21 And 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).
Luke 2:21 on the surface seems to be one of those so-called throw away verses that does not advance our knowledge of Jesus Christ or the gospel for that matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s text displays the obedience of Mary and Joseph to have Jesus circumcised. It illustrates that in all aspects, Jesus was submissive to the Mosaic Law.
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ. In Bible times circumcision was the seal of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:1–14). While circumcision originated as an ancient tribal or religious rite, since the early part of 20th century it has been practiced in Western nations for hygienic purposes. Many physicians believe that circumcision helps prevent genital cancers in both men and their wives, so that this minor operation is performed a few days after birth on nearly all newborn males in North America. Outside of Judaism the procedure no longer carries religious significance.
In the Old Testament, the practice of circumcision began in Genesis 17 as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. God promised Abraham a land and, through a son yet to be conceived, numerous descendants, from whom kings would come. Blessings would come upon Abraham and through him to all nations (Genesis 12:1–3). After the covenant was formally inaugurated (Genesis 15), God sealed it, ordering Abraham to be circumcised along with all the males in his household (17:9–13).
Circumcision was to be an expression of faith that God’s promises would be realized. Because Abraham’s faith had lapsed (Genesis 16) even after he had seen the awesome display of God’s majesty (15:9–17), a permanent reminder of God’s covenant promises was placed on his body and the bodies of his male descendants (17:11). This sign was so closely related to God’s covenant promise that the rite itself could be termed the “covenant” (Genesis 17:10; Acts 7:8).
Circumcision was to be performed on the eighth day after birth (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:1–3; see also Genesis 21:4; Luke 1:59; 2:21; Acts 7:8; Phil 3:5), customarily by the boy’s father (Genesis 17:23; 21:4; Acts 7:8), at which time a name would be given (Luke 1:59; 2:21). Flint knives were used in the early days (Ex 4:25; Jos 5:2–3). Later, the rite was carried out by a trained practitioner called a mohel. Medical research has determined that prothrombin, a substance in the blood that aids in clotting, is present in greater quantity on the eighth day than at any other time in life.
The theological meaning of circumcision had to do with the fulfillment of God’s promise concerning Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 17:9–12). Because it was applied to the reproductive organ, the sign involved the propagation of the race. Its application to the eight-day-old infant demonstrates the gracious character of God’s promise to Abraham’s descendants and indicates that God’s people are in need of cleansing grace from birth (Leviticus 12:1–3). The promises of the covenant were reaffirmed to each generation before the recipients were able to respond in either faith or unbelief; nothing in the hearts of the chosen people could either bring about or thwart the ultimate fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham and his posterity.
From the beginning, participation in the covenant promises was open to persons outside Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:12–13). Exodus 12:43–49 gives non-Israelites the opportunity to participate in the Passover if they are willing to fulfill the same stipulation placed upon the Jews—that of circumcision.
Joseph and Mary made sure that their baby was circumcised in keeping with the stipulations found in the Mosaic Law. It was at this moment that they called the child Jesus. This was in obedience to the angel’s declaration to both Joseph and Mary (Matthew 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31).
This scene certainly not only displays the active obedience of Mary and Joseph to God’s Word, but also the passive obedience to God by Jesus Christ. May our obedience to God and His Word be not only active but also passive in all things.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!