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)