Three People in the Temple – 31 January 2016

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale


Malachi 3: 1 – 5

The Coming Messenger

3See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.* 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

5 Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.


Hebrews 2: 14 – 18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters* in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.


Luke 2: 22 – 40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, 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 shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;* this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.* 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon* came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon* took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant* 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 for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon* blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna* the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child* to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.



One of the skills of a sports coach is to recognise what a player is good at and to extend them in their position or role. The job of the player is to hone their skills for their role and also to be open to grow into other roles if the coach recognises that their skills could be suited to other positions on the field.

The All Blacks are particularly good at developing players into utility players – players who can fill a number of positions and who bring to a position a broad set of skills.

Typically we used to have a very set idea about how forwards in a game of rugby behaved, for example. Now forwards behave like three-quarters, and we’re not speaking only of loose forwards here.

For those of you unfamiliar with or uninterested in rugby (and there are quite a few of our countrymen like that) it’s about finding a niche, excelling in it but also being open to the fact that there might be other niches one can grow into as well. One could say it’s about being open to increased “multi-skilling.”


Of course occasionally one comes across naturally talented players who are simply outstanding. These are the Richie McCaws and Dan Carters of this world. They are the Superstars who work extremely hard at what they do, consistently expanding their skill base, but that work is carried out on the back of exceptional talent.


Other players are pretty Pedestrian. They’re there but don’t star. Some spectators are in this category too. They watch the game not realising that if they applied themselves they might well be good enough to play in the team ahead of some of the more pedestrian players.

Every team has pedestrian players – the kind of people who just make it into the team and who sometimes find themselves out of their depth. But here’s the thing: some people who look pedestrian are not so at all. Keven Mealamu was such a player. Often these are your solid workhorses and there is a place for them too. They have expanded their skills to the maximum, they’re just less spectacular than those of others.


There’s a third category of player I’d like to call a Slow Learner.  I think Ma’a Nonu fits into this category. You might recall that when Nonu first began playing he appeared incapable of passing the ball. He had the mistaken idea that his size would enable him to barge through the line, and he was wrong. He was wrong for a long time. However, the coaches saw his potential and kept him playing at the top level and he gradually expanded his skill set and turned into an extremely good player.

In our Gospel reading there are three distinct groups of people evident in this visit of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to the temple, not unlike the kinds of people surrounding a sports team.

The story is simple. The Holy Family enter the temple to carry out their religious duties. While there they are met by Simeon and Anna who recognise Jesus as the promised Messiah. Mary and Joseph are amazed at what they hear about their little son.


Now the temple was a busy place. There would have been scores of people, Levites and priests about their business. But none of them notice anything special about Jesus. They are, one might say, pretty plodding in their faith.

These are our Pedestrian players. They are blind to the opportunities others see. They do their job as they see fit and that’s that.

They don’t recognise the Messiah but they are there for religious reasons. They go through religious exercises without seeing God in their midst. Their inability to recognise God (albeit a very little God at this point) means they leave relatively untouched, putting one foot in front of the other on their way home.


At the other end of the spectrum are two people who are very much alive to Jesus as the Messiah, in spite of his only being a baby: Simeon and Anna. Simeon utters those now well-known words enshrined in what we call the Song of Simeon or the Nunc Dimittis. As the Book of Common Prayer records it:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.


But what is it that causes Simeon to have this revelation? Was he simply a talented person, in the right place at the right time, or was he a spiritual Superstar?

When we look at the story carefully we notice that there is a process involved in Simeon’s recognition of Jesus.

Verse 25 tells us Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;* this man was righteous and devout.

If Simeon was righteous it means he thoroughly and publicly identified with the cause of God. We see this characteristic in Anna of whom Vs 37 says, She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

If Simeon was devout it meant that, like Anna, he spent a great deal of time in prayer.

As a result of this, says the middle section of Vs 25, he was looking forward to the consolation of Israel. In other words, Simeon longed that God would fulfil his promises to Israel and that included the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon was sick and tired of a world in the grip of sin. He wanted God to come back and sort it out. He understood, because he spent time in prayer, that God had much better things for this world. The solution, he realised, was bound up in the person of the Messiah.
All this came about because he:

  • thoroughly identified with God’s cause
  • he spent time in prayer, and
  • he longed for the Messiah

All these things resulted, we read in Vs 25  in

  • the Holy Spirit rested on him.

It goes without saying that Simeon spent a great deal of time in the temple – where God’s people gathered. You see no spiritual progress is possible in our lives unless the Holy Spirit is involved. But there are prerequisites. Certain things have to be in place:

  • flying the flag i.e. spending time where God’s people gather
  • time in prayer
  • a longing for God’s intervention, and
  • the Holy Spirit

But before we go too far down that path, what is it Simeon actually did under the influence of the Holy Spirit?

Vs 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon* took him in his arms and praised God

Simeon embraced Christ! He took Jesus into his arms, and then he opened his mouth and testified:

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant* 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 for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’


Simeon must surely have been the first person to engage in Christian witness.

He proclaims that Jesus is 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

This witness is the zenith of the process at work in Simeon’s life. It is the inevitable result of a life that:

  • thoroughly identifies with God’s cause
  • spends time in prayer
  • longs for the Messiah
  • open to the Holy Spirit, and
  • embraces Jesus

The culmination of all that is testimony!

The Dan Carters of this world don’t just fall out of trees on a breezy day. There’s a whole lot that goes into making them who they are and enabling them to perform at the level that they do.


And there are many people out there, even some Christians, who are potential Dan Carters, potential Simeons.


But not everyone. There is a third group in this story.


We can all build into our lives the things the Simeons of this world did, (and we should) but some of us get there at snail’s pace.


The third group in this scenario are the Slow Learners. Can you guess who they are? They are close to Jesus, they are not superstars, but at least they are in this story. They are open to learn and to play the role God has for them. They are Mary and Joseph!


Mary showed herself teachable from a young age. You have to be pretty teachable to believe the words of an archangel who pops in on you when you least expect it with the news that the Holy Spirit is going to cause you to fall pregnant.

Of course it all happens as the angel said and when she gives birth and the shepherds arrive with a story of more angels, we read in Luke 2: 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  Mary was taking it all in – slowly.

Mary and Joseph are in the process of learning who Jesus is. We read in Vs 22 that when Simeon testified about Jesus  … the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. In spite of all they had experienced they were still busy working out who Jesus was. Mary had Jesus in her arms but she was yet to fully grasp who he was.

Mary and Joseph did their duty in bringing Jesus to the temple, they were open to and they continued faithfully in what God had called them to do – parenting. But they were a still short of being able to proclaim enthusiastically who Jesus was.

We can see Mary’s progress, however, at the Wedding in Cana, when Jesus had just begun his ministry. When the wine runs out she points the steward to Jesus for a solution. When Jesus expresses some surprise that she has done so, she simply says to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it. (John 2: 5)


So in summary, regarding pedestrian believers:

  • They weren’t sitting on the couch watching Coronation Street. They are at the game!
  • They weren’t down in the lower reaches of the Jordan valley dipping their toes in the Dead Sea. They were at the temple.

I think whatever we are, we are to be learners – hopefully fast learners – ever open to God’s Spirit and moving deeper into the call God has on our lives. We should all be practising lives of

  • thoroughly identifying with God’s cause
  • spending time in prayer
  • longing for the Messiah
  • being open to the Holy Spirit, and
  • testifying to all that Jesus is

Some of us may even be Dan Carters, Simeons – go for gold!

But whatever we are, we can all be learners who make progress, who are open to the coach (that is the Holy Spirit) saying, “You know what; I think you can cover another position as well. You have the potential to enhance this team with a number of skills.”

Only God knows us completely. Have we honestly asked God to help us in the process Simeon followed in order that we might reach our full potential?

What might God be asking of you and me in this regard today?

Finally: Don’t ever think, “O, I’m no superstar. I’m just a plodder.” Look at it this way; in the parable of The Sower the seed that fell on good ground didn’t all yield the same return. Some produced 30 fold, some 60 fold, some 100 fold. Our job is to be the best we can. God will do the rest.