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The Testimonies of the Three “Invisibles”

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series The Curious Corners of Christmas

The Curious Corners of Christmas
Chapter: The Testimonies of the Three “Invisibles”

Copyright © 20231

by
Jim Kerwin

Bigger Than a Single Night!

Title tile for 'The Testimonies of the Three Invisibles'All three of them
have been hidden in plain sight,
especially the “treasurer”!

The story of Jesus’ birth is so big that it can’t be forced into a single night. The narrative of the entrance of mankind’s promised Deliverer is so powerful that it requires a stage far grander than a small stable in the City of David.

Over the preceding chapters, we’ve had to expand our Christmas timeline concept quite a bit. We thought that our immediate interest would be focused on the night of Jesus’ birth. But then, as we have read carefully, we realize that Matthew wants to start as far back as the life of Abraham (almost 2000 b.c., in Matthew 1:2ff); and that same Apostle also takes the story ahead to the visit of the magi, and the family’s nick-of-time refugee-escape to Egypt, perhaps as late as two years after that celebrated night in the stable. Of the actual night of the Birth, Matthew spares less than a single verse:

  • …she [Mary] gave birth to a Son; and he [Joseph] called His name Jesus.
  • Matthew 1:25

But broadening our scope to expand our spiritual understanding always seems to be God’s desire, so that we might glimpse something of the full context of His dealings.

It was Luke’s privilege to present the night of the Nativity to us. But soon we’re caught up in the greater spectrum of God’s revelation, and we see that even Dr. Luke can’t constrain his account to the birth-night announcement of the angel and the visit of the shepherds. The Holy Spirit guided him to aid us in seeing that birth in a multi-scene drama, starting with God’s prophetic dealings with Zacharias and Elisabeth, and His sovereign election of their son John as Messiah’s herald. Thus Luke time-stretches the natal narrative back to almost eighteen months before the glorious night in Bethlehem.

And while the elongated epic waits for certain wise men a thousand miles away to search the night skies and scroll through their musty tomes, seeking to understand what the portents of the heavens are telling them, Luke’s Christmas chronicle carries us forward through the scenes of Jesus’ circumcision (Luke 2:21) on the eighth day of Messiah’s life, through to the special visit to the Temple forty days after His birth (Luke 2:22-38), and finally to the family’s first return to Nazareth (Luke 2:39-40).

Thanks to Luke, we have the testimonies of those I call The Three “Invisibles,” because their roles are largely overlooked and underappreciated.

Two Temple Testimonies

  • 22And 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”2), 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtle­doves or two young pigeons.”
  • Luke 2:22-24

We touched on this in passage in a previous chapter, Messiah’s Missing Months and the Magi, but a quick review won’t hurt. A woman, having given birth to a male child, was ritually unclean for 40 days, and could not enter the Temple precincts during her uncleanness. (See Leviticus 12:1-8.) Mary and Joseph must offer up the sacrifice relegated to the poor (Leviticus 12:8 with Luke 2:24). Perhaps it was even a purse-pinching stretch for them to offer the five shekels necessary to redeem their firstborn (Numbers 18:16).

But while Luke shows Joseph and Mary to be observant, obedient Jews, his special focus is also on two people about to have “divine appointments” with Israel’s Redeemer. In these verses, the Holy Spirit introduces us to the first of The Three “Invisibles”:

  • 25And 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. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple…
  • Luke 2:25-27a

Simeon

What? We’re going to add more people to the Christmas story? Yes. Think about it. We’re still waiting for those johnny-come-lately wise men to arrive; and they (quite innocently!) are going to drag the not-so-savory King Herod into the cast of Christmas characters. And when we see how our two temple-precinct people, two of our three Invisibles, enhance the story and our understanding of Jesus’ mission, we’ll be glad that Luke included them. The first of the two is an old man named Simeon.

How is it that Luke includes him in this story? If we look at the full spectrum of Dr. Luke’s writing (i.e., all of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles), we find a gifted, First Century Christian with special interest in all matters related to the Holy Spirit and His interactions with men and women.

Already in Luke chapter 1, we have seen an eye-opening overview of the Spirit’s interactions with men and women.3 You won’t be surprised if I tell you that there’s much to learn about the Holy Spirit as we read through Luke’s Gospel.4 And I doubt it’s coincidence that the job of faithfully recording what one scholar aptly re-named “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles” is given to this Spirit-sensitive physician.5

But narrowing our focus back to our “Christmas story,” Luke introduces us to an otherwise unknown godly man (“this man was righteous and devout,” Luke 2:25) named Simeon.6 Added to his godly character and reputation, in his heart he was “looking for the consolation of Israel”; which is another way of saying that he was longing for the appearance of the promised Messiah.

Given such heart devotion in Simeon, then, it’s no wonder that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” After all, in the same way that it’s possible to grieve the Holy Spirit away (Ephesians 4:30), God seems pleased to give His Spirit “to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).

Not only is the Holy Spirit upon Simeon, but He interacts with him deeply. Simeon has received a special divine revelation,7 an assurance that he would live long enough to see the physical embodiment of God’s promise to Israel. For Simeon, the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance was very real and personal, so much so that at the exact right moment “he came in the Spirit into the Temple.” May God grant us many more Spirit-sensitive men and women today!

Simeon’s reward for intimacy with and instant obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit leads him to the greatest blessing in his life.

27…and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28then he [Simeon] 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;
30For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32A light of revelation to the Gentiles,8
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
– Luke 2:27-32 –

What intimacy with God, what private access to the Throne! “Lord, now I can die happy, knowing that you’ve granted my heart’s desire to see Your Messiah. Your promise to me has been fulfilled.” The Desire of all nations (Haggai 2:7) has also been the Desire of Simeon.

See Simeon’s inward knowledge, based on his longstanding fellowship with God and his familiarity with the Scriptures:

  • He knows that this six-week-old child is God’s salvation.
  • He is aware that this long-awaited Messiah, this “glory of Israel” is also sent to be “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” (here he quotes from Isaiah 42:6), that is, to all the non-Jewish nations.9

    • 33And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34And Simeon blessed them…
    • Luke 2:33-34a

I think it was for just such occasions that the English language developed the word flabbergasted, because flabbergasted may be the best description of Joseph and Mary at this point. To put it in Christian terms (rather than Jewish ones), imagine a good little newlywed couple of faithful, church-attending, Sunday-school faithful, tradition-bound people suddenly confronted with a Holy-Spirit-filled prophet! (Admittedly, both Joseph and Mary had experienced their own unusual divine encounters — Joseph in angel-messenger dreams, Matthew 1:19-24, and Mary with both an angelic visit, Luke 1:26-38, and her own personal episode of giving prophetic utterance, Luke 1:46-55.) I doubt they had ever encountered anything like this prophetic blessing.

  • 34 …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 —  35and a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
  • Luke 2:34b-35

Now comes the prophetic word, both national and personal. My purpose in this chapter isn’t to develop this message, other that to point out the following:

  • “The fall and rise of many in Israel” is a pithy way to encapsulate Paul’s lament in Romans 9-11 about the loss and restoration of his beloved people Israel;
  • The Father who knew the heart-cost of sending His son to be crucified warned Mary about the sword that would pierce her own soul at the foot of the Cross;
  • Thoughts from many hearts would be revealed before the Throne of the innocent babe nestled in Simeon’s aged arms.

Anna

Luke swiftly moves us from the first Invisible to the second.

  • 36And there was a prophetess, Anna 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, 37and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38At 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.
  • Luke 2:36-38

Here is a another believer, little known or remembered on earth, but well known in heaven. I suspect that the Lord has had many such saints through the centuries, largely hidden from human view but prized before Him. We would probably be very surprised at who they are if our God revealed them among us today!

Let me share some observations and thoughts about Anna:

  • In passing I’ll mention the oddity that, though Anna is noted to be a prophetess, we have no prophetic word from her in this passage. (We’ll find out why shortly.)
  • She was from the tribe of Asher, one of the (supposedly) “Ten Lost Tribes.”10
  • Both Anna’s age and devotion stand out. Hers was an era and culture in which girls often were married around age 15. Using that age as a benchmark, we can estimate that she became a childless widow around age 22 (“seven years after her marriage”). Such was her heart toward God that she directed her life in a most unusual way for the next 62 years of her life (“to the age of eighty-four”) in intercessory ministry. Her piety, even from a young-adult age, must have been universally acknowledged, because she was apparently given permanent lodging within the Temple precincts, something of a rarity for non-Levites. Thus, “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.”
  • With Anna as a shining example of a heart fixed on God, even in old age, allow me to share a word of exhortation to the “elderly” (into whose ranks I have been dragged in these last ten years!). If God has granted you longer life than others, employ that time wisely in service to the King.
  • If you find yourself in this blessed category by God’s grace, with your life having been extended, how will you invest this gift of time and life that is not given to everyone? What gift will you give to God’s living Gift to mankind — Jesus? You now have time for more than fifteen minutes of prayer, a quickly snatched Bible chapter, and a dutiful dip into a daily devotional. Can you minister to His Church in service? Can you push forward the purposes of His Kingdom by learning to pray and fast like you have always wanted? Anna is a classic example of a life well spent.
  • And Anna exemplifies something else. Remember I said that it was a bit of an oddity that Luke makes mention of the fact that she is a prophetess, yet we have no prophetic message from her? How do we deal with that “lack”?
  • Well, first of all, we should expect someone who spends much time in secret with God to have words from God, not just for herself, but for those around her. To share God’s heart and mind with others in particular matters is a precious ministry; in Anna’s case, such blessing no doubt flowed from her continual seasons of prayer and fasting.
  • But what does Luke say about Anna after she encountered the “Babe of Bethlehem” in the Temple? Her first reaction is joyous thanksgiving. And from that point forward (apparently to the end of her life), she continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. That phrase continued to speak represents the imperfect tense: she habitually kept on speaking about Him.
  • And here we come to the most important aspect of “prophecy.” She was testifying about Jesus, the Messiah, the Redeemer. She was sharing as much as she knew from her personal experience. In one sense, she was serving as a “second witness” to Simeon’s declaration and prophecy. But the kind of prophecy Anna was employing is within reach of all of us, something explained to the Apostle John close to the end of the New Testament:
    • “…I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus11 is the spirit of prophecy.”12
    • Revelation 19:10
  • Here is a “prophetic office” to which we all may aspire — testifying of Jesus! I believe Moses saw a glimmer of this possibility in the heart of God over 1,400 years before Jesus came:
    • “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
    • Numbers 11:29
  • And although the apostle Paul had a particular charismatic gift in mind when he wrote the following words, the general principle is still in line with Moses’ desire (and perhaps Paul even had the Numbers 11 story in mind):
    • 5Now I wish… even more that you all13 would prophesy… so that the church may receive edifying.… 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted…
    • 1 Corinthians 14:5,31
  • What a Christmas gift it would be to a sinner if God used your “testimony of Jesus” as a vital link in the chain of his or her salvation. What a Christmas gift it would be to Jesus if He used your testimony of Jesus in bringing the sinner to Himself!
  • There are two other things I’d like to note about our prophetess Anna and the “spirit of prophecy” in which she operated—
    • See how Spirit-led Anna is directed (despite her enthusiastic, “imperfect-tense” continual sharing). She may share with many, but all? No, it seems that she shares with those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem, that is, those who are hungry for God and His Kingdom.
    • The Holy Spirit is always strategic, knowing if any given person is ready to hear, when they are ready to hear, and what they are able to receive. Because Anna operated in the same “spirit of prophecy” Paul knew, it’s little wonder that she intuitively operated within the same guidelines Paul laid out: “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:32-33). In other words, she shares or is silent based on the Spirit’s leading.
    • If we “zoom out” to see the greater scope of this matter of “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” we’ll be reminded why the Holy Spirit was given: to empower our witness for Christ, to energize and empower the “impossible” Great Commission and embue and endue it with God’s success.
    • “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Does our witness lack this dúnamis power of God? We’re probably operating without God’s Spirit. Yet in one of God’s consecrated conundrums, if we are lacking the power of God’s Spirit, it’s probably because we aren’t being witnesses, sharing “the testimony of Jesus”!
  • Thank you, dear Anna, for your example, and for reminding us of our Christmas joy… and duty.

The “Treasurer” of the Christmas Story

This third person in our list is the opposite of “Invisible”; nevertheless, I think she has been invisible in her role as the Christmas-story treasurer.

  • 39When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.… 51and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
  • Luke 2:39-40,51-52

As best we know, Luke was a Gentile Christian converted sometime after the “Gentile door” was opened by Peter at the house of Cornelius. That being the case, have you ever asked yourself, “How does Luke know all of this stuff?! He is writing decades after the event!”

Yes, he was. Who was his source for all of this information? The aged parents of John the Baptist, Zacharias and Elisabeth, would have been dead long before their son was martyred. Who could relate the intimate details of their stories? Simeon and Anna (the latter of whom was already 84 years old just weeks after Jesus’ birth) had long gone to their reward. Who would remember the one-time interactions with them? Jesus Himself had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Where did Luke obtain the shepherds’ manger-visit details? Who provided the super-detailed genealogy of Mary’s family at the end of Luke 3?

For that matter, we could ask the same questions of Matthew and his narrative. How do we know about Joseph’s three dream-messages from God? About the visit of the magi? (Remember: Joseph wasn’t present in the home when they visited!) How about the hasty life-or-death flight to Egypt? Or the decision to not return to Bethlehem and instead make Nazareth the final, permanent residence?

From the treasurer, of course — none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Why do I call her “the treasurer”? Because of two sibling-like verbs that Luke uses to describe her.

I call the two verbs siblings because they share the same “parentage,” as it were. The parent Greek verb is tēréō (τηρέω). It can mean to guard (as in Acts 16:23, where the Philippian jailer was ordered to guard Paul and Silas). That idea, then, rolls over into its other meaning, which is to keep a commandment (as in Jesus’ words in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments”).14 In the first instance, one guards a prisoner with vigilance;15 in the second instance, one lovingly keeps or obeys commandments with care.

Now, what about those siblings?

Sibling #1: What a night! After the birth of Mary’s firstborn in a stable, and the open-air meeting of the congregation of angels and shepherds, Luke records their hasty pastoral visit and adoration with these words:

  • 16So they [i.e., the shepherds] came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17When they had seen this, they made known the statement [rhema] which had been told them about this Child. 18And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary treasured all these things [all these rhemas], pondering them in her heart.
  • Luke 2:16-19

The word for treasured is the first sibling — suntēréō (συντηρέω). Since it’s a chip off the block of tēréō, we can see that root word in it, prefixed with the Greek preposition sún. Of this prefix-verb combination, an important New Testament Greek-language resource says,

συντηρέω means “to keep” in the memory… Lk. 2:19; the prep[osition] gives the verb an intensive sense.16 [emphases mine]

Mary lived in a learn-by-rote memory-intensive culture. And perhaps, along with her God-devoted heart, the keenness of an exceptional memory may have been one of the many traits on the basis of which she was chosen to be Messiah’s mother. (Or perhaps, because she was already chosen, she was endowed with an exceptional memory in order to fulfill her life’s task. Don’t you love the glorious puzzles of providence?!)

Our English translations obscure several things from us in this passage:

  • What did Mary hide / treasure and “ponder” in her heart? In other words, what were “these things” which Luke records? Well, the events themselves, obviously. But the Greek shows us that the shepherds shared the rhema (“the statement,” v. 17), that is, the special message from God which they had heard during the angelic visitation. And Luke tells us that what Mary hid away as treasure were these rhemas (v. 19).17
  • Not only did she treasure-keep these rhemas, but Mary also “pondered them in her heart.” Ponder is the rendering of the Greek verb sumbállō (συμβάλλω). An oversimplistic take on sumbállō would be to throw together (prefixing bállō, to throw, with sún,18 meaning with or together with).
  • Throwing together won’t win any points among real translators; in most of its six New Testament appearances, sumbállō appears as debate or dispute (Acts 17:18), engage another (Acts 20:14), confer with (Acts 4:15). But in those transactions of debating, engaging, and conferring, ideas are thrown out, they play off each other, and they are considered both individually and together. Over the course of her lifetime, apparently, Mary frequently pondered all these words and events regarding the life of her firstborn. In the light of Calvary, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, her understanding increased.

Sibling #2: Luke employs suntēréō’s sibling, tēréō’s “other child” — dia­tēréō (διατηρέω) — in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus staying behind in the Temple:

  • 48When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?” 50But they did not understand the statement [rhema] which He had made to them. 51And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured [dia­tēréō] all these things [all these rhemas] in her heart.
  • Luke 2:48-51

Here the verb treasure, as we have indicated, is dia­tēréō, in which tēréō is pushing the prefix diá (διά), which, as a preposition, carries with it the idea of through or on account of. Of dia­tēréō, our Greek source says,

“διατηρέω [diatēréō] occurs in the NT only in the sense “to keep”: ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ διετήρει πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς (Lk. 2:51), where the preposition [i.e., διά / día] expresses careful and permanent storing in the memory.…19 [emphasis mine]

Jesus makes a statement to Joseph and Mary (v. 49), yet another rhema (“statement”) which she didn’t understand at the time. But as was her lifelong habit, she stored, that is, hid in her heart-treasure, this rhema, along with the others God had sent her.

The translators of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament known as the “LXX”) made use of dia­tēréō in a familiar and very similar type of story. Remember Joseph sharing his second dream with his father and brothers (Genesis 37:9-10)? Jacob, his father, rebuked him for the seeming effrontery of the dream’s interpretation; and…

  • …his brethren envied him; but his father observed [dia­tēréō] the saying [rhēma].
  • Brenton’s LXX translation of Genesis 37:11

Yet Jacob / Israel treasured (same verb!) that rhema (same noun!); it never left him. Finally, more than twenty years later, when Jacob and Joseph were reunited in Egypt, this word that had been observed / treasured / hidden in Jacob’s heart made sense. Mary had to wait at least thirty years for her stored and treasured rhemas to fit together into a complete tapestry.

How wonderful are God’s provisions! To provide a Gospel for us, He called Luke to be the Church’s first historian, writing both a life of Jesus and the chronicle of the Church’s first decades. With such a high calling, he set to his long task, and at last he could say that he had “investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). He is an “original sources man” as a historian — no re-writing or re-hashing what someone else has already written. During visits to Jerusalem and elsewhere, he had access to “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2).

God’s wonderful provision for Luke was that Mary, the well-known mother of Jesus, was still alive! But how many knew that winsome, radiant, and wrinkled woman20 would turn out to be the treasurer of the Christmas story? Others could tell Luke of Jesus’ later teachings, encounters, and miracles. But by the time of Luke’s writing, only Mary could testify as an eyewitness of the early years. Only she had been present for all of the interactions with Elisabeth, Zacharias, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna. Mary was the last living witness to have experienced the visit of the adoring shepherds in the stable, the visit of the worshipful magi months later in her home, and the life-and-death escape to Egypt. She was a foot-of-the-cross witness when Simeon’s prophesied “sword” of grief and sorrow pierced her heart.21 And — blessèd be the Lord! — she remembered it all: the people, the important names, the events, and all of the rhemas which the Lord had communicated. The “treasurer” of words and events found two channels, Luke and Matthew, to share her carefully guarded and preserved secrets through them with us.

No one will ever mistakenly put representations of Simeon and Anna in their living-room manger scene. And although young Mary will no doubt appear in every nativity scene, to most she is still unknown in her later-life role as the Christmas-story treasurer. But we can thank God this Christmas for the testimony of these three “Invisibles” and their response to Jesus:

  • • Simeon reminds us of the importance of being thankful for God’s gift of Jesus, for the need of sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps even how important it is to be as ready for Christ’s second coming as Simeon was for His first.
  • The testimony of devoted, prayerful, holy Anna challenges us to remember our Great Commission assignment and to operate in the truth that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
  • Mary’s life is spiritually exemplary on just about every level; may we learn from her something of the “spiritual accounting” that treasures up God’s words and dealings while His purposes in our lives unfold and come to fruition.

The testimonies of the Three Invisibles remind us that a clear and definite response is required from each of us to the Christ of the Christmas story. May the Holy Spirit, the “spirit of prophecy,” inspire, empower, and direct us in an enthusiastic “testimony of Jesus”; and may we take more care to treasure and ponder the words God gives to us in our lives, so that we can share them with generations following.


Endnotes:


  1. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Curious Corners of Christmas; copyright © 2023 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. This quotation seems to combine the essence of two verses from the Torah:
    • 1Then 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.”
    • Exodus 13:1-2
    • “Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.”
    • Numbers 18:15

  3. Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67
  4. As a teaser, I offer the comparison of Matthew 7:11 with the otherwise parallel Luke 11:13.
  5. There are Christians who shun physicians, some because of Divine guidance, and some because of a misapprehension of what faith is and how it’s to be applied. (In going on six decades of observation as a Christian, my conclusion is that only a small percentage of these fall into the first category.) We seem to have forgotten the fact that the Holy Spirit used a qualified, credentialed physician — Luke! — to write more of the New Testament than even the apostle Paul. And his viewpoint has a special benefit, if you think about it. People can claim they’ve had a miracle of healing. Well and good, if true; praise the Lord! But for unbelievers and skeptics there’s nothing like a medical testimony to verify the original disease or condition of the afflicted, as well as their deliverance from that disease or condition! (A physician probably wouldn’t say, “It’s a miracle!”, but still can certainly testify to what was and now no longer is.)
  6. “Otherwise unknown?” Perhaps not. Extra-biblical history tells us that there was a Simeon who was the son of the great Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder. (“Elder” indeed! Sources give his lifespan from 110 b.c. to as late as a.d. 10.) That Simeon (also given as Shimon) became the father of Gamaliel the Elder, the very man who urged leniency for the Apostles in Acts 5:34-41.

    Various traditions, completely independent of Scripture (but not incompatible, based on comparing the secular history with the New Testament’s timeline), make this historical Simeon one and the same with the Simeon of Luke 2. If there is truth to these traditions, then something related from father to son (i.e., from Simeon to Gamaliel) may have given shape to Gamaliel’s counsel to the Sanhedrin. And, yes, that would make this Gamaliel, son of the Simeon in Luke 2, the mentor of a prodigy named Saul of Tarsus (cf., Acts 22:3). Ever heard of him? (Luke certainly had!)

    Since Luke no doubt wrote his Gospel long after his acquaintance with Paul, did “the beloved physician” have this Simeon-Gamaliel-Saul/Paul chain in mind when he was led to include saintly Simeon in his natal narrative? Perhaps some day we can ask him!

  7. “It had been revealed to him” is based on the Greek verb chrēmatizō, which we touched on back in Messiah’s Missing Months and the Magi. We develop this special verb in depth in a later chapter.

  8. 5Thus says God the Lord,

    Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
    Who gives breath to the people on it
    And spirit to those who walk in it,
    6“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
    I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
    And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
    As a light to the nations,
    7To open blind eyes,
    To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
    And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
    – Isaiah 42:5-7 –

  9. Again, this evokes the allure and appeal of the previously mentioned tradition of a connection linking Simeon and Gamaliel and the Apostle Paul. One could say that the man with this “light of the Gentiles” Messianic understanding is the “spiritual grandfather” of “the apostle to the Gentiles.”
  10. The tribes of the Northern Kingdom known as Israel in the Old Testament (as contrasted with the Southern Kingdom, Judah) were “lost” when they were deported by the conquering Assyrians during the period 732-722 b.c. because of their idolatry and rebellion against the God of heaven.

    But after that terrible deportation, some tribal remnants still existed in what had been the Northern Kingdom, and King Hezekiah of Judah invited them to a special Passover (2 Chronicles 30). The king’s message pulled no punches about their national and individual sin, but called them to repentance (vv. 6-9). His heralds spread out northwards and invited everyone “through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them {the heralds} and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10). Nevertheless, various people from the tribes of “Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:11) and attended. To that list of attendees from the remnants of the northern kingdom, the chronicler quickly added people from the tribes of Ephraim and Issachar (v. 18).

    The tribes of Gad, Reuben, Dan, Naphtali, and Simeon aren’t mentioned by the chronicler at this point in the narrative. But Naphtali is later added, along with Reuben, when King Josiah purged both Judah and the remnant of Israel from idolatry. (See especially 2 Chronicles 34:6-7. The parallel account in 2 Kings 23:15-20 explains how these actions fulfilled prophecy about King Josiah in 1 Kings 13:2.)

    The tribe of Simeon deserves a special note here — because it wasn’t a northern-kingdom tribe! During the land distribution after Joshua’s conquest, Judah was found to have received too much land. The tribe of Simeon had not yet received its inheritance, so it it was given land within the already established borders of Judah. (See Josh 19:1-9, especially verses 1 & 9. The joint conquests of Judah and Simeon are mentioned in Judges 1:13.) So why is Simeon mentioned with the northern tribes in Josiah’s purge of idolatry? His purging work started in Jerusalem, then radiated outwards. He would have moved both northwards and southwards in his task of purifying the nation.

    It’s noteworthy that, other than Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, no tribes are mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah as returning from the Babylonian deportation. Nevertheless, Anna, of the tribe of Asher, serves as an example that not all the tribes were “lost.”

  11. This testimony of Jesus is a recurring theme in Revelation. See Revelation 1:2, 9 and 12:17, in addition to twice in 19:10.
  12. My wife Denise happened to be reading through Revelation in the NIV while I was writing this, and she pointed out to me the interesting inversion that translation makes on this verse:
    • At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “…I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
    • Revelation 19:10 niv

  13. I have added the word all here, both to carry forward the “you all” from the opening (omitted) clause of the verse, and because this is completely permissible since the form of the verb prophesy is second person plural subjunctive — prophēteúēte (προφητεύητε) = you all may prophesy.
  14. Both of these definitions can be found in Swanson, J. (1997), s.v., τηρέω (tēréō). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (DBLG 5498, #3). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  15. In fact, the noun form of tēréōtērēsis (τήρησις) — can mean vigilance, attention, and watchfulness (as well as a prison itself).
  16. See Ernst Harald Riesenfeld’s article on the word group τηρέω, τήρησις, παρατηρέω, παρατήρησις, διατηρέω, συντηρέω in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament {TDNT}. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed., electronic ed.) (8:140-151). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. This quotation comes from his subsection on συντηρέω (suntēréō).
  17. For a helpful overview to the subject of God’s rhemas, we recommend Percy Gutteridge’s message Logos & Rhema.
  18. To accommodate smoother speech in Greek, συn- (sun) morphs into συμ- (sum-) in certain instances.
  19. Once again, from Riesenfeld’s same word-group article in TDNT, but this time from his subsection on διατηρέω (diatēréō).
  20. Mary would have been pushing sixty years of age by the time of her interviews with Luke.
  21. Don’t forget that Mary was also an eyewitness of and participant in the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, having become a regular in the post-Resurrection upper room (Acts 1:13-14).
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