A Law-Keeping Redeemer is Born

Jesus' law-keeping was an absolutely necessary component of our redemption.

One of the most important of all the statements about the birth of Jesus is that He was “born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). The one who gave the Law on Sinai was, “in the fullness of time,” born under the Law. Of course, in making this declaration the question is raised, “Why was the One who gave the Law born under the Law?” After all, there was no Divine necessity for God to become man and to be made subject to His own Law.

The answer comes on the heel of the statement when the Apostle explained that it was in order that Christ might, “redeem those who were under the Law.” In short, Jesus’ law-keeping was an absolutely necessary component of our redemption. Consider the following ways in which this plays out in the Gospel record:

1. At His Birth

At eight days, Jesus was circumcised according to the Law. He took to Himself the covenant sign–a bloody sign that pointed to His death on the cross. Circumcision promised the cleansing of the heart of sinful man by a bloody cutting away. The One who had the sign of circumcision was promised covenant blessings and curses. Either he would have the filth of his heart cut away by the bloody judgment that would fall on Christ or he would be cut off from the land of the living in the judgment of God. Though Jesus had no sin, and therefore had no need of the promise of the cutting away of the filth of the heart, he took to himself the sign because He would become the sin bearer for us. Paul tells us that, for Jesus, the cross was a bloody circumcision. Christ took the sign to himself as a boy to fulfill the demands of the law and to have a constant reminder that he was the one who would bear the curse of the law for His people.

At forty days, Jesus was brought into the Temple and was present to the Lord according to the custom of the Law. Mary came and sacrificed to set apart her son to the Lord. He was sanctified by the offering that pointed to Himself (though he needed no sanctification because of personal sin) because he was the sin-bearing substitute of His people. Isaac Ambrose captured this idea so well when he wrote:

There was no impurity in the Son of God, and yet he is first circumcised; and then he is brought, and offered to the Lord. He that came to be sin for us, would in our persons be legally unclean, that by satisfying the law, he might take away our uncleanness. He that was above the law, would come under the law, that he might free us from the law. We are all born sinners; but O the unspeakable mercies of our Jesus, that provides a remedy as early as our sin: first, he is conceived; and then he is born, to sanctify our conceptions and our births: and after his birth, he is first circumcised, and then he is presented to the Lord; that by two holy acts, that which was naturally unholy might be hallowed unto God. Christ hath not left our very infancy without redress, but by himself thus offered he cleanseth us presently from our filthiness.1

2. As a Boy

We are told that Jesus, at age 12, stayed behind in the Temple where He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Sinclair Ferguson explains the significance of the actions of the boy Jesus in the Temple:

Jesus did not come to earth in the womb of the virgin Mary with a Bible in His brain. The only way Jesus got to know what was in the Bible is exactly the same way that you and I get to know what is in the Bible. He had no magical method. God didn’t send it directly down into His brain. He got to know what was in the Bible by learning it.2

In this sense, we can say that Jesus was obeying the Law by learning the Law. God had given so many instructions to His people in the Law about learning all the words of the Law and their meaning. When Jesus responds to His mother and father, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” we quickly realize that He was keeping the Law in the Temple by learning the Law.

Luke tells us that it was not merely the fact that He was learning in the Temple, but that He was growing in the knowledge of the Lord through what He was learning from the Scriptures.

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