When last were you so dirty that you needed a complete, extended soapy bath or shower? I recall as a teenager, working as an apprentice Diesel Fitter we started off working on huge vehicles, doing all the dirty work. Invariably we would land up getting oil all over our face, neck, hair and onto our overhauls, that seeped through to our skin. Not only were we sticky, the oils were old and dirty.
After work it was difficult to clean up properly, so once home, I would need to have the hottest bath, good soap and a large nail brush and back brush to scrub myself. At times my hands would bleed trying to get all the black grease out of the groves and cracks.
Maybe you have been a long distance runner and after doing a 56 kilometer, Comrades or a Hundred Miler you are sticky, stinky and full of sand, dust and grim because of off road running. Maybe you worked in the garden all day in the sun and feel rather filthy. Whatever, you need to be clean!
In near Ancient History leading up to the First Century, there were many rituals, one of which was known as “purification”. The concept of “cleanliness” was the focus, but mostly it related to a spiritual cleansing. So as we read on in our passage we find Mary in particular, needed to go through a process of purification.
Lk 2:22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
1) The rite of purification. Luke does not give much information here because he was writing to Jewish people who would understand exactly what he is saying. The ceremony comes from the Law of Moses:
Lev 12:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.
6 “ ‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. 7 He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.
“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8 If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”
Here we see a few differences between when a boy or girl baby is born. Remember that for the boy baby the circumcision was on the 8thday and the mother needed to wait out an additional 33 days before she could go through the rite of purification after having giving birth before she could re-enter normal social activities and temple worship. Both the circumcision and purification ceremonies reminds the person involved of the fact that all are born in sin.
Ps 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
2) The allowance for the poor. The required offering for purification was prescribed as … a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. God is gracious and knows that all are not economically the same, so He makes allowances for the poor … If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In Mary’s case it was … “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Here we have a good reminder that God feels for and cares for those who are economically strained in His Kingdom. It makes one think of the poor widow:
Mk 12:41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
God not only loves but receives those who give all they are able to. This widow’s tithe was not one tenth! It was all she had and all she had was two small cooper coins … valueless even in the economy of Jewish First Century … yet extremely valuable in God’s economy! Mary brought what she could and it was accepted and she fulfilled her purification responsibilities before God according to the Law.
3) The purification of the saint. Some wrongly believe that once they are Born Again they don’t sin anymore or that their sins don’t affect their progress in sanctification. How terribly wrong they are!
1Pe 1:3 In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Salvation provide positional sanctification but the practical side is a process of enduring the “fires of purification” throughout life on earth. God want us to be holy as He is holy and every hardship, trail and difficulty along the pathway is needed to purify us as we cling onto Jesus.
Lord, make us holy as You are holy. Amen.