Sunday, December 25, 2011
By His Blood and in His Name
“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.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those of you growing up with brothers or sisters can probably relate to this scene. It’s one of the days following Christmas. As you shower, get dressed, and then eat breakfast, you plan out your entire day. It’s going to be a great day! You’re going to spend all your time playing with that favorite gift.
But when you go to play with it, it’s gone! Immediately, you know where to start looking. You’ve seen that look in your brother’s eyes. You know he’s been coveting it ever since you first unwrapped it. Barging through his bedroom door, you catch him red-handed. “Give it to me!” you yell. “That’s mine!”
And even though he knows full well it was your Christmas present, he replies, “I don’t see your name written on it!”
Thinking back on this scene, I just realized that maybe that’s why Santa brought all three of us—my brother, sister, and me—label makers one Christmas. Wise old man that he is, he realized that if we each had our name stuck on all of our own things, there would be no need for such arguments or fights.
That’s how I came to have a roomful of toys and books and other stuff, each of them marked with a green, plastic label that had the name “Bob” written on it. That label marked that stuff as belonging to me. It was to prevent someone else from running off with my things. And even if they did, it assured that the thief (or borrower) would have to return them to their rightful owner. Putting our name on things marks them as our own.
Guess what? God does the same thing. He also puts His name down to mark His property. “Wait a minute,” I can hear you say. “We’ve been taught that everything belongs to God. We’re His stewards given the responsibility to manage everything for Him. But it’s really all His! Psalm 24:1 says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ Wouldn’t that mean His name would have to be plastered all across creation?”
Good question. It is true that everything already belongs to God. But it’s also true that God Himself has some special possessions, some properties that seem dearer to His heart than others. Like Andy from Toy Story, He indelibly marks those that are especially dear to Him with His own name.
Think of the temple in
. That place was very special to God
because it was where He promised to be for His people so they could find Him,
come and pray to Him, and receive His forgiving love. That’s why the Old Testament speaks of the
temple as the place where God’s name dwells. In fact, God Himself had promised King David,
“Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for
My Name” (1 Kings 5:5). At the dedication
of the temple, Solomon prayed, “May Your eyes be open toward this temple night
and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there.’” Jerusalem
Certainly every building on earth is God’s own. But that building—the temple—was a special building because that’s where God promised to come and meet His people to bless them. And so we come here today because this is the place where God promises to come and meet us and bless us in His name.
Today, as strange it may seem at first, we celebrate the circumcision of Mary’s Son. No, we don’t celebrate this painful and bloody surgical procedure itself, but rather its significance. For a first-century Jew, the practice of circumcision was theological rather than medical or cultural. It had to do neither with good hygiene nor social standing but with God’s promise.
God instituted circumcision with Abraham and his descendants as a sign of His covenant with them—that He would be their God and they would be His people. Every male was to receive this sign on the eighth day of life. It served as a visible sign of God’s promise to Abraham that through his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed. They were to live as God’s people by walking in His ways and trusting in His promise to send a Savior through Abraham. Sadly, although the bodies of God’s people were circumcised their hearts were not. They frequently worshiped and served other gods and walked in other ways. Just like you and me!
About 2,000 years after Abraham another of his many descendants was marked with that same bloody sign on His eighth day. Unlike previous generations, His circumcision was not the sign of promise made but of God’s promise kept. He is the Savior of the world, the promised Offspring of Abraham through whom the world is blessed. This Christ Child lived according to His circumcision with His heart as well as His body. That is, He kept and fulfilled the entire Law, and so showed Himself to be the true Son of God. In this way, He was “the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
God always required the shedding of blood as part of His covenant. In fact, very early on God explained the sacrificial system: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). The author of Hebrews adds: “Under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (17:22).
That shedding of blood normally consisted of the substitutionary sacrifice of animals. But circumcision required the shedding of human blood. Though a helpless baby who depended on the care of His parents, Jesus began to fulfill His mission to save the world from sin. His obedience to the Law involved the shedding of His own precious blood for the first time.
According to Colossians 2:13, the cutting off of the foreskin is representative of the cutting off of sin and rebellion against God. While Jesus Himself is without sin, He took all humanity’s place under the Law as the sin-bearer, just as He would in His Baptism. Through this One who represents all humanity, all people are circumcised once and for all.
At the same time He was marked by circumcision, Mary’s Child was also marked with the name “Jesus.” The purpose of the name was not to be cute or creative but to confess and describe who this Child is. In the ancient world, names were not merely identification tags. They were carefully chosen to reveal some characteristic trait or significance of the individual. Generally the father named the child and if the baby were a firstborn son, he would give him his own name.
In this case, Mary and Joseph were given the name, just as they were given the Child miraculously and without any choice or say in the matter. Don’t overlook the theological significance of the miraculous revelation of Jesus’ name by God through the angel. In a unique sense, Jesus’ name is chosen by His Father! In fact, Jesus is named after His Father!
“Jesus” is a Greek translation of “Joshua”, which means “Yahweh (the Lord) saves.” The angel explained this when he broke the big news to Joseph. Like Joshua of the Old Testament, Jesus was to take His people into the Promised Land in victory. But Jesus is much greater, in that His victory would not just be over the pagan Canaanite enemies, but over all the forces of evil and death. And the new Promised Land into which He leads His people is the eternal new heaven and earth.
Jesus would fulfill His name perfectly and completely. Already at His circumcision, the eight-day-old child sets upon the road that would lead through the sufferings of
Calvary, the stony
silence of the tomb, and the jubilation of Easter morning. In fact, in this eight-day-old Child, Yahweh,
the Lord Himself, has come in the flesh “for us men and for our salvation,” as
we say in the Nicene Creed.
By His submission to the Law and His perfect keeping of it, Jesus saves and redeems those who are under God’s Law. He gives His perfect obedience to you, and He bears the suffering and death of your failure to keep the Law. In the Great Exchange, what is yours becomes His, and what is His become yours. So the circumcision of Jesus is also your circumcision. Its former theological meaning is now found in Him. You no longer need circumcision; instead, you need Jesus—His circumcision, His perfection, and His fulfillment of the Law.
In our Epistle, Paul describes our “adoption as sons” in Jesus. In Him, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female,” but only Christians baptized into Christ and belonging to Him. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Through your Baptism into Jesus, His circumcision counts for you, male or female, and gives you the rights of a son of God.
How does He give it? How has God ever given His grace and blessings? With His name. Always He puts His name on someone, and that someone ceases to belong to God in general but instead belongs to God in specific as a precious and prized possession. Like me putting name labels on my possessions so my brother or sister couldn’t run off with them, God has put His triune name on you with all its blessings so that you might never be lost, but belong to Him forever.
Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus—the Lord who saves—is with you, for you have been baptized into His name. Every time you say His triune name and make the sign of the cross, you recall how the Lord has made you one of His own people, His own child. You are an heir of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus’ blood and name.
In Baptism, you are given the benefits of Christ’s once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world. In Baptism, you are washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world to the cross. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you receive the forgiveness of sins earned by the shedding of His blood, from that first blood at eight days to His bloody Good Friday death.
Risen and ascended, the Lord still comes to you. In His Word, He speaks to you through His called and ordained servant. In His Supper, Christ gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. At the altar you receive Jesus, the entire Jesus, the true body and blood of the one who is your life and salvation. And that gives you everything earned by the shedding of His blood, everything that comes with His name.
That includes the privilege of calling upon the Father in prayer. Jesus’ name gives you access to His heavenly Father. At the right hand of the heavenly Father, Jesus intercedes for you on your behalf. When you pray in Jesus’ name, the Father promises to hear your prayers. You may approach Him with your requests with all boldness and confidence, asking Him as dear children ask their dear father.
The whole rest of Christian life is just unpacking the joy of what it means to live life and die death as one who belongs specially to the triune God—what it means to live under the promise and mark of God’s holy name, as a person walking the way home to the Father and His Promised Land.
St. Peter described this new life as one baptized in God’s name this way: “You are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Now there’s a resolution worthy of a new year! May you, people marked as God’s own by His blood, declare to all the world the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. May you, people marked with God’s triune name, share His glorious name and all the power it brings with all of your family, friends, and neighbors. May you spend this year with the Word of God in your ear, the blood of Jesus on your tongue, and the name of Jesus on your forehead and your heart. For through His Word, and by His Blood, and in His Name, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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