A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet… Circumcision, Jesus, Joshua, and Baptism
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.
In Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Juliet laments the fact that Romeo belongs to her family’s rival family, the Montegues.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
The basic gist of this is that a person isn’t defined by what he is called, but rather by who he is. Well, that may be true of what we name ourselves, but the history of God’s work among men shows that the name he gives a man matters.
Abraham was first called Abram. This means high father or exalted father. His dad named him that because he loved his son, and he felt that the birth of his son made him an exalted father. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. He changed his name from exalted father to father of many nations. He changed the name to Abraham because in Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Paul explains this in Galatians 3,
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.”
Abraham was the father of many nations through Christ alone. In order to seal God’s promise to Abraham, right after God gave him the name Abraham, he gave him the sign of circumcision. We find God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 17,
This is my covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendents after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised….He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money shall be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut of from his people; he has broken my covenant.
God attached an outward mark to all of Abraham’s descendents and anyone in their households. This sign had God’s promise about Christ attached to it.
Because Abraham was given a name with his circumcision, Israel gained the custom of naming their children at the circumcision. When Jesus was eight days old, being the Seed of Abraham, he was given the name Jesus at his circumcision.
Why was he given this name? He was given this name because he saves his people from their sins. That is what the angel told Joseph and Mary to name him. The name means Yah – saves, or the Lord saves. In Hebrew the name is Joshua. There is a connection between Jesus’ name and his circumcision. The following is my feeble attempt to explain it to you.
Moses couldn’t lead the people into the Promised Land, because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. The beatings of the Law can’t bring us into the Promised Land; the Law that Moses gave can’t bring us into heaven. Only Joshua can lead us into the Promised Land; only Jesus can save us from the bondage of the Law.
The father of many nations is the father of all those who believe. No one was ever saved because he was descended from Abraham. Everyone who was ever saved was saved through faith in Christ, just as Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
The sign of circumcision marked the people of Israel to give them this promise about Christ. Circumcision never saved anyone who didn’t have the faith of Abraham, but circumcision did save through faith, as Paul calls it a seal of the righteousness of faith. Circumcision by itself didn’t save. It saved because of the Word of God attached to it. It was the Old Testament sacrament of entering into the kingdom of God.
God gave circumcision to seal the promise. It was a covenant in the flesh of his chosen people, but it didn’t take sin away from the flesh. Later God reasserted circumcision through Moses when He gave the people of Israel the Law. When Israel became unfaithful, circumcision became only a mark of pride to them, and not a seal of the righteousness of faith. Saul, even in his unbelief, despises the Philistines because of their uncircumcision. Unbelief makes God’s promises into the Law. The Jews came to think of circumcision only in terms of the Law and the mark on their flesh, how it made them different outwardly from others, and not in terms of the promise about Christ, the Son of God to be made flesh for them.
Leave it up to our incorrigible flesh to brag about a mark that only really means death. Circumcision marks the flesh for death. Abraham was justified not by the works of his flesh, but through faith in the Gospel of the Savior of all nations.
Moses writes that Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. It was a mark of the death of his old man Abram, and the birth of the new man Abraham. It was a sign the Savior would be his Seed, but that he would be the Seed of the woman, who was born of a virgin, without the cooperation of a man. It was a sign of mutilation, of blood and man’s life marked by it. It set apart a whole race of people for death, because that is the Christian faith: life comes only after death. God kills and then he makes alive.
Circumcision showed to man that his flesh was sinful, that every child born from his union with a woman was born in sin, as David confessed in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” and as we confess in our Augsburg Confession,
Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.
Death is proclaimed to all Israel so that all Israel might be saved and live. If one was not circumcised he was cut off from the people of God to live among the unbelievers. But we do not live because of our own death. Our own death is the result of our sin. We deserve our death, and it is something contrary to life, contrary to God’s original intention for us. We are by nature Adam. That is our name. Dust, earth, to which we return because we sin.
But Christ is the second Adam. He has not always been dust, but is by nature God. He took on himself our dust, our flesh and blood, but he was not born mortal. He was not born in original sin as we were. He was born apart from the union of man and woman, miraculously of the Holy Spirit so that he was in all ways like us, yet without sin.
And yet he was circumcised for us, and thereby he marked himself as mortal. He was marked for death to be the Seed of Abraham and fulfill the promises made to the fathers.
He was marked in his own flesh for Abraham to whom the promise was first given. He was marked in his flesh for Isaac, and for all the children of Israel. He was marked in his flesh for those who were under Moses’ Law, but couldn’t do what Moses commanded them. He was marked to bring them into the real and true Promised Land as the real and true Joshua. In fact, none of those who were born during the forty years in the wilderness had been circumcised. Joshua, who was circumcised, led them across the Jordan into the Promised Land, where they were circumcised.
So Jesus, whose name means Joshua, the Lord saves, is circumcised for us, fulfills the Law for us in his death, and leads us through the Jordan, which is a type of our baptism into his own death, where he leads us from the Law that held our conscience in bondage into the Gospel where we have the forgiveness of sins through the merits and mediation of the Lord who saves.
The Lord who saves is flesh and blood like us. He is born under the Law to fulfill what the Law requires us to do, and to suffer what the Law condemns us for doing and not doing. The Lord could not save unless he had flesh and blood like ours, because he took on our flesh and blood to take our place under the Law. His obedience to the Law in our place all the way to the cross is our righteousness. We receive this righteousness when we believe the Gospel about Christ Jesus. It makes us new creatures. It makes us born again and gives us new hearts and new names, just as the promise of Christ gave Abram the name of Abraham.
And just as circumcision made Christians out of Isaac and Jacob, and assured them of the coming Seed, the Savior of all nations, so today our baptism into Christ also now saves us, not by the removal of the filth of the flesh, but as the new covenant of a good conscience toward God. If circumcision was a seal of the righteousness Abraham through faith in the Christ to come, how much more is baptism now a seal for us of the righteousness we have through faith in the Son of God who now permanently wears our flesh and blood, not to put it off, but clothe it in dignity, honor and glory?
A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. A Rose by the name of Jesus says that the Lord saves his people from their sins. The name Jesus means that all those who believe in Him are saved from the death that the Law threatens them with. Christ’s circumcision and naming means that He is faithful to his promises, that God is now your brother; that the Law-giver was made under the Law; that the sinless bore our sin, that He who created life and died that we might live. And so, as the fulfiller of the Law, the Lord saves; Jesus saves you, as his baptism tells his people every day, from sin, death, and the power of the devil, as the words and promises of God declare. Amen.