The Lamb We Couldn’t Afford
A few years back I had the opportunity to write a ladies bible study for my church. We took three to four weeks and studied the lives of different women in scripture. One of these was Anna, found in Luke chapter two. While studying to write on Anna’s story, I came across a small detail in the story of Christ that I hadn’t seen before. After researching a little further, I was (and still am) deeply moved and humbled.
Luke 2:22-24 (This is after the birth of Christ and Mary and Joseph are going to present him at the temple.) “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”
Growing up, I heard this story of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple many times. It was always kind of tacked on to the end of the birth story and then you kept going further on to the life of Christ. I assumed they simply wanted to go show off their new baby at church and have him prayed over. You know- like the baby dedication services we have these days. But there was a lot more going on here.They were going to honor the covenant that God had made with their people by dedicating their first-born to the Lord, as well as bringing a sacrifice for Mary so she could be atoned for and once again considered clean and righteous.
Stick with me through some little details:
In Exodus 13:1-2 God gives a command concerning the first-borns of the nation of Israel, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.'”
In Leviticus 12, we are given the Old Testament law pertaining to purification of a woman after childbirth. After a woman gave birth she was considered unclean for a certain amount of days depending on if the child was male or female. At the end of that set amount of days, the woman had to bring a sacrifice to the temple and the priest would offer it on her behalf, to atone for her uncleanness and make her clean again. In verse six we are given more details about this, “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her.” Keep reading through verse 8 and we find, “And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Keep all this in mind as we keep trekking forward.)
In the passage in Luke we are told that they came “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”. Putting this information alongside the passage from Leviticus, we can conclude that they must not have been able to afford a lamb.
Don’t miss this. Mary could not afford a lamb for her atonement, so she brought two turtledoves or two pigeons as an offering instead.
Mary could not afford a lamb to offer as payment so she could be considered clean and pure in God’s sight….yet in her arms was the lamb of God, who would eventually offer himself as payment for not only her sins, but the sins of all God’s people. Christ entered into this system where people tried their best to atone for their sins, their uncleanness, but would never succeed. In this world where his own mother was required to make a sacrifice that she could not pay, he didn’t do away with the law, but he fulfilled it, and in doing so made the final payment for all people to be made right with God.
With all of our religious systems and all of the ways we have structured to ‘be right with God’, we will never be able to afford the proper sacrifice. Being good people, loving, forgiving, reading our bibles, going to church, prayer, missions, even sacrificing our own lives….Nothing we can do or say will be enough to atone for our sins. But the great news is, just like Mary, we don’t have to afford a lamb. Our lamb has been provided, and his sacrifice was enough for all of us. Our hope is in his righteousness-that we get to partake in his right standing with God.
These thoughts are heavy on my mind as we enter into this time of year. This is Christmas. God made man. Emmanuel-God with us. The lamb that came to be slain. The lamb we couldn’t afford.