The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
If I said to you that someone was in the process of dying, what sort of images would flood your mind? More than likely, the image of an elderly person in the last, weak stages of life would come to the forefront. There’s an outside chance that you might picture a younger person you know who is battling a life-threatening disease, but even in this case you would be picturing someone who’s fought the good fight and is now nearing the finish line of life. As I said though, more than likely you are going to picture someone on the elderly side of the age spectrum.
Why is this? Death doesn’t play favorites. It’s not biased towards gender, race, social status, or age. Death is equal-opportunity. So fixed is our mindset and understanding of the dying process, that we would never think to use this term in reference to the birth of a child. Why not? Think about it. The very second life is conceived it is ever marching forward—second by second, day by day, year by year—towards death. You can’t turn back the clock. The very moment life is conceived, the clock starts ticking; the dying process begins. Thankfully, for most people the dying process is a very long and painless, perhaps even pleasant process that takes decades to fulfill. But make no mistakes—all of us are in the process of dying, and that process began the very moment our lives began.
Now…why bring this up? Out of all the topics we could talk about to start off this New Year, death and the dying process is not going to be at the top of anyone’s list. “Boy pastor, you really know how to set the mood! Happy New Year indeed!” Folks: I don’t start off this sermon this way because I want to kill any joy or hope you may have for the New Year. That’s not my intention at all. I simply want to make a point.
Let’s begin again, only this time we’ll begin by asking what sort of images come to mind when you hear the opening words of the beloved hymn, “Chief of sinners though I be”: “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.” So…how many of you hear these words and think of anything other than Good Friday and the crucifixion? Why not? Jesus did shed His blood more than once, and every time He did it was for us and for our salvation. Working backwards, we find that Christ shed His blood when the spear pierced His side. He shed blood when the nails pierced His feet. He shed blood when the nails pierced His hands. He bled when the soldiers beat Him mercilessly, causing great bruising and internal bleeding. He shed His blood when they crowned Him with a crown of thorns. He shed His blood when the soldiers flogged Him, ripping the flesh from His body with their terrible instruments of torture. He shed blood as He prayerfully agonized over the impending Passion sacrifice He had to make, sweating drops of blood in His anguish. If you’re keeping track so far, the number stands at seven—seven different sheddings of blood.
And that’s what brings us to today—the eighth time (technically, the first time in His life) that Jesus shed His blood for us; the circumcision of the Christ Child, which took place on the eighth day of His life, which traditionally falls today on the calendar. Folks: There are no such things as coincidences, especially when it comes to God’s grace and our salvation. Eight, as many of you already know, is the theological number of new creation and new birth. God created the first fallen and sinful world in six days, and He rested on the seventh. Jesus came and lived for mankind in this fallen and sinful world, and was put to death on the sixth day. He rested in the tomb on the seventh. It was on the first day of the new week—the eighth day—that Christ rose from the dead, bringing new life to the fallen children of Adam. It was on the eighth day that God assured us that all the powers of sin, death, and the devil were crushed. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where is your sting?”
Think about this for a moment. Jesus shed His blood eight different times for us in His life. That’s no coincidence. That’s the fullness of God’s love for us, fulfilled and completed perfectly in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. But…how does the circumcision of Jesus factor in exactly into this plan? We can certainly understand how the other seven occurrences of bloodshed are part of the plan, but how does circumcision fit in? Remember: Jesus came to do for us what we can never do. That doesn’t just mean dying for our sins and rising from the dead. That also includes living the perfect life, perfectly fulfilling all of our heavenly Father’s commands and laws. According to Leviticus 12:3, God makes it very clear that all male children shall be circumcised on the eighth day of life, circumcision being the way that God brought His people into His covenant relationship with Him and His life and mercy and salvation.
So how does Christ’s circumcision differ from any other young man’s circumcision? What makes this shedding of blood any different from anyone else’s? My friends: There is a huge difference. Jesus Christ, unlike us and our New Year’s resolutions, never stopped fulfilling God’s Law. It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well…here’s the first step in the eternal perfect fulfillment of God’s Law; the first instance of blood being shed for our sake. Already here on the eighth day is the name of Jesus beginning to fulfill its meaning: “Jesus”—He will save His people from their sins.
Folks: This is what we celebrate today. We celebrate our new beginning; our new creation in Christ, which is ours only because of Christ alone and all He has done for us in our place. We celebrate that through our baptisms we too have been brought into God’s covenant of peace and forgiveness and everlasting life. “Baptism? What does Baptism have to do with Christ and His circumcision?” Everything! St. Paul tells us in Colossians, “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.”
Did you catch all that? In Holy Baptism God is the one doing the work. Contrary to popular belief, Baptism is not what we do for God, but what He does for us. In Baptism God Himself circumcises away the deadly flesh of sin which we inherited from Adam. In Baptism God Himself puts His holy name upon you—the triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Baptism God Himself buries us and our sins with Christ. This is what St. Paul reiterates in Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”
My fellow redeemed: Through baptism; through faith alone in God’s grace alone, this is your eternal eighth-day reality. This is your eternal new beginning. By God’s grace because of Christ Jesus, you are a new and redeemed creation. You are a child that Jesus willingly shed His blood for eight different times so that your life and salvation could be fulfilled and assured. What better way to start off the New Year?
As we now come to a close for today may God grant you the grace, perseverance, and patience to endure all this fallen and sinful world has to throw at you in this new year as you live out this day, and every day, as one who is completely redeemed and given a truly “clean slate” in the blood of Jesus Christ. May this Gospel truth be your faith and your confession, now, into this new year, and into eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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