Where’s Jesus – The Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17)

Most of us are familiar with legal contracts.  In a legal contract, each party promises to do certain things in return for concessions from the other party.  If anyone breaks the contract, it is considered null and void.  However, a covenant is different.  In a covenant the parties make promises, but failure on the part of one participant does not negate the responsibilities of the other.  Such is the world we find ourselves in today. Genesis 17 is the great covenant of circumcision that God makes with Abram. There are a number of great things in this exchange that point to Christ and his eternal work in us.  First, let us notice that God is the one who begins all interaction with Abram.  He says,

“I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:2)

God always demands blamelessness and perfection.  He is holy and glorious and all those who walk in his presence must be the same.  But how is a finite person, sinful even from birth, going to walk before God?  On our own power, we cannot.  We need to be cleansed and clothed and enabled to walk before God and become blameless.  And that is exactly what Jesus does for us.  He cleanses us from sin and clothes us in righteousness so that we can walk before God and stand in his glorious presence.

But God also says the covenant will be confirmed by God himself.  Again this is a sign that human ingenuity and initiative doesn’t matter, first and foremost the promise is the promise of God and it is his intent on keeping that promise.  By sending Jesus Christ, his only Son, God confirmed his promise to make a great nation, a holy nation.  For the Scripture tells us,

“Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:7–9 NIV)

But there are still more ways that Christ is testified to in this passage.  Both Abram and Sarai receive new names. Abram becomes Abraham; Sarai becomes Sarah.  So too those who are recipients of the Covenant gain a new name; they become Christians, brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of God (Acts 11:26, John 15:13-15, Galatians 3:26ff).  These new names confer new standing and relationship, they bring us into partnership with God ad make us full participants in the Father’s wonderful work of exalting the Son and redeeming the world.  We get the name of Jesus ascribed to us.

Furthermore, where circumcision was a sign of God’s intention to bless the people, the Holy Spirit becomes the fulfillment of that sign as we are circumcised in heart and mind and begin to live a life of testimony to the grace of God in Christ.  But this Spiritual baptism only occurs because Christ ascended and sent his Spirit back to us, as he said,

“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7 NIV)

And so as Abraham did, we too are called to fulfill our part of the covenant, to accept the promises of God and live into them, but even when we fail, God continues to be bound by his oath, an oath that said, “It is finished” as Jesus hung upon the Cross and died.  And so when we fail in our covenant obligations, which we do frequently, we return to the promises of God and trust in the gift of Christ that makes us blameless and allows us to walk before the King Eternal.  Truly Jesus is great.

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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