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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The first humiliation of our Lord Jesus on Mount Zion
Text:Luke 2:22-24 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:The Incarnation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 40:1-3
Hymn 16:3 (after reading of the Law of God in Exodus 20)
Hymn 20
Hymn 22
Psalm 98

Scripture reading:  Luke 2:1-24
Text:  Luke 2:22-24
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

There were many special things about the conception and birth of Christ.  For example, the fact that he was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Or take the fact that after his birth, the angels appeared to the shepherds praising God.  Later on, the wise men from the east appear, guided by a star.  From all this, we can see that his conception and birth were unusual in many respects. 

Yet there were also many aspects of his early days that were run of the mill for Jewish babies.  He went through the same rituals and ceremonies that every Jewish baby boy did.  So, for instance, in verse 21 Luke tells us that our Saviour received circumcision.  He was marked with the sign and seal of God’s covenant just like every other Jewish baby boy.  Being God in the flesh does not exempt him. 

The same thing can be seen in our text this morning.  Luke emphasizes here the fact that everything was done according to the Law of God.  Even though his birth is miraculous, even though he is a unique child, Joseph and Mary are not exempt from following the Law of God.  Jesus is fully God, but he is also fully human.  He is fully Jewish.  Therefore, he and his parents were obliged to follow all the Jewish laws given by God.

Now when we think about Christ’s incarnation, we often focus on the glorious side of it.  Christmas is a festive time and people want to accentuate the positive.  Yet, loved ones, we ought not to forget that Christ’s conception and birth and his first days on this earth, all that was part of his humiliation.  The first step in Christ’s humiliation was his conception in the womb of the virgin Mary.  His humiliation only continues downward from there as he is born and as he lives out his days on this earth in the flesh.

As we’ll see, as Jesus goes through what every newborn Jewish baby goes through, he is continuing on that downward path of humiliation.  He is doing this for our salvation, out of his redeeming love for you and me.  On this Christmas morning I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll hear about the first humiliation of our Lord Jesus on Mount Zion.

We’ll see that that he was humiliated: 

1.      According to the law of the LORD

2.      For the salvation of his people

Our text finds us some weeks after the actual birth of Jesus.  When a Jewish baby boy was born, his mother would be unclean for seven days.  Then on the eighth day, the baby would be circumcised.  This is what happened with Mary and her baby boy Jesus as well, according to verse 21.  But after the circumcision, there would be another period of 33 days, where the woman could not touch anything sacred or go to the temple.  This was known as the time of purification and it was legislated in the Mosaic law in Leviticus 12.  So what happens in our text happens about forty days after the birth of Jesus. 

Joseph and Mary take Jesus up to Jerusalem so that everything can be done according to the law of God.  Now this does tell us something about Joseph and Mary.  It tells us that they were law-abiding Jews.  They were concerned and careful to follow the law of God.  But our focus here is not supposed to be on Joseph and Mary as such.  The focus of Luke really is on Jesus.  We see the first evidence of that in our text in verse 22.  Luke’s wording is actually rather peculiar.  Given what the law says in Leviticus 12, we might expect him to say “the time of her purification.”  After all, the law of Moses was speaking about the woman.  But instead, Luke writes about “their purification.”  Why does he speak about “their purification”? 

Commentators offer different explanations.  Most agree that the most likely reason Luke writes this is that he is intending to draw our attention to Joseph’s role in what happens.  He’s the head of the family and thus he is the one who provides the sacrifices.  There’s also the possibility that he was personally involved in the birth of Jesus in a hands-on way and that made him unclean too.  All of that is possible.  But it would be more fitting here if we see Luke’s word choice as pointing us to Jesus.  He speaks of “their purification,” because the Holy Spirit wants us to understand that even though Jesus was God incarnate, he and his mother still included under the requirements of the law. 

Jesus was not a super-baby and his birth was not anything different than a normal human birth.  His conception was miraculous, but his birth took place the way any normal human birth takes place and it all involved all the normal processes.  I’ll spare you the details, but those of you who’ve had babies and you dads who’ve seen it happen, you know what all that involves.  Because his birth was a normal human birth, because he was a true human being, because he came into this world as a Jewish baby boy, the law of God had to be followed.  And it was.

For the purification, Leviticus 12 called for a sacrifice.  Once the time of purification was over, the woman had to go to the priests.  In the days of Moses, Jews would do that at the tabernacle, but in the days of our text that meant going to Mount Zion, to the temple in Jerusalem.  Maybe you remember that the temple was constructed in a concentric pattern.  As you moved inward, access became increasingly restricted until you arrived at the Most Holy Place, where only the High Priest could enter and then only once per year.  For the purification rites, women would go into one of the outer temple courts known as the Court of Women.  They would meet a priest there and then bring the sacrifice to him for their purification.  This was what Mary would have done.  Accompanied by Joseph and the baby Jesus, she went to Jerusalem and then entered into the temple precincts carrying the sacrifice that would mark the end of her uncleanness.

Now according to Leviticus 12, the sacrifice specified was a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove for a sin offering.  The burnt offering spoke of renewed dedication of life, and the sin offering was about purification, about removing unintentional sins and uncleanness.  Now the norm was a year-old lamb and a young pigeon or dove.  But the law of God did make an exception for the poor.  If a lamb was beyond their means, a couple could bring two doves or two young pigeons.  This is what Mary and Joseph brought according to our text.  That tells us that they were not people of wealth.  Even though they were of the line of David, they were on the lower end of the economic spectrum.  Since Joseph had a carpentry business they were probably not desperately poor, but they were not wealthy either.  They did what was required according to God’s law, in line with what they could afford.  The emphasis is on the fact that they did it.  Even though Jesus was a special child, conceived in a unique way, born without sin, his parents still had to follow the law of God – and they did.

But there’s more compacted into these three verses.  Luke also writes of a presentation to the Lord.  He writes of how the law of God specified that a firstborn male was to be consecrated to God.  Here too, Joseph and Mary obediently followed God’s Word.

What was that law all about?  We have to go back to the days when Israel was about to leave Egypt.  In Exodus 13, God told Moses to consecrate every firstborn male among the Jews.  They belonged to him.  All the firstborn males of Israel were to be God’s special possession.  They were to serve him in some special way.  But this changed.  At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel made their golden calf while Moses was on the mountain.  When Moses came down and saw this abomination, he became indignant.  He smashed the two tablets of the law, then he took the golden calf and burned it up.  He ground it into powder and threw it into the drinking water and made the Israelites drink it.  But he wasn’t finished yet.  He then called out, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.”  The Levites rallied to his side.  The Levites then went through the camp with their swords cleansing the people of their sin.  Then we read in Exodus 32:29 of what Moses said to the Levites, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”  It was their actions at Mount Sinai that distinguished the Levites and led to their being chosen by God to serve him in a special way.  So we read in Numbers 3(:11), the LORD says to Moses, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman.”  This meant that the Levites took the place of the firstborn males.  They would serve as priests in Israel.  And to effect this exchange there was to be a collection of redemption money.  Every first born male had to be redeemed with five shekels.  This was all because of the sin at Sinai.  Every time the redemption money was paid after a firstborn son, the Jews were supposed to be reminded of that tragic event in their history.

Now here we are in Luke 2.  The angel Gabriel had come to Mary in Luke 1.  Gabriel had told her that the son to be born was special, unlike any other.  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  An angel of the Lord had appeared to Joseph too.  We read about that in Matthew 1.  That angel told him that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  His name was to be Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.”  There’s no doubt that Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was a special child.  Yet the law of God is followed devoutly by them, no exception was made for this firstborn Son in Israel.                           

   To understand why that is, we have to remember what it is that he came to do.  So often the celebration of our Saviour’s birth leaves him in the manger.  Leaves him as a little child, the cute little innocent baby in his mother’s arms with Joseph lovingly looking on, surrounded by the peaceful animals in the stable.  We ought not to get caught up in the sentimentalism and romanticizing of our Saviour’s birth.  He came for a purpose.  According to Isaiah 53, Jesus came to bear our sorrows, carry our burdens, to enter into our shame and humiliation.  He came ultimately to suffer and to die.  Christ came into this world to bring us salvation from sin and its effects, most of all, to rescue us from the wrath of God that we deserve for our sins.

Keeping that in mind allows us to have the proper perspective on our text.  Here we see Christ being humiliated not for humiliation’s sake, but our sake.  What happens to him here is not accidental and it’s not meaningless.  It has a set purpose in the scheme of our salvation. 

Let’s take that last point from a moment ago about the redemption of the firstborn.  Our Spirit-conceived, sinless Saviour was not exempt from this part of God’s law.   And when his parents follow God’s law here, he is identified with his sinful people.  What happened at Sinai with the golden calf was a shame for Israel, and here Jesus shares in that shame and humiliation.  By birth, he was not a Levite and therefore he had no right to enter into the holiest precincts of the temple.  Because of the sins of his ancestors, he could not serve as a priest in Israel under the old covenant, according to the law of God.  No exception gets made for Jesus.  The five shekels must be paid. 

The two birds also have to be killed and offered as sacrifices in connection with his birth.  He is the Messiah, the long-promised anointed one of Yahweh.  There is no uncleanness in him and there never has been.  Yet also when he comes into the world, the law of God must be and is followed by his mother.  This too is part of the humiliation he endured.  He came exactly as one of his people, identifying entirely with them.  Rather than being excluded from all these laws that spoke of sin and uncleanness, he and his family continue to live under them.  They follow the law too when it attests to their poverty, when it humbles them and announces that they’re not wealthy people of status.  Jesus and his parents were from the royal line, but nothing about them anymore obviously speaks of royalty.    

Again we need to remember to put everything in the context of his redemptive work.  Thirty years later he would take up his ministry, that ministry that would lead to the cross.  In that ministry, he would come as a Jewish rabbi, teaching people the Word of God.  For that ministry, he would need to be fully Jewish, there could be no question about his credentials.  You can imagine the scenario if his mother and foster-father had treated him as a super-baby who was above the law.  Imagine if Mary and Joseph had discussed this.  “You know, we both heard from an angel.  We both heard that he was great, and that he was special, even ‘the son of the Most High.’  Our little baby Jesus is the Son of God!  Surely we don’t have to follow the law for him.  Surely we can skip the trip to Jerusalem.”  That would have been scandalous among the Jews when Jesus was a baby, and it would have been a scandal that would follow him his whole life.  His credibility as a Jewish rabbi (and even as a devout Jew) depended on his having everything done for him and to him according to the law of God, even though he was the Son of God.  There could be no doubt that that he was a true Jew, a descendant of Abraham.  Even though this was humiliation for him to be associated with all these laws that spoke of sin and uncleanness, it had to be done, it had to done for him to be our Saviour.

That’s because this goes to the question of his human nature.  It’s not only about the culture in which he appeared, but about the nature that he assumed.  He came as a true human being into that Jewish culture under the law of God.  Every human being is obliged to obey the moral law, and every Jewish person was obliged to obey all the ceremonial and civil laws given to Israel too.  To be our Saviour, he needed to come truly as one of us, and he needed to come as a genuine Jew.  He needed to come as one who would fulfill all the requirements of God’s law perfectly.  Every single part of the law, including those laws that spoke about newborn babies.  It would all fall into place with him, and as an obedient Son, he could go to the cross sinless and pay for our sins.                   

No one should miss the element of humiliation for Jesus in our text.  No one should miss the fact that this is obedience to the law of the LORD.  And no one should miss the fact either that this all takes place on Mount Zion.  This dedication is offered in the holy city of Jerusalem.  The sacrifice is offered at the temple.  This is only the first time that our Saviour will be humiliated in this place.  More humiliation lies ahead of him in the holy city.  It will culminate with his suffering.  While his death takes place at Golgotha, which was just outside the city, his scourgings and beatings take place in the city.  There’s no getting away from the fact that Jerusalem was a place of humiliation for Christ – and that is just beginning here in our text.  We read here of two birds that die – there is a back story of death here – and that reminds us that death awaits Jesus too.  This one was born to die, to die for our redemption. 

And die he did.  On this Christmas morning, we can’t block out thoughts of Good Friday.  The two are inextricably connected because both are points on his path downward into humiliation.  Both are points on the path he travelled down to save us from our sins.  At both points, he was moving forward to graciously bring us redemption and life. 

So loved ones, as we celebrate this day, it’s good to contemplate everything our Saviour went through for us.  We don’t celebrate our Saviour’s birth because it’s a romantic scene, or because it involves a cute baby.  We celebrate because his birth signified the coming of salvation for us, we rejoice because here we see God’s love and grace.  We have a Saviour who did not turn away from humiliation, but embraced it, doing what he was called to do because he loves us and has our names engraved on his heart.  Today again, we’re called to turn away from all our sins and wickedness, and entrust ourselves to him entirely.  Rest and trust in this loving Saviour who came to earth clothed in human flesh, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).  Praise God!  AMEN.      


Our Saviour Jesus,

We praise and thank you for your incarnation.  We’re glad that you came fully as one of us, bearing our human nature.  We thank you for the humiliation you endured to secure our salvation.  You went through everything, even identifying yourself with sinners like us.  You went on the path of humiliation and followed it through to the end.  Because of that, we’ve been reconciled to the just Judge of heaven and earth.  Thank you, dear Saviour.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so that we turn from our sins, and continue to rest and trust in you alone. 

Lord God, please bless our continuing celebration today.  Be with us as we enjoy fellowship with friends and family.  Please keep us safe, please keep us in your ways, and help us to glorify you as we rejoice today.  You made this a day of joy for us, and we pray that we would find our joy in you alone.    

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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