Sermon preached March 2, 2007
Pastor Paul Rosa
Texts: Genesis 17:1-14, 22-27; Acts 16; 25-34; Luke 2:21
A very influential book for me for me was Radical Son, an autobiography by David Horowitz. The title reflects the fundamental fact of his life. Horowitz was born to NY Jewish Marxist/Communist parents in the late 1930's. All his family, social sphere, summer camps, training, dinner conversation was based on this faith. He inherited it, and became one of the leaders of the radical left of the 1960's. The book details his "conversion" in later life, and heís now a fierce opponent of the radical left - but thatís another story. For our purposes today, his story points up an essential truth - for better or worse, the family, the household, the community are the primary means by which beliefs, values, and world view are formed. Itís the way obviously ordained by God right from the beginning. If Horowitz is a Ďradicalí son, our Lord Jesus is a Covenant Son, and so are we all - sons & daughters, raised in the household of God.
Continuing these sermons on the Humanity of Jesus, and asking, "Where now, Lord?" I was Drawn or Led to the account of Jesusí circumcision - one can hardly get more fleshly than that! This comes also as our church is engaged in conversation about things Reformed, especially the Reformed theology and practice of Sacraments. As is common in America today, we have diversity here at New Prospect, people from a variety of theological backgrounds, where the Sacraments are understood and practiced differently. This means this conversation is not always easy, or comfortable - but it is necessary, healthy, and I hope, ongoing.
Iím going to contribute to this conversation today, aware that there is far more to be said and heard, and under no illusion that I will answer every question or objection. Thatís why "conversation" is the key word. Talk to me, please, but also, listen.
The Bibleís account of the covenant of circumcision, and Jesusí own, is an important part of the Reformersí theology of Sacraments, particularly Baptism, and especially, Baptism of children and infants.
It is no coincidence that Godís son, the Savior, was born and raised a Son of the Covenant; and no mere religious tradition that He received in His flesh the sign ordained by God of His "everlasting Covenant with Abraham, his household, his seed" - including us.
We say "Old" & "New" covenant, but in eternal sense, there's really only one - as there is one God, so finally there is one covenant for the redemption of man. Itís historic revelation and breadth has expanded by Godís plan through the ages, from Abraham, his seed, on to the Gentiles and all world, though the final revelation of grace in Christ Himself.
Beginning to end, it is a Spiritual covenant, initiated and sustained by God, not us.
Itís always ultimately about faith - justification through faith, which is always the basis of relationship with God. Abraham, "believied God and it was credited to him as righteousness." Paul teaches repeatedly how all who share his faith are Abrahamís offspring, or household, and how circumcision is in truth, a matter of the heart - the rite being an outward sign of a spiritual reality.
Abraham had been walking in faith for some time. In Gen 17 the covenant is established - in his case as a sign of the faith he had been given, and bore witness to by obedience. Yet also, he is unequivocally and repeatedly instructed to administer the same sign to every male in his household, servants, their children, down to 8 day old males. From then on, at 8 days, every descendant received that sign, right down to Jesus.
What are we to make of this? What does the sign "signify"? Active conscious faith?
In Abrahamís case, yes. And that application would continue as adult converts to Judaism were circumcised. But it is clearly meant to function in another way as well.
The administration of the sign to infants clearly shows that to God, the children of Abraham and his descendants are children born into the covenant community, fully included in the promises of God. Administered to them, it becomes a sign, not of the faith they now possess, but of the faith they were to receive from God in the future, engaging and calling the household and community of faith to the training and teaching of that son or daughter of the covenant community.
So we find Mary and Joseph, faithful children of Abraham, bringing the Savior at 8 days for the sign.
In between Luke 4 and todayís lesson is Jesusí Baptism. In Matthewís account, the Baptist says, "I should be baptized by You!" Jesus replies, "Let it be so to fulfill all righteousness." And later says, "I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it."
Again, He means the same covenant of Grace and Faith moving into a new revelation.
As always, it is God initiating the relationship, moving toward us to reveal and save.
However, there is a new sign - Baptism. Again, Jesus receives the sign - Why?
Obviously, Jesus did not need to repent, believe, or be forgiven - clearly, as an adult, like Abraham, he is validating the sign of the covenant, "fulfilling all righteousness."
In the Book of Acts is the account of the Holy Spirit rocket-propelled original missionary period of the Church. It has many accounts of preaching, conviction, regeneration, leading to expressions of faith and Baptism, usually, and quite naturally of adults - they were the mission field. Though we find no specific account of infant baptism, nor is there any prohibition of it. On the contrary, numerous passages tell of the baptism of entire households when one or other parent comes to faith. For example, Lydia in Acts 16;11-15; the Philipian jailer, 16:25-34. In 1 Cor1:16 Paul notes that he "baptized the household of Stephanus." And in Acts 2, Peter concludes his first sermon - "The promise is for you and your children, and all whom the Lord our God will call."
Baptism is most definitely the sign administered to a fully conscious person who is regenerated and brought into the household of faith - but to limit it to only that, to exclude the children born into the covenant community, is, in the Reformed interpretation, to limit the grace and freedom of God. That is something the Reformed tradition studiously avoids. The Sovereign Freedom of God is always the default position.
There is no more stringently Biblical tradition in all of Christianity than the Reformed. Yet it insists on studying and weighing the entire Scripture, the entire revelation of Godís ways and character, and interpreting Scripture as fully as humanly possible.
In neither case - circumcision or Baptism - is the sign the thing itself. Again, the reality is a spiritual work of God, who alone regenerates, imparts faith, forgives sins.
No human work or decision or choice can achieve this.
I know some will take issue with some of what I have been saying. But I think we can all agree on one thing - God cares deeply about FAMILY. The family/household is the essential unit of the covenant community, the people of God. To understand faith, and relationship with God, and the administration of the Sacramental signs of that faith and relationship, on strictly personal or individual terms is to miss something important, and liberating. These signs are not all about you, but primarily about the community/household called into being and sustained by our covenant-making, promise-keeping God.
This could go on and on, and as I said, the conversation needs to go on.
But let me wrap it up like this.
When you bring your newborn son or daughter home from the hospital, what unprecedented sacrifice, grace, attention is spent, without a thought of how "unconscious" that infant is! Would you ever entertain the notion that your new baby was not "really" a member of the family, entitled to all the benefits and blessings of the family? Not until they knew it, understood, or chose whether they would be or not?
To exclude children from the sign of the covenant is to do just that. Itís to say, you arenít included in the covenant promises of God until such time as you decide or have some experience. Again, the question finally is, what is Baptism a sign OF? Trust in Godís promise, or human decision?
The Reformers' answer again is plain. To make what we can see or experience the central requirement - "something, someway has happened, and now I can do it" - is like making the branch of the tree the root of the tree. We canít see the root, but itís the real source of life and sustenance for that tree.
The Baptism of an infant child of members of the covenant household, in worship, is a witness to complete faith in the root - the total trust in Godís grace and promises is nowhere more beautifully purposefully shared by the household of faith than at the baptism of a helpless infant child of the covenant.
Later in his gospel, Luke records this scene:
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." [18:15-17, ESV]
Children. Isnít that what we all really are before our heavenly Father?
The promise is for you , and your children, and all whom the Lord our God will call.
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