May 23, 2015
Romans 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
We looked at these verses in the May 10th sermon. Paul uses the word “Jew” here to refer to one of God’s people – someone loved by God, in covenant with God, part of God’s family. God had given circumcision as the sign of His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. Paul says that God intended physical circumcision as a sign pointing to an inner reality – the inner reality of a circumcised heart, effected by the Holy Spirit.
What is a circumcised heart? Consider Moses’ words to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. . . . You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16, 20-21a, emphasis added)
Moses sums up all the initial commands in telling the Israelites to circumcise their hearts. Thus, to have a circumcised heart is to fear God, to follow Him, to love Him, to serve Him with all your being, from the heart – and thus to keep His commandments, which, after all, will lead to good and not harm, fulfillment and not slavery. To have a circumcised heart also includes recognizing the great privilege of being loved by the God of all creation, and thus to praise Him, to rejoice in Him, to recognize Him as your God.
With that in mind, think again about Romans 2:28-29. Paul there echoes the truths of Deuteronomy 10 in saying the physical sign is precious when accompanied by this inner reality of a circumcised heart. However, the physical sign without the inner reality is worthless. The physical sign means nothing on someone who is stubborn, who resists God, who does not walk in His ways, who does not love or praise God.
Imagine a sign declaring, “Pot of Gold 20 Yards Ahead!” That sign is quite valuable if it indeed points to a pot of gold. But if there is no pot of gold, the sign is worthless – indeed, it is worse than worthless, it is deceptive. It causes others to divert their time and energy to look for something valuable which is not there in reality.
So in Romans 2 Paul says: “Being part of God’s family consists of much more than having an external, physical sign. Anyone who is in God’s family is His on the inside. Indeed, the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms the hearts of God’s true children. They then care nothing about the praise of men – they instead are seeking praise and glory and honor from God alone.”
As a student of the Hebrew Scriptures all his life, Paul would have been familiar with the concept of heart circumcision. But at a key moment in the Apostle’s life, God used the voice of a condemned man to sear Paul’s soul with this truth.
In Acts 7, Stephen is brought before the Jewish council, on trial for speaking words against the temple and the Law. Stephen concludes his speech
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53, emphasis added)
Paul was there (Acts 7:58)! The future Apostle was right there, watching and listening – and approving of the stoning (Acts 8:1)! He heard Stephen call the Jewish leaders – call him! – stubborn, resistant to the Holy Spirit, uncircumcised in heart. And he heard Stephen say that his listeners did not keep the Law. And everything in Saul/Paul must have rebelled against that statement: “I keep the Law! I am righteous! I am circumcised in heart! I am advancing in Judaism beyond my age mates! I follow the traditions of the forefathers. This man, this Stephen is blaspheming against our God, against our Law, against our Temple; indeed, this is slander against me.”
But the Holy Spirit took those words of Stephen, and they did not return to God void. After Saul/Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he saw his insolence (1 Timothy 1:13), his stubbornness – he saw that his heart was indeed uncircumcised. He did not love God; instead, he rejected His work, he rejected the true nature of His Law – he worshiped his own law keeping, not the One Lawgiver. Saul/Paul saw that he could not make himself part of God’s family – instead, his very attempts to accomplish that were driving him further away from God. He needed a righteousness from God. He needed a Redeemer. He needed Christ Jesus.
God reached down in mercy to this arrogant persecutor of the church, and made him His own precious child. God brought this man into His family – and circumcised his heart.
Just so with us. We cannot produce love for God, service from the heart for God, fear of God, and obedience to God from our inner resources. We, like Paul, will instead just add to our rebellion if we think we’ve succeeded.
But God in His mercy extends the offer of intimacy in His family to whoever calls on the Name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). So humble yourself before Him. Ask, “Would you circumcise my heart? Would you in your mercy change even a sinner like me? Would you forgive me in accordance with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus?” Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And God the Father never despises a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” May we all obey – and be brought into God’s intimate family by the blood of Jesus.
May 13, 2015
Consider the Gospel presentation, “Two Kingdoms:”
Here is a truth I have come to know. God created the world as His Kingdom, and all was very good. But Satan rebelled, desiring worship that only God deserved. He set up his own kingdom, at war with God’s kingdom of light. The first man and woman, deceived by Satan, chose to rebel also. Since then, all of us have joined that rebellion against our rightful king.
Satan’s kingdom is the kingdom of darkness. He deceives people, saying, “You don’t have to serve me, just serve yourself!” Yet as we serve ourselves, we end up destroying all that is good, even all true pleasure. That is Satan’s goal.
God’s kingdom of light has overcome the kingdom of darkness. For God sent Jesus to earth to live as man should live. Jesus then died on a cross, suffering to pay the penalty we deserve for our rebellion. But God raised Him from the dead, showing that Jesus has authority even over death and the kingdom of darkness. Jesus will reign forever and ever.
God commands all men to turn from their rebellion against Him. He invites all of us to leave the kingdom of darkness and to become citizens of the Kingdom of light. We must turn from our selfish ways and acknowledge that Jesus is our rightful King. We must let Him tell us what to do. By God’s mercy on account of the cross, we can receive His forgiveness and escape from the kingdom of darkness, gaining love, joy, and peace in the Kingdom of light forever.
We live in this little bubble called life for 70 to 80 years. When it pops, we join whichever king we served for all eternity. Which king are you serving?
In a series of blog posts, we’re looking at different key points in this presentation. Today: God’s kingdom of light has overcome the kingdom of darkness.
When we look around the world today, it seems as if the kingdom of darkness is thriving: The earthquake in Nepal kills thousands and leaves tens of thousands more homeless. Hunger, oppression, and disease are the order of the day in many countries. Billions remain in rebellion against God.
Indeed, Jesus Himself assures us, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Elsewhere He says that until He comes there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, deceptions, and betrayals (Matthew 24:4-12).
But Scripture is explicit: Not only will Christ reign over His Kingdom forever and ever (Revelation 11:15); already our Lord has overcome Satan’s kingdom.
Consider John 16:33. We quoted part of it above: Jesus promises us tribulation. But He goes on to say: “But take heart; I have overcome (or ‘conquered’) the world.” He has done it. The decisive battle is won. So Jesus, on the cross, can say, “It is finished,” bow His head and give up His spirit (John 19:30). The work is done. Redemption is accomplished. Satan is defeated. So Paul writes that God has “disarmed the [spiritual] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).
So we live in a world in which evil and rebellion are abundant; yet Scripture tells us Satan is defeated. How do both of these statements hold?
Biblical theologian George Eldon Ladd provides us with helpful language on this point: The Kingdom is already here, but it has not yet come in its fullness. The decisive battle is already won, but final victory is not yet completed. The Kingdom already has invaded this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), but every knee has not yet bowed to Lord Jesus (Philippians 2:10). Like yeast in bread dough, the Kingdom today may seem insignificant; indeed it may seem invisible. But it will multiply and spread until it permeates the entire batch (Matthew 13:33).
Much of the book of Revelation reflects these already/not yet truths. In the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, the Lord Jesus finds serious error in five of them, and the others are suffering persecution. But in chapters 4 and 5, God reigns in His throne room, and “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” worship the One Who sits on the throne and the Lamb (Revelation 5:13). Then in chapter six, those who have been killed because of their proclamation of God’s Word ask when God will execute justice and avenge their blood – that judgment is not yet. They are told that the judgment is indeed coming – it is certain, it is already confirmed – but they are to wait a little while.
So today we live in this in between time. Jesus has won the victory; He is King of the Kingdom of Light; He deserves all honor and praise; He has all authority. He has already accomplished all of that. But rebellion against Him continues. Death and destruction wreak their horrors. Pain and suffering are not yet over.
But the yeast spreads. This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14). Then Jesus will return – and the “not yet” will become the “already:” Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11) . God’s glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). God Himself will wipe every tear from the eyes of His children. There will be no more death, no more suffering, no more crying, no more pain, for the old order will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
God’s kingdom of light has overcome the kingdom of darkness. Already. And soon, the Kingdom will come in all its fullness. Amen. Your Kingdom come, O Lord.