“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21
Today, we remember what took place on the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, His circumcision and naming. And, while today’s Gospel reading is only a single verse, often overlooked, it is of great meaning and importance to you and me today – in fact, without the events of this day, Jesus could not have taken our place under the law and provided for us the “plenteous redemption” promised in Psalm 130:7-8.
Remember also what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4-5): “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” It was necessary that Jesus be under the law in order that He might fulfill it for us and then redeem us from the curse and condemnation of the law by being made a curse for us (cf. Gal. 3:10-13). If Christ had not done that for us, we could not be adopted as God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 3:26-29).
Why circumcision, a cutting away of the flesh of the foreskin? God commanded Abraham, who was already justified by faith in God’s promises (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4), to be circumcised in Genesis 17:7-14: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”
It is for this reason that all who shared in the faith of Abraham were to be circumcised and sealed, by the cutting away of the flesh, as God’s own children through faith in the promised Seed of Abraham who would make atonement for the sins of all people. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the Old Covenant, and no one could be a part of spiritual Israel or partake of the Passover sacrifice unless he was circumcised and under the Covenant (cf. Ex. 12:43ff.).
(This remains one of the reasons we only allow those who are baptized and have made a public profession of the true faith to partake of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus – of His body and blood which were given and shed for us on the cross to make atonement for our sins and are offered and given to us in His Supper.)
Thus, Jesus’ circumcision is important for us because He took our place under the covenant of God and under the law that He might fulfill all the demands of God’s law for us and then make atonement for our sins by being offered upon the cross as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18ff.; cf. John 1:29). Indeed, the shedding of Christ’s blood at His circumcision points ahead to the blood He would, some 33 years later, shed upon the cross for the sins of all.
And, it is also on this day that He was named Jesus – Jehoshua (meaning Jehovah saves) – for He would save His people from their sins, as the angel of the Lord had told Joseph (Matt. 1:20-21). As the name of Joshua was changed from Oshea, the son of Nun, to Jehoshua (Num. 13:16), indicating that it is the LORD God who saves His people, so Jesus was given a name indicating He was and is Jehovah God Himself come into this world to be our Savior and redeem us from sin and death and lead us into the promised land – something we could not accomplish under the law.
Though many are still circumcised today for health reasons, Old Testament circumcision has been replaced by Christian baptism, which the Apostle Paul calls “the circumcision made without hands” in Colossians 2:11 (cf. v. 11-15).
We are no longer circumcised that we may be under the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the worship laws which pointed ahead to Christ. Rather, we are joined to Christ in our baptisms that we might be under the New Covenant in which we have forgiveness for all our sins and life everlasting through faith in Christ’s death on the cross in our stead and His glorious resurrection (cf. Col. 2:11-15; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13).
Christian baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant in which we obtain forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. That is why the Apostle Paul, after he met Christ on the road to Damascus, was told by Ananias, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
By means of baptism, we become children of God. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:26-29): “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
It doesn’t matter whether one is a Jew or a Greek, a slave or free, a male or a female. We all become children of God and a part of Christ’s holy Church in the same way, by believing the Gospel promises offering forgiveness and life for Christ’s sake and being baptized into Christ (cf. Mark 16:15-16), signifying that we are no longer trusting in our own righteousness or our own works of the flesh under the law, but we are trusting in Christ Jesus’ holy life in our stead and in His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of all and in His glorious and victorious resurrection on the third day.
As Abraham believed God and was counted righteous through faith and received the sign and seal of God that he was a child of God under the Old Covenant, so we through Spirit-wrought faith in the promises of God are made partakers of the New Covenant in and through our baptisms and are given the blessings won for us by Christ Jesus, our Savior! Being joined to Christ in baptism, our sins are washed away in His shed blood and we are raised up with Him to new life as children of God in Christ’s eternal kingdom; and, as God’s adopted children, we inherit with Abraham and the believers of all time the eternal joys of heaven!
O Christ, Son of God made man that You might fulfill all righteousness in my stead and bear on the cross the full and just punishment for all my sins, grant that I, through baptism, may be joined to You in Your death and be raised up with You unto life eternal through faith in Your glorious resurrection. Keep me in the true and saving faith and grant that I live as a child of God until that day when You come again to grant to me the eternal inheritance promised to all who look to You in faith and become Yours in Holy Baptism. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]