Summary: Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus immediately to be the promised Redeemer. How did they recognize him? What can we learn from their recognition of him?
The very first time John the Baptizer encountered Jesus the Messiah, he recognized him. John was six months in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the time. Jesus was a mere flicker of cells in Mary’s womb. Do you remember the story?
It was the angel Gabriel who gave Mary the news. “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. … The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:26ff)
Mary lived in Nazareth in Galilee. Her elderly cousin Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judea. After a lifetime of childlessness, Elizabeth was also experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. She and her husband Zachariah were to become the parents of John the Baptizer.
As soon as the initial shock of the angel’s visit wore off, Mary packed up and went to visit, perhaps seeking the company of the one woman in the world who might understand and sympathize with her situation.
Mary arrived at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. She entered. She greeted Elizabeth. Luke writes that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.” (Luke 1:41) Immediate recognition!
Then, Luke writes, the Holy Spirit nudged Elizabeth, and she exclaimed in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-43) Immediate recognition!
Remember: they didn’t have phones or faxes or emails back then. Elizabeth didn’t know that Mary was coming, and she certainly did not know Mary’s remarkable news. Not yet born, John recognized his younger cousin—the one who would be greater than him even though he came after him. Given insight by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognized him too. Immediate recognition.
So what does this all have to do with Simeon and Anna and the trip to the temple when Jesus was six weeks old?
It has to do with recognition. In the temple that day, Simeon recognized Jesus and Anna recognized Jesus…immediately.
That’s not something that happened very often.
In the womb, John had perfect radar for the presence of the Lord. The thirty-something John the Baptizer—the one who dressed in camel’s hair, ate locusts and wild honey, and baptized people for the forgiveness of sins—had a little more trouble recognizing Jesus. At one point, he even sent two of his followers to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19)
John knew who Jesus was. He was the one who baptized Jesus. He was there when a voice came from heaven, saying about Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Still, even John had days when he had trouble recognizing Jesus.
The folks from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth had a terrible time recognizing Jesus. Oh, they knew what he looked like, of course. Maybe that was the problem. They knew him too well. They knew him as Joseph and Mary’s boy. They remembered him playing in the fields with their boys. They remembered seeing him in the carpentry shop learning Joseph’s trade. They remembered him attending the village synagogue. They knew him so well that they had a terrible time recognizing Jesus for who he was—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Lord.
When Jesus announced his ministry in Nazareth, the people rejected him. (Luke 4:14ff) When he visited later, they took offense at him. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Jesus did few miracles in his hometown because they had so little faith. (Matthew 13:53ff)
Even the disciples—Jesus’ inner circle of friends and followers—had a hard time recognizing Jesus. Again and again, Jesus explained to them who he was and what was to happen, and still they never quite got it. Even when Peter made his amazing pronouncement—“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”—he still didn’t get it. Moments later he rebuked Jesus for talking of suffering and dying. (Luke 9:18ff) Even Peter sometimes had trouble recognizing Jesus.