************ Sermon on Genesis 17:11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 20, 2000
"The Sign of the Covenant"
"Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" That is the name of a show that aired this past week. Countless women applied to be the wife of someone they had never met and did not know. They were interviewed, they modeled evening gowns and bathing suits, they sang or danced or showed their talent some other way. At the end of the show the winner was joined in marriage to the millionaire and they left for their honeymoon.
In a couple of weeks teacher contracts will be offered by the school board and signed by many of our teachers.
A couple of months ago Lucent Technology was asked to install a new phone system in the church building so we can talk with Richard when he is moved into his new office in the addition. They were also asked to wire the addition for telephone and future networking. They sent me a bid that I had to sign and send back.
What does the wedding, the teacher contracts, and the bid have in common? They all are covenants.
A covenant is a compact or agreement made between two parties binding them to some agreed upon obligations and benefits.
A large number of covenants are to be found in the Bible. The first covenant is the covenant of works that God established with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The promise of this covenant was eternal life. The condition was unconditional and perfect obedience. In the following chapters we read of other covenants that God made with Noah (Gen 9:9-17), Abraham (Gen 15:18; 17:2), Moses (Exod 19:5-6), and David (2 Sam 23:5).
As we look at the Biblical record we notice that there are different signs of the covenant. The sign of the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden, for instance, was the tree of life. The sign of God's covenant with Noah was the rainbow. And the sign of God's covenant with Abraham was circumcision.
We also notice that there are different types of covenants. The original covenant, for instance, is a covenant of works. Those that follow are covenants of grace.
There are also different people addressed in the covenant. The original covenant of works was with Adam and Eve. The covenants of grace that followed were with Noah and his sons, Abraham and his descendants, Moses and Israel, and David and his line.
The content of these covenants is more important than their form. The form changes since there are different signs of the covenant, different types of covenants, and different people addressed in the covenant. Yet, the content of all these covenants remains basically the same. What is that content? In the covenant relationship God says three things: I shall be your God, you shall be my people, and I shall dwell in the midst of you.
As I have said before, a covenant relationship with God is the most valuable possession anyone can have. It certainly was Abraham's most valuable possession. Within that covenant relationship Abraham got to walk with God and to talk with God. Within that covenant relationship Abraham received the promise of a son; and through that son the promise of a land, of numerous descendants and a great nation, of a name. Within that covenant relationship Abraham found purpose in life and a reason for existence. Within that covenant relationship laid Abraham's glory, Abraham's hope, and Abraham's treasure.
In Christ Jesus, the covenant relationship is our greatest treasure as well. Just think, in Christ we can say that God is our God, that we are His people, and that He lives not just in our midst but even within us as individuals.
I Circumcision in the Old Testament
A Our text tells us that the rite of circumcision is the "sign of the covenant" between God and Abraham. Circumcision symbolizes the covenant relationship. In fact, the connection between circumcision and the covenant relationship was so strong that circumcision became identified with the covenant and the covenant relationship.
This identification of circumcision with the covenant and the covenant relationship reached its extreme with the Israelites at the time of Amos and Hosea; these Israelites thought they were safe from God's wrath on the Day of the Lord simply because they were circumcised. At the time of Jesus it was the Pharisees who thought the same way; they pointed to circumcision as proof that they were sons of Abraham. In Israel at the time of Amos and Jesus, if you were circumcised you were assumed to be in the covenant; if you were circumcised you were reckoned to be one of God's people who could look forward to everlasting life with God in the coming Kingdom. Along this line, think of the boast that Paul could make:
(Phil 3:4b-6) If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (5) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Don't we see the same attitude today? People today, like Paul, put confidence in the flesh and the works of the flesh. Very few people, if you ask them, expect to go to hell; instead, most expect to end up in heaven. Ask them why they expect this and they will say, "Because I try to live a good life." Or, "Because I don't hurt anyone." Or, "I try to be a good neighbor." Their confidence is in the flesh and the works of the flesh. Even church members can fall into this trap. They think they will be saved because of their attendance at worship, or enrollment in the Christian School, or daily Bible reading and prayer, or attendance at church school and youth group, or money in the offering plate. Their confidence is in the flesh and the works of the flesh. But our confidence can never be in the flesh; rather, it can be only in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Topic: GraceThis is a great illustration of the way to God through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. Someone might ask, "Is that the best way?" The only answer to that is the truth: "It is the only way" (John 14:6). Any other path will take you back to sin and darkness and eternal separation from God. Neither circumcision nor any other act of the flesh can make you right with God.
Subtopic: Salvation by
Many European towns still bear the marks of having been surrounded by walls in the Middle Ages. Streets near these old walls are curved and sometimes come to dead ends. A man stopped a stranger and asked him the way to reach a certain address. The stranger directed him but the enquirer was still a little dubious. "Is that the best way?" he asked. The stranger quickly answered, "It is the only way. If you follow the other turning it will bring you back here."
B Circumcision is the sign of the covenant. But in exactly what way does the cutting away of the foreskin symbolize the covenant? Circumcision was an intimately physical reminder to the Israelites of the promises and requirements of God's covenant. God, if you remember, called Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father's household. Later, Abraham had to part ways from his nephew Lot. Abraham, in other words, had to cut all ties with his past. Still later, he had to cut aside all attempts to father a child on his own; Abraham learned that the child of the promise would come not by human effort or determination but only by God's grace. The cutting away of the foreskin reminded Abraham and Israel of all this cutting away that needed to take place in order to be and to live as one of God's covenant children.
C Here we come to the heart of circumcision. As a sign of the covenant, circumcision is more, far more, than the mechanical act of cutting the foreskin. At heart circumcision symbolizes that those in a covenant relationship with God are called to be separate, apart, different, holy. This is clearly taught in more than one place in the Bible:
(Deut 10:16) Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn."Circumcise your heart." That's the phrase we hear over and over again. To be in covenant with God man needs a circumcised heart. To be in covenant with God man needs to do some cutting away. To be in covenant with God man needs to separate himself from the sins of the flesh.
(Deut 30:6) And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
(Jer 4:4) Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it.
II Circumcision in the New Testament
A One should never look at the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17 without also looking at what the Apostle Paul says about circumcision to the church at Colosse. Listen to what Paul was inspired to write:
(Col 2:11-12) In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.There are a number of things we should notice here.
First of all, Paul reminds us here that the death of Jesus is not just a death for others but also a death of others. Christ died for us, that is, He died in our place as a payment for our sins; but we also died with Him and in Him, that is, in some mysterious way we were united to Him in His death. As Paul puts it in his second letter to the church at Corinth: "We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died" (2 Cor 5:14).
Christ is seen here as our representative. What He did, we did. In Him we paid for our sins. Through Him we overcame death, and by His Spirit we now live a different kind of life than those who live "according to the flesh."
The question we all must now ask ourselves is, Am I included in the death of Christ? Was I there when our Lord was crucified? If you can not answer "yes" then you are not in a covenant relationship with God.
B The second thing we should notice is that Paul calls our dying with Christ a circumcision.
Now circumcision, as we already learned, means a cutting, a separation. United by faith to Christ in His death and burial the Christian receives a spiritual circumcision: he or she dies to the old, sinful, fleshly nature and can now be in covenant with God.
C The third thing we should notice is that Paul links our spiritual circumcision, our union with Christ in His death and burial, to baptism.
To understand what Paul is saying we can and should ask about the when of our spiritual circumcision. When exactly does or did this happen? When is it that the old man of the flesh was cut away?
One may give three answers to this question. When is it that I was spiritually circumcised and the old man of the flesh was cut away? The first answer is: it happened on Golgotha when Jesus died. When Romans says "we died with Christ" (Rom 6:8), it means that we died, really died, on Calvary in and with the person of Christ, because we were most definitely included in and with Him.
When is it that I was spiritually circumcised and the old man of the flesh was cut away? The second answer is: it happened in my baptism. We "died to sin," says Romans, when "we were baptized into Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:2,3). Our baptism is not only a sign of Jesus' death for us, but it also seals or guarantees to us that we died with Christ.
When is it that I was spiritually circumcised and the old man of the flesh was cut away? The third answer is: it happened when I was converted. It is true that when we were converted we "crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24).
The truth of the matter is, all three answers are correct, and none of the three should be stated without the others. We were spiritually circumcised when Christ died on Golgotha. This circumcision is guaranteed as ours when we are baptized. And we personally taste this circumcision only when we are converted.
D We have been spiritually circumcised. The old man of sin has been cut away. Paul tells us exactly what this means and should mean in our day-to-day lives:
(Col 3:5-10) Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (6) Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (7) You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (8) But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (9) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices (10) and have put on the new self ...Do you see the connection between your circumcision and the life you live? Because you have been spiritually circumcised – with Christ, shown by your baptism, and made real by your conversion – you must now live like someone who has been circumcised; you must live like someone who has had a circumcision of the heart.
The good news is that we don't have to do this on our own. I say this, because the God of the covenant Who joins us to Christ in His burial and death also joins us to Christ in His resurrection and new life.
Topic: New ManSimilarly, within the covenant God promises to place within all believers a new nature which both drives and empowers their lives.
Subtopic: Renewed by the Holy Spirit
The Arctic tern is one of the most remarkable birds in the world. It migrates farther than any other bird, traveling late in August from its nesting place within the Arctic Circle to its winter "lodgings" in Antarctica and then back to the Arctic Circle again -- an annual round trip of more than 11,000 miles! These small birds make their long trip on nothing but the urgings and the endurance that God has put within them. The force which drives them also empowers them for their journey.
The most important relationship any of us has is our relationship with God. To remain within that relationship there must be a cutting, a spiritual circumcision.
Have you been circumcised?
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