Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: Grasping the Great Truth of God
Accompanying Ray Pritchard sermon: God of the Impossible
It's been 13 years since Abram stepped out in disobedience, following the advice of his wife to produce an heir through her maidservant. 13 long years where Abram learned the consequences of disobedience. This time of waiting also intensified the impossibility of Abram and Sarai every having a child naturally, without divine intervention.
Finally, God broke His silence with Abram, reestablishing the covenant and requiring Abram to walk blamelessly. He reiterated that Abram would become a great nation, changing his name to Abraham which means "father of a multitude". Abraham would be the father of kings, and God would be his God and the God of his descendants.
At this point, God required Abraham and his whole family to be circumcised, symbolically putting away the flesh. This sign would be a personal daily reminder of what God required in order to enjoy the blessings of the covenant, and that they were set apart to be different from those around them.
Pritchard: Of all the questions we might like to ask about this, two stand out and deserve special attention. First, why did God ask for this particular sign? Presumably he could have asked for any sign he wanted. Why pick something like circumcision? I think the answer goes something like this. Circumcision by its nature touches the very core of what it means to be a man. In his most intimate and personal moments each Jewish male would forever be reminded that he was a holy Son of the Covenant and that he belonged to God. No one else might know it but once he was circumcised, he could never forget it.
That leads to the second question. Why did God choose a sign that applied only to the men? I think the answer is that God was reminding Abraham that he was the head of his own household, and as such he had to answer to God for what happened in his own family. Circumcision meant accepting your place God’s appointed spiritual leader in your own family. It’s like a father giving his daughter away at a wedding. He stands and speaks on behalf of the whole family. The circumcised man was saying to God, “I accept the covenant you have made.” In Joshua 24:15 we have this idea expressed in a very similar fashion when Joshua exclaims, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
God also gave specific promises to Sarai. Her name was changed to Sarah which means Princess (fitting for the mother of a great nation), she would soon give birth to a son through whom she would become the mother of many nations, and great rulers would descend from her. Such an amazing demonstration of God's grace. Sarah's faith to this point has been very weak. We've seen her take matters into her own hands out of desperation (you'd have to be desperate to purposefully send another woman into your husband's arms), and then be cruel to Hagar when she got the results she had intended. But the amazing thing is, that so often God blesses us, and works through us, in spite of ourselves.
We immediately see Abraham's doubts spring up in laughter - which is a very natural/human response when we are promised the impossible. We also see his love for Ishmael in this passage, as he indicates that he's perfectly fine to have Ishmael be the one through whom God's blessing will come. There's no way God can allow that. The spiritual blessing could never come through disobedience, and had to come through God's purposes alone. But God does bless Ishmael, promising that he too would be a great nation with rulers as his descendants. But God would establish His covenant with Isaac, not Ishmael.
At the end of our passage we see Abraham's immediate obedience. He, and all the males of his household, were circumcised on that very day, just as God had instructed.
Pritchard: Here is proof of Abraham’s faith: A few minutes ago he had been laughing in disbelief. Now he is circumcised to seal his dedication to God and his Word. Doubting is no sin, so long as your doubts don’t keep you from obeying God.
God's name is still El Shaddai - He is still the God of the impossible - as we witnessed personally with the miraculous healing of our nephew Baret from death's door.
Sometimes God's call may require obedience that doesn't make sense to us (as I'm sure circumcision didn't make sense to Abraham), but faith required obedience anyway.
We all need to be circumcised today - a circumcision of the heart.
We all need to be circumcised today. But the circumcision God requires is the circumcision of the heart. That’s what Romans 2:28-29 clearly teaches. “A man is not a Jew is he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”
Note this carefully: Circumcision—although it was a physical mark on the body—was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism....
Although some may find this entire discussion academic, it has an incredibly relevant application to modern American church members. Many of us regard our baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision. Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven.....Let us be clear on this point. All religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart!
Baptism, church attendance, communion, tithing - none of that can save us. Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to bridge the gap between us and heaven is the only thing that can save us. And no one else can believe for you. God has no spiritual grandchildren. But He stands willing to adopt all as His child, if only we believe in Jesus Christ.
Deffinbaugh makes another good point to end his sermon. It took Abraham a lifetime to understand the few verses of Genesis 12:1-3.
If it took Abraham a lifetime to grasp three verses of Scripture, how long will it take us to fathom the depth of the riches of His grace (cf. Romans 11:33-36)?
This passage helps me come to grips with the desire to learn ‘new’ truths for my own life and for my preaching. God is not so interested in us knowing new truth as He is in us grasping the few great truths of His word. How easy it is to think that we have learned some truth, only to pass on to another. In Abraham’s life, God revealed a truth, then continued to return to it, testing him, and then revealing more of that truth than he had known before. Which one of us can say that we have come to fathom the doctrine of the grace of God or of the atonement? Who would be willing to claim that he had seen all of its implications? I believe that, like Abraham, we can expect God to be at work in our lives, expanding and expounding upon the few great and central truths of Christianity.
The more I study the life of Abraham, the more I see that his was a relationship of growth. He came to learn more and more about the God Who called him. He came to a deeper and deeper understanding of the meaning of God’s Word. As he did so, he invariably drew nearer and nearer to God. There was not only a growth in Abraham’s knowledge, but in his intimacy. At first, God only spoke to Abraham (12:1). Twenty-four years later He revealed Himself to Abraham and spoke with him. Abraham, for the first time, communed with God and interacted with Him. Later, he would be called the friend of God.
Monday's scripture focus: Genesis 18
Sunday's passage: 1 Chronicles 17-18
Monday's passage: 1 Chronicles 19-20, Psalm 119:81-88, Romans 12