Luke 2:22-38 (5-4 BC)
The Exodus of around 1500BC played a huge role in the religious life of God’s people. It was during the Exodus that God gave Moses all the laws that the Hebrews were to live by. And it was the fact of the Exodus that provided God with some of the most important rituals of remembrance and reminder. Rituals designed to point the Hebrews back to the saving mercy of God.
The final plague on Egypt that triggered Pharaoh into expelling all one million Hebrews from Egypt, was the death of every Egyptian firstborn male – human and animal. God redeemed his people, sparing every one of them who obeyed him by sprinkling the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorpost.
The ‘consecration of the firstborn’ that followed was a ritual in which every firstborn animal was slaughtered. In the case of a donkey – a large, valuable animal that could not easily be replaced –they could be ‘redeemed through the sacrifice of a lamb’ (of which the Hebrews had numerous). Every firstborn human male was ‘redeemed’ through the slaughter of another animal.
If your response to that is something like, ‘Wait…what? Why the sacrifice to consecrate the…eh…why?’, then I’m here to tell you that God anticipated just such a question:
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
The sacrificial system was designed to remind the Hebrews of the huge thing God had already done for them (the Exodus), whilst pointing them towards the enormous thing he WOULD do for them (sending Jesus to save them from their sins). The thread linking those two things was the death of the firstborn generally, and the death of a lamb specifically. The lambs that were sacrificed to redeem the people on the night of the Exodus, the lambs that were sacrificed to redeem the firstborn thereafter, and the death of the ‘firstborn’ Son of God, who was the Lamb, to redeem his people.
So…why wasn’t a lamb sacrificed to ‘redeem’ Jesus? Because if a mother can’t afford a lamb, “she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:8).
Jesus came in fulfilment of God’s promises, in obedience to God’s commands, as the climax of the entire sacrificial system, so that you can be saved.
Praise God for how he built up such a clear picture, over 1,500 years, of what he was doing and the role that Jesus would play. Praise him for his clearly fulfilled promise in Jesus and for his saving mercy, providing us with a means of redemption, a sacrificial lamb to take our place and take our punishment.