25 Apr 2021
Circumcision is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible. What is it all about and why is it important? Before you walk away and think it is not relevant to you, find out God's real intention in this rite in this sermon. It may just lead you to a life-changing reality found in His word!
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Well, a big welcome to all our friends and guests who may be here with us for the first time. As a church, we delight and we have the privilege to bring our people through the Bible and we have been looking at the book of Genesis, for the past months.
Today, we arrive at Genesis, chapter 17.
We will be looking at the entire chapter, but in a very quick, very succinct way. So if you have your Bibles, it would be good if you could just open to that page, Genesis, chapter 17.
Now, I think most of you would know, I wanted to be a missionary when I was growing up as a believer, and I wanted to be a missionary doctor at that. So, it was important for me to go through some medical and surgical trainings. When we were studying in med school, we learn mostly about medicine - the diagnosis, the medicines to prescribe and so on and so forth, but very little about how to do surgery.
So when I graduated and I was working, I made sure I would go through the surgical postings. One of the places I went to was KK Hospital. And I joined the 'Pediatric Surgical Department'. It means the Surgical Department for Children. Now, I didn't know that there were that many things for children to be operated on. But yes, every June and December, we will see a lot of children come in for surgery. Would you like to guess what kind of surgery they come for, in June and December? Can time [one], you know, not throughout the year but June and December, they will come in for ...? What you have read today ...? Circumcision.
It's a surgery that you can time. It's not that urgent. So during school holidays, they all flood the hospital, they all flood the clinics. Now, I saw many children go for the surgeries. You say, "Why do they go for circumcision?" Some go through circumcision for medical reasons, some go through circumcision for hygiene reasons and some go through circumcision for religious reasons.
Well, this morning, we're going to look at circumcision. This is the first time the Bible mentions circumcision. And there are at least a 100 references to circumcision in the Bible. Now, I don't think you'll hear many sermons, dedicated to circumcision, but this will be one. If you are a lady today, or if you feel that you are not a Jew, you're gentile today, and you say, "Ha, pastor, I can switch off today! I'll never need to be circumcised." I say, "Please listen in. There'll be something for you at the end of the day." Alright?
So this is an unusual sermon, but we are going to take a deep plunge into what circumcision is all about. And in order to understand this completely; fully, let's take a look at the context; the position or the circumstance by which God gave this command, or this covenant sign to Abraham.
So, we read very quickly that, "Abraham is now 99 years old [Gen 17:1]..." You will recall that we picked up about Abraham in Genesis, 11 or 12, when he was 75. So it has been about 24 years, since he heard God's call to leave his hometown to enter the Promised Land. God originally promised him a great nation, a great name, a great land, and also a promise of a Savior.
Abraham, understood all that! But it has been 24 years, and Sarah, his wife, had not been pregnant at all. She had been barren all this while. So they came up with a plan if you could recall, of Abraham going in to Hagar, who is Sarah's handmaid. They had relationships, and at 86 years old, that's about 13 years before this, Abraham and Hagar have a son named Ishmael.
But God is saying to Abraham, "Nope! The promise about the Savior, and about a great nation and so on and so forth, will not be via Ishmael, but it will be via another son, you will have with Sarah." So God now says to Abraham, "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." [Gen 17:2] So God is coming to Abraham to re-affirm His covenant, His promise with him.
In fact, God says at this point, "I'm going to change your name. I'm going to make this so concretely clear for you." "You will no more be called Abram, but you'll be called Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations." I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring. I'll be God to you and to your offspring after you." [Gen 17:5-7]
So really God is reaffirming what He has been saying to Abraham, for these many years. And here it is, "As for Sarah, your wife, you should not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name, I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her." [Gen 17:15-16]
It's been 24 years, not even an egg has come out! But now God says, "I will give Sarah for sure, a son." And look at Abraham's response, "Abraham fell on his face, and laughed and said to himself, "Shall a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? Shall Sarah, who is 90 years old bear a child?" [Gen 17:17]
Now, 90 is very old, by today's standards, but in those days they lived till more than our average age today. In fact, Abraham would die at 175. So you could say that this is not to ex ... unbelievable as yet, but it really must be something at the limits of childbearing or even beyond the limits of childbearing, probably close to that.
But this is where it's interesting, people often comment that Abraham laughed, and later on, you would also read about Sarah laughing and God rebuked Sarah for laughing. We will see that maybe next week. But Abraham laughed and God did not rebuke him, so they say, "Oh, God is being inconsistent here!" But I think if you really consider a little bit more, perhaps Abraham's laughter is not that of unbelief, but of awe and joy and excitement. "Hah, is that possible! Wow!" That probably might be the response Abraham had, and the motive why he laughed.
The reasons, well, very quickly. Number one, "Abraham did not only laugh, but he fell on his face." [Gen 17:17] That's a posture of worship! That's a posture of awe! And to be consistent in verse 3, earlier, Abraham also fell on his face. So, this is not a laugh of incredulity, it's not a laugh of mocking God or saying, "God, I can't believe You." It's a laughter of reverence and worship, he fell on his face.
Number two, you would realize that Abraham acted in faith at the end of the day because he proceeded to circumcise himself, and the entire household with him.
And number three, we are taught in Romans, chapter 4, that, "Abraham staggered not in unbelief, but he believed God." So for all those reasons we are saying that, "Abraham's laughter here is not the same kind of laughter you'll read about Sarah." So, he believed God in this circumstance, even though he's a 100 and Sarah is 90 years old.
But let's move on. "No, but Sarah, your wife shall bear your son, and you shall call his name Isaac, [which means laughter. You laughed, and so let's call his name Isaac, laughter]. I'll establish My covenant with him, [not with Ishmael, but with this son, whom Sarah will bear for you, according to My promise.] [Gen 17:19] And you could see this again in this set of verses, so that's a very quick jet tour through this entire chapter.
But, let's come now to the circumcision, this sign that God will give to Abraham. "This is My covenant you shall keep, every male among you shall be circumcised." [Gen 17:10] So circumcision will be a sign given to Abraham and his descendants. And that which is to be applied to all the males, females exempted, like National Service here in Singapore so far.
"This will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you." [Gen 17:10] And this is interesting, "He who is eight days, all among you shall be circumcised." [Gen 17:12] Now, this is actually very medical! Vitamin K is at its highest level in the infant, when he is eight days old. And vitamin K is crucial to blood clotting. Wow, this is amazing! It has something to do with something called prothrombin and the clotting factors and all these things. And so at eight days old, that's the best time! You circumcised earlier, he's going to bleed like crazy, but circumcised 8 days old, better chance that it will clot better.
Alright, so this is fantastic for someone like myself. "All the males will be circumcised at eight days old, and any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised, shall be cut off from his people." [Gen 17:12-14] So God wanted this to be a very uniform universal sign that every male in the Jewish or in Abrahamic descendants would obey.
"Every male among the men of Abraham's house shall be circumcised. He circumcised all of them, and to be clear, Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Ishmael was circumcised and all the men were circumcised." [Gen 17:23-27]
Alright, so that's the story! Sermon is over! Well, of course not, you will stone me. You came all the way here and you go back after hearing just a short message. Nope! So let's try to understand circumcision, this is the first account of circumcision, but we need to understand the why, what's the significance behind this all. So let's look at this in a few ways.
Number one, let's understand a common misconception people have regarding circumcision. People often think that circumcision is a way to be saved; a way to become a child of God, to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Circumcision is seen to be a rite of passage. Now, I don't blame a lot of people for thinking that, because that's how people think with regards to religion in general.
Now, if you want to be a monk ... I grew up watching a lot of Chinese serials and movies, I always noticed that when people want to be a monk, the time that they officially become a monk is when someone shaves the hair, the head. All the hair drops off, somehow they have six dots there and now, he becomes a monk. Ah, this outward ritual is what is necessary for him to become a monk!
If you want to be a Muslim, you've got to officially read or recite a statement of belief. If you want to belong to the Judaistic, Judaistic faith or to Judaism, you've got to go through what they call the 'Bar Mitzvah'. So there are outward rituals that you have to do in order to enter a particular religion. And so it is therefore quite understandable, that people think that circumcision is the way to get saved, at least for the Jews.
But it is a misconception. That's not what God says in the Bible. You see you ... you got to just look at Genesis, and you'll understand. Abel was a believer, was a child of God but he was never circumcised. Enoch was a child of God but he was never circumcised. Noah was a child of God by he was never circumcised. And let me even say this, "Abraham was a child of God, even before he was circumcised." And so, circumcision is not a prerequisite to being saved.
Now, you say, "How do you know?" Well, the Bible tells me in Genesis, chapter 15. This is when Abraham was about 85 or 80 plus years old. "So when he was 80 plus years old, Genesis 15, it comes before Genesis 17, which we're reading. So in Genesis 15:6, we are already told that, "Abraham believed the Lord with regards to the promise of the Savior. He believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness." So Abraham was already declared righteous, when he was yet uncircumcised.
Circumcision is not necessary to get anyone saved. Circumcision cannot make anyone saved in and of itself. Now, in case you think that I am over-reading this, the New Testament, the apostle Paul affirms this point. In fact, he said, "How then was it, [that is how there was righteousness, the position of being right with God ... How was it] counted to Abraham." [Roms 4:10] How was it accorded to Abraham? "Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised." [Rom 4:10]
So this is not my logic or reasoning, it's Paul's reasoning - Abraham was counted righteous before he was circumcised. So verse 11, "He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." So I say, "This is a misconception that anyone needs to be circumcised in order to be saved." You don't need to be circumcised in order to be saved. There is nothing you do in your flesh. There is nothing you do as a ritual with your hands, that could make you saved. You realize that?
There are some religions that say, "Oh, you ... you get some water sprinkled on you and you will be saved!" No, nothing you do with your flesh could ever change what happens on the inside, in your soul! And that's why, even in Christendom, we have some ordinances, we have baptism, we have Lord's Supper, but none of these ordinances could save you from your sins. We do baptism here in this church. For those who are new, we have a secret compartment, it opens up and there's a baptismal pool behind.
But we don't say that, "When you get baptized, you've washed off your sins." No, the water as I always joke here is from PUB! The same kind of water you use for your bathing, the same kind of water you use for flushing your toilet. That water doesn't save! Baptism doesn't save you from your sins.
The Lord's Supper, which we take every once, every first and third Sunday of the month, that bread that you take, the cup that you drink, it does not save you from your sins. And by that same token, can I say also, whatever you believe about infant baptism ... hah, I know I'm going to some sensitive area. I'm not going to say a lot about whatever infant baptism mean for different people. But whatever you believe about infant baptism, it certainly cannot save, as well.
There's nothing you do on the outside, that could save your soul on the inside. Circumcision is just another example. "Alright, Pastor, I get this, we don't get saved, if we get circumcised, then why does God command circumcision for Abraham and his descendants?"
So let's go now to the meaning of circumcision. What's the significance of it all? Well, it's actually found in a text, we are told that, "Circumcision is a sign of the covenant." [Gen 17:11]
Now, the covenant that God made with Abraham is this - that God will give Abraham a land, a great name, a great nation, and a Savior from his descendant. That's the promise! And this circumcision is meant to be a sign, meant to be a physical reminder of God's promise. So the key thing is not the circumcision, the key thing is the covenant, the key thing is the promise.
It's the same as my wedding ring. This is a physical sign that I wear to remind me and to remind all of you, who sees my ring that I am married. What's the key thing? Is it the ring or is it my marriage? Everyone would understand, of course the most important thing is the marriage. But this is a physical reminder.
Circumcision is the physical reminder that God has promised to Abraham and to his descendants, that God will bless them with a land, with a great name, with a great nation and with most of all, the promise of the Savior. So Paul would also affirm that, that, "Abraham received the circumcision as a sign, the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith." [Rom 4:11]
So circumcision does not save, just like the wedding ring does not make me married. But the circumcision reminds God's people that God has given Abraham a promise. Just like my wedding ring would remind me and people around that I am married.
So, if you read on the rest of the Bible, you would also see that God intends circumcision, the act of cutting that foreskin to also symbolize something else. We see for example in Deuteronomy, chapter 30:6, "And the Lord Your God will circumcise your heart." Now that's interesting! There is no skin on the heart. I know that, I've dissected the heart before, I've held the heart before, there is no skin on the heart. But the idea here is, God is saying, "The circumcision of the foreskin, is to kind of remind you of the need to cut off something from the heart ..."
You say, "What do we cut off from the heart." From here, you could probably see that is cutting off the sinful lusts, sinful desires, the sinful habits of life, the sinful idols in our heart, "... so that we may love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength." [Deut 30:6]
And again we see in Jeremiah, chapter 9:25-26, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh. Ah, Egypt, Judah, Edom and so on and so forth, for all these nations are uncircumcised and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart."
So from here we understand, that God intends for the physical act of circumcision, to remind His people to also be circumcised in the heart - have a clean heart. I said, "There are many people, many children in Singapore who go for circumcision for hygiene reasons." Well, be circumcised, be hygienic, be clean also in your heart, that's the intent of this physical sign! Not just that God will give Abraham and his descendants a great name, a great land, a great nation and a great Savior, but that it should also remind Abraham's people to walk before God blamelessly with a pure heart.
So let me summarize it, or maybe let's look at one more set of verses before we summarize it all. For no one is a Jew, a true Jew, a true Jew is someone who knows God and who belongs to God. So, "No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly ..." [Rom 2:28] So the Jews may say, "I'm circumcised, I'm God's people." Not necessarily! "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." [Rom 2:28-29]
So, what is circumcision? You've been following me so far and you say, "Wah, 'liak bo kiew' [cannot understand in Hokkien dialect] ah, so many verses!" Well, just look at these last, not last ah, still have quite a bit, but look at these words here, circumcision then is not a way of salvation because that will be trying to earn salvation, with your own works, doesn't cut it with God.
Circumcision then is not a way to salvation, but it is a physical reminder of God's covenant with Abraham. I think that should be clear, you can find that in Genesis 17, which is the text we're looking at. And it is a physical reminder of clean hearts, for all who believe in the promised Savior.
That's what circumcision means. Circumcision is a physical reminder. So, like my wedding ring, it's a physical reminder. It reminds me that this man is taken, I am married. And it reminds me that I am to remain pure and devoted to this one woman.
Circumcision is a physical reminder that God has promised Abraham and his descendants wonderful promises. And they are to walk in purity and devotion to God. Clear, so far?
Alright, so what then finally, the message. So what, if we say all these things. Ha, I tell you what alright, you all go get ... circumcised. And I tell you, "You have a great privilege because this pastor here is also doctor. I really can advise you on a lot of things you know, both physical and spiritual." Now, is that what I'm going to say to you, "All you males ..." Wah, now, you become a bit jittery, "You mean I'm supposed to get circumcised?"
Well, hang in there. It is a physical sign for Abraham and his descendants to remind them about God's covenant and to remind them about the need for clean hearts. But am I saying to you that, "You should get circumcised, all males?" Now, that's an important question to grapple with actually if you think about it. Because that's the exact question, the early church had to wrestle with.
"Some believers who belong to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them ..." [Acts 15:5] Who are them? The Gentiles, who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Gentiles are non-Jews, alright? So if you are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Malay, whatever. As long as you are not a Jew, as a race, you're considered Gentile.
And in the early church Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus Christ. So there ... there was this controversy, there was this major debate, because there are people who say, "We must circumcise the Gentiles, or otherwise, they do not belong to God. We are all circumcised, we believe the promise of God, but they are not yet circumcised, we must get them circumcised."
I say, "This is a big issue. This is a 'dua zong' [big deal in Hokkien dialect] issue, because all the apostles gathered to kind of debate whether they should be circumcised." Imagine if they said, "Yes," that day. Wah, massive operations across the world! So, what was the result of the debate? What did they talk about? Let's look at verse 6, "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter." This is ... this is major debate.
"After there had been much debate ..."[Acts 15:7] So they couldn't quite resolve it in the beginning, some say, "Yes", some say, "No". They all had good reasons to say what they had to say, but now, "... Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth, the Gentiles should hear the Word of the Gospel and believe." [Acts 15:7]
So Peter is saying, "I was chosen by God to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, and they heard, and many believed." "And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their heart by faith." [Acts 15:8-9]
So Peter is saying, "You know that during the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came out in great power. When I preached and when I ... and when they believed. That was a great day of outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but I want to tell you that, when I was at Cornelius's house in Acts, chapters, 10 and 11, I preached to them and the Holy Spirit and His power was manifested the same way. So God did not make a difference, even though the Jews were circumcised, but the Gentiles were not circumcised."
And in both cases, I'm telling you, "God cleansed our hearts, their hearts by faith, not by circumcision, God accepted them even though they weren't yet uncircumcised." "Now therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke, a burden on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believed that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus just as they will." [Acts 15:10-11]
So Peter, and then later James, stood up and it pretty much sealed the deal. That the Gentiles need not be circumcised in order to be accepted by God in the kingdom. Hah, 'heng' [fortunate in Hokkien dialect] ah! Don't you think? If not I have to schedule an operation for myself and for all of you! Wah, that will be ... that will be massive, man!
But hey, God, I think clearly states in the Word that today as a believer, it is a must that you believe in Jesus, but it is not a must that you should be circumcised. In fact, we have other places that say so, "But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek." [Gal 2:3] Titus was a pastor, but he doesn't need to be circumcised. He was a Greek. It's fine! It's okay!
We read again in Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything." So, we must understand, like this ring, this is not what makes me married. Right? It is my vow before God and man, it is my marriage register, that really is the important part. This is just a sign.
So, if you're ... if I don't wear a ring, maybe I'm doing surgery last time, I don't wear a ring when I'm doing surgery, of course. During surgery, I am still married hoh, even though I took it off! So, "Neither circumcision or uncircumcision counts for anything but only faith working through love." [Gal 5:6]
Now again, "Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised." [1 Cor 7:18] In other words, this call is the call to believe in Jesus, is the call to salvation. Was anyone at the time of his call, was anyone saved when he was already circumcised? "Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision." [1 Cor 7:18] It's fine, if you believe Jesus when you were circumcised already! It's fine! You don't have to undo your circumcision. I do not know how that can be done but you don't have to undo your circumcision
But on the same note, "Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised. Well, let him not seek circumcision." [1 Cor 7:18] It's cool, all men, I think you should say, "Amen," men. I think you very gladly will say, "Amen," together with me. So, for neither again the same phrase, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." [1 For 7:19]
"Phew! Wah, Pastor, thank you for this comforting segment of verses!" But let me just end with this, I did say early on, that though this message is a deep plunge into circumcision, and you may think this is only for males. Really? I think this is for females, and for males and for all alike.
Why? And even though you do not need to go to SGH or NUH to ask for circumcision today, in a sense, you do have something you need to have or to be done to you. And that is, I believe all of us do need a circum ..., "Ah, but Jason, you're so confusing! You just said, "I don't need circumcision.” Now you say, “I need circumcision, what are you talking about?"' Well, I hope you get it by now, that although we all do not need a physical circumcision, we all need a spiritual circumcision.
What's the spiritual circumcision? "Circumcised therefore this foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn." [Deut 10:16] In other words, be willing to cut off the loves for the things of this world, be willing to cut off the lust and excesses and the sins of life. Do not be stubborn.
The Bible also says, "The LORD Your God will circumcise your heart." [Deut 30:6] So, the Bible is clear that, I think whilst circumcision, physically is applicable only to the males, there is something universal that God is calling all men and women to have, and that is the circumcision of the heart.
And again, we see in Jeremiah 9:25-26, that, "The house of Israel must be circumcised in heart." So I'm saying to you that, "You need to be cleansed in your heart." That's what the Bible says! You say, "How? How can I have a clean heart? I can clean hands, I can clean mouth, but how to clean the heart? "How to circumcise? I know how to get a circumcision in the hospital, I know the doctors know how to do it but how can I clean my heart?" "You need to have a clean heart," the Bible says. But how?
Well, it is not easy, because the cleaning of the heart is like getting a new creation. That's how difficult it is! "Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision but a new creation." [Gal 6:15] I hope you get the inference there that God is saying, "The circumcision of the flesh, not important. The circumcision of the heart, all important. And the circumcision of the heart is like being made a new creation."
No wonder you're asking, "How?" Because it's as difficult as being totally changed. If I may say, "Being born again, that's how hard it is! And that's why none of us can do it. None of us can do it! This can only be done by God Himself." "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." [Col 2:11]
Well, Paul is saying that, "This cleansing of the heart, the circumcision of the heart, this new creation cannot be done by your hands, it can only be done by Christ. There is only one Spiritual Surgeon, who can be competent in this job, and He is Jesus Christ." So I need to be circumcised, but I can't do it, your pastor can't do it, no one in this world can do it, except for Jesus Christ.
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision and uncircumcision count for anything, but only faith working through love." [Gal 5:6] So, this is something that we need to believe. So what is this all about? Wow, this gets complicated! But if I were to put all the pieces together, the circumcision of the heart is like being a new creation. The circumcision of the heart is made without hands, without human hands, not something a surgeon can do. The circumcision of the heart is the putting off the works of the flesh, the circumcision of the heart is by Christ. The circumcision of the heart is by faith.
"Alright, Jason, I still don't quite get what you're trying to say. I still don't quite get what the Bible is saying about the circumcision of the heart." Well, I think it will all make sense when we come to this last story, I'm going to convey. This is a story about a man who has been circumcised, since he was day 8, as an infant. He was raised in a culture that values the Bible, the Word of God. He was raised to try to obey every commandment in the Bible. But of course, he could never do so fully, he could only do so superficially. But from the eyes of men, he has done everything there needs to be done. Externally, he looks like a good dude, but internally, of course, there are many sins.
Well, this man because he obeyed the law so well, he studied the law so well, he became so respected, that he was like a leader amongst the nation of Israel - respected man, religious man. He was also a rich and successful man, but deep in his heart, he was not sure if God will accept him. So one night, he decided to look for the most famous man, who was walking on the face of the earth then. He went to look for Jesus.
He came to Jesus at night because he was fearful people would find out that this ruler, this religious leader is looking for the carpenter's son to ask Him questions. He was rather 'paiseh' [Hokkien dialect] and ashamed, but he had to come because he was tormented with this question - what more can I do in order to be saved?
So Nicodemus, that's his name, he came to Jesus by night, to ask of the way to salvation and light. Even before he could ask his question, Jesus knew it, and answered Nicodemus this, "Nicodemus, truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, unless, [if I may say you are a new creation,] he cannot see the kingdom of God." [John 3:3]
Now, the phrase 'born again', in the Greek is equally to be understood, or can be translated as 'born from above'. Unless a man is born from above, unless a man is made a new creation by God above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. "But ... but ... but ... but ... but I know the Law." "Unless you're born again you cannot see the kingdom of God." "But ... but ... but ... but I was circumcised." "Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. You need to have that new birth from above."
And then Jesus went on to say, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." [John 3:5] What does this mean? Many people have assumed that this refers to baptism. "Oh, he needs to go through baptism, the Christian baptism, get into the water there to get saved!” No! No! No! No! No! That's not what Jesus meant!
I think what Jesus meant in this phrase is an allusion or to a reference to what God has promised in the Old Testament, in passages like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, where God promised to sprinkle water on their hearts, and to cleanse them. To us, very 'chim' [profound in Hokkien dialect], how to know, but to Nicodemus, no problem, he's a scholar of the Bible.
So I think Jesus is referring to a passage, such as Ezekiel 36:25-27, there will come a day, God promise, where, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." This is the water. "And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and be careful to obey My rules."
So, "Unless one is born again from above, with the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." [John 3:5] So, these are parallel thoughts that you need to grasp.
In other words, the circumcision of the heart, the cleansing of the heart, is something that God alone must do. "Jason, you still have not told us what I need to do?" Well, Jesus when He explained these mechanics to Nicodemus, to let him know that this is not something that men can do because he must be born of the Spirit and the Spirit, like the wind blows where He sovereignly chooses. But at the same time, Jesus also said to him, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." [John 3:14-15]
Well, this is a very interesting story, Jesus is talking about. Now, Jesus does not refrain from alluding to the Old Testament stories for someone like Nicodemus, because he is well-versed in Old Testament, for sure. So this is a story that is familiar to Nicodemus, that tells of how Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness, they began to be … not began, but they had always been complaining.
They complain and complain and complain and complain and now God teaches them a lesson by sending them poisonous snakes. That when they were bitten, it will be so painful and that they will die. So Moses was told by God, to now fashion a bronze serpent, to hoist up this bronze serpent, so that anyone in Israel who are willing to humble themselves, who are willing to turn and look to this bronze serpent, they will be spared, and they will be saved.
So Jesus says, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up." [John 3:14-15] Jesus is saying, "The way to be saved has been the same - turn and look." In other words, if you want to be saved from your sins, if you want to have your hearts cleansed, if you want to be born again - turn and look. Look to Jesus, who will go to the cross, who has gone to the cross to die for your sins. Believe! What does believing in Jesus means? It means to turn and to look. And if you believe in Him, you will have eternal life.
And so we have this famous verse, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that He may be lifted up on the cross, suffering Savior, that whoever believes, looks to Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life." [John 3:16] So my friends, if you want to have a clean heart, if you want to have salvation, understand this - there's only One who can cleanse you and give you a new heart, God alone! But you need to check-in to the hospital, you need to check-in to the spiritual hospital. How? By faith when you turn and look to Jesus Christ.
My friends, this is the central message of the Bible, isn't it? The Bible is not telling men - cut this, go there, do this, achieve that. No! The Bible is saying, "Jesus alone must save you from your sins, and all you need to do is to turn and look to Jesus alone. and He will circumcise your heart, cleanse your heart, give you a new heart. And He will put His Spirit within you, that you may walk in obedience to Him, not to save yourself from sins, but because you truly love Him and you delight in Him." Everyone needs to be circumcised, I hope you will be today.
Let's bow for word of prayer together.
Father, we thank You for Your Word, although it's a rather technical passage; message. I pray that You will help this be super practical and useful for all who are gathered here today. I pray today that Your people, who have heard Your voice, would humble themselves, repent of their sins, repent of their idols and look to Jesus, believe in Him alone to be saved. O God, grant circumcision of heart to many people!
At the same time, I pray that as we look at this passage, Your Church will be reminded to walk in cleanliness, in purity and integrity before You. So once again, thank You for this time, save souls, change lives, glorify Yourself. We ask this in Jesus' Name. Amen.
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