Summary: How God took the "Redemption of the Firstborn" to proclaim the Redemption of mankind though Jesus
Presentation of Christ in the Temple
With all the festivities around Christmas and Epiphany, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus was an Orthodox Jew.
Story: When I was younger, I used to wonder what, on earth, possessed Matthew and Luke to record the genealogies of Christ. Until I met Gideon Miller.
Gideon Miller was an extraordinary man. He was about5’6” and had size 16 shoes. He was married to a German lady who had been a member of the Hitler Youth. Which was astounding because Gideon had been born a Jew.
After the Second World War, he had been granted a gambling licence in Las Vegas, which in those days was a licence to print money.
But Gideon had a drinking problem and soon lost everything. When he eventually realised that he had a problem he started going to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous that used to meet in the crypt of a church.
One evening he arrived a bit too early and so looked round for something to read. He picked up a New Testament and started reading Matthew’s Gospel.
As he read the genealogy of Jesus, he suddenly realised that Jesus wasn’t a Christian he was a Jew!!
So he went out and bought a New Testament and began reading it regularly. And eventually he decided to give his life to Christ.
The genealogy of Christ was instrumental in bringing Gideon to know Jesus.
And this morning’s Gospel reading reminds us how Jewish Jesus was.
And why was that important?. Because God had revealed in the Old Testament Scripture that the Messiah would be a Jew born in the line of King David.
Luke, in Chapter 2 of his Gospel, mentions three Jewish ceremonies that mother and child were involved in–
i) The Circumcision of Christ,
ii) The Purification of Mary (from which the Book of Common Prayer “Churching of Women after Childbirth” is based) and
iii) The Redemption of the Firstborn – or as we know it – The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
I would like to look at the third ceremony today, which was known as “The redemption of the firstborn.”
22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took (Jesus) to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"
To understand the significance of this ceremony, we need a little background.
"The ceremony, consisted of the formal presentation of the child to the priest, accompanied by two short benedictions
n the first one for the law of redemption
n the other for the gift of a firstborn son,
after which the redemption money was paid."
The basis for the ceremony was that, in the Old Testament, every firstborn son born to a Jewish woman was considered "consecrated for the service" of God.
That’s the actual meaning of the Greek word hagios, which is translated as “consecrated” (NIV) or “holy” (KJV) in Luke 2:23.
However that service to God was fulfilled by the Levites.
In the book of Numbers we read:
"The Lord … said to Moses, ’I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman.
The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.’ " (Numbers 3:11-13)
However, since the Levites performed all the Temple duties instead of the firstborn, the parents of the firstborn non-Levites were required to pay a redemption fee, which was set at five shekels. (Numbers 3:46-47; 8:16-18; 18:16; See also Exodus 13; 22:28-29; 34:19-20; 18:15-18; Deuteronomy 15:19-20).
Story: The idea of the redemption fee might at first blush seem a bit strange to us in 21st Century Britain.
We don’t have conscription in the UK (yet!), but we do have it in Switzerland.
Every Swiss male, resident in Switzerland- when he reaches the age of 20, is required to do National Service for 17 weeks. Our oldest son, Jonny starts on military service next week!
It is one of the obligations of Swiss citizenship - for the defence of the country.
If, for any reason, for example due to illness he cannot do his military service, he will pay a yearly tax (called the “Militär Ersatzsteuer”) to support others who carry out, in his place, his responsibilities towards the defence of the country.
In a sense, the Militär Ersatzsteuer is a redemption fee for those who do not go into the Swiss Military.
In a similar way, the redemption price paid on all non-Levite firstborn in Jesus’ day was a way of supporting the priesthood to do their service to God, in their place.