Summary: God must change our hearts, we cannot.
“Circumcision of the Heart”
By: Rev. Ken Sauer, Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church, Newport News, VA
This morning’s Old Testament Lesson from the prophet Jeremiah is one of the most significant passages in all the prophetic books and possibly in all of the Old Testament.
For God, through the prophet, is making a promise which has come to pass.
“The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When I will make a new covenant…It will not be like the old covenant…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
What is a covenant?
A covenant is not a contract.
A contract is an agreement that is worked out between two parties.
A covenant, on the other hand, means a binding pact between God and God’s people.
A covenant is something that God initiates, and stipulates all the provisions.
We people have the freedom to choose whether or not we will accept or reject it, but we don’t have the choice of offering alternative plans or conditions.
Blessing comes to us as we trust and are obedient to God’s covenant.
In Jeremiah, God is saying that He will initiate a new covenant.
He will put His law in the minds and write
His law in the hearts of those who choose to allow Him to do so…
…and to those people who allow God to do this: God will be their God, and they will be God’s people.
In Genesis Chapter 17 God initiated the first covenant between Himself and Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants.
And the sign of the covenant was this: “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and you,” the Lord tells Abraham in Genesis Chapter 17.
Circumcision was an outward sign that signified who God’s people were and who were not God’s people.
And although the descendants of Abraham were able to keep the sign of the covenant between them and God…they were unable to keep the written covenant…
…which is the Law.
Over and over again they failed to be obedient to God.
Over and over again they failed to trust God.
Over and over again they broke the commandments of God.
I remember, as a kid that I would get really mad at my parents…and yet I loved them so.
I would throw a fit over nothing, and maybe even wish they would die.
Then, after I cooled off, I would feel so bad.
And I would vow that I would never do that again.
But, whether it was within the next couple minutes, later that evening, the next day or the next week…sure enough…I would find myself doing the same exact thing all over again.
I couldn’t control myself.
I needed some other power.
I needed God to change my heart.
I needed to be able to tap into the Holy Spirit.
I suppose that this is something similar to what the Israelites found themselves dealing with as they tried and tried and failed and failed to follow the law of God.
Although they had the outward sign of circumcision to show that they were God’s chosen people, inwardly they were unable to keep the Law of God.
Therefore, there was the need…
…if God was going to save us sinful people…
…there was an absolute need for a new covenant.
And this new covenant would not rely on following a set of rules and regulations which were written on stone tablets.
This new covenant would not require that those who choose to follow it must make a sign in their flesh, such as circumcision, in order to show other people that they are set apart.
This new covenant would begin within a person and move outward, instead of coming from the outside and staying on the outside.
This new covenant would be available to all people…not just to the Jewish people…
…This new covenant would make it possible for people to know God in a very real and personal way…
…And this new covenant would enable people to be forgiven—once and for all!
This new covenant would involve a circumcision of the heart.
Because the sign of this new covenant would be a changed heart.
As Paul writes in Romans Chapter 2: “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”
And this circumcision of the heart is a process…this changing of the heart is an on-going, life-long process which begins when we take the first steps in trusting Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of our hearts, minds—our very lives.
I remember that as a kid in high school…and even younger than that…I can remember knowing that I was going to one day be a minister as early as perhaps 5,6,7 years old.