NOTE: This post originally appeared at my blog site at riverviewbaptist.net.
Each week we encourage people at Riverview to engage the scripture and sermon by submitting questions via firstname.lastname@example.org or on the blue slip. The sermon this week was on Luke 2.22-40. Listen to the sermon here. Questions and answers from this week are below.
What does verse 23 mean: “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”? Is this for Jews only? Are Gentiles are included?
This command for the first male to “open the womb” to be dedicated to the Lord is one that God gave to his people in the book of Exodus. “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.” (Ex. 13.2, 12, Num. 18.15-16, etc.) This practice acknowledged God’s sovereignty, ownership, and provision in the lives of his people. It is not clear what this consecration entailed, and it seems as though it meant different things for different people. What is clear, is that this consecration specifically set aside the firstborn male to the Lord’s service in some way, shape, or form. How that played out, however, differed from person to person. This command was given only to God’s people in the Old Testament who were living in covenant relationship with him (to the Jews – not Gentiles) and applied only to them. The dedication of the baby Jesus to the Lord is significant because he – unlike all other babies born before him – will be on a mission to completely fulfill the will of the Father for his life. He will be dedicated to the Lord in a way that only he is able to be dedicated to the Lord as the Son of God.
We at Riverview practice infant dedication of both boys and girls – and not just the firstborn. In this dedication, parents commit themselves to raising their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord to the best of their ability, and the rest of the church commits to supporting the parents in this endeavor. While this is a different practice that what was commanded for Israel, it is a significant commitment and one that we take seriously, both as parents and as a body.
Why does it say that Zechariah was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”? Is this referring to Jesus?
Luke 2.25 says “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” In a general way, this refers to Simeon’s expectation that God would keep his promises to his people – particularly to save and deliver them spiritually (see Genesis 12.3 for the promise which Simeon undoubtedly had in mind as he was waiting for the “consolation of Israel”). So as the text says that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel, it is most likely that he has a general idea of God being faithful in view, rather than a specific person. At the same time, we look with hindsight that informs us that Jesus was indeed the “consolation of Israel,” but Simeon was probably thinking more generally – he was generally looking forward to God keeping his promises. Christians should have this same general attitude toward God’s promises today, and particularly to the second coming of Christ. We are looking for consolation – the fulfillment of the promise that Christ will return.
Simeon tells Mary that Jesus will be “a sign that is opposed.” What does that mean?
As he tells Mary that Jesus will be “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel…” he also tells her that Jesus will be “a sign that is opposed.” This phrase is more literally interpreted as “a sign that is spoken against.” In other words, Jesus will be a sign of God, and people will speak against him. They will actively oppose him in everything he does. Jesus is a sign from God – a sign of his love, mercy, goodness, justice, and righteousness – and people will hate him for being that sign from God. So they will speak and act against him. Of course, in Jesus’ case, this opposition led to his death.