St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Why The Circumcision Of Jesus Is Important To Us

Sermon on Luke 2:21

Text: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

What’s in a name? Shakespeare said that “A rose by any other name would smell just sweet.” Parents, when you named your children, did you do so on the basis of what the name meant, or did you give your child that name because you liked the sound of it. In many cultures, the name that a person was given was quite significant. For example, God changed the name of Abram, which meant exalted father, to Abraham, which meant father of many. God did this to remind Abraham of the promise that he made that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore. This morning, I would like to direct your attention to an event in the life of Jesus, whose birth we commemorated a week ago. For many centuries the Christian church has on January 1 meditated upon the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision at the age of eight days. This seemingly insignificant ceremony, mentioned only in one verse of the Bible, was important in his life and work, and, thus, very important to us. This morning we will look at WHY THE CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS IS IMPORTANT TO US.

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” The name Jesus was not chosen by the happy parents or by interested relatives. The name was selected by God himself. When God sent the angel Gabriel to inform Mary that she would conceive a child when the Holy Spirit would come upon her, he told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31) When Joseph, to whom Mary was engaged, was troubled by the fact that Mary was pregnant before they were intimate, God told him, through the angel Gabriel, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) The name Jesus is God-given.

What does the name mean? It means helper, deliverer, rescuer, savior. This name given to this child signifies a very special type of helper. As the angel told Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins.” We have governments and rulers to protect us, parents to nourish and care for us, and physicians to help us when we get sick. However, none of these could save us from our sins. Not even an angel could do that. Only he, whose birth we commemorated eight days ago, and whose name is Jesus could save us from our sins. The prophet Isaiah gave him other names: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Beautiful names! Yet, they are only meaningful because of the name Jesus. Every other name is precious because “He will save his people from their sins.”

The giving of this precious name at his circumcision pointed to the work that Jesus had come into the world to do. In sending Jesus as Savior, God was helping us with our most urgent need: deliverance from sin. Sin is our ruination. It dirties our lives, breaks up homes, pollutes our nation, and most importantly, separates us from God. Jesus came to help us with our greatest need. His entire life was to be a payment for our sins. His life would be burdened by suffering and end in death by crucifixion. There on the cross the name Jesus would become most meaningful, for there, as nowhere else, men would see Jesus as Savior. To that cross he would carry our sins with him, blot them out forever from the memory of God and win for us an open heaven. No matter how grievous our sins or how big the burden, Jesus paid for all of them. That is why, as it says in Philippians 2:9-11, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The name given to Jesus at his circumcision would still be Jesus in his exaltation, that in his name repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached. This name was given Jesus because, as we are reminded in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” The giving of this name on the eighth day of his life assures us that Jesus is our Savior.

In addition to the giving of the name of Jesus, the ceremony of circumcision, to which Jesus was submitted on the eighth day is important to us. By the covenant which God established with Abraham and his descendants through the circumcision, he was telling them, ‘I forgive you completely. I forgive not only the things that you have done and the things you have left undone, but even the sin into which you were born.’

Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. He was the Seed of Abraham, through whom all nations on earth would be blessed. Therefore, by circumcision Jesus was put under the demands of the law. We find in Galatians 4:4-5, “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” It was not for his own sake that Jesus was circumcised, for he was without sin both in his birth and in his life. He needed no redemption. It was for us that he became man and placed himself under the demands of the law.

At his circumcision, Jesus began his active obedience to the law on our behalf. Even as a child, while he was still under the care and nurture of Joseph and Mary, he obeyed God for us. As he began his life in obedience to God’s law, so he lived and died in obedience. To his disciples, Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38) Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:8, that he became “obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Why? It was for us, who are disobedient, who set aside God’s laws for our own, who set up and followed our own standards rather than God’s, that he humbled himself, put himself under the law, even circumcision. He fulfilled the law perfectly for us. Already at the age of eight days, we are assured that Jesus is our Savior.

The child Jesus was a human being and so his circumcision involved suffering and the shedding of blood. All the Old Testament sacrifices that involved the shedding of blood pointed ahead to the Messiah who would shed his blood for the sins of the world. The blood that he shed at his circumcision was the first blood that was shed for us. It was, in a sense, the earnest money for our redemption. When you want to buy a house, you may be required to place earnest money in escrow to show that you are earnest, that you are serious about buying that property and that you will complete what you have begun. By the blood that Jesus shed at his circumcision, Jesus indicated what he would do for us: that he would shed his blood for us and bring us back to God. Jesus’ circumcision is more than just an interesting historical fact. It is the assurance that he is our Savior.

The rite of circumcision put those who had entered this special relationship with God under obligation to put away evil and serve the Lord with their lives. This was something only the grace of God could achieve. This grace God promised them in Deuteronomy 30:6, “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” By the rite of circumcision, the Israelite was placed under the law of God. Out of love for God, who had established that rite, he was to acknowledge that God was the Lord of his life. He was to look to the Lord for everything he received and live his entire life under the covenant.

Since Jesus was circumcised for us, we no longer need to submit to circumcision as a religious ceremony. In Colossians 2:11-12 we read, “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” By Baptism all that Christ did and achieved has become ours by grace through faith in him. We are no longer our own. We are his. He is the Lord of our life. Like Israel, we are to love the Lord with all our heart, serve him and keep his commandments.

How can we do this since we are so weak and sinful? Here is where the precious name of Jesus comes to our rescue. Again, remember that the name Jesus means rescuer, savior, helper. This name, which Jesus received at his circumcision, both marks us as his own and empowers us to serve him. Just as the cross is a summary for the eye of all that Jesus did, so the name of Jesus summarizes for the ear and heart everything that Jesus is and does for us — the Gospel in one precious word. In this name, the fullness of salvation and grace was brought to us, changing our hearts from unbelief to faith, from darkness to light, from death to life “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) In this name we make our request to God. In this name we find forgiveness, when we sin, by it we rise when we fall, in it we find strength in our weakness. On this name we build our hope for time and eternity. Because of this name, we are not afraid to live and because of this name, we are not afraid to die, because “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8) What a powerful name!

Of course, the power of the name is not in the pronouncement of it or in the five letters of the alphabet that spell Jesus. There is no particular magic about the name. The power lies in the person who bears it, Jesus, the mighty God. To those who know his name and believe in him whose name it is, the whole grace of God comes to give them strength to live for him. In his name we can live up to his name. That is why we are called Christian. That precious name stands as a constant reminder that he is the Lord of our life. That is why the circumcision of Jesus is so important to us.

So, what’s in a name? As we noted earlier, sometimes the names that we give merely sound nice to the ear. Perhaps the name has been in the family for generations. However, as we have seen this morning, the name of Jesus and the significance of his circumcision dare not be lightly dismissed. The circumcision of Jesus is both an assurance that he is our Savior from sin and a reminder that he is the Lord of our life. Knowing this, then, we worship him whose precious name was given him on this day: Jesus. Amen