By J.R. Miller
The first Jewish rite which was observed in the case of a child, was circumcision. Jesus was circumcised. The time was when He was eight days old. At that time, also, He received His name, Jesus, as the angel had directed. The next religious observance was His presentation in the temple. This was forty days after His birth. An offering was required in connection with this ceremony. The usual offering was a lamb; but when the mother was too poor to give this--she might bring a pigeon or a dove. This was what Mary gave, showing the poverty of her family.
It was while the child was in the temple that this beautiful incident of Simeon occurred. "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." Old age is not always beautiful. Sometimes the old seem to outstay their usefulness in this world. Sometimes they lose their sweetness of disposition and grow fretful, sour, and discontented. Christian old age should be beautiful to the very close. It should be useful, peaceful, and rich in experience, wise in counsel, patient and loving; the harvest of the life, full of ripe, mellow fruit. Simeon is an illustration of such an old age. There are four things said about him here.
First he was a righteous man. This means that he was honest and upright in all his dealings with otters. Everybody trusted Simeon, and everybody knew that he was good and faithful. If he was a carpenter, he did honest work and charged only honest prices. If he was a merchant, his customers were sure always of getting the kind of goods he represented them to be, and of getting full measure and full weight at honest prices. The times were corrupt, and many men were dishonest, and there was a great deal of sharp dealing--but Simeon never swerved from the strictest righteousness in his dealings with men.
Second, he was devout. He was not merely a moralist. There are some people who boast of their scrupulous honesty and uprightness, while they never bend a knee to God, never speak a word to Him in prayer, never acknowledge Him as their Lord, and never think of pleasing Him. Simeon was not that kind of man. He was a righteous man, because he was a God-fearing man.
Third, he looked for Christ. He believed that the Messiah was to come, because God had so promised. He did not neglect his duties, however, in watching for the Messiah--but continued diligent and faithful all the while. We need to learn this lesson. Expectation sometimes draws us away from our duty. When Christ comes, He wants to find us watching, in the sense of being ready to welcome Him--but He does not want to find us idly gazing into heaven, looking for Him.
A fourth thing about Simeon was that the Holy Spirit was on him. That is the secret of all true spiritual life. The truly beautiful character, is one that is built up by the Holy Spirit. Tennyson was asked what Jesus Christ was to him. It was in the garden, and, pointing to a lovely rosebush, the poet replied, "What the sun is to that bush, Jesus Christ is to my soul." Such is Christ to every believing life. His Spirit enters into the heart and gives it whatever beauty it acquires.
"It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit--that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ." So he had a great hope in his heart all along his years. He had had many years to wait--we are not told how many--but he believed in God and was sure he would live until he had seen the Christ. It will be a sad thing for any of us if we die before we have seen Christ. We may have seen many great men in our days--but if we have not seen Christ, we are not ready to die in peace. We may have traveled over the world, looking upon the wonderful things of nature and beholding great works of art; yet, if we have not looked upon Christ, we are not prepared for death. But when we have seen Him--we are ready to depart, for condemnation is gone from our souls, our admission to heaven is sure, and we have divine companionship for the valley of the shadow of death.
"The parents brought in the child Jesus." It was a beautiful custom among the Jews, this, of bringing their babies to the temple to give them to God. That is what Christian parents do when they dedicate their children to God. They say their little ones belong to God, and therefore they consecrate them to Him, so that as long as they live they shall belong to Him. When children have been given to God, parents should always remember that they really belong to God and should bring them up as God's own. They should teach them that they are God's and that they ought to live for God and do His will.
When a young woman was about to go as a foreign missionary, someone asked her mother if it was not hard to have her go. The other replied: "When she was a little child I gave her to God. I did not know until now what God wanted her for--but surely I have no right to complain of any use He may choose to make of her life."
"He received Him into his arms" (see v. 28). The picture is very beautiful--this old man receiving into his arms from the mother the infant Messiah. Jesus had not yet wrought any miracle to manifest His Deity. He had not yet spoken a single word of wisdom. He was but a helpless infant, held in the mother's arms. Artists, it is true, paint a circle of brightness round the head of the child Jesus in their pictures, or show a soft light streaming from Him; but there was no such brightness about Him in reality. He was not different from other children in His infancy, and there was nothing remarkable about His appearance. Yet the Lord had told this old man that this child was to be the Messiah, and he believed it without any proofs. It was a beautiful faith.
We see much more in Jesus than Simeon saw. We see all His beautiful, spotless, gentle, pure life. We see His wonderful works, manifesting Deity. We hear His marvelous words of wisdom. We behold Him on the cross. We come after His resurrection and look into His empty grave. We follow Him with our eyes as He ascends into heaven. We see the evidences of His power in the world since He ascended. If Simeon believed when he saw the Christ as a helpless babe--how much more reason have we to believe! Surely we, too, should receive Christ into our arms, opening our whole heart to Him.
"Now let Your servant depart in peace... for my eyes have seen Your salvation!" No one is ready to depart in peace--until he has seen God's salvation. But when we have taken Christ into our heart--we are prepared for whatever may come. The penitent thief on the cross had time for only one look at Christ--but one look was enough; he was ready then to enter paradise with his Lord.
A young man, who died recently, had not accepted Christ until in his last sickness. There was a picture in his room--some representation of Christian peace. The young man said, "There is something in that picture which I do not understand, of which I have no experience." His friends sought to explain to him the Christian's secret of peace, and before the end came he understood it and could say, "Now let Your servant depart in peace--for my eyes have seen Your salvation." When our heart has seen Christ, nothing has dread or terror for us.
Simeon's words to Mary suggested the importance of Jesus in the world. "This child is set for the fall and the rising again of many." Everyone to whom Christ is offered, is affected by Him in some way, and carries away some mark on his life from having touched Christ. A stone in one's path may serve as a step to lift one's feet upward, or one may stumble over it and be hurt, bruised, broken, by it. If we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, He will lift us up to noble, blessed, eternal life. He said, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto Me." There is in Christ a wondrous lifting power. He took His apostles from their lowly life and exalted them to earthly honor and immortality and to heavenly blessedness and glory. So it is with all who accept Christ. But those who reject Him are like men who stumble over the stone, which is meant to lift them upward. To those who believe on Christ He is the savor of life unto life. To those who do not believe on Him He becomes the savor of death unto death. Christ is before each one of us. Whether He is set for our falling or rising--depends upon what we do with Him.
"A sword shall pierce through your own soul." The Bodenhausen 'Madonna' shows the mother and Child, and then away in the distance, in very dim outline--the forms of three crosses. The suggestion is that even when the mother of Jesus clasped her child in her arms--she had some intimation of the end to which He would come. These words of Simeon to the mother are proof enough that this was the truth. The shadow of the cross fell across the young mother, with the babe in her arms. "A sword shall pierce through your own soul." We know, too, how soon this word began to come true. It was but a little time until the mother had to flee to Egypt with her child to save Him from the sword of Herod.
There is another picture which represents the same truth, though at a later period. The Boy Jesus is represented at the age of thirteen in the carpenter shop, and as He stretches out His arms at the close of the day, the western sun casts His shadow in the form of a cross, on which the mother looks with pained face as prophetic of His end. Many times also in the years of His public ministry, the mother's heart must have been pierced when the sword of human hate struck at Jesus. Then, when she stood below His cross, there came the worst thrusting of the sword into her own soul.