The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN.
Luke 2:25-40 “25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 ‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; 30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.’ 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’” (NASB)
It seems like a flashback. After all, during the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany we just had four Sundays of Jesus, not the baby Jesus, going about the business for which He came into the world. We had the 12 year old Jesus hanging out in the temple of Jerusalem discussing theology and impressing the old rabbis of the day. Now a man, Jesus appeared at the River Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist. We had John the Baptist point two of his own disciples in Jesus’s direction and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Those two disciples sought Jesus out, talked to Him, then told their brothers they had found the Messiah.
Last Sunday, we read that Jesus moved His base of operation to Capernaum after hearing that John the Baptist had been arrested. Once there He called His first four disciples. Now suddenly, a “flashback.” Mary and Joseph are carrying the 40 day old Baby Jesus into the temple “to carry out for Him the custom of the Law.”
There’s a reason for the flashback. It’s still Epiphany and Jesus is still showing Himself to be God’s Messiah Who has come into the world to save Jew and Gentile alike from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Today also happens to be the 40th day after Christmas day. The technical name for the 40th day after Jesus’s birth is called the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus.
In keeping with the Torah, Mary and Joseph brought thier 40 day old Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord and to carry out the law, in regard to both Jesus and Mary. There was something that had to be done for each of them.
In regard to Mary it was the Old Testament rite of purification. In regard to Jesus as the firstborn Son, Jesus had to be presented to the Lord God on the 40th day after His birth.
The presentation of Jesus is one of the oldest Church festivals in the Christian calendar. It can be traced back to the 4th century. The purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus on February 2nd was formalized in 541 a.d. by the Roman consul Justin.
It is the church’s practices that when a festival major or minor falls on a normal Sunday, the normal calendar designation and assigned readings (in this case for the 4th Sunday After Epiphany) are set aside in favor of the assigned festival readings.
As for the Old Testament roots of these rites, the Torah required that the child who opened the womb of Hebrew parents was holy to the Lord and was to be presented to the Lord. The festival was a way of remembering the firstborn sons who God spared from the angel of death in Egypt at the time of the exodus. Along with some purification rites for both the mother and the child, presenting the first born child to the Lord God was to take place on the 40 day after the child’s birth.
It was a big event, as was the purification of the mother who had shed blood during and after the birth of the a child. On this particular day, it would be an even bigger event. One that gave rise to a church festival that has lasted for nearly 1,600 years.
On this particular day, there was a man in the temple named Simeon. The Scripture tells us that he “was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” “Righteous and devout looking for the consolation of Israel,” means he was a Christian of the Old Testament variety. He believed the Word of God and trusted in the promised Messiah for the remission of his sins.
 “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” He was one of those very rare persons in history, who had been given a very specific and a unique promise. A one time promise meant for him and him alone that would be fulfilled in a moment in history. God told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah with his very own eyes.
Enter Mary, Joseph, and 40 day old Baby Jesus. On the social economic ladder, Mary and Joseph were on the lower rung. They were poor. “No room for them in the inn.” We also know they were poor folks because of the offering they bring.
Leviticus called for a lamb to be sacrificed at the presentation of a firstborn, along with a pigeon or dove. If a family couldn’t afford a lamb, the law took that into account and all that was required of a poor family was “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (v 24).
Even at 40 days old, through the means of His parents Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf. He did so when He shed blood when He was eight days old in the rite of circumcision. At 40 day old Jesus is brought/comes to the temple to be presented to the Lord God.
Mary came to the temple for her “purification according to the Law of Moses” (v 22). God had declared that women after giving birth had to offer a sacrifice. They enter the temple grounds, probably largely unnoticed, except by Simeon, then an old woman of 80 plus years Anna.
For Simeon the event is a source of great joy. We sing his song of joy to this day in the Nunc Dimittis (29-32). “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph were amazed, in a good sense at what they heard Simeon say about their Son. After his song of joy, Simeon blessed them and with that blessing a reality check. “Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
Simeon told Mary and Joseph that their Son was headed for trouble. His very existence will turn Israel upside down. His existence would bring violent and painful conflict to Him, to those who opposed Him, and to those who followed Him. Jesus won’t have a long earthly life. He would be crucified around the age of 33. In His youth religious teachers and the people of His hometown will praise Him as a protégé , but once Jesus begins His public ministry, the religious establishment will treat Jesus as a blasphemer and heretic.
Simeon says Mary’s Son will be “a sign to be opposed.” A “sign” was a work of God, which was given by God as visible evidence of the work God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was doing. A sign was the banner showing the righteousness and glory of God. Thus Jesus was the Banner Bearer of the work of salvation.
Simeon said Mary’s Son was “appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.”
The Old and New Testaments also use the phrase “stumbling blocks” figuratively. Matthew 18:7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”
When Simeon says that the Christ is appointed for the rise and fall of many and a sign to be opposed, he is teaching us that the Gospel, Jesus Himself is the stumbling block. People will fall over Him. They will stumble over the Gospel. They will stumble further into sin because of their own unbelief and self-righteousness. (Romans 9:31-33) “Pursuing a law of righteousness. . . they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’”
Jesus is the stumbling stone. Those who are offended by Him will fall before Him. The lowly, meek, sufferers, repentant sinful, hopeless, lost, lonely, and world-weary—they will be raised up on the last day. The first shall be last and the last first.
Once in the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus did not spend time with the great teachers in Jerusalem, or Pharisees, or the politically tapped Sadducees. Jesus grows up to be an itinerant preacher who no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He spent His time with fishermen, tax collectors, the sick, the blind, the lame, the poor, prostitutes, half-bloods, and other people of questionable character. He is crucified between two thieves, one repentant the other not.
Simeon was a man on a mission. He was looking for the arrival of the Messiah. He lived on the promise the God had given Him. Once the promise was fulfilled, Simeon sang a song of thanksgiving and praise. “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation…”
Forty days earlier the shepherds told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Herod hasn’t ordered the death of all the little boys in Bethlehem yet. Jesus hasn’t been rejected by the people of His hometown. Herod hasn’t tried to kill Him yet, nor have the people of His hometown. Jesus is a long way away from leaving the arms of Mary for the arms of the cross.
Mary and Joseph could not afford a lamb, but there’s more here than their lowly state. The Lamb of God was in their arms. Simeon was using different words, but was saying the same thing John the Baptist did some 30 years later. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Here on the 40th day after Jesus’s birth Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce even your own soul.” God the Father is already preparing Mary for the road ahead when Mary would look upon their Son as He hung on a cross and paid for the sins of the world. That’s hardly the message a new mother wants to hear in regard to the future of her first born Son.
Mary’s Firstborn joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism; there, you were adopted as sons of God. (Galatians 4:4-5) “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
We now wait for the Firstborn Son of God the Father and Mary to return for all the other firstborn children of God. That’s by the way what you are. The Bible calls the Church, those who believe in Christ “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” Hebrews 12:22-23 “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God.”
40 Days after the birth of the Christ Child, He was to be presented to the Lord God in accordance with the law. More than that. He was presented before the Lord God as holy and blameless so that you too would be counted among the firstborn children of God. Like the firstborn sons of Israel in Egypt, you have been saved from death by a sacrifice of blood: the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Your’s included.
MAY THE PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEART AND MIND IN CHRIST JESUS. AMEN.