Summary: For us as Gentile believers we don’t need to be physically circumcised, but we do need to have circumcised hearts, and the outward sign of this is Baptism. What does it mean to have a circumcised heart?
As we continue with our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians we today come face to face with baptism and with the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The water of Baptism is where we are mysteriously ‘buried with [Christ] …and raised with [Christ] through [our] faith in the power of God who raised [Jesus] from the dead’ (2:12). Baptism is an outward sign of what God has done for us on the inside.
I remember in Religious Studies classes at school I would wince at the thought or the mention of circumcision – the word would slice through my mind like a knife. For Jewish males today, for Jesus, and for Jewish males ever since the time of Abraham about 4000 years ago circumcision is an outward sign of belonging to God. But what’s the use of an outward sign if nothing is happening inside? If I buy a tin of value dog food, take off the label and cunningly replace it with one saying “Baxter’s spicy parsnip soup” (my favourite) then the label is pointless.
Circumcision, along with the later addition of the 10 Commandments was designed to be a badge - a badge marking out a people who were to be dedicated to God – and some were, and today some are; but there’s no point in a label if it doesn’t describe what’s on the inside. No wonder the Old Testament prophets spoke about Uncircumcised lips (Exodus 6:12), Uncircumcised hearts (Leviticus 26:41) and Uncircumcised ears (Jeremiah 6:10). In other words, people who had an external mark on their body declaring their commitment to God, but people whose lips were not committed to God – gossip, foul language and deceitful words; people whose hearts were not committed, and people whose ears were not committed because their ears were closed to Him.
For us as Gentile Christians – non Jews – circumcision of the body is irrelevant; but circumcision of the heart is completely relevant; and just to clarify, circumcision of the heart is metaphorical not literal.
Bodily surgery is not involved! And yet at the same time it is a case of ‘open heart’ surgery! Circumcision of the heart involves having an open heart to God, an open heart to our neighbours, and an open heart to the will of God. It is ‘the circumcision done by Christ’ (2:11); and for us there is an external sign. It is not done with a knife, but it is done with water, and that sign is Baptism. If you love Jesus and you desire to have an open heart to him have you been baptised?
In baptism we are immersed or dipped into water to represent being ‘buried with [Jesus]’, and we are ‘raised with [him] through [our] faith in the power of God’ (2:12).
Ivan the Great was Tsar of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. He brought together the warring tribes into one vast empire. As a fighting man he was courageous. As a general he was brilliant. He drove out the Tartars, establishing peace across the nation.
However, Ivan was so busy waging his campaigns that he did not have a family. His friends and advisers were quite concerned. They reminded him there was no heir to the throne, and should anything happen to him the union would shatter into chaos. "You must take a wife who can bear you a son." The busy soldier statesman said he did not have the time to search for a bride, but if they would find a suitable one, he would marry her. The counsellors and advisers searched the capitals of Europe to find an appropriate wife for the Tsar. And find her, they did - the beautiful dark eyed daughter of the King of Greece. She was young, brilliant, and charming and the Tsar agreed to the marriage without having met her. The King of Greece was delighted, but there had to be one condition, "He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church." Ivan’s response: "I will do it!" So, a priest was dispatched to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan was a quick student, learning the catechism quickly.
The tsar made his way to Athens accompanied by 500 of his personal palace guard. He was to be baptized into the Orthodox Church by full immersion, as was the custom of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized also. The Patriarch of the Church assigned 500 priests to give the soldiers a one-on-one baptism crash course. The soldiers, all 500 of them, were to be immersed in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over Greece. What a sight that must have been, 500 priests and 500 soldiers, a thousand people, walking into the blue Mediterranean. The priests dressed in black robes and tall black hats. The soldiers wore their battle uniforms with of all their regalia—ribbons of valour, medals of courage and their weapons of battle. Suddenly, there was a problem. The Church prohibited professional soldiers from being members; so they would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed. They could not be killers and church members.