Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SIMEON’S NUNC DIMITTIS”

Luke 2.29-32 

You will recall “Mary’s Magnificat,” recorded on the occasion of the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth just after she was informed she had been chosen by God to bear the Christ child, Luke 1.46-55. Three months later, eight days after Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, on the occasion of his naming and his circumcision, in Luke 1.68-79, we find “Zacharias’ Benedictus.” These two incarnation hymns took place before our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem.

In Luke 2.10-14, just outside Bethlehem, when the angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds one night and told of the Lord’s birth and how He might be found in a manger, “The Angels Sound God’s Praise: Gloria In Excelsis Deo.” We now come to the final of the four incarnation hymns recorded in Luke’s Gospel account, what has been referred to for centuries as “Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis,” in Luke 2.29-32. You will see why the phrase nunc dimittis as we proceed. 

Verses 15-16:

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 

Here we take up the narrative immediately following the angel’s praise of God the shepherds heard as they were keeping watch over their flocks by night. Sometimes priorities change, so the shepherds left the flocks they were guarding to seek out Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child lying in a manger. 

Verses 17-20:    

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. 

The shepherds eventually went back to work, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, but not until they had told everyone they could what they had been told about the Christ child. This produced understandable wonder with those the shepherds told, but Mary’s reaction is especially noted. Why so? Perhaps because she exhibited remarkable wisdom in a situation she did not yet fully understand. My opinion is that she put into practice Proverbs 18.13: 

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” 

Her considerable wisdom at so young an age suggests her fear of the LORD, which according to both the psalmist and Solomon is the beginning of wisdom.[1] 

Verses 21-24:    

21  And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22  And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

23  (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

24  And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. 

Just as with John the Baptist on his eighth day, Joseph and Mary conformed to the prescriptions of the Law of Moses by the child’s naming and circumcision, naming Him Jesus as the angel had directed.[2] That is the substance of verse 21.

Verse 22 points to a Mosaic Law requirement that applied only to firstborn sons, with the significance of a family’s firstborn son being almost utterly lost in our culture. Once Mary’s ceremonial purification under the Law of Moses was accomplished her firstborn son was redeemed. In this way, the firstborn son was presented to the LORD and then redeemed back for five shekels, with the Levitical priests being set aside for the LORD rather than the firstborn sons. That they brought Him to Jerusalem was not a Mosaic Law requirement for an infant of that age, but something Joseph and Mary chose to do, providentially setting the stage for an encounter that resulted in our final incarnational hymn.

In verse 23 Luke makes mention of the Christ child’s relationship to the Law being the same as every other Jewish child born, a point that is explicitly referred to by Paul in Galatians 4.4, where he writes, 

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” 

Verse 24 is very revealing, in that the nature of the offering shows that Joseph and Mary were not wealthy. Had they been materially well off they would have offered a lamb rather than what was prescribed for those of limited means. But there is another observation to be made in connection with verse 24 that has been successfully shielded from the view of many by the Roman Catholic Church for more than a thousand years. Verse 24 deals with the sin offering required after a woman has delivered a child, Leviticus 12. But the sin offering can only atone for the sins of a sinner, meaning that the offering must either have been for Mary’s sins or her child’s sins. But since the Christ child is the sinless Son of God, it must have been that Mary’s sins were atoned by this offering, a clear Scripture indication of Mary’s sinfulness. Thus, the Roman Catholic fiction of Mary’s immaculate conception is at this moment exposed to be a lie.[3] 

Verses 25-28:    

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 

Although Joseph and Mary brought the Christ child to Jerusalem and into the Temple courtyard by God’s Providence, the same could not be said for godly old Simeon. If God’s Providence can be recognized as the unseen and unfelt hand of the invisible God working in the affairs of men to accomplish His will, then Joseph and Mary are in the Temple courtyard by providence. The same cannot be said for Simeon, who was at the same location but for a different reason. He was led by the Spirit of God to be there, which is not the same as God’s Providence.

Now we come to the meaning of the Latin phrase “nunc dimittis,” mentioned at the beginning of my message. Notice verse 26 once more: 

“And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” 

Nunc dimittus is a Latin phrase that refers to someone’s permission to leave.[4] Thus, once Simeon had seen the Lord’s Christ he had God’s permission to depart this life for the next life, which he gave voice to in verses 29-32. 

Luke 2.29-32:

29  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31  Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32  A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 

The four verses just read comprise the three parts of Simeon’s nunc dimittis, or permission to depart. Three comments pertaining to Simeon’s statement: 

First, SIMEON VOICES PRAISE 

With the Christ child in his arms, Simeon blessed God, saying, 

29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. 

Three features of this comment made by Simeon merit our attention:

First, there is the direction of Simeon’s utterance. The most we can say about the geography of Simeon’s encounter with Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus is that it is somewhere in Jerusalem. No further information is provided by Luke, but no more information is needed to appreciate what Simeon said because wherever their meeting occurred, there must have been lots of people around. There were lots of people everywhere in Jerusalem. That is important to note because, regardless of the number of people who saw and heard the encounter, Simeon’s words were directed only toward God. Joseph heard him. Mary heard him. Others in the vicinity heard him. But his concern was only with the Lord.

Interestingly, the word translated “Lord” here is not the usual Greek word for lord, but the Greek word despotes, from which we get our word despot. One might reasonably wonder why Simeon would use this Greek word while referring to himself as God’s servant? Perhaps he did so to emphasize his submission to God’s sovereignty.

Next, there is the declaration of Simeon’s utterance. The Greek word translated “depart” is a word frequently associated in the New Testament with dying.[5] However, there is not the slightest hint of distress or concern in Simeon’s comments here. Rather, he connects his departure from this life with peace. In essence, he declares that he is quite content to depart his life in peace now that he has seen the fulfillment of God’s promise to him.

Finally, there is the derivation of Simeon’s utterance. Which is to say, where does Simeon’s comment spring from? What is his authority for saying these words to the Lord with other people being witness to his statement? He has the highest authority imaginable, “According to thy word.” “According to thy word.” I love that phrase. I use it as the title of my radio program on FirstLoveRadio.com every evening at 5:00 PM.[6] Found thirteen times in our Bible, it is used eight times in the 119th Psalm alone. Mary responded to the angel with this phrase in Luke 1.38, and it is used for the last time by Simeon here. Ah, the life the child of God can live once, by God’s grace, he commits to living “according to thy word.” Would that it would be a commitment you make for your own life this very day. 

Next, SIMEON VOICES THE REASON FOR PRAISE 

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. 

Two comments:

First, in this brief comment, he mentions his long-awaited experience. We are not told that Simeon is a man of advanced age, but he is usually taken to be an old man. I suppose it is assumed leading up to this comment that he refers here to a long-awaited experience, but we do not know for sure. What we know for certain from what he tells us is that he had this experience, “mine eyes have seen.”

But what did he see? We depend upon his now-realized explanation to answer that question: 

“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” 

Contemplate the implications of what Simeon said. Speaking to God, about God’s salvation, Simeon says that he saw “thy salvation.” Thus, if this eyewitness is credible, salvation cannot be a concept. Neither can salvation result from a beneficiary’s act or activity. The stupendous reality back of Simeon’s praise is that God’s salvation must be a person, an individual, a baby! That rules out salvation being the result of good deeds, the observation of any kind of religious ordinance, or anything else accomplished by anyone other than that Babe! If Simeon was right in what he said, then salvation has to be the gift of God and has to be by grace. 

Ending His Utterance To God, SIMEON VOICES A BRIEF EXPOSITION 

31  Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32  A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 

What is Simeon expounding in these two verses? Looking back to verse 30, he is expounding ever so briefly on the matter of “thy salvation.” That is, he is commenting and rehearsing to God for praise a measure of truth about “thy salvation,” God’s salvation, the infant he was holding in his arms: 

Verse 31:

“Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” 

I am persuaded Simeon is, in this verse and the next, commenting to God as a declaration of praise and adoration about the Child born of the Virgin Mary, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is quoted as saying, in Hebrews 10.5, 

“but a body hast thou prepared me.” 

Therefore, the preparation referred to here by Simeon and by the Lord Jesus Himself in Hebrews was His preparation to come to this earth as a man born of a woman, the incarnation. And the reference to Him being prepared before the face of all people? It has to do with both Biblical prophecies about His incarnation, about His virgin birth, as well as the manner in which it was accomplished, using a young woman, a virgin, with her pregnancy known to everyone in her community. Nothing was done in secret, and when it became appropriate for people to know nothing was concealed. Granted, Mary suffered false accusations. Joseph was likely thought of as a man betrayed by the woman he married. Christ Himself was accused of being an illegitimate child.[7] Perhaps it was such unjust and erroneous accusations that left our Lord’s siblings unbelievers until after His resurrection. But the reality was that the truth was out there for all to see, if only they believed the Bible, if only they read the Bible, if only they examined the evidence of Christ’s sinless life and His mother’s sterling character. But they didn’t do that, did they? They listened to the gossip and the idle speculation, and they were wrong. 

Verse 32:

“A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” 

Why do you suppose Simeon referred to light in connection with the Gentiles, but glory in connection with “thy people Israel”? Perhaps the Spirit of God used him to anticipate the Apostle Paul who, in Romans 9.4, was moved to write these words: 

“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” 

It was the Israelites who saw the glory of God in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night leading them in the Exodus. It was the Israelites who saw the lightning and the cloud atop Mount Sinai demonstrating the presence of God’s glory. It was between the cherubim in the holy of holies of the Tabernacle and then the Temple that God’s glory dwelt until the Babylonian captivity. Thus, the Gentiles had no familiarity with God’s glory before the time of Christ. But John’s Gospel points out that Jesus Christ is “the light of men,” that “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not,” and that He is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”[8] That certainly speaks to Gentiles. Additionally, Simeon refers to Israel in his praise to God as “thy people.” This is likely a reference to God’s covenant relationship with the Jewish people based upon His promise made to father Abraham, establishing a covenant relationship that distinguished the Jewish people from the rest of the human race, identified as Gentiles.[9] 

This is not to in any way suggest or imply that Simeon would condone the opinion that Jewish people were not as desperately needy of the salvation which is found only in Jesus Christ as any Gentile. Not at all. What Simeon alluded to has to do with the fact that there is a relationship God has with the nation of Israel that He has with no Gentile nation. Not with the United States. Not with Great Britain. Not with the Holy Roman Empire. Not with Armenia. Not with Greece. Only Israel was given a promise by God, known as the Abrahamic Covenant and expanded by the Palestinian Covenant, the David Covenant, and the New Covenant.

Insofar as any individual is concerned, be that person a Jewish descendant of father Abraham or someone of Gentile stock, any and every individual’s standing before God is the same. No sinner has standing before God as an individual. Every sinner who dies without Christ is doomed and damned to death followed by Hellfire first, until the time of the Great White Throne judgment, followed by endless torment in the lake of fire.

What Mary rejoiced about in her Magnificat, what Zacharias was thrilled about in his Benedictus, what provoked the angels to praise in their Gloria In Excelsis Deo, and what Simeon gives voice to in his Nunc Dimittis, is God’s intervention in human affairs by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, to glorify God greatly by bringing salvation to sinful people.

Where are you in God’s dealings with sinful men? That question is answered by your relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. Since no one comes to the Father but by His Son, Jesus Christ, if you have not trusted Christ, you are nowhere in God’s dealings with sinful men. However, if you turn from your sins to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, you become God’s child, born by His Spirit, adopted into His family, forgiven of all your sins, an heir with Jesus Christ.

Is it not time for you to trust Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins? Has God not pressed home to you the truth of the Gospel and your great need of Christ?

I urge you to come to Christ now.

__________

[1] Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 9.10

[2] Matthew 1.21; Luke 1.31

[3] https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/marya2.htm 12/21/2018

[4] Eugene Ehrlich, Amo, Amas, Amat And More, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), page 205.

[5] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50 - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), page 242.

[6] Located on the Internet at https://firstloveradio.airtime.pro/

[7] John 8.41

[8] John 1.4, 5, 9

[9] Genesis 12.1-3

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

[email protected]