On this, the Sunday closest to the eighth day after Christmas, we are going to take a look at how Mary and Joseph fulfilled the Law concerning both themselves and Jesus.
Luke tells of this event in 2:21-40.
But, as we look at these verses, observe how God's grace fulfills the intent of the Law, if not always according to the letter of the Law, as some taught, and still teach, the people.
21. And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23. (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"),
24. and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."
To us this must seem to be quite rigid for a person to have to go through this kind of a ritual, but there is even more to the Law than is printed here.
Therefore, so that we can understand the full impact of what responsibility and implication the Law places upon the people, let's take a look at Leviticus 12:1-8.
1. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean.
Do you remember our discussion some time in the past, when we talked about the fact that sin is passed on by the male and not the female?
If this were not so, then Jesus, who was born of the Holy Spirit and not of man, would not have been born sinless, as He was.
But curiously, here in this Levitical passage, the woman is viewed as the one carrying the sin, and the one who is in need of purification.
And it is only after her initial purification that her son can be presented according to the Law.
3. 'And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4. 'Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.
5. 'But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days.
If, in fact, the woman is truly unclean for all this time, then how could she really be considered clean only upon the eighth day, and not on the seventh or on the ninth?
There is a period of grace being offered by God.
But this only brings up the question, why wouldn't God offer His grace on the other days as well?
The Law provides no real grace; grace comes directly from God.
Then why the Law?
To show us that no matter how hard we try, we cannot totally fulfill all of it without some intervention of God's grace.
But there is something more contained in this portion of the Law (Leviticus 12:6-8),
6. And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting, a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.
7. 'Then he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.
…and here’s the key:
8. 'But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.' "
Again notice the touch of grace: "But if she cannot afford a lamb…."
If the Law requires the death of an innocent lamb to cleanse us of sin, then how can a pigeon or turtledove provide enough blood to cover the sin?
The answer is that it doesn't. It is really grace that covers the sin.
And because of this grace clause we find out something else: Mary and Joseph must have been quite poor.
We are told that once the Magi arrived, Mary and Joseph were given gold and other valuable things.
Thus, since they acted according to the Law, then we have proof that the Magi didn't come while they were in the stable, as common practice in our celebrations would indicate.
The Magi had to have come some time later, or Mary and Joseph would have had enough money to afford a lamb, which they didn't.
Let's return to our passage from Luke, beginning at 2:25.
25. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law,
28. then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29. "Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart
In peace, according to Thy word;
30. For my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
31. Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32. A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Thy people Israel."
Now consider carefully: if following the Law could save us, then why would we also need a Savior?
And consider Simeon, who had the Holy Spirit upon him, and who was obviously a follower of the Law; for even in this state of grace and obedience, he knew he still needed a Savior.
Simeon knew that the Law only convicts us of sin and the death it causes.
He knew that the Spirit brings life, but that that life was through Jesus Christ.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 7 and 8, but let's just look at three verses of what he says (Romans 7:4-6).
4. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.
5. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
6. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
What Paul is reminding us about, and what Simeon was saying, is that the letter of the Law convicts; for even if we have only sinned in our minds, we have still sinned; but by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, we are freed from the letter of the Law, as are also the innocent animals, and we now abide in grace.
But there is a catch.
We must receive Jesus, as did Simeon.
We must take Him into our arms, hold Him close to our hearts, publicly accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and then live according to the guidance of the Spirit who abides in us.
Now, how did all this affect Mary and Joseph?
Let's return to Luke 2:33, and see.
33. And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.
34. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed--
35. and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
Simeon is saying that the sword of conviction will penetrate even the soul of Mary to reveal her sins to her, for even the mother of our Lord needed this, as an example of the fact that sin can kill even the most righteous person who has no Savior.
Thus, if even Mary needs salvation, then how much more, we, who have not been so blessed?
Yet, by the grace of God we have been so blessed, if we accept this gift of life everlasting.
And even more happened on this eighth day:
36. And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage,
37. and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.
38. And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
If we think we are above the need for a Savior in our lives, as unfortunately most people in this world believe, then we will not recognize this grace which Anna saw and is right before our eyes.
Jesus came offering us salvation, but we must acknowledge Him as did Simeon and Anna, if we are to receive it.
It is only then that we can go in the peace and assurance that we are redeemed.
39. And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.
Note carefully that we are told that they returned to Nazareth after this eighth day.
Thus the Magi must have gone to Nazareth, and not to Bethlehem; but we will talk more about that next week.
40. And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
If Jesus needed to grow strong in wisdom, then what about us?
The same grace that was upon Him is upon us, but He still needed to increase in wisdom, and He did.
But what about us? Most people are content to have the pastor increase in wisdom, so that hopefully some of it will rub off on them.
True wisdom only comes from truly applying ourselves to the study of God's ways, and by learning how to put them into practice in our lives.
If we don't fully understand the extent of God’s unconditional love and compassion and the extent of His grace, how can we ever learn to fully love Him or each other?
The answer is that we can't.
Before we conclude, let's think of another way that God's grace changed Israel and the Law by which they lived, even though the vast majority of the Jewish people haven't accepted Him as their Messiah for the past 2,000 years.
The whole sacrificial system ended with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.
So, how are the Jewish people being forgiven, if they no longer sacrifice an innocent animal?
They are being forgiven (at least those who are truly repentant) by the grace of God, which was always surrounding them.
I truly believe that God has done this as a signpost to the House of Israel that one day they will recognize.
We need to remember that the Law brought death, but the Spirit and the grace of God brings life.
God wants each of us to be more than we are right now, and through His grace He will help us to become the person He desires us to be; but we must receive His Christmas gift, if we are going to achieve this state of grace.
It is in this state of grace that we can have a merry Christmas all the days of our lives.
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