The Voice of a Teacher
In about 110 BC, in Babylon, a Jewish child was born. He was given the name Hillel. He became an important figure in Jewish history and is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Hillel established a school in Jerusalem for the study of the law.
Hillel had a grandson, Gamaliel. We learn in Acts 22:3 that Gamaliel was the teacher of the Apostle Paul. Gamaliel was also the one who counseled the Sanhedrin to exercise restraint in dealing with the Apostles in Acts 5. Among Jewish scholars only seven have been honored with the title “Rabban.” Gamaliel was one of these.
Between Hillel and his grandson, Gamaliel, was Gamaliel’s father, a man named Simeon. Simeon succeeded his father, Hillel, as president of the school Hillel founded and was also a member of the Sanhedrin. Simeon was actually the first teacher to be given the title “Rabban,” and according to Jewish tradition he was filled with a prophetic spirit. Tradition also has it that he was rejected and lost his place and position because he spoke against the common opinion of the Jews concerning the temporal kingdom of the Messiah. As a consequence, there is no mention of him in the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Some believe this is the Simeon of Luke chapter 2. Those who oppose this view point out that Hillel was still living at the time of Luke 2 and that Simeon lived many years after these events. However, the Biblical account does not say that Simeon was old, and his saying, “Now let they servant depart” suggests that he was willing to die but does not of necessity mean that he was old. Another objection is that his son Gamaliel was an opponent of Christianity, but here again, it is not unusual for a faithful follower of Christ to have a son who is a bigoted Pharisee.
Being one of only seven in all of Jewish history to be given the title “Rabban” and then to be purposely put out of his position and left out of the Mishnah due to disagreements concerning the Messiah, makes this Simeon a likely candidate for being the one Luke is speaking of.
Luke tells us:
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. ()
Luke tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout. He also tells us that Simeon was eagerly waiting for the Messiah. Later, when He actually sees the Messiah, he says, “Lord, now let your servant die in peace.” These things all point to a man who is in conflict with the world. He does not fit in. A righteous man will find himself in conflict with the world around him. Consider what Peter says about Lot, who was living in Sodom.
But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. ()
Do you ever find your soul tormented by the wickedness you see and hear day after day? Do you find yourself in conflict with the world around you?
Sometimes you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You want Jesus to return and put an end to evil, but you also desire your loved ones, your family members to come to a knowledge of the Savior.
For some, the pain of loss and disappointment is a burden that is hard to bear.
If you are eagerly waiting for the return of our Savior, or if you find the pains and sorrows of life sometimes difficult to bear, then Simeon’s voice is a good one to listen to.
Look with me at verse 25 of Luke 2. The NLT which I have been using says:
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. ()
Where the NLT says “eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel,” most translations say something close to “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” This is a significant choice of words. Another word for consolation is comfort. Jesus spoke of Himself as being a comforter. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given ... and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor.” This role of comforter or counselor is so important that Jesus promised:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. ()
When Luke, who was writing in Greek, wrote that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, he used the same word that Jesus used when He said He would send the Comforter.
From ancient times God spoke of comforting His people. Isaiah 40:1-4 contains words made famous by Handel’s “Messiah.”
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: ()
Simeon, as a scholar and teacher, would have been very familiar with this passage. I would be surprised if he did not have it memorized, and it was this comfort, this deliverer that he was eagerly waiting for. Comfort, encouragement and counsel are the reasons why Simeon’s voice is one we need to hear.
Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” () While we wait for God’s deliverance or salvation, it is easy to become discouraged and heartsick. However, do you see!? Simeon says, “I have seen!” With his own eyes, he saw that for which his heart longed. It was enough. It does not matter how old he was. Now, he could depart in peace.
What Simeon saw was a baby. He did not see Jesus hanging on the cross. He did not see the resurrection. He did not see the ascension. He saw a baby coming to the temple to receive circumcision as required by the Law of Moses. What he saw concerning salvation he saw by faith. He believed God and like Abraham it was counted to him as righteousness.
I want to share with you what Peter said about being an eye witness. He said:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. ()
Peter, James and John were on the Mount of Transfiguration but he says in verse 19 “We have the more certain prophetic word.” (Berean Literal Translation) The phrase “we have even greater confidence” represents the translators’ efforts to make sense of what he is saying, but the KJV got it right, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” The Word of God is more certain than what we see with our eyes. This is why Peter says, “You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place...”
Simeon saw God’s salvation in a baby because his life and thoughts were permeated with, marinated in, the Word of God. If we want comfort, we must first find it in the Word of God. Would you see the salvation of God? Then you must seek it in what He has said to His people in His word. It is in His word we see the promise of His salvation and it is by hearing His promises that our faith is established. Many in Simeon’s generation missed the comfort and the salvation because they did not believe what the prophets said. This is why when Simeon tried to point out the truth to them, they put him out.
In comfort, we also find encouragement. Simeon said:
Do not let the devil convince you that this salvation is not for you. He will try. He will tell you that God has passed you by, that God does not love you, that you are too bad, too far gone, unworthy, but do not believe the devil. God prepared His salvation for all people and you are part of all people.
In comfort and encouragement we find counsel. Simeon said:
Jesus did not shine like a light bulb. The reference to Him being a light is a reference to Him making the truth clear or apparent. His light is the light of truth that brings salvation to the soul. Jesus said of Himself:
As the most prominent teacher of Israel of his day, Simeon was placed by God to bear witness to the truth. As a leader of a people in bondage to darkness in an evil world, Simeon hoped for the deliverance and comfort of his people. However, he saw clearly and prophesied by the Holy Spirit. Luke 2:34-35:
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” ()
We have been talking about comfort, but this prophecy talks about people rising and falling and many opposing God’s work. It even goes as far as telling Mary that a sword would pierce her heart.
While Simeon waited for a great deliverer, he also understood from the word of God that not all would accept God’s solution. The nations still rage against God and not all will be saved because not all want to be saved. To become involved in what God is doing is to experience what Simeon, Mary and Jesus all experienced. Even Paul said:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, ()
Jesus is in truth a Mighty Counselor, a comforter for His people. He is a light to the nations and the Prince of Peace. We must take comfort in the fact that our suffering is not meaningless. God is delivering His people. Right now, we see His salvation by faith, but a day is coming when we will see it with our own eyes. Christmas is an annual reminder that just as Jesus came in a manger 2018 years ago, He will soon return and we will, like Simeon, see with our own eyes God’s salvation.