Since the days of Abraham, a mark had been cut into the flesh of every Jewish male. A sign to identify him as one belonging to the people of God. A sign to show his obligation to keep the covenant God had given. A sign of obedience to God and to his law. Circumcision, the removal of the foreskin. It was a solemn rite performed on all Jewish males eight days after birth and with it went the giving of the child’s name.
The name Mary’s baby received was “Jesus” - a name given by the Angel before he had even been conceived in the womb. Jesus, which means, God doing his saving work. Fitting that such a name should have been the given the Child on this day. For the circumcision of Jesus shows how he would do his saving work.
In theology we speak of Jesus’ two-fold obedience to his Father. His active and His passive obedience. His active obedience is that He fulfills the law precisely as God the Father intended it to be fulfilled. He shows us what it means to live in covenant with the Father. His circumcision marks his life as an unbroken “yes” to the will of His Father. As he says through David’s prophesy in the Psalms: “Lo, I have come to do thy will.”
That Jesus obeys the will of the Father perfectly is the best of news for us. Because that obedience He renders was not done for His own sake, but for ours. He didn’t need it. He was perfectly submissive to his co-equal Father in heaven. But we needed it and so He entered into our flesh and blood that He might give the Father on our behalf the obedience that is His due from our flesh and blood. From the time of Adam and Eve, we have failed to render that obedience. We have failed to live in the total and complete “yes” to the will of the Father. We have lived instead the sorrow of our own “My will be done.” Jesus came not merely to show us another way - though He does that too - but above all to be our substitute. God’s Law accepts nothing less than perfection. 100% love. 100% obedience. Joyfully rendered at all times to the Father. That or the Law says we go to hell. No way out.
But Christ comes into our flesh to fulfil the demands of the Law perfectly for us. What we have not done and could not do in our sinful state, our Savior came to do for us. His “active” obedience. Here indeed is God at work saving. “Jesus.”
But the circumcision of Christ did more that put him under obligation to that active obedience. It also gloriously foreshowed his passive obedience. He came not only to do what we failed to do, but also to suffer the consequences for our failure. The penalty imposed by the law on any failure to keep it at any point is death. Death, both temporal and eternal. Hell, my friends, being cut off eteranlly from the Source of all joy and light and life. The wages of sin is death.
But there came this One who had no sin at all. Nor ever would. And yet into his flesh was cut a mark. His blood flowed. It was a promise of greater blood-shed still to come. The blood that would flow when that child grown to manhood would accept the Father’s will that He bear the guilt of the human race on the tree and so atone for the sin of all. Passive obedience. Suffering what was placed upon him. He getting what He didn’t deserve that we might get what we don’t deserve. Him bearing our hell that we might have a share in His heaven.
And that is how he would save: by perfectly keeping the Law for us and by bearing in his own body the penalty imposed upon our disobedience. Active and passive obedience: bound together in the circumcision of the Child. And so his name is Jesus: the God who saves.
Paul writes that what happened to Jesus that day when he was eight days old is given to us when we are baptized. He writes:
11 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,
12 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.
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col 2:11-13)
Thus your baptism cuts you off from your sin and its penalties. Brings you into Christ’s relationship with the Father so that He sees you as perfectly obedient, holy with the holiness of his Son. Thus your Baptism gives you life: life everlasting and life overflowing. A little Child sheds his blood today and embarks upon the path of obedience that will turn the world around and set his people free! Praise be to God! Amen.