“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question children become accustomed to being asked. Some became annoyed by that question when they were younger. Most of us will admit that we have inflicted it on children ourselves.
When we see a child, we naturally think of the child’s potential. What might she or he be in the future? The possibilities are intriguing and hopeful. But with a few notable exceptions in the Bible, a child’s future is uncertain, not yet written. It may be filled with greatness, tragedy, or both. When Jesus was born, His parents already had an authoritative statement about His future (see Luke 1:32, 33). But how would that future as the ruler on David’s throne take shape?
Our lesson (Luke 2:21-40) is set in the Jerusalem temple against the background of the requirements of the Law of Moses. The temple was the center of ancient Israel’s worship. In the wilderness just after the exodus from Egypt, God instructed Israel on building a tabernacle (a portable temple) for worship. The tabernacle and its successor, the temple, represented God’s presence with His people. But as the Israelites descended further and further into sin, no king proved to be the one whose throne God would establish forever.
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be consecrated to God, they met an old man who told them what their child would become. Simeon’s song is often called the Nunc Dimittis, because these are the first words of its Latin translation. Simeon could die in peace because he had seen the Messiah. The Jews were well acquainted with the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of the Messiah’s blessings to their nation. They did not always give equal attention to the prophecies saying that he would bring salvation to the entire world, not just the Jews (see, Isaiah 49:6). Many thought the Christ had come to save only his own people. Luke made sure his Greek audience understood that Christ had come to save all who believe, Gentiles as well as Jews.
Joseph and Mary were amazed for Simeon said that Jesus was a gift from God; Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah; and Simeon said Jesus would be a light to the entire world. This was the second time that Mary had been greeted with a prophecy about her son; the first time was when Elizabeth welcomed her as the mother of her Lord (Luke 1:42-45). Simeon prophesied that Jesus would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. Some would fall because of him, while other would rise. With Jesus, there would be no neutral ground: people would either joyfully accept him or totally reject him.
Although Simeon and Anna were very old, they had never lost their hope that they would see the Messiah. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were among the first to bear witness to Jesus. In the Jewish culture, elders were respected, so because of Simeon’s and Anna’s age, their prophecies carried extra weight. Today’s society, however, values youthfulness over wisdom, and potential contributions by the elderly are often ignored. Encourage older people to share their wisdom and experience. Listen carefully when they speak.
Edna M. Thompson
Siloam Youth Sunday School Teacher