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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The newborn Jesus lived under the will of God
Text:Luke 2:21 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 19
Hymn 11:9 (after the reading of the law)
Hymn 21
Hymn 20
Psalm 100

Reading:  Luke 2:1-21
Text: Luke 2:21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Babies are everywhere in the Bible.  Think of Genesis 25.  Rebekah became pregnant and she could feel the babies wrestling with one another in her womb.  We even hear about the delivery of these twin boys, Jacob grasping the heel of his brother Esau.  Or think of the births of Samson and Samuel – both remarkable stories.  There was the baby born to Bathsheba after David took advantage of her.  David pleaded for the baby’s life, but the Lord took him home.  There was that baby’s older brother King Solomon.  He had a baby brought before him too.  The two women were fighting over who was the rightful mother.  One of the first babies we read about in the Bible though is Isaac, the child born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.  In Genesis 21 we read of how Isaac was circumcised by Abraham, just as God had commanded him. 

And today we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus.  In our text we see him as a newborn baby.  And what does this baby have in common with all those other Old Testament babies?  He goes through what all of them did as Jewish baby boys.  They were all circumcised – and so is he.  They all receive names – and so does he.  At first glance, it might appear that there’s nothing unusual happening in Luke 2:21.  But a more careful look reveals that what happens here is extraordinary.  This is not just any Jewish baby boy.  The one described here is the Messiah, long promised.  And what happens to him here reveals to us something of what his future life on this earth would look like. 

On this Christmas morning I proclaim to you God’s Word.  We’ll see how the newborn Jesus lived under the will of God.  We’ll see it in his: 

1.      Circumcision

2.      Naming

If we go eight days before this text, we find the actual birth of Jesus.  You know the story and really don’t need me to rehearse it.  Right afterwards, we read of the angel choirs bringing glory to God before the shepherds.  They in turn go to visit the baby Jesus and they too offer glory and praise for God at what they’ve seen.  Everything before this is about honour and extolling God.  Though Jesus was born in humble circumstances, there’s no restraining the first Christmas carollers and their “Gloria in excelsis Deo – Glory to God in the highest!”

Eight days pass.  The shepherds are long gone.  The glory has subsided.  What happens on that eighth day with Jesus is what happens with every Jewish baby boy.  In Genesis 17 God came to Abraham and established the covenant of grace with him.  As a sign and seal of that covenant, God gave to him the sacrament of circumcision.  All the males in Abraham’s household were to have their foreskins cut off.  God commanded the same for all newborn males.  On the eighth day, Jewish baby boys were to be circumcised. 

What did this mean?  Circumcision had to do with consecration and procreation.  The ritual involved the organ of procreation and it symbolized consecration to God.  The individual being circumcised along with all his descendants belonged to God.  Circumcision marked him as one of God’s covenant people.  It also involved the shedding of blood – not huge amounts, mind you, but enough to point to the fact that our salvation requires blood.  Think of Hebrews 9:22 and what it says about the Old Testament era:  “...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  The one being circumcised came into this world as a sinner – and he would need blood to redeem him.          

Every Jewish baby boy had to be circumcised.  And it was no different for our Saviour.  As he comes into this world, he comes as part of a Jewish family.  He comes as a descendant of Abraham.  His parents were devout Jewish believers.  God’s Word told them that they had to initiate their son into the covenant of grace with this sacrament and they simply obeyed God.  There was no question for them of what should be done.  They didn’t stop and say, “Wait a minute, if he is the Saviour, if he is the Messiah, why should he be circumcised?”  They understood that there was no exception to be made for this baby, even though he was so special. 

But the real focus here is not on Joseph and Mary.  Yes, they were the obedient Jewish parents.  Yes, they show the fruit of their faith by following the will of God expressed in his Word.  But this is not about them.  God’s Word is not here for us to say, “Be like Joseph and Mary and get your baby boy circumcised on the eighth day, even if you think or know that he is special.”  Or maybe, “Be like Joseph and Mary and get your babies baptized as soon as possible.”  That’s not the point of Luke 2:21.  The focus here is different.

The focus is on Jesus and what is happening with him.  What he is doing.  Christ came into this world not merely as one of us, but as a Jew.  He actively chose to come into the world in this way.  He knew that this was the way it had to be done.  But yet we should not never forget that this was a conscious choice on his part. 

That adds some insight into what we read here about his circumcision.  All other Jewish babies were passive in their circumcision.  They did not choose to be circumcised any more than they had chosen to be conceived and born.  But with Christ it was different.  He came into this world with a set purpose.  He was born as the promised redeemer of the covenant people.  He had to be one of them fully in every respect.  This was God’s will for him and he delighted in doing God’s will.  So he too was circumcised, initiated into the covenant of grace just as every Jewish baby boy would be. 

This was part of his humiliation.  He identifies with a sinful people, a people who have constantly rebelled against their God.  He lowers himself to their level and chooses to be a part of them.  To be the mediator of the covenant of grace, he has to be fully immersed in the covenant of grace, both as God and as man.  Here, by being circumcised, he qualifies himself to represent sinful human beings in the covenant.

And, loved ones, his blood is shed here for the first time.  That’s important here too.  The blood of circumcision pointed ahead to the Christ who himself is now being circumcised.  The next time we read of his blood being shed, he will be on the road to the cross.  Right at the beginning of his life, though, we have this reminder that this one is born to bleed.  He was born to die, born to offer the shedding of blood through which we have the forgiveness of all our sins.  It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of Christmas and the idea of a beautiful innocent baby laying in a manger.  But this is our Saviour, brothers and sisters.  What we read in Luke 2 is but the first steps in his descent into humiliation, the first steps towards our salvation.  We should never think of Christmas without also thinking about the cross.  His circumcision reminds us that he lived under the will of God from the beginning and that will points him to Golgotha.

At the same time as he was circumcised, he was also named.   There’s no evidence that this was normal Jewish practice either before or after Christ’s birth.  We don’t know whether it was common for babies to be named when they were circumcised.  But it doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that he was named and that he was named with the name that God chose.

The revelation of the name for this baby took place back in Luke 1.  The angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary in Nazareth.  Gabriel told her, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”  Similarly, an angel of the Lord later appeared also to Joseph.  The angel told him that Mary was already pregnant.  Then the angel said in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  So both Mary and Joseph had been told the same thing.  They both received the same revelation from God of his will concerning this child’s name.  There was no doubt as to what he should be called.It is rare in Scripture for a baby’s name to be determined beforehand by God.  It happened a couple of times in the Old Testament.  The first time in the New Testament was with John, just a short while before our text.  There too the angel Gabriel told Zechariah what the name was to be. 

So this is a rare occurrence.  Usually parents have the freedom to give whatever name they want to their children, also in the Old Testament.  So, for instance, Abraham chose the name Isaac – which means “laughter,” undoubtedly because he was thinking of Sarah’s reaction when she heard that she would have a baby.  But here it is the express will of God that this baby receive the name Jesus.  And his parents obey.

Again, we might be tempted to focus our attention on Joseph and Mary.  We might be tempted to look at them as our examples.  Some might say, “See here, we should always follow the will of God, also when it comes to naming our children.”  But you’ll soon run into problems.  How do you know the will of God as to what your child should be named?  You might come up with some general principles to find a God-honouring name for your baby.  But again, brothers and sisters, that would miss the point here.  The point here is not to hold out Joseph and Mary as examples for us of how to be obedient to God in how we go about naming our children.

Notice the way Luke puts things here in verse 21.  Mary and Joseph are not directly mentioned.  Luke does not say, “Joseph and Mary named him Jesus...” Instead he says, “he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”  Luke uses the passive voice, instead of the active.  This is significant – it tells us that the Holy Spirit here wants us to fix our eyes on Jesus, not on his parents. 

We have to fix our eyes on him who came into this world in obedience.  He took the name Jesus because it represents most clearly and accurately what he is about.  What does the name Jesus mean?  All of the children here should know.  And if you don’t know, please listen carefully and I will tell you.  Jesus means “Saviour.”  Jesus means that he is the one who saves us, who rescues us.  Jesus means “Saviour.”  Now that you know, your parents can ask you when you get home.

Now that we know what Jesus means, then we can go further and think about what it is that he saves us from.  Well, Matthew 1:21 already told us that he saves his people from their sins.  Elsewhere in Scripture, we find out that our sins are a problem because they provoke God’s just wrath.  Jesus saves us from God’s wrath against sin.  God’s wrath against sin is expressed in hell.  Jesus saves us from hell.  Satan wants to take us to hell along with him and all his evil forces.  Jesus saves us from Satan.  Left to ourselves, we have a sinful nature that wants to rebel against God and follow the way of sin.  Jesus saves us from ourselves.  The world around us hates God and chooses the broad road that leads to destruction.  Jesus saves us from the world.  In our sinful state we have lives that appear aimless and purposeless.  Jesus saves us from meaninglessness.  In all these ways and more, he truly lives up to the name that he was given.  He has been obedient to the will of God expressed in his name. 

And all that has two consequences.  The first is the most immediate and obvious.  It’s for our benefit.  He took the name Jesus and lived up to it (and still does) because he loves us.  He is our Saviour for our good.  When you think of your own waxing and waning love for Christ, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is amazing.  Here we see astounding grace – the name Jesus speaks of undeserved blessings innumerable! 

The second consequence has to do with him.  He is Jesus our Saviour so that we would live for him.  Think of 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  In the light of our text, we could also say, “And he took the name God willed for him, Jesus, and he obediently lived up to it so that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for him...”  Seeing the Saviour and recognizing his work is meant to transform us and change the direction of our lives.  It changes why we live and why we do everything that we do.  When we think about the name Jesus and the one who carries that name, nothing should remain the same.  He took the name Jesus so that we would ultimately live for him and for his glory, not for ourselves and our own self-interest.  He took the name Jesus to kill the narcissist in all of us.

That brings us to a completely different perspective on this time of year, doesn’t it?  The world is caught between two extremes when it comes to Christmas.  On the one hand, the world gets caught up in the romanticism of a holiday centered on an innocent baby and his compelling birth story.  Even the world can get sentimental about baby Jesus and if not about him, then certainly about Santa.  But on the other hand, there’s the dark side of Christmas.  There’s the rampant consumerism.  This is the biggest time of year for retailers.  Some businesses make almost all their money in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Now there’s nothing wrong with earning a living, nothing inherently wrong with making money in your business.  But go to the shopping mall or Wal-Mart or wherever.  Do you see a lot of “holiday joy”?  Do you see and hear a lot of happy people?  Listen to the children in the toy section.  Do they sound content?  You know the answers to all these questions.  The world doesn’t know how to celebrate a holiday like this in any thing but a superficial way.  Scratch the surface, put the holiday shoppers under a bit of stress, and the real ugliness emerges.

What should be our perspective as believers?  On that eighth day our Lord took the name Jesus – he is our Saviour – and thus, we no longer live for ourselves, but for him.  Christmas is not about me, but about him.  If I’m going to be generous and give gifts, I do it for him, not so that I can get gifts in return.  Everything comes back to him and living for his praise and glory.  We love this Saviour who humbled himself and obediently came into the world.  So we want to follow him in every aspect of our lives, including what we do on Christmas Day and in the weeks leading up to it.  Of course, that has nothing to do with the roots of our salvation.  This has nothing to do with measuring up for God.  This is about our response to God’s grace.  It’s about the fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ.  And such fruit will also serve the cause of the gospel in this world.  When the world sees Christians and their different attitudes and approaches, we want them to get curious and we want them to get jealous.  We want to have opportunities to speak about what makes us different – to speak about who makes us different, Jesus, the Saviour!      

In our text we see an obedient Saviour, even as a newborn baby.  Throughout his adult years, he continued to be obedient to God’s will in every respect.  He entered into heaven as the obedient Son of God who lived and died for us.  We rejoice in this gospel!  The good news is that our Saviour did everything for his people that they could not do for themselves.  Today as we rest and trust in him through faith, we are united to him.  If we are united to him, then we too will be his obedient followers.

So brothers and sisters, as we celebrate our Saviour’s birth today, let’s give thanks that we have Jesus as our Redeemer.  Let’s praise the one who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, humbled himself, and became obedient, even to death on a cross.  And as we rejoice and celebrate, let’s again commit ourselves to walk after him as his disciples.  AMEN. 


Our Saviour Jesus,

Today we celebrate your birth.  We thank you for emptying yourself, and humbly coming into our world.  We praise you that you were circumcised and identified yourself with your covenant people.  Thank you for being our Mediator in the covenant of grace.  Lord Jesus, we thank you for being our Saviour.  You have saved us from sin, from wrath, from hell, from Satan, from ourselves.  You saved us from the world and from meaninglessness.  We are glad to know you and believe in you.  Please help us Saviour to continue trusting in you each day.  Help us to treasure the gospel truly and also help us to respond with lives of obedience.  Please help us to be your disciples today as we commemorate your birth and each day of our lives.  We want to make much of you and we pray for your Word and Spirit to guide us. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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