The Name and Circumcision of Jesus
January 1st, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 2:21
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Paul spills a lot of ink (and later blood) writing and preaching against circumcision. The book of Galatians can really be summed up with “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). This topic occupied much of the effort in the Church of the Apostles, even being a major topic in the first apostolic counsel in Jerusalem.
In Genesis chapter 17, God had commanded this sign of the covenant. He said to Abraham: “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; “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:10-14).
It doesn’t sound like there are any loopholes here. If you are to be a child of God, you must be circumcised. If you are going to be in the community, you must abide by the covenant.
Circumcision was the defining factor on who was in and who was out. It was a physical removing of the flesh with pain and blood. It could not be covered up or faked. It forever marked you as “one of us”. Other nations were not doing this. It separated Abraham and his descendants from them as God’s chosen people.
So why was it a controversy after Jesus ascended into heaven? Why was so much ink and blood spilt on this topic? Why did it cause schism in the Church? Didn’t our Lord Himself submit to circumcision? Here is the point. Just like the sacrificial system had been mandated by God as a type of what was to come, a type of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, so also, the covenant of circumcision was a type of Jesus subjecting Himself to the entire Law of God. Paul writes: “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). Circumcision places one under the entire Law binding him to keep it or die.
When a Jewish boy was circumcised, he had a physical confessional mirror telling him that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy, for he was not able to kept the Law that he was bound to in the flesh.
Jesus’ circumcision at eight days old is the fulfillment of the O.T. covenant, because for the first time a boy is bound to the Law AND fulfills it. At eight days old, Jesus shed blood under the Law and remains sinless. He subjects Himself to the entire Law to keep it—every jot and tittle.
Christ was not subjected to the Law like everyone else who preceded Him because of His person, since He was the Lord of the Law according to His divine nature, and according to His human nature—conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit. He was already without sin, and therefore not subjected in an external way to the Law. The fact is, He placed Himself under the Law through circumcision for your sake, not His own, so that He might be able to redeem you from under the curse of the Law.
That’s why Christ was born and became man. In the flesh, He shed His blood—both at the time of His suffering and death, but also here in His circumcision—so that by the shedding of blood the entire body of the human race could be served and benefited. St. Paul says in Eph. 1:22-23 that Christ is the head and the Church is His body. Whatever happens to the head happens to the body. Therefore, His circumcision is able to give benefits to the whole body—the Church. And, just like a man is not circumcised twice, so, everyone inside the body of Christ, is already circumcised through Him and not bound to be circumcised in the flesh.
Jesus was born for your good, and suffered for your good. He came to take upon Himself the burden of the Law as your substitute, for circumcision was a command of God. And as a substitute, He wanted to step into your place under the burden of the Law and remove the punishment from you forever.
Now, neither circumcision nor the curse of the Law are placed on your shoulders, because He bore both in His flesh. St. Paul says in Col. 2: “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” (Colossians 2:11-12).
You have been buried with Him in baptism. You have been clothed with Him (Gal. 3:28). His name has been placed upon you, for He is your head. You have been made alive and given a new birth. Circumcision has no further mandate in the Christian Church, just as animal sacrifices now have no place. Christ is the end and fulfillment. You are released from the curse of the Law by your Lord and Savior.
He lives up to His name: Jesus—for He saved His people from their sins. His name is Jesus, and He has rescued you from under the Law. There isn’t a better way to ring in the New Year than by hearing again that Jesus is your Lord and Savior—that He was even circumcised and named for you. That you are washed clean in His blood.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana