Wednesday, December 21, 2005
How Old Was Simeon?
Every artist's rendition I have ever seen, from fancy portraits to sketches in Sunday School papers, shows Simeon to be an ancient man, supernaturally preserved well beyond the normal age of survival. His beard hangs long down his robe. He is stooped with the weight of extra years. He may even be in the book of world records as the oldest living man. You expect the undertaker to be following three steps behind him wherever he goes.
Yet, if we read with our eyes open, we notice that the Scripture does not give us even a hint of his age the the time of this encounter. A few verses later in Luke, we meet the prophetess Anna whose age is clearly documented. But Simeon might just as easily have been a young man. Does God always require a lengthy gap between promise and fulfillment? A young man could just as truly pray that his life is fulfilled in seeing Messiah, that he can now die happy. We only have speculation to go on. As far as the text tells us, he might have been young, he might have been old.
What we know is that his personal promise from God was fully kept. And that God used that encounter to edify Mary and Joseph for what lay ahead. And that God revealed more of the nature of this baby and his mission to us through the Word. Keep reading with open eyes.
Friday, December 02, 2005
We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t
The “wise men” were probably assumed to be three because of the three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But how did the magi become kings? Whole legends have been created for these men, with names, skin color, and specific kingdoms. There is a certain appeal in presenting them as scholar-kings, representing three different races and continents, coming to honor the king of the Jews. But can we do that Biblically?
What if we could find a Biblical foundation in the prophecy of Isaiah 60:3? “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Unless the wise men are also kings, how can we show this prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Christ? There don’t seem to be any other kings around.
But Isaiah 60 has more to do with the reign of Messiah than with his birth. The chapter predicts a gathering of Messiah’s people from all over the world, kings are bringing them home, along with the wealth of flocks and herds, silver and gold. Foreigners are rebuilding the walls, the gates always stand open, etc. The point is not that a few token nations are represented (3?), but that every nation acknowledges the Lord. Any nation that refuses to serve him will be utterly ruined.
The other problem is that Matthew didn’t connect the birth of Jesus with Isaiah 60. It isn’t that Matthew is reluctant to point out fulfilled prophecies; he does this repeatedly, often taking Isaiah’s words as pointing to Jesus. But in chapter 2, Matthew makes no mention or allusion to Isaiah 60. It just doesn’t seem important to Matthew (under the inspiration of God) to make the magi into kings. Maybe we shouldn’t either.
There is a question whether the magi showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth or some time later. Perhaps the reference to “coming to the house” in Matthew 2:11 implies that they have by now moved from the “stable.” Luke doesn’t mention a stable, though he refers to the manger.
The magi told Herod the time the star appeared, leading him to execute boys two years old and younger. This is thought by some to mean that Jesus could have been two years old at the time. The assumption behind this is that the star appeared at the moment of Jesus’ birth, not before.
The challenge is to harmonize Luke’s account (shepherds, angels, manger) with Matthew’s account (Herod, magi, star, house). It is not impossible, based on the Bible’s actual statements, that the typical nativity scene is correct, except for the crowns.
Let’s read with our eyes open.