Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 2014.
Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:21, Galatians 3:23-29
December 31, 2014
Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus because New Year’s is the eighth day after the birth of Jesus. Circumcision was performed on Jewish babies who were eight days old. This provides us with an opportunity to talk about the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision and name and the hope it gives us for the new year.
First of all, God gave circumcision to Abram in the 17th chapter of Genesis, and at the same time He gave him a new name. Abram meant “exalted father,’ but when God gave him circumcision He gave him the new name, “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.”
God had already promised Abraham that he was going to have as many descendants as the stars in the night sky. And Abraham had already believed God, and the Scripture informs us that God counted his faith to him as righteousness. But now when He gives Abraham circumcision and a new name, it is a sign to confirm Abraham’s faith. It is a sign of the covenant, or pledge, between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants after him. God pledges to be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants after him. He promises that He is going to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. Finally He promises that one of Abraham’s offspring is going to bless all the nations on earth. And as a sign of this covenant between Abraham and God, all of Abraham’s male descendants are to be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin when they are eight days old. Thus God’s covenant will be marked in the flesh of Abraham and his descendants. It showed that they belonged to God’s covenant. They were the people to whom God had pledged to be their God. They were the people that Abraham’s offspring would come from and bless the whole earth.
The sad thing that happened to Abraham’s descendants was that even though they had the mark of circumcision, many of them did not have God for their God. It wasn’t that God had refused to keep His covenant. It was that even though they were circumcised in their flesh they were not circumcised in their hearts. That is, they did not walk in the faith of their forefather Abraham. Abraham believed that God was going to be gracious to him and raise up an offspring from his line that would bless all the nations. Abraham believed that this offspring would take away the curse that was over all the nations—the curse of sin and death. Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.
But apart from this promised offspring, which circumcision promised, God is not our God. Circumcision was then just an empty sign in the flesh whose content was rejected. That’s the way most of the offspring of Abraham regarded their circumcision. They looked at it as a work that bound God to them. They did not believe the promise. God was going to be their God in sending the offspring of Abraham who would take away the curse of sin from the whole earth. Most of the circumcised people of the Old Testament were ignorant of that promise and did not believe it. Thus they cut themselves off from God’s covenant even though they were circumcised.
Now in our Gospel Jesus, as an offspring of Abraham, is circumcised. But it is different than when Abraham and everyone else was circumcised. They were circumcised as a pledge of the offspring who was to come, in whom God would be their God and bring blessing and salvation to take the place of sin and its curse.
But Jesus is different. He is circumcised because He is Abraham’s offspring. But He is the fulfillment and recipient of all the promises to Abraham.
God promised Abraham that He would be God to Abraham and his descendants. But God was only the God of Abraham by grace. Unless God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, God could not be Abraham’s God because Abraham was by nature sinful and unclean.
But God is Jesus’ God not by grace but by merit. Jesus was born without sin. God the Father was God to Jesus the Son of Man because Jesus was perfectly obedient from the womb and always did what pleased the Father. From His mother’s womb God was His God. He never served another god, not even in thought or desire.
And through Jesus God is the God of everyone who believes in Jesus, whether circumcised or not. Through this baby who is born without sin, who is Abraham’s offspring, God regards Abraham and everyone who believes in Jesus as if they too have always pleased God from the womb.
Jesus is also the fulfillment and recipient of the promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s seed or offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed. Abraham and all the children of Israel were circumcised so that they would remember and look for the offspring of Abraham. But Jesus is that seed of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed. He will do this—bring blessing to all nations—by undoing the curse brought by Adam’s sin. And He will undo the curse by giving His perfectly obedient life to bear the penalty and curse of sin, which is death.
He will shed His blood to bring blessedness and salvation to all nations. He begins to shed His blood in the first days of His life, but He will end His life by pouring out all His life’s blood that there might be blessing for those who are under the curse of sin.
Circumcision was God’s pledge to Abraham and his descendants. But the recipients of circumcision were also, in a way, making a pledge to God. They were showing that they belonged to God. A knife marked their bodies. Blood poured out. Babies cried. It was also supposed to show that their bodies were consecrated to the Lord and that the circumcised one would give up anything, even his own flesh and blood, for the sake of faithfulness to God.
However, none of those who were circumcised could really fulfill this pledge made in circumcision. Abraham offered up his own son Isaac in sacrifice to God. But God’s law requires more than that we love God than father and mother, son or daughter. The law requires that we love God more than all things, even our own lives. But we are unable to do this. Even if you were willing to give up something precious to you for God’s sake—your son or daughter, a limb from your body—you cannot give all of your heart, all of your body, all of the time, to God. That is what sin has done to us. We always want to hold something back for ourselves.
But Jesus did fulfill the symbolism of circumcision. His whole body and His whole soul and everything He was was dedicated to God. He gave Himself entirely to the will of God so that his perfect submission to the Father might be credited to us and so that He Himself might begin to live in us.
And how does this happen? By baptism into Christ. For Baptism is not just an external mark in the flesh, like circumcision. It is of the Holy Spirit, not of the flesh.
In Holy Baptism we “put on Christ.” His perfect submission and obedience to the Father is credited to us and covers us. Our sins and rebellion were credited to Him.
But whereas circumcision was a physical cutting off of a piece of skin, baptism is a spiritual cutting off of the whole old nature. Our old nature is joined to Christ in crucifixion and death and we are given a new nature which is united to Christ who is raised from the dead.
Now as we come to the conclusion of this year, 2014, we have many gifts for which to thank God, but also many sins to grieve before Him. There is not time to go into them, but many if not most of us carry a lifetime of sins and regrets as baggage from one year into the next.
Our baptism into Christ is our comfort here. WE are baptized into the one whose name means, “The Lord saves.” We could not cut off our sinful nature with its desires and deeds. We could do nothing in ourselves but die with it and its curse.
But our Lord Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, has cut away the old man from us. He did it entirely on the cross. There he completely killed our old nature.
We cling to that fact. Meanwhile in our baptism he has begun the cutting off of our old man and our putting on of the new. It is not completed yet and the cutting is painful. When we feel the flesh fighting against the Holy Spirit to stay alive it is painful and frightening.
But He who circumcises us has a sure and certain hand. He went surely and certainly to complete the work of the seed of Abraham and take away the curse from the earth. He also knows surely and certainly the way to cut off and bury our old man and raise us up in His image.
We can carry that hope into the new year. In the painful death of our old Adam Christ is at work. He is cutting off the old Adam from us that He cut off once and for all on the cross. He will complete this work and raise us up new creatures from which the old sinful nature has been completely cut off.
Soli Deo Gloria