The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2016
120(1-3, 5-6), 114, 115, 97
When eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
In Christ Jesus who was born our Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
We have just come through the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s that is widely known as “the holidays.” There is a continual struggle during “the holidays” to keep the Christian significance in front and in focus. Christians everywhere kept the focus by celebrating Christ’s birth on Christmas rather than just another worldly holiday.
Like Christmas, the day Jesus turned 1 week old has significance in our salvation. One week after Jesus was born He was circumcised and named. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ circumcision took place on the 8th day, but the Biblical way of counting days included partial days and started with the day of the event. So the “eighth day” of the Bible is “one week later” in our time.
Jesus’ naming and circumcision one week after His birth is why, if you glance through the hymns in our hymnal under the heading “New Year” there are a number of them which don’t mention the new year at all, but rather, speak of these events.
This significant day one week after Christmas is often lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t always this way, but even by the time of the Reformation, the world’s New Year’s celebration had taken the place of celebrating the naming and circumcising of Jesus. Luther said, “On this day it is considered necessary to announce and speak of, the New Year as though there were not enough necessary and beneficial things to preach about without this…Since the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ has been appointed to this day, it is proper that we preach about this today.”
It is certainly a good and God-pleasing thing to celebrate His mercy at the close of a year and to pray for His grace in the year to come. Now, however, we take time to also consider the significant events in Christ’s life one week after His birth. As we do this we discover that THE WEEK-OLD INFANT IS ALREADY OUR SAVIOR I. He is circumcised because He is Abraham’s descendant, II. He is “Jesus” because He was circumcised for sinners, and III. He is our Jesus because He has “circumcised” us.
Abram was 75 years old when God told him to get out of his country, leave his family, and go to the land which God would show to him. At the same time God also promised that Abram would become a great nation, his name would be great, and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed with a Savior (cf. Genesis 12).
The Lord made a covenant with Abram and repeated the promise from time-to-time as a way of reassuring Abram and strengthening his faith. Scripture tells us, “Abram believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Twenty-four years later, when Abram was 99, God appeared to him, changed his name, and repeated the promise that He would establish His covenant with Abraham and his descendants and give them the land of Canaan. It was at this time that God also instituted circumcision for Abraham and his descendants.
Covenants were usually two-sided agreements. God’s “side” of the covenant was the promise He had made years earlier. Now, God gave Abraham the command to circumcise his household and his descendants as his part in the covenant agreement. “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10). This God-commanded circumcision applied to every male child born in Abraham’s house and every slave that he bought. Abraham followed the Lord’s Word and circumcised every man in his household, and from that day forward he circumcised all of his sons when they were a week old.
The act of circumcision did not bring salvation and God’s promised blessings to Abraham. Abraham had these blessings long before he was ever circumcised. Abraham was uncircumcised when God called him. He was uncircumcised when God first gave His promise. An uncircumcised Abraham was counted righteous before God through faith. Paul wrote, “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:9-12).
God gave circumcision to Abraham and his family as a physical outward sign and seal of the covenant and promise established by God. The future generations were to be circumcised in order to be brought into this covenant and made part of God’s covenant people. The women and daughters of Israel were just as much a part of the covenant as the males in Israel—they received God’s blessings and His promises were just as much for them—but as far as the outward sign and seal of the covenant was concerned, that was something carried in the males of the people.
Not all, but some of the other nations surrounding Israel practiced the physical act of circumcision. Their circumcision was only physical and meant nothing in terms of God’s covenant and promises. Even though circumcision for Abraham and Israel was a physical sign, it’s significance and importance was in the fact that it was connected to God’s promise. The Old Testament believers followed the command to circumcise because they loved the Lord God, trusted His Word, and believed His promise. It was an act of thankful love and a demonstration of faith and trust when they followed His command. This is why those who were uncircumcised were to be cut off. They weren’t removed from the people just because of a physical difference, but because their uncircumcision was a disobedience to God and demonstrated their lack of faith and a lack of trust in His Word. A lack of trust in the true God is what ultimately cut people off from Him. The lack of circumcision was the visible sign of that unbelief.
For the believers, the circumcision was a lasting reminder of God’s covenant. Each time they remembered the physical change and a new son was circumcised, the people would be reminded of what lay behind the sign and all that God had promised to His people.
Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. Joseph and Mary were God-fearing believers in Israel and gladly followed God’s command. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day just as God had commanded Abraham because Jesus was a descendant from Abraham.
God’s covenant promise was a promise of salvation from sin. Jesus is true man but also the holy Son of God. Therefore, even though He is a man He is sinless; if sinless, He does not need salvation; and if He does not need salvation, He does not need God’s covenant promise of salvation and therefore, circumcision was completely unnecessary for Him. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, not for Himself, but for us and all sinners.
Jesus is our substitute. His work of atoning for our sins and buying us back from sin, death, and the Devil is called the “Vicarious Atonement.” “Vicarious” means “substitutionary.”
When movies are made, the actors and actresses have stand-ins for the dangerous stunts. The stand-ins take the bumps and bruises in place of the stars. God, in His love for us sinners, treats us like stars and sent Jesus to be our stand-in. He took our place and accomplished salvation on our behalf. His substitution is 100% which leaves no part of our salvation undone or dependent on us. If Jesus were only a partial substitute then we would still be under the bondage of the Law. Then we would still be required to give perfect obedience to God—an obedience we cannot fulfill and then we would still be lost eternally.
Jesus’ substitution for us is the essence of our salvation. Our substitute, in order to save us, had to accomplish two things. The first, was to be our substitute and live up to God’s expectations for us. God says, “Be thou holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). He expects complete perfection in thought, word, and deed otherwise there is punishment. The punishment is death and damnation in Hell. We can’t live up to God’s expectations so we need a stand-in to do it for us.
As the Son of God, Jesus established the Law and is not subservient to it. But Jesus became man and was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4), that is He was placed under the same expectations as any other human being. As soon as the Son of God became man by being conceived in Mary’s womb, He was under God’s Law. Jesus’ circumcision was an obedience to God’s Law and gives the evidence that He was placed under the Law.
Jesus’ circumcision, His presentation in the temple about 5 weeks later, and every other part of Jesus’ holy life were all things He had to do in order to fulfill God’s Law for us. If He was to be our saving substitute Jesus had to keep the Law perfectly and be holy from the very beginning of His life all the way to the end at His death.
The second way in which our substitute had to take our place was to be punished for everything we do that breaks God’s Law. This part of the substitution Jesus accomplished at the end of His life when He suffered and died on the cross. As Isaiah prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgression; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:6).
The child born in Bethlehem who was circumcised on the eight day is this perfect substitute. He saved us from our sins and that is why He could be rightly named “JESUS” in the fullest sense. “When eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).
The name Jesus means “Savior.” More than just an identity, it speaks of His purpose and work. Other parents had given their sons the name Jesus, or Joshua which is the same name in Hebrew. However, only one Son—the Son of God born of a virgin mother, our substitute—could truly live up to the name. Jesus was the name given to the child of Bethlehem even before He was conceived. It was not Mary and Joseph’s idea to name the child, “the Savior,” nor was it a ploy on their part to bring great honor to their son. It was not the later followers of the “Man from Nazareth” who began to call Him “Savior” in order that He and they might become great. No, before He was even conceived, the “Man” we know as “Jesus” was named and declared to be the Savior by God.
When Jesus was circumcised He was already acting as our substitute by fulfilling that part of the Law. At His circumcision He also publicly received the name “Jesus.” He is truly deserving of this name that is above every name because He is our Substitute in His life and in His Death to forgive all our sins.
Christ, the coming Savior, was the centerpiece of God’s promise to Abraham. Like all of the Old Testament Laws, God’s command to circumcise was a shadow of things to come. Since circumcision was tied to the covenant and the covenant was centered on Christ, circumcision pointed ahead to the coming Savior.
Since the Christ has now come and fulfilled the Law—including those laws that pointed ahead to Him—we of the New Testament are no longer bound by God’s command to circumcise. “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
In the New Testament, God has given us something similar to the Old Testament circumcision, but which is yet very different from the circumcision. The New Testament sign and seal of God’s grace is Baptism. Paul wrote to the Colossians saying, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14).
Circumcision brought the Old Testament child into the covenant and made him an heir of the covenant promise. Likewise, baptism brings children into the forgiveness of sins won by Christ, makes them children of God, and an heirs of eternal life.
Circumcision was a physical removing of a part of the flesh that was done with hands. Baptism is a washing away of the guilt and lust of the sinful flesh. Through baptism, a spiritual washing, we are brought to faith, cleaned of our sins, and thereby enabled to put off from ourselves the sinful and lustful ways of our past. Circumcision cut off bodily flesh, Baptism “cuts off” sinful flesh.
Through the sacrament of Baptism we are personally brought into Christ’s work. Jesus took our sinfulness, nailed it to the cross, and died for it there. Through Baptism we are connected to our substitute—His death becomes our death, His burial becomes our burial, and His resurrection to life becomes our resurrection to life.
The Old Testament covenant was a Law covenant and two-sided. God promised to be the God of Israel if they kept His commandments. God remained faithful to His side of the covenant even though Israel failed miserably in theirs. The New Testament covenant is purely one-sided. God’s undeserved love toward sinners promises forgiveness, grace, and every blessing to everyone, through Christ Jesus, without any demands, commands, or obligations. The New Testament covenant is pure Gospel and established in the blood of Christ our Savior.
Baptism is part of the New Testament covenant. In Baptism, God gives free forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the case of infants, Baptism is the means by which God creates saving faith in the hearts of such a young sinner. Children of God who know and understand the blessings of God’s grace that come from Baptism will gladly and eagerly bring their children to be baptized and receive this gift of God. Adults who hear the Word and are brought to faith later in life will not despise Baptism, but eagerly desire this precious gift even just like the Ethiopian eunuch who asked Philip to baptize him (cf. Acts 8:27ff).
Baptism provides a lasting reminder just as circumcision did. Each of us can daily recall our Baptism and be reminded how God graciously has made us one of His own through this “spiritual circumcision of the heart.” Your Baptism brought you into the family of God and thereby enables you to have the confidence to say that Jesus the Savior is your personal Savior.
The angel announced to the shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Being the Savior was not something Jesus worked up to or grew into as He became older. He was born the Savior. The Apostles’ Creed states that Jesus is “our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered…was crucified, dead, and buried…etc.” Each of these was an important part in the life of Jesus who was from beginning-to-end our Savior.
The naming and circumcision of Jesus one week after His birth is one more window into a whole life that was lived as our Substitute and Savior. The child Jesus was already our Savior and working for us as an infant. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable and wonderful gift!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.