“Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.” (Exodus 34:20)
In God’s economy, every firstborn creature was to be offered to Him. But in this ancient ceremony we find a powerful picture of our own predicament. The donkey was an unclean creature and could not be offered up to our Lord. The donkey must be spared by the offering of a substitute (a lamb) in its place. If no lamb was offered in its place, the donkey had to die.
How could this possibly have anything to do with life in the 21st century? It is simply this: you and I are unclean before God because of our sins, just like the donkey. Spurgeon wrote:
The [donkey] is His due, but He will not accept it; He will not abate the claim, but yet He cannot be pleased with the victim. No way of escape remained but redemption—the creature must be saved by the substitution of a lamb in its place; or if not redeemed, it must die. My soul, here is a lesson for thee. That unclean animal is thyself; thou art justly the property of the Lord who made thee and preserves thee, but thou art so sinful that God will not, cannot, accept thee; and it has come to this, the Lamb of God must stand in thy stead, or thou must die eternally.
In our uncleanness we can offer no good thing to our Lord. The perfect, holy God cannot accept anything from us that will merit our pardon, gain His affection, or broker His favor. For “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Only through the offering of the Lamb of God, the unblemished and perfect sacrifice for blemished and imperfect sinners, can we be saved.
This “great exchange” is too great a truth for our finite minds to fully comprehend. The perfect, sinless Lamb of God, the second person of the Trinity, came into this world to take our place on a cross to die for our sins, offering Himself in our place, that we might be acceptable in God’s sight.
Only when we see ourselves in the light of what we truly are—unclean and unable to do anything about it, just like the unclean donkey—can we begin to see the beauty of our Substitute . . . our Savior. The One who was clean came and took the place of the unclean. The One who was holy came and took the place of the unholy. The One who was perfect came and took the place of the imperfect. The One who was righteous came and took the place of the unrighteous. The One who was sinless came and took the place of the sinner.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In the powerful picture of redeeming a donkey, we see our own perilous predicament . . . apart from Christ. And when we place our trust in His redemption, we see our pardon and find the peace that passes all understanding.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!