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Beyond Bethlehem 1 - The Presentation of the Lamb

Beyond Bethlehem 1 - The Presentation of the Lamb

Ref: Luke 2:21–35

In this new series 'Beyond Bethlehem,' Stephen takes us on an investigation into the boyhood of Jesus to broaden our understanding of His life and, consequently, give us more reason to worship Him.


The Presentation of the Lamb

Luke 2:21-35

Thank you so much . . . if you’re visiting Colonial today, you should know that they do this every time I preach.

Thanks so much for all your cards, emails, meals, prayers on my behalf and my family as well.  We’ve so appreciated this wonderful family called Colonial and this past 2 months have provided so many illustrations of your love and care for us.

I mentioned that I got a lot of things about or from cats.  I thought you’d enjoy hearing some of the cards and notes. 

This card reads, “I’m sure lots of people are thinking of you and  hoping you’re feeling better today; I just wanted to let you know that I’m one of them . . . signed, the Cat.

Here’s another card with a picture on the front of a bunch of kittens.  It reads; Please cheer up – don’t make me send you a basket of kittens.

I want you to know this card worked – I cheered up, immediately.

Here’s my favorite picture on a card, even though it included a cat – take a look at this . . . that was perfect!

By the way, so many of you have offered to loan me your cats; one guy wanted me to know that cats could be trained in special ways to take care of the mice problem I’ve got – one guy sent me picture of a highly trained cat –   

I think cats are dangerous enough without teaching ‘em how to shoot a gun.

One more – somebody sent me a get well card with a turtle on the front of it. 

Here’s the front of the card with a turtle wrapped in an ace bandage.  He wrote inside the card, “Since everybody has probably sent you dozens of cards with cats pictures on them, I thought I’d send you one with a turtle instead.  Besides, this one was a buck cheaper.”

I love his honesty!

But he was right; over the past 2 months I have I received cat cards, cat puzzles, cat pictures, drawings of cats by little kids in our Sunday school program who are obviously not being taught sound doctrine – and then – to top it all off . . . I received this gift – is this real looking or what?  I’ve had people walk into my office at home, see this in the corner and go, “Whoa, you got a cat.”  This is so real.  I took this out to my dog Pixie and when I showed it to her, she froze.  It completely messed her up.  It’s gonna take weeks of counseling.  Then it hit me; I’m gonna just set this in my garage - if she can’t tell the difference, the mice can’t either.   They’ll just fall over dead.

This is so life-like . . . this might very well be a real, live – uh, dead, stuffed. 

But whatever it is, I want you to know, this is a cat I can love.  So, from now on . . . I have a cat. 

And I’m gonna put away my cat now.

Oh one more – “We’re originally from New Jersey and when we heard you broke your knee, we immediately knew what had transpired on that fateful Saturday afternoon in your garage.  When you are raised in the Garden State, you learn early these truths; first, Giant’s stadium sits atop the premier graveyard for Mafia snitches; Godfather does not refer to one who mentors in the ways of God the Father, and the following equation always applies – mob loans + missed payments = broken knee caps.  Rest assured, we’ll stick to the party line about you falling.

Turn to the Gospel delivered through Luke, chapter 2.

If you were to ask the average Christian today, what happened to Joseph, Mary and Jesus after the shepherds left the manger scene in Bethlehem – most would admit, “I’m not sure”.

That’s because the normal Christmas play ends somewhere around verse 20 of Luke chapter 2, which reads, “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”

And for the most part, for most Christians, that ends the significant scenes in the early days of Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

Part of the challenge we face is that God the Father evidently didn’t want much recorded about God the Son’s life between his birth and His ministry operation which commenced at the age of 30.

He wisely knew that the incarnation would forever remain a mystery to us – God as a baby is one thing; God as an 8 year old or 16 year old is only more difficult to comprehend.

The Lord knew that mystery can often lead to mysticism and mythology and misinterpretation and so for the most part, the record of scripture is silent.

And so the church has tried to lend a hand in the 3 and 4th centuries with apocryphal books.  They did more damage than good.

Apocryphal means hidden and it came to mean dubious or spurious writings by supposed church scholars who did nothing more than catalogue legends and myths that bolstered the growing church traditions regarding non-biblical subjects such as praying to saints, the role of Mary in redemption and the existence of purgatory, to name a few.

And one particular apocryphal book called the Gospel of Thomas attempted to fill in the gaps about the boyhood of Jesus which ends up defining a portrait of Jesus that would have made him as sinful as any other child in need of redeeming.

One event was where young Jesus fashioned little sparrows out of mud on the Sabbath day – which would have been considered laboring or work on the Sabbath – and forbidden.  Some other children ran to tell on Jesus and just as Joseph arrived to punish Jesus for profaning the Sabbath, Jesus breathed on these on these dirt sparrows and they came to life and flew away – leaving no evidence of his violation of the Sabbath.  Pretty clever boy.

On another occasion, the Gospel of Thomas records, a boy from the village threw a rock at young Jesus and it hit Jesus on the shoulder.  Jesus turned around and cursed him, which caused the boy to immediately fall down dead.

Again, some neighborhood boys were mistreating Jesus as he was playing in the rain one day – making little puddles of water that he miraculously made pure and drinkable.  One boy came over and stomped all over his little puddles so the water drained away and Jesus told the boy that he wouldn’t live to see the next day and of course, the boy fell down dead.

The truth is if I were Jesus, I would have done that.  This is great stuff.   I can remember some kids in my neighborhood that I would have toasted if I’d had the power. 

We had a bully in our neighborhood like Jesus had.  You risked your life to ride your bike past his house.  My 10 year old friends and I were outside with our bikes when we noticed him walking down the street away from us.  I got up the courage, and as much speed as I could get as I pedaled my little bike and I rode past him – never mind that I was yelling names at him as I rode by him –  but that was before I was called into the ministry.  And it was only after I called him those names that I realized I had ridden my bicycle into a cul-de-sac.  I was not a very bright sinner.  He caught me, knocked me off my bike and proceeded to pay me back far more than I deserved.  But if I had had power – oh man – what I could have done! 

We can imagine this easily – trouble is, all we’re doing, like the Spurious Gospel of Thomas, is imposing on Jesus our own sinful flesh.

According to the Gospel of Thomas.  In fact, on one occasion, the little boy Jesus got so upset with his step-father Joseph that he pinched Joseph’s ears until they hurt and then said to him, “That is what you deserved.”

One more spurious account – when Jesus was 8 years old, Thomas recorded that he was helping Joseph cut wood for a bed frame.  Joseph cut one of the boards two short – what a costly mistake for this poor carpenter.  But 8 year old Jesus told Joseph to pull on one end of the board while he pulled on the other and the board miraculously stretched out to the perfect length. / Stories edited from “The Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas; M. R. James – Translation and Notes (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924)

The trouble with these apocryphal, uninspired writings – and there are many – is that they describe a different Jesus.  

He becomes a rude, unkind, vengeful, self-centered, rebellious boy who uses His powers to not only fix problems that make life difficult, but He got rid of kids in the neighborhood who ticked him off.

 The record of scripture is vastly different.  Jesus will live a life we cannot imagine – a life of restraint and without sin.  He will not use His powers to better Himself or cut down His enemies.

That’s the kind of life we can’t imagine.   

  • He never sinned (Hebrews 9:14);  
  • He would grow up to have perfectly fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17);
  • Why?  For one thing, so He would qualify as the unblemished Lamb, sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

So, let’s make sure we go back to sola scriptura . . . what do the scriptures alone say.  What has the Bible revealed about the boyhood of Jesus? 

The truth is, the Bible is not as silent as the average Christmas play might lead you to believe.

It wasn’t over after the shepherds left the manger scene.  It was just beginning.

In fact, 8 days after the manger scene, some wonderful events begin to unfold in the life of our infant Messiah.

Let’s explore two or three of them, beginning with verse 21 of Luke chapter 2.  And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

In this passage, beginning with verse 21, we see Jesus and His parents involved in one way or another in three ceremonies that actually revealed a lot about Joseph and Mary’s faith in God and surrender to His will.

  1. The first ceremony was what we’ll call the ceremony of identification

Eight days after Mary delivered Jesus, every Jewish baby boy would be circumcised – that is, if the baby’s parents cared at all about God’s commands. 

Circumcision brought the boy into the national life of the Hebrew people and identified him with Abraham’s household.

It was commanded in Genesis 17 and had Jesus not been circumcised he would not have identified with His people even though both His parents were descendants of Abraham.

This was a statement of faith.  Joseph and Mary were following God’s word, relating to the Abrahamic covenant.

And by fulfilling this command, Jesus Christ will be eligible to fulfill the promises that God had pledged to Abraham. / J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), p. 62

For every faithful Jewish family, circumcision was considered so sacred a duty that it could be carried out on the Sabbath day.

A Jewish leader or doctor would perform the simple cutting away of the foreskin and it would be during this simple ceremony that the parent’s would announce the name of the child.

And the painful cry of Jesus, the son of God, pierced the air.  This was his first moment of suffering at the hand of mankind.  These were among his first tears at having taken on human flesh.  His humiliation and suffering had already begun.

Joseph and Mary are also suffering . . . they are dazed, ostracized, confused and alone.  These two teenagers – Joseph may be a little older – have traveled to Bethlehem under a cloud of suspicion . . . and all beause of the will of God. 

It had been a whirlwind.  They’re lives had only recently been upended. 

And it had already taken an angel to convince Joseph to take Mary to be his wife after she was found to be pregnant during their betrothal.  It would be the scandal of Joseph’s family and their entire village.

There would be no wedding ceremony or wedding march.  There would be no family festival where the village celebrated the hoopa/union of Joseph and Mary. 

And the baby will only add an exclamation point to their guilt.

And they will never live it down. 

The rumors will never go away.  In fact, when Jesus Christ makes His claim to be the Messiah, the Jewish leaders will dig up the dirty rumors again and throw back into Jesus’ face the accusation, “We were not born of fornication, like you!”

“We know how you got your start – don’t lecture us.”

Joseph and Mary will move from the stable into humble quarters somewhere in Bethlehem while Joseph will take odd jobs to eke out their existence with his tools and calloused hands.

Even though they will never be viewed by the Jewish community as credible, godly, obedient sons and daughters of Abraham, they will still identify their son with the Jewish family through circumcision.

They will refuse to acquiesce to perception.

What about you? 

Watch them carefully identifying Jesus with the law of God – and ask yourself, what does it take to keep you from submitting to the word of God?  Accusation?  Rumor?  Criticism?  False accusation?  Pain?  Gossip?  Failure?  Abandonment? 

Will you obey God on that campus and invite ridicule?  Will you forfeit a relationship because of your passion for holiness?  Will you identify with the people of God even if it causes people at your job or in your family to believe that you have gone off the deep end . . . you’re really not as balanced as they thought you were.

What does it take for you to say, “If this is what running the race means, I’m gonna to sit this one out.”

“If obeying God leads to this kind of misunderstanding or accusation or mistreatment, never mind.”

“If doing the right thing causes so much discomfort, surely God will understand if I wiggle out of this one.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is against this backdrop of permanent discomfort, Joseph and Mary will not miss one step.

One the 8th day, they bring forward their little boy and send a message – even though everyone believes the boy is illegitimate – the result of fornication – here’s the message; this family and this boy will identify with the people of God and the word of God and the will of God.

Notice again verse 21 where Luke writes, “His name was then called Jesus.”

This was the name chosen for Him before time began.  The angel had come to both Mary and Joseph individually to tell them – when the ceremony of identification comes, give Him the name, Jesus.

To understand the significance of this name you have to travel back to the first person to have ever been given this name.

He was a young man at the time when his name was changed.  He had been born into Egyptian slavery along with all the other Hebrew slaves, under Pharaoh’s cruel reign.   This little Jewish boy had been given the name as a sheer act of faith – he was named Hoshea, which means salvation. 

G. Campbell Morgan, the late expositor, wrote that this name was a sigh and a hope – a sob from his parents who dared by faith to believe in deliverance so much that they named their son – salvation. / G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke (Fleming H. Revell, 1931), p. 40

He would eventually grow up to become the assistant to Moses and Moses would change his name from Hoshea to Joshua. 

Moses simply took letters out of the great name Yahweh, or Jehovah, and he took some letters out of the name of the boy, Hoshea, and wove them into one name so that the young man’s name became Yehoshua – Jehovah is salvation. 

The name was shortened to Joshua – the Greek counterpart to this Hebrew name was Yeshua – Jesus.  And it carried the idea that this person so named would be the agent of salvation – he would be the deliverer.

Hundreds of little boys were playing in the streets and villages throughout Israel named Jesus, with the vague notion of a father or mother that perhaps their son would play a role in the deliverance of Israel.

This little boy would. 

He was and is the agent of salvation.  He is both Jehovah and salvation.

And I can’t help but wonder who was at this ceremony to hear the announcement of His name. 

Did the Jewish doctor stifle a yawn?  Did a Rabbi, perhaps present or performing the circumcision, shake his head at the audacity of this peasant couple without references or attending family members actually believe their child, evidently from all appearances conceived in sin, could ever deliver anybody?

He had come without fanfare to the nation.  The hosts of heaven couldn’t keep from bursting onto the scene but their singing was limited to the back 40.  The only ones who had seen and heard the celestial choir validate that the Deliverer, the Savior had indeed been born were shepherds and they were not permitted to serve as witnesses in any Hebrew court.    

And now, under the knife and into the covenant, the deliverer has just identified with His people and they do not yet know it.

And Joseph and Mary and their 8 day old son still whimpering with pain, went back to their undisclosed home in Bethlehem.

They had carefully met the demands of the law.  They had observed the ceremony of identification.

  1. The second ceremony was the ceremony of redemption

Notice verse 22.  And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord

Now if you go back and read Leviticus chapter 12 you discover that the days of purification for a new mother of a male child was 40 days.  7 days and then she could attend the ceremony of identification and then after waiting another 33 days, she could go to a priest and with her husband, pay 5 shekels to redeem their son from priestly service.

They effectively bought their son from God.

Notice the last part of verse 22.   (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”).

God had a claim to the firstborn male.  They were to be holy – that word means, separated unto God. 

If the male child was from the tribe of Levi, he would serve as a priest in this theocracy. The priests were the government – they were the senators and representatives.  They ran the religious and civil system – or at least as much as the Roman government allowed them during the days of Christ. / John MacArthur, sermon manuscript @

This was effectively the draft – and there were no exceptions.

But since Christ was born into the tribe of Judah, he was not required to serve in the priestly system and so Joseph and Mary were able to pay the redemption tax – Numbers 18 informs us that it was 5 shekels – and redeem Jesus back from God.

This was called the Redemption of the Firstborn. / William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 24

They really had no idea of the irony of this redemption.  They were buying Jesus back from God when Jesus had come to buy a people for God. 

They were redeeming the Redeemer.

But would you note that for them to obey the law, it would only add to their poverty.  They’ve already paid the census tax in Bethlehem and now they pay 5 shekels which I understand to be several day’s wages in order to once again fulfill the letter of the law.

The will of God was taxing, tiring, uncomfortable, uneasy, lonely, and expensive.

They were God’s chosen couple to bear and raise the Redeemer.  But so far, God had not paid them anything but a few angelic visits . . . they seemed to be paying at every turn.

To them, cost was never the issue.  Obedience was.  And they were willing to meet and pay the price for obedience.

In fact, you need to know that Joseph and Mary were not required by law to bring Jesus to Jerusalem for this dedication.  They could have paid the 5 shekels to a local priest and saved all the wear and tear.

They are going above and beyond.  They want to go to Jerusalem and to the temple itself to present Jesus to the priest and pay the redemption tax.  Why?  Because they realized that even though they were redeeming Jesus from priestly service, they were presenting Him to the Lord.  Notice again the last phrase of verse 22.  They brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.

No one else knew who Jesus was – but they did.  And they knew God did.

And yet, what irony again – they are presenting the Lord to the Lord.  They didn’t understand it and neither do we. 

  • But in their childlike faith, they came to the center of worship and presented the Savior to the Sovereign;
  • they dedicated God the Son to God the Father;
  • they are presenting the Savior to the Sovereign.
  • they presenting the Lamb of God to God.
  • They are bringing the Lord of the Temple to the Temple of the Lord (Pentecost, p. 65)
  • Think of it; the object of true worship has just arrived at the House of worship;
  • The one who would rip down the curtain between mankind and the Holy of Holies was in the Court of Women, cradled by a virgin girl who was leaning on the arm of a peasant carpenter.
  • All the hubbub in the Temple that day.  They didn’t know it yet, but every ritual and every sacrifice and every activity on those temple grounds illustrated . . . pointed to . . . longed for the coming final sacrifice and the Lamb was there, with hundreds of people milling around them; prayers were being prayed and incense was being burned and sacrifices were being made . . . and there He was . . . He had come.

God became flesh – He came to live among us – and as many as receive Him – believe in Him alone – place their trust in His sacrifice alone for salvation – to them He will give the right to become infants – re-born babies – children belonging to God.

Joseph and Mary and their little one would have slipped back to Bethlehem had someone not noticed them.

So far, Mary and Joseph have carefully followed all the law required and even more so.  They have attended the ceremony of identification and the ceremony of redemption.

There was one more ceremony required by the law.

  1. The ceremony of purification.

According to the law, Mary was unclean following the birth of Jesus. 

After 40 days she would be required to bring two sacrifices to the priest.  One sacrifice or turtledove would atone for her defilement having delivered a child and the issuing of blood.  The second turtle dove restored her communion with God and allowed her to participate in the temple.

The idea that Mary was above the need for atonement; the idea that she was received into heaven after living a life without sin are simply not in the Bible.  She was in need of atonement. She was in need of a sacrifice for her uncleanness. 

So look here – she is bringing sacrifices – not for Jesus, not for Joseph, but for herself. 

In other words, bearing the perfect, sinless Son of God into the world did not make her sinless, it actually defiled her like any other newborn would to any other woman.  She was not exempted from the law.  In fact, she was now impure and could not worship or go near the temple for 40 days.

According to the law, specifically given for a new mother, in Leviticus chapter 12, Mary was to bring to the priest at the temple either a lamb and a bird pigeon or two birds for these two sacrifices.

If she and her husband didn’t have the money for a lamb she would be allowed to bring two pigeons, or two turtledoves. 

Turtledoves and pigeons were the only birds allowed by the law as sacrificial gifts. / J. Reiling & J. L. Swellengrebel, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Luke (United Bible Society, 1971), p. 128

Lambs were much more expensive than pigeons.

Turtledoves migrated and were harder to find – but just like today, pigeons were everywhere. 

The fact that Mary brings birds instead of a lamb indicates their poverty.

She would have been ushered over to the gate nearest the Sanctuary just beyond the court of Women and Mary would have presented her two birds and then watched from a distance as the smoke of her offering ascended to God.

As she stood there in the court of women watching the smoke of her sacrifice ascend, she held in her arms the final sacrifice.

She couldn’t afford to buy a lamb to give to the priest for an offering; but she had delivered into the world the Lamb for the final offering.

And with that they were finished.  They might have slipped away and left unnoticed had God not designed two witnesses to be on hand to testify that the Messiah had come.

I’ll briefly mention Simeon. 

Luke tells us in verse 25 that Simeon was a righteous and devout man, looking for the consolation – the advocate – the counsel for defense – of Israel.

Some scholars believe Simeon was the son of the famous rabbi Hillel and the father of Gamaliel, the Apostle Paul’s tutor.  This was the Simeon who became the leading member of the Sanhedrin in A.D. 13.  And it’s really intriguing that the Mishna (the commentary on Jewish life and process) related the stories and accomplishments of all their great rabbis but ignores Simeon – most likely because His faith in Jesus Christ would have been an embarrassment to them. / John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Luke (Kregel, 2005), p. 78

It is not ironic that Simeon’s name means, “hearing”.  And he was listening.  In fact, verse 26 informs us that the Spirit of God had promised him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.

So you can imagine that perhaps for years – Simeon would come to the temple looking at all the babies – Is this the One?  Maybe that’s the child?  They look like they’re carrying a newborn – I wonder if he’s the One? / Edited from R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1(Crossway, 1998), p. 95

No telling how many young couples he met and then turned away, inwardly disappointed. 

But not when he met Joseph and Mary.  The Spirit of God prompted him that this newborn was indeed the Messiah.  Notice verse 27.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28. then he took Him in his arms, and blessed God.

This was the One.

Anna, a prophetess comes up later on and begins to tell everyone on the temple grounds who were also looking for the Redeemer.

What incredible joy . . . and what a commotion.  What a disturbance of the peace throughout the temple grounds . . . I wish we were told of all the activity that followed. 

There stands Simeon, holding the newborn.  And he says in verse 29, Now Lord, you are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word – in other words, I’m ready to die now – why?  Note further in verse 30, For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all people.  A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.

In other words, I’ve seen the Savior and now I’m prepared to die.  Literally translated – I’ve seen salvation with my own eyes and now I can die in peace.

There’s truth in that for us all.  None of us are ready to die until we’ve seen by faith the Savior; until we’ve held His truth to our hearts.

You are not ready to encounter the shadow of death unless you have seen the light of revelation in the person of this One who is the light of the world.

Are you prepared to die?

You are not . . . until you have believed in this One – Jehovah Salvation – the Deliverer – Yeshua – Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

So there they are – Joseph, Mary, Anna, a few curious people, and Simeon holding the baby in his arms as tears no doubt ran down his cheeks.   Mary and Joseph even further mystified.

And the priests went about their duties and the people brought their sacrifices and there in the middle of it all was the Lamb - God who had taken on flesh so He could die as the final sacrifice for sin and redeem His people forever.

The songwriter wrote of the newborn Messiah with these words:

Hope now has hands.
Freedom has feet
Truth will stand and the Word will speak
The holy and lowly will finally embrace;
Compassion has tears;
Joy has a laughter;
Redemption’s blood has veins to flow in
A temple to glow in, Light is now a child
The holy and lowly will finally embrace
For love has a heartbeat and grace has [been given] a face.

Words and music by Phil Cross, Hope has Hands (Cameron Hill Music, 2001)

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