Circumcision and Name of Jesus
January 1, 2012
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
December 31, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We use those words and hear them an awful lot in the Christian Church. But what is the name of God? What does it mean? How can a thing be done in God’s name? Today is the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. But to understand the name of Jesus, it is first necessary to know the name of God.
God is not a name. It’s more like a pronoun—something that takes the place of God’s name. Names—especially names in the Old Testament—are a reflection of one’s character. For example, my namesake in the Old Testament, Jacob, means “grabs the heel,” because he was born grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau. It also means “supplanter;” Jacob took Esau’s birthright and inheritance.
God does not reveal His name for some time, though it is used throughout the Pentateuch. The first time God reveals His name is to Moses at the burning bush.
“Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
God instructs Moses to go to the Israelites in Egypt to bring them out of slavery. “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’” (Ex 3:1-6, 13-15).
God gives His name to Moses to identify who He is. I AM WHO I AM. If you look on the back of your worship folder, you can see the Hebrew for God’s name. Hebrew is a funny language—it reads from right to left and there are no vowels, except for those dots and dashes above and below the letters. The name that God gives to Moses is the same way to say “I am” in Hebrew.
This name is a reflection of the nature and character of God, that is, it is a reflection of the fact that everything that is finds its being in Him. God is the source of everything that is. God Himself was not created, He simply was. And He is. And He will be.
As you can see on the back of the bulletin, God also gives a slightly different form of His name after He says, I AM WHO I AM. The name of God found all throughout the Bible is the four letters Y-H-W-H. We might pronounce it Yahweh. Because the ancient Hebrews had such a high regard for this name, they would not even pronounce it when they came across it while reading, but instead would say, Adonai, which is the Hebrew word for “Lord.” The tradition of substituting “Lord” for God’s name stuck. But you can tell when God’s proper name is used in your Bible when you see LORD in all capital letters.
God gives His name to His people as a blessing. After He delivers them from Egypt, the Lord tells Aaron, Moses’ brother, to put His name on them in blessing. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). Notice the Trinitarian nature of the Lord’s name. Three times the Lord blesses with His name because that Divine Name is share by three persons. This is revealed to us most fully when Jesus institutes Holy Baptism, instructing His apostles to baptize in the (one) name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons—one name.
God gives us His name as a blessing, but we often abuse that blessing. The second commandment is a prohibition against misusing God’s name, or using it in vain. This commandment is given because we by nature desire to use God’s name in ways for which He has not given it. By the way, the second commandment is strong proof that Jesus is the true God—how many times have you heard someone yell out, “Buddha!” or, “Mohammed!” when annoyed; no, it’s the name of Jesus Christ they yell.
In addition to abusing God’s name, we would rather make a name for ourselves than to receive the name of God. This was the sin at the tower of Babel, when God confused the languages. They wanted to make a name for themselves, that is, they wanted to make a god for themselves. While we don’t make a practice of carving idols from wood or stone, when we try to earn respect and admiration by our works, we are trying to make our name great.
God’s name is a strange name because it’s not finished. “Tell them I AM sent you.” I am…what? It is a sublime name worthy of contemplation, but it’s really quite a cliffhanger. When do we get to hear the rest of your name, God?
John’s Gospel includes an interesting theme known as the I AM statements. On eight different occasions, Jesus identifies Himself by simply saying, “I AM.” On eight other occasions, Jesus makes a statement that completes the name of God. I AM: the Bread of Life; the Light of the world; the Witness of Myself; the Door of the sheep; the Good Shepherd; the Resurrection and the Life; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the True Vine. Jesus’ entire earthly ministry is completing the sentence, I AM…
Jesus is the One who reveals how God’s name is a blessing for us. God gives us His name in the Benediction and in Holy Baptism, and we receive all the things that His name is.
Although Jesus expands and expounds the name of God, His own name, Jesus, reveals God’s name most clearly. In the Hebrew language, many names contracted God’s name. For example, any names that end in “-el,” such as Daniel and Ezekiel, all refer to the title, God. God is my judge, God strengthens. Names that begin with the “y” sound or “j” sound incorporate God’s proper name. The name Joshua (Yehoshua in Hebrew) is a name that means, “Yahweh saves.” As the name was shortened and passed through several different languages, it arrived at our English pronunciation of Jesus. Jesus means, “Yahweh is Savior,” or, “I AM Savior.”
The name of Jesus wasn’t chosen because of family history, or from a book of baby names, but the angel Gabriel revealed to Joseph what His name would be. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Jesus is the Lord’s Salvation for us from our sins.
The tradition of the Jews was to give their sons their names on the eighth day after their birth on the day of their circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant and promise given to Abraham, a sign that God would redeem His people.
Jesus’ name is given to Him on the day of His circumcision, showing us the way that He will save His people from their sins—by shedding His own blood. The small cut made in Jesus’ infancy was a sign of the blood that He would shed on the cross. By submitting to the Law, Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law. Jesus became flesh in order to suffer in the flesh, to take the Law’s curse into Himself so that we would not have to bear it.
Today’s Gospel tells it simply and beautifully. “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” (Lk 2:21).
God gave His name long ago, and
Jesus Fleshes Out God’s Name
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard