“According to the Law”
“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:21-24)
Everything our Savior did as a man he did “according to the law.” When the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save his people from their sins, he willingly put himself under the law and became voluntarily subject to the law in all things as a man. He did so because God cannot justify the guilty except upon the grounds of strict justice. Righteousness must be maintained and justice must be satisfied in the exercise of mercy, love and grace. He who is our God and Savior is “a just God and a Savior” (Isaiah 45:20). — “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged” (Proverbs 16:6). Our blessed Savior magnified the law and made it honorable as our Substitute, “that we might receive the adoption of sons” in the sweet experience of his saving grace (Isaiah 42:21; Galatians 4:4-5).
Though the yoke of the law was a heavy yoke, and only a shadow of good things to come, if we would have those good things, Christ must bear the law’s heavy yoke for us. And he did it as our willing Substitute and Surety. Though the carnal ordinances of the law were what the Holy Spirit calls “weak and beggarly elements” (Galatians 4:9), and but the “rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:8, 20), our Lord Jesus Christ submitted to all the ordinances and institutions of the law as a man, that he might fulfil the law for us and bring it to an honorable end. He fulfilled all the law for us, from the beginning to the end of his manhood, that he might by his obedience unto death bring in everlasting righteousness for us and put away our sins forever, and that he might do so in a way that honors God.
Here in Luke 2:21-24 the Spirit of God shows us how the Lord Jesus, as our Savior, Mediator, Surety and Substitute, from the very beginning of his holy manhood, fulfilled the law of God in the room and stead of his people.
When he was just a baby, eight days old, the Lord Jesus Christ was circumcised as our covenant Surety. Circumcision was instituted under the law as a symbol of the new birth. The cutting away the filth of the flesh showed the necessity of God’s elect being purified by his grace (Titus 3:5-6). But Christ had no sin. Why was he circumcised? The answer is obvious. He was circumcised as our Surety.
Circumcision identified him as one with Abraham’s seed whom he came to save (Hebrews 2:16-17). Circumcision required the shedding of blood. Here he shed a few drops of blood, by a painful act done to him, by order of God’s law, as a foreshadowing of the pouring out of his life’s blood unto death, by the order of God’s law, in the most painful, ignominious manner possible. By submitting to this ordinance of the law, our blessed Savior voluntarily made himself a debtor to do the whole law for us (Galatians 5:3).
Circumcision was the legally required pledge of every Israelite, that he was a debtor to keep the whole law. Our Lord Jesus Christ, “by being circumcised,” wrote Thomas Goodwin, “did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us.” The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices. Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls and goats, but his own blood as our Substitute.
It is a blessed thing to see the Christ of God standing before the law in our place, at the very beginning of his humanity, as he entered this world to redeem and save his people, making himself a debtor to the law, that we might never be debtors to the law (Romans 6:14-15; 7:4; 8:1-4; 10:4).
When he was circumcised, the incarnate God was named as our Savior. – “His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” This name, “Jesus,” or Joshua, was given to our Lord by the express command of God by the angel, both to Joseph and to Mary, before he was conceived in the womb (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31).
“Jesus” was a common name in ancient times (Colossians 4:11); and many are called “Jesus” who are not saviors at all. Our Lord was given this name because it was the name of two very eminent types of him in the Old Testament: Joshua who led Israel into the land of promised rest, and Joshua the priest upon his throne, who represented the removal of sin by Christ (Zechariah 3:1-5), and also represented our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne as our Intercessor King (Zechariah 6:11-13). Our Lord Jesus Christ was named Jesus because he was sent into this world to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); and save them he shall. — “His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed” (Psalms 72:17).
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast,
Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.
Dear name! The rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding place:
My never failing treasury filled,
With boundless stores of grace!”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was presented in the temple at Jerusalem as the Firstborn, “according to the law.”
“And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord).” (Luke 2:22-23)
Mary came to the temple to offer her sacrifices for ceremonial purification forty days after the Lord Jesus was born , “according to the law” (Leviticus 12:4-6). Certainly, we have before us a reminder of the fact that there is no cleansing from uncleanness of any kind, except by the blood of a sacrifice. If we would be clean before God, it must be by blood.
The Lord Jesus came into his temple to fulfil the prophecy given by Malachi (Malachi 3:1). And our Savior, the God-man, came into the temple, according to the law of God, as the firstborn, as God’s firstborn, that one who is sanctified and holy before God (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:13).
Christ is the Firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29), the Firstborn of every creature (Colossians 1:15), and the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Throughout the Old Testament, the preeminence of our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior was typified as the first, firstborn, firstfruits and the firstlings of the flock and of the herd. Indeed, everything recorded in the Old Testament foreshadows him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and the Sum and the Substance of all things in the salvation of his people (Luke 24:25-27, 44). There is nothing in the Book of God that does not speak of our all-glorious Christ, nothing that does not, in one way or another, set forth his supremacy, excellence and glory as God our Savior. Nowhere is this fact more evident than in those passages dealing with the firstborn.
The firstborn symbolized a father’s might and strength, “the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power” (Genesis 49:3). In that awesome night, when the Lord God slew the firstborn of both man and beast among the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29), he claimed the firstborn of both man and beast in Israel as his own, requiring that they be sanctified unto him (Exodus 13:2).
It was God himself, and God alone, who put a difference between the firstborn in Egypt and the firstborn in Israel on that night. We are expressly taught by the Spirit of God that everything on that passover night was typical of Christ, who as “our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The sprinkling of the blood of the lamb of the first year, without blemish, and without spot, on the houses of the Israelites, was the one thing that put a difference between the firstborn of Israel and the firstborn of Egypt. The blood of the lamb alone saved them from destruction. This we are plainly told in Exodus 11:7.
As it was on that great night of judgment and mercy, so the year of Christ's redeemed is both the day of vengeance and the day of salvation (Isaiah 63:3-5). When the Son of God died as our Substitute upon the cursed tree, he both bore all the vengeance of God’s holy wrath for us, to the full satisfaction of divine justice; and obtained eternal redemption and salvation for us (Hebrews 9:12). At the same time, he declares, “the day of vengeance is in my heart.” Yes, there is a day appointed and fixed by him, when our God will execute judgment in the firstlings of his enemies, as well as of mercy in the firstlings of his people.
The birthright of the firstborn among the children of Israel gave him preeminence in the family. To him belonged the right of priesthood (Numbers 3:12-13; 40-45; 8:15-18). The firstborn was given a double portion among his brethren (Deuteronomy 21:17). And to the firstborn it was promised, “thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee” (Genesis 49:8). All these Old Testament declarations were intended to show forth the majesty of Christ as “the firstborn among many brethren.” All the offering required of God for every male that opened the womb pointed to our Lord Jesus (Exodus 13:2; 34:19-20; Leviticus 12:6; Luke 2:21-24).
Robert Hawker suggested that the Scriptures, when speaking of “the firstborn that openeth the womb,” must have been prophetic of the virgin birth of our Savior. He wrote, “For strictly and properly speaking, none but the Lord Jesus ever did open the womb…In every other instance, from the creation of the world, as anatomists well know, it is accomplished at the time of conception.” Our blessed Savior, “the firstborn,” was conceived in Mary’s virgin womb by the overshadowing power of God the Holy Spirit. He opened Mary’s virgin womb when he came forth from it to accomplish our redemption. Thus, throughout the Levitical dispensation, the firstborn of man and beast directed the eye of faith to him whom the triune God appointed to have everlasting preeminence as “the firstborn.” In all things it is, was and forever shall be the will of the eternal God, that Christ have preeminence in all things as the God-man, our Mediator and Redeemer.
Poorest of Men
Though he is God the Son, when he came into this world to redeem and save his elect, our blessed Lord Jesus, the Firstborn, became the poorest of men, that he might bring us into the unsearchable riches of his grace and his kingdom. We see this in Mary’s sacrifice (v. 24). The law required worshippers to bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering, except if they were very poor. If they were very poor, they were allowed to bring two young pigeons or two turtledoves (Leviticus 12:6-8), the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. Mary was a poor woman.
Mary offered “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” — “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
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