First Blood (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]

My Father considered the Circumcision and Name Day of Jesus (which is New Year’s Day), the eighth day after the birth of Jesus, to be a very important festival, because this was the first Blood shed by Jesus in His becoming Savior for all mankind.  Unfortunately this celebration is often forgotten because of the usual accent on closing off the Old Year and looking forward to the New – which is useful in its own right, yet not quite touching on the specialness of this occasion.

However, this festival actually does in fact speak of closing off the Old and introducing and looking forward to the New, as it links the Old and the New Testaments together in the Person of Jesus Christ.  All the Old Testament Covenants come together here, and from this springs the New Covenant in which WE share.

The significance of this event lies in that it runs in the opposite direction from every other Circumcision done since the time Abraham.  It is like the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist at the River Jordan.  You may remember the occasion: this was when John was bewildered because he felt that Jesus should baptize him, rather than the other way around.

His bewilderment was valid, because John’s baptism was only for repentance, a far lesser thing than the New Testament Baptism we practice, since ours has its foundation on Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, along with the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.  John’s baptism, as it was, was only for washing off sin and John recognized that our Lord had no sin to wash off.

But Jesus declared that it was still necessary, because it was not that He would wash OFF sin, but rather that He would wash ON all these sins which were lying in the spiritual cesspool which the River Jordan had become.  The Baptism of Jesus was the REVERSE of every other baptism.

So also was the Circumcision of Jesus the reverse of every other Circumcision done since the days of Abraham. The idea of Circumcision as put the individual into Blood Covenant with Jehovah God Himself.

Throughout the world, even unto recently, whenever a Covenant was made, one always “CUT” Covenant.  The reason for saying it this way was because when two people were so joined, they would each literally cut their hand or wrist or arm, join the two now bleeding areas, thereby vividly demonstrating the joining of their Bloods, and that now “one Blood flowed” in both persons.

In the Old Testament the Blood was defined as the Life, the Soul, you might even say “the core of one’s being.”  So the result of joining the Bloods was that now the two persons shared the same Soul – Life – between themselves. In a powerful sense, the two of them could now consider themselves as the same person.

This is what should give us pause when we see the extraordinary picture when GOD “cut” Covenant with a human being – Abraham – indicating a most amazing relationship with God Himself!  Between God and man, as the idea of Covenant goes, now one Blood flowed between them – one Life flowed between them, GOD’s Life now pumped in Abraham’s veins, which would speak of a closeness far beyond any other kind of relationship of which we know.

Yet throughout the Old Testament, in all the Covenants that God “cut” with mankind, although He fully honored every single one of them, still, God never really could shed His own Blood.  Never once could He literally become One Blood with all of His Covenant partners down through the generations, because God didn’t have a physical body, He had no Blood to share in Covenant.

Until now.  Now after generations and thousands of years, for the first time in all of the universe’s history, GOD HAD BLOOD!  GOD could shed His own Blood in Covenant with man, God had, so to speak, become the equal of man in Covenant.

But this was where another great reversal of Christmas entered in.  Jesus is ALREADY BOTH God and Man – He is what Covenant symbolized – literally one Blood already did flow between God and Man in His Person Itself. As useless as it would have been to “wash off His sins” in the baptism of John, so also Circumcision as a connection to God would have been meaningless for Jesus, if the Circumcision was simply for Himself.
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Instead, just as Jesus did the opposite in the baptism of John and WASHED ON the sins of mankind, here too, in the Circumcision of Jesus, it was not that man was becoming one Blood with God, but rather, for the first time in all history, God became one Blood with man.  In Jesus, the Covenant of Circumcision was completed as now God could fully enter with His own Lifeblood.  Therefore like a lightning bolt running back through all time, God’s Blood raced back to all the circumcisions done throughout the generations – suddenly each connected with Jesus, and through Jesus, to God.

Now in the Person of Jesus, He had become not just man, but MANKIND.  Now the dry and boring genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 take on life, because they are no longer merely the ANCESTRY of Jesus, now they are the HISTORY of Jesus.  Because of the oneness of Blood, now Jesus becomes the murderer, now Jesus becomes the poet, now Jesus becomes the traitor, now Jesus becomes the hero of faith.

Instead of Adam, you read Jesus; instead of Abraham, you read Jesus; instead of David, you read Jesus; instead of King Jehoram [Joram – Mat 1:8], who “died to no one’s regret” [II Chron 21:19-20], you read Jesus; instead of King Ahaz, who “became even more faithless to the Lord” [II Chron 28, v 22], you read Jesus.  This all now becomes JESUS’ history, not just the history of his ancestors.

AND the Circumcision of Jesus also pointed forward, not just to the Cross, but also to Holy Communion, “the Blood of the New Covenant” [Luke 22:20].  Here again, Jesus “connects”: the Blood of the Covenant reaches down through thousands of years and generation after generation to make YOUR history also becomes His, YOUR life becomes His.

But the Blood of Covenant flows both ways!  Yes, all those who lived throughout Old Testament times, their history became Jesus’ – BUT Jesus’ history also now became theirs: His life became theirs, His death became theirs, His resurrection became theirs, His ascension became theirs – to all who kept Covenant in faith, they now shared in all this, because one Blood flowed between them and their Lord.

And so also with us!  In Holy Communion, we constantly get to share in the Lifeblood of Jesus – here in this cup is a sip of the very core of God’s being becoming of one Soul with you; here is the Lifeblood that feeds and nourishes, that upbuilds and strengthens the Body of Christ.  Truly, so real is this connection that indeed we are that Body of Christ, indeed there is one Spirit between us, indeed we get to share in all that Jesus is and has.

This is all so wonderful and uplifting to accent during a season of joy.  But lest we forget, there two are things that we celebrate today: not just the Circumcision, but also that Jesus has received the Name “Savior.”  That was a Name that He would earn the hard way, as St Paul pointed out in his Philippians 2[:7-8] passage: God the Son “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in likeness of men.  And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

In all the festivity of this season, the Name “Jesus” compels us to sober it just a bit.  How much greater the jubilation would have been, if there was no death standing in the background.  How wonderful it would have been if this celebrated a Covenant connection with God which simply celebrated Life, pure Life, greater and greater Life!

But no, death flows among the Lifeblood of Covenant. Jesus must die in order that we might have Life eternal.  The connection that we send to Jesus for all the Life that He has pumped out to us is death.  Just imagine what this relationship could have been, had it not been for our sin!  It would have been Life piled on top of Life, but instead Covenant has to climb a hill called “Golgotha” and mount a cross to die.

Oh, what celebration this could have been!  And yet, as we repent because WE have been the ones to so cloud this celebration with OUR rebellion, OUR sin and OUR death, the festival responds with “JESUS” – GOD SAVES.  What a tremendous relief to know that as we hand over our sins, this was exactly what Jesus had come prepared to do: to share our sins and death, to pay our penalty and give us Life.  Could we ever have had a truer Covenant-Partner than what we have in this Jesus!

And then, like a bubbling pot ready to burst its lid, Covenant seethes with excitement, because one day, perhaps soon, Life piled on Life will really happen.  When God has made all things new, even us(!), on the Last Day; when “there will be death no more, neither mourning nor crying any more” [Rev 21:4]; when sin will have been utterly destroyed, then indeed shall come the time when Covenant will be Life piled on top of Life, and what a relationship to God that will be!

The Gospel for New Year’s Day is only one verse long, but perhaps you are beginning to realize how extraordinarily significant is the message that it holds!  Here is the link between all the old and the new; here is the link between history long past to history yet to be made; here is the link between God and mankind, between God and you; here is Covenant that speaks of Life piled on top of Life.  What a way to enter the new year, to enter our future, with Jesus in such Covenant with us.

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