Leaving the Manger: Obedience

Luke 2:21-25 And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

22 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 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

These few verses are riddled with expressions of obedience by Joseph and Mary.

Just the other day, while driving on a long trip through inclement weather, I came upon a police officer who was going way too slow. I had a choice to make. Would I fall back and slow my pace to avoid a confrontation with the law, or would I carefully pass the officer’s vehicle and risk a ticket? Been there? Of course, there were lots of questions in my mind like, “I wonder how fast is too fast in these particular conditions?” and “I wonder if this is a happy cop or an angry cop?” and “Is there some law I don’t know about when it comes to passing police officers?” After a little consultation with my son (who has had more experience with the law than me the last while), I took the risk. My breathing turned shallow as I inched my way past. I exercised the limits of my peripheral vision to see if there was any kind of reaction by the driver of the enforcement vehicle—so it wasn’t too obvious I was nervous. Know what happened next? Nothing. After easing ahead for a couple of miles, I ramped up to my original speed and put the car back on cruise, which was maybe a little too fast for the current highway conditions.

Here’s the point. When someone who is in charge of the law is present, we tend to obey it a little more carefully.

Now—just think of Joseph and Mary. They had God living in their home. No secrets. No pretense of any kind. The law-giver and law-enforcer had dropped in…for the rest of their lives!

When I look at the above passage, I have to chuckle just a little. For those that like to smidge on the rules, the arrival of Jesus in your home would have been a little intimidating. I’m quite sure, though, that this was not the case with Joseph and Mary. From our first glimpse of this couple, we see that they were authentically godly, radically obedient, and sold-out on following hard after God. I suspect that these are some of the very reasons God had chosen them for this role in the first place.

Eight days after Jesus’ birth, they arrive at the temple for the Jewish ritual of circumcision. This was the covenant action required for all of God’s men to be identified as God’s chosen. But wait! Think of taking the blade to the Creator. What would it feel like to inflict pain on the Holy Infant? Don’t kid yourself–as the process of circumcision took place, little Jesus was not passively lying there cooing with a coy smile on His face. Just like any other child, He cried out with searing pain. The created Creator was receiving the first wounds of humanity. And ironically, to demonstrate that He uniquely belonged to God! Did he really need this? Wouldn’t it have been easy for the parent-couple to reason away the need for this particular ritual? But they didn’t. They simply did what the law required: “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations,” (Genesis 17:12). It’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

By the way, it was tradition in Israel that the newborn’s name was pronounced at the ceremony of circumcision. It was also tradition that the father gave a family name…something that identified the child as being his own son. Not so here. With complete and selfless obedience to the spoken word of God, Joseph declared that His name would be Jesus, meaning “savior”.

Verse 22-24 describe the next sacred event for the chosen family. After fulfilling the regulations for purification after the birth of a son, they returned to the temple to dedicate Jesus to Yahweh as the first-born male in their household. Leviticus 12:4 reads, “Then she (the birth mother) shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.” Yes—they knew and obeyed the law in every detail.  But that’s not all! The Old Testament Law also declared some laws concerning the first-born son!

Exodus 13:1-2, 15-16

13:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”

15’And it came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every first-born of my sons I redeem.’ 16 “So it shall serve as a sign on your hand, and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

The first-borns were to be given to God as a joyous celebration of God’s saving grace to the people of Israel! This was to remind them that this God of grace is able to save…and able to destroy. He required the first son as an offering to the Lord. Yes—God was given to God here! The Redeemer was first redeemed.

Mom also needed to be purified. That’s what the sacrifice of turtledoves is all about. As a sign of completion for her thirty three days of purification, she was to have offered, on her behalf, a lamb. If the worshippers could not afford a lamb, however, two turtledoves would suffice. And so it is here. Those commissioned to raise the Lamb of God could not afford to bring a lamb for sacrifice. With humble obedience, they purchased the required turtledoves and the offering was presented to honor the Lord in all these things.

What precious obedience we see in this godly and humble couple. They were intent on obeying every nuance of God’s requirements. They knew that God deserved everything He requested. They knew that better now than ever before!

It is so common to downplay obedience. After-all, God understands. God forgives. God cleanses. And so with sloppy theology and carnal motives, we often do what we want rather than what we are told. Unfortunately, if this is our mode of operation, we will miss out on the greater things that God entrusts to those whose heart is wholly devoted to Him. Remember what Jesus said in later years? “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” The same God who said it then, declared it in Old Testament writ as well:

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.

The God who entrusted this couple with Jesus is the One who still seeks for those whose heart is completely His…and who demonstrate that with radical obedience.

ACTION: What action of obedience is God requiring of you right now? Write it down…and then talk to God about this area of your life.