Luke 2:22-40 recounts the birth of Jesus and the events immediately following. This whole episode is extraordinary. And that is the principle by which Christians must approach the Incarnation — its extraordinariness.
The biblical narrative presents an extraordinary time in human history because the Extraordinary One, Jesus the Son of God, is involved. Luke is fully conscious of the fact that the prophetic circumstances surrounding His birth proclaim Jesus to be the Christ come to redeem His Israel. In verse 21, Luke draws attention to the extraordinary person of Jesus by emphasizing, “…the name given to the child,” remarking that His “name was given by the angel of God.” Simply put, God named this child with a name which indicated who this Child was and how He would be known to the world: “His name was called Jesus.” In the Hebrew it is Yeshua or Joshua, which means, “The salvation of Yahweh.”
Jesus would be known to the world as salvation itself, salvation Himself. He is His name: Yahweh’s means of salvation – Jesus. Israel’s redemption was not to be found in some thing, but in some one: Jesus – the one who is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is the extraordinary One because He is the God-man. He is Salvation, not a way of salvation. It is the Incarnation, then, that makes Jesus of Nazareth so extraordinary. This person is, at the same time, a fully human person born of Mary and God our salvation.
Just how this may be good news for the entire world is Luke’s chief concern. Right off the bat, Luke teaches us a basic theological principle: Because Jesus is extraordinary, His participation in ordinary events renders them extraordinary. And extraordinary events, by definition, bring with them new interpretations and fresh meanings to people, times, and places in which they occur. In other words, because of who Jesus is – the salvation of Yahweh – He redefines any and all events in which He participates by investing them with recreative redemptive value. That is, the incarnate Son of God makes ordinary events extraordinary by making them events that factor into our salvation.
It is the Incarnation, then, that makes Jesus of Nazareth so extraordinary. This person is, at the same time, a fully human person born of Mary and God our salvation.
The great principle here is one many overlook. Not only is Jesus’ death and resurrection saving, but also His life – even the most ordinary and mundane events of His life – must be considered extraordinary as factoring to the effectual means of our salvation.
In chapter 2, Luke provides us with three examples of what would otherwise be rather unremarkable events and follows the declaration of Simeon to confirm their new significance as extraordinary saving events to set our eyes on the cross and resurrection of Christ. In verse 30, the identification of the Child with God’s salvation serves as the climax of the narrative and the key to understanding the significance of not only Luke’s three examples, but all the sayings and symbolic acts of Jesus. The first event Luke presents is a common birth. The second is an ordinary circumcision. The third event is a routine presentation in the Temple.
Jesus’ common, lowly birth is a great act of divine condescension and salvation in that it sanctifies the births of His people. Therefore, although they are sinners by nature and, indeed, conceived in sin, yet by representing them in His holy entrance into this world as God’s true Son, Jesus makes it possible for covenant children to be born heirs of God’s promises. If it is true that Jesus represented the covenant people of God in every dimension of life, then even our entrance into this world would need to be sanctified. Jesus does just that by participating in human nativity. Even in Jesus’ birth He was shedding blood for the redemption of His people through the exchange of blood that takes place when a child passes through the birth canal.
Jesus’ circumcision also factors into salvation by separating His people from the company of unbelievers. Because it is Jesus who undergoes circumcision, circumcision must be understood anew. In fact, there are at least three things his transformative participation in circumcision teaches us. We must understand Jesus underwent circumcision as a representative. This is the first thing that gives it new meaning. It was expected that the male child who underwent circumcision did it for himself. Essentially, he presented himself. But Christ was extraordinary because He not only presented Himself, but He represented Israel – God’s people, past, present, and future – in His symbolic yet efficacious physical demarcation as one who belongs to the God of Abraham.
When the Christ of God undergoes circumcision, He does so to fulfill the Law and, therefore, does it on behalf of everyone who shares in His saving representation. This is to say, Jesus kept the Law for all the covenant people of God (again – past, present, and future) and thus He fulfilled all righteousness. The righteousness we lacked under the Law, He gained for us by fulfilling the Law — even the law of circumcision.
This is to say, Jesus kept the Law for all the covenant people of God (again – past, present, and future) and thus He fulfilled all righteousness.
This event of circumcision tells of a life which begins with suffering and pain. This too bespeaks of the extraordinary nature of Christ’s life. On the eighth day of His infancy, we note how His life would be one of suffering, of shedding His blood on behalf of others to fulfill all righteousness.
The third event recorded in verses 22-24 takes place more than four weeks after Jesus’ saving circumcision. In this place in Luke’s Gospel, we find Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus in Jerusalem to comply with the Mosaic regulations concerning purification after childbirth. But their trip to the Temple had more in view than Mary becoming ceremonially clean. In verses 22-24, mention is made not only of Mary’s purification but also of the child’s presentation. The “presentation” of the child differed from her process of purification. Two quite separate ceremonies are involved here: Purification from childbirth, which ended with a sacrifice, and the presentation of the child, which included the special notion of redemption, that is, the payment of a ransom fee.
So, here we have something remarkable and totally unexpected about Jesus. On this 40th day after His birth, Jesus got saved. The One who is called “the Redeemer” was Himself redeemed! Jesus’ redemption took place in fulfillment of an Old Testament regulation. Because Jesus was, in fact, His mother’s firstborn son and He did not belong to the priestly tribe of Levi, Jesus had to be “exempted” or “redeemed” from official Temple service by the payment of five shekels of silver, just as the Law prescribed with the underlying idea of this redemption ritual based in the Exodus event.
If you were the firstborn male Levite in your family, you would have been committed to lifelong service as a priest or as an assistance to the priests. But if you were a firstborn male in any other tribe, your parents would have to pay five shekels of silver for your redemption. It is this notion of a payment for redemption which is evoked in Luke’s Gospel. For Jesus was also under the sentence of death in that, as an Israelite, He was born under the Law, just as we were born under the curse of the Law. However, He was born under the Law in the sense of not only being under personal obligation to keep God’s holy Law, but also of being uniquely duty-bound.
Here is where Luke wants us to understand this ordinary event of ritual redemption in a new, extraordinary way. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, voluntarily obligated Himself to God the Father to vicariously, that is “in our place,” bear the Law’s penalty of death for sin and to satisfy its demand of perfect obedience. So, what is extraordinary is the fact that Jesus came to stand in this ritual redemption not only for Himself but for all those He came to redeem. Jesus was duty-bound on our behalf.
What is extraordinary is the fact that Jesus came to stand in this ritual redemption not only for Himself but for all those He came to redeem.
Consequently, Jesus stood in the place of all those He came to redeem and acted out their redemption by being redeemed in their stead. The significance of this emerges when we consider the scope and magnitude of all those who need to be redeemed in Him. Jesus really stands in the place of all those not born into the priestly tribe of Levi and obtains their redemption. That includes literally everyone who is not from the priestly tribe of Levi.
But what Luke and the author of Hebrews intimate by way of implication is that Christ’s ritual redemption foreshadows a time when the priestly tribe of Levi itself would be rendered redundant after He had offered Himself as, “…a sacrifice once and for all,” and further into the future, after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. So, if anyone was or is to find redemption, it can only be found in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. Therefore, the child Jesus, by submitting Himself to a common birth, the humiliation of circumcision, and a lowly redemption ritual, was not only already identifying Himself as the righteous Messiah who represents God’s people, but also as the innocent substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
It was just after Joseph had offered sacrifices for Mary’s purification and right before they had presented the child and paid the ransom fee for redemption, that we encounter the character of Simeon. Simeon was a righteous man who had waited for the consolation of Israel by God’s Messiah. In fact, the term, “The consolation of Israel,” was another name for the coming of the Messiah. Fueled by the writings of the prophets, the Jews were big with expectations of a messiah to deliver them from the oppression by foreign occupation.
Simeon, whose very name means “hearing,” offers a contrast to those waiting for a renegade Messiah or charismatic general. For while God’s voice was silent to this dying nation for over 400 years, Simeon was hearing the Spirit of God speaking an extraordinary message. Verse 26 tells us, “…it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Undoubtedly, he read and believed the words of Isaiah that the Messiah would not only reign on David’s throne, but also that Messiah must first be despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He would be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.
Simeon received the Word with faith and waited for the true Messiah, the exceptional One, who would bring the true consolation of Israel. It is a consolation achieved not through rebellion but through redemption. It is a consolation of salvation not from the Romans, but from their most entrenched enemies: Sin, Satan, and Death.
Finally, Luke next tells us in verse 28 that just after Simeon was providentially led into the Temple courts, he, “…took Jesus up in his arms and blessed God and said: ‘Lord, now You are letting You servant depart in peace, (According to your word); for my eyes have seen Your salvation.” Simeon goes on to show the meaning of the Christmas message when he explains this salvation is not for any one nation but for “all peoples” – your people Israel and a light for the Gentiles. Simeon declares God’s salvation is this person, it is the child Himself. Jesus is the salvation of God.