Circumcised Heart

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deuteronomy 10:12–16, ESV)

This passage had been a puzzle to me in the past until just recently while I was studying Jeremiah chapter 4 and came across this verse…

If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”” (Jeremiah 4:1–4, ESV)

This passage in Jeremiah is asking the people to return and relating it to the circumcision of the heart in a parallel passage. Ultimately what I started to see is that the desire of God for his people to circumcise their heart was ultimately asking the people to repent and return to a life of walking in God’s ways.

There is another place in Deuteronomy where God speaks of circumcising the heart of his people as they come into the land. Interesting enough God does this after he calls to mind the blessings and the curses that he had set before them after he had driven them among the nations and then desires for them to return (repent). It is upon this repentance that the Lord then declares that he will circumcise their heart and the heart of their offspring. (Deut 30:1-8)

It is a wonderful act of grace that the Lord brings back to the minds of his people the Torah and the great blessings that come with a desire to walk in the ways of the Lord. But it is contrasted with the curses that drove them out of the land and out among the nations. This is exactly what we see in some of the language that is related to the covenant God will establish through His messiah as we get a glimpse of in Ezek 36:24-27….

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:24–27, ESV)

That same grace and circumcision has now found its fullness in our Messiah and Lord Yeshua as Paul points out in his letter to the Colossians…

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, 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. 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, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:11–14, ESV)

By grace, the record of debt that stood against us (sin) with its legal demand (death) has been canceled and set aside. Through resurrection of our Lord we who were once dead, are now mad alive together with him.

God has acted, we must respond to this wonderful Grace. This is the good news that all started back when Yeshua began His ministry with the words “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Then after the resurrection, the preaching of the word, the people who God had prepared to hear the message responded to that message…(Acts 2:37-39)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37–39, ESV)

Our response….Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua, the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins!!!

Has the Lord prepared your heart, do you hear the message, Repent, be washed and believe in the name of our Messiah Yeshua and enter into an amazing relationship with our God.

Remember

 “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? ” (Zechariah 1:5–6, ESV)

The Lord through the prophet Zechariah is asking this generation to look back at the example of the previous generations and learn from them. God used them as an example. Why? Because this generation still had the same root problem that the previous generation had, a problem that has existed since the days of Noah…

“…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, ESV)

Then the Lord makes this point..”But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?”

To understand the full meaning of what he is saying only requires one to turn to Deut. 28 and read the whole chapter. The theme of this chapter is a list of blessings that will overtake the people if they are obedient, and curses that will overtake the people if they are disobedient. In other words, what the Lord spoke regarding our choices, will happen. It may seem that God is not acting on it now, but it will come to pass and the Lord’s judgment will come.

When Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, the southern Kingdom of Judah had them as an example.

 “The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:6–10, ESV)

What about today, Paul had this to say in 1 Cor 10

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–13, ESV)  

Not only is it an example, but it is written down for our instruction! What have we done with it? We change the terms to be more palatable, we redefine what God has called sin, we ignore the sections that don’t agree with our desires, and like Judah we justify our own folly by wrapping it in nice terms like freedom and grace. Don’t get me wrong, God is a God of grace, the entire Bible is full of His amazing grace, but it has become a tool we use to justify our own sinful desires.

God may desire for us to remember the failures of our previous generations, but He also desires us to look to Him and remember the amazing things He has done for us and not to forget the instruction he has provided for us to walk in…

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” (Luke 22:19, ESV)

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, ESV)  

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (1 Chronicles 16:11–13, ESV)  

 “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5–10, ESV)

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)  

This last verse is a wake up call, it suggests a body of believers who have a reputation of being alive, the people in the community surrounding them saw works that suggested that this was a vibrant active body of believers. This may also suggest that they to believed that they were alive. We are doing all the right things, we are growing, we are doing great things in the community around us…but, they were dead. This is a position of pride, and dare I say it is pride inside the body. We must be so careful today to remember this example that has been written down for our instruction. What did the Lord desire to see...

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.”

Lord, help us to have a heart of humility, help us to seek after your instructions and not our traditions, help us to remember what we have received and heard, keep it, and repent.

A final thought from Charles Spurgeon:

“Repentance grows as faith grows. Do not make any mistake about it; repentance is not a thing of days and weeks, a temporary penance to be got over as fast as possible! No; it is the grace of a lifetime, like faith itself. God’s little children repent, and so do the young men and the fathers. Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.” 
― Charles H. SpurgeonAll of Grace 

The Gospel

...“testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21, ESV)

In Acts 20:21 I discussed in the previous post about repentance toward God. In this passage, Paul is addressing the elders at the church of Ephesus and expresses that he is testifying to both Jews and Greeks this 2 fold message of repentance and faith.

Is this not the good news that we also see Peter proclaim earlier in Acts 2? Should this not be the model that we follow today? I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a message that explained the gospel as a coupon that God has given to us that you can use to gain salvation. Does this not make the gospel of Jesus Christ a product that is being sold. In our american culture today how do we see products? Seems to me products can be purchased, used as needed, and then discarded if it is no longer meeting my needs. I have seen this mentality first hand. Jesus is not a product to be sold, there is no magic formula or coupon needed to obtain salvation. Salvation is accomplished by God, and God alone in the lives of those he is calling by His amazing Grace. God in His wonderful Grace also uses us to be a testimony to those people who he is calling and our job is simple, proclaim the gospel! The really great thing is that we have examples of this in scripture with Paul and Peter being great examples to us today.

The word above for testifying in Greek is diamartyromai which means to assert, or declare, or testify. Look closely at the word and you will notice that it contains the root for martyr which is one who is a witness. In the LXX this word is used in Is 43:10-12, and Is 44:6-8

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.” (Isaiah 43:10–12, ESV)

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:6–8, ESV)

We are God’s witness, and what are we to proclaim? “that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he…I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.”

Is not the testimony of Paul very similar? “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance toward God – Paul is declaring a return to trusting in God’s instructions, instructions from the King of Israel for living a life that is pleasing to the King.

Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ – Paul tells us to have faith in Yeshua (which means salvation) the Messiah of God..”and besides me there is no savior.”

When I put this in light of John 14:11 and Heb 1:1-3, Is not the same message we see in Isaiah being proclaimed, just in a different light.

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:11, ESV)

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:1–3, ESV)  

What a amazing God we serve, the message has not changed, only what is revealed is more clear. The radiance of the glory of God has been revealed, light has shined into the darkness..

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1–3, ESV)

Lord, help me to have a heart to declare your salvation to the nations, to be a witness like the example we have in Paul and Peter your servants, to proclaim the message of repentance toward God and faith in Yeshua the Messiah.

Turn Back

The simple message God wanted for his people to understand was to seek him with their whole heart. They needed to turn back to God and His ways. So when studying through Ezra and we get to chapter 3 we see that in the seventh month it says they came together as one man, they build an alter, and they offer burnt offerings – why? The explanation is in Numbers 29:1

“On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets, and you shall offer a burnt offering, for a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the bull, two tenths for the ram, and one tenth for each of the seven lambs; with one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you; besides the burnt offering of the new moon, and its grain offering, and the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offering, according to the rule for them, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.” (Numbers 29:1–6, ESV)

Before they could rebuild the Temple, before they could approach the Lord on His terms they had to have a sin offering, in other words they had to Repent and it had to be from the heart as ONE community.

Do we hear that message enough today? I have seen many books and articles now that speak of how the church is becoming more like the world around it and no longer looks separate and holy. So what shall we do? Well we could individually repent, but I think the key is in the first verse of chapter 3 of Ezra – “the people gathered as one man

Not only was there the opportunity for individual repentance, but there was opportunity for corporate repentance. We need to come together in our local communities and repent as a whole.We need to turn back to God’s ways and walk in obedience to the simple idea of “be holy, for the Lord your God is Holy”

Holiness is not some ethereal quality that is beyond our reach, but it is simply to be separated, set apart, and unique. Remember what Deut. 4:5-8 says?

“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5–8, ESV)  

This is a people that are holy, and reflect a Holy God, so that all the nations will look upon them, and see our Awesome, Amazing God and His Awesome and Amazing ways to LIVE!!

Is it no wonder that the first message we hear from both Jesus and John the Baptist is:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matthew 3:2, ESV)

How about when the Holy Spirit came upon the people at Pentecost:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36–38, ESV)  

Paul proclaiming to King Agrippa his mission:

 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” (Acts 26:19–21, ESV)

I like how in this verse something is very clear – why are they to repent? To perform deeds in keeping with their repentance. In other words once when we turn back to God, we are to perform deeds that are in alignment with that turning.

In turning back, in repenting and believing into Christ, is obedience not what is desired?

 “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:9, ESV)

If I really desire to seek Him with all of my Heart, Mind, and Strength, does my repentance reflect that, and does my deeds reveal an obedient heart? So I have to ask the question of myself – How do I know God better – I must first repent personally, and with my community, so we are all in unity before Him as “one man”.