Why Circumcision?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic.

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation.

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT

… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water, symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issuesare less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.

1st and 2nd Thessalonians: The Messiah Part 2

I am writing tonight from the dark and stormy Tampa Bay area.

Several years ago, I was showing a set of Christian books to a lady. There were several hardbound books in the set, which also included beautiful art work. The lady loved the books, and asked how much they were. I told her, “Four-twenty-nine.” She was delighted, and exclaimed, “Is that all!” I said, “Yes.” I  went on to explain the payment plans, of cash, credit card, or down payment of 15% and then 12 monthly payments. She looked confused, and then disappointed when she realized, that by four-twenty-nine I meant $429.00 and not $4.29.

The lady was like most all of us. We hear what we want to hear. We read the Old Testament Prophecies that depict Jesus’ sacrifice, like Isaiah 53, and wonder why the Jews did not understand, that the Messiah was coming to die for our sin and not set up an earthly kingdom. The Jews were looking for a Savior from Roman tyranny because they read  prophecies,  such as Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” And also Isaiah 9:7, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.” They thought Jesus would come and set up an earthly kingdom. The prophecy in Daniel 2, and rock carved out without man’s hands, should have made clear to them, what Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36

Even the disciples misunderstood and heard only what they wanted to hear as well. Jesus told them in Matthew 16 amongst other places, that He would be crucified, but Peter and the others simply refused to hear of it. The weekend of the crucifixion they were devastated. It was a great disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the prophecies. The prophets were right on. The Jews, the disciples, the lady I was trying to sell  books to were all just like us. We hear what we want to hear. Crucifixion weekend was not the last time God’s church would endure a great disappointment. In 1844 another group of people, misunderstood Daniel. Daniel was right on. Again God’s Church just heard what it wanted to hear, this time regarding the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14. They thought the sanctuary was the world and Jesus was coming back to cleanse the earth with fire and create the New Earth. Nowhere in the Bible does it call the sanctuary the earth. Also we know Jesus said nobody would know the day nor the hour when He returns. Some scoff at them for not knowing better, but are we any better than they are? Do we not make the same mistakes? For example, When asked for a sign from the Jews, Jesus gave them the sign of Jonah. Jesus said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40 For years now, people have been trying to fit Jesus in the tomb for three nights. To do this some have even backed up the crucifixion to Wednesday while others explain that part of a day counts as the whole day, but that still does not put Jesus in the tomb for three nights. The confusion is quite simple. Nowhere in the Bible does it say the tomb is the heart of the earth. When Jesus said, “For God so loved the world,” He wasn’t talking about the dirt. He was talking about the people. When Jesus said the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, He was not talking about the dirt, He was talking about the people. Take a day for a year in Bible Prophecy and for three days you have Jesus ministering in the heart of the earth, where the population was, not in the dirt. The sign of Jonah, was simply that while Gentiles, publicans, and sinners were believing in Jesus, the Jews who should have believed were not. Just like the story of Jonah where a wicked city like Nineveh believes, but the prophet Jonah who should have believed and obeyed did not want to.

The sign of Jonah is just one example of how today, we may get the time right but the place wrong. In 1844 they had the time right but the place wrong, and in Jesus’ time, many had the time of the Messiah right  from the book of Daniel, but they had the place wrong. Jesus’ kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. We look forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth.

Jeremiah 23:6 promises to save the kingdom of Judah. “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”  . This led the people to dream of a kingdom prosperous and above all others. However the text also promised righteousness for the people.  It seems the people were not so interested in the righteousness as they were in the prosperity. That is just like us today. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says,” But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Many today are seeking the kingdom and all those other things that will be added to us, but how many of us are seeking His righteousness? How many of us today are taking up our cross daily and following Him? How many of us just want the prosperity? Even if we are seeking a heavenly kingdom above an earthly kingdom, we are still just being materialistic, unless we are really seeking His righteousness.   Could we today be like the children of Abraham, dreaming only of prosperity, and forgetting that God once asked father Abraham to sacrifice his son and future prosperity?

When Paul was reasoning with the Jews, showing them that Jesus was the Messiah, he had his work cut out for him.

Just a side note before I go. Last year many people were making fun of and ridiculing a famous pastor in the United States for saying that Jesus was coming in April of 2011. I heard many Adventists making fun of him. Seeing how we make mistakes too, in our understanding, and how we have had great disappointments ourselves, should we be making fun of people when they make mistakes? I don’t think so. At the crucifixion the disciples were devastated and hurting. In 1844 God’s people were devastated and hurting. God looked past the mistakes of His people and saw the pain. We should be just as sympathetic. Whether it is towards the Jews 2,000 years ago, or a mistaken preacher today, let’s all take heed lest we fall.

Check out the current Sabbath School study guide here.

Galatians; The Unity in the Gospel

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As this week’s SS lesson speaks about unity in the gospel, two quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy come to mind. (Download SS Lesson App to your cell phone.)

Jesus prayed that His followers might be one; but we are not to sacrifice the truth in order to secure this union, for we are to be sanctified through the truth. Here is the foundation of all true peace. Human wisdom would change all this, pronouncing this basis too narrow. Men would try to effect unity through concession to popular opinion, through compromise with the world, a sacrifice of vital godliness. But truth is God’s basis for the unity of His people.  {Our High Calling 329.3} 

When seeking unity we must use Jesus as the compass and not popular opinion. As we all draw closer to Jesus we will be drawn closer to each other as well. And besides, what is the point of unity if it does not involve Jesus Who is the truth? The Jews were united in crucifying Jesus, but that unity did not profit them. Lets pray we never make the same mistake of denying or Crucifying Truth and Jesus in order to preserve unity. Such unity is self defeating.

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ. {The Great Controversy p. 257}

What this passage tells me is that unity comes, not from trying to win people to my point of view, but by pointing people to Christ. In the first district I ever worked in as a gospel evangelist, in northern Oklahoma, we had a lady who was very conservative and had strong views. One day she was telling me about a man in her church, and his liberal views, which she did not agree with. She was speaking very seriously about how wrong she thought he was. She told me she was very worried about the man. Then she paused and smiled, and told me, with a laugh in her voice, “And I know he is very worried about me!” This told me, that while she “knew” this man was wrong, she did understand that this man was just as sure of his opinions as she was of hers, and that her way was not the only way of looking at things.

When we hear different opinions, let’s not be afraid of being wrong or corrected. Let’s study it out in the Word of God. I once heard of a Sabbath School class, where a visitor expressed a different opinion about the Sabbath and he was quickly told by the teacher to be quiet. I have often wondered why the teacher did that. Was the teacher  afraid of being wrong? Was he afraid of being corrected if he was wrong? There is nothing wrong with expressing opposing views as long as we let God’s Word have the final say.

Mark 11; A House of Prayer For all Nations

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Mark 11:13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not [yet]. 

 11:14    And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard [it]. 

 11:15    And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 

 11:16    And would not suffer that any man should carry [any] vessel through the temple. 

 11:17    And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. 

Jesus cursing the fig tree before going cleansing the temple are not random events. The fig tree represented Israel which was not bearing fruit but rather keeping others away from the church or temple. Jesus enters the temple and finds them selling sacrifices inside the temple. What made Jesus angry was not that business was taking place inside the temple, but rather that the Jews were offering their sacrifices inside the temple where they would not allow the gentiles to enter. Thus they were preventing the gentiles from finding salvation. Jesus said, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer.” He wanted the temple and its offering of sacrifices and salvation to be opened to everyone and not just Jews. Thus he threw the money changers out of there will special little secluded area and sent them into the world.

Today’s church has been commissioned to go into all the world and to teach all nations. We must be careful that we do not shut other people out of God’s house just because they may not look, act, or think like us. We must teach the world God’s Word and truth, but too often we let our culture get in the way. Funny, we tell the unbeliever they must abandon their culture and then we try to force our culture onto them. When we, as missionaries go into other parts of the world, we often try to teach them how to live like we do back home, instead of like the kingdom of God. It is natural to want to “congregate” either in church or out of church with people who think like we do. Jesus challenges us to go into the world and find people who do not think like we do.  And teach them, not the culture of our earthly homeland, but the culture of God’s kingdom.