Our Savior Is Born: Waiting for God – Luke 2:21-38

mad on phoneWhen you are in a rush, one of the hardest positions to find yourself in is “on hold.” How frustrating it is to listen to some smooth sounding “elevator music” while waiting for someone to finally get to the phone and help you with your problem, especially when you are trying to get things checked off you “to do” list! Let me ask you something: “Did you ever go through a time when you felt you were calling Heaven, but we being put on hold?” Have you heard the “elevator music” of the Heavens? If you have walked with God for a long time, you probably know a time in which you appeared to be “waiting for God”.

Let’s face it, God isn’t in a rush to get things done, and sometimes that can seem annoying! Think of it! He announced Messiah some seven hundred years before His arrival, and has announced His return at least two thousand years ago! Here is a truth the Word teaches that we need to rehearse when we think God isn’t moving fast enough to supply us help…

Key Principle: God isn’t in a hurry. We need to learn to wait and trust His plan.

There is help from God’s Word on “waiting for God” and today’s lesson illustrates both how God brings the wait to an end, and even more, how we can navigate the uncertainty of the waiting time.

In this Bible lesson, I want to tell the story of two old people who probably passed by each other in a public place for years, but one day their paths intersected – and secret promises of God to both of them became a time of public celebration. We’ll say more about these two people in a few moments…

The Setting of the Story

Before we tell the story, we need to set the story, and as we do we will need to recall a common mistake students of God’s Word can easily make about the season of the year we call “Christmas”. The mistake is this: Often, we recall all the events of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 “pushed together”, but they are actually spread over several years.

• The birth and the visit of the shepherds happened on the night of Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem.

• The circumcision and naming happened eight days later in Bethlehem.

• The trip to the Temple came about a month later (33 days from the birth).

• The Magi probably didn’t arrive until Jesus was already a toddler some time later, with the flight to Egypt and Herod’s killing of Bethlehem babies well outside the timing of the Christmas story.

It does little harm to recall all of these in a single time of the year as long as students of the Bible keep them separated for the sake of an accurate story line of our Savior’s earth walk.

Our story is set half way through Luke chapter two, where we find ourselves observing Bethlehem. God had entrusted in the early part of the chapter the “watch care” of Jesus to a couple that appeared somewhat stuck in a shameful situation – that it, the scandalous news of a conception outside of a proper marriage. In that time and place, such an event was the stuff of snickering at the local well. Yet, the couple continued to serve God faithfully. These early days were, no doubt, hard. Regardless of the talk around them, when the time came, they carefully obeyed God’s Words to the letter. By their compliance to each Word of the Lord, they both painted a clear picture of Jesus’ mission and inaugurated God’s powerful work (which is something that often happens through obedience).

As the story of the birth and visit of the shepherds ended, the scene for our account was prepared. We pick up the account in Luke 2:21. As the curtain rises on the scene, by the Torah’s standards Mary was still defiled because of the birth process and needed to finish purification and restoration to God’s service. Jesus was, as yet, un-redeemed as first born of his mother. He was also, as yet, still unnamed, and still uncircumcised. The Temple visit with the baby was the setting for the last part of this story concerning “waiting on God” … but let’s follow the story in order…

The Naming and Circumcision (Eighth day)

In Luke 2:21 and following, two events appear condensed into one scene in the passage, but the reader is expected to know they are not based on a greater knowledge of God’s Law as Moses recorded it.

The first event explained was the naming of the child on the eighth day, along with his circumcision, probably done in Bethlehem. Luke recorded:

Luke 2:21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

On the eighth day, they named to the Child “Yeshua”. His name was from two Hebrew words that combined as “God (Yahweh) saves.”

Normally a father chose the name of the son, often based on a family name that was passed from generation to generation. In Joseph’s family, the range of names seemed common from the period, as Mark 3 reminded us of the brothers of Jesus and their names (as well as unnamed sisters):

Mark 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.”

It seems clear in the passage that Joseph had experience in naming children during his life, if those were his own sons. Yet, in the case of Jesus, Joseph followed both the instruction of God in the words of Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:31) and in the words of an angel in a dream to him (Matthew 1:21). Already in the first chapter of Luke, the record of the circumcision of Jesus’ cousin John demonstrated that it was customary at the time to name male babies at their circumcision (Luke 1:59-60).

Also on the eighth day, they circumcised (b’rit milah: cut or covenant of the circumcision) the boy.

Since the timing of circumcision was specified by Scripture as the eighth day for all Israelite males (Leviticus 12), we can easily conclude the naming ceremony of Jesus occurred with the circumcision (as recorded in Luke 2:21). Bible students recall that God commanded Abraham in Genesis 17:12 to circumcise his newborn male offspring on the eighth day, and this was later applied to all Israel in Leviticus 12:3 as follows: “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”

Some have questioned over time: “Why the eighth day?” In 1935, Professor H. Dam proposed the name “Vitamin K” for the factor in foods that helped prevent hemorrhaging in baby chicks. This vitamin is responsible for the production (by the liver) of the element known as pro-thrombin. Production of sufficient quantity begins only on the fifth through the seventh days of the newborn male’s life of vitamin K (produced by bacteria in the intestinal tract). The Vitamin K, coupled with prothrombin, causes blood coagulation, which is important in any surgical procedure. On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal—and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. (Holt, L.E. and R. McIntosh (1953), Holt Pediatrics (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts), twelfth edition; and McMillen, S.I. (1984), None of These Diseases (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).

It is worth noting that no one disputes the doctor’s findings today, but the internet is filled with words about how cruel and heartless it is to circumcise a child, and how barbaric and primitive the command certainly must have been. Let’s remember something: Either God determines what He wants for His people, or men do. For the children of Israel, God commanded something because He knew what was best for them on every level (physical, emotional and spiritual). Consider this: God knew the lesson His people needed. Doing something that would cause pain to your child at the beginning was counter-intuitive to the instincts of the parents, but it established a very important principle: Our children are God’s – not ours. Children are to be cared for according to the “specs of the manufacturer”, not according to our misshapen ideas about what the Creator SHOULD have said. Be very clear: Either right and wrong in life will come from God’s Word, or you will cobble together your own ideas and then blame God when they don’t work. That is what makes knowing His Word incredibly helpful and absolutely critical.

Something else may interest Bible students. It is clear that Matthew and Luke were clear about inter-relating the stories of John the Baptizer and Jesus, but it may be less clear to some WHY that was the case. There is a treasured Jewish legend based on the Biblical understanding that Elijah the prophet is “spiritually present” at every b’rit milah (circumcision rite). Elijah was cited to be the forerunner of the Messiah, and has long been considered by Jews as the “angel of the covenant” (based on the idea of Malachi 3:1), or a “guardian angel” until the naming of the child. It is for this reason that Jews set aside a special chair for Elijah at the circumcision with the baby placed on the chair prior to the circumcision and official naming. Because the yet unborn baby John acknowledged Jesus at the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, some believe this tradition was already a part of Jewish life – and that explains the story’s careful inclusion into the Gospel account. Perhaps for early Jews, the story of John’s “meeting” with Jesus before his birth was much more important than it has become for many of us in modernity.

Eight days after the birth, a naming and circumcision would normally be well-attended by close friends and family. In the situation of Mary’s conception, it was likely a very small affair. Far from her childhood home and surrounded by suspicion, this was likely a very hard time – but she had a secret set of promises of God to ponder quietly. They probably quieted her heart and kept her sane in the face of undue contempt of other women – some who may have even been from Joseph’s family!

The Redemption of the Son and Purification of the Mother (Thirty-three days after birth)

As the story moved forward, some twenty-five days after the circumcision (though some scholars say 41 days) Mary needed to complete her purification from defilement and Jesus needed to be redeemed as a firstborn son – bought back from God’s special ownership. The mother and child were taken to the Temple for the redemption ceremony (“Pidyon Haben”) and for the rites to Mary’s post-natal purification (“Tahorah”), in order to keep the Laws of God for Jewish people. Luke explained:

Luke 2:22 “And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

The “Pidyon Haben” of Jesus

As you look at the account, note first, they brought the sacrifice redeeming the Child: Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, but He was an Israelite by birth. As part of Israel’s Laws, they brought the child (firstborn male of his mother) to the Temple to be redeemed on the eighth day as commanded.

This “Pidyon haben” (Hebrew: פדיון הבן‎) or “redemption of the first-born son” was a remembrance whereby a Jewish firstborn son was “purchased back” from God’s hand – because the opening of the womb for the first time was always considered a unique gift of God. To us that may sound strange. In a society that undervalues the life of a child and expects every blessing at will, it is hard to understand the joy over what was once a very risky and fearful time of bringing a child into the world. It was not always certain that a birthing suite would yield either a live baby or even a living mother. Mortality rates made birthing a time of great tension for families.

If you are less familiar with the idea of the redemption of the first born, consider Exodus 13 and the command of the “Pidyon Haben” with these words:

Exodus 13:1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.” 3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. …11 “Now when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, 12 you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord. … 14 And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ …20 Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way..”.

By obedience to the “Pidyon Haben” redemption, Jesus’ parents tied His life to the redemption story of Israel! Though the act was not unique to Jesus, this was the first act of his parents in response to the promise “He shall save His people from their sins”. I imagine it was no small affair in the heart and mind of Joseph and Mary. Consider how Moses tied the “Pidyon Haben” to the great story of God’s intervention and salvation of the Jewish people.

It’s also worth mentioning that this act reminded careful observers of God’s plan for a substitute to deal with sin. The “Pidyon Haben” (redemption of the first born) was originally God’s way of supplying PRIESTS to His people. God initially expressed the firstborn of wombs would serve as His priests for Israel; however, after the corruption of the Golden Calf, in which the tribe of Levi did not participate, God substituted the tribe of Levi over the firstborn for this sacred role, as explained in Numbers 8:14-18.

Numbers 8:17 For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. 18 But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. 19 I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, so that there will be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.”

The intended place of the firstborn was to uniquely serve God, but their disobedience opened the door for a substitute. The Pidyon Haben reminded people, while standing in front of a Levitical Priest, that a substitution took place, and substitution is at the heart of the Gospel message.

The “Tahorah” of Mary

Along with the visit for Jesus’ redemption, Mary took the necessary purification time and ritual. She went through all the normal steps of purification the occasion demanded according to the Law. Immediately after birth, a woman is considered “niddah” (separated as a result of defilement) as God commanded through Moses:

12:1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. 3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. 5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days.

In order to be purified and restored from defilement, Mary brought two offerings: a sin sacrifice and a dedication offering as commanded.

This was not a “Shelmim” (Peace or Thanksgiving offering as in Leviticus 3:1-17 and 7:11-38) of the joy of the couple, but rather both a “Chata’ah (Sin Offering as in Leviticus 4:1-5:13) of purification to restore Mary from defilement and an Oleh Offering (a dedicatory Burnt Offering as in Leviticus 1:1-17) as the Lord expected (as we noted above in Leviticus 12). We know it was not a shelmim based on the fact that a shelmim could never be fowl.

It is also easy in the account to conclude Joe and Mary had little materially, because of their offering. They gave what they could afford. They could not offer a lamb, but they could bring pigeons:

Leviticus 5:7 ‘But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 He shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first that which is for the sin offering and … 10 The second he shall then prepare as a burnt offering according to the ordinance…

Mary and Joseph brought both bird, and both offerings were made. Her defilement (suspension of eligibility) was completed at the sacrifice, and she fulfilled the first part of her vow to raise the child as unto the Lord.

Amid Joseph and Mary’s moment of obedience a month after Jesus’ birth, the end of a long wait came to two old people in Jerusalem’s Temple. An elderly man named Simeon (or Shim’on) and an old woman named Anna finally came to the day of God’s fulfillment to them. Take a few moments and go back to the end of the hold music, when God answered the prayers of each…

Simeon’s Story

Luke draws our view to an old man standing on the Temple platform, with its large smooth stone pavement. He wrote:

Luke 2:25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to carry out for Him the custom of the Law…

Four important words or phrases of the text describe Simeon and his activities:

• First, he was a righteous man. The term “díkaios” meant he was “approved by God”. He was God’s man, stationed to do God’s bidding by God’s hand. He was selected by God.

• Second, he actively lived his God-given role. The term “eulabēs” is translated “devout” and in other translations it is “God-fearing.” He lived out a practical, daily, “godly respect” for holy things. He walked in practical ways with God.

• Third, he acted with anticipation. Coming to the Temple wasn’t a heavy drudgery, but one filled with expectation. The text says he was “looking for the consolation” but the term “prosdéxomai” literally means he was “ready and willing” to receive what God promised. He walked with excited readiness and expectation.

• Fourth, he carried in his heart a revelation – a promise from God that he could not know if God hadn’t told him. The term “xrēmatízō” is the word “revealed” in the verse, but in the language it was a business term “to admonish on the basis of a valid standard” and was used of warnings. He knew God promised something, and he took it seriously and literally.

The man waited for God to openly reveal the Promised One. He knew the child was coming, and he looked, day after day, among the line of people coming to offer their children for the “Pidyon Haben”, the redemption of the firstborn sons to the Lord. The day of the waiting was over! Luke wrote:

Luke 2:28 “… then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Can you hear the PURE SATISFACTION in the words of Simeon? He used words like “released” and called his eyes “prepared” for the child. At the same time, He fulfilled his God-given task and offered hard words of warning to Mary and Joseph, because that was part of the message God revealed to him. What did he promise?

• He promised the baby was SALVATION (2:30).
• He made clear the baby would have a WORLDWIDE IMPACT among both Gentiles and “His people Israel” (2:31-32).
• He promised the child would bring about the rise and fall of many in Israel (2:34).
• He made clear pain would come into Mary’s heart because of the child (2:35).
• He flatly promised the child would expose the hearts of many people (2:35).

Simeon walked with God, waited for a LONG TIME and lived His Word in daily life. It was his reason for springing out of bed, morning after morning, and standing in the Temple lines. He watched. He waited. He trusted God’s promises – even the ones that meant tribulation and trouble. His trust was in God’s character, not earth’s comfort. He waited, but he knew if God promised it, God would deliver it. He wasn’t the only one waiting at the Temple.

There was another person who went through YEARS of waiting and pain…

Anna’s Story

When we read the last few verses of the lesson (Luke 2:36-38), we see an elderly woman who lived through tough times on her way to finding God’s peace. If anything, the record of her life reminds every Bible student that God may call upon you to reset your personal expectations in a “Plan B” life. Look for a moment at the snapshot of this woman as Luke reminds:

Luke 2:36 “And there was a prophetess, Anna (shortened form of: Channah, or “Grace”) the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

This is the story of a life dedicated to God that was forged through real PAIN and LOSS, not through easy blessing and simple living…

One needs to look only briefly to recognize that Anna learned to live with CURBED EXPECTATIONS! The woman is described as “advanced in years” and widowed long ago. Her marriage that lasted only a brief seven years and she lost her husband. Now eighty-four years old, Anna learned patience and dependence upon God. She fasted and prayed day and night, never leaving the Temple.

She was not like most women of her time. God chose for he a different path. Instead of finding her identity in a second marriage and raising children – she heard God’s direction and went a different way than people around her surely expected. She chose to serve the Lord night and day, fasting, praying and waiting. She learned to move through the terrible pain of losing her husband, and kept growing in trust. She learned to rely on God to financially and emotionally meet the needs of her life. Did you notice the words (?): “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fasting and prayers.”

I keep thinking about the words “night and day”. She just kept going and kept waiting on God to finish what He was doing in her. Hers was not a life tuned to accomplishing things – it was a life tuned to waiting on God. I must admit to you that the people who have encouraged me the most were the people who over the long haul of life have learned to drink from the well of satisfaction from the Lord even when their life circumstances were not ideal. Sixty-five years or so of waiting is incredible patience to wait for anything – much less a baby to mark the redemption.

We must remember that God is in no hurry! We will not experience instant depth, instant passion, instant deep praise. Genuine change of heart takes time. Genuine weaning of self-satisfaction to God’s purposes requires time and a painful transition as I leave the throne of my heart and He takes it. When she curbed her expectations – she sought the Lord and did what He instructed!

What if Anna decided not to come in on Tuesdays because she was feeling let down? What if she accommodated her feelings of disobedience and thought: I don’t feel like looking for the Messiah this morning – Can’t I go later? The blessings of being obedient far outweigh the temporary satisfaction of placating my wants and desires.

Others are defined by their roles – Anna’s role was stripped from her and THEN God defined her real purpose. God used her in spite of being the definition of poor and hopeless. She was not forsaken; she was being set up to accomplish her life’s purpose!

Perhaps she trusted the words of the Psalmist long before: “My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” – Psalm 17:5-6

She waited, while her life seemed like a footnote compared to the BIG NAMES that strolled through the gates of the Temple. She waited as a seeming like a NOBODY… but you can never tell about “a nobody” in God’s economy! God announced and fulfilled the plan for two old people handing out at the Temple in anticipation as they ‘WAITED ON GOD’.

For each, He called them long before they understood why. He didn’t rush the information, but called on them to simply trust Him!

God isn’t in a hurry. We need to learn to wait and trust His plan.

Have you ever been trusting in God patiently waiting for Him to work, and it seems like nothing happens. Then… nothing happens. Then more waiting and suddenly… nothing happens.

Catchy words and platitudes won’t help much in times like those. The battle isn’t just keeping words, it is about keeping hope. Urgency floods in… and time seems like it is running out. Waves of panic strike.

Stop! Have I forgotten that God is the Master of time?

I open my Bible and scan its pages. I see things I must remember when I am incline to forget…

First, my Father wants to bless me – the delay isn’t about that.

Second, I don’t get His blessing because I am more deserving of it. The essence of grace is this: God is good even when I am not. I didn’t earn Jesus or His love – they are both undeserved gifts of God.

Could it be that I have overlooked that God sometimes showers on us good things that are not what we were expecting or what we asked for?

When urgency pushes, it helps to look back on God’s past faithfulness. It will help us move ahead in trust. It will underscore that God’s purposes are often seen more clearly in hindsight. It will open us to the idea that we might not really see the greater purposes God had in mind for us!

When I feel defeated, I feel unlovable. That is the moment I need to remember that God always hears me, and that He likes the sound of my voice (Even when I don’t)!

That is the moment I can stop and recognize that waiting is something we can do to bring God glory. Search the Scriptures. Often, in the Bible people had to wait on God to see God’s power magnificently displayed. Often, the most dramatic display of God takes place in the lives of people when they seasoned by God in a stew of “waiting for it”. God enables us to see Him most clearly when our view of ourselves isn’t blocking His light.