Covenant, Circumcision and the Name of Jesus (a New Year’s Day sermon)

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.  [Luke 2:21]

One of the most important events in the history of salvation was given only this one verse in the Bible – the occasion that the Church celebrates on the “eighth” day after Christmas, on New Year’s Day.

Circumcision was an act done on millions of baby-boys from Abraham down through thousands of years – it was that common and ordinary!  How then could one say this Circumcision was so significant, especially if Matthew, who wrote to the Jews, didn’t even mention it?  That is puzzling, but perhaps because it was such standard procedure to the Jew that Matthew merely assumed what was so obvious, since Jesus was Jewish.  Whatever his reason may have been, it still doesn’t take away the fact that this particular event was very significant.

The importance of Circumcision revolves around what it had declared to the Israelite down through the ages.  And immediately one thing that cannot be avoided in regard to Circumcision is the Covenant, a key foundation-stone for our faith and a most fascinating concept to follow in the Bible.

We are so used to our relationship to Jesus, and we know so little about Covenant, that when God cut Covenant with Abraham we don’t realize just how awesome the occasion was.  Covenant went beyond any and every other kind of relationship a person could have.  This bond of extraordinary love [“steadfast love” or HESED] went beyond marriage, it went beyond family relationships, it went beyond good friendship.

Often in Covenant, each Covenanting party would cut their hand or arm and join their Bloods; as the Bloods merged, the message was that now one Blood flowed through them both.  For those joined in Covenant, whether it be the Covenant between David and Jonathan, or the Covenant between Abram and Mamre, or the Covenant between God and Abraham, the participants were to be considered of the same Blood, the same life: they were “one soul in two persons.”  Just as you would treat your own self, if your Covenant-partner desired anything, without grumbling or complaint, without strings attached, you would share it with him.  If your Covenant-partner called, without question, without hesitation, you would even die for him.

With such a powerful self-commitment (think, self-commitment as in marriage), obviously, you would be most careful in choosing your Covenant-partner.  Not only would you die for him, you would willingly allow him to take advantage of you.  But this would also go in the opposite direction.  It would be someone you could literally trust with your life, someone you could depend on, someone who would also withhold nothing from you.

So for the person who truly understands Covenant it has to be an astounding wonder when Jehovah, as the Creator of the Universe, binds Himself in such an irrevocable and personal way as when He cut Covenant with an individual creature, Abraham.  God bound Himself to a human being!  He declared that as it were, one Blood flowed between Abraham and Himself.  He declared HE, JEHOVAH, would die should ever He break this Covenant – He would lay down His life for Abraham.  He declared that HE, JEHOVAH, would depend on Abraham, and that He would withhold nothing, not even His own Son, from His Covenant-partner Abraham and his descendants.   And as Abraham demonstrated, he likewise would withhold nothing from his Covenant-Partner God – not even his own son.

The basis of this relationship was purely by grace: God committed Himself in terms of Covenant in Genesis 15, unmistakably binding Himself to Abraham.  Finally after two chapters, some fourteen years later, Abraham himself now participates as he shed his Blood in Circumcision.  Generation after generation were joined into Covenant through this God-commanded act until finally a young couple had their first Child, a Boy, circumcised, and they named Him JESUS.

Until now, when God had “cut” Covenant, it was actually only through the PLEDGE that He could make to mankind.  Of course, when Jehovah, God of the Universe, swore by His own Self because there was nothing greater to swear by, that was nothing to “sneeze at”.  Yet God could not open a vein, He could not bleed for the sake of cutting Covenant.  All He could do was to PROMISE – and of course He faithfully carried out that promise.

Now for the first time in all history, in this Baby, Almighty God, God the Son, had Blood: everything that Covenant described was found in this one Body – God and man were literally joined by one LifeBlood – “one soul in two Persons” – the same Blood flowed through God and Man.  On this day, in His Circumcision, not just Jesus the Man but also Jehovah Himself shed Blood.

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This also pointed to a reality to come.  One day one Blood would literally flow between God and even US as well: In the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took the cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to us saying, “Drink of it all of you, this cup is the New Covenant in My Blood, shed for you.”

It is true that we drink wine from the chalice, but the Blood that was shed on the Cross was real Blood, and it was Jehovah‘s Blood; and as truly as Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, Jesus’ Blood is just as present as Jesus is.  So, as we drink this wine, Jesus’ Blood literally courses through our bodies as well.  Covenant is made real: God and man literally are of one Blood and, as we eat of the Bread, also one Body.

Such a Covenant, however, means that the expectations we have of God are to be exactly the same expectations that He should have of us.  What do you expect of God?  His help, His presence, His love, His individual concern for you?  What are your expectations of God?  That HE would die for you?  That He should always listen to you, pay attention to you?  That He would make available to you all the help and the resources that are at His disposal?  If so, then that’s good – it means that you understand more about Covenant than you thought you did.

But, ah, now comes the catch! If COVENANT, then God can have exactly the same expectations of you as you have of Him.  He has the right to expect of you YOUR help, YOUR presence, YOUR love, YOUR individual concern for Him.  He has the right to expect that YOU would die for Him.  He has the right to expect that YOU should always listen to HIM, pay attention to HIM.  He has the right to expect that YOU would make available to HIM all the help and the resources that are at YOUR disposal.  You see, that is COVENANT.

Do you expect Him to jump when you call?  Then that is His expectation of you.  That is Covenant, and no, you can’t have a half-Covenant, where you could, say, choose an economy version of Covenant rather than the deluxe.  No, it is an either/or situation: Either God’s Blood flows through your veins and yours flows through His, or it doesn’t.

Unfortunately, when it is put in those terms, we find that we may not be quite as excited as we once were about Covenant.  That’s one of the choices that this day commands of us.  This Covenant that Jesus declared on this day – do we really want in or not?

Some of our hesitation is that we realize that we are vastly unworthy of such relationship to God.  Oh, yes, it is to our advantage to be in such bond with the God of the Universe.  Sure, there are a lot of nice benefits and blessings, but we fall a few commitments shy of being able to do our part.  It’s hard to get up so early on the Lord’s Day for the 11 o’clock service.  It’s hard to always come when Jesus calls, “take, and eat… take, and drink…”  It’s hard to turn away from what our Covenant-Partner would not want to be associated with.

This is why that Baby being circumcised on this day was named JESUS – JEHOVAH SAVES.  The first Blood that was shed today was only the arrow that would point to more Blood being shed – a lot more Blood.  Like the Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus would literally give His Life, His Blood, in order to reopen a relationship locked tight against us because of our sin.  He came to shed more Blood so that the emptiness created by our breaking Covenant might be filled with Life, abundant Life, with His abundant Blood.

This doesn’t change the expectation of Covenant!  God doesn’t now suddenly empty Covenant of its meaning.  He looks for His Covenant-partner to be a COVENANT-partner: all the expectations Covenant-partners have for each other are still in effect.  He still seeks a relationship of such closeness that there is no parallel anywhere else to this special bond.  He still seeks individuals with whom He will share one Blood: share the help and resources, the love, the individual concern for each other, the listening to each other, the dying for each other — that you share Him with you and you with Him; that you share COVENANT.

He knows that we fail, yet He does not concentrate on the sin, but on restoring the Covenant relationship – that’s why the Baby was named Jesus! For anyone who repents, no matter what they have done to break Covenant, through this Jesus that sin will no longer stand in the way of a most wonderful and awesome sharing.  For us now, the Blood of Jesus has been already shed to guarantee that this Covenant will remain a reality between God and each one of us.  What a comfort this is as we enter a New Year, because we know that this is the Covenant-Partner we will have each and every day to come; this is the Covenant-relationship we will share every single day.

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