By Dr. Mark Scott
There is an old downward spiral to sin that goes like this: If you hesitate, you will contemplate; if you contemplate, you will negotiate; if you negotiate, you will participate; and if you participate, you will desecrate. But maybe we could say that with the coming of Christ in his incarnation, God reverses that downward spiral of sin to this: Redemption gives rise to celebration, which leads to purification, and in turn follows through to consecration, which ultimately shows up as dedication.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, we take note of the dedication of Jesus by Mary and Joseph. The couple’s obedience to the law for their firstborn son gave a unique occasion for a prophetic celebration of the salvation that Jesus brought.
If we want to understand the Old Testament, we must understand the exodus. This act of redemption of God’s people from Egyptian slavery was so significant that God wanted it remembered in many ways and in many seasons. Observing Passover was to remind God’s people of the defeat of Pharaoh and their liberation from Egypt. Observing Tabernacles was to remind God’s people of the provisions that God made for the people in the wilderness after having brought them out of Egypt.
One way that God could cause Israel to once again remember his redemption was through the dedication of the firstborn. The plague that was the last straw for Pharaoh was the death of the firstborn of every family in Egypt. This plague was widespread—even the firstborn of the animals died. Death was everywhere. The only escape for Israel from this terrible plague was to smear lamb’s blood on their doorposts (Exodus 12:7). That way their firstborn sons could escape death.
The way this was later remembered was with an animal sacrifice purchased (redeemed) in place of the firstborn son. This redemption, mentioned twice in our text, functioned as a reminder and gave cause for celebration.
No doubt one reason God chose Mary and Joseph to be the earthly parents of Jesus was their devout obedience. Following Jesus’ birth and circumcision, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem. The purpose of this was to present him to the Lord. The parenthetical statement in verse 23 of our text underlines that even Jesus, as the firstborn of his family, had to be redeemed (consecrated or purified).
So for Jesus, the great substitute for sin, a substitution was made (a pair of doves or two young pigeons). This statement from the Scriptures tells us something about the economic status of Mary and Joseph, but even more it tells us of their obedience to the law. In this obedience our redemption is anticipated.
Obedience can lead to profundity. Mary and Joseph were just following what the custom of the law required. But that obedience on their part led to an occasion to celebrate the redemption that was forthcoming in Jesus.
An old man named Simeon, who was righteous and devout and maybe had spittle in his beard, approached the couple and took their baby in his arms. Maybe that would not be disconcerting in that culture but it would sure be alarming for most of us. And, in light of what Simeon went on to say about Jesus being “destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34), it must have unnerved Mary and Joseph to some extent.
Simeon joined the chorus of witnesses in the birth narratives about Jesus in Luke 1, 2. Elizabeth sang, Mary sang, Zechariah sang, and here Simeon sang (or at least spoke). He spoke of the consolation of Israel. Like others, he had waited a long time for this. He spoke by divine inspiration. Mention is made of the work of the Holy Spirit three times in Luke 2:25-27. So these are not just his thoughts.
Note the deep reverence as Simeon directed his praise to God by referring to him as Sovereign Lord. Then Simeon made mention of three things: First, God kept his promise. The Holy Spirit had informed Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. For Simeon that was enough. He could die a happy man. Second, salvation is Jesus—not just an event. Third, this salvation was for every one in every nation (one of Luke’s great themes).
It is amazing that one little act of law keeping could underline so much. God’s salvific acts combined with human obedience still saves lives.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.