Baby Jesus at the Temple
According to the Law of Moses, parents were required to bring their male sons to the Temple when 40 days old. We sometimes have the idea that Mary and Joseph must have been very poor, because when they came to the Temple, they brought only a pair of turtledoves. Luke stops there. The Levitical law stated that parents were to bring a lamb to be sacrificed for the redemption of a child, and two doves or pigeons were brought for the mother’s purification and atonement. Leviticus 12:8 says that if the parents were too poor to pay the usual redemption price for their child, they could omit the lamb and substitute two young pigeons.
There is another possible reason, besides poverty, that Mary did not bring a lamb. We know that lambs at that time were very inexpensive – less than a dollar. Mary and Joseph were visited by shepherds who had witnessed angels, and according to tradition, whenever shepherds visited, they each brought at least one lamb as a gift. (Mountford 48)
And there is another consideration. Zacharias was a wealthy man. In the late 1800’s, the ruins of his palatial home were still standing. Tradition says that he had hundred of lambs grazing on the hillsides. Would he and Elizabeth have allowed Mary to come like a pauper to the Temple at Jerusalem without a lamb? They both had had strong, independent witnesses that their own son, John, had been sent into the world to be a special forerunner and witness for Mary’s Son. John and Elizabeth also knew that Mary’s child was the long-awaited Messiah. Even if Mary and Joseph were poor, would they allow them to appear at the Temple without a lamb, when it was so incredibly simple to make one available?
Perhaps it was not because she was poor that Mary did not bring a lamb. There was a greater reason than poverty. Each lamb brought to the Temple was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the True Lamb of God. He had been born into the world to be a sacrifice for all mankind, and how could He ever be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb? (Mountford 53-54)
Mary knew, from long association with the Temple, all about animal sacrifices. Her grief must have been great as she contemplated the possible implications of bringing her Son – the Lamb of God – to the Temple as a living sacrifice. Mary had to fill the part almost of a priest.
It was her own flesh and blood there in her arms, and the oral traditions tell us that as she stood at the entrance of the Temple, she wept as she looked upon her beautiful baby, and kissed Him and said, “O, how can I give him up? O, I would give a thousand lambs, let them all be slain, for Him; only let me keep him! O, how can I give Him up, so dear and precious to me?”
Then suddenly, she said, “I am Thy handmaid. I ask Thee to give me strength to be able to give Him up. He is so precious. But I am obedient to Thy will, for I am Thy handmaiden.” So she then prayed, “Strengthen my heart.” And the answer came, “Thy heart is strengthened, O Mary.” Thus the unwritten histories tell us the voice of angels said to her as she was entering the Temple. (Mountford 55-57)