Articles

The Circumcision of Christ (Col 2)

Colossians 2

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Alive in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 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, 12 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. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Let No One Disqualify You

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

 

This passage falls within the larger letter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Paul is battling false teaching in the Colossian Church.

Some were teaching a mixed bag of philosophy and Jewish regulations to the Church.

First, these teachers seemed to be indicating that belief in Christ was good as far as it goes but that true wisdom was found through their higher teaching.

They taught that philosophy and a sort of hidden knowledge could take Christians to a higher plane of understanding.

They claimed to understand hidden secrets and to have received visions beyond what Christ Himself could offer.

Paul confronts this in verse 3 by noting that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hidden in Christ.

The second aspect of this false teaching was an attaching of special significance to physical circumcision and the observance of food regulations and holy days.

Paul notes in verse 17 that all of these things are fulfilled in Christ.

They were intended to point to His work and were shadows of things to come.

The false teachers had remained fixed on the signs and shadows and failed to understand their fulfillment in Christ.

The third aspect of this false teaching was a form of angel worship where lower spirits were seen as the means to help people to God.

Paul again noted how this detracted from Christ and demonstrates that Christ is all-sufficient for men’s salvation.

Finally, the false teachers wanted the Church to practice a form of asceticism.

Asceticism is a form of spiritual exercise where you deny your physical body and practice forms of extreme discipline as a means to avoid sin.

This is a common method for many pagan religions, which see the problem of men as physical and, if one can simply deny the flesh, then holiness is achieved.

In summary, Paul is battling a very common form of human religion.

This religion has mixed with Christianity over the centuries and many of us are tempted to blend these ideas with Christianity not realizing that we deny Christ in the process.

What it boils down to is a focus on the interior self as the means to achieve spiritual greatness and holiness.

Men want answers to their deepest problems and they go looking within.

Christ forces us outside of ourselves to see that the answer to our greatest problem is found in Him.

We look for insights to reality by studying the disciplines of philosophy.

By focusing our minds on the external world we convince ourselves that we can comprehend reality apart from the Creator.

We believe we can find the hidden truths of the nature of being, the nature of knowledge, and how we ought to live according to how our minds and experiences organize the world.

We convince ourselves that the world is a set of brute facts that we can interpret according to the strength of our minds and we construct our reality on our terms.

If there is a God, we convince ourselves that our minds alone can organize the data around us to decide for ourselves who or what that god or higher power is.

We are also tempted to flock to gurus who have unlocked mysteries by their own effort at peering into spiritual truth.

The bookshelves and airways are filled with teachers who claim hidden knowledge.

Most teach principles, which are detached from human history and our common reality, and we convince ourselves that their enigmatic teaching is profound.

We climb high mountains to temples where monks have spent years in private meditation to learn that truth is the sound of one hand clapping.

We become excited about new teachings concerning spirits or elements of the world, which are pulling the strings beyond our physical senses.

We desire to tap into spiritual reality to unlock the principles that these powers or spirits operate by.

If we know how they operate then we have the power to manipulate those principles and powers to achieve happiness, wealth, and well-being.

We battle our anger and our pride and our selfishness.

We know we should be better and so we reckon that the problem is with our physical bodies.

We practice forms of self-denial figuring that if we can beat our body into submission then our sins will be put to death.

We perform rituals to please whatever power we need in order to quiet our consciences with the belief that our obedience and discipline of the body will earn the reward of a higher state of being.

It is all focused on self.

It is all a matter of self-help.

All by self-effort.

All by looking within.

All by achievement.

All by placing the powers of this world under our control.

But the Scriptures reveal a completely different picture.

We are creatures.

We were not intended to live by self-dependence.

God is the Creator and He created us in His image.

He created us to be dependent upon Him for life and knowledge.

The irony of human philosophy is that it has rightly concluded that, when man is the measure of all things, skepticism is the end result.

This is because to truly know the essence of anything, one must know everything.

Modern man knows he cannot know everything but he refuses to admit he is created.

He concludes that skepticism is the humble thing in a universe where he has already removed God from His throne.

G.K. Chesterson wrote the following in the middle of the last century:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition.  Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be.
A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself.
The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason. . . .
The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . .
There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it’s practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . .
The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder.  But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . .
We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

Beloved, the reality is that God knows everything and man can know Truth only when he acknowledges he is a creature created in the image of God.

Our problem is not that we lost the tools to understand what God has created but that we are fallen.

We are born in sin.

Our bodies and our minds were created good but the Fall of man resulted in a hostility toward God so that we shut our eyes to His glory and majesty in the things that He created to reveal to us what reality is.

The light shines around us and we clamp our eyes shut to its reality and claim that there is no light from God and we must depend upon ourselves.

Man lives under the curse of God’s judgment and the Scriptures declare that men know who God is by the things created all around us but we refuse to honor God for our gifts.

Great is the glory of man.

Great is that glory because it reflects the fact that we are created in God’s image.

The problem is that we don’t give thanks to God for the many gifts that our intellect and talents produce but we worship ourselves for them.

We stand on our Creator’s lap that we might be in a position to slap Him in the face.

But, beloved, the glory of the Gospel is not that God has retreated from human history.

Rather, the Scriptures are of this world.

The Scriptures are set in human history because that’s what we have access to as creatures.

God, in Genesis 12, found a man worshipping the moon and called Abram out of his land to serve Him.

He granted an inheritance that included the blessing of the whole world by his seed, his descendant.

While men continued in the blindness of their rebellion, God was not content to leave them in judgment.

The Scriptures are full of human history, with all the failings of men, and God purposing to save men in spite of themselves.

From Abraham came a grandson who stole his inheritance from his brother and had sons by four wives.

But God was faithful.

One of his sons gave birth to a son born by his daughter-in-law who disguised herself as a prostitute.

But God was faithful.

He rescued a nation out of slavery and they set up golden calves to worship the gods who had delivered them.

But God was faithful.

The greatest king in Israel’s history, who wrote many of our Psalms, slept with one of his soldier’s wives and arranged to have her husband killed in battle.

But God was faithful .

God was faithful to His Promise.

I will save you.  I will raise up a Servant Who will obey because you cannot.

It was in shadows and signs.

It was bloody and messy.

Animals died to make the people long for deliverance from their sins.

As they looked within they only saw they could not solve their deepest problem.

In the midst of human misery, God did not remain aloof from concern.

He loved the world.

Man could not solve his problem.

And so God became flesh and dwelt among us.

He did not come to condemn the world for the world was already condemned.

The man, Jesus, walked up to John the Baptist one day and was baptized.

He was baptized to identify Himself with those who would believe in Him.

He walked into the dessert and withstood temptation because we could not do it.

He obeyed because men were disobedient.

He was despised and rejected of men.

Very God of very God had veiled the holiness that would consume men in their sins so that He could walk among us and suffer the indignity we deserve.

While the world looked for a ruler to make it strong, Christ was condemned as a criminal by the world’s authority.

While the religious authorities claimed to speak for God, those same self-help gurus cried out “Crucify!”, that God Himself should be put to death for blasphemy.

And so Christ was placed on a Cross.

As He hung between heaven and earth He had one hand on humanity and another hand on divinity.

Every sin and evil intent.

Every denial of God’s glory and His holiness.

Every sin of rebellion.

All condemnation for sin was placed upon Christ by the Father.

And the Son became a Curse for us.

Christ was judged for the sins of men.

The power of sin, which enslaved men, was judged on the Cross.

The full penalty.

The full wrath.

The full fury of God’s judgment for sin was meted out on Christ.

As the Father turned His face from the Son who had become wretched in His sight, the Son of God cried out:  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!

And as death and the power of sin was fully judged, Christ looked up to heaven and proclaimed:  “It is finished.”

God’s wrath satisfied.

The rebellion of man paid for.

All who look upon Christ have their deepest problem satisfied.

He who created the earth had come down into human history and paid the price for sin.

He was placed in a tomb and on the third day He rose again.

He rose because death could not hold Him.

He rose with an indestructible life and all who place their trust in Him live in Him.

Beloved, this is the Gospel.

We could not pay the penalty.

We could not ascend.

So Christ descended and, by our trust in Him, we are united to His death and resurrection and are identified with Him as clean.

We are identified with Him as righteous.

We are adopted into God’s family as His own.

God loved us so much that He conquered every barrier in order to make us His children.

All of these realities are our possession if we lay aside all of our pretenses and see our utter need and simply cling to Christ’s feet.

The greatest need we have is met:  we are saved from the power of sin and condemnation and all its fruit.

We are freed from the futility of the wisdom of this age that lauds the glory of the interior man and we are transported into the wisdom of the age to come where we have access to Him who is the fount of all knowledge and wisdom.

But God knows we are creatures, feeble and frail.

He knows we are bound in history.

He has not left us to ascend to hidden truths but has entered our own personal human history to connect us to eternity.

Returning to our text, we notice in verses 11-12 that God has given us baptism as the means by which we can tangibly understand that we are in Christ.

By giving us tangible things like human words and water, we hear God’s good intentions to us.

Abraham had already walked with God for years when God gave Him circumcision.

Circumcision was not the relationship.

God had already walked with Abraham for years and promised an inheritance.

A covenant of grace was already established where Abraham was righteous because He believed God’s promise.

But God gave Abraham a tangible sign of the Covenant in his flesh.

All the goodness of God.

All the unbreakable promise of God.

All the promise that God would accomplish everything was bound up in something that Abraham could see.

He possessed in his flesh an emblem of God’s unbreakable promise to bring human history to the zenith of salvation.

That sign was given to every male descendant and was intended to point outside itself to the promise of God.

Men were reminded that they needed a circumcision of the heart, which only God could perform, so they might look to the Promise and not to themselves.

The sign pointed them away from their own ability and out to the Promise of God to achieve righteousness.

It was a sign of faith.

It was bloody and it was painful because it pointed to the manner of salvation that God would perform for them in Christ.

When Christ came, He was cut off for His people.

He was bloodied and bruised and received the pain of sin’s condemnation for man.

Christ’s first disciples, who were Jews, were baptized into Him.

No longer was the sign to be restricted to males only but women received the sign as the blessings of the covenant expanded.

When the Gospel went out to Samaria and to the world, those who were once outside and cut off were “cut in”, grafted in, by being baptized into Christ.

Circumcision had once signified the covenant and now baptism would signify the zenith of the covenant of grace.

Circumcision pointed forward with shadows and now baptism was the sign to all the fullness of the promise of God found in Christ through His death and resurrection.

 

The sign by itself is not what saves but God who saves beggars needy of an emblem of His good intentions toward them.

It is intended to point beyond itself and beyond the individual to the promise of God.

As you see the water, as you feel its wetness, as you experience its cleansing, it is intended to use your physical senses to point you to the Promise of God that is attached to it.

God is speaking to us in baptism.

All of salvation history is brought down, from heaven to earth, to a historical event in which each of us is the recipient of a personal promise.

Even as the Gospel is a promise to all men for all time, baptism is a personal, physical promise of that Gospel to each of us in our time.

We are connected to those who walked in faith in the past and connected to all who share the benefits of the same Christ.

It connects to the eternal plan of God to save men from their self-dependence and rebellion.

God commissions his ministers to speak for him in announcing His promise.

As the minister speaks and water is administered, he is acting as God’s ambassador.

The baptism is God’s way of saying:  “As surely as the filth of your flesh is cleansed by this water, so surely are your sins washed away as you trust in Christ.”

As surely as this water is real to your senses, so real is the salvation of Christ for you if you believe in His work.

 

We are baptized to participate in every means of the Word, Sacrament, and the Church of God where His adopted children are committed, one to another, to proclaim Christ crucified and risen, that faith might be spurred on and flourish in us.

We are not saved in spite of baptism, but baptism is our initiation into the family where everything that God has instituted in human history to save people is found.

I am saddened that many assign to baptism simply a sign of the faith we possessed inside when each of us was baptized.

If faith is found lacking, then the sign of baptism is thought to be invalidated.

Beloved, the promise of God is yes and amen.

Let men be liars but God will be true to His promise.

As you live through the valleys and shadows of this life your faith in God waivers.

You hate men in your heart and you continue to sin in heinous ways.

How can a man like me be saved?

I’m not good enough.

The enemy whispers into our ears:  “Nobody who sins like you could be possibly be loved by God.”

That’s interior thinking.

Baptism forces us outside of ourselves to look to the Promise of God.

Whether we remember how we felt or what we believed at the time of our baptism matters not in the least.

God was there at our baptism and the promise stands!

Turn to the enemy and say:  “You’re right!  I don’t know if I really had faith back then.
My sins make me unworthy of any good from the Hand of God.
My memory is frail.
It is clouded by the days and months and years.
Indeed, if I’m left to my recollection of my past then I’m uncertain…

But I know this:  I was baptized!
God announced to me, personally, in Word and water, a Promise to save me if I trust in Christ.
I lay hold of Christ and the Promise in my baptism.
God is true and I have unshakeable confidence in the Promise that He is for me in Christ!
Depart from me Satan!
God’s seal of ownership is my sure testimony!”

Which leads us shortly to the baptism of my son, Christian.

Christian is less than 3 weeks old and some would say he shouldn’t be baptized.

Why?

Because some see baptism as a sign of our response and not of God’s promise.

This is interior thinking.

Some also deny that circumcision and baptism were intended to communicate the same unbreakable Promise.

This is an impoverished understanding of God’s one Covenant of Grace and the Sacraments by which it was signified.

I don’t say this to be mean-spirited or proud but I believe it is an impoverishment of the Gospel when we place the focus of God’s promise upon profession and obedience.

When we do this, we focus back on the interior and away from the Gospel Promise of God to seek and save.

That Promise was reiterated when Christ took up infants in His arms to bless them because believing parents brought them to Him.  To such, He said, belongs the Kingdom of heaven and He rebuked those who hindered them.

That Promise was reiterated by Peter at Pentecost when he promised to Abraham that the promise is to you and your children.

The Promise was reiterated when Paul called our children holy, set apart, and commanded us to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord and called children to live in light of the blessings of the Covenant.

Christian is a disciple, a citizen of the visible Kingdom of God because his parents are citizens.

He didn’t do anything to earn this precious gift and the baptism of infants is a powerful emblem that salvation is all of grace and not of the ability of men.

In the final analysis, we were all baptized as helpless babes and began with milk.

Read Matt 28:18-20 again when you get home.  We were made disciples in our baptism, not because we were already mature, but in order that we might be taught everything Christ commanded and become mature.

This, today, is not a private family affair.

You are not looking on as if this baptism belongs to Christian and his family.

As the waters of baptism flow over Christian, let your senses rise.

Let your mind be fixed on Christ and the promise as you remember that this is not only an announcement of the Promise of God to Christian but a reminder of the promise of God to bring salvation history and eternity to you.

As surely as the waters of baptism wash the flesh of a helpless child, so surely will your sins be forgiven if you place your trust in Christ.

You who are weary and heavy laden.

You who are tempted to despair.

You who are tempted to look within for wisdom and for insight and for salvation.

Stop looking within and look up where Christ has died and risen.

Several close friends of mine are going through the valley of the shadow of death lately and sense that God is far off.

This quote from Archibald Alexander says it all:

“To be emptied of self-dependence, and to know that we need aid for every duty, and even for every good thought, is an important step in our progress in piety. The flowers may have disappeared from the plant of grace, and even the leaves may have fallen off, and wintry blasts may have shaken it, but now it is striking its roots deeper, and becoming every day stronger to endure the rugged storm.”

Indeed, beloved, may this baptism drive your roots deeper into Christ that you may become stronger in Him to endure the rugged storm.

May Christian Alexander Leino, child of the Covenant, cling to the Promise made in his baptism all the days of his life.

Let us pray.

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