A young Native-American man came to the city to visit a friend. One day as they strolled down a busy street the visitor claimed to hear a cricket. The city dweller refused to believe he could hear such a thing amid the bustling people, honking cars and miscellaneous noise. The young man listened intently and was eventually led to a cement planter where he found a solitary insect taking refuge under a leaf. Astonished, the man asked his visitor how he could have possibly heard the cricket above the distractions. He responded, “It simply depends on what you’re listening for.”
Luke’s gospel contains the record of a man who heard what most others didn’t. Though revealed as a man of remarkable faith, his name appears only twice in the biblical record. Additionally, his encounter with Jesus occurs during a unique period—between His birth and ministry (Luke 2:25-35). The scene of Simeon holding a six-week old infant is one of the most compelling in all the New Testament.
Jesus has previously been born to Mary and Joseph. The birth of a child always involved certain requirements of a Jewish mother (Lev. 12:1-8) and when that child was a firstborn male, it brought additional demands (Ex. 13:12; Num. 18:15f). In obedience Jesus’ parents make their way to the temple, a decision which speaks volumes about their dedication. By their submission to divine instruction they will cross paths with Simeon and it’s here we find a wealth of information about this virtually unknown man of faith.
Simeon is introduced as an average man. His name is a common one. We find no hint he is a priest, religious teacher, or even an influential citizen. This seems par for the course as everyone else connected to Jesus’ birth and infancy were also outside the Jewish religious establishment: lowly shepherds, an aging woman named Anna, and a group of magi from the east. None possessed a position of high “religious” honor, including Simeon.
He is presented as an upright man, being “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25). Simeon behaved properly toward men and exercised diligence in religious duty. The use of these terms places him in good company, including Ananais, and Cornelius. Just as Joseph and Mary conscientiously carried out God’s instruction, Simeon similarly demonstrated a zeal for the will of God.
Obviously Simeon was a man of vision. As he looked for “the consolation of Israel” (v. 25), what God revealed is an infant. Simeon has not witnessed any miracle or heard the first sermon of Jesus, yet he looks into the face of this small child and sees peace, salvation, light and glory! In Simeon’s mind, there is no doubt his arms cradle the Savior of the world. Three decades later multitudes would witness an adult Jesus performing supernatural works and speaking with authority and wisdom yet will not see what Simeon does “by faith” in a six-week old infant!
Simeon shows himself to be submissive. His use of “Lord” (v. 29) is intriguing. It’s an unusual word, found only 10 times in the New Testament. From it we get our English word, “despot.” The title indicates more than a superior status or kingly rule, it denotes total ownership. With a single word Simeon has acknowledged God’s inherent right to rule and his own solemn duty to obey. Absolute authority calls for abject submission—and that is what Simeon looks to give.
Simeon demonstrates himself to be a contented man, painting a picture with words in Luke 2:29. He envisions himself as a sentry who had been on watch through a ong and weary night, whose time has now come to be dismissed from his post so he might head home. As he seemingly speaks of his own death his tone is not despairing or agitated, but tranquil. Having beheld the infant Jesus, he is convinced his eyes have seen and his hands have held all that a man requires in order to be satisfied and blessed; in Jesus the final void of his existence has been filled.
While Joseph and Mary are amazed at what Simeon has said, he’s not quite finished (2:34-35). Here we see an honest man. It won’t be all peace and joy, salvation and security. The words he uses reveal there will also be heartache and struggle, pain and persecution. The good things divinely promised would come about, but not without cost to both child and mother. Just 40 days old and already the shadow of the cross looms across Jesus’ life. For some, this baby would become a stumbling block, but for others the cornerstone. With candor, Simeon communicates neutrality will not be an option.
In Simeon we find a man who listened for God’s voice, and because of it he heard and saw what a multitude of others didn’t. As we ponder his powerful example, surely it ought to stir within each of us a penetrating question: what am I listening for? <Terry R. Slack>