365 - Mary Brought Her Little Lamb (Luke 2:21-40)
Joseph and Mary had a unique, divinely ordained role in God’s plan, just as we all do. Their experience demonstrates that God is faithful to honor those who are faithful to Him and to encourage them through the testimony of other believers.
Mary Brought Her Little Lamb
In this Wisdom Journey, I want to step back for a moment and look at three events that took place during the infancy of Jesus. We are not given a lot of information, but I want to take a closer look with you at what we have been given. I think it will challenge our hearts even more as we watch the surrender and trust demonstrated by Joseph and Mary.
We will continue in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where some special ceremonies are taking place. Look at verse 21:
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
I’d like to call this the ceremony of identification.
In that day every Jewish baby boy would be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth—that is, if the baby’s parents cared about the Word of God. Circumcision was commanded back in Genesis 17. It brought the boy into the national life of the Hebrew people and identified him with Abraham’s family. Circumcision was not a medical procedure as much as it was a statement of faith in the Abrahamic covenant.
During this simple ceremony, the parents would announce the name of the child. Here Luke says He was called, Jesus, which means, “the Lord saves” (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31).
Now keep in mind that Joseph and Mary are living under a cloud of suspicion. Frankly, they will never be viewed by the Jewish community as obedient children of Abraham because their child was conceived out of wedlock—and people certainly did not believe this angel story of Holy Spirit conception. Even still, Mary and Joseph identified their son with the Jewish family through circumcision.
Next, there’s another ceremony, and I want to call this one the ceremony of redemption. Luke writes in verse 22: “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” At the time Mary comes for purification, following her delivery of a baby, they also “present [Jesus] to the Lord.”
As verse 23 says, the firstborn “shall be called holy to the Lord.” They belonged to Him in a unique way because of His protection of the firstborn from the final plague of Egypt. (See Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Numbers 18:15-16). So, Joseph and Mary travel to Jerusalem and pay the redemption price of five shekels to the priest. They are ceremonially buying Him back, or redeeming Him, from temple service—a ceremony that acknowledged God’s ownership of the family line of Israel.
The third ceremony is the ceremony of purification. According to Leviticus chapter 12, after giving birth to a male child, the mother was ceremonially unclean for forty days. At the end of that period, she was to present an offering for her purification. The typical offering was a lamb, but if the couple were poor and could not afford to bring a lamb, they could offer to the priest a couple of birds instead. We are told in verse 24 that they brought “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Mary’s sacrifice is not for Jesus or Joseph but for herself. Bearing the sinless Son of God did not make her sinless. According to the law, following childbirth, she was ceremonially unclean and could not go near the temple for forty days. After that time, she was to bring this offering.
When she arrived, she would have been ushered over to the gate nearest the sanctuary, just beyond the Court of Women. Mary would have presented her two little birds to the priest and then watched, probably with baby Jesus in her arms and Joseph standing there as well. Then, from a distance, she would see the smoke of this offering ascending to God. Imagine, she could not bring a lamb, but she was holding the Lamb of God—the final sacrifice for all uncleanness and sin for those who believe in Him.
Now Joseph and Mary might have slipped away from the temple unnoticed, but God the Father had two people there that day to testify that the Messiah had come.
One is Simeon, whom Luke describes in 25 as “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation [the advocate] of Israel.” Some scholars believe Simeon was the son of the famous rabbi Hillel and the father of Gamaliel, who would later become the tutor of the apostle Paul. This Simeon became the leading member of the Sanhedrin in AD 13. I think it is interesting that the Jewish commentary called the Mishnah, which relates stories of all the great rabbis makes no mention of Simeon. I imagine that is because his faith in Jesus Christ would have been an embarrassment to them.
It is ironic that Simeon’s name means, “hearing,” for He was listening to God. 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. As one author pictures it, Simeon has been coming to the temple all these years, looking at all the babies, thinking, Is this the one? Maybe that’s the child? I wonder if he’s the Messiah.
There’s no telling how many times Simeon had been disappointed, but now he meets Joseph and Mary. The Spirit of God informs Simeon that their little boy Jesus is indeed the Messiah:
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. (verses 27-28)
This is the one!
That gets the attention of somebody else there at the temple, an eighty-four-year-old widow and prophetess named Anna. For decades she had spent her days, waiting and praying for the Messiah. She comes up to Mary and Joseph, recognizes Jesus for who He is, and begins telling everybody that the Redeemer has arrived.
I can imagine that this becomes a place of joy—and noisy commotion. It must have created quite a disturbance on the temple grounds. There stands Simeon, holding the newborn. He says in verse 29, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.”
Why? Note further his words in:
“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 Israel.” (verses 30-32)
So, look at all these people here: Joseph, Mary, Anna, a curious crowd, and Simeon holding the baby in his arms, no doubt with tears running down his cheeks. And undoubtedly, the priests are still going about their duties, and the people are bringing sacrifices and milling around; and in the middle of it all is the Lamb of God—the final sacrifice for sin.
With that, Luke writes this:
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (verses 39-40)
Even here as a baby, He has been introduced by Simeon and Anna as the Redeemer. Old Simeon has lifted Jesus up in his arms and announced, “I have seen the Savior with my own eyes. Now I can die in peace.”
Beloved, there’s truth in that statement for you and me today. We are not ready to die until we have seen, by faith, the Savior. We are not ready to walk through the valley of the shadow of death until we have trusted in Jesus, the Light of the World, the Savior for all who will believe in Him.
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