The Blood of Christ
Luke 2:21 (12/31/15)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 2:21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… It is the shortest Gospel reading in the entire church year; 28 words, 35 syllables. How possibly can a pastor use what little there is here to preach a whole sermon? Surely it would be easier to preach on the deep and very long Lenten texts, particularly the whole Passion reading from John 18-19…
But there is more here in this brief proclamation than initially meets the eye, for St. Luke tell us of the first shedding of blood that our dear Lord Jesus underwent for us and for the world.
This reading which focuses on the circumcision and naming of Jesus may seem like an odd topic for the eve of a new year. But that is because the Church must never focus on the worldly calendar but always on the Church Year calendar, a calendar which helps to teach the Church about the life and ministry of Christ her Lord. And, as you see in the title of tonight’s bulletin, we celebrate the “Eve of the Name of Jesus.” What happened on that day in our Lord’s life has great significance for all Christians.
As with many events in the New Testament which find their beginnings in the Old Testament, we turn our attention to the book of Genesis for illumination of our text from Luke 2. In Genesis 17 Abram was 99 years old when God appeared to him. At that time God had changed Abram’s name to Abraham because God’s promise to him of many descendants was about to be fulfilled.
Listen again to Genesis 17: And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 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…and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child…shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.
It is clear from this passage that circumcision in one’s household was to be a sign of obedience to God and belief in His promise to bring them to the promised land and eventually to grant them deliverance through a Savior. Circumcision was the mark of the agreement between God and His people Israel. If a household did NOT follow God’s command of circumcision, that household was cut off from their people which, in essence, meant no salvation.
God’s people were to place themselves under His complete and total care, entrusting their very lives to Him for everything. Circumcision marked both the promise and the burden of membership in God’s people Israel. Even as it is today, so it was back then: faith and trust in God’s promises is what ultimately gives salvation.
God’s people back then had to learn a hard lesson; they were a stubborn and obstinate people, and they needed lots of guidance. So if it seems to us that God’s laws and commands were a bit harsh, it was to teach obedience and trust in God to a people who were completely misguided. And this covenant promise attached to the obedient act of circumcision was to be an everlasting covenant; it was to be carried out forever… or until Someone came along to fulfill the requirements of the Law.
In our Gospel text for this evening Mary and Joseph were simply obeying this command which had been given long before. They simply had the Child Jesus circumcised on the eighth day of His life in obedience to the Old Testament covenant given to Abraham.
But some would say that there is something wrong with this picture. Jesus was the very Son of God. He was sinless. He was born through Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. His parents named Him Jesus, the name the angel gave them in a dream, the name which means “Salvation.” Why in the world would Jesus, of all people, need to be circumcised? Why would this have to be done? Didn’t God know? Couldn’t He have stopped this from happening?
Well, if He did, then you and I would have no reason to be here today. You see, if Christ is not circumcised on the eighth day – just as God commanded long ago – then that one little aspect of keeping the Law perfectly for us would be overlooked. It would mean that Jesus would not have kept the Law perfectly, thus not completely and perfectly fulfilling what the Scriptures said about Him.
And if Jesus did not fulfill what the Scriptures said about Him, then He would not be the Savior. And if that were the case, we would be sitting here not in expectation of Christ’s Second Advent but still waiting for the Messiah to come for the first time like so many others still are today. And again, if Messiah had not already come to redeem mankind, then there is no salvation, there is no Savior, there is no hope. There would be no reason to look forward to the year 2016 with anything but fear and dread. There would be no “Happy New Year” and we would all be better off going home right now and ending it all.
But that is not how the Church of God thinks and acts. We see from Scripture that, even though Jesus was only in His eighth day of existence as a man, God was making sure that His plan of salvation was being accomplished. I would guess that not even Mary and Joseph understood the full impact of their actions that day and what those actions might mean down through the ages. As far as they were concerned they were simply obeying God’s Word. But what it really meant was EVERYTHING – for them and for us.
God’s purpose was that His Son should render perfect obedience to the Law, not only the moral Law but likewise to the ceremonial Law. On the day Christ was circumcised the very first drops of His blood were shed for us. The way of salvation which He was traveling for us was that of obedience and suffering – a suffering which took Him all the way to the cross where He shed much more blood at the cost of His very life. As Christ placed Himself under the Law and obeyed it willingly for us, He also placed Himself under the punishment and curse of the Law, thereby freeing us from it.
Christ bore the full brunt of our sins on that cross and took every bit of punishment that we deserved because of our sins. He took the blows that should have been ours for our disobedience of God’s Law. He took the pain and suffering that should have been ours. He placed Himself completely under His Father’s will and endured the anguish that we deserved for not entrusting our lives to God in everything. He died for our own inability to die to sin in our lives. He suffered and breathed His last in order to forgive us, renew us, and redeem us from hell’s curse. He died so that we might live!
That, dear fellow redeemed, is the powerful message of the cross. That is what comes our way because of Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law which began way back at His conception, birth, and circumcision. Without the almost completely overlooked events of Christ’s eight day, without that seemingly insignificant beginning, there would be no end to our suffering, pain, and sorrow.
But instead there is no end to our joy, there is no end to our peace, there is no end to our hope. There is absolutely no end to the power of God’s love and His unfathomable forgiveness toward us simply because there was no end to Christ’s obedience. He obeyed the Law perfectly for us, in our place, and now we are free to enjoy all the benefits of a life full of God’s blessings – a life bought and paid for with the blood of Christ.
Tonight we gathered at this altar rail for the last time in the year 2015 to receive not only the blood but also the body of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine. And we will do so again on Sunday and the following Sunday and every Lord’s Day. It is the same body and blood of Christ which was crucified on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. And it is the same body and blood of Christ which was brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph on the eighth day. It is the body and blood which suffered and died to give you life
It is the same Christ of Whom we sang earlier. Listen again to these fabulous and powerful words of the hymn of the day:
- O blessed day when first was poured the blood of our redeeming Lord.
O blessed day when Christ began His saving work for sinful man!
- While from His mother’s bosom fed, His precious blood He wills to shed;
A foretaste of His death He feels, an earnest of His love reveals.
- Scarce came to earth, His Father’s will with prompt obedience to fulfill,
A victim even now He lies before the day of sacrifice.
- In love our guilt He undertakes; sinless, for sin atonement makes.
The great Lawgiver for our aid obedient to the Law is made.
- Lord, circumcise our heart, we pray, and take what is not Thine away.
Write Thine own name upon our hearts, Thy Law within our inward parts.
- O Lord, the Virgin-born, to Thee eternal praise and glory be.
Whom with the Father we adore and Holy Ghost forevermore. Amen.