Circumcision and Naming of Jesus
Luke 2:21| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| January 2, 2021
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Old Testament Law can be divided into three categories: the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial law. The moral law tells you what is right and wrong. It is right to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. It is wrong to do anything against this love for God and neighbor. God articulated the moral law perfectly in the Ten Commandments, which he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, yet the moral law existed long before God led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Cain knew that he had sinned when he killed his brother Abel even though the Fifth Commandment had not been written. The moral law is the eternal, immutable will of God. The moral law is eternally righteous.
The civil law is the law God gave to the nation of Israel to carry out justice. The civil law was how the nation of Israel would enforce the moral law. It included regulations concerning capital punishment, inheritance, and judicial regulations.
The ceremonial law concerned worship, not only with regard to sacrifices in the tabernacle and temple, but concerning weekly observances of the Sabbath and the distinctions of clean and unclean meats at home. Ceremonial laws went beyond teaching and enforcing the moral law, but focused mainly on teaching the people of God about their relationship with God and how he dealt with them in righteousness, faithfulness, and mercy.
One of the oldest ceremonial laws was circumcision, which God gave to Abraham over 400 years before Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. God gave circumcision to Abraham as a sign of the covenant he made with him and his offspring after him; every male had to be circumcised at eight days old. By cutting the foreskin of every male Hebrew, God prophesied the coming of Christ, who would be born from the nation of Israel. The shedding of blood was a sign that sins needed to be atoned for and that the Christ would shed his blood to make atonement for sin. Finally, the sign of circumcision marked the Hebrew as a member of God’s covenant. Circumcision placed the Jewish boy under the whole Law, moral, civil, and ceremonial, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 5, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” (vs. 3)
So, we see in our brief Gospel lesson for today, that our Lord Jesus at just eight days old undertakes to fulfill the entire Law on our behalf. By submitting himself to circumcision, he placed himself under the Law and under the obligation to fulfill every part of the law. This again proves true the words of St. Paul in Galatians chapter 4, “But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.” According to his divine nature, Christ was not subordinate to the Law. But he willingly humbled himself and placed himself under the Law to save us, who are under the threats of the Law. By being circumcised, Jesus promised and foretold that he would fulfill every stricture of the Law in heart, word, and action.
At only eight days old, Jesus shed his blood on our behalf in active obedience to the Law, and he foreshadowed how in passive obedience he would shed his lifeblood on the cross for us, making full atonement for our sins. Therefore, the child is rightly named Jesus. The name Jesus means The LORD Saves. The name Jesus is the New Testament pronunciation of the Old Testament name Joshua. Not everyone named Jesus or Joshua is the Savior. But this name was given to Jesus even before his conception in the womb of his virgin mother (Luke 1:31). This name is not an honorary title, nor is it a pious declaration of what God does. This is a descriptive and prophetic name of what this child is and does. This child is the LORD, the promised Christ, who saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
This is why the name Jesus is the sweetest sound in our ears. He is named Jesus, because he is our Savior from sin, death, and hell. He is named Jesus, because he has fulfilled the Law for us on our behalf. He is named Jesus, because he shed his blood for us and made full atonement for our sins. He is named Jesus, because this sinless Son of God having taken on our human flesh, shed his blood at eight days old to fulfill the Law for us.
Circumcision cut off a piece of flesh, demonstrating that the sinful flesh must be removed in order for a person to be saved. This is why Jesus said, “That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50), because flesh and blood are corrupted by sin. But circumcision was only an outward sign of what must be done inwardly. Circumcision only cut off a bit of flesh. The whole body of flesh must be taken off in order for a sinner to be saved! This is why Scripture repeatedly speaks of the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:12, 16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Removing a piece of skin does not remove your sinful heart! This must be a spiritual circumcision. Whoever does not receive this spiritual circumcision cannot be saved, but is forever cursed by sin and damned to hell!
And God has given us such a spiritual circumcision, one that removes the entire body of sinful flesh, and clothes us with a new self, holy and righteous before God. St. Paul speaks of this spiritual circumcision in his letter to the Colossians in chapter 2, “In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by the putting off the body of 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.” (vss. 11-14)
In your Baptism, you have received a spiritual circumcision, not done with hands, not one that cuts off a little bit of flesh, but one that removes the entire body of sin and clothes you in Christ Jesus. Baptism is a spiritual work done by God to give you a new birth, a new life. Baptism joins you to Christ Jesus, to his work of salvation, even his death and resurrection. Through faith you receive the benefits of your Baptism. This is why St. Paul also writes in Galatians chapter three, “For 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.” (vss. 26-27)
This is why Baptism is such a precious treasure. It joins you to Christ Jesus! The former circumcision of the flesh placed a man under the Law, obligating him to fulfill the whole law. This became a curse, convicting the sinner of sin. Yet, this second circumcision of the Spirit, takes off your sinful body and puts in its place Christ’s righteous body. When God looks at you through your Baptism, he sees Jesus, who fulfilled God’s Law in your place, from his circumcision to his perfect atonement for the sins of the world.
Baptism is also referred to as a Christening. At a Christening a child is named. That is why your first and middle name can be called your baptized name. Yet, the name you receive in Baptism which really matters is not what your parents decided to call you, but what God decides to call you in your Baptism. When you are baptized, God calls you a Christian. You have put on Christ Jesus. Christians have always understood this. In the early church, when Christians would be interrogated for illegally worshiping Christ, they would be asked their name. And Christians, whatever their given names were, would frequently answer, “I am Christian” or “I am Christiana.” They identified themselves as Christians, because that is how God identifies them. When God looks at one of his baptized children, he sees the perfect obedience of his Son Christ Jesus. This is the irrefutable message about Baptism in holy Scripture. That is why we Lutherans will never forsake baptizing our children or cease to identify ourselves as Baptized. To be baptized means to be forgiven, clothed in Christ, joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, clothed in Jesus’ obedience. To be baptized means to have received the spiritual circumcision, which removes the entire sinful body of flesh from you.
The circumcision and naming of Jesus is always celebrated on New Year’s Day, because Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day. New Year’s Day is the eighth day of Christmas. This is a day for reflecting on the old year and making resolutions to improve in the new year. Christians are always seeking to improve. When you look back on the old year, you see many regrets of thought, deed, and word. Anyone who denies that he has regrets from the old year calls God a liar and the truth is not in him. Christians desire to sin less, and do better in the new year. Despite what some may believe, Christians do not assume that since Christ has fulfilled the Law for us, we are free to break God’s Law. Having received the spiritual circumcision of Christ in Baptism, we desire what he desires. Christ has removed the threat of the Law from us, even the threat of the moral law. The civil law of Israel does not apply to us. The ceremonial law, including circumcision and the distinction of meats has been abolished and fulfilled in Christ and by no means binds us. Yet, the moral law remains God’s immutable will. The moral law remains righteous and good. And so, we who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness through Baptism and faith desire to do what is right.
Yet, we do not always do what is right. We still have sinful desires we wish to bury in Jesus’ tomb once and for all. And so, we find a daily use for our Baptism. A Christian need only be baptized once, but a Christian dies and rises again every day. You can return to your Baptism by repenting of your sins and trusting the promise Christ gave you in your Baptism of forgiveness and redemption. This is how you are able to leave behind your regrets from 2021 and with boldness sojourn through 2022. Christ is with you all the way. Your Baptism is with you all the way. God has given you the means to cast off the old body of sin and put on Christ and his righteousness, so that you stand before God as his own child. In Jesus’ name. Amen.