Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: New Year Special, Circumcision of Jesus
Volume 8 No. 454 January 1, 2018
II. Circumcision of Jesus

Circumcision & Name Of Jesus

by Martin Luther

Gospel: Luke 2:21

On this day it is the popular custom to distribute New Year's gifts from the pulpit, as if there were not enough other useful and beneficial matters to preach about, instead of useless tales surrounding the New Year. The Gospel for this day requires us to preach on the circumcision and the name of Jesus; and that is what we are thus going to do.

Let us first ask that wise woman, Madam Jezebel, natural reason: Is it not a foolish, ridiculous, useless command when God demands circumcision of Abraham? Could He find no other part of the body except this one? Moreover, the Jews suffered a great deal of humiliation and shame on account of it and were despised by all the world because of it. After all, there is no use in it. What benefit is served by mutilating the body in this way? It does not make a person any better for it, since everything depends upon the soul.

But such are all of God's commandments and works. In our eyes they appear foolish and useless. This, however, is done in order that proud reason, which deems herself so clever and wise, may be put to shame and blinded, give up her arrogance, and submit herself to God, give Him honor, and believe everything that He appoints . . . even though she does not see it and thinks quite differently about it. Therefore, God was not really concerned about circumcision, but about the humiliation of proud nature and human reason.

So, also, in the New Testament we have baptism, in order that we should be buried in the water, and believe that we are thereby cleansed from sins and saved; also, that Christ's body is in the bread of the altar; also, that we worship a crucified man as Lord and God. All this is immeasurably far above and contrary to reason. Thus all the works and words of God are contrary to reason; and reason, in turn, is contrary to God. And they collide over the sign which is spoken against. In all this God seeks nothing but humility . . . that we take captive our reason and simply subject ourselves to the divine truth. So Abraham and his seed received the foolish rite of circumcision in order that by it they would give glory to God and permit Him alone to be wise.

Now, circumcision was an external mark by which God's people were known in distinction from other nations; just as a prince gives his people and army his standard and watchword by which they are known among themselves and by which foreigners can tell to what lord they belong. Thus the Israelites were known by circumcision; that was their divine mark. Our mark is baptism and the body of Christ. For this reason the ancient fathers called these "signs" . . . what we now call "sacraments," that is, "sacred signs." For where there is baptism, there are certainly Christians, wherever they happen to be in the world.

Let this be enough concerning the temporal reason for circumcision. We will now look at the spiritual reason and its significance. First, why did God not command to circumcise a finger, hand, foot, ear, or eye, or some other member of the body? Why did He select that which was created for procreation and natural increase? After all, if the purpose was to cut off evil, then certainly the hand or the tongue, of all members, ought to have been circumcised; for by the tongue and hand all wickedness is perpetrated among us.

Some have said that it was done for this reason – because evil lust shows itself the most in this part of the body. And for this reason Adam and Eve felt the disobedience of their flesh there, and sought a covering for their nakedness.

That is all true; but something else is portrayed here too – and which we must always stress; namely, that God does not condemn or save a person on account of his works, as the Scriptures clearly state in many places. Accordingly, our fault lies not in our works, but in our nature. Our person, our nature, our entire existence is corrupt in us because of Adam's fall. Therefore, not a single work can be good in us until our nature and very being are changed and renewed. After all, if the tree is not good, then the fruits will be bad.

But if God had commanded to circumcise the hand or the tongue, this would have been a sign that the fault simply lay in our works or words; and that He was kindly disposed toward our nature and person. But in selecting that member of the body whose main function is the creation of our very nature and being and existence, He clearly indicates that the fault lies in our entire being and nature, and that from birth we are corrupt and sinful. This is called original sin, or the sin of the nature, or the sin of the person – the truly chief sin. If this did not exist, there would not even be any actual sin. For this sin is not done like all other sins; but it exists, lives, and produces all sins . . . and is the essential sin that sins not for an hour or a season, but wherever and as long as a person lives.

Moreover, this nature sin can be eradicated by no law, by no punishment, not even if there were a thousand hells; but by the grace of God alone, which makes the nature pure and new. The law only manifests it and reveals it, but does not save us from it. The law can indeed restrain the hand or the tongue, but it cannot restrain a person from being sinful. And just as little as it lies in one's power to be born and to receive natural existence, so little does it lie in his power to be without sin or to escape from it. No, only He who has created us can take it away. Therefore, He first gives the law, by which we recognize this sin and thirst for grace; and then also gives the Gospel and saves us. In the second place, why does God command only males to be circumcised when nature and birth involve the woman also? The psalmist, after all, laments more over the mother than the father when he says: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

It was done, obviously, for the sake of Christ and His mother because He was to come as a natural man and person, could be born of a woman, and, yet, without sin and without intercourse. For in all conception from a man, there is sin in both man and woman. And so, He made use of her womanly flesh and body for natural birth, but not for natural conception, and was conceived and born a true man without sin. But because only a sinful birth, nature, and person can come from a man, circumcision was imposed upon males only, in order to show that every birth from man is sinful and condemned, requiring circumcision and change. Here one might apply what St. John writes: "To all who received Him, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

In the third place, why did circumcision have to take place on the eighth day? Here again natural sin is once more indicated. For the poor babe surely has no actual sin of its own; nevertheless, he must be circumcised and so receive the sign of the cleansing from sin. But if God had commanded to circumcise after eight years, one might say that it was done for sins already committed. But by commanding to circumcise on the eighth day, He indicates that a greater sin than any actual sin is being born . . . our sinful human nature.

To be sure, Abraham first believed and afterwards was circumcised, and others after him were first circumcised and then believed. Both truths must stand; namely, that circumcision is only a sign of justification and nobody is justified by it; and that faith justifies alone without circumcision. . . so that faith and its sign are clearly distinguished.

In addition, the eighth day was perhaps appointed also for physical reasons . . . that the babe might first become a little stronger so that it should not appear that it had died from circumcision. Yet, the spiritual significance is of greater importance. Seven days signify the time of this world up to the Last Day, because this present time is measured by weeks or seven days as described in Genesis. The eighth day is the Last Day after this present time, when weeks and months and years shall cease and there will be only an eternal day. On that day circumcision will be fulfilled, when not only the soul, but also the body, shall be freed from sin, death and all impurity, and shall shine as the sun. In the meantime, the soul is circumcised from sin and an evil conscience through faith.

So we see that the Scriptures in all places direct us to faith – to faith alone in Christ. Therefore, circumcision was not given by the law of Moses, but to Abraham, to whom Christ, his seed, was promised as a blessing and to bring a blessing to all people.

Why then has circumcision come to an end, even though that same faith in Christ, to which it points, still remains? The answer: God has always, from the beginning of the world until the end, maintained one faith in Christ; but He has not given only one sign of it . . . but has foreshadowed it by many external signs in order that people might be incited to believe, and has permitted each sign to continue for its appointed time. So when God promised to Abraham the blessings in his seed and gave to him a sign of it, namely circumcision; it could no longer exist when that promise was finally fulfilled; namely, when Christ, the blessed Seed of Abraham, came. But that which it signified – faith, always remains.

Moreover, God never establishes the same sign again after its purpose has come to an end, but always instituted other signs. So after the fulfillment of His promise, after the coming of Christ, he instituted a new and different sign, namely, baptism. This, to be sure, is the last sign to be instituted before the Last Day, because He established it for all time until the end of the age. Nevertheless, the same faith in Christ, which was in Abraham, abides always. Thus, baptism has the same significance as circumcision . . . but this we will say something about at another time.

Finally, it was the custom to give the child its name when he was circumcised, as we see here and in the instance of John the Baptist. However, just as Christ was not obliged to be circumcised and this sign was empty in His case . . . being without sin; so also His name had been given to Him before by the angel, so that He did not obtain it by circumcision. This was done to show that He, above and alone from all other men, was free from the law and from sin, and serves us by submitting to the law and becoming like us in order to redeem us from sin; as St. Paul says in Galatians: "He was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law."

His name is rightly called on this day "Jesus," that is Savior . . . the One who saves, redeems, brings salvation, and is of help to everyone. So the angel Gabriel said to Joseph in a dream: "Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now, as circumcision signifies our faith, as we have heard: so the naming of children signifies that by faith we are known before God by name. For God knows none of those who do not believe, as is said in the Psalm: "The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." And as our Lord Christ has said: "Truly, I say to you, 'I do not know you'." What, then, is our name? Without a doubt, as Christ bestows upon us all that is His, so He also bestows upon us His own name. We are thus called Christians after Him, children of God after Him. There is, therefore, no limit to the status and honor of being a Christian. For these are abundant riches of His goodness which He pours out upon us, so that our hearts might be free, joyful, peaceful, and undaunted; and so willingly and cheerfully keep the law.


Circumcision of Jesus

by Pastor Paul Fritz, St. John's Ev. Lutheran Church, Fremont, WI

Gospel: Luke 2 21

Luke 2:21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

Jesus' Circumcision and Name Gives Us Assurance for the New Year

1. His circumcision assures us of God's faithfulness to his word.

2. His name gives us assurance that he has reconciled us to God

On the first day, God used a word and brought forth the earth and light. On the second day, God's Word formed the sky. On the fifth day, God's words made the birds and fish. On the sixth day, the Word created people. On the seventh day, he rested. Do you ever wonder what he did on the eighth day? Luke remembered and recorded it for us.

Now I know that these two events talk about completely different times. Days 1-7 took place at the very beginning of the world and this eighth day was millinia later as God carried out his plan to recreate the world. This is not the eighth day of creation we are talking about. This is the eighth day of the incarnation of Jesus. Eight days, after Jesus was born, he was circumcised and named.

Tomorrow will be that day, our New Year's Day. These days have a few similiarities.

When a new year begins, people will look back at what has happened during the past year. Just think of things that might be remembered that happened in 2013. China landed a rover on the moon. The US government shut down. Some song I knew heard of reached the top of Billboards Top 100. Huge tornados hit Oklahoma. The Red Sox won the World Series. Margaret Thatcher died. These wrap ups serve to close the book on the old year. The last respects to the year now almost past.

In a similar way, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple on the eighth day, God was closing the book on the old. He was paying the last respects to something that was done for about 1500 years. The circumcision part of this promised covenant with his faithful people.

Way back at the beginning of those years, God told Abraham, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Genesis 15:5). In connection to that promise God later commanded circumcision. "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner - those who are not your offspring." (Genesis 17:10-12). This rite was specifically identified as the sign of the covenant of grace between the Lord and Abraham. Every time Abraham and his descendants had a male child and every time Abraham or one of his male descendants looked down, God wanted them to be reminded that a Savior was coming through his offspring.

In this way, Jesus' circumcision was like New Year's Day. Jesus was getting rid of something that was old. He is the fulfillment of the promise of the Savior connected long before through the covenant of circumcision. Since Jesus fulfilled that covenant, it was no longer needed.

Jesus also completed a command when he was circumcised. Remember Jesus had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the Law. So on that eighth day the time had fully come. God sent his Son, born of woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4).

Lastly, Jesus circumcision was a stride towards redemption - buying back our souls. At his circumcision Jesus submitted his body to God's Law. This circumcision was marking the beginning of Jesus' plan, pointing ahead to the punishment that Jesus would take on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus was putting an end to God's wrath. No more sacrifices would be needed after Jesus had fulfilled this suffering on the cross.

To summarize: By his circumcision Jesus was physically marked as Abraham's offspring (Ro 9:5); he was shown to be the one who had come to bear the sin of the world—both the actual sins and the inherited sinfulness which underlies all sins; and by the shedding of his blood, it was shown that he would carry out that salvation by humbling himself and shedding his blood. We can celebrate the fact that Jesus got rid of all the commandments, by fulfilling them in our place. We no longer have to offer sacrifices. We don't have to resolve to improve so that God will allow us into heaven. God's wrath no longer hangs over our heads. Even though God demands that we obey his Ten Commandments perfectly, we know that Jesus already did this for us.

As we put aside the deeds done in the past year, and look forward to the new hope of the unspoiled year to come, so this eighth day brought new hope. Here's how: instead of living by promises of things to come, the people could live by realities, things that happened. Here's why: Jesus was given his name. When a new name is given, it means the beginning of something new. Abram was given a new name while he was given the covenant of circumcision. Now Jesus was given his name as he completed that covenant.

The name Jesus means, "the Lord saves." Notice it doesn't mean, "the Lord helps people save themselves." It means, "the LORD saves." Jesus would be the Savior of the world. Our salvation wouldn't have anything to do with what we would do. It would only depend on the Lord. Also notice that Jesus' name is an active verb. "The Lord SAVES." He would be the one who would actively obey the laws of the world. He would be the one who would die for the world. They didn't have to look forward to the coming of a Savior anymore. It was time for salvation to begin NOW.

This was what was predicted in Jeremiah 31, "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers. . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." That which God promised, the forgiveness of sins, would now be a reality. No longer would God hold any sins against us. They would all be forgiven and forgotten.

Through faith in Christ, we are now living in the reality of things just hoped for in previous ages. Therefore we have a new lease on life. Just as God gave Jesus His name, so He has given us new names. Instead of calling us filthy and damned sinners, names that we have earned, He now calls us "saints", a name that Jesus has earned for us. This is what we are now. He calls us a "holy people." Through faith in Jesus Christ, we take on a new name. We're called Christians, saints, and holy people. It gives us a fresh start. It's a present reality. It's like we have been broken free from the chains that were bound around our neck. The devil can no longer accuse us of sin. God's wrath can no longer touch us, for we know that God already punished Christ. We are now holy in God's sight. This is what happens to us, now that we are set free from the law of God. God isn't going to bring out a scandal sheet of our past sins on Judgment Day and embarrass us with them. God says that when we are baptized, God applies the forgiveness of Christ to us. This is the way that God now circumcises our hearts, and cuts us off from our sinful nature. At our baptism, God washed our sins away by giving us faith in Christ. Now that we know our sins have been forgiven completely - that God remembers none of the things we have done, it gives us a new lease on life. Since we know that Jesus has obeyed all of God's laws as our substitute, and we know that we are going to heaven, we feel set free. We can resolve to live our lives according to God's law. That's what we now have the power to do, by the grace of God.

No matter what changes we have to face in 2014, we can face the new year with confidence and hope, all because of what happened on the eighth day. Things changed on that day. With the circumcision and naming of Jesus, God fulfilled the law for us. At our baptism, God circumcised our hearts and connected us to Christ - giving us His Name and reputation. That's what gives us hope and courage for the future - to face another year. This is why we celebrate the eighth day. It's like New Year's Day - giving us a new lease on life, a fresh start.


Our Savior Had to be Circumcised

by Rev. Paul Rydecki


Luke 2:21
Genesis 17:1-14
Galatians 3:23-29

Consider this question for a moment: What are the absolutely essential events in the life of Christ, revealed in Scripture, that had to happen in order for him to be our Savior from sin – in order for us to have peace and hope and comfort and a future in heaven instead of hell? There aren't that many, actually, only a couple hands full. The Christ had to be born of a virgin. We celebrated that last Sunday on Christmas. He had to be baptized – we'll cover that next Sunday. He had to institute a new covenant in his blood. He had to suffer and die on a cross. He had to rise from the dead on the third day, ascend into heaven, and send his Holy Spirit from the right hand of God so that his Gospel could go out and save sinners.

For all those key events in the life of Christ, the Church has set aside a day of celebration each year in its calendar. Which one did we miss? We missed that one event that we don't talk about or think about very often, but the Church Fathers wisely built it into the Church calendar to be celebrated every year, on the eighth day of Christmas, January 1st. Without this event, we are lost in sin and doomed to eternal death. Without it, we have no Christ, no Jesus, no Savior. So today on the eighth day of Christmas, we remember with joy that Our Savior Had to Be Circumcised.

You heard about the origin of Hebrew circumcision in the Old Testament Lesson today. It all started with Abraham when he was 99 years old and still childless. For a quarter century God had been promising him a son, an "offspring," and God made a covenant between himself and Abraham and Abraham's yet-to-be-conceived offspring: "To your offspring I will give this land… And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

Now, finally, when Abraham was 99 years old the promise would be fulfilled. A son would be born to him within a year, but first, a sign – a sign commanded by God to seal the covenant in Abraham's flesh and in the flesh of every male descendant of his, a sacred but painful sign for every man and every boy, a sign that every Israelite family would be reminded of whenever a child was conceived, and whenever a male child was born: Circumcision, to be performed on the eighth day of a baby boy's birth.

That's the brief history behind circumcision. What's the meaning behind it? Why would God subject his chosen people to such a mutilation of the flesh?

Circumcision served several purposes for Old Testament Israel. This sign of circumcision set the Jewish nation apart from every other nation on earth. No one else had such a practice; only Abraham's offspring. That's important, because God had made a special covenant with Abraham's offspring – they had to be kept separate.

Circumcision was also a minor form of punishment from God, marking a man as a sinner who needed to have sin cut away from him. And notice when! Not after a long life of sinning, but after only eight days of being alive outside the womb. And here we see another Scriptural teaching highlighted – the doctrine of original sin. It's not just the bad things people do and say that make them guilty before God. It's the very sinful nature we inherit from our parents, and they from theirs. It's the source of all our actual sins, the sick, twisted flesh in all of us – believers and unbelievers alike – that always runs away from the true God, that runs away from his love and mercy in Christ, that rebels against him and spends all its time looking out for #1. Because of that sinful flesh that dwells in all of us, Jewish baby boys got to be marked with a sign – a sign that we can't save ourselves from this inborn sin. It needs cutting around and cutting out, a circumcision done by someone else. And circumcision was a sign of God's covenant to do just that for Abraham and his children.

So fast forward 2000 years from the time of Abraham. There were Mary and Joseph and the baby boy that Mary bore, still in Bethlehem. And as the Law demanded, they had the baby circumcised on the eighth day, just like every other Jewish boy.

But this one wasn't like every other Jewish boy. This one was born of a virgin, without the intervention of a sinful man. This baby had no sinful flesh – no natural corruption or sickness that turned him away from God, because this baby boy was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

So why did he have to be circumcised? There's a very important verse in Galatians 3 that gives us the answer: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. And that right there changes everything.

What it means is that neither Isaac – Abraham's son, nor the nation of Israel itself were the intended recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham. There was only one intended recipient, one heir of the promises, the coming Christ. Christ, the baby born of Mary, was the intended recipient of all the promises of God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the whole nation of Israel. The nation of Israel, Abraham's descendants, were brought into this covenant, too, but only until it should be fulfilled in the intended recipient. Christ was the offspring who was to be born to Abraham and, according to the covenant, Christ is the one who would be the heir of that covenant, who would inherit all the promises of God, including the earth itself and an eternal place in the family of God, not just as the Son of God, but also as the Son of Man, which is what helps you and me.

But if and only if he is circumcised according to the Law and brought into this covenant God had made with Abraham long ago.

Our Savior had to be circumcised so that, as the Son of Man, he could inherit all the promises of God made to Abraham, and then, give away his inheritance to others. That's why we celebrate also the name of Jesus today, because God's purpose from the beginning, was that the offspring of Abraham, circumcised on the eighth day of his birth, should be called Yeshua, Jesous, Jesus, Savior.

Savior of whom? Of those who are circumcised like he was? Yes, but also of the uncircumcised – of all who trust in him.

By that first infliction of pain in the innocent baby Jesus, in that first shedding of his holy, precious blood, God's covenant with Abraham and his offspring was fulfilled, and the sign of circumcision was brought to an end as the sign of that old covenant. Now Jesus, the heir of all things as both God and Man, could open the way for a new covenant to be made, a covenant in his blood. That first shedding of his blood was just a foreshadowing of what his life was meant for. Did you catch that in the hymn stanza we just sang? "His infant body now begins the cross to feel; those precious drops of blood that flow for death the victim seal."

Every other Hebrew baby who was circumcised was marked for death before he was born because of sin. But this Hebrew baby, Jesus the son of Mary, was not marked for death by sin, but only by choice. His blood never needed to be shed, except as the price for the sin of his brothers. His name is rightly called Jesus, Savior! And this is how he would save all who trust in him, by shedding his blood. That's the cost of your sins. That's the price of your forgiveness. And that's the sign of God's love for the world. His blood, the blood of Jesus, whose name means "Savior." Because your blood wasn't worth enough. But his was! His blood was worth enough to open a new covenant. And since he was the heir of the first covenant made with Abraham and his offspring, only Jesus has the right to make a new covenant, to pass on his inheritance to anyone he chooses.

And he chooses, not the one who deserves it, not the one who works for it. He chooses sinners. His Gospel goes out, even now, to sinners: Repent! Turn away from your god-less life and believe in the good news, that a Savior has been born to you, that a Savior has been circumcised for you, and that this Savior holds out a new covenant of the forgiveness of sins to you, and also, a new sign for the new covenant.

You know what that sign is? It's circumcision! But it's a different kind of circumcision. This is what it says in Colossians 2, In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Baptism is the sign of the new covenant, God's way of bringing you into the family of Jesus and his Father, just as circumcision brought a Jewish baby boy into the family of Abraham and of God. You heard what Paul said in the Epistle Lesson, "In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Jaimie and Jeremy were baptized just a few months ago. They put on Christ. They have become his heirs. And now, today, Jaimie will be confirmed in the faith and welcomed into the family meal as well, the family meal of the continuous forgiveness of sins in which Christ himself comes to us and gives his own body and blood to us, the actual blood of the new covenant, the actual blood that was shed on Calvary, but that first was shed in Bethlehem, on the eighth day of his birth, when Jesus, our Savior, was circumcised.

Our Savior had to be circumcised, so that you, too, could become Abraham's offspring, and heirs of all the promises of God. As sons of God by faith in Christ, baptized into his family, all of us – men, women, boys, girls, rich, poor, Jew and Gentile – we all receive from our Father in heaven the inheritance that belongs to Jesus our brother, the inheritance of a righteous status before God, in spite of all our sins; eternal life, heaven, earth, past, present, future – all things are yours, because your Savior was circumcised, and you have been baptized in him. Amen.

What's In a Name?

by Arthur Litke, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pa.


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.
- Luke 2:21 (ESV)

What's in a name? Have you ever wondered what your name means? I looked up mine a number of years ago and found out that "Arthur" is an Anglo-Saxon name that means "strong as a rock." Now anyone who knows me at all would hardly describe me as being strong as rock (maybe heavy as a rock or stubborn as a rock, but not strong as a rock). And I doubt very seriously that there is a whole lot of Anglo-Saxon heritage in my ancestry, given the fact that both sets of my grandparents came to this country from Poland within the last century. Our names don't always describe us very well. I've known some black people name White and some white people named Black, some short people named Long and some tall people named Short, and even a few guys named Rich who would hardly describe themselves as being wealthy. But be all that as it may, names can be a lot more important than you might think. With very few exceptions, the name that a person is given at birth will be that person's name throughout his or her life. I remember once reading a book about names that advised parents to avoid giving in to the temptation to be humorous when choosing names for their children. The book explained: "Imagine the unhappy future on the playground for children with such unfortunate names as Forrest Greene or Jay Byrd."

What about our Savior's name? What is the significance of that? I think that we first have to explore what His name really is. We often refer to Him simply as "Jesus Christ" as if "Jesus" was His first name and "Christ" was His last name. But that is not at all the case. Since Jesus was assumed by friends and relatives to be the Son of Joseph, chances are that if He had a last name, He probably would have been known as "Yeshua ben-Yosef." In reality, "Jesus" is the Savior's name and "Christ" is His title. In speaking of Him by name it would far more accurate for us to say "Jesus, the Christ." On the calendar of the church year New Year's Day is the Circumcision of our Lord, when the Savior, in accordance with the Old Testament Law, received His name. As we prepare this evening to enter a new year in His name, let's spend these moments in His Word examining both His name and His title.

"Jesus" is in fact a form of the name "Joshua," who, you will remember, was the successor to Moses in leading God's Old Testament people into the promised land. In the language of Jesus' time and place, the name probably would have been pronounced "Yeshua." The name means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is Salvation." That's why the angel had explained to Joseph in a dream that Mary's Child would be called Jesus, "for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). How appropriate that name is for this Child, since it is in the Person of Jesus that God has saved sinners and restored them as His children, as we read in the apostle Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). That's why the name of Jesus is precious to the believer--because, for the believer, Jesus is God's Forgiveness--His Acceptance--His Salvation.

The text before us makes mention of the significance of this name "Jesus." We are told that this was "the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb." In fact it was on two separate occasions that an angel of the Lord let it be known what this Child's name was to be. At the annunciation to Mary, the angel Gabriel told her: You shall call His name Jesus" (Luke 1:31), and Joseph, as he contemplated a quiet divorce, had a dream in which an unnamed angel gave him the same instruction. The naming of Jesus, like His circumcision, is another indication that the Savior was subject to the Law and will of God in every respect. One of the things that had to be done to win our salvation was the perfect fulfillment of the Law--right down to the last detail. So even at the tender age of eight days Jesus is already beginning His work of redemption by being obedient to His Father's every command.

Now what about the other name--the title "Christ"? "Christ" is derived from the word ???????, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word jycm, which means "Messiah." The title means "the Anointed One" and it indicates that Jesus is the One who has been commissioned by God to bring salvation to the world. In the same way that the Old Testament kings were anointed with oil to symbolize that they were God's choice, the Savior has been anointed with the Holy Spirit without measure for the work that He came to do. The ancient prophets for centuries had spoken in hope about the Messiah who would come. They longed for His coming to deliver His people from the darkness and hopelessness of their sin. They had prophesied that He was to be born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem and that He would grow up to preach Good News to the poor and heal the sick and comfort the afflicted. He would also be the suffering Servant of the Lord, who would bear the brunt of God's righteous anger against sin. In all of this, so the prophets said, the coming Messiah would atone for human sin and bring about peace between the holy God and sinful man.

Everything that the prophets had hoped for has now become blessed reality in the One who we know as Jesus, the Christ. He who has come is indeed the Christ--the Messiah--the Anointed One. In everything that He has said and done, He has revealed God to us. He is indeed God in human flesh. In Christ we see God living in our world: submitting to His own Law, resisting temptation, healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving sinners, bringing hope to the hopeless, and finally offering Himself as the sacrificial Offering to make atonement for the sin of the world. His resurrection from the grave assures us that He is the One and that everything that He has done has truly brought about reconciliation between perfect God and sinful man once and for all.

So what's in a name? I suppose that depends, to a great extent, on the name in question. In the name of Jesus, the Christ, we find a joy that will be with us long after the fleeting celebrations of the holiday season are over--a confidence that will carry us boldly not only into the new year but into every year that follows. He gives us the joy of forgiveness--the knowledge that we have in God not an angry Judge but a loving Father who cares about us and who will be with us every day in this new year in all the years to come to work out His good and gracious will in us and for us and through us. His Spirit, working through the Gospel, will lead us to know this and to live each day confident in His grace and love.


May the true Light which enlightens everyone, which has come into the world, shining brightly in the darkness, be your very life. And may the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, continue to make known to you His redeeming grace and truth now and always. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.


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