Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
If Mary and Joseph thought the hard part was over, they had another thing coming. Finding out that Mary, as a virgin, would conceive and give birth, was one thing—but now as parents they had total charge over the most important human ever born. I remember as a new dad feeling pretty hesitant about holding a newborn. They are so fragile, so weak—they can’t even hold up their little heads. You’re always worried you’re going to hurt them or heaven forbid drop them. Imagine that pressure times infinity realizing you are holding the promised Messiah in your arms!
But in their usual fashion, Mary and Joseph just take it one step at a time. Just a few weeks after His birth, mom and dad bring Him to Jerusalem and present Him—and as they do that, God has some surprises in store.
There are essentially five things happening in verses 21-35 of Luke 2: circumcision, naming, purification, presentation, and consecration.
21 – 24
The Law of Moses commanded that boys be circumcised on the 8th day. Let’s take a look at Leviticus 12 to see what’s happening:
Lev. 12:1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Tell the Israelites: When a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is during the days of her menstrual impurity. 3 The flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised on the eighth day. 4 She will continue in purification from her bleeding for 33 days. She must not touch any holy thing or go into the sanctuary until completing her days of purification.
Jesus does not receive His name until the 8th day. Why? One idea is that even as Sarai and Abram received new names when Abram was circumcised, so too Jesus received His name after circumcision.
Circumcision was a way of identifying Jesus with the Abrahamic covenant.
Gen. 17:9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep My covenant. 10 This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 Throughout your generations, every male among you at eight days old is to be circumcised. This includes a slave born in your house and one purchased with money from any foreigner. The one who is not your offspring, 13 a slave born in your house, as well as one purchased with money, must be circumcised. My covenant will be marked in your flesh as an everlasting covenant. 14 If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
This covenant was very private, as it was done on a private part of the body. But later in life Jesus Himself will institute a new blood covenant that will be very public as his side is cut for everyone to see so His blood can create a new and everlasting covenant of peace between man and God.
Next Mary would have waited another 33 days (Lev 12:4) so that Joseph and Mary went up to the Temple on day 40 of Jesus’ life to present Him. Why? Let’s go back to the Law of Moses as Luke quotes in verse 23:
Exodus 13:1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Consecrate every firstborn male to Me, the firstborn from every womb among the Israelites, both man and domestic animal; it is Mine.”
So what did that mean? It goes back to when God destroyed the firstborn in Egypt to rescue Israel from slavery—except those who had sacrificed a perfect lamb. So after the exodus, all the firstborn males belonged to the Lord Without a sacrifice, the firstborn male of animals would be killed. Exodus 13:12 required that every human first-born male be redeemed. Numbers 3:45-47 describes how the firstborn males dedicated to the Lord were replaced by the Levites, but further prescribes that a father must give 5 shekels for a firstborn son as a redemption price.
Mary had to bring a sacrifice for her purification as prescribed in Leviticus 12 (continuing on from earlier):
Lev. 12:6 “When her days of purification are complete, whether for a son or daughter, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old male lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 7 He will present them before the LORD and make atonement on her behalf; she will be clean from her discharge of blood. This is the law for a woman giving birth, whether to a male or female. 8 But if she doesn’t have sufficient means for a sheep, she may take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. Then the priest will make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean.”
They presented a sacrifice of a pair of birds because they were poor and couldn’t afford a sheep (Leviticus 12:8).
So we see important aspects of the Law being fulfilled on behalf both of Mary (the days of purification and the presentation offering) and Jesus (circumcision, the offering on behalf of the male child and naming).
Finally Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord. We find this in 1 Samuel 1 and 2 where Hannah prayed for a child and promised to present him to the Lord—Samuel was born miraculously and Hannah did just that—giving up her son to serve the Lord all the days of his life. So too now Mary presents Jesus to the Lord—for a much greater service than Samuel performed.
Why is all this important? Because Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.
Matt. 5:17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
25 – 28
Here too we find the consecration of Jesus. When Jesus was born, some lowly shepherds talked of what He represented—Messiah, Savior, and Lord. These were sort of run of the mill folks. But then along comes an elder—Simeon. We don’t know much about Simeon except that he was a good Jew who followed the Law of Moses, and was “devout” which is a word used for a statesman. He was well respected.
Simeon was looking forward to the “consolation” of Israel—which generally meant he was looking forward to God comforting and bringing hope to His people, but specifically referred to the Messiah’s role in that plan.
Not only that, but the Holy Spirit was “upon him”. It’s interesting that it doesn’t appear to be a short-term thing. Luke says not that the Spirit came upon him but that He was on him. And the Spirit had made Simeon a promise—he would not die until he saw the Messiah.
So just as a coincidence (not) the Spirit guided Simeon to either the Court of the Gentiles or the Court of Women at the Temple (since Mary was present). So imagine you’re Mary and Joseph—you’ve just presented Jesus to the Lord and up comes this elder who takes the baby up in his arms. It must have been a little disconcerting—Luke connect Simeon taking up the baby with His parents presenting Him to the Lord as if he had a part in that ceremony, but since Simeon had just come to the Temple that day, this seems unlikely.
29 – 32
Simeon’s prophecy, hymn, or song—is both good news and bad for Mary and for the people. Verses 29 and 30 fulfill what God promised Simeon—that he’d see the Messiah before death. “Your salvation” uses the word we’ve been talking about: soterion, or rescuer. This is Jesus—whose very name means: “God saves”.
Verses 31 and 32 are the second part of the song—that this rescuer would be a “light for revelation” not only to Israel but also to the entire world (“Gentiles”). This echoes Zechariah’s prophecy in Chapter 1 that Jesus would be “the Dawn from on high” (Luke 1:78) “to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77).
It’s beautiful but also sets up a forked road. To find deliverance one must acknowledge one’s lack and sin and need of a rescuer, and then call out to Jesus as that Person. Not everyone will do that.
33 – 35
Simeon not only has words about Jesus but for Mary as well. The journey she has set on will lead many to reject the rescuer, especially in Israel. Jesus will be a “sign that will be opposed”. Much later the religious leaders of Israel will come to Jesus and demand that He perform a sign to prove Himself. Jesus will only give the sign of the prophet Jonah—spend three days and nights in the earth—a reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But this sign ended up being a stumbling block for many—who could not admit that they had not followed God’s character and were in need of a rescuer. They ended up rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
The journey will be difficult for Mary—imagine your own Son arrested, accused, condemned, tortured and executed while you stand by and watch. It’s such a difficult but accurate description of a sword piercing her own heart. But she will be willing to allow Him to do this, though she herself will not necessarily understand it all—and because of this a great divide is set up.
Jesus Himself referred to this in Matthew 25:33 when he describes the separation of humans into two camps—those that accept His sacrifice to purchase forgiveness for sin, and those who think they don’t need and don’t want Jesus.
First: Simeon told Mary that Jesus would be a light but also bring a sword. In a way, the presence of Jesus in our lives brings the same thing. He brings light—truth about the true nature of our condition—that is that we do not measure up to God’s character, but also light in the sense of lighting the way to a solution—through the payment by Jesus Himself for you.
But going towards the light of His salvation also brings a sword—a dividing of us from others and a pitting of ourselves against the dominate culture we live in. Your friends and family may not want to have anything to do with you as you give your life to the Messiah. You may find yourself ostracized from friend groups and, increasingly, called a “hater” by those who fail to realize what true love really is.
Secondly, I’d like to pose a question. Simeon said Jesus would be a “sign that will be opposed.” When it comes to Jesus there are only two sides. You are either with Him, or opposed to Him.
Matthew 12:30 “Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters.”
We actually cannot take a neutral stance when it comes to Jesus, because He also said: “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” There are three definite articles and the firm exclusionary pro noun “no one” in that sentence. You need to come to grips with how you feel about Him. You don’t have to do it right now—but I would keep an open mind as we study Luke’s gospel.
Don’t oppose His sign of death, burial, and resurrection just based on what others have said. Look at what Luke says and what Jesus Himself says—then make up your own mind.
Finally, Jesus experienced five things when His parents brought Him to Jerusalem: circumcision, naming, purification, presentation, and consecration.
I find this interesting because as we become a part of the Messiah we experience these same things:
- Circumcision: Though we are no longer physically circumcised as a sign of our belonging to God, the New Testament calls us to be circumcised in the heart and in the Spirit (Romans 2:25-29) which is a sign of repentance and turning from the old nature (the flesh) to a new one (the Spirit). It then is a sign that we belong to a new family since we enter God’s by repenting and believing in Jesus.
- Naming: The Bible tells us that we as believers are adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5) and will receive a new name (Revelation 2:17 & 3:12). You have a new identity in Jesus, and a new character.
- Purification: When we become a part of God’s family it is through the purifying work of the ultimate sacrifice to make us holy—that of Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- Presentation: As “saints” we are “called out ones”. Like Samuel and Jesus, we are presented to the Lord for His service (Romans 12:1).
- Consecration: This is the same idea—of being called into a holy service to the Lord’s kingdom.