Text: Luke 2:21 and Matthew 1:21
Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the most controversial name you can think of? There is a name which people find scandalous and offensive. This name has caused kings to tremble, judges to judge, and legislatures to legislate. This is the name that sets many on edge. This name may not be uttered in the public square lest unbelievers are offended. No other Name causes such a stir. This is the holy name of Jesus. While the rest of the world wishes one another a “Happy New Year,” the Church has set aside January 1st, the eighth day of Christmas, to celebrate the Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus. Unless you are Jewish by background, this might seem like a bizarre thing to celebrate. But, this morning, I want to highlight how the Holy Name of Jesus can tell us two things. First, this name tells us who Jesus is. Second, this name tells us what Jesus does.
I. His name tells us who he is
Our Gospel reading today is a tiny, easily overlooked verse from Luke. By his ancestry and birth, Jesus was a Jew. And Mary and Joseph observed all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law. On the eighth day of the child’s life, therefore, the sacrament of circumcision was administered to Him, whereby He was formally declared to be a member of the Jewish community. It was customary in Jesus’ day to name the boy on the day of his circumcision, the 8th day of his life. No one but Mary and Joseph knows the baby’s name. For seven days, he’s simply Mary’s firstborn, a baby boy, lying in a manger. He is given his name on the 8th day of Christmas, January 1st.
In the Bible, people’s names often have a special meaning. When God gives someone a name, it tells you something true about them. God renames Abram to Abraham because Abraham will be a father to many nations (Ge 17:5). Jesus gives Simon the name Peter (Jn 1:42). He also calls James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17). Names in the Bible tell you something about the person. The angel told Mary and Joseph independently what the baby’s name was, “Jesus.” So this name, “Jesus,” was not some random choice. Mary did not pick out this name because she liked the sound of the syllables. No, an angel from God told her to name the child “Jesus.”
The name Jesus was common. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua was one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. Joshua was the one who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites and who led them into the Promised Land. Why was this name chosen for Jesus? Our alleluia verse from Matthew 1:21 gives us the reason for the name: “he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Salvation”. That is: Jesus means “Saviour”. Jesus is himself both God and saviour! He actually is the Creator in the flesh, come to save us, embracing our humanity, revealing the Deity. Mary was told he “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:32). As the eternal Son of the eternal Father, he is equal to the Father from all eternity. The everlasting Son, who shared the very nature and glory of the Father, became a human. We are now celebrating Christmas when the only begotten Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. When God the Son became a man, he did not cease to be God. Thus, Mary and Joseph were told that his name was to be Jesus—literally, the Lord saves—because this child is himself the eternal Son of God who has assumed a human nature.
Because Christ is both true God and true Man, the name of Jesus comes with the promise of God’s presence with us. Matthew says that this birth was in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel — (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:23). God with us not merely God on our side, but God physically present among us in the person of this child! Now, wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, He is there with them. With Jesus’ Name comes the mandate to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. With Jesus’ Name is the promise of prayer, that whatever you ask in His Name, His Father and your Father in heaven will grant it.
II. His name tells us what he does
The Holy Name of Jesus means “the Lord saves, “which tells us about what Jesus does. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God who “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The Son of God became incarnate to redeem and save us. We confess this in the Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.” But how will he save His people from their sins? The circumcision points out two ways; first, he saves us by doing. Second, he saves us by suffering.
On the eighth day, when Jesus is circumcised, he receives the sign of the covenant. He was made under the law, meaning Jesus was formally obligated to keep God’s law perfectly. Jesus took upon himself the obligation of all humanity. What obligation is that? We owe God our wholehearted devotion and perfect obedience. No ordinary human could fulfil that obligation because we sin often. How often do we break God’s commandments in thought, word, or deed? Too many times to count. We actively do, think, and say the wrong things. We fail to do, think, or say the right things. We are sinners. But Jesus kept all the requirements of the law perfectly, not for himself, but for everyone who cannot keep it. Jesus put himself in place of sinners by assuming our debt to God. Jesus subjected himself to the Law of God to do what no one had done or had been able to do. He took the place of those who had failed.
Jesus fulfils the law on our behalf. The law has nothing to say because you have put on Christ by holy Baptism. It cannot accuse you, convict you, or threaten you. It must remain silent. Your obligation to perfectly keep God’s law is met because Christ has done everything the law requires. His circumcision was just the beginning. Jesus left nothing undone. His whole life was a life of humble submission to God’s law. He took your burden so that he could relieve you of that burden. The perfect man, the perfect substitute, the perfect Savior, offer a flawless life.
But the circumcision was also the beginning of His suffering. For here, He paid the first drop of blood as the price of our souls. Circumcision here points to the Cross. It shows us that he would save his people by shedding his own blood. The blood of Christ, which he assumed in his incarnation, first flowed here. It’s a sign of things to come. His suffering and death are the atonement for your sins. By becoming a human, the Son of God shed his blood to buy back those held captive by sin, death, and the devil. Because he is the very Son of God, his blood has infinite, universal power, able to cover and atone for the sins of the world. The full payment was made when He committed His soul into the hands of His heavenly Father on the Cross. This is precisely why the Son of God became Flesh and was born. This little child assumes your debt to God and then sheds His blood and His tears to remove the guilt and punishment your sins deserve. In your Baptism, you received the fullness of Christ’s righteousness. You are baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38). That shed blood is given to you this day to drink. That broken body is given for you to eat. Why? To forgive you and to impart the righteousness that you do not have. That is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Our hymn of the day said it well:
“O blessed day when first was pouredELH 157:1, 4
The blood of our redeeming Lord!
O blessed day when Christ began
His saving work for sinful man!
In love our guilt He undertakes;
Sinless, for sin atonement makes.
The great Lawgiver for our aid
Obedient to the law is made”
Jesus’ name tells us who he is: the Lord, God in human flesh. Jesus’ name tells us what he does: he saves sinners by taking their place under the law. He is our substitute. He alone met the requirements of the law. He fulfilled our debt to God. Then he sheds his holy blood for us. He alone could do it. He alone did it. And he did it all for you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.