First Born

In reading through the Bible, I came across some verses in Numbers 3 that intrigued me.  In Numbers 3:40-43 God tells Moses that the Levites will be set apart to serve God as an offering in place of the first born male child of the other 11 tribes.  In Exodus 13:13 God tells Moses that the first born son of every family belongs to Him.  So in Numbers, God instructs Moses that the Levites are to become a living sacrifice on behalf of all the first born sons of Israel.

Wait, wasn't that the purpose of the Passover?  Yes...No.  What?  Yes, the passover lamb we read about in Exodus 12 died in place of the first born sons of the Israelite families.  The death angel "passed over" the homes where the blood of the sacrificed lambs were applied to the doorposts.  No, in that this sacrifice only covered that generation of sons.  These sacrifices of the first Passover lambs did not cover future generations.  The first Passover lambs were only for the first born sons of the Exodus generation.

Numbers 3 reveals God's plan for future generations.  The first born male children of all future generations were redeemed through an offering that was brought to the temple and through the service of all the male children of the tribe of the Levites.  Question one, why this focus on the first born male child?  Question two, and why would God use a combination of a lamb being slain for the first generation of sons and then use the sons of the tribe of Levites as living sacrifices for all the future generations of first born male sons?

Question one, the Old Testament is a prophetic picture of God's plan to save the world through Jesus.  The emphasis on the first born male child all throughout the Mosaic law is God teaching us the principle of the redemptive power of the first born male child.  Have you ever wondered why the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 was only sacrificed on behalf of the first born son of each household?  If every person in every household was sinful (Romans 3:23), why was it that the Passover Lamb was only redemptive in relation to the first born son?  Because if the first born son is redeemed, the whole household is redeemed!  You see, the first 9 plagues were all punitive.  What does that mean.  It means that the first 9 plagues all carry the same message, that the cost of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  The tenth plague is redemptive.  The tenth plague is teaching us about the power of the first born to redeem the whole house.  You see where this going right?  Jesus!  He is the only Son of God which also makes Him the first Son!  Jesus, through His death, made a way for the whole house (all of humanity) to be redeemed (Romans 6:23b)!

But I emphasize "made a way."  Universalism is the false teaching that everyone is saved because of the redemptive power of Jesus.  But Romans 10:9-10 is very clear that we have to appropriate that redemptive power through a vow of devotion to Christ.  Everyone is part of God's creation but everyone is not part of God's family.  John 1:12-13 is also very clear.  We come into God's family through a confession of faith (a vow of devotion) to Jesus.  The redemptive power of Jesus' death as the first born Son of God is clarified through the system of sacrifice that God instituted in Exodus 12 and Numbers 3.  Which means that the redemptive power of the first born son is limited to their respective household.  Until I am a part for God's household, I am not a benefactor of Jesus' redemptive sacrifice.

Question two, So why did God transition to the Levites as a living sacrifice (Numbers 3) instead of just continuing the practice of the Passover (Exodus 12)?  You might argue that Passover was continued every year.  It was.  But I would argue that every Passover after the Exodus 12 Passover was no longer effectual.  It was commemorative.  Read Exodus 12.  God is clear that future Israelite generations are to practice the annual Passover to remember.  The death angel does not come every year thereafter.  Were there other sacrifices that were effectual?  Yes.  There was an entire system of sacrifices that Israelites used to expiate their sin.  In addition, on The Day of Atonement one sacrifice was made on behalf of their entire nation.  But at the center of the entire Mosaic system of sacrifices was still the living sacrifice of the Levites.  They, as prescribed in Numbers 3, became the first born sons of a nation, living sacrifices to God so the whole of the nation could be redeemed.

I believe the imagery of the Levites as living sacrifices is exactly what the Apostle Paul was envisioning when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write Romans 12:1.  As devoted followers of Jesus, we are a living sacrifice on behalf of all of humanity.  Isn't this Peter's intent, equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, in 1 Peter 2:9 when he writes that we are royal priesthood?  Doesn't this verse speak to our mission?  " you can show others the goodness of God..."  Are you a Christian just so you can go to Heaven or are you embracing the mandate you have been given by God?

Do you think it is a coincidence that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer of Hebrews 12:23 to refer to the church as the "church of the firstborn?"  Unlike the Levites, it is not our natural ancestry that carries redemptive power.  2 Corinthians 4:7 calls to us to never forget that within these earthen vessels there is the treasure of the message of Christ and His power to save us!

Let's make 2018 a year of redemption!  Who are you telling about the saving power of Jesus?

Pastor Fred