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The Salvation the God has Prepared for All People

Sermon passage: (Luke 2:22-40) Spoken on: October 30, 2016
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Luke

Tags: LUKE 路加福音

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About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and biblical languages in various seminaries in Singapore.

Title: The Salvation the God has Prepared for All People
Date: 30 Oct 2016
Preacher: Rev. Tan Hock Seng

22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. {Or widow for eighty-four years} She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 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. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

In the Jewish tradition every Jewish mother must offer a lamb as a sacrifice to the LORD, 40 days after giving birth to a son. If the family is poor, then the woman may just bring two doves, instead of a lamb. If the baby is the first son in the family, then he must be consecrated to the LORD in view of the “Exodus” event – every firstborn male belongs to the LORD (Exo. 13:1). This passage describes the day when Joseph and Mary brought the 5-week-old baby Jesus to the temple to present Him to the LORD.

At the temple, Joseph and Mary met two people: an elderly old man called Simeon and a very old widow named Anna.

In the first encounter, a feebly and wobbly old man came up to Mary, “I want to carry your baby”; “Let me carry your baby”. If you were Mary, would you let him carry your baby? Mary did.

Holding the infant Jesus in his arms Simeon said, “This baby is God’s Salvation for all people.” Well, all mothers like to hear good things about their babies. After that the old man told Mary, “Your baby will grow up to be a trouble-maker in Israel. He will cause many to fall. What he will do will stab your heart like a sword” (2:33-34). Now, which mother can tolerate talks like that. “Hey, this baby is only 5-week old, and you already said so many bad things about him.” You can’t blame Mary if she reacted “Give me back my baby … go and die lah… you senile old man!”

Why would Mary allow an elderly stranger to carry her baby? Why should Mary take Simeon’s words seriously? Why would she trust someone whom she had never met before?

The writer of this Gospel, Luke, describes Simeon with three traits:

First, Simeon was righteous; second, he was devout; and third, the Holy Spirit was with upon Him.

The description about Simeon’s character is important for us to heed. Otherwise, Luke could have written verses 25-27 this way:

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts (2:25-27)

There are situations where moral teachings in the narratives are important. Stay away from extreme interpretative mindset: 1. We must not moralize every story; and 2. We must not ignore the intended moral teachings in a story.

If you meet a person who is righteous, devout, and the LORD is with him, you will trust him.

Simeon was waiting for the “Consolation of Israel”. In other words, he was waiting for the coming of the Messiah that the prophets foretold since Isaiah’s time. While waiting for the Messiah to come, Simeon remained righteous and devout.

Here, we see a man who celebrated the first advent by being righteous and devout. What does it mean to be righteous? The evangelist Luke later gives us a clearer picture about the concept of righteousness when he writes about John the Baptist.

In Luke chapter 3:9-14, John preached, “Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” The “cutting down and throwing into the fire” is a metaphor for God’s judgment. Then someone asked John, “What shall we do to produce good fruit?” Good fruit refers to living a life that pleases God, a righteous life. John answered him “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

Do take note that “sharing your material possession with the poor” is not a teaching for the rich and wealthy people only. John was preaching to a group known as the “people of the Land” – the ‘am haeretz (Aramaic). During John’s times the “people of the Land” constituted 90% of the population in Palestine. These people had little clothing to wear. They did not know where their next meal would come from. The Pharisees despised them as the rats and scavengers; but Jesus regarded them as “sheep without a shepherd”. So, John the Baptist was urging these poor people, “If you have two tunics, share with those who have none; if you have food, share with those with nothing to eat.”

So, whether we are rich or poor, we must care for people who lack the basic necessity in life, especially in the poor countries. In this fallen world food and wealth are not evenly distributed worldwide. Therefore, the extra food and materials that we have should be shared with those who lack. We ought to share God’s abundant blessings to us with others. We may often take our excesses for granted.

Then John spoke to the tax-collectors, “Don’t collect more than what you are required” He told the soldiers, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely.” If you are landlords or a landladies, perhaps you should examine yourselves, “Am I collectively rent much more than I should?” In Singapore, the rentals for housing and shops are very high and still rising. If this trend is not controlled, we will revert to the “Feudal System” type of economy. The peasants will work very hard to make a living while the landlords just collect exorbitant rents. John the Baptist preached “Don’t collect more than what you are required”. What we are hearing from John are some basic principles for righteous living. The motivation for Christian to be righteous is not because we are scared that God would “throw us into the fire” The motivation for us to be righteous is because Our God is righteous. I want to be righteous because I worship a righteous God. Our lifestyles must be consistent with the character of the God whom we worship.

Simeon waited for the Messiah by staying righteous. Next, Simeon waited for the Messiah by being devout to the Scripture. Many people think of a devout person as someone who is ritualistic.

However, the biblical concept of “devout” in verse 25 means a person who is careful to learn and cautious in observing the Scripture’s teaching. The emphasis of this virtue “devout” is the cautious practice of we believe in.

Simeon waited all his life for the Messiah, but he waited for the Messiah’s coming in cautious anticipation. During Simeon’s era, there were many messianic pretenders. In Acts 5:36-39, Luke mentions two messianic pretenders: Theudas and Judas of Galilee.

We do not know much about what messianic pretenders did from the Bible, but Flavius Josephus, a first century Jewish Historian, tells us that those self-proclaimed “messiahs” misled many people. At first they appeared to be very caring, providing for the people’s needs. But when they became popular and powerful, they became self-serving. They started to oppress their followers and make unreasonable demands from them. Eventually, they led their followers to die, in order that they may achieve their political ambition.

Simeon had encountered many messianic pretenders like, Judas ben Ezekias, Simon of Perea, and Judas of Galilee. But Simeon did not believe in any of them as the Messiah because he read the Scripture’s Messianic teachings with care and caution. That is what being devout means.

Simeon celebrated the first Advent by staying righteous and devout. Today, we may celebrate the Advent with two perspectives: Normally, the churches celebrate the Advent in retrospection. We remember the past by re-enacting the drama of the God’s faithful people anticipating the birth of Christ – the 4 weeks before Christmas. Perhaps, the celebration of Advent should include the future perspective. Instead of just reliving the past, we may look forward towards the second Advent – the return of Christ.

As the church awaits Christ’s return, many believers are easily misled by false alarms. When a major natural disaster strikes like, Tsunami or severe earthquake, people will speculate “Jesus is coming back soon” When there is an outbreak of global epidemic like, MERS CoV, Ebola, or Zika infection, people will speculate “Jesus is coming very soon” When there are wars and terrorism, again people will upload videos on the YouTube “Jesus is coming back soon.” The anxiety about Jesus’ Return, set off by crises, is called “Crisis Eschatology”. The proper way to wait for Christ’s Return is to stay righteous and devout, and not by living in speculative anxieties.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy in the last letter he wrote before he died, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Then he exhorted Timothy, “But you, be sober-minded in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:5).

Paul himself set an example of righteous living for Timothy to follow. He testified, “… the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

In the story of Luke 2, Simeon anticipated the first coming of Jesus into the world by remaining righteous and devout in the midst of the moral perversion and religious apostasy of his days. We should also anticipate the second coming of Jesus by staying righteous and devout in a society that distorts our sense of right and wrong, and pressurizes us to compromise our moral values.

The third trait that Luke described Simeon is “the Holy Spirit is upon him”. In other word, Simeon walked with God, and the presence of the LORD was with him. It was the Holy Spirit who revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. It was the Holy Spirit that directed Simeon to go to the temple court. So, Simeon did not just bump into Joseph and Mary by chance. He did not encounter he baby Jesus by coincident. The Holy Spirit led Simeon to the meeting point, and, I believe, the Holy Spirit had also prepared Joseph and Mary to meet Simeon.

Why do I think that way? In the book of Acts, which was also written by Luke, there are two incidents that show that when God asks “A” to meet “B,” He will also prepares “B” to meet “A”.

The first incident is recorded in Acts 9: 10-11. Saul was blinded by a light from heaven on his way to Damascus. Then he heard the voice of Jesus telling him to enter the city and wait for further instruction. Then the Lord spoke to a man called Ananias and instructed him to look for Saul in a specific house. At the other end of this incident, Saul saw a man in a vision name Ananias while he was praying. So, we observe that God prepared both Ananias and Saul to meet each other.

The second incident is recorded in Acts 10. A centurion named Cornelius had a vision. In the vision he saw an angel who instructed him to dispatch men to Joppa to bring the Apostle Peter to his house. Then when the men were on their way, God gave Peter a vision about a carpet with clean and unclean animals. That vision prepared Peter to go to associate with unclean people, who are the Gentiles. Peter saw the vision three times. While he was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the three men, whom Cornelius sent, knocked at Peter’s door. Then Peter was willing to enter Cornelius’ house and even stayed there for a few days. Here again, we see that when God asks “A” to meet “B,” He will also prepare “B” to meet “A.”

So, when the Holy Spirit led Simeon to see the baby Jesus, I believe that the Holy Spirit also prepared Mary to let Simeon carry her baby.

The next person whom Joseph and Mary encountered at the temple was Anna.

Luke introduced Anna as a very old woman. How old was Anna? From the text, we read that she was 84 year-old. I don’t think that when you reach 84, you would like people to say that you are very old. “Old,” yes; but not as “very old”. I highlight Anna’s age because some translations state that “Anna was a widow for 84 years, instead of “she was a widow until she was 84.” If Anna had been a widow for 84 years, which means that she might be 105 year-old when Luke introduced her in the story. (Married at age 14; widowed at 21; Spent 84 years as a widow at the temple. That will add up to 105 years). When you are 105 year-old, you must not be angry when people say that you are very old.

Next, Luke tells us that Anna was married for only 7 years, then her husband died. Thereafter, she worshiped day and night at the temple, fasting and praying.

We may look at Anna from two different perspectives. First, we may assume that Anna was a spiritual woman just because she fast and pray day and night for many years. If we were to look at Anna’s behavior from the lens of another religion - “This woman, after her husband died, she went to the temple “nian jing bai fo” (chanting the scripture, praying from day till night, tok, tok, tok, tok, tok …). Is that a picture of a spiritual woman or severely depressed widow with nothing to live for?

So, if we see a very old depressed widow approaching Joseph and Mary, “I want to carry your baby,” “Let me carry your baby…” “O, your baby will never live to regret this day.” Then Luke might have written, “And Joseph and Mary left the temple hurriedly with the baby and ran all the way home.”

However, there is another way of looking at Anna.

In the Roman Catholic Bible, the book Judith, chapter 8 verses 4-8 we read,

“So Judith was a widow in her house three years and four months… 6 And she fasted all the days of her widowhood, save the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons and the feasts and solemn days of the house of Israel. 7 She was also of a goodly countenance, and very beautiful to behold … as she feared God greatly.”

We do not subscribe to the doctrine of the Apocryphal writings, but we may respect the Apocryphal for historical information. The Apocryphal tells us how the Jews had lived during the inter-testament period.

In the Apocryphal, Judith was introduced as a young, happy widow. Judith feared God, and she fasted and prayed for her people.

Similarly, Luke could be presenting Anna, as a widow like Judith. Anna was happy as a widow, and not depressed. She fasted and prayed in anticipation of the Messiah. She was a prophetess who had been serving the LORD in the temple for 84 years.

Encountering the baby Jesus helped Anna to realize fully the meaning of “Asher,” the name of her tribe, and “Phanuel” her father’s name. Anna’s father’s name “Phanuel” means “The face of God.” When Anna looked at Jesus’ face, she saw the face of God in human form. Anna’s tribe “Asher” means “Happy.” Anna’s encounter with Jesus, perhaps, made her the happiest person in the tribe of Asher.

Until now I have been talking about Simeon and Anna, but the Gospel story is primarily about Jesus. The focus of the story in Luke 2:22-36 is Jesus, not Simeon and Anna.

Actually, Luke introduced Simeon and Anna to the readers because they were witnesses to Jesus as the “Salvation God has prepared for all people” (2:30-31). As God’s Salvation, Jesus is the light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory to the people Israel (v.32).

In Simeon’s prophetic message, Jesus was proclaimed to fulfill a two-fold mission:

First, Jesus will be a Light to the Gentile
Second, Jesus is the Glory of the people Israel.

The prophetess Anna indirectly proclaimed Jesus as the Redemption of Jerusalem

First, Jesus is the Light to the Gentile

During Paul’s second missionary journey, he came to Athen. At a town called Areopagus, Paul came across an altar with the inscription. “To an unknown God” (Acts 17:23).

Athen was a city where the religion Stoicism was prevalent. The Stoics believe that the Universe was created by God, and this God is impersonal. As the impersonal God cannot be known, the Stoics referred to the Creator as the “Unknown God” or the “Logos”.

Paul taught the Athenians that this unknown Creator of the Universe and the Giver of all lives has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.

If God had not first revealed Himself to us, at most, we may only know that a Creator exists. But what is this Creator-God like? We can never know. “Is He compassionate?” Don’t know. “Is He forgiving?” Don’t know. “Can He make us live again after we die?” Don’t know. We can know God because He had first revealed Himself to the humankind through Jesus. Otherwise, we would be worshipping like the Athenians “To the unknown God.” No hymns or songs to sing.

Thus, the Apostle John wrote “No man has seen God at any time; the one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (John 1:18).

Simeon proclaimed Jesus as the Light of God’s revelation to the Gentiles. Because of Jesus, we are able to know God. In Jesus, the transcendent God became immanent. Jesus, the Immanuel “God with us,” reveals the transcendent God to us.
Second, Jesus is the Glory of the people Israel.

The Glory of the LORD came and filled the temple when Solomon dedicated new building to God (2 Chron. 7:1-3)

The Glory of the LORD remained in Solomon’s temple until God willed the temple to be destroyed

Ezekiel chapter 10 describes the Glory of the LORD leaving the temple in progressive stages and eventually departed from Israel before the Babylonian invasion.

After the Exile, when the second temple was being constructed, the prophet Haggai foretold the return of the Glory of the LORD returning to the temple. The glory of the second temple shall be greater than Solomon’s temple (Haggai 2:9).

Isaiah 60 proclaims the return of the Glory of the LORD in details:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

Isaiah 60:3 says that the Gentiles will be drawn by the radiance of the Glory to worship the God of Israel.

3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:1-3)

However, ever since the completion of the second temple until the reign of King Herod the Great, the Glory of the LORD never returned. The magnificent temple was, like a beautiful empty shell, without God’s Glory. Israel waited hundreds of years for the coming of that Glory. That hope became the “Consolation of Israel”. Simeon waited for the Consolation of Israel all his life. The Holy Spirit assured him that he will not die until he had witnessed God’s fulfillment of His promise.

In Simeon’s encounter with the baby, he proclaimed Jesus as “the Glory of Israel”. Jesus is the Glory of the LORD that came in human form. The Apostle John testifies, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Third, Jesus is the Redemption of Jerusalem.

The phrase “Redemption of Jerusalem” can mean “the One who will redeem the people of Jerusalem”; and “the Redemption that comes from Jerusalem”. The two meanings are not mutually exclusive, they connected. This second meaning emphasizes Jerusalem as the city of the Gospel’s origin. Jerusalem was the starting point of God’s mission to bless the Gentiles.

Luke recorded Jerusalem as the launch center of God’s redemptive mission in Acts 1:8.

Jesus told His disciples “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The preaching of the gospel began in Jerusalem. Three thousand Jews believed and were baptized when Peter first preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The number of believers grew to five thousands (Acts 4:4). The gospel of Redemption spread to Judea, then to Samaria and then to the entire Greco-Roman world.


Luke 2:22-40 presented Simeon and Anna as two of the earliest witnesses to Jesus, the God who became man.

Simeon remained righteous and devout as he waited for the Messiah. The Holy Spirit, the Presence of God, was with Simeon all his life. God was with Anna also. Anna saw the “face of God” in Jesus. That experience fulfilled the meaning of her father’s name “Phanuel”. Her encounter with the baby Jesus also helped her realized the meaning of her tribe “Asher”. She was so happy that she testified about Jesus to all who were also waiting for the Redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon expressed his contentment saying, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your Salvation” (2:29-30).

Jesus is the Light that reveals God to the Gentile, and the Glory that has returned to Israel.

The story ends with these words in Luke 2:40

And the child [the Light to the nation and the Glory of Israel] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.