Circumcision and Name of Jesus
December 31, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then God said to Abraham: “You and your descendants in the coming generations should keep My covenant. This is My covenant you and your descendants after you should keep with Me: Circumcise every male. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and that will be the mark of My covenant with you. When a boy is eight days old, circumcise every one of your males in the coming generations, whether he is a boy born in the household or bought from any foreigner who is not one of your descendants. Circumcise every boy born in your household or bought with your money. And My covenant in your flesh will be an everlasting covenant. If a man is not circumcised, that person must be cut off from his people. He has broken My covenant (Gen 17:9-14 AAT).
And when eight days were fulfilled for Him to be circumcised, His name was also called Jesus, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Lk 2:21).
Jesus Is Circumcised To Fulfill the Requirement of the Law and the Promise to Which It Points
The command for circumcision precedes the giving of the Law; it was given to Abraham some 430 years before the Law (Gal 3:15-18). At that time there existed no Ten Commandments, no Levitical priesthood, and no government of Israel. In fact, Israel (Jacob) had not even been born yet. The command to circumcise was a sign not of man’s obedience to God, but of God’s promise to man.
However, circumcision was also incorporated into the Levitical law (Lev 12:3), and was expanded to also include all those in the Israelite household, and as a prerequisite for participating in the sacrificial meals (Ex 12:44, 48).
Yet, even though circumcision is a Law, it is also more than a Law. “Then circumcise your hearts, and don’t be stubborn anymore.” “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your mind and all your heart and will live” (Dt 10:16; 30:6 AAT). The Lord promises also to circumcise the heart. This shows that from the beginning, the Law is not about outward obedience, but about the condition of the heart.
The sign of circumcision is unique in that it requires the shedding of blood. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen 9:6 ESV). The shedding of innocent blood is a particular abomination in God’s sight. It poisons the land and has a particular kind of guilt associated with it. Yet, the sign God chooses is to shed blood.
Circumcision is a sign that no one is born innocent. The guilt of sin is imputed from generation to generation. Because of this guilt, the blood of every 8-day-old boy in Israel was shed by a man. Circumcision was only commanded for male children, which indicates the way in which this guilt is passed down—from the father, who was circumcised before him.
But the sign of circumcision also points to the innocent blood that would be shed. An 8-day-old boy has no opportunity to commit a crime and is innocent in an outward sense—his only guilt at 8 days is what he has inherited. Because this bloodshed happens so early in a man’s life, it points ahead to the blood of the guiltless One. Circumcision points to One who was not born in a natural way—a guilty father begetting a guilty son—but to a Child conceived of God. Circumcision points us to Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, whose innocent blood was shed on the eighth day after His birth, and again in His adulthood.
The sign of circumcision comes with both a command and a promise. The command is God’s Law. St. Paul writes, But before the coming of faith, we were being guarded under the Law, being restrained for the faith that was about to be revealed. For this reason, the Law has become our pedagogue for Christ, so that we would be justified from faith (Gal 3:23-24).
Christ willingly restrained Himself by being born of a woman, by being born in the flesh, but He also willingly restrained Himself by being born under the Law. He did not choose to be born a Gentile and outside the regulations that God had given to Abraham and Moses. The blood that He shed on the eighth day after His birth was in obedience to the command.
But the blood that He shed as an infant would not be the last He would shed under the Law. Thorns enthroned His sacred head. Nails, spear pierced Him through. For Christ is also the fulfillment of the promise. He is the Innocent One, who kept the Law from His circumcision until adulthood, yet still suffered the Laws threats and punishments.
He is the One for whom the Law prepares us, to whom the Law points. For the Law does not restrain us for God’s deviant, sadistic pleasure. It restrains us for the faith that is revealed in Christ. The Law is our pedagogue, our instructor, our trainer for Christ. The Law is not an end in itself—the end of the Law, the goal of the Law, the completion of the Law is Christ.
Christ’s perfect obedience has set aside the requirement for outward obedience of this Law. But the Law is not set aside. By faith, the new circumcision is that of which the Lord speaks at the end of Deuteronomy—the circumcision of the heart. To circumcise literally means to “cut around.” Your heart is circumcised by the Word of God. His Word is a two-edged surgeon’s knife, a Word that cuts the way of the Law and the way of the Gospel, a Word that removes the callous, hardened heart that bears the guilt of your sin and creates a clean heart within you.
Tonight the world celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year. Let us also celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the new. For Christ became flesh to put an end to the old testament of obedience to the Law, and begins a new testament of faith in His perfect obedience, that He is the fulfillment of the requirements of the Law and of the promise to which it points.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard