name of Jesus a strong tower into which you have run for safety (Prov. 18:10)?

The rite of circumcision is then followed by...

B. The Rite Of Dedication (2:22-24).

For 40 days after the birth, a woman was considered under the law to be defiled. Then after those 40 days, the child was dedicated to the Lord.

God wanted a kingdom of priests. To this end, it was his original intention that the firstborn son of every Israelite family would be set apart (dedicated) to the Lord as a priest. But when all the Israelite families did not obey the Lord in setting aside their firstborn sons for God (Ex. 13:2, 11-12), then God chose instead one family, the Levites of the family of Aaron, all of whose sons would be set apart as priests for God on behalf of the whole nation (Num. 3:11-13).

So, when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they (Mary and Joseph) brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (2:22). But they didn't do this because he was of the house of Aaron – they did it out of obedience to God’s original requirement that each firstborn son should be dedicated as a priest to God.

According to the law, each dedication was to be accompanied by an appropriate offering to the Lord (2:23), and since Mary evidently could not afford a lamb, she took “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (2:24), the offering of poor people (cf. Lev. 12:6, 8). Her poverty is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ life. He was born in poverty - not in a palace but in a stable; not in pomp and ceremony but in isolation and neglect. He was dedicated to the Lord in poverty - with an offering of 2 birds. He was brought up in poverty - not as a prince but as a pauper; not as a nobleman’s son but as a carpenter’s son. He lived in poverty - with nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). He died in poverty - not in a clean hospital attended by doctors and nurses and loved ones but on a cross. He was buried in poverty - in a tomb borrowed from a rich man.

No wonder Jesus has such compassion for the poor! He came to be identified with the poor. He was welcomed into the world by poor shepherds. He honored the generosity of a poor widow who gave her last cent. He set free the poor adulteress who was tormented by her accusers. He warned the rich people about how hard it is for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. He called ordinary working men to be his disciples. He healed poor lepers, the outcasts of society. He cast out demons from a poor, possessed woman. He fed the hungry, protected the rights of the oppressed, responded to the requests of beggars.

It is important for us to notice in these introductory verses the devotion of Joseph and Mary by (1) fully complying with the law of God in having Jesus circumcised “at the end of eight days” (2:21a); (2) fully obeying God in officially naming him Jesus, “the name given by the angel before he was conceived” (2:21b); and (3) fully dedicating their child to God in sacrificially presenting him to the Lord (2:22). In this way, these godly parents sought to do everything to comply with the law as it concerned their baby.

Their devotion to God in seeking to set their child apart for God right from the time of his birth is a wonderful example to us. If you are parents, have you set your child apart for God? Have you done so privately and publicly? It is a privilege for churches to show their support for and fellowship with parents by publicly praying for their young children, dedicating them to the Lord. And it is a show of unity for the church members to draw alongside parents, committing to pray for them and to support them as they seek to raise their children for the Lord.

Well, as Joseph and Mary formally and publicly dedicated Jesus to the Lord, little did they know what awaited them when they arrived in Jerusalem. Here they would meet two people from whom we see how people who have spent their lifetime in devotion and service to the Lord speak and act. From Simeon, we learn things about the destiny of their child, a destiny that for them must have been both frightening and wonderful. And from Anna, we learn that those who are devoted to serving God tell others about Jesus and the redemption that is found in him alone. May this passage encourage us to so use our lives for God.

This first scene, then, concerns the birth rites of Jesus (2:21-24) – his circumcision and dedication to the Lord. Now, the second scene is...

II. The Prophecy About Jesus (2:25-35)

This is the only time we read of Simeon in Scripture; otherwise he is unknown. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel was in deep spiritual poverty and moral darkness. There was a very low level of interest in religious things. The Pharisees and Sadducees had perverted their doctrines and practices. But in the midst of spiritual poverty here emerges this “righteous and devout” man, Simeon. “Righteous” indicates his relationship to others and “devout” indicates his relationship to God.

Simeon is in the temple “looking for the deliverance of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah, before he died (2:26). So, having been “directed by the Spirit, he came into the temple” (2:27a) and as soon as Mary and Joseph “brought in the child Jesus” to dedicate him to the Lord “according to the custom of the law” (2:27b), Simeon knew who He was. He took up the baby in his arms and uttered this remarkable song, the last in a line of four songs in Luke – (1) Elizabeth’s song (1:42-45); (2) Mary’s song (1:46-56); (3) Zacharias’s song (1:67-79); and now (4) Simeon’s song.

A. A Vision Of The Savior Causes Simeon To Praise God (2:29-32).

At the end of his life, God blesses this righteous man beyond anything he could have imagined. Simeon is ready to die: “Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace” (2:29). The appearance of Messiah releases Simeon to die in peace, such is his faith. He grasped the truth that this powerless baby would be the powerful Savior, that this bundle of new life would bring life to dead souls, that this helpless child would save the helpless.

Why did this encounter with Jesus free Simeon to die in peace? Because Simeon knew by faith that the child he held in his arms would submit to death in order to break death’s power and tyranny. He would overcome him who had the power of death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14). He would abolish death and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10). Simeon would be the benefactor of Jesus’ great victory at the cross. What was the basis of Simeon’s confidence? Simeon had faith in God’s word in the Old Testament – that gave him absolute confidence. As such…

1. Simeon knew that this Child had come to bring salvation (2:30-31). “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (2:30-31). He holds in his arms the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior. He sees the One who will deliver God’s people from their sins. He knows that this is the One who has come to set God’s people free. Furthermore…

2. Simeon knew that this Child had come to bring illumination (2:32). He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (2:32a). He has come to bring the revelation of God to the Gentiles. He has come to give spiritual light and life to the poorest, the most distant, the most undeserving, the most irreligious, and the most immoral people you could imagine.

In addition, this child had come to be “a light…for glory (honor) to your people Israel” (2:32b). Those despised and oppressed people would one day glory in their spiritual privileges and position through this child. Through this child, these sorrowing people, who had cried to God for so long for deliverance, would one day enjoy a place of glory because of who He is and what He has done, for from Israel was born the Savior of the world! What an honor for them that the mother of the Messiah would be this Jewish girl, that from her womb sprang the “seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3), the One who would make atonement for the sins of the world. Here we see again the truth that God is faithful to his people.

To face death without faith in God’s word is the most miserable, hopeless existence. But to die in faith in the Savior sent by God is to be absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), to be released from the sin, chaos and sadness of life and to be welcomed into Christ’s presence.

Simeon had a clear understanding of the gospel. He had seen with his own eyes God’s “salvation” (2:30) in the person of Jesus. He knew that Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32b). Into the midst of religious darkness and political chaos comes the Light who would reveal God to us, the Light to unveil the glory of his people Israel. Simeon knew that this child was the One to whom all history pointed and for whom they waited.

This old man knew more than all the religious leaders. They could have learned from him that without the salvation of Christ they were doomed to eternal condemnation; that without the light of Christ they were doomed to eternal darkness; that without the life of Christ they were doomed to eternal death. This old man knew more than them all. For “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27). No wonder Joseph and Mary “marveled” (2:33) at the words Simeon spoke about their baby. How their hearts must have been filled with pride and joy, but their joy was tempered by the word of prophecy that followed (2:34-35).

B. A Vision Of The Savior Causes Simeon To Prophesy About Jesus (2:34-35).

1. Simeon prophesies about Jesus’ division of the people: “Behold, this Child is destined to be the cause of the fall and rise of many in Israel” (2:34a). Many would “fall” because of Jesus. They would fall because he would be “a stone of stumbling and rock of offence” (Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:8). He would be a “stumbling block to the Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23a) because they are blinded by their own unbelief and religiosity (2 Cor. 3:13-14), and he would be the object of “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23b) because they are deceived by their own intellect (Rom. 1:22). And many would “rise” because of Jesus. Those who receive him would rise to become children of God. They will rise from spiritual deadness to eternal life.

2. Simeon prophesies about Jesus’ rejection by the world: “Behold this child is destined… for a sign that will be rejected (spoken against)” (2:34b). He would be despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He would be the target of all Satan’s attacks. He would be opposed on every side with no one to take pity; betrayed by one disciple and forsaken by all the others; hated by the religious leaders; abandoned by the political powers; failed by the judicial system; rejected by those whom he had blessed. Those who were divided by political animosity became united as friends in opposing and condemning him to death. Those who at one time hailed him as the King coming in the name of the Lord (Matt. 19:38) cried out for his death and the release of a robber instead (Jn. 18:40).

The rejection of Jesus by the world would be to Mary like “a sword piercing (her) own soul” (2:35). Undoubtedly, that’s what she experienced throughout Jesus’ lifetime and finally at the cross. Not only would Jesus be a man of sorrows but Mary, his mother, would be pierced with overwhelming sorrow. We can’t imagine what it must have been like for her at the cross watching her son die and remembering the prophecy of the angels about him: “He shall be great and will be called the son of the highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). We can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her, trying to fit this puzzle together.

3. Simeon prophesies about Jesus’ revelation of the heart. The result of Jesus’ rejection by the world would be “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (2:35b). The people’s treatment of Jesus would reveal the innermost hatred and wicked thoughts of their hearts. And that’s exactly what happened when they cried, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14).

The coming of Jesus reveals who you truly are. It reveals those who hate the truth and it reveals those who hunger for forgiveness and righteousness. What does the revelation of Jesus reveal about you? “The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If your innermost being was exposed for everyone to see, what would it look like? Blackness of sin? Hatred of God? Rejection of the gospel? Or, a cleansed heart? The love of God? The acceptance of the gospel?

Are you for him or against him? Are you one who will stumble and “fall” because of him – one who will curse him, deny him? Or, are you one who will “rise” because of him - rise from death to life; rise from darkness to light?

The first scene in this passage is the birth rites of Jesus. The second scene is the prophecy about Jesus. Now, the third scene is ...

III. The Testimony About Jesus (2:36-38)

Like Simeon, Anna is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Isn't it beautiful that the Spirit of God records in Luke’s orderly and clear account the testimony of an old man and an old woman in affirming the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy concerning the Messiah’s appearance in the temple (Mal. 3:1)?

As Simeon is holding the newborn child, along comes Anna. Notice…

A. Anna’s Character (2:36-37).

She was a prophetess, a blameless, holy woman. This 84 year old woman had been married for seven years and remained a widow for the rest of her life – a very long time (2:36-37a). Undoubtedly during those years as a widow she would have experienced poverty, loneliness, and hardship, but nevertheless she remained devoted to God.

1. Anna served God faithfully. “She did not depart from the temple” (2:37b). Where God was, she wanted to be. Where God’s people were, she wanted to be. The prayer of her life was that of the Psalmist: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple” (Ps. 27:4).

2. Anna worshipped God sacrificially. She served God with “fasting and prayer night and day” (2:37b). In fasting, what little comfort she may have had, she sacrificed for God. And in prayer, she engaged in ongoing communion with God. God was her Father in deed and in truth.

B. Anna’s Testimony (2:38).

1. Anna’s testimony of thanksgiving to God. “Coming at that hour she began to give thanks to God” (2:38a). Her continuous prayers were finally answered. God had rewarded her lifetime of sacrificial service with the greatest gift she could ever imagine - to see the long looked-for Messiah, to change her faith to sight, to transform her hope into reality.

Remember the teaching of this passage that God is faithful to his people. What a blessing God poured out on this humble, holy woman. Hers must have been joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8). What an example for us to follow! An example of consistency in spite of calamity, holiness in spite of hardship, prayerfulness in spite of poverty, sacrifice in spite of solitude. Anna is a powerful woman of God. May we all seek to be like her.

2. Anna’s testimony to others. “She began…to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38b). This is the right order isn't it? Her first response is one of thanksgiving to God. Her second response is a testimony to others – a testimony to those with whom she was united in fellowship, those with whom she shared the same hope.

Evidently they used to gather in the temple court. Perhaps they worshipped God together there. Perhaps they prayed together there. Perhaps they spoke of their mutual hope of the coming of the Messiah and their hoped–for redemption (Mal. 3:16-17). Though God had been silent for 400 years, yet he still had a testimony. There was still a faithful remnant of believers who were waiting for redemption. They were marked by faith and hope. They walked by faith not by sight. They lived in hope not despair. They waited patiently not anxiously. They gave sacrificially not selfishly. They longed for the Messiah’s glory not their own well-being.

Doesn’t their character, lifestyle, and attitude speak to us? They looked for redemption in the future, yet we have it already. Just as they looked forward to his first coming, we should look forward to his second coming with hope and certainty. Just as they waited and spoke of their faith and hope in a Savior to come, so we should live and speak of our faith and hope in a Savior who has already come. Just as they longingly waited and watched for the promised Redeemer, so we should longingly and patiently wait and watch for our Savior from heaven, who will complete our redemption (Rom. 8:23).

Final Remarks

The family returned to their home in Nazareth (2:39) and “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him (2:40). Apart from the incident when he was 12 years old (Lk. 2:41-52), this verse is all Luke says about Jesus’ first 30 years or so of life. All we know about those years is that Jesus grew physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually and “the favor of God was upon him.” During these silent years, Jesus was being prepared for the mission for which he came, “to seek and to save those who were lost” (Lk. 19:10).

So comes to an end this beautiful little scene. In Mary and Joseph we see two godly parents with their newborn baby, faithfully fulfilling the birth rites under the law (circumcision and dedication) and marveling at the prophecy of an old man and the testimony of an old woman concerning the destiny of their child. And in Simeon and Anna we see that, no matter how spiritually and morally dark the days may be, God always has a testimony of faithful believers. God is always faithful to his people.

We know now that Simeon’s prophecy has been fulfilled. Jesus is God’s salvation, the Savior of the world. He has brought us the revelation of God so that we can know him. He has fulfilled his destiny. He is the cause of the fall and rise of many. He does reveal the thoughts of every heart. And, yes, a sword of sorrow did pierce Mary’s soul at the cross. And we know that Jesus has fulfilled Anna’s testimony - he has brought redemption to us through the cross.

The question today is are you looking for redemption? Is that your overwhelming need and desire today to know the Savior who has come and who is coming again? By God’s grace, may you see the truth of this passage today and find eternal redemption in Jesus Christ.

Related Topics: Christmas

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