Christmas Stories: Christmas Sermon Series
Simeon’s and Anna’s Story
Back in the 1970’s a research team of psychologists from Stanford University performed an experiment on a group of 4-year-olds that they called, “the marshmallow test.” The kids would be placed in a room—one at a time—with a psychologist who had a bag of marshmallows. The psychologist would ask the child a series of questions or give him certain tasks to do. If the child answered the question or performed the task well, they would get a marshmallow as a reward.
But the real test came with a pre-arranged knock on the door of the room about a half hour later. The researcher would get up and stick his head out of the door, and then he would come back to the table and say to the child, “I’ve got to go run an errand. I’m going to leave a marshmallow here on the table in front of you. If you don’t eat the marshmallow while I’m gone, then when I get back you will get two. But if you eat the marshmallow, it’s the only one you’re going to get.”
Well, the moments that followed were tough for these kids. I’m sure they were, to put it in Thomas Paine’s words, “…the times that try children’s souls.” I mean the marshmallow test is the ultimate soul test for any 4-year-old in that it embodies the constant battle they wage between impulse and restraint, desire and control, gratification and delay. These kids would develop all kinds of strategies to help enable them to wait. They’d sing songs. They’d tell themselves stories. They’d sit on their hands. One little guy actually licked the table around the marshmallow, thinking that perhaps the flavor had somehow spilled over onto the surrounding wood.
But the amazing thing about this marshmallow test is what it revealed about the direction these kids would take later on in life. You see, the research team tracked these kids into adolescence and then into adulthood. They found that those who were able to wait as 4-year-olds grew up to be more socially competent, better able to cope with stress, and less likely to give up under pressure than those who could not wait. The non-waiters—the “marshmallow-grabbers” —grew up to be more stubborn and indecisive, more easily upset by frustration, and more resentful about not getting enough. Most amazingly, the “marshmallow wait-ers” had higher SAT scores that averaged 210 points higher than the group of marshmallow-grabbers. Moreover, years later the study showed the marshmallow-grabbers were still unable to delay gratification. Their poor impulse control was much more likely to lead to delinquency, substance abuse, and divorce.
Well, the truth is all of us struggle with waiting. In fact our inability to control our impulses—our refusal to wait and trust—lies close to the core of human sinfulness. I mean it’s been that way since Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve first took that bite from the forbidden “marshmallow” in the Garden of Eden.
“Simeon and Anna are representatives of real piety in this time of spiritual death and deadness.”
And they had been waiting for a very long time.
A Humble Couple Present (vv. 22-24)
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Our first introduction to Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a family is their carrying out the law. “Jesus came from a family that sought to honor God.” All that Joseph and Mary are doing with regard to the law indicate how seriously Judaism took approaching God in worship and how prepared a heart and soul should have as they address God.
“The law of Moses regarded the woman who had given birth to a child as ceremonially unclean, in the case of a son, for forty days; after which certain purification rites, involving sacrifice, were to be perform, before she could be regarded as ritually clean.”
There was also another ceremony appointed for a first-born son on such an occasion, both mother and child are meant when it says, “their purification,” and these must take place publicly in the temple. We see something similar to this in 1 Sam. 1:24-28 where instead of redeeming her first born son back, Hannah gives up her son Samuel to the Lord, and he serves in the temple with Eli. Mary and Joseph don’t give the redeeming offering, “for the child was not redeemed but rather consecrated to the service of God.”
(v. 24) ““a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” The law required a lamb, but of your were poor and could not afford this, then you could offer “a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons.” Christianity begins with a couple who were living in poverty. Jesus would have grown up in a family who were poor.
At the end of Jesus’ time on earth, while hanging from the cross, He is concerned for his mother’s care, and turns to the disciple John and says, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to ahis own home” (John 19:26-27).
In Luke 1:46-48 Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” She was not being self-depreciating; their family was genuinely of humble estate. The gifts offered from the Magi of “gold and frankincense and myrrh” had not yet arrived (Matt. 2:11).
So Mary and Joseph are following the law (purifying themselves), to prepare themselves to be the parents of the Savior, they are presenting Him to the God at the temple, and God Prepares two of His representatives to be the hands that receive the Savior.
A Faithful Man of God Receives the Savior (vv. 25-35)
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting 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 do for him according to the custom of the Law,
Simeon is described to us as being “righteous and devout,” and that the Holy Spirit was upon him, and led him to the temple that day, because we are to believe what he says about Jesus. The focus is not on Simeon, but what Simeon would say about Jesus. This man was told by God that he would not die, until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ.”
Paul expresses a similar attitude in Philippians 1:21-23 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Here is a servant who only wishes to do what God has called him to do.
28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 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 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
(v. 28) “he took him up in his arms and blessed God,” and then in v. 34 “And Simeon blessed them” The word used here refers to an arm being bent to receive something. Simeon is physically receiving Jesus, doing something with his hands toward God, and then toward Mary and Joseph – while he is praying and blessing.
Notice Simeon’s words, because he understands two things about this Messiah that Mary and Joseph are hearing for the second time, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (one) The salvation that He would bring would be for everyone, Jew and Gentile. This treasure to the Jewish people would be a gift for all of mankind.
(v. 29) “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;” – The word used here for Lord in the original language is not the one normally used. Instead, this word focuses on the relationship between Lord to the servant – a master freeing his slave. Simeon’s release is beginning. “Now” after so long, the servant is freed. Death for Simeon is near, and it is welcomed, like sleep for a laboring man.
(v. 30) “for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,” – What does a person want to see before they die? Today we call it a “bucket list.” A person may want to see their name remembered on a plaque or building, they may want to see their family prosperous, but for Simeon, who was righteous and devout wanted to see the unfolding of God’s promise for His people. He wanted to look upon the face of the Savior of the world.
“Simeon does not say, however, that he has seen the Messiah but rather that his eyes have seen God’s salvation (v.30). To see Jesus is to see salvation embodied in him. . .”
(v. 34) “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel,” – (two) Jesus would preach and people would fall in repentance and bow down before God because of their sin, then they would rise up in praise, excitement, because of their pardon from sin, their being justified before God, and adopted as His children.
In another sense, “the fall” “was to happen to the worldly, proud, self-righteous – like the Scribes and Pharisees. While those who were lowly, prayerful, those who sought God, Jesus would rise them up to true dignity, happiness, and glory.
“The falling of some and the rising of others is what is meant. He will be a stumbling block to some who love darkness more than light, he will cause the rising of others.” Judas despairs, Peter repents: one robber blasphemes, the other confesses.” (Plummer). Like a magnet Jesus attracts and repels.
“and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” – Simeon is telling Mary that when people encounter the Savior their hearts will be revealed. The word used for sword here is the same word used of Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 17:51).
Jesus will strike or pierce people’s hearts – with a Goliath size sword. Matthew 9:4 “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”
(35a) is a parenthesis because it is an aside comment made specifically to Mary. Simeon is telling Mary that Jesus’ ministry is also going to cause her pain. That Goliath sized sword will go through her heart.
It won’t be very long before they make their pilgrimage to the temple where Jesus stays and they return home, (Luke 2:41 ff.), Jesus would be rejected and even hated by the religious leaders of his day, people will try to stone him, throw him off a cliff, and even the family itself will fear for Jesus’ mental state (Mark 3:21).
Simeon is warning Mary that the salvation of mankind and the part that she will play will cost her something. Salvation through Christ is free, but if you want to be apart of the Great Commission to see others saved, then know that you can count on a giant Goliath sized spear going through your heart – you will not escape pain.
Who Simeon was is not known; all that we know about this man is what is mentioned here in these few sentences. There is an inscription on a tombstone, in a soldier’s graveyard in Virginia that reads, “who they were no man knows, what they were all men know.” “Simeon was a God-fearing Old Testament believer, an earnest believer in the Messianic hope, and fervently desiring its fulfillment.”
Simeon is the representative of all the genuine true God-fearing believers who prayed and worshipped, studied God’s Word, and sought to be faithful to Him – and now he is able to see God’s faithfulness and the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Two worlds coming together.
A Devoted Woman of God Praises the Savior (vv. 36-38)
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna is presented to us by telling us who her father was, her tribe (which makes Simeon stand out even more), and that she had lived most of her life a widow after being married for seven years. There is a good chance that she is over 100, and is known for her ministry of intercession. She is constantly in the temple praying, fasting, and worshipping the Lord.
(v. 37 b) “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Women were not allowed to spend the night at the temple, so another way to understand this is, “Anna was always at the temple.”
The word for prophetess is used only here and in Rev. 2:20, and in Old Greek it means one who interprets oracles. “Anna possessed divine insight into things normally hidden from ordinary people, and hence was able to recognize who the child in the temple was and then to proclaim his significance to those who were interested.”
Notice that Simeon, was waiting “for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25), and Anna was “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). Comfort from the pains of sin, and deliverance from the shackles of sin. They had waited so long to be free, experience true peace, and have that pain soothed by a Savior.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 2 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1932) 27.
 Leviticus 12
 Darell Bock, The NIV Application Commentary, Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1996) 92.
 John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
 George R. Bliss, Mark and Luke, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1950) 50.
 Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978) 117.
 Nunc Dimittis
 Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing House, 1984) 849.
 Robertson, 29. Isa. 8:14; Matt. 21:42,44; Romans 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:16; John 3:19; Rom. 6:4, 9; Eph. 2:6.
 Robertson, 29.
 Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume One (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Grand Rapids Book Manufacturing, 1967) 475.
 The Hebrew equivalent would be Hannah. (Marshall, 123).
 Robertson, 30.
 Marshall, 123.