We have been taking a closer look during this Christmas season at the Christmas story we hear every year. This season brings great meaning to our lives not just because of tradition or the Christmas story but because of what it tells us about Jesus and ourselves.
We previously observed what we could learn about when the shepherds visited Jesus. Now we will look at an event eight days later from Jesus’ birth that night. As with all Jewish males on the eighth day after their birth Jesus was presented in the Jerusalem Temple to the Lord. Let’s see how Luke describes Jesus’ dedication and the extraordinary events around it (Luke 2:22-38).
Offering the Sacrifice
Luke begins by telling us, especially gentiles who are unfamiliar with Jewish practices, about what dedication in the Temple meant. What we are witnessing in the dedication of Jesus happen for every firstborn male in Israel.
Luke quotes from the law concerning this custom given by the Lord to Moses (Exodus 13:11-13). Every firstborn male must be presented to the Lord as His.
““When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” (Exodus 13:11–13, ESV)
To show Jesus belonged to the Lord as Mary’s firstborn son she was presenting Him along with a sacrifice of two turtledoves. This was part of this purification ritual (Leviticus 12:8).
“And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”” (Leviticus 12:8, ESV)
Although we may see animal sacrifices as gruesome before Jesus came and fulfilled His rule as the great high priest and the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, people in Israel must regularly make animal sacrifices for their sins and as part of some rituals.
The law offered two options for sacrificing animals. The preferable one was for a lamb to be slaughtered. But for those who could not afford a lamb two turtledoves could be substituted. We see that Mary and Joseph were on the poorer side of the spectrum.
To perform the sacrifice, as with all sacrificed animals, Mary placed her hands on the turtledoves as they were sacrificed. This reminded the offerer that their sin was the reason for this animal’s death. The priest rang the neck of one turtledove as a sin offering and burnt the other as a whole burnt offering.
The other part of dedicating Jesus as with every male in Jerusalem was to circumcise him on this eighth day to represent God’s covenant with Israel. This is part of the old covenant because Jesus instituted the new covenant by His blood on the Cross.
In my denomination we still dedicate children to the Lord based on Hannah’s model with her son Samuel. But much of our dedication is for the parents and the congregation pledging to train the child in the ways of the Lord so that child may come to know Jesus personally. It is the commitment of the parents and the congregation to lead the child toward Christ.
Waiting for the Messiah
Luke further describes two incredible counters with a righteous man and a prophetess. Simeon was a man who was in tune with the Holy Spirit. He was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” prophesied by the prophets in the Old Testament.
This was the Messiah they spoke of. He was waiting because of a personal word from the Holy Spirit meant for him. Has the Lord given you a personal word? It always agrees with Scripture and it speaks directly to your situation and life.
This is what Luke tells us happened to Simeon. He was waiting to meet the Messiah before he died. The words “Messiah” and “Christ” mean the same thing. “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew word for the Anointed One of God who will save Israel (and the rest of the world). “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”
So Simeon was waiting for the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed One to be born. And he was told by the Holy Spirit he will not die before this birth took place. This was a truly divine moment, a divine appointment for Simeon.
Because he was devout, he probably visited the Temple daily. The Holy Spirit was upon him as he went to the Temple that day. Because he was listening to the Spirit he knew where to be and even knew which baby being dedicated was Jesus.
Either before or after the dedication ceremony Simeon found Jesus, Mary and Joseph His parents, and took Jesus up into his arms to bless Him. Hopefully he asked Mary and Joseph first, but when you are in the Spirit sometimes things just happen.
Light and Glory
Out of sheer joy at seeing the word of the Lord become his reality Simeon still in the Spirit spoke prophecy and blessing over baby Jesus. Do you see how God is planning even His lowly birth to make it magnificent, significant, and extraordinary?
God honored the king-making profession of the shepherds by allowing them to be the first to meet Jesus. The shepherds spread the word of Jesus’ extraordinary birth after meeting Him throughout Bethlehem. And now Jesus was being prophesied over and blessed by a righteous and devout man.
This is the birth of the King God’s way. Since Simeon was looking upon the Messiah he could finally die in peace. How overjoyed he must of been that the Lord’s word to him was confirmed this day. There’s nothing like when God’s promises to you become your reality.
He saw the Messiah as the salvation of Israel, and he was not wrong. Jesus is the Savior not just of Israel but of the whole world! Anyone who comes to Him and sees His sacrifice on the Cross as their sin offering for atonement is made right with Jesus.
Simeon may have been well-versed in the prophets as a devout worshiper in the Temple. He may have sat under the tutelage of a Rabbi. We do not know for sure. But what we do now is whether the Holy Spirit told him or he knew from the prophetic writings, Simeon speaks prophetic words over Jesus.
By revelation from the Spirit and the prophets Simeon says that Jesus will be both a light for the Gentiles and bring glory to His people Israel (Luke 2:31-32). Simeon declares God has done this before all people. Jesus is not just for the Jews. He is God’s gift for every person on this planet.
Simeon got the idea that God prepared Jesus for all peoples from Psalm 98:2. He quotes the idea of a light for the nations from a popular theme in Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3). And his statement that Jesus the Messiah would be for the glory of Israel comes from Isaiah also (Isaiah 45:25; 46:13).
This righteous man led by the Holy Spirit and sensitive to the personal word God gave him received his fulfillment. But he couldn’t just enjoy the moment. He had to share it with Mary and Joseph and anyone within earshot of his voice.
A Personal Prophecy
Jesus’ parents didn’t know how to react. Even though they received visions and angelic messages about Jesus before His birth they still marveled at the words Simeon gave. He blessed the parents.
But he had a personal word for Mary. Still moving in the Spirit Simeon told her that Jesus was going to shake the foundations of Israel, making some fall and some rise. He said Jesus was assigned that people will oppose and hate. This will be Jesus’ path.
The Holy Spirit was preparing Mary for what she would see in about 30 years when Jesus began His public ministry. The most preparation the Spirit gave her is that she would be personally affected with the pain of her own heart being pierced, a reference to Jesus’ death on the Cross.
But Jesus’ ultimate work would expose the hearts of many in Israel from the Pharisees and Sadducees, the other religious leaders of Israel, and the people who would be healed, cleansed, delivered, and touched by Jesus’ ministry and life.
It’s glorious to walk with God’s Spirit and receive revelation from Him for your life. Sometimes the word He gives is good and enjoyable to hear. Other times when you are sold out for God you will experience suffering and persecution. But the Spirit ministers to you in every situation.
Simeon wasn’t the only person led by the Spirit in the Temple that day. A prophetess named Anna was also in tune with the Spirit. She knew Jesus was special. Like Simeon, Anna was advanced in years. She was faithful to her husband for the seven years he lived.
But she did not remarry. She remained a widow until she was 84 years old. This is probably the age she is in the Temple that day. She was devout like Simeon, staying in the Temple day and night to worship the Lord.
When you lead a life devoted to the Lord and interested in the things of God He reveals great things to you. He gives you great gifts like prophecy and allows His Spirit to come upon you. Anyone who is interested in the Messiah got an earful from Anna.
She proclaimed Jesus’ arrival to anyone who would listen. God was proclaiming Jesus’ birth and messianic approach in His own way. Sometimes humility is rewarded by God through others around you.
The Meaning of Christmas
What can we learn about Jesus’ dedication in the Temple? First, each of us must be Spirit-led as we serve Jesus in devout and righteous living. The Holy Spirit can use men and women devoted to the Lord and willing to serve Him no matter what.
Second, we must be patient as we serve the Lord and wait for His plan to come together. We can cherish personal words from the Lord as we wait on Him. God is orchestrating great things in your life. Sometimes it takes time for them to come together.
God gives you special gifts when you devoutly serve Him. Be open to the Spirit’s leading. Listen to Him and follow Him no matter where He tells you to go. Bless others and allow the Spirit to minister to and through you.
We have seen how the Holy Spirit spoke to and through Simeon and Anna at Jesus’ dedication in the Temple. We will finish our careful look at Jesus’ extraordinary birth by talking about how God protected Him from dangerous men who wanted to kill Him.