Series Bible Study for PART TWO: Does Your “One Lord” Sign His Covenants on Infants?
From the series for “All Who Believe and Are Baptized.”
CONTRASTING BAPTISM AND CIRCUMCISION—Immanuel Bible Class for 2.18.18
Throughout Lent 2018, our 9am Sunday Bible Classes take up in greater detail the passages we will hear during the following Wednesday Midweek service. Our series continues this Wednesday, February 21st considering the One Lord who signs covenants on infants.
Christians in the 21st Century struggle at times to relate to Christian controversies in doctrine and practice, both ancient and contemporary. Our culture largely dismisses them as foolish hairsplitting or malicious power plays. Some perhaps do best fall into one or both of those categories.
Some controversies testify to the constant opposition which our forefathers faced in striving to preach the pure Gospel. These accounts also show God’s faithfulness to His people and the work of the Holy Spirit in preserving pure teaching and true faith. Jesus gave His promised “Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,” assuring us “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
Still, the Bible records and reveals several of these difficult conflicts for us. As we began our series, last week we learned from the dispute over Baptism’s origin and authority, whether “From Heaven, or From Man?” (Study, Sermon) This week we consider the circumcision controversy faced by first generation Christians. We do so first in an effort better to grasp the spiritual world view of Jesus’ day. Secondly, we consider what this means for our faith in the person and work of Christ. Finally, we learn from the first Christian generation’s faith in Baptism, what this heavenly gift gives and does for us, through faith.
The Spiritual World View of First Generation Christians
Our First Section offers a rapid overview of The LORD’s covenant promise to Abraham and his children. Below are selected readings from Genesis 12-17. Learners are encouraged to read and study those chapters in greater detail. However, for the purpose of our class discussion, take a look at the following highlighted parts:
The Lord’s Promise to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3)
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abram Struggles, The Lord’s Promise Confirmed By Covenant with Fire Pot/Flaming Torch (Gen. 15)
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…
Abram and Sarai wrongly seek fulfillment of the Lord’s Promise through Hagar (Gen. 16)
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
The Lord Signs His Covenant with Circumcision for Abraham and Children (Gen. 17)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenantbetween me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Gen. 12: Who chooses to establish a relationship by his promise, The LORD, or Abram?
Gen. 15: Who further defines what will be promised and given, Abram, or the LORD?
Gen. 16: What happens when Abram & Sarai try to force fulfillment by their own efforts?
Gen. 17: Take note of the verbs throughout Genesis 17.
–What verbs (ACTION/ACTIVITY) does the LORD engage in here?
–How does the sign (Circumcision) emphasize the LORD’s promise of Abraham’s Seed/offspring/generations yet to be born from his own body? When might this sign especially remind Sarah of that same promise?
–At what age is the covenant sign of circumcision to be put upon a person? Does such a person choose their relationship with the LORD before receiving the sign? Does this sign indicate for the rest of their lives that the LORD has chosen them and Himself promised to be their God?
–Can one without the covenant sign be rightly considered a true son/heir of Abraham?
The world view of the apostles and first generation Christians understood that the LORD initiates His relationship with those whom He chooses. Such relationships exist on God’s own terms. The LORD graciously appoints and grants His people a sign connected to His command and promises. Some receive this sign as adults, when they become part of Abraham’s household. Others receive the sign and the promises in infancy. All are taught its sacred promise and impact in defining their covenant relationship with The Lord, who will be their God.
According to the Biblical worldview before Christ, none is ritely reckoned as God’s own chosen, covenant people apart from their connection to this circumcision sign: whether as a daughter born from the sign, a son marked with the sign, a husband bearing the sign, or a wife united as one flesh with the sign. Servants and employees were likewise either marked with the sign of God’s promise or participants in relation to those so marked according to God’s command. The chief promise is that through Abraham’s Seed, all nations would be blessed.
Faith in the Person and Work of Christ
Jesus is Circumcised (Luke 2:21)
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.
Circumcision Controversy in the Early Church: Jerusalem Council (Acts 15)
When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
Circumcision Controversy in the Early Church: James & Jerusalem Riot (Acts 21)
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Circumcision Controversy in the Early Church: By Faith Alone (Romans 4)
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
Christ was circumcised on the eighth day. Mark the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Jesus is the Seed (Gal. 3:16) through whom all nations shall be blessed. Yet for some time, the first generation of Christians struggled with the question of Circumcision now that the Christ had come. Prior to Jesus, none could be ritely reckoned as a true child of Abraham and heir of God’s promise apart from Circumcision, as we saw at the end of Genesis 17. Those who were not circumcised were cut off from God’s people.
Most Jewish Christians began to recognize the Lord was now fully embracing the Gentiles. Through the Word, Gentiles were coming to faith. By the Holy Spirit, Gentiles confessed “Jesus is LORD.” The Lord Jesus, crucified and raised, directly sent His apostles to “make disciples of all nations, Baptizing and teaching them to observe all things which I commanded you.” So they baptized and taught with heavenly authorization, making disciples of the Gentiles, too.
But some objected that such baptizing and teaching was not enough for one truly to be reckoned and ritely considered as God’s own. A controversy raged. Those outside the Church persecuted Jew and Gentile alike for preaching, teaching, Baptizing and believing in the name of Jesus. But even inside the church, the apostles had to contend with those Jewish Christians who insisted Gentiles must be circumcised.
Such opponents followed in the Apostle Paul’s path, entering into churches once Paul left Galatia and Colossae and elsewhere. They denied Paul’s true preaching–the very same teaching affirmed by James and the apostles gathered in Jerusalem. Paul found himself having to correct those congregations of Gentiles who were baptized and taught rightly the first time. They had fallen prey to those coming after, who promised a fuller, more lawful relationship with God. Opponents taught that Gentiles must submit more completely to the Law and themselves now choose to enter their Covenant relationship with God through circumcision. For the opponents, the Lord’s own “baptizing and teaching them all things” would never be enough for faith to receive from Christ and believe!
To confess “Jesus is LORD” says much more than Jesus is The Boss or one’s Master. This simple Creed claims Jesus is the Great “I AM,” the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob Himself made flesh. Jesus explicitly says as much in John 8:56-58
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
The same Jesus is LORD confession undergirds the exchange with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
So also Paul urges us all in Ephesians 2-4–Gentile and Jew alike–to remain united in this LORD’S one Church, the one LORD Jesus Christ:
…[be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
First Generation Christians’ Faith in Their One LORD’S Baptism
Similarity, Link, Fulfillment of Circumcision and Gift in Baptism (Galatians 3)
Galatians 3:6-9, 16, 25-29 – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to [seeds] offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your [Seed] offspring,” who is Christ.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Circumcision is Fulfilled, Baptism is Given — Colossians 2
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
The argument over Circumcision centers and is resolved in the early church among the first generation of Christians by dealing with the question “who is the Christ?” He is the LORD, we confess, by the power of the Holy Spirit. TO BE BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST is to be buried with Him, even joined with His Circumcision such that it becomes our own. Gentiles need no bloody mark in their flesh, but only the bloodless sign of water and the Word put upon their flesh in accord with Christ’s heavenly command.
This heavenly Word, with the water of this one Baptism, joins us to Christ, according to Scripture. Baptism–God’s Word in and with the water–unites us to that one LORD. We are here given the promise of forgiveness, our record of debt cancelled in Christ. We have put on Christ in all His righteousness. Such is the promise in that water, connected with God’s Word and combined with His command. Such is the Baptism He bids us receive.
There can be little reason to doubt that those of the Circumcision party intended also to see that Gentile infants be circumcised. For the circumcision group, a Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit would never be sign and promise enough for these stubborn opponents. The Biblical world view and first generation Christian understanding of the LORD is such that Jesus is the God of Abraham who puts the mark of His promise even on Infants as young as eight days old. He thus promised to be their God, too. How much more so shall this be true for all those Gentiles (‘male or female, slave or free’) who are Baptized and made one in Christ Jesus. Now, all these Gentiles are truly made Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise–for they are baptized into Christ!
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