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See What Simeon Saw

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Advent, Sermons

(We had a snafu Sunday so we're sending out the sermon notes as a blog since there's no Podcast)

The Seeing See Little

Helen Keller was born in June of 1880. At 19 months a disease took her sight and hearing and plunged her into a world of isolation and darkness. She was famously helped by the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan and eventually developed ways to communicate with others. She would go on to graduate from Radcliffe College, the all-women’s counterpart to the all-male Harvard.  

At the age of 53 she wrote a piece for The Atlantic Monthly called “Three Days to See.”  In it she reflected on what she would do if she were given three days to see. She wrote, 

Most of us…take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life. The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our faculties and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties….
Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. "Nothing in particular," she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been
accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little. How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note?.... Those who have eyes apparently see little.
Hellen Keller, “Three Days to See,” The Atlantic Monthly (Jan 1933)

She is right about us, "the seeing": “Those who have eyes apparently see little.” We are too often the ones who take an hour’s walk in the beauty of the world around and us and yet see “nothing in particular.”

Most of the time the consequences are not that great. But when it comes to Christmas, how we see has enormous consequences. 

The question we want to think about this morning is, What do you see when you see the baby Jesus? What do you see when you contemplate The Nativity?

Based on Luke 2:22 we know Jesus is just about six weeks old when he is presented in the temple and Simeon meets him. The “time came for their purification” tells us that.  In Mary’s arms this six-week old baby looked just like any other six-week old little boys. He could eat, cry, sleep, look around a bit, and not much else. Even a precocious six-week old just isn’t doing much. 

When this teenage mom brought in this six-week old baby with Joseph the father unable to afford any but the sacrifices of the poor—“pair of two turtledoves or two young pigeons,” Luke 2:24; cf. Lev 12:8—because he couldn’t afford a lamb, there was nothing in this scene that would communicate power or authority or royalty, certainly not the “King of all kings.”

But for those with eyes to see, there was something amazing here. The question this passage asks of us is, What do you see when you see the baby Jesus? But before we get to that, Luke wants us to see something else. 

What Did the Lord See in Simeon?

Simeon, too, is a man who might not have grabbed your attention, if you were there at the time. Would have been easy to see him without really seeing him. 
Helen Keller talked about people walking in the woods and seeing “nothing in particular.” Maybe some would have met Simeon but if they were asked later who they saw would respond, “no one in particular.” Perhaps, “a nice old man named Simeon” (Luke 2:29).

Simeon was of no apparent political or military importance. No references to his financial resources. Probably not a priest or else Luke would have certainly mentioned it. Likely the rich, powerful, well-connected saw little in this man Simeon. 

But what did the Lord see in Simeon? First, this was a good man. “Righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25). These two words together are meant to be a summary for a godly man and a good man. “Righteous” speaks to how he treated people, “devout” speaks to his love for God. There aren’t many labeled “devout” in the Bible. Only three other times in the NT.  

You can see his devotion in how he addressed God in Luke 2:29, “Lord” is from the Greek, Despotēs, “Master, Lord.” And Simeon refers to himself as “your servant” or “slave.”

You can see his devotion in the fact he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). “Consolation” means “comfort, encouragement.” True faith for an Israelite was about waiting, looking ahead to something God was going to do in the future. 

Specifically he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” That harkens back to promises in Isaiah that speak of a future consolation: 

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isa 49:13)
For the LORD comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isa 51:3)

Isaiah was seeing a future “consolation of Israel.” “Comfort,” “compassion,” “joy,” “gladness,” “thanksgiving and the voice of song,” all this speaks to the future “consolation of Israel.” 

And Simeon believed those prophecies. Despite the dominance of Rome over Israel or the lack of religious zeal in his people, he believed that one day these promises would be fulfilled. And despite his own lifetime of hardships his faith remained and knew the comfort, joy, and singing of these prophecies would one day come to pass.

But there’s something else about him Luke is emphatic about. He was also a man of the Spirit. In Luke 2:25–27 there’s a triple emphasis on the Spirit’s role here. Nothing quite like that in all of Luke and Acts: The “Holy Spirit was being upon him” (2:25); Prophecy was “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit” (Luke 2:26; see below “according to your word,” Luke 2:29); At just the right time is the specific direction, “he came in the Spirit into the temple.”

What is the lesson of these initial verses? Be like Simeon! This is one of those narrative moments where someone is being held up to us as a model, an example to follow. What kind of example? Simeon is old but not cynical. He’s old but still looking ahead in faith. Despite what the circumstances of his life have been, he is clinging to the promises of God.

What Did Simeon See in the Baby Jesus?

But Simeon isn’t the centerpiece of the story here, it’s who and what he saw. He is set up so much not just as an example. It's also to pay close attention to what he prophesies. When Mary the teenage mother comes to the temple with the baby Jesus, Simeon is right there and takes the baby in his arms and says something remarkable:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29–32)

The first thing he saw when he looked at the baby Jesus was the Lord’s “salvation” (v30). This is not the more common word for “salvation” in the NT.  It is the one used only 4x  but most importantly, it’s the one used in the Isaiah quotation of Luke 3:6, 

 “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:6)

Simeon when he lifts up the baby Jesus is saying, “this is the salvation of God promised by the great prophet Isaiah! Here it is!” 

Then he adds that this “salvation” is the one “that you have prepared” (v31). God’s plan of salvation is this six-week old baby boy, Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph who is also the Son of God.

God’s plan of salvation did not begin in Bethlehem. The first mention of God’s plan of salvation is all the way back in the Garden of Eden. Thousands of years before Mary brought Jesus to the temple, God spoke a promise. This is in Genesis 3:15: 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

Ironically, this promise was first spoken to the serpent in the Garden after that serpent had tempted Eve to sin. The Lord’s curse of the serpent was also a promise to us. God’s salvation would come through “her offspring” who would “bruise the head” of the serpent.

The world had just been plunged into the darkness of the Fall of Adam. Death, disease, and decay were now part of normal life. Paradise was truly lost. But at just that moment God’s plan of salvation was spoken. 

You don’t want to miss that God’s plan of salvation was a PERSON. Not just any PERSON, but still a PERSON. Sometimes it’s tempting to think that our salvation lies in some kind of medical discovery. Or an economic policy. Or a military operation. Or clean drinking water. Or a hundred other things that are good things and can help a lot of people.

But the kind of salvation we need will never come through anything money can buy or a government can provide. The kind of salvation we need to save us from death itself and God’s judgment after death is found only in a PERSON. 

This six-week old baby boy is the salvation you need and the only salvation there is!

But Simeon the older, Spirit-filled, devout man wasn’t finished yet. He had more to say. 

This baby was also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Remember, “Gentiles” are simply those who are not “Jews.” In the Bible, all people are divided into two groups—Jew and Gentile. 

Gentiles, like everyone, lack salvation. But they also lack “revelation.” God’s Word was spoken primarily to Israel in the days of the OT. Occasionally those outside of Israel would become part of God’s people—Rahab, Moses’ African (Cushite) wife  (Cush was just s. Egypt, Num 12:1). But God’s revelation in Word came almost exclusivey to those in the direct line of Abraham. If you were not a descendent of Abraham, your only access to God’s words of revelation was to become part of the descendents of Abraham—like the Queen of Sheba traveling the great distance to see King Solomon. 

God’s WORDS of revelation are not the only revelation. Creation and conscience also speak of God’s reality. But God’s WORD is the revelation that allows us to make sense of these and understand more fully what they are saying. 

Simeon is reminding us that without Christ, Gentiles lived in darkness with only sparks of light. Like a night-time thunder storm where every once-in-a-while the pitch-dark sky lights up and you can see all around you. But just as soon as it lights up it goes dark again. 

Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In John 8:12 Jesus proclaimed, 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

This wasn’t just for the Jews, it was for all people—“Whoever follows me…” That promise extends to you as well. If you follow Christ you “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Life will bring times of confusion and darkness, but Christ “the light of the world” will nonetheless be with you to guide you and reveal God’s truth to you.

Jesus is the light that does what all light does. When you have light, you not only see the light, you also see everything else. 

One of the most useful features of an iPhone is the flashlight. When you’re in your attic in some remote corner, it’s great to be able to turn on the flashlight. But you don’t do that just to see that little light—“There it is!” You want that light so you can see everything around you, so you can see. 

Jesus is that kind of light. With his light, we don’t just see him. We see everything else, too! 

And Simeon the older prophet also sees in Jesus “glory to your people Israel” (v32). Jesus is the great fulfillment of Israel’s promises, Israel’s hopes, Israel’s need for a Savior. He’s the Son of Abraham that brings blessings to the nations, the Son of David who will reign as king in a kingdom of perfect righteousness and peace. He is Israel’s Messiah, the anointed one who was to come. 
He is Israel’s “glory,” because he is Israel’s God. Jesus is YHWH, Elohim, Adonai. 

Here’s another promise from Isaiah to show Israel’s future hope for a LIGHT  and the GLORY OF THE LORD to come – Isaiah 60:1–3, 19–22: 

Arise, shine, for your light has come, 
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, 
and thick darkness the peoples; 
but the LORD will arise upon you, 
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light, 
and kings to the brightness of your rising….
19 The sun shall be no more your light by day, 
nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; 
but the LORD will be your everlasting light, 
and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down, 
nor your moon withdraw itself; 
for the LORD will be your everlasting light, 
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous; 
they shall possess the land forever, 
the branch of my planting, 
the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan, 
and the smallest one a mighty nation; 
I am the LORD; 
in its time I will hasten it. (Isa 60:1–3, 19–22)

Isaiah is promising a coming LIGHT and GLORY unlike any other. Isaiah promises, “your God will be your glory” (60:19). And this LIGHT will be so radiant that the sun won’t be necessary—“Your sun shall no more go down” (Isa 60:20). 

Simeon is helping us to see that this is fulfilled in Jesus, this six-week old baby who is not just the Son of Mary but also the Son of God. He is the LIGHT for the Gentiles and the GLORY of Israel his people. 

But now the question for you is, “What do you see when you see the baby Jesus?” When you contemplate what we call “The Nativity,” the birth, what do you find there? Is it a beautiful myth, an inspiring legend, a scene of hope? Is it just something powerfully nostalgic that makes you long for simpler times and a little more of the innocence of youth? 

It is true that it’s a beautiful story. There’s something that draws us to the human drama of it. The teenage mom, pregnant before her wedding, the poverty of it, the simplicity of it. The couple unable to find to find a place of their own so sharing space with others and perhaps even animals, even placing the baby Jesus in “a manger” (“feeding trough for animals,” NIGTC, 106). 

But if ALL WE SEE is a baby and a young couple, we’re missing the much bigger story here. We’re not seeing what Simeon saw, which is what we must see. He is Salvation, Light, and Glory. See the beauty of The Nativity, but see the Salvation, Light, and Glory of Christ above everything else!  

What Difference Does it Make What We See?

You might think it doesn’t matter what we see there. How many things are we wrong about, and most of those don’t make much difference. You bomb a test, forget names and dates in history, get confused about foreign govts, don’t understand a thousand things in medicine or technology or your car, you thought you had cut the power to the outlet before you touched it with your screwdriver—not seeing things accurately in these ways might affect you a little bit but not likely to be a defining moment in your life story, certainly not your eternal destiny.  

Well, Simeon reminds us here that it does make a difference what we see in the baby Jesus. It’s subtle, but it’s here. 

He prophesies about the destiny of this baby—"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed'" (Luke 2:34).

God has “appointed” him for something, destined him for something, set him apart for a special purpose and mission. 

It will bring “the fall and rising of many in Israel” (v. 34). How we think of this baby Jesus will determine whether we “fall” or “rise.” Judgment and salvation are in the balance. If we bow and declare this baby to be the Lord of all, we “rise.” If we neglect him and consider him little more than a great man and maybe not even that, we “fall.” 

Once again it seems certain ideas from Isaiah are in the background. Two passages that surface throughout the ministry of Jesus capture what Simeon is getting at. Isaiah 8:14–15 and 28:16:

“And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isa 8:14–15) 
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” (Isa 28:16)

Isaiah is talking about only one Stone. It is the “tested stone, a precious cornerstone,” “a sure foundation.” But it’s only a sure foundation to “whoever believes.” To those who reject him and fail to worship him as God, he is “a rock of stumbling….Many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken.” 

You can imagine a boulder on the side of a mountain—massive, impossible for you to move. You can climb up it and jump off it all day long and it’s a sure foundation. But if something were to happen and dislodge that boulder and it were to fall on top of you, it would crush you into a pancake. That's the image Isaiah is giving us of Christ. And Simeon is summarizing all of that in "the fall and rising of many." 

The final piece of Simeon’s prophecy foreshadows the crucifixion to come. This baby will be “opposed” (v. 34). And Mary who carried this child in her womb and then raised him from infancy will feel the sorrow and sting of that—like a sword piercing her very soul (v. 35).

In Simeon’s hands is the salvation of God, the Son of God, and the greatest of all Kings. But he’s not destined for a marble palace and a life of comforts. He’s destined for a CROSS. The way he will accomplish God’s plan of salvation is by giving his life for sinners. Instead of marble palaces surrounded by all the wealth and glory of the world's kingdoms—what Jesus truly deserved—he received a criminal's death. 


It is right that we contemplate the birth of Christ each year and all that it meant. It is right that we consider what it means that he was born into poverty and grew to become the Savior of the World. 

But I hope that as you go through the holiday season you see. Work so that you won't be Hellen Keller’s “seeing” who “see little.” Instead, see the drama of it all—that teenage mom, that picture of poverty, the baby enveloped in all the typical human frailties of all babies. But see something greater as well. See the Lord’s salvation. See revelation for all the nations. See unimaginable glory that will one day outshine our sun and make it seem as nothing but a flickering candle. Be like Simeon and see what he saw: 

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29–32)



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