The law required that a male be circumcised on the eighth day. This was separate from being presented to the Lord. The firstborn was sacred to the Lord and had to be redeemed. This redemption was accomplished by offering a sacrifice in exchange for the life of the firstborn.
This redemption was required by God, because when God took the lives of all of the firstborn of Egypt, He spared the firstborn of Israel. This requirement dated back to the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
The story of the 10 plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea are famous. However, the continuing requirement that all of the firstborn of man and animals be dedicated to the Lord is not talked about as much.
There were twelve tribes or families in Israel. Each tribe descended from one of the twelve sons of Israel. After the Exodus the descendants of Levi, known as the Levites, were dedicated to God for service as substitutes for the firstborn of all the Israelites.
The death of Egypt’s firstborn and the sparing of Israel’s firstborn were forever commemorated by both a requirement that the firstborn had to be redeemed by sacrifice and the dedication of the substitute tribe of Levi to the Lord.
This was because God’s great deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt was at the cost of Egypt’s firstborn.
This is a picture of the cost of God’s great deliverance of the world from sin.
Israel’s slavery in Egypt was a time bound, temporary thing. God’s purpose was eternal and much greater in scope than Egypt and Israel. God had in mind the deliverance of all humanity, including Egypt and Israel.
In the midst of this deliverance is the troubling death of all of the firstborn of Egypt.
In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” (NLT) There are many other places where God makes the same point. It grieves Him when anyone dies, especially the wicked. The death of the wicked is an eternal loss. Carry these thoughts over to the firstborn of Egypt. Oh, how it must have grieved God to see the firstborn of a whole nation die in one night!
First, their deaths were unnecessary. If you remember the story, God sent 10 plagues on Egypt. Each time God warned them, “Let my people go or such and such will happen.” Then, after they had been warned but refused to comply, the plague would come. The death of the firstborn was the 10th plague.
Second, the deaths were eternal. These were unbelieving Egyptians. We know that those who call on the name of the Lord are saved; we also know that those who do not are lost. 1 Peter 3:9 reiterates what we have already pointed out; God “does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” This is the reason He sent His Son. John 3:16 tells us that because of His love God sent His Son so that those who believe in Him should not perish. The bad news is found in John 3:18, “… anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” (NLT)
The death of the firstborn of all Egypt was the high cost of the nation’s stubborn rebellion against God. The buying back of the firstborn by sacrifice and the accompanying representation of the firstborn by the Levites was a permanent and constant reminder of the high cost paid to free Israel from slavery. Much more importantly, it pointed to the high cost God would pay to buy back the world from slavery to sin.
I have heard and read the question, “Why would God send a good person to hell?”
I do not believe that God would send a good person to hell. We underestimate the cost of our rebellion against God, our pride and our selfishness. God says:
No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NLT)
The whole world is in slavery to sin. The attitude of the world toward the deliverer is reflected in Egypt’s unwillingness to let their slaves go. The high cost of deliverance is reflected in the death of the firstborn.
Let’s return now to Luke chapter 2. Here in Luke 2, we find circumcision being practiced. Circumcision served as a bodily, permanent reminder of all of God’s covenant promises and of Israel’s special relationship to God. We also find here the redemption or buying back of the firstborn.
These are of special significance in the case of Jesus, because these ceremonies were about Him. He was the fulfillment of all the covenant promises. He was the firstborn who would pay the price for freeing the world from slavery to sin. He was the one that was foretold by the events in Egypt.
When Mary and Joseph went to the temple to fulfill the requirements of the law, God had two prophets there waiting for them. These two prophets were to make the connection clear.
Let’s look at what Luke tells us about the prophet Simeon. Luke 2:25-35
25At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
30I have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared for all people.
32He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
33Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (NLT)
This is an incredible passage of Scripture. The fact that Mary and Joseph came to present the baby as required by the law is noted. Notice especially that the Spirit led Simeon to be there that day. All the significance of the firstborn was coming to realization. Simeon was looking for the Messiah, and his comment was, “I have seen your salvation.” Salvation for the world at the cost of God’s firstborn Son. The parents were amazed, and then the amazing prophecy of Simeon is given.
Do not miss a word of this prophecy. “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others.”
The angels had sung, “…peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14, NLT)
There is a division of great blessing and great trouble. He is a sign from God but many will oppose Him. This is witnessed in our world to this day. Many oppose Him. This was pictured in the division between Israel and Egypt. It is seen so clearly in our world today where our brothers and sisters in Christ are violently persecuted. They follow Jesus at the risk of their lives. 322 Christians are killed for their faith each month. 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed each month. 722 forms of violence like beatings, rapes, forced marriages and such are committed each month.[i] Simeon’s prophecy is still being carried out before our very eyes. Many oppose Him.
John 3:19-21 explain why this is true. “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (NLT)
Simeon’s prophecy said that “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” John points out that the light exposes our sins. This is the reason given in Scripture for people rejecting the Savior. To accept a Savior we must first admit we are in slavery.
There is a great danger of being one of those who oppose Him. The results of opposing him are seen in what happened to the Egyptians. The delivery from slavery is great and cause for great joy, but the consequence of opposing him is death. The danger of opposing him is part of all of us, because we have all been slaves of sin.
It is not just Muslims, atheist and secularist that persecute and oppose God’s firstborn. Sometimes we in the church oppose him as well. The division exists even in our own hearts. The danger for us in church is being spiritual to the point that we do not need the Savior. We do not smoke, drink or chew, and we are so godly we would not touch those who do. As a matter of fact, we are so godly that we do not need to be saved. In Jesus’ day the ones who fought hardest to kill Jesus were the very religious.
Religion can be a cloak behind which we hide deeply troubled and sinful hearts.
Romans chapter 2 is written for those who think they are spiritual and godly. Verse 1 says, “1You may think you can condemn such people [sinners], but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.” (NLT)
Simeon’s prophecy said that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. Paul says in Romans 2:16, “16And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.” (NLT)
Simeon, through the Holy Spirit, saw and understood this.
There is a deep division brought by the birth of God’s Son, His firstborn. That division is of blessing and of judgment.
The difference is made clear in both Simeon and Anna’s persons. They were both waiting eagerly for God to rescue Israel.
This is the difference between blessing and judgment.
They were waiting for God.
John 3:17&18 say, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.” (NLT)
Are you like Simeon and Anna waiting eagerly on the Lord for His deliverance?