During our adult class on Christmas Eve this year (December 24, 2017) we will read the first four chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Anchors in Jewish Scripture are what we would expect for the coming Messiah and Luke’s account delivers.
Although Luke was writing his gospel account of Jesus for a primarily Gentile audience, I have been overwhelmed by the degree to which Luke anchors His story in the Old Testament. His direct references to “The Law” and important people in Israel’s history combine with allusions and inferences to make a powerful connections with Jesus’ entry into the world and His solid relationship with the Jewish people.
For example, in just the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, look at the references to the Law of Moses:
- 1:5 – Zechariah is a descendent of Aaron, of the priestly division of Abijah
- 1:5 – Elizabeth is a descent of Aaron
- 1:6 – Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth – Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.
- 1:15 John is to live according to the Nazarite Law
- 1:15 – John is to be great in the sight of the Lord
- 1:15 – John will be filled with the Holy Spirit
- 1:16 – John will go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah
- 2:22 – purification rites required in the Law of Moses
- 2:23 – as it is written in the Law of the Lord
- 2:24 – in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord
- 2:25 – Simeon “was righteous and devout”
- 2:27 – Jesus’ parents bring Jesus to the temple to do for him what the custom of the Law required. (Ex. 13:1-16)
- 2:37 – Anna was a widow at 84 years of age who worshipped, fasted and prayed at the temple night and day since her husband died after 7 years of marriage.
- 2:39 – Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord.
- 2:41 – Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover every year, according to the custom
In addition, Luke highlights the centrality of the temple:
- 1:9, 21, 22 – Zechariah’s time in the temple where Gabriel meets him
- 2:22 – Jesus is presented in the temple
- 2:27 – Simeon comes out of the temple to meet Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the temple courtyard of the women
- 2:37 – Anna is in the temple, worshipping night and day, fasting and praying
- 2:41 – Jesus parents go to Jerusalem every year for Passover
- 2:46 – Jesus is found in the temple courts with the teachers asking questions and listening
Indeed, Luke sets the stage for the gospel of Jesus Christ by anchoring us in:
- The Old Testament
- The Temple
- The Law of Moses
- Parents of John and Jesus are devout in obeying the Law
- The Holy Spirit
CIRCUMCISED ON THE 8TH DAY
In Genesis 17 God changes Abram’s name (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many) and Sarai’s name (my princess) to Sarah (a princess) and God institutes, with Abraham, circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Eight days after his birth every male is to be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
Luke 2:21 – circumcised on the 8th day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
PURIFICATION AFTER THE BIRTH OF THE FIRSTBORN SON
In Leviticus 12 God tells Moses that for the first seven days after childbirth a woman is ceremonially unclean until the 8th day when she is to have her son circumcised. Then, after another 33 days she must take part in a purification ceremony in the temple, offering a sacrifice.
6 “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.[a] 7 He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.
“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”
Luke 2:22 – when the time came for the purification rites required by the law of Moses
DEDICATING AND REDEEMING THE FIRST BORN SON
Water to blood, Frogs, Gnats, Flies, Livestock, Boils, Hail, Locusts and Darkness. In Exodus chapters 7-11 we are told of the 9 plagues that came upon the Egyptians to convince them to let their slaves for 430 years, the children of Israel, go free. Every plague touched every Egyptian while the Israelites were completely exempted. Each time, Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go…that is until the 10th plague. One night in April, the Lord came through all of Egypt and took the life of the first born sons and animals of the land. The Israelites were exempted because they each had placed above the door to their home, the blood of a lamb.
In Exodus 13, to remember this night, God instituted the Passover meal that would remind everyone of the night that the Lord passed over their homes because of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. It was also on that night that God instructed all Israelites to come to dedicate their first born sons to Him and redeem them back from Him.
In Numbers 18:15-16 we are told that the parents must dedicate their first-born to the Lord and then they may redeem him back from the lord for a ceremonial price of five shekels of silver. As Joseph and Mary are following through with their ceremonial requirements….
I imagine Joseph holding out the five shekels of silver to give to the priests in the temple as he was supposed to do (Luke 2:27). As he is just about to do this an older priest named Simeon suddenly comes out of the temple into the court, and he holds the baby Jesus in his arms proclaiming:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:28-32)
While Mary and Joseph are shocked and marveling, Simeon turns directly to Mary and announces:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Meanwhile, Anna walks into the temple court area where Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus and Simeon are and she begins to announce “He’s here!” to everyone else in the courtyard. “The Messiah has arrived!
What about the 5 shekels of silver? To be so particular about the ceremonial particulars that Jesus’ parents observed, the five shekels are never specifically mentioned. If Simeon or another priest ever received the money it is not recorded.
Perhaps it is because the full procedure did not occur as it would have for a normal child. Like Samuel, Jesus is being given to God by Joseph but he was not redeemed back to Joseph and Mary.
Jesus remained dedicated to the Lord.*
The following notes from the Jewish Encyclopedia underline the importance of this practice:
Every Israelite is obliged to redeem his first-born son thirty days after the latter’s birth. The mother is exempt from this obligation. The son, if the father fails to redeem him, has to redeem himself when he grows up (Ḳid. 29b). The sum of redemption as given in the Bible (Num. xviii. 16) is five shekels, which should be given to the priest. This sum may be given either in money or in valuables, but not in real estate, slaves, or promissory notes. The priest may afterward return the money to the father, although such practise is not recommended by the Rabbis. At the redemption the father of the child pronounces the blessing, “Blessed art thou . . . and commandeth us concerning the redemption of a son,” and then also the blessing of “she-heḥeyanu.” It is customary to prepare a feast in honor of the occasion, at which the ceremony is made impressive by a dialogue between the priest and the father of the child. (Jewish Encyclopedia, (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6138-first-born-redemption-of) “Redemption of First-Born”)
Jesus was dedicated to God but He was not redeemed by Joseph! With this, Luke sets the stage for the bar mitzvah of Jesus at the temple (his parents had taken Him there every year (Luke 2:41)). Where else would God’s Son be found except in the presence of the priests, the teachers of the law, asking questions and listening to their answers. Of course, everyone was amazed at his understanding and His answers and, of course, his parents are astonished (Luke 2:48).
With incredible mastery, Luke relates the story of Jesus’ early years with a crescendo that brings us to chapter 3 and the introduction of John the Baptist who would be anchored firmly in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s 800 year old prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5). Moreover, Luke tells us that John began his ministry during a specific point in history, located specifically in the country around the Jordan River for a specific purpose: “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).
Yes, Luke was likely writing to a primarily Gentile audience. And, of course, they needed to know what their Jewish brothers and sisters had already realized: Jesus was the total and complete fulfillment of ancient prophecies.
*Craddock, Fred. Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.