Purification in Three Acts
Today celebrates The Presentation of Jesus. Let us look at this event as if it were a three act play.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be presented to God as the first-born Son. According to Jewish law, a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. On the eighth day the child was circumcised in accordance with God’s covenant. For an additional thirty-three days the mother was considered unclean. At the conclusion of this period the mother offered a sacrifice to God in the Temple. In Luke we read:
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)
This was the first act of purification, a ceremonial purification. Mary, who was unclean, offered up her Son before God. Not only was her Son designated as holy to the Lord, he was holy to the Lord. Jesus had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was without sin. This ceremonial purification was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come.
At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
The second act of purification was the purification of the Law. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that He did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The law had to do with loving God and neighbor and not a set of rules to follow. In His earthly ministry Jesus exposed hypocrisy. As the Word made flesh He demonstrating the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.
Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon changed the whole temple worship by becoming the temple Himself. He would become the new Temple by first becoming the sacrifice Himself which satisfied all the requirements of the old Temple once and for all. His blood spilled on the cross would provide all the covering we need for our sins. We read in Hebrews:
Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
The last act of purification is the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:3-4)
Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents the saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered the sacrifice to their Son to God. God the Father offered His Son as a sacrifice to us all. Thus, the Presentation of Jesus is also our Presentation. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians:
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body[k] through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
And again in Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)