Shorty after Jesus is born, he is presented in the Temple. In the law of the Israelites, every first-born boy had to be consecrated to God with the offer of a small sacrifice. To understand why, we have to go back in time to when the Israelites were taken out of Egypt by God. Just a short history lesson, I promise it’ll be quick.
So the Israelites are suffering a whole lot in Egypt under the Pharaoh, and when the time was right, God sends Moses to free the Israelites from the Egyptians and take them to Himself. So Moses goes and tries several times and the Pharaoh continually resists until God sends an angel of death to kill all the firstborn males – both people and animals – in all of Egypt. Except … He saves the firstborn sons of the Israelites. When an Israelite family sacrifices a pure lamb and puts its blood on the doorway of the house, God claims the firstborn in that household for Himself, and so the child lives.
Well, after that, the Pharaoh wants Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt and they go, they cross the Red Sea, and finally make it to Mt Sinai where God is waiting for them. At last, God has them for Himself. And one of the things He says is, “I saved the Israelite firstborns – they belong to Me.” So, that’s where the requirement in the law comes in, because God saved the Israelites by claiming the firstborns for Himself. Every firstborn boy is His, and needs a sacrifice to mark him that way, and that means that the boy has life and is saved from death. So, by the time of Jesus, the family presenting the firstborn boy has to bring him to the Temple to the priests and buy or bring a certain animal to be sacrificed, and that does the job.
OK, that’s the history lesson.
Why did I get into all that? Because when Jesus is presented in the Temple, God does something different that makes it not just for the Israelites of the past, but for us today. When Jesus is presented, Simeon steps up out of the blue and what does he do? He starts talking about the human heart. Yes, he starts talking about Jesus being a sign of contradiction, of the thoughts of many hearts being revealed, and that Mary’s soul is going to be pierced with a sword. What’s all that have to do with being presented in the Temple, you might ask? It’s this:
The sacrifice that’s going to mark us as belonging to God is not going to be a dead, wounded, bloody animal anymore.
It’s going to be our heart.
When you have a heart that tries to love and is squashed, crushed, is full of wounds, blood pouring out, a heart that is stepped on, has swords or daggers stuck into it, a heart that’s been betrayed, denied, rejected, or insulted – even a heart that is dead from all the failure in trying to love, then let me tell you, you have the perfect offering to give to God.
And when you do God will look at you and He will see only one thing:
His firstborn Son.
You belong to Him.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51)
A Happy and Grace-filled New Year to everyone, especially if you’ve got wounds from 2016!