Saturday, January 1, 2022

Token of the Covenant

Bobservations Column
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

It was The Law of Moses that permeated the lives of the Jews in Jesus’ day, especially those Jews that lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s grand and magnificent Temple. And according to The Law, a newborn child would spawn a number of events: 33 days or more of purification for the mother, and a sacrifice was to be made for her giving birth at the end of those days, then a presentation of a male child in the Temple (36 days for a female child). But when the male child reaches 8 days old, the infant’s circumcision would take place. These things were non-negotiable. This was more than just their culture, it was a Law of God, from Genesis 17. Circumcision was the token of the Abrahamic Covenant. Separating the Jews from the rest of humanity; identifying them as His Chosen.

Identifying with the Jews can be a costly thing to do. Even today, being a friend of Israel on the world stage can elicit a rejection of values, and hatred.

And basing a nation’s laws on Judeo-Christian standards can cause a rejection and even contempt for those laws by our own citizens. This we have seen in our own country. Banning public religious displays, outlawing prayer in our public schools, and creating a separation of Church and State has gained us at least two generations of heathens, and youth that have been taught a revised version of World History and US History.

The hearts of our children have gone uncircumcised, while circumcision itself has become commonplace in Western Culture, for “health reasons.”

Abraham circumcised both Ishmael, and Isaac. While both bloodlines have been blessed, it is Isaac’s bloodline that would bring Messiah. And the blessing stolen from Esau in that next generation has set the two nations against one another ever since.

The circumcision of the heart means everything because it changes the sensitivity of the heart. The circumcision of the flesh alone merely brings an identity crisis.

Romans 2:29 – “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit (of the law), and not in the letter (of the law); whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Parentheses are mine)

Today's Audio Message:
Luke 2:21-37 - "Token of the Covenant"

As we approach the text before us, Jesus Christ, Messiah, had been born. The long- awaited promised good news had been announced (1:26–38), affirmed (1:39–56), and arrived (2:1–20).

An angel of the Lord informed the shepherds of Messiah’s birth, and so they left their lambs, to find the Lamb. They travelled to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Israel’s great shepherd-king: David. There they met the true Shepherd-King: Jesus, who is Christ the Lord (Micah 5:1–2). The shepherds departed and declared the good news. The world’s first human evangelists were, in the literal sense of the word, pastors.

It was now eight days later, and Jesus underwent the covenantal custom of circumcision (v. 21; cf. Genesis 17:12Leviticus 12:1–3). 

Circumcision of the Flesh - Circumcision of the Heart

In Romans 2:29, Paul discusses the idea of the circumcision of the heart and the role of the Old Testament Law as it relates to Christianity. He argues that Jewish circumcision is only an outward sign of being set apart to God. However, if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is of no avail. A circumcised body and a sinful heart are at odds with each other. Rather than focus on external rites, Paul focuses on the condition of the heart. Using circumcision as a metaphor, he says that only the Holy Spirit can purify a heart and set us apart to God. Ultimately, circumcision cannot make a person right with God; the Law is not enough. A person’s heart must change. Paul calls this change “circumcision of the heart.”

After the days of purification according to the law of Moses, (thirty-two days later), they would return to the temple when and where their faith would be strengthened by two older saints: Simeon and Anna. These faithful believers had, for a long time, anticipated the arrival of God’s promised Messiah. They now experienced what they had been so longingly expecting. Therefore, they celebrated. But this led them to anticipate again. For with the arrival of Messiah, greater things were still to come, not only in the city of Jerusalem, but throughout the nation of Israel and in all the nations.

Their celebration of fulfilment, coupled with their anticipation of future fulfilment, illustrates the biblical truth referred by theologians as “already / not yet.” This is where you and I live—or where we should be.

Like Israel of old, before we came to Christ, God graciously brought us to a point of disillusionment, defeat and, for some, despair, due to our guilt for our sins against holy God.

God then consoled us with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We repented of our sins, and believed on Jesus who lived, died, and rose again for us. Celebration was our response. What we longed for was now our experience: We were reconciled to God. But this was only the beginning, for we began to anticipate further blessings—like growth in holiness, a growing devotion to God, and collateral blessings along the way. After all, as the hymn says, Jesus came “to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Sometimes those blessings have come sooner, sometimes much later, and some of these blessings have yet to come. But since they are God’s promises, we must continue to faithfully anticipate them. This is the theme of our passage and of this study.

In our brief Christmas Series, we have been confronted with the holy, faithful, merciful, and gracious character of God. We have also seen the condition of man: sinful and in need of a Saviour. And, of course, we have focused intently on Jesus Christ our Saviour and our Lord.

Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, an unnamed angel of the Lord, a heavenly host, shepherds, Simeon, and Anna all testified that Jesus is God’s appointed Redeemer and Saviour. Ultimately, Jesus’ life and death and resurrection proved this.

In our sinful state we are God's enemies, but Christ came to reconcile us to God. Will you confess your sinfulness, trusting him to forgive you? Will you trust him to reconcile you wholly to our holy God? That is, will you trust him to bring peace between you and God? Are you willing to forsake this world and follow Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life? Salvation and forgiveness of sins is not about following steps. It is about receiving Christ as Savior and recognizing that He has done all of the work for us. God requires one step of us—receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and fully trusting in Him alone as the way of salvation.

The good news is that, though we are sinners, the anticipated Saviour has come. There is nothing more to do than to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.

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