Sermon for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Luke 2:21 + Genesis 17:1-14 + Galatians 3:23-29
Consider this question for a moment: What are the absolutely essential events in the life of Christ, revealed in Scripture, that had to happen in order for him to be our Savior from sin – in order for us to have peace and hope and comfort and a future in heaven instead of hell? There aren’t that many, actually, only a couple hands full. The Christ had to be born of a virgin. We celebrated that last Sunday on Christmas. He had to be baptized – we’ll cover that next Sunday. He had to institute a new covenant in his blood. He had to suffer and die on a cross. He had to rise from the dead on the third day, ascend into heaven, and send his Holy Spirit from the right hand of God so that his Gospel could go out and save sinners.
For all those key events in the life of Christ, the Church has set aside a day of celebration each year in its calendar. Which one did we miss? We missed that one event that we don’t talk about or think about very often, but the Church Fathers wisely built it into the Church calendar to be celebrated every year, on the eighth day of Christmas, January 1st. Without this event, we are lost in sin and doomed to eternal death. Without it, we have no Christ, no Jesus, no Savior. So today on the eighth day of Christmas, we remember with joy that Our Savior Had to Be Circumcised.
You heard about the origin of Hebrew circumcision in the Old Testament Lesson today. It all started with Abraham when he was 99 years old and still childless. For a quarter century God had been promising him a son, an “offspring,” and God made a covenant between himself and Abraham and Abraham’s yet-to-be-conceived offspring: “To your offspring I will give this land… And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”
Now, finally, when Abraham was 99 years old the promise would be fulfilled. A son would be born to him within a year, but first, a sign – a sign commanded by God to seal the covenant in Abraham’s flesh and in the flesh of every male descendant of his, a sacred but painful sign for every man and every boy, a sign that every Israelite family would be reminded of whenever a child was conceived, and whenever a male child was born: Circumcision, to be performed on the eighth day of a baby boy’s birth.
That’s the brief history behind circumcision. What’s the meaning behind it? Why would God subject his chosen people to such a mutilation of the flesh?
Circumcision served several purposes for Old Testament Israel. This sign of circumcision set the Jewish nation apart from every other nation on earth. No one else had such a practice; only Abraham’s offspring. That’s important, because God had made a special covenant with Abraham’s offspring – they had to be kept separate.
Circumcision was also a minor form of punishment from God, marking a man as a sinner who needed to have sin cut away from him. And notice when! Not after a long life of sinning, but after only eight days of being alive outside the womb. And here we see another Scriptural teaching highlighted – the doctrine of original sin. It’s not just the bad things people do and say that make them guilty before God. It’s the very sinful nature we inherit from our parents, and they from theirs. It’s the source of all our actual sins, the sick, twisted flesh in all of us – believers and unbelievers alike – that always runs away from the true God, that runs away from his love and mercy in Christ, that rebels against him and spends all its time looking out for #1. Because of that sinful flesh that dwells in all of us, Jewish baby boys got to be marked with a sign – a sign that we can’t save ourselves from this inborn sin. It needs cutting around and cutting out, a circumcision done by someone else. And circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant to do just that for Abraham and his children.
So fast forward 2000 years from the time of Abraham. There were Mary and Joseph and the baby boy that Mary bore, still in Bethlehem. And as the Law demanded, they had the baby circumcised on the eighth day, just like every other Jewish boy.
But this one wasn’t like every other Jewish boy. This one was born of a virgin, without the intervention of a sinful man. This baby had no sinful flesh – no natural corruption or sickness that turned him away from God, because this baby boy was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
So why did he have to be circumcised? There’s a very important verse in Galatians 3 that gives us the answer: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. And that right there changes everything.
What it means is that neither Isaac – Abraham’s son, nor the nation of Israel itself were the intended recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham. There was only one intended recipient, one heir of the promises, the coming Christ. Christ, the baby born of Mary, was the intended recipient of all the promises of God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the whole nation of Israel. The nation of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, were brought into this covenant, too, but only until it should be fulfilled in the intended recipient. Christ was the offspring who was to be born to Abraham and, according to the covenant, Christ is the one who would be the heir of that covenant, who would inherit all the promises of God, including the earth itself and an eternal place in the family of God, not just as the Son of God, but also as the Son of Man, which is what helps you and me.
But if and only if he is circumcised according to the Law and brought into this covenant God had made with Abraham long ago.
Our Savior had to be circumcised so that, as the Son of Man, he could inherit all the promises of God made to Abraham, and then, give away his inheritance to others. That’s why we celebrate also the name of Jesus today, because God’s purpose from the beginning, was that the offspring of Abraham, circumcised on the eighth day of his birth, should be called Yeshua, Jesous, Jesus, Savior.
Savior of whom? Of those who are circumcised like he was? Yes, but also of the uncircumcised – of all who trust in him.
By that first infliction of pain in the innocent baby Jesus, in that first shedding of his holy, precious blood, God’s covenant with Abraham and his offspring was fulfilled, and the sign of circumcision was brought to an end as the sign of that old covenant. Now Jesus, the heir of all things as both God and Man, could open the way for a new covenant to be made, a covenant in his blood. That first shedding of his blood was just a foreshadowing of what his life was meant for. Did you catch that in the hymn stanza we just sang? “His infant body now begins the cross to feel; those precious drops of blood that flow for death the victim seal.”
Every other Hebrew baby who was circumcised was marked for death before he was born because of sin. But this Hebrew baby, Jesus the son of Mary, was not marked for death by sin, but only by choice. His blood never needed to be shed, except as the price for the sin of his brothers. His name is rightly called Jesus, Savior! And this is how he would save all who trust in him, by shedding his blood. That’s the cost of your sins. That’s the price of your forgiveness. And that’s the sign of God’s love for the world. His blood, the blood of Jesus, whose name means “Savior.” Because your blood wasn’t worth enough. But his was! His blood was worth enough to open a new covenant. And since he was the heir of the first covenant made with Abraham and his offspring, only Jesus has the right to make a new covenant, to pass on his inheritance to anyone he chooses.
And he chooses, not the one who deserves it, not the one who works for it. He chooses sinners. His Gospel goes out, even now, to sinners: Repent! Turn away from your god-less life and believe in the good news, that a Savior has been born to you, that a Savior has been circumcised for you, and that this Savior holds out a new covenant of the forgiveness of sins to you, and also, a new sign for the new covenant.
You know what that sign is? It’s circumcision! But it’s a different kind of circumcision. This is what it says in Colossians 2, In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Baptism is the sign of the new covenant, God’s way of bringing you into the family of Jesus and his Father, just as circumcision brought a Jewish baby boy into the family of Abraham and of God. You heard what Paul said in the Epistle Lesson, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Jaimie and Jeremy were baptized just a few months ago. They put on Christ. They have become his heirs. And now, today, Jaimie will be confirmed in the faith and welcomed into the family meal as well, the family meal of the continuous forgiveness of sins in which Christ himself comes to us and gives his own body and blood to us, the actual blood of the new covenant, the actual blood that was shed on Calvary, but that first was shed in Bethlehem, on the eighth day of his birth, when Jesus, our Savior, was circumcised.
Our Savior had to be circumcised, so that you, too, could become Abraham’s offspring, and heirs of all the promises of God. As sons of God by faith in Christ, baptized into his family, all of us – men, women, boys, girls, rich, poor, Jew and Gentile – we all receive from our Father in heaven the inheritance that belongs to Jesus our brother, the inheritance of a righteous status before God, in spite of all our sins; eternal life, heaven, earth, past, present, future – all things are yours, because your Savior was circumcised, and you have been baptized in him. Amen.