The redemption of the firstborn

Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. Exodus 13:13

When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days… 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 burn offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.

Leviticus 12.2, 6

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.

Luke 2.22

By this we have will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 11.10

One of the things that stands out in the gospels is this: although Jesus is an Israelite, he is never depicted as offering a sin offering. We do see his mother offering a sin offering at Jesus’ birth in accordance with the laws of Moses. Leviticus stipulates that mothers are to offer a burnt offering and a sin offering after the days of her purification. Mary his mother offers the sin offering and the burnt offering in accordance with Leviticus 12.

Furthermore, Exodus and Numbers stipulate that firstborn sons are holy to the Lord. Just as Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn son and so is devoted to Yahweh, all Israelite firstborn sons are Holy to Yahweh. Usually firstborn children are redeemed, but it isn’t exactly clear whether or not Jesus is redeemed. There is in fact precedent for children who are not redeemed but are devoted to Yahweh. Specifically, we see Luke is drawing our attention to Samuel through allusions left and right in his early chapters. Samuel was raised by his mother but eventually began to serve at the tabernacle full time and was raised by Eli the priest at Shiloh.

Although it is possible that Jesus was redeemed, it seems more likely given all that both Mary and Joseph heard from heavenly sources about their son that Jesus was in fact not redeemed but devoted to Yahweh. Luke makes this clear in his narrative in chapter 2. Mary offers the acceptable sacrifices for her own purification (two turtledoves or two young pigeons), but she doesn’t offer a lamb as a redemption price. Instead, we run into two figures who draw out the fact that Jesus himself will redeem others. Where we would have expected Luke to tell us of Jesus’ redemption, we instead hear of two older Israelites who recognize Jesus: Simeon who recognizes Jesus as the anointed savior and Anna who gave thanks to God and spoke of Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. To bring home the parallel to Samuel, Luke mentions in verse 40, ‘The child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.’ These words echo those that describe the young child Samuel.

Now we should consider the importance of this: why is Jesus a firstborn male, holy to the Lord? Why was he not redeemed? Additionally, why do we never see Jesus offer a sin offering? (He was only required to if he had sinned unintentionally.) It is because of the very purpose of his coming. Jesus’ death is pictured as an offering itself. The author of Hebrews draws together the whole sacrificial system for the covering of sins as defective by the very fact that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Instead Christ entered the more perfect tabernacle through his own blood once for all having obtained eternal redemption. The called of God are redeemed through Christ’s blood. We have a sacrifice which is able to truly cleanse our conscience from dead works.

What this should mean then is that our hope is sure. If you have repented and believed, if God’s Spirit has revived your heart, then we have a sure hope for redemption for our sins. Mary offered a sin offering because of her sin nature: she was born in Adam. We no longer offer a sin offering because in Christ we are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come. We’re no longer in the Old Adam, but in the New Adam: Christ.

What is the importance of this picture of redemption? It doesn’t always seem so practical. These sorts of words are a product of our culture which praises pragmatism and results over what is instructed in scripture. The importance is that we have a sure and steady anchor in Christ Jesus and his work. As we live in a world that seems to vacillate and tumble between extremes in beliefs and practice, we who trust in Christ’s gospel have peace. We can be easily afflicted by things in the world: the 24 hour news tends to overhype every single thing we call news. We can be easily disturbed by disagreements and arguments between brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a fickle people, but in Christ we have peace. We hope in a lasting city whose builder is God and where men and women of faith from all generations will join in the everlasting song. May we find a lasting hope in Christ our redemption.

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