January 10, 2016
For today, we want to return to our study in the Gospel of Luke because we want to become reacquainted with the real Gospel message. In a world of superficiality and triviality, we all feel the need to return to the old, old story to find out for ourselves what really happened so long ago. To catch you up with where we are in the story, you only need to know one thing at this point: Jesus has been born. While most of the world was sleeping, while most of the world was oblivious and unaware, the most significant watershed event in all of human history had happened—the incarnation of the Son of God. We’re reading the story of how the Son of God, the second Person on the trinity, has just taken on full humanity. We’ve watched it happen on the pages of Scripture. Paul summarized it this way in Philippians 2:6, “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or to be clutched on to], but he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” And we saw a few weeks ago how Mary wrapped that child—dependent, weak, frail— in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. Fully human in every way. His frail humanity veiled a perfect and powerful deity.
This event, as I said, was the dividing line of human history. Our calendars reflect and mark this reality. Every time we talk about a new year, going back 2016 years, we go back to this event. The socio-political realities that we live with day after day in our world, the geographical boundaries, how people interact—all of this reflects the reality of the birth of Jesus Christ, the mark of his life on the earth. After the birth of Jesus Christ, nothing would be the same. And the first creatures to know the implication and to preach the implications of Jesus’ birth, as we read, were the angels. God sent them to announce his birth to some lowly shepherds, and they said, “Unto you this day in the city of David is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those shepherds not only believed that angelic annunciation, they scurried off to Bethlehem to see this child for themselves, and they found him just as they were told, just as the angels said, “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds reported the news of the previous night’s angelic visitation and annunciation. They reported all that to Mary and Joseph, and it says there in Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard as it had been told them.” So the shepherds are the first of many, many believers—thousands, perhaps millions of believers—to rejoice over the birth of Jesus Christ. We got to do that this last Christmas season.
Luke is about to introduce us to two more people, and to do that, he’s going to take us back to the temple in Jerusalem. You may remember back in Chapter 1 that Luke began this story in the temple at Jerusalem. And if we’re marking time in our Scripture, that was a little more than a year and four months earlier. Now, we’re returning to the context and the setting of the temple. What had been promised to Zechariah now came to pass. His wife, Elizabeth, though formerly barren and well advanced in years, the two of them had the opportunity to conceive. Nine months later, she gave birth to their son, John. And then Zechariah, who had been silenced for failing to believe Gabriel’s word— at the moment of John’s circumcision, his mouth was opened. And Zechariah named the child John, the name given to him before his conception. Notice the parallel with that as we begin reading there in Luke 2:21.
And at the end of eight days, when he [Jesus] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they bought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people in Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was 84. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
We’re going to be working through this narrative, as well as the one that follows when the boy Jesus is at the temple. We’re going to be working over this the next month. But as we move into Chapter 3, Jesus is fully grown. We’re going to leave his boyhood, his infancy behind after we close Chapter 2. When we get into Chapter 3, Jesus is grown, John the Baptist is on the scene fulfilling his life’s calling. We’re going to watch him, as it says in Luke 1:16 and following, we’re going to watch John the Baptist turning many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. We’re going to watch him going before Jesus in the spirit and the power of Elijah, turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. If you’ve read ahead, you know how explosive John the Baptist’s ministry was. Everything is about to kick into full gear.
“After the birth of Jesus Christ, nothing would be the same.”Travis Allen
But before we get there, in the quiet anonymity of Jesus’ childhood years—you could maybe call this the calm before the storm—Luke wants us to see something very, very important. In fact, if we didn’t have this part of the narrative, we’d be lacking some vital information that the other Gospels don’t tell us. Also, without this part of the narrative, we’d be lacking the theological context, which helps us understand the real significance, the true meaning of this historical event. Why was Jesus born? And prior to entering public ministry, why did he live in a relatively normal human way? Why did he have such a normal, anonymous, human life? Well, it’s this section of narrative that answers the vital theological significance of Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ life. In fact, before we even start plowing through the text—by the way this morning, we’re just going to cover four verses: 21, 22, 23, 24—that sets the context for the rest of the Chapter, and it’s vital, vital stuff. But let me start by telling you the significance of what we’re seeing here in those four little verses. This is going to help you identify it as we move through the verses and it’s also going to help you under why Simeon and Anna are so eager, so joyful and satisfied to see all of this come to pass. What is it that grips their heart? What is it that causes their public rejoicing?
Take a look at those verses again, verses 21 to 24, and let me point out just a couple of things. In verse 21, Luke tells us about the circumcision and then the naming. In verse 22, he mentions the purification and then the presentation of the temple. The parenthetical note of verse 23 is connected to the presentation. And then the sacrifice of verse 24 is connected to the purification. You see that? We’re going to get into more detail in those things in a moment. Structurally, though, Luke has connected verses 21 and 22. You can actually hear how those two verses sound parallel even in the reading. It’s even clearer in the original. He mentions the fulfillment of time and then he focuses on two rituals that have to do with original sin. Male circumcision and female purification. And at the end of verse 22, the emphasis shifts to the temple and the parents presenting Jesus there. Luke is clearly drawing our attention to the family’s appearance at the temple, which sets some very important context for us. It’s interesting to think about the possibility, probably even the probability, that prayerful Anna had witnessed the dawn of this fulfillment almost a year and a half earlier. Verse 37 tells us that she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. So, she was probably part of the praying crowd that watched Zechariah the priest emerge from the temple. He’s seen something astounding, but he had been silenced for his unbelief. So he came out and was making signs and probably ashen-faced and stricken. He was standing there unable to tell the crowd of wondering worshipers what had happened. Anna, though, having fasted and prayed all of her life, knew things were happening. But it’s not just the location that’s significant for setting the context.
The most significant, the most profound context Luke is setting for us in these four verses is the theological context. That’s what I want to emphasize and point out this morning. Let me just mention some of the doctrinal, theological themes that are embedded in those four verses. Eschatology is the first one. The promise and fulfillment that are going on here signal the beginning of the last days. This is an eschatological context here. Original sin and human depravity are here imbedded in these four verses, clearly represented by focusing on the rites of circumcision and purification. There’s also representation, headship— also a theological concept—indicated by the presentation of Jesus at the temple, as well as the fulfillment of the Law of God, which is over and over repeated. There’s the concept of substitution, which is present there in the bird sacrifices. One of the birds representing, interacting as a substitute for the worshiper offered in the sin offering. There’s also connected to that atonement or salvation, which, as I just said, is a substitutionary atonement. The sacrificed object or bird or whatever stands in place of the offerer. It’s not only indicated by the sacrifice, though—this theme of salvation—but also by the name “Jesus,” which means “the Lord is salvation.”
All of those themes imbedded there point to a theological significance in Jesus’ life. And they highlight a theological context that Luke sets here and that takes us through the rest of the chapter on this foundation. The man Luke accompanied for quite some time the great apostle Paul. Paul summarizes all the themes that in the text we’re going to go through in a single verse. One verse. 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him”—that is, God made him—“to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the verse that summarizes everything here. It represents two sides of an exchange, one that benefits us eternally. This exchange, on the one hand, occurred when God treated Jesus as if he had committed every single one of our sins and punished him for the transgression in the cross. On the other hand, God treats us as if we had lived Jesus’ righteous life, even though we haven’t. That’s the exchange. And that, folks, is the amazing grace of God. That is the grace of God that we so desperately need.
Are there any here who are tired of sin? Are any of you here weary with fighting temptation? Are you discouraged by your weakness? Are you troubled? Or overcome by failure? Listen, our world is dominated and devastated by human sin, human fallenness, human depravity. One generation perpetrates its self-centeredness and desire for immediate gratification on another generation, creating yet another generation of monsters who use and abuse just as they themselves have been used and abused by others. It’s absolutely tragic. And the older you get in life, the more hopeless the situation seems. Nationally and internationally, regionally and individually, the tyranny of sin has held humanity captive, crushing mankind—men and women alike—even little boys and little girls. It’s so tragic to read some of the headlines. Absolutely choking everyone in a vice grip. Do you ever feel that suffocation of sin? You’re not alone.
Listen, God knows. He sees all of it. And God is moved with compassion. Out of an infinite well of his tender mercy, he has drawn forth this Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And for those on whom he has set his love, or in the words of the heavenly host there in Luke 2:14, “For those with whom he is pleased,” there is every reason for hope. There is every reason for joy because he has given the Savior to release us from this death grip of sin so that we could be set free to walk in blessed righteousness. God sent this Savior—2 Corinthians 5:21—for our sake. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And for that exchange to take place, Jesus had to identify with us, and we had to identify with him. As Paul said in Galatians, 4:4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” That’s us.
So, you’re going to see in the outline t in your bulletin, firstly, Jesus is identified with us in our sin, and secondly, we are identified with Jesus in his righteousness. Let’s get to the first point. Jesus is identified with us in our sin. Here, as I said, we are looking at Jesus’ circumcision and Mary’s purification, both of which are rites of purification predicated on the fact of original sin. Notice verse 21, “At the end of eight days when he was circumcised,” and then in verse 22, it’s parallel, “when the time came for their purification. And then verse 24, “They went to the temple to offer a sacrifice.” Those rituals—circumcision, purification—they indicate the impurity of original sin, and both of those required the shedding of blood. For Mary, the shed blood was by substitutionary sacrifice, like we said: verse 24 a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. For Jesus, the blood shed was his own. And this is the first blood that Jesus shed in his role as mediator, identifying himself with us.
Now, to our Gentile eyes living 2,000 years after all of these events and on the other side of the world, all this emphasis on circumcision, purification, sacrifice might seem strange. It’s all pretty foreign to us. If we stop to think about it, it may even seem a bit primitive. Sacrificing a pair of innocent little birds—really? Don’t forget that Thanksgiving turkey you sacrificed and ate, okay? But sacrificing a pair of innocent little birds, right? Many today in our society scorn circumcision absolutely—they call it barbaric. They call it utterly abusive. I mean, what place does any of that have in our modern world? Well, we don’t expect to find divine wisdom in the modern world. We are looking back to the ancient world, to a law code that—revealed by God in heaven to his chosen people. And that’s why Moses commanded Israel, “Keep these laws and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of all the peoples, who, when they hear of all these statutes will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). God had woven into the Law of Moses the moral and civil and ceremonial code of the nation Israel. God had woven into the fabric of that law, the theological underpinnings, the very foundations of their life. That’s why in Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses said, “For it is no empty word to you, but your very life.” By studying the basis of all these laws—all these statutes, all these commands—all of them were based theologically. Their laws were all God-centered. And so Israel learned about their God by studying about the law. They learned about their origins. They learned about their nature. They learned about the reason that explains all the problems we have relationally, that explains all the problems we are having politically. They also learned about the mercy and the grace of God in dealing with all their sins. And the law prescribed rituals of male circumcision and female purification, both having to do with the birth of a child. And both having to do with the need for cleansing from original sin.
What is original sin? Let me clear up a misunderstanding here. Original sin does refer to the original sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden. I used to think that, but it’s not true. It’s seminally connected to that original sin, to that first transgression of Adam and Eve. But that is technically not what original sin is—Adam and Eve’s sin. Original sin refers to the guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin that is passed down to the rest of us. So put simply, original sin is the guilt of Adam that is transferred to the entire human race. Let me quote a few sentences from Chapter 6 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. You can find all of this on our website, by the way. But here are some clear statements about original sin that summarize the Bible’s teaching in a very, very helpful way. Here’s what it says:
Our first parents by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God and we, in them, whereby death came upon all: [That is to say, we all, all of us in this room, were in Adam and Eve. They are our head. They are our representatives. So, the confession goes on.] all becoming dead in sin [we are] and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They [Adam and Eve] being the root and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of sin was imputed, [That’s a big theological word, really an accounting word. It means reckoned, it means accounted.] and their corrupted nature was conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
That’s what it means when we’re talking about original sin. It’s the guilt of Adam’s sin that then becomes actualized in our own lives as we grow up. We’re born in it. Like David said, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” This is what it means to be—Ephesians 2:1— “dead in our trespasses and sins.” David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” So, we are born guilty of original sin. We are corrupted in sin’s corruption and are by nature children of wrath. It takes probably less than a year on planet earth for our children to demonstrate our sin nature, right parents? And we were just like them. So, to teach and remind his people about the guilt of original sin, and to point to their need to be purified from sin’s defilement, God gave Israel the rituals of circumcision and purification along with others.
A number of places in the Old Testament refer to these symbolic rights. To spare you from flipping a lot of pages, let’s just look at one summary text. Turn back to Leviticus Chapter 11. This chapter in Leviticus prescribes all the rituals and sacrifices that were required after birth, after childbirth. There was nothing about giving birth in and of itself that was impure. Psalm 127:3 makes that very clear, “Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” But these rituals of circumcision and purification reminded Israel of a theological reality. And Leviticus 12:1 to 3, it says, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Stop there for a moment. We need to get a little bit better understanding of circumcision. We all know what the physical act is. We also know according to Genesis 17, God used circumcision as the sign of the covenant he made with Abraham. Let me just read out of there. You don’t need to turn there, but Genesis 17:9 and following say:
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you [which is the time when Jesus was circumcised] shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.
But why? Why was circumcision the sign? What is the significance of circumcision? What does it symbolize? There’s a very succinct note in the MacArthur Study Bible that’s connected with Jeremiah 4:4 that provides a very helpful explanation of the symbol of circumcision. Let me read it for you. “This surgery was to cut away flesh that could hold disease in its folds and could pass on the disease to wives. It was important for the preservation of God’s people physically.” Okay, so there’s a physical element. “But it is also a symbol of the need for the heart to be cleansed from sin’s deadly disease. The really essential surgery needed to happen on the inside, where God calls for taking away fleshly things that keep the heart from being spiritually devoted to him and from true faith in him and his will. Jeremiah later explained this theme (Jeremiah 31:31 to 32). God selected the reproductive organ as the location of the symbol for man’s need of cleansing for sin because it is the instrument most indicative of his depravity, since by it he produces generations of sinners.” That’s a very helpful paragraph, very clear. But hear that last phrase again, “By it,” that is by the reproductive organ, “man reproduces generations of sinners.” It’s the symbol of the perpetuation of sin.
John MacArthur has another note on Genesis 17:11 that adds something here. It says, “It was the male organ that most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners.” God created Adam in his own likeness, in his own image—Genesis 1:26 and 27. After the fall, though, Genesis 5:3 says, “Adam fathered a son in his own likeness, and in his own image.” And then verse 5 says Adam died. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” That’s what circumcision symbolized—the need for cleansing from that original sin, from our own original sin.
“Original sin refers to the guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin that is passed down to the rest of us.”Travis Allen
That’s circumcision. What about purification of the woman after childbirth? Why was that necessary? Let’s keep reading in Leviticus Chapter 12 starting in verse 4. “Then she [this is the woman] shall continue for 33 days [this is in an unclean state] in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for 66 days.” Okay, so why 40 days of impurity for a male, 80 purification for a female? Well, it’s obviously because women are less holy than men—no I’m just kidding. It’s because—there really are a number of options you can take there, but really, I think it’s because the male impurity is actually dealt with in the circumcision. Female impurity is not dealt with there, and so it doubles the amount just to emphasize both men and women come into the world with impurity with original sin. It says in verse 6,
When the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb, a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. And then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb then she shall take two turtle doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
It wasn’t that childbirth made her impure. It was a symbol. It was symbolizing something. And Mary needed to obey the purification ritual out of obedience to the law. The purification right was symbolic anyway, and she needed to heed the ritual in obedience to the law’s prescription. This, again, is in contrast to the Roman Catholic doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception, which teaches that Mary was conceived also miraculously, like Jesus was, without the stain of original sin. I know a number of you come from Roman Catholic backgrounds, and it will help you in witnessing to your friends and family to know that Mary’s need for purification here argues very strongly to the fact she was indeed—as woman, as a mother—a participant in passing on the guilt of original sin. Mark 3:32, Mark 6:3—both of them and other parallel Scriptures indicate Jesus had other brothers and sisters, all of whom were born through Mary’s womb and for all of them, she had to offer sacrifices of purification.
Now, we understand how circumcision and purification were necessary in the birth of every human sinner, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, but how did any of this apply to Jesus? Perfect. Jesus was conceived not by the conjugal activity of a sinful man and a sinful woman, but miraculously by the Holy Spirit. He entered into the world untainted by the stain of original sin. His mother, Mary, gave birth to a sinless son. So, did Jesus then need to be circumcised? Was Mary impure by his birth and in need of purification? Well, to both questions, I answer an emphatic yes. Jesus had to identify with us in our sin, not his own, in ours. He had to identify with Adam’s fallen race in order to be our sin bearer. Do you remember when he was going to be baptized by John the Baptist and John the Baptist tried to say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus said, “No. Permit it to be so now that we may fulfill all righteousness.”
He’s identifying with sinners even in the waters of baptism as they come forward to be baptized, to acknowledge their guilt before God, to acknowledge they’re no better than any other Gentile and need to be cleansed. Jesus enters into those waters as well. Why? Because he needed to be cleansed? No, not at all. But to identify with fallen sinners. That’s what he’s doing here. That’s the significance of this circumcision. As the commentator Alfred Plumber wrote, “As Jesus was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh and it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, he underwent circumcision. He was born under the law and fulfilled the law as a loyal son of Abraham. His circumcision was a first step in his obedience to the will of God and also a first shedding of redeeming blood. It was one of those things which became him in order to fulfill all righteousness.” Commentator E. Earl Ellis agrees with Plumber, saying this, “His first shedding of blood, like his last, identified him with his people. The Lord Messiah not only came to the sons of Adam, he became a son of Adam.”
Jesus is identified with us in our sin. Do you know what that means? Luke is sure to remind us. Take a look again at Luke 2:21. It says, “At the end of eight days when he was circumcised, [that is, when he was identifying with us in our sin] he was called Jesus, the name that was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Listen, immediately connected to identifying with our sin is the promise and fulfillment of our salvation. His name is Jesus. This is the one to whom Simeon rightly identified as the Salvation of the Lord. This is the one whose name means “the Lord saves.” This Jesus has entered in to our fallen condition, and he’s identified with us in our sin, even though he never committed one sin. And he paid the penalty of death for our sins so that he could redeem us from that penalty. Listen, to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, the light has truly dawned. The sun has risen. The writer of the Hebrews put it this way: Hebrews 2:14 to 15, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all of those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Amen. It is so good to be safe from that. That’s us.
We’re back to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake God made him to be sin,” one who knew no sin. What is the second half of the verse? “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And that brings us to the second point in our outline: We are identified with Jesus in his righteousness. Look at verses 22 to 23 again. It says, “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses”; that is 33 days after the circumcision, 40 days, later. Jesus is about a month and a half old when he first visits Jerusalem. So, “When the time came for their purification according the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’).” So, they came to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord. And then verse 24, “And to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord.” It would have been reasonable, not at all uncommon for the presentation of the son and the purification to happen at the same time. The presentation refers to a requirement in the Law of Moses to consecrate the first born male to the Lord.
When you look at it back in the Old Testament, this is actually redemption language. This is the idea of buying back. It goes back to the time of Exodus when God smote all the first-born of Egypt in judgment. In Exodus 13:2, God told Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” “Consecrate the firstborn because whatever is first to open the womb is mine.” Back there in Exodus 13, starting in verse 12 of that chapter, Moses provides the people with a little further explanation for God’s command. Look at Exodus 13:12, Moses told the people:
You shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it, you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons, you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall say to him [see the fathers, the men teaching, leading—they’re teaching and leading here], “By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.”
There is some more explanation of this requirement to consecrate the firstborn in the Law of Moses. Turn just quickly—you’re there in Exodus—just turn to Numbers, a couple books ahead. In Numbers 3:12, we find out the purpose here for the tribe of Levi, which is directly related to this consecration of the firstborn. In Numbers 3:12 and 13, God said, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” I love that reason. “Because I said so.” Parents love that phrase, too.
So instead of requiring that every family in Israel give up their firstborn males for a life devoted to temple service, temple administration, to oversee and execute all the rituals and sacrifices and ceremonies of Israel—instead of all that, God took one of Israel’s 12 tribes, the tribe of Levi, and made that tribe to replace or to represent all the firstborn of Israel, like a perpetual priesthood. And that’s smart, very smart, because the requirements—all the standard operating procedures, the priestly customs—those all could be passed down in the family from father to son, to son, to son, to generation to generation. That preserved the continuity of the priesthood. It facilitated efficiency in Israel’s sacrificial worship. So instead of getting a land grant as an inheritance along with those other 11 tribes, Levi inherited the priesthood. Their gift was a gift of close communion with the Lord. Deuteronomy 10:9 says, “Therefore, Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance.”
I wonder, if the Lord said to you, “You’re not going to have an inheritance of wealth and property. You’re not going to have money and material success. In whatever job you have, you’re going to struggle. You’re not going to advance. Nobody’s going to respect you because of me. But instead I will be your inheritance on earth.” Would that be okay with you? Someone once told Jesus he would follow him wherever he went, and Jesus answered telling him, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” No four-star hotels where we’re going. No fame. No worldly respect. In fact, just the opposite; Jesus promises we would be misrepresented, we would be slandered, we’d be lied about, we’d be persecuted, we’d be hated. But if it’s all for Christ’s sake, we rejoice, don’t we? “Rejoice when you’re persecuted, when people say all kinds of things against you for my name’s sake.”
The Levites fulfilled the Law’s requirement—that all the firstborn males of Israel belong to the Lord. That was a profound blessing for them because their inheritance was the gift of worship. That’s our reward as well, beloved. That’s our reward. But in solving a practical matter of passing down priestly, practical procedures, all that stuff, God didn’t want the rest of Israel’s families to forget this consecration of the firstborn, so he required a redemption price for every firstborn male. Not much, but just a reminder.
Turn to the 18th chapter of Numbers—you’re in the book of Numbers. Turn to the 18th chapter and verse 15. Moses commanded the people in Numbers 18:15, “The firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is 20 gerahs.” Now, there’s nothing the in law that requires the redemption price for the firstborn to be paid at the temple itself. Joseph and Mary could have paid their five shekels to any priest or Levite who lived in other parts of the land. They didn’t need to make a visit to the temple to redeem the firstborn. What about the purification ritual? Did that require a visit to the temple? Well, sort of. The offering for Mary’s purification required them to contribute the value of the birds—the two turtledoves or the two young pigeons—there at the temple, but without her personal involvement in the sacrifice, because hers was the offering for the poor. There’s a mercy here.
Alfred Edersheim provided some excellent research and insight into a tradition of merciful provision that had become customary in the temple. It was attempt to preserve the dignity of the poor among the worshipers. He writes this,
“In the court of women, there were 13 trumpet shaped chests for pecuniary [that is monetary] contributions called trumpets. Okay, so you have this trumpet opening and then it funnels down into a box and you’d cast your stuff in there. And it funnels down into the treasured chest. So, into the third of these 13 trumpet shaped chests, they who brought the poorest offering, like the virgin mother, were to drop the price of the sacrifice, which was needed for their purification. The offerer of the poorest offering would not be required to deal directly with the sacrificing priest. Thus, sacrifices were provided for—hose who were to be provided for without either shaming the poor, needlessly disclosing the character of impurity or causing unnecessary bustle and work.”
That is like sacrificing a bunch of really small birds. So all that Mary and Joseph were required to do for her purification was to drop some coins into the third trumpet. All they were required to do for the redemption of their firstborn was to pay five shekels to a priest or a Levite. So with the payment for purification and the payment of redemption, their obligation before the law would have been fulfilled—lawfully, completely and satisfactorily. But that’s not what we see here.
According to the context, they lingered. They were there long enough for Simeon to find them, long enough for Anna to find them. And that’s because they didn’t come simply to pay obligatory contributions; they came to dedicate Jesus to the Lord. That’s what Luke tells us in verse 22, “They went up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” Listen, they recognized that of all the children who were born to the mothers of Israel, this one was different. If any firstborn child of Israel belonged of the Lord, certainly this one did. Luke isn’t just describing a quick-and-dirty drop of coins into the trumpet kind of a deal. He is telling us about something more significant, more profound. This is a baby dedication. Any historical precedent for such a thing? Yeah, there certainly is. You’re there in the Old Testament already, hopefully, so turn ahead to 1 Samuel Chapter 1, and verse 20. You may remember when we looked at Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise to God, her Savior. There were many points of connection with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. Well, here again, another point of connection between Mary and Hannah. Do you remember Hannah? She was the barren wife of Elkanah. She prayed fervently for a child. It’s not always God’s will to grant children, but in this case, he gave Hannah a baby boy name Samuel. Samuel was a prophet. Samuel was the last judge in the period of the judges and Samuel was the one who anointed David as king of Israel, whose son Mary has just given birth to.
Now, take a look at 1 Samuel 1:20.
In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” [“I’m going to hold you to it, Hannah.”] So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull; an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshipped the Lord there.
It’s in the same spirit, beloved, that Mary is showing solidarity with Hannah in giving Jesus back to the Lord. And I believe it’s significant in Luke 2:22 to 24. By the way, you can turn back there. I believe it’s significant that Luke doesn’t say anything about Mary and Joseph giving five shekels to redeem Jesus back to themselves. They didn’t go and give five shekels and say, “You know we really need him around the house. We really need him in the carpenter shop.” Luke has no problem being exact. He spells out the exact sacrifice required for her purification in verse 24, so it’s not as if Luke is here avoiding detail, saying nothing, then, about giving five shekels to buy back their son from the Lord. I believe it’s because they didn’t intend to buy him back. Instead, they intended to dedicate him to the Lord. Everything they knew about this child, everything they knew said he was absolutely unique. Everything they had heard from the angelic visitations, everything they’d heard from the forerunner that was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, everything they heard at the visitation of the shepherds and their amazing report, everything told them that this was God’s child, not theirs.
In fact it’s the sense of belonging to God that explains what happens later. When Jesus’ parents were frantically trying to find their son—they’d visited Jerusalem, they’d headed back, they’re a day’s journey away—they find he’s not there. So they go back to Jerusalem looking all over the place. Any parent who knows that feeling, it’s absolutely terrifying to lose your children. You feel like a bad parent, like, “Boy, CPS should just take these children from me. I’m a terrible parent. I can’t believe I lost my child.” The 12-year-old Jesus looks at his bewildered parents when they finally find him and he says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” In other words, “Wasn’t it you who dedicated me to the Lord? Why wouldn’t I be here?” But that’s another sermon for another time.
Simeon rightly said, in verse 30, “My eyes have seen your salvation, Lord.” And what we’ve seen today, folks, is the theology of the Lord’s salvation. Jesus is identified with us in our sin, and God planned that so that we can be identified with Jesus in his righteousness. The mark of circumcision was inflicted upon this baby in order to identify him with sinful men, but Jesus has not perpetuated the sinfulness of Adam’s race. He has become the last Adam, which means he is the progenitor of a new race. We were born in original sin, in union with Adam, our representative head. We carry that defilement and that depravity around in us all the time. But by faith to repentance, we’re united to Christ, who’s become the representative head of a righteous race. And he creates children in his image and in his likeness. All who repent and believe the Gospel have become new creations in Christ, right? As Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Jesus was dedicated to the Lord, and thus, Luke said he is called “holy to the Lord.” He is set apart to the Lord. And that brings to mind what Gabriel promised Mary in Luke 1:35: “The child to be born will be called holy.” All of us who are in him are like him, created after the “likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of the truth”—Ephesians 4:24.
Did you notice as we read the entire passages earlier how many times Luke pointed to the keeping of the law? Look at verse 22: their “purification was according to the Law of Moses.” Verse 23, “as is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.’” Verse 24, they came “to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of Lord.” Down in verse 27, “The parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law.” And then in verse 39, “When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee.” Why all this emphasis on law-keeping? Is Luke a legalist? Is he a Pharisee focusing on all the legal requirements? Or, are poor Mary and Joseph stuck under that Old Testament economy erroneously believed to be an era of salvation by works? The Old Testament saints sometimes falsely assumed they were under the bondage of getting saved by their own works, by their own law-keeping, by their own sacrifices. New Testament saints—they’re set free from all that. They’re skating in grace, set free, saved by grace. Folks, that’s not true at all.
Salvation in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, is wholly by faith in the gracious provision of God. Whether in a Christ who was yet to come, like in the Old Testament era or in a Christ who has already come as it is today. But make no mistake, that salvation was earned. That salvation was merited by works, not ours, but Christ’s works. Jesus Christ did what Adam failed to do. He kept the whole law of God on our behalf, and though he always had God’s blessing and favor on himself, for himself, because of himself, he won God’s favor and blessing for all those he represents, all those who are united to him in faith. That’s why all who are in Adam will die. But all who are in Christ will be made alive. We’re saved because we’re identified with Jesus in his righteousness.
Just as Jesus was dedicated to the Lord, wholly and utterly, and just as he is holy, so are we, so are all those in union with him by faith. True Biblical saving faith is demonstrated in a life of humble repentance through obedience to the word of God. That’s not how we earn our salvation, but that is what our salvation produces in us—humble repentance, obedience to the word of God. Not to the letter only, but to the spirit of the law. We rejoice to do that. “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin to be sin so that”—what?—In him we do whatever we want? No, “So that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” Again, as the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:5, “You yourselves are like living stones being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer a spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Listen, we’re no longer bound under the curse of original sin, under the tyranny of the mastery of sin. We’re no longer slaves to sin. The good news is that we’re no longer unable to walk in righteousness. We are able now. Galatians 4:4 and following says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Listen, if we’re sons and he’s our Father, why do we want to obey him? Why do we want to walk in righteousness? We love our Father. We are honored to be serving our Father. We rejoice in our Father to be made known. That’s why we walk in holiness, that’s why we walk in his truth. Like the Levites of old, God is our inheritance through Jesus Christ. He’s our very great reward.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for the wonder of your salvation. All this theology that sets the context of everything we are going to learn and study—we’re so grateful for that and ask that you would just impress it upon our hearts, impress it upon our minds, instill it in our lives that we walk in purity and holiness before you because we rejoice to do so. Burn within us in a holy passion, zealous for good works because that’s what you created us to be—a people zealous for good works. May we bring honor and glory to you through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.