Formations 12.29.2019: I Love to Tell the Story

Luke 2:25-40

I love the music ministry at my church. Our music minister is an accomplished choral director with a PhD, our accompanist is a highly trained organist and music scholar in her own right, and the church’s musical offerings are always top-notch.

I’ll confess, however, a certain nostalgia for the kind of church music I grew up with. These weren’t the “oldies,” of course: they were only written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries! One hymn in particular stands out to me as I think about this week’s lesson. It begins:

I love to tell the story
Of unseen things above
Of Jesus and his glory
Of Jesus and his love

Our central question this week is “What testimonies of Jesus do I need to hear?” When I ponder this question, I can’t help but hear the words of “I Love to Tell the Story.” A later verse of that hymn says:

I love to tell the story
For those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest

I’ve devoted a fair bit of my life to learning and telling that story. I write this not to brag to but to place myself within the category of those who, knowing the story perhaps better than many, find that I still need to hear it over and over again. I need to bask in its wonder, wrestle with its challenge, and especially to rest in its profound simplicity.

Simeon and Anna were two people who knew the story best—at least as it was available to them in their time. In this week’s lesson we hear their testimony.

Forty days after his birth, Jesus is brought to the temple so that Joseph and Mary can fulfill their obligation to dedicate him to the Lord (see Ex 13:2). There, they encounter two people who each speak prophetically about Jesus and his destiny. Simeon takes the child in his arms and gives thanks for having seen God’s salvation (v. 30), but he also warns Mary of the pain that will mark Jesus’ life and her own. Later, Anna praises God and tells of Jesus to all who would listen.


• What do Simeon and Anna say with respect to Jesus? How do they know what they know?
• Why does Simeon speak to Mary? What might she have thought about what she heard?
• Why does Anna address the crowd? What might they have thought about her testimony?
• When have you been surprised by someone’s testimony of Jesus?
• What is your testimony?

Reference Shelf


In the NT Simeon was the righteous man in Jerusalem to whom it was revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple to be presented to the Lord, Simeon took Jesus into his arms, uttered his famous prayer (known as the Nunc dimittis), and predicted his rejection and the grief that Mary would suffer (Luke 2:22-35).

Robert B. Barnes, “Simeon,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 826.

God’s Work on Behalf of the World

Commentators note how this short poem [Simeon’s Nunc dimittis] both complements and complicates the two longer hymns in the first chapter. It begins with peace, where Zechariah’s prayer ended (1:79); but whereas Zechariah anticipated movement back from the shadow of death into peace, Simeon is poised to depart, probably to die, in peace. What Simeon is experiencing is “according to your word”: he sees the deliverance, and he knows that salvation, light, and glory are coming, but he also knows that he will not be around for that. Zechariah’s prediction also reminds God of the promises to Israel through the prophets (1:70) and to Abraham (1:73) that they would be preserved and rescued from their enemies. Luke’s reader, who knows that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, is likely to think that Simeon is the more accurate prophet in this case. There would be consolation for Israel, but not for those alive in the temple on that day.

Simeon’s prayer also understands God’s work in Jesus to be on behalf of all the world: light for the Gentiles, glory for Israel. Despite “before the face of all peoples,” his prayer is not for even- handed treatment, since “your people Israel” puts them in a special position that the Gentiles do not have, and since “light for revelation” speaks of access to salvation, and “glory” speaks of the results of salvation. Nevertheless, Simeon’s prayer blesses God for pro- viding salvation for everyone, whereas Zechariah’s thanks God for rescuing Israel from their enemies. Again, Simeon would seem the more perspicacious, especially since Jesus will predict the destruction of the city and the “times of the Gentiles.” …

Simeon is joined this day by Anna, a prophet, who is identified to the reader by her father’s name and by her tribe. Contrast this with the way Mary is earlier introduced, where we only know her name, the name of her town, and her fiancé’s name; there, Luke was making the point that Mary’s credentials were not her family line but her willingness to be obedient to God’s call. Anna, on the other hand, is given all the markers of respectability to increase the effect of her testimony to Jesus. By naming Anna’s tribe as Asher, Luke also lets the reader know that Anna was not from a priestly family, although she was very devoted to the temple. She remained unmarried after her husband’s death, devoting herself for her long life to the worship of God in the temple, and like the shepherds, became a witness to the great thing that God was doing through Jesus.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 70, 72.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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