Christ’s Oft Forgotten Work

Historically speaking, the church makes it a point to remember the main events in the life of the Lord Jesus. Even churches that seem to reject the liturgical calendar happen to celebrate Easter (by virtue of Lord’s Day worship) and maybe even Christmas. But are those two events, Jesus’ birth and resurrection, the only days of significance in the life of Christ? Should the church merely celebrate those days?

Well, there is a sense where every day Christ walked the earth was a day of significance. However, there were unrepeatable moments in the life of Christ which were necessary in His mission to save the world. The usual suspects in such discussions involve His birth (which is celebrated at “Christmas”), and the coming of the Wise men (“Epiphany”), His temptation (“Lent”), His crucifixion (“Good Friday”), His resurrection (“Easter”), His Ascension (the creatively named, “Ascension”), and even the giving of His Spirit (“Pentecost”). But two deeply significant moments in the life of Christ are often overlooked by modern evangelicals: Christ’s circumcision and His presentation at the Temple. 

Both events, Christ’s circumcision and His presentation at the Temple, occur on different dates. Jesus’ circumcision occurs 8 days after Christmas, and historically, His presentation is celebrated 40 days after His birth on February 2, which is often called Candlemas (this designation arises from Simeon’s comments that Christ in “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” in Luke 2:32). What do these two events have in common? They both demonstrate quite plainly, that even as an infant the Lord Jesus Christ was keeping God’s law. This idea may be strange to us because American evangelicalism can often overlook the fact that God works in families. But here we see clearly that Christ was fulfilling His mission in this way, by the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary on His behalf. We can read of their faithfulness, and by extension, Christ’s faithfulness in Luke’s Gospel in Luke 2:21-24.

Jesus’ circumcision occurred on the eighth day. This was in accordance with God’s covenant commands given initially to Abraham in Genesis 17:10, 12 and later echoed in the days of Moses in Leviticus 12:3.  It was at this event, when Christ’s blood was shed for the first time, that He received the name of Jesus and Savior. This is not a coincidence. But we must turn to Leviticus chapter 12 as the key text in understanding what occurs in our Gospel reading. 

Leviticus 12 is all about the purification that God demanded of His people after childbirth. If a male child was born, the mother would be ritually unclean for a total of 40 days. After such time, the woman would come and present the necessary sacrifices to make atonement and purify herself and the child before God. In the days of Christ, she would come to the Temple and offer a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. However, if she was poor, two pigeons or two turtledoves would suffice (Lev. 12:8). In other words, God did not allow wealth to be a barrier to His people’s purity. At the Temple, Mary and Joseph offered two turtledoves demonstrating by their actions that Jesus was not born into affluence, but poverty for His people’s sake (Luke 2:24).

Circumcision was a cleansing rite. What did He need to be cleansed from? His presentation and dedication at the Temple were a redemptive sacrificial act (Exodus 13:2, 12-13). Why would He need redemption? We must note that Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15) yet “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17 ESV)

Here we learn the depths of Christ’s love for us. Just as at His baptism, Christ so identified Himself with His people by undergoing a ritual washing, so He identified with us in our inherited sin from our mother’s womb (Ps. 51:5) by undergoing a cleansing and dedicatory rite. He shed His blood at His circumcision for us, and even the death of the birds at His presentation were a symbol of how He would shed His blood for us at Calvary. Both events symbolize His humility and foreshadow the language of Isaiah: “he was pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5 ESV)

Today we may not have events like they did in Jerusalem, but in our baptisms, we were so marked by God that we too might say “I am united with Christ.” Our baptisms we are told by the Apostle Paul are for us today what circumcision was for ancient Israel (Colossians 2:11-12).  This is why we include our children in baptism. Just as we who are united with Christ by faith can say, “I’ve been buried with Christ; I’ve been crucified with Christ; I’ve been raised with Christ” so we can as well declare, “I’ve been circumcised with Christ; I’ve presented and received with Christ”. We are united to Him by faith into all that He has accomplished for us. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27 ESV)

We celebrate Christ’s circumcision and presentation because they are the beginnings of His redemptive work for us. Even as a baby, Christ was fulfilling His role as our savior. And so, perhaps we ought to commemorate the entirety of the life of Christ by pausing and considering each unique event that occurred in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ whereby He purchased our redemption by His broken body and shed blood.