On the fortieth day of the incarnation Mary and Joseph, as a faithful Jewish couple, presented their firstborn Son at the temple and “bought” him back with a sacrifice of a two small birds. This is known as the “Presentation of Our Lord” and is celebrated in the church on February 2nd. It deserves more than one day. So we are going to stretch our contemplation of the event over a few days.
Like many events in the New Testament we must understand the Old Testament in order to figure out what is going on. Why do Jewish families have to “present” their firstborn males at the temple? And why the fortieth day? During the Exodus event, when Israel escaped the slavery of Egypt, the angel of the Lord brought death upon every firstborn of Egypt, both animal and human. It was the tenth and final plague that finally convinced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. Israelite homes were spared because they painted their door frames red with the blood of a lamb. All this symbolized the blood of the Lamb of God, the Messiah, whose blood would spare the new Israel (all believers) from the wrath of God.
Many of us Christians are familiar with this story and its symbolism, but perhaps we jump over the idea of the firstborn. God commanded the Israelites not only to celebrate the Passover meal to remind them of how the angel of the Lord passed over their homes but also to present their firstborn males to him. The presentation of their firstborns was to remind them that freedom isn’t free. Freedom costs blood. The Israelites were free and it cost firstborn blood. It was as if they now owed God firstborn blood. Yet God didn’t want any more bloodshed so the firstborn boys of Jewish families were redeemed, that is, bought back, with another sacrifice, a lamb for wealthy families, two birds for the poor. Another way this “debt” was paid was through the Levites. They were set apart in Israel as the priests. They did not receive an allotment of land like the other tribes received in the Promised Land. They were dedicated to the House of the Lord.
All this reminded the Israelites of what God had done for them in the past, what it cost, and how precious this gift of freedom is. But none of it compared to the real slavery in which we are trapped (sin), the ultimate freedom earned for us (heaven), and the precious blood it cost (the Lamb of God). No amount of animal blood or ritual would do the trick. It would take the firstborn of God. So think of the irony of Jesus being presented at the temple. This is ultimately a symbol of the cross. He would be the firstborn offered as a sacrifice to pay for our freedom and to redeem us (buy us back).
So there is no need for our sacrifice to God. There is no need to present ourselves before God. There is no need to redeem ourselves with a gift to God. There is no need to dedicate ourselves to God or to set apart anything for God. Christ does this in our place. Our “dedication” to him is only a natural result of salvation. This freedom earned for us wasn’t free. Freedom never is. The cost is blood. Our blood isn’t good enough nor is anything else we offer. Only his blood. So he is presented at the cross, the firstborn of God.
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