‘And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout,
waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him’ (Luke 2.25).
Here is the biography of Simeon in a single verse – four aspects of the life of a true believer for us to aspire to. The passage itself provides headings for a message. He was ‘just’, ‘devout’, ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, and ‘the Holy Ghost was upon him’.
The verse starts with the little phrase – ‘And, behold’, which summons us to something which is especially unusual and striking. One reason for this is that there seem to have been very few people in Jerusalem who were deeply pious and sincere in their faith. Among the exceptions were Simeon and Anna.
This was Jerusalem, where all the people worshipped, and yet for most it was not heart worship where communion with God was sought, but rather it was nominal, superficial worship. They worshipped according to ceremony and not according to the meaning of those ceremonies.
In this context we are called to look, to consider something surprising – a man connected with the Temple, whose name was Simeon, who was just and devout and sincerely waiting for the coming of Christ. We should note these features of his biography because they minister to us and challenge us.
‘Whose name was Simeon.’ This particular Simeon is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. This verse is all we know about him, nothing more. There are various ideas including that perhaps he was related to a high priest, but they are all supposition. It is not likely he was a priest as there seem to be no priests besides Zecharias expecting Christ at that time.
1. ‘Just’ – a twofold description
Simeon was ‘just’. The word ‘just’ indicates that he was righteous and conscientious, obeying the standards of God and striving to maintain them both privately and publicly. But how can a person be just before God? We are all sinners and unable to live a life pleasing to God. The first aspect of the righteousness of Simeon was clearly that he was a saved, converted person, forgiven by God, justified on repentance of his sin and by his wholehearted belief that God would send a Saviour who would bear away the punishment of sin.
When God graciously pronounces repentant people to be justified, he deals with them as though they were innocent, and had never sinned. One day they will be rewarded as though they deserved heavenly bliss, because Christ has not only paid the price for sin, but has offered up his own infinite and perfect righteousness on their behalf. His righteousness is imputed to them. In this way Simeon was ‘just’ in God’s sight.
Are we ‘just’? Obviously not in our own merit, because that is impossible. Have we truly repented of sin and wholly trusted in Christ’s atoning death? Have we known his transformation of us, giving spiritual life and union with himself?
The second aspect of Simeon’s righteousness was active righteousness. When converted, we are given a new nature that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Sin that used to be our friend becomes our enemy. When we stumble and fall, we hate it, and repent, seeking the help of God to mend our ways. There is now within us a constant battle against sin; an active principle of righteousness that cannot be quenched. The conscience becomes alive and sensitive. Simeon is ‘just’ because he knows both aspects of righteousness. He possesses the given, imputed righteousness of Christ, his account in Heaven being clean. He also possesses an active righteousness by which he seeks the help of God to perform good works and to combat sin and temptation.
Could we be described as both saved and striving after righteousness? May it be seen in our family life, the way we parent our children, and if young, in the control of our passions. Active righteousness is not in people, old or young, who are easily aggravated, flying off the handle, throwing their weight about, and manifesting pride and foolish confidence at every turn. True believers, like Simeon, are being changed by the Lord in progressive sanctification, and are always conscientious for improvement.
2. ‘Devout’ – in worship and prayer
The second term used of Simeon is ‘devout’. The word has an interesting origin in Greek, meaning something like: ‘firmly clinging to’. It indicates holding tenaciously to the duties of the faith. The word is used by Luke again in Acts 2 to describe worship. ‘Devout men’ came to Jerusalem from every nation, speaking other languages. These were Jews who had been dispersed, who came at Pentecost to worship in Jerusalem, and Luke describes them as devout because they were conscientious in carrying out their religious duties. They did not stay at home, but diligently made the difficult pilgrimage.
Luke uses the same word in Acts 8, where devout men buried and lamented and mourned over Stephen, the first martyr. They would have been Christians who were courting great trouble in burying Stephen, but nevertheless they are described as devout because they were utterly loyal to God’s servant in his death. They were conscientious in the faith.
Can we be said to be devout, tenacious, in our Christian walk? Perhaps a believer worships once a week, Sunday morning only. He may be just before God, but is he devout and diligent? Does he not want to worship and hear the Word more on the Lord’s Day and during the week? Does he not want to come and support the evangelistic service, and pray for souls and sing the praises of God again? We do not mean to hurt believers who genuinely cannot be always present, whose lives are complex. But the ‘devout’ word is a challenge to us. Perhaps we are saved and righteous before God, but possibly we are not devout or ‘well-attached’ and not fair and loyal to the Lord. Do we have an avenue of service for the Lord? Or is there nothing for him? This is what devout means. We should be diligent in worship, in prayer, in the study of God’s Word, and in his service.
If the midweek Bible Studies are going through a difficult book of the Bible, we should want to be there to understand the principles along which that book works, and to grasp its pastoral lessons and guidance. We should not miss it for anything, because that book will be brought to life for our entire Christian walk.
We should be desiring advance, to learn the doctrines and deep things of God. We should want to be applying the Word to ourselves.
We should also be present in the services from the very first hymn with engaged hearts.
The same applies to our prayer lives. We may, and should, pray emergency prayers through the day: every time we begin some significant act, take a journey, or have a deep need, we should pray briefly to the Lord. But there must be at least one time in the day, when prayers are more structured and we try to cover all the departments of prayer. This is what it means to be devout, diligent, conscientious, holding on well to the faith.
There should be time at the beginning of our prayers for adoration – time to worship God and adore him. We refer to objective worship, in which we name the attributes of God, wonder at him, praise him and express our love to him. Then there should be thanksgiving, in which we review the things God has done for us, especially in salvation, and including so many answers to prayer. We must surely thank him and praise him for these things.
Then there should be a time of affirmation in prayer, in which we may choose a different doctrine of the faith, naming it and affirming our belief in it and appreciation of it. Then there should be repentance of sin, with promises to God to seek his help in doing better. Then we should make our requests known to him. We have many needs so we should pray ‘asking’ prayers. Then we dedicate ourselves anew every day to the Lord. Then there must be intercession, praying for those on our hearts, for their salvation, and for others who are working for the Gospel.
All these are departments of prayer, and it may be helpful to write them down on a note in the back of our Bible.
People sometimes ask how they can pray for 20 minutes, saying that they would not know what to pray for. The elements of prayer just listed are all to be found in the example of the Lord’s Prayer, and elsewhere in the Scriptures. If we set a minimum of 15 minutes, we would soon find we did not have enough time to cover all the departments of praise and petition. This is what it means to be devout or faithful in our spiritual duties.
Some believers do not take particularly seriously the Lord’s Supper. Yet it is the Lord’s ordinance! He commanded it. He desires that we draw together as a family of God’s people and we remember together his suffering and death on Calvary, and his resurrection, and praise and thank him.
The apostle Paul says that by this, ‘Ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.’ The words mean – we declare it, witness to it, or proclaim the Lord’s death to ourselves, to one another, and to a watching world. They may ask: What are these Christian people doing in their Lord’s Supper services? We are keeping alive in our hearts that greatest event in the history of the world, the suffering and death, and the offered-up righteousness of the Saviour as he poured out his life in love for his people in atonement. We cannot neglect this command of the Lord. We need to feel afresh our indebtedness and love, and to feel these things in the company of our fellow believers, for this is the sole ground of our acceptance by God.
Years ago, all members of churches attended all the services. In the early part of the 20th century and before, you could not become a member of a Baptist or Independent church if you were not pledged to attend all services as the Lord enabled. That was the standard for generations. Somehow in our day devoutness has slipped away. Even established members of churches sometimes have a poor attendance record. The description of Simeon as ‘devout’, is a challenge and exhortation for us today.
3. Waiting for the return of Christ
The third phrase describing Simeon – ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’ – is a beautiful expression not found anywhere else in the Bible. There are three passages in Isaiah which speak of Christ when he comes being a comfort or a consolation to Zion. No longer will the church be a minority of pious people within the Jewish nation. It will be the Jewish-Gentile church of Christ where all people will be converted in a regenerate membership. The New Testament era would arrive, and churches would be raised up in every land and nation till the end of time. This was all part of the consolation of Israel.
We do not now wait for the first coming of Christ, but we wait for the second. Are we looking for this? Here is the supreme duty of the church, to wait for the coming of the Lord, says Paul to the Corinthians. The apostle writes to the Thessalonians with similar words, ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 3.5).
It is a Christian duty to be waiting for Christ consciously. The apostle Peter says the same in his second epistle – ‘looking for and hasting unto the coming’ of the Lord. May our gaze be riveted on this second coming of Christ.
What form does this feature of Christian living take? It means that everything we do has the priority of the last great day when Christ will come to bring this present phase of the world’s existence to an end. It could be at any time. When we see the moral upheaval taking place in our day we feel we must be in the last apostasy, when the very standards of God are thrown down and reversed in a way no previous generation has known. Perhaps it will even be this year that the Lord returns, saying, as it were – ‘It is enough. I am rejected throughout the world. My standards are despised and my warnings ignored. So many of my people are suffering cruel persecution. I have called upon them to suffer on my behalf, but now will be the final year and I will come again.’
Governments everywhere now pass laws making evil things right, and righteous things wrong, and there is so much oppression. It could surely be at any time.
Perhaps we may be called to exercise patience for a few more years, even for a few more decades. However long we have, we should live in the light of the return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Should we be feathering our nests on earth and worrying over much about how beautiful or well decorated our homes are? Of course we should be orderly, providing our families with decent homes as the Lord enables us. We should be smart and well turned out and do things properly. But how can we spend excessive time dreaming dreams, going through catalogues, burning in desire for things on earth, when our primary task is preparing souls for that great coming day?
What is the goal of the unbelieving world? What is the end of this present world order? People do not know, just lurching from one thing to another with no ultimate aim or end in view. No government, no head of state knows what is going to happen this year, what crisis will arise. Calamity after calamity takes even the most astute of politicians by surprise. What will be the next problem? What international alarm will come? What war will threaten? What shift of population will stun and amaze? What is going to happen? These things cannot be planned for or predicted. How weak is the human race without God!
There is one supreme goal in the unfolding history of the world, and that is the return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the ultimate consolation of all things. The gathering in of his people from every land and nation will be complete and the great day of judgement will come. The world may have hopes and aspirations but no clear and predictable goal. Only believers have a momentous day of consolation before them.
When we lose a loved one, what is our great hope? Why do we not sorrow in abject and sustained misery? Because the loved one is saved, and there is a great day coming when we will all be gathered together.
Is someone a prisoner for the faith in a land of oppression? There is the great day of compensation before him, a beginning of eternal glory.
All our actions and priorities in this life should bear in mind our eternal hope. Will we be Simeons, fixing our minds and hearts increasingly on that great and coming day? That is the scriptural standard, and the true ‘secret’ of a happy life.
4. ‘The Holy Ghost was upon him’
Of Simeon we read that the Holy Spirit was upon him. How do we ensure that the Holy Spirit is upon us? The apostle Paul says, ‘Be filled with the Spirit.’ While every child of God has the Spirit within from the time of conversion, there is something we must do to be open to the filling of the Spirit. We should pray for help in everything we do, not gliding unthinkingly through life as a self-confident, self-reliant person might. We should appeal to God for help in times of temptation and throughout the day. We should be praying earnestly to be useful to him, and as we pray, the Holy Spirit will be upon us. But how may we know that this is so?
Think of the words of Christ to us in connection with the Holy Spirit in John 7.37-39 – ‘In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly [his innermost being] shall flow rivers of living water…This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.’
Here we read what happens when the Holy Spirit is upon us. From within us, from our heart, comes a renewed interest and burden for people around us. We find that God enables us to be a helper and messenger to others, showing them Christ. We become much more wholesome husbands and wives, parents and friends, out of whom flow rivers of love, comfort, kindness and encouragement. To crown all, we become beacons of spiritual light and life. That is the effect of the Holy Spirit being upon us.
Simeon was used of God as we see in Luke 2 – ‘It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, [he was a prophet in this connection] that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.’ He was guided by the Spirit to come into the Temple, and when he saw Christ Jesus and his parents, he took up the babe in his arms, and blessed God, and from verse 29 a very wonderful and significant passage begins – ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’
In just three verses there are no fewer than five Old Testament allusions or quotations, and this is an insight into Simeon. He was devout, he was a great reader and student of the Word. When he speaks, his words are a compilation of Old Testament scriptures. Such a man God used to bring great comfort to Mary and Joseph. Verse 34 reads: ‘And Simeon blessed them.’ What encouragement the parents of Christ would need for the time ahead! These strengthening and illuminating words came via Simeon, filled with the Spirit.
We have seen in the brief biography of Simeon four departments or features of the Christian life. Will we be ‘just’ in the twofold sense of having imputed righteousness, and also active righteousness? Will we be seen to be striving conscientiously for advance in sanctification?
Will we be devout, faithful, loyal and diligent in the duties of the Christian life: in worship, in reading of the Word, and in prayer every day? Will we be those who are waiting for the coming of Christ, the supreme objective of life? Will we be those who do nothing without bearing in mind that our purpose is to bring glory to Christ, looking for that great day?
Will the Holy Spirit be upon us because we are open to him, concerned to be unselfish, outgoing people, who can say profound words and witness to Christ? These things are our aim. May each of us in these respects be a Simeon in the time ahead, and may the Lord be with us powerfully.
From a sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle,
Sunday 3rd January 2016