"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 covenant between 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.'" -- Genesis 17:1–14
"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." -- Luke 2:21
How close is too close? If you’re like me, you have boundaries and comfort zones and personal bubbles of one size or another. Most people can sense these boundaries, which cover everything from physical proximity and touch to conversation topics and word choice. Lunch with a client is different than a birthday party with family is different than coffee hour in the fellowship hall. Most people understand this and respect your space and privacy.
But God doesn’t seem to get it. He comes right into your life, gets right into your business and makes no apologies. He makes you uncomfortable because He asks uncomfortable questions, He says uncomfortable things, He gets uncomfortably close—intimate, even. Just ask Abraham—circumcision is an intimate matter.
Why should you get uncomfortable? What are you afraid of? God has given you His promise to bless you and keep you, to love you and forgive you, to give you Life with a capital “L” and be your God all for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ, and you’ve believed Him. Just like Abraham, you believed the Lord and He counted it to you as righteousness. For your whole life God has been faithful to you in all of these things. Surely He is trustworthy; of anyone on earth, surely He is the one we should feel most safe letting into every aspect of our lives, even the most intimate.
Yet we don’t always want Him to get too close. We’re afraid of the questions we must ask ourselves: Is my Life in God’s promise evident in my life in the flesh? Does what I believe have any effect on how I act, or who I am? What was in my heart when I looked at my neighbor that way? What did I say when their back was turned? What was I thinking in the dark last night? Why didn’t I help when I could have? Why didn’t I say anything when I should have? Can I really believe that God didn’t see me do that, hear me say that, know I thought that? How can I still call myself a Christian after what I’ve done, what I’m still doing?
We’re afraid that God will see what we’re doing, what we really are inside. Even though we may pretend otherwise, try to hide what we’ve done and who we are, we know that He’s seen us. He’s caught us in the act. We know that our lives and hearts and desires are all laid bare before Him. And we are ashamed.
It’s all out in the open. We’re afraid of what we think He might say: that we’re ugly, that we’re inadequate, that we aren’t worth His attentions. We’re afraid He might reject us for what He sees or doesn’t see, that He’ll take back His promises after all—He won’t forgive, He won’t bless, He won’t bring us to Himself in heaven but leave us here, alone in our shame.
So now what? Do we just hang our heads and weep at the exposure? Do we get angry and try to cover up the places we’re most vulnerable? Or do we trust God to come near? To come even closer? To touch our lives, our hearts where they are most sensitive? Do we trust Him?
Abraham’s trust in God was tested many times; He had been promised an heir, a son, one to carry on the promise that God would bless the whole world through his offspring, giving him descendants as plentiful as the dust of the earth who would dwell in a land of their own and rejoice to have the Lord as their God. Every day that passed, every year he grew older made the promise seem farther and farther out of reach. But when Abraham was 99 years old, his Life in God’s promise was made evident in his life in the flesh in a very specific, a very intimate way: circumcision.
This sign of the promise was for him and his sons and all the males of his household, including those he bought with his money, and so they all received it. Abraham’s flesh was removed from him, and he and Sarah were promised a son, Isaac, through whom God’s promise of blessing to all nations would be passed down. Every time they came together, the sign of the God’ promise was present. In their moments of greatest intimacy, God was with them, to bless them.
And the pain that Abraham endured, his trust in God during the days and years of waiting were not in vain. God is faithful to His promises; He was faithful to Abraham. When Abraham was 100 years old, the son of the promise was born. This was the son who would bear the promise in his flesh. This was the son who would be offered up as a sacrifice. This was the son whom Abraham his father would receive back from the dead. Eight days after he was born, they called his name Isaac, the name given by God before he was conceived in the womb.
Isaac would pass this promise on to his son Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, the father of the 12 tribes. A whole nation, descended from Abraham, bore in their flesh the promise that Abraham received. It would be with them every day of their life, in every circumstance. It would be with them when they were faithful. It would be with them when they were unfaithful. It would be with them when they rejoiced, when they wept, when they feasted and when they were hungry. No matter what they did, the promise remained. There was no going back to who they were before.
It would be with them as they passed it down from generation to generation, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. They waited in Caanan. They waited in Egypt. They waited in the wilderness. They waited in the Israel and Judah. They waited in Jerusalem. They waited in Bethlehem. And their trust was not in vain. God is faithful to His promises; He was faithful to Israel. Two millennia after Abraham first believed, the son of the promise was born. This was the son who would bear the promise in his flesh. This is the son who would be offered up as a sacrifice. This was the son whom God His father would receive back from the dead. Eight days after he was born, this son was circumcised, and they called his name Jesus, the name given by God before he was conceived in the womb.
Thirty years after he was born, Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. His Father claimed Him from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you am I well pleased.” And he embarked on a life of perfect faithfulness and righteousness, a life of perfect trust in the Father, trust he clung to even as he prayed in Gethsemane, even as he was led away to be condemned. He was stripped, mocked, beaten, exposed, and nailed naked on a cross, the promise he bore in the flesh laid bare for the whole world to see. And even then he trusted our Father. Even then, when he bore our shame and guilt, when he suffered the consequences of our sin and faithlessness, suffered hell and death for our sake.
And his trust was not in vain. God is faithful to His promises; He was faithful to Jesus. Three days after he died, the son of the promise was resurrected. And a new age began. The old promise is fulfilled; a new promise is given. This promise is not just for Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, or Israel, it’s not just for those who share his blood. It is for you who share his faith, all you who believe God’s promises, you who were brought into the house of God, who were bought not with gold or silver but with Jesus’ holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
You need never more be ashamed or afraid. Jesus has seen your shame and your sin and yet forgiven you for all of it. He has covered your shame with Himself. He clothes you with his life, with his faithfulness, with the fulfillment in his own flesh of all the promises of God to mankind. He comes near to you and unites you with himself that you mare share in the inheritance of grace he received and now gives you freely.
Risen and ascended, our Lord Jesus gives us a promise better than circumcision—Baptism into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. No longer do we trace salvation through our fathers, but through Jesus, who made himself our brother. No longer do you just receive the promise of God; you receive God Himself. And according to this promise our flesh is removed from us not with blade and blood but with water and the word.
In your Baptism, God renamed you, gave you His own name. He made you a holy nation, founded in Christ, all bearing His Name and Life and forgiveness, each of us bearing the likeness of His Son. He will be with us every day of their life, in every circumstance. He would be with us when we are faithful. He will be with us when we are unfaithful. He will be with us when we rejoice, when we weep, when we feast and when we hunger. No matter what we do, God and His promise remain. There is no going back to who you were before.
Your old flesh—your old Adam, your sinful nature—has been removed. You are cut off from it forever. Don’t try to cling to it still, carry it with you as if you could go back to your sins, simply slip back into your old sinful life and habits and companions, whenever you wanted. Abraham was told that any man who would not be circumcised would be cut off from the people of God. This truth still remains. You must depart from the flesh, or else depart from the family of faith. Don’t fool yourself and think you can be do both.
This is the darker reason that we fear God coming too near. We are afraid that He will take the sinful desires of our flesh away from us. That’s what makes the confession of our sin so painful, why we tremble as we expose our sins to Him, why we cringe at the thought of His touch in our lives, in our hearts.
Dear Christians, do not fear when your God comes close. Trust in your God when He comes near. Look at what your God has done to you, done for you. He has shaped all of history for the sake of your salvation. He has preserved an entire nation through slavery and war and exile to bring forth the one man who could save you. He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and took on your flesh. He came to us then to forgive you your sins and give you life. He comes near to you today to do the same.
You trust is not in vain. God is faithful to His promises; He is faithful to you. He is gentle in His work. He cuts away your sinful flesh, your dying body, but replaces it with His perfect and eternal life and resurrection. He does not say that you are ugly, but clothes you with His own glory and majesty. He does not say you are inadequate, but honors you with a crown of righteousness. He does not question your worthiness of His attentions, but is forever hearing and answering your prayers. He will never reject you for what He sees, for all the Father sees when He looks at you is His child, blameless and pure, forgiven and lovely. And He will never leave you alone, but He will be with you always, even to the end of the age.