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The prophet Habakkuk was burdened deeply. He lived in a land filled with violence and devoid of justice, a land under oppression by a foreign enemy. It perplexed him that the God of Israel could allow His own people to be destroyed by pagans. So he protested that while God was too holy to look at wickedness, He was tolerating it in abundance.

Having voiced his vexing questions, the prophet ascended a rampart, his “watch tower,” to await God’s reply. When God answered, He instructed Habakkuk to write His words down: “ ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith’ ” (Hab. 2:2–4).

These words, “the just shall live by faith,” are quoted three times in the New Testament. God was telling Habakkuk that the righteous person will live by trusting Him. This call to faith was a summons to trust God’s promise of redemption. The promise had been set for an appointed time by the determinate counsel of God. He called it an appointment that would not lie, for it was an appointment grounded in the truth of God Himself. It would not be broken because it could not be broken.

The divine instructions were simple: “ ‘Though it tarries, wait for it.’ ” This command could be attached to all of the promises of God. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised the coming of the Messiah. He had set an appointment for the Incarnation to occur in the fullness of time—the exact moment in world history that He had decreed from the foundation of the world. This decree made that of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) pale into insignificance, except that it provided the context for the fulfillment of the ultimate plan of God.

When the moment came for Christ’s entrance into the world, Israel once again was under foreign denomination. It is clear from the New Testament that at the time of His Advent, the Old Testament church was not ready for Him. Four hundred years had passed since Israel had received its last prophetic word from God. The people had grown tired of waiting. In their eyes, the promised Messiah had tarried too long. The quaint promises of their ancient religion now appeared to be simply myths and legends, or even worse, lies.

For the most part Israel had been secularized. The people still maintained the trappings of religion—they still observed their annual festivals, and they still had a professional priesthood and the ministries of the scribes and Pharisees. But this external religion was empty. It was a hypocritical sham that Jesus quickly exposed.

Perhaps the saddest commentary on that day is found in the prologue to John’s gospel: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10–11).

God invited Israel to a reception in honor of His Son. But they did not come. Instead, they fled from the receiving line. It was not the pagans who refused to receive Him. It was Israel, God’s own people, the people of the covenant, the people who possessed the promise of God, who would not receive Him.

Yet John indicates that despite this national apostasy, God preserved for Himself a remnant. This remnant was a small group of Jews who lived by faith. They were not secularized. They waited for the promise, even though it had tarried for centuries. Of these people John writes: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13).

Simeon was doing exactly what Habakkuk was instructed to do: He was waiting.

John speaks of those who were the adopted children of God. These were the people who received Christ. The term translated “right” is better rendered “authority” or “power” to become God’s children. These people were born of God and not of human effort.

Luke gives us cameo portraits of some of these members of the remnant that received Jesus. In his infancy narratives, he speaks of Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and Anna and Simeon.

Simeon is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He was a man of persevering faith. He is described by Luke as being just and devout. To be devout is to be a person of devotion. His allegiance to God was not a casual matter. Rather, his commitment revealed a singular passion, a constant and steadfast love, despite the unbelief of those around him.

Luke tells us that Simeon was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” The phrase Consolation of Israel was a Messianic title, an appellation that described one of the functions of the coming Redeemer, who would bring comfort to His people. Where others had forgotten the promises of God or abandoned hope in their fulfillment, Simeon was doing exactly what Habakkuk was instructed to do: He was waiting. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit, and God had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the coming Messiah.

We don’t know when God revealed to him that he would see the Messiah. It probably had been many years earlier, as he is described as a man who had been “waiting.”

We are told that Simeon was led to the temple by the Spirit. We don’t know whether he came daily to inquire about the Messiah. But one day, when he came to the temple, he saw the parents of Jesus with their child. To their astonishment, Simeon took the babe in his arms and said (or sang) the nunc dimittis: “ ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation …’ ” (Luke 2:29–30).

When he finished these words, he made a grim prophecy to Mary: “ ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’ ” (vv. 34–35).

Simeon was ready to die. He didn’t need to see the public ministry of Jesus, His miracles, death, and resurrection. He had seen enough. He had witnessed the arrival of the Consolation of Israel. It was worth the wait—as are all of God’s promises.

Celebrate the Child

“Let It Be”

Keep Reading What Child Is This?

From the December 2002 Issue
Dec 2002 Issue