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New Horizons

"He Was Called Jesus"

Nelson D. Kloosterman

"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

We tend to view the events of our Lord's life through the lens of our own experience. Children singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus are learning to project their experiences upon his. In ways like this, we encrust singular events of God's saving work with emotional and intellectual speculations that allow us to sympathize with him.

But it is not we who sympathize with Christ; it is he who sympathizes with us. Human experiences cannot decode the truth for us. Rather, the gospel unlocks the secrets of humanness (created, fallen, and restored) by proclaiming Christ's self-revelation as the unique Son of God who was born under the law to redeem sinners. Notice that this verse speaks about something done to the Son of God; he was named.

The Time of His Naming

Contrary to the uninspired headings printed in many Bibles, the focus of this verse is not Jesus' circumcision, but his naming. To be sure, his circumcision is mentioned, but only to indicate the context within which we are to understand his naming. Scripture's point is to tell us that he was named Jesus when he was eight days old and it was time to circumcise him. Why is this timing so important?

The Old Testament sacrament of circumcision was a bloody ritual symbolizing the cutting away of sin. But why did this child of the covenant need to be circumcised? As the very Son of God, he had no sin requiring the shedding of blood, either his own or that of animals. Here we see, already, the Savior's passive obedience, enduring the wrath of God against sin!

Circumcision also represented the Lord's claim upon his people, a perpetual and visible reminder pressing upon Israel the demands of covenant obedience. At this circumcision, these demands were similarly laid upon Bethlehem's child—the only one, in fact, who could (and would) shoulder them. Here we see, already, the Savior's active obedience, placing upon himself the responsibilities of the covenant!

Astonishing, isn't it? He was only eight days old, and yet in the timing of his naming we meet the Savior suffering redemptively. His redemptive suffering consisted in this, that though his painful circumcision was not related to his personal sin, yet he willingly submitted to the sacrament in order to fulfill all righteousness for us. "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). He was born under the law—including the law of circumcision!

We're tempted to shrug and say, "That's just like what happened to every baby boy in Israel—he was named at his circumcision." True enough. But let's remember that Jesus was not "just like" every other boy in Israel. He was the perfect Son of God.

The Source of His Naming

"He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." Not only the timing, but also the source of his naming reveals redemption. Luke 1:31 tells us that before her child's conception, Mary was commanded by the angel Gabriel to name her son Jesus.

We have nothing in our human experience with which to compare this. We were named not by God, but by our parents; and we, not God, name our children—after their conception and after consideration of the choices. But Jesus' naming prior to conception was a heaven-sent revelation of his uniquely conceived person and his uniquely continuing work.

This uniqueness is wonderful, for in it lies our salvation! Jesus' parents didn't name him because they recognized something special in their firstborn son. It was not their assignment that he was going to fulfill. Rather, our Savior was given his name as a prophecy spanning his birth, resurrection, ascension, and glorification! His name fit him not only at his birth, but also at his ascension: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil. 2:9-10; see also Eph. 1:21 and Heb. 1:4).

Divine prophecy, not parental decision, accounts for the kind of Savior we worship—Jesus: "the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." The Author of this word of prophecy—"You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21)—volunteered to live and die under the authority of his own word!

Praise God, faith sees that we are saved by the uniqueness of his naming! Named at his circumcision in accord with God's prophetic word, this Jesus began taking our place in the covenant, to bear its punishments, to perform its requirements, all in fulfillment of the word of prophecy which spans the time from conception to glorification: "He will save his people from their sins"!

The author is a minister in the United Reformed Churches and a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2003.

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