Back in the 1990s, Reader’s Digest told the story of a soldier who was serving as a guard through the night. Early in the morning, he reported to his commanding officer who demanded, “Did you sleep well while on duty?” “What made you think that I fell asleep?” asked the surprised soldier. “Look in the mirror,” replied the officer. As the guard stood before the mirror he saw on his forehead the imprint of the Mercedes Benz logo from the steering wheel of his truck. The trademark of Mercedes Benz was embedded in his forehead (in other words - he'd been asleep).
You know, companies spend 1000s upon 1000s of dollars on trademarks that can be recognized and associated with their product. (I had a screenshot of numerous logos from different companies shown on the screen). Here are just a few of the ones you would probably recognize. And you know a trademark is successful if everybody KNOWS who you are when they see it!
In our text today… God tells Abraham about a trademark that He’s about to institute: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be THE SIGN of the covenant between me and you.” Genesis 17:10-11
Circumcision was the SIGN of the covenant. It was TRADEMARK that would identify Abraham’s descendants as the people of God. And God was so invested in this trademark that He declared: “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 17:14
In fact, God said that when Israel celebrated “the LORD’s Passover… NO UNCIRCUMCISED MALE may eat of it.” Exodus 12:48
So essentially, Circumcision was the TRADEMARK that declared that the people of Israel belonged to God.
Now, as with any Biblical doctrine, there are people out there who’ll ridicule it. In the short internet search I did for this sermon, I read several people who objected that this practice was barbaric and cruel… and even sexist. They asked: “Why aren’t girls circumcised???” (Long pause) Seriously? Like that would be an honor that everyone would line up to have done to their bodies? (https://www.massbible.org/exploring-the-bible/ask-a-prof/answers/why-circumcision)
As with all such objections – the critics hadn’t done their research. Just for the record, Islam requires women to be circumcised and there is NO excuse for it being done to girls. It’s a practice that is nothing less than cruel mutilation without any known valuable purpose or benefit to the girls.
ILLUS: But, by contrast, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the health benefits of circumcision for newborn males outweigh the risks. Among those benefits: A decreased risk of urinary tract infections; a reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases in men; and protection against cancer of the male “part” and a reduced risk of cervical cancer with women with whom they have relations. (https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/circumcision)
Now, that being said, that’s NOT why God instituted circumcision. God didn’t say to Abraham “Hey, I’ve got a great health tip for you!” What He said was this “will be THE SIGN of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:11) And it remained a sign of the covenant all the way up thru the days of John the Baptist (Luke 1:59); Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:5); and even Jesus (Luke 2:21). Each of them was circumcised on the eighth day after their birth because they were Jewish born men covered under the Old Covenant.
Now, circumcision was purely an Old Covenant “trademark.” God made the change and Acts 10, 11 and 15 made it clear that God made it clear that circumcision was not going to continue to be the sign of the NEW Covenant. God declared that circumcision was NOT going to be required of Christians. We don’t have to do it anymore.
But one of the things I wrestled with (as I prepared the sermon) was this: “Why did God require circumcision as the mark in the old covenant to begin with?
One resource I read tried to explain it this way: “God gave Abraham and his descendants the mark of circumcision as a physical reminder that they were CUT OUT from the world, that is, set apart to serve the one, true Lord.” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/circumcision-heart/)
I liked that! It kinda makes sense. Just as a piece of flesh was cut away from men of Israel, so also (if they loved God) they were to be cut out from the world to serve God. I like that, and there might even be some truth to it. But there’s one small problem with it… it’s not the explanation God gave of circumcision’s purpose.
What the Bible DOES say about circumcision is a little different. As early as the book of Deuteronomy God says “Circumcise your hearts...” Deuteronomy 10:16
Jeremiah expands on that by noting “Behold, the days are coming… when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— … all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah 9:25-26b
Circumcision of the heart! That theme (a circumcised heart) is repeated several times in Scripture because apparently, God intended the physical circumcision of the Old Covenant to point to our need to have our hearts circumcised. Now, what does that mean? What does it mean to have our hearts circumcised?
One of the images God uses in scripture is that of a calloused heart. In Matthew 13:15 Jesus rebuked some of His audience by saying “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them”
In Ephesians, Paul describes the condition of people outside of Christ “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:18-19
Calloused Hearts? Have you ever had a callous? A callous is “dead skin.” I’ve played guitars and banjos from the age of 16. When I first started playing, it really hurt – the strings cut into my fingers and I couldn’t stand to play for more than a few minutes at a time. But as time went by, callouses began to develop on the pads of my fingers and eventually I could play for long periods of time, because the callouses (being dead skin) deadened the pain from the strings.
Callouses are dead skin that keep us from feeling pain, what God was telling His people was this: When your heart becomes deadened to the pain of sin you’ve got a problem! Your hearts have become calloused.
Now… how would these callouses of dead skin develop on our hearts?
ILLUS: I once read about something called “cognitive dissonance.” Behavioral Scientists tell us that this “cognitive dissonance is created when “what you BELIEVE and what you DO don’t agree.” If you do something that is contrary to what you believe there is a dissonance (lack of harmony) in your soul. The result of that condition is discomfort, stress and even fear.
ILLUS: For example: how many of you believe that you should stop at stop signs? Of course you do! Now, how many of you have you not ALWAYS stopped at stop signs? Do you realize there are people who convince themselves that stopping at a stop sign is optional for them? They believe they have an excuse for not stopping. Even I did that (at least once)! A couple weeks ago, I pulled up to an intersection where I needed to turn right onto a 4 laner… and there was a stop sign there. But what traffic there was was wayyy down the road, so I coasted through the stop sign, turned right onto the other road, and got up to speed. I was making good time. But then… there were these pretty blue and red lights that flashed in my rear-view mirror.
Now, was I in the wrong??? Of course. And do you think I knew I was in the wrong? Yes – the policeman didn’t have to tell me – I knew I was in the wrong. So, I BELIEVED that it was wrong for me to not stop at the stop sign, but I DID it anyway. And when what I believed and what I did didn’t agree - I experienced “cognitive dissonance.” Discomfort, stress… and fear.
Now, I could have offered excuses to the officer (just a hint – that’s not a good idea). I could have told him I was justified because there wasn’t any traffic close at hand. I could have explained that I didn’t think the stop sign applied to me. Or I could have told him I’d seen plenty of policemen blow through stop signs so why shouldn’t I? But none of that would have done me any good. I could have tried justifying my behavior, but I’d still have gotten a ticket.
And that’s what a lot of people do when they find themselves caught up in sin. They justify themselves. They have all kinds of excuses. They’ll compare their behavior to that of others and say they don’t do as badly as those other folk. Or they’ll point to Christians they say have done worse things than they have. They have all kind of excuses to justify what they’ve done. In fact, many people are so good at justifying themselves that they begin to believe that their behavior really is OK.
That’s what the Bible means by a CALLOUSED heart, a HARD heart, an UNCIRCUMCISED heart. It’s a heart that has grown used to justifying itself so that we don’t feel the pain of our sins.
Now… what would have happened if I’d tried to JUSTIFY myself to policeman? What would that policeman have done? He’d have given me a big ticket (as it was, I got off with a warning). But if I’d attempted to justify or give excuses for what I’d done, I’d have faced punishment. And the same type of thing will happen at the day of judgment. People whose hearts have been calloused will face judgment!!! If they try justifying their sins before God… it’ll be a bad idea.
But I don’t want to do that - I don’t want to face judgment. Therefore I don’t want to try justify my bad behavior. I want to have my heart circumcised and cut away all that dead sin so that I’ll feel the pain of my sin and I’ll want to repent.
ILLUS: Now, here’s the odd thing - I can’t do this kind heart surgery on my own. Even the best heart surgeons in America can’t do that kind of surgery. Max Lucado told of the time he underwent a heart procedure where they were going to cauterize some bad cells inside the heart. He asked the surgeon, "You're burning the interior of my heart, right?" "Correct," the surgeon replied. "You intend to kill the misbehaving cells, yes?" "That's my plan." “Well, as long as you're in there,” Lucado continued “could you take your little blowtorch to some of my greed, selfishness, superiority, and guilt?" They surgeon smiled, "Sorry, that's out of my pay grade!” (Max Lucado, Daily Heartlight for 05/11/2017)
So somebody else has to do the surgery to remove my dead skin from heart. Who could possibly perform a heart surgery where my heart could be circumcised? That’s right – God. That’s what Deuteronomy 30:6 says: “And THE LORD YOUR GOD will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
David said much the same thing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12
David asked God to create a new heart inside of him because he knew he couldn’t have done that on his own… and neither can we.
So (you might ask) WHEN does God do that for us? When does God circumcise our hearts? The answer is found in Colossians 2:11-12 which says: “In (Christ) also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him IN BAPTISM, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
You see… it’s in baptism that God NOT ONLY removes the callouses of sin from our lives, but He places HIS trademark on our lives at baptism and then He works powerfully in our lives thru His Holy Spirit to change and alter my thinking and behavior.
They say that companies spend 1000s upon 1000s of dollars on their trademarks. But the Bible tells us God spent wayyy more than that on our trademark. God paid for His mark on us by the death/burial/resurrection of Christ. That’s why Romans 6 tells us that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:3-5
All God asks is that we BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, and that we acknowledge that we need to REPENT (accept the fact that we have had a hard heart covered with dead skin) and that we CONFESS Jesus as our Lord and Savior (total control). And finally, that we allow ourselves to be BAPTIZED for the forgiveness of sins. At that point God “circumcises our hearts” and removes the dead sins of our past.
One last thing: When God asked Abraham to accept the trademark of God… when did Abraham get circumcised? That very day. In the same way II Corinthians 6:2 says “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Now is the day to make your decision for Christ.