The Circumcision of Jesus

Luke 2:21–39, Ephesians 2:11–14, Philippians 2:5–11 (read online ⧉)

The “rush” of a newborn child and all the angst that went along this particular child’s birth should have settled down a little. The day of Jesus’ circumcision was a day of fulfilled law and ritual. Instead, two prophetic messages happen. In many respects, this is the last gasp of the documented miraculous and supernatural until Jesus steps into his adult ministry. Just in case Mary and Joseph could possibly forget God’s call on their lives over the last few days, the events surrounding Jesus’ circumcision would have certainly recalled it.

The significance surrounding circumcision cannot be ignored. The circumcision was established prior to Israel. For any Jew (descended from Israel) this was a physical tie to their entire history and the manifestation of God’s covenantal relationship. To have a prophetic statement—let alone two—tied to that would be engraved on their hearts and minds.

Circumcision was a major barrier for both Jew and Gentile. Gentiles thought it was wrong, and Jews thought it was essential. This is why Paul focused on breaking the tie between circumcision and a relationship with God. Through Jesus, Gentiles are brought into relationship with God (this is an oversimplification, so don’t read too much into that), and the circumcision is no longer required. For Jews, circumcision transforms from an essential salvation component to cultural identity. Thus a barrier (appropriate for a time) was removed.

There are lots of things Jews had to “surrender” to be in fellowship with Gentiles, just as Gentiles had to “surrender” things to be in fellowship with Jews. In both cases, they had to submit one identity to the authority of another. For both, that meant surrendering part of their core to another. When Paul speaks of Jesus emptying himself, Jesus surrendered his identity to become human. That takes real humility and obedience. That is our example.

When we talk about personal identity, we too have much we need to surrender to Christ. It can be hard. We are very much tied to our identity, and much of our identity is what American and/or Christian culture holds up as that which is valuable.

Over this New Year, we will each be called to surrender pieces of our identity to Christ. It is not a one-time thing. As we continue to become more Christ-like (for that should be our goal), we will constantly be finding new things to surrender. Sometimes the things we need to surrender might not seem so obvious, especially within the context of Christian culture. For example, surrendering leadership or pride often seems obvious. On the other hand, taking on a leadership role and taking (Christian) pride in doing it (i.e., fulfilling the mission) is often not taken as surrendering one’s identity. If one has been in the background (and likes it that way), it actually is a form of surrender to become a leader.

For almost 33 years (less the time we know of a 12-year-old Jesus at the temple), the big event for Mary and Joseph was the birth and circumcision of Jesus. Joseph was likely dead by the start of Jesus’ ministry. Mary, on the other hand, had to surrender part of her family to the world. Jesus was no longer only hers. He was something far more. After his death and resurrection, Jesus also was no longer just the Jews’. He was for the whole world. For Mary, Jesus’ siblings, and Jesus’ followers, this was also a needed surrender.

1)Think about the last year. What has made you the most upset? What does that tell you about what you need to surrender to Jesus this year?

2) When you think of your self-identification, what do you call yourself (i.e., political part, national identity, cultural identity, blood identity, etc.)? How do each of those contradict or work in harmony with the Christian walk?

3) It can seem contradictory that surrender may involve picking up something. What might be something that you need to pick up this year? Why? How does it fit into walking with and following Jesus?

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