The Cross IS the Circumcision of the Heart
Matthew 10:38-39 (ESV)
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Luke 14:27 (ESV)
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 (ESV)
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Much has been spoken about the message of the cross and the one speaking most prominently was Jesus Christ BEFORE He endured the sufferings of that cross. There are 3 witnesses to what Jesus said concerning the cross. What Jesus is saying has a far greater meaning than what has been generally taught in today’s churches. For the Jews, including Jesus, was well familiar of this most horrendous of deaths by the cross that was ever devised by man for capital punishment. For no other form of capital punishment was as excruciating a death than the cross. Along with its physical torture, the stigma implied on those dying on the cross was one of great shame and condemnation.
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV)
A Man Hanged on a Tree Is Cursed
22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
More than any other form of execution, the Jews feared this the most. It was humiliating, shameful, degrading, and had that stigma of the curse of God upon them. And yet, Jesus declared that unless a man picks up his own cross and follows Him is not worthy of Him, this is precisely what Jesus came to do. In all three of these gospel accounts, the cross is equated as losing one’s own life in order to save their lives. In Luke 14:33, Jesus Himself likens the cross as a place where all that a man has must be put to death.
Exactly, what is Jesus saying when He is requiring us to take up our own cross? What does this mean? To understand this better, let us go back to the Old Testament and see another requirement of God for those who would follow God and see how these two things parallel. We will be looking at the circumcision of the flesh and then the heart.
THE LAW OF CIRCUMCISION
Genesis 17:10-14 (ESV)
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 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.”
From the time of God making His covenant with Abraham, this covenant with its seal of the circumcision of the flesh remains until the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All male children were to be circumcised on the 8th day. God chose this day for practical reasons not yet known among those ancient people. Today’s medicine recognizes that a child’s blood cannot coagulate and stop the bleeding until the 8th day after birth. So we see the wisdom of God, the creator of all flesh, in selecting the 8th day as that day of circumcision.
When God selected Moses to deliver the children of Israel, Moses had not yet been circumcised and as a result, he would have been disqualified unless he and his son were circumcised.
Exodus 4:24-26 (ESV)
At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses ‘ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
Although God chose Moses, the requirements of that covenant was still required. No excuse can be allowed so that even if a man were chosen by God to lead His people, he too must come into alignment with that covenant. After Joshua had lead the people over the Jordan, for the Jordan river had overflowed its banks as that time of the year was during the harvest. The ark of the covenant was carried by the priests to the middle of the river and the river drew back as far away as Adam City. After they crossed, the Spirit of The Lord spoke this to Joshua:
Joshua 5:2-3 (ESV)
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath- haaraloth.
Since the children of Israel had wandered in the desert for 40 years, all that previous generation had died off. Those who were born during this time had not yet been circumcised and before the children of Israel were to advance beyond the Jordan to take this land of promise, God wanted to ensure they were all under the protection of the covenant with God. This time of circumcision was crucial to Israel’s success. For it is only while in covenant with God can they have the success they later enjoyed, to take this land and destroy the wickedness of the wicked who lived there.
This picture of the physical circumcision of the flesh is a type and a shadow of that which was to come. We can see this type and shadow in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 10:12-16 (ESV)
Circumcise Your Heart
12 “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, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 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. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
It is clear that a circumcision of the heart is required in order to remove the stubbornness of pride and arrogance from the heart of God’s people.
Deuteronomy 30:6-10 (ESV)
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. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
In this verse, He gives to us an even more extensive promise. He says that He Himself will circumcise our heart in order to enable us to love The Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul. This new circumcision will give to us more than what that physical circumcision could never do. That physical circumcision brought Israel into the new covenant made with Abraham, their father but did not have the ability to change a single person’s heart. God knew this and promised an even better seal of His covenant, circumcision of the heart. But what is this circumcision of the heart, exactly? How does God do this? To best understand this, let us first understand what circumcision is…
The term means to “cut off” the foreskin of the male penis. “Cut off” is a term of judgment. Throughout the scriptures there are numerous references that confirm that the word “cut off” indicates the judgment of God.
Numbers 15:30-31 (ESV)
But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”
As seen clearly in these verses, “cut off” means that they will die in judgment. In a similar manner, when Israel comes before The Lord in circumcision, they are submitting to the judgment of their flesh. When God made covenant with Abraham, as in any covenant made between men, there is the shedding of blood by both participants. God, being Spirit, could not shed His blood until Jesus came and shed God’s blood on that cross, thus confirming the covenant God made with Abraham. During this covenant, animals are split in two, with one part on one side and the other part on the other side. Each participant then walks in the midst of these carcasses proclaiming, “If I do not fulfill this covenant, let me be as these dead animals.” Abraham walked this through as well as the Spirit of The Lord.
In Genesis chapter 15, God makes His covenant with Abram, who is later called Abraham. In this covenant, animals were brought and split in two and laid on one side and the other side.
Genesis 15:9-10 (ESV)
He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.
Genesis 15:12 (ESV)
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.
Genesis 15:17 (ESV)
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
In the manner in which all men made covenant with each other did God make a covenant with Abraham. Later, the covenant of circumcision was established in chapter 17. In order for God to confirm this covenant, it was necessary for Him to shed His blood which was fulfilled when Jesus shed His blood on the cross.
We have found that circumcision represents a judgment of death to the flesh. For only with the shedding of blood can the requirements of the law be satisfied. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins.
Leviticus 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Now, let us look at the circumcision of the heart. Since we have learned that circumcision is presenting ourselves before The Lord for judgment of the flesh, this presentation of our hearts for judgment also follows. When we present our hearts before The Lord for His judgment, we do so by exposing to Him the depths of our heart, including all those things we have kept hidden, including the motives of our heart. God sees all things and even those things that we have kept hidden are clearly seen.
Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Although God can see clearly all things, even the motives of our heart, we are still required to present ourselves to Him for His judgment. This is the manner in which we must present ourselves:
Job 33:27 (NLT)
He will declare to his friends,
‘I sinned and twisted the truth,
but it was not worth it.
In this verse, we can see clearly that we MUST take ownership of our sins. We cannot cast the blame on others as did Adam in the garden where he blamed the woman and God who gave that woman to him. In this, Adam did not admit his own wrong doing and was cast out with Eve from the garden and were not allowed to re-enter. Until that time comes that we take ownership of our own sin, recognize that we twisted the truth for our own benefit and realize this did not justify ourselves but rather confirmed our guilt, THEN we will have presented ourselves before The Lord for His judgment.
We MUST accept our responsibility for our own actions and see for ourselves what the true motives have been in all that we did. Unless we can see the selfishness of our sin, we cannot be redeemed or receive mercy and be forgiven. ONLY by seeing our sin, the evil motives of our heart and be truly repentant, will the mercies and the grace of God be activated in our lives. This is repentance through Godly Sorrow. Now let us see what happens as a result of this when we present ourselves for the righteous judgment of God.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV)
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
When we present ourselves for judgment, voluntarily, we are presenting ourselves to be circumcised in the heart. The results of this are what these two verses speak of. This warrants a closer look at each of these changes that have occurred in our hearts.
EVIDENCE OF A CHANGED OR CIRCUMCISED HEART
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What DILIGENCE it produced in you, what CLEARING OF YOURSELVES, what INDIGNATION, what FEAR, what VEHEMENT DESIRE, what ZEAL, what VINDICATION! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
–2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV)
When we are touched by the Fear of God leading to true repentance, we are confronted with the nature of our sin which is born of our selfishness. Seeing this in all its uncleanness against the purity of selflessness displayed in Jesus, we become keenly aware of the dangers of allowing these kinds of thoughts and actions in our lives again. Where we gave no thought to what we said or what we did before, now our attitudes have changed. Now we are ever more careful how we think & what we do, always mindful of the source of our thoughts, words and actions. What DILIGENCE! What CAREFULNESS did this experience work in us!
Carefulness (diligence-Diligence is a zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work, exemplified by a decisive work ethic, budgeting of one’s time, monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness, and putting forth full concentration in one’s work.
The carefulness or diligence is due to a heightened sense of awareness of one’s own vulnerability to view and act selfishly. The stark contrast of Jesus’ selfless life and our own selfishness provides sufficient motivation to weigh each thought and/or deed to determine whether they are proceeding from selfishness or in accordance with God’s will and purposes. Every thought is captured to the obedience found in Christ. As Jesus stated, I only do what I see my Father do.
CLEARING OF YOURSELVES
After repentance, you are no longer counted among those who walk in & approve of the godless life style. Because you are now able to see the consequences of your own thoughtless selfish actions, you now distance yourself from all appearances of evil. You’ve chosen now to associate yourself with men and women who are likeminded with a healthy Fear of the Lord.
Because you are now able to see the essence of sin, there is now a holy indignation or hatred of sin. You are able to see not only the cause of sin but the consequences and the price that Jesus paid on the cross for our selfishness. There is now an intolerance within yourself towards sin and anything that leads up to it. You are now keenly aware not to even entertain thoughts of temptation knowing that by entertaining such thoughts leads to the wrong kind of actions that lead to death.
Oh for the holy fear of the Lord. Without holiness no one will see God! This fear is not only just that experienced as a child before his father but is understood through the lens of His great love for us. We know both the Goodness of God but also the Severity of God in that no sin is acceptable in His sight. We now know the punishment of sin and the righteousness of His judgment in that we have come to agree that we were indeed worthy of all condemnation. It is this Holy Fear that has instilled in us an even greater love and appreciation for the sacrifice the Father allowed in giving His only Son to pay for our sins.
Along with this confrontation of ourselves with sin’s true consequences, the fear of the Lord, comes an overwhelming desire to know this One who paid so much for our lives by sacrificing His own. Who would do such a thing for me when I was such a wretch? What manner of man is he? How could someone love this much? The desire to know Him and to worship Him becomes an all encompassing hunger and thirst that can only be quenched by our daily partaking of Him. And even this ‘daily bread’ is not enough and a nearly unquenchable fire has been stirred in us so that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection.
“Gotta Tell Somebody” is the title of a song by Don Francisco. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYwNwTqI-y4
It is a song about the raising of the dead daughter of Jairus and the impact that it had. I encourage everyone to listen and enjoy the beautiful artistry of story telling in this song. This is a wonderfully moving song that inspired me to action to tell of the wondrous things that Jesus did for me. What Jesus did is so momentous, it is nearly impossible to not tell others. For years I just could not shut up as I wanted the whole world to know what He did. I’m still having much difficulty in shutting up.
Now that we can see clearly, we can see how it was through the devil’s enticements that we were deceived. It is through the subtleties of his deceptions, preying upon our fears, our wants, our desires, our weaknesses that he had gained access to fuel the fires of our own selfishness. Now we are able to see the judgment of God against all the powers of darkness and through Jesus’ sacrifice, death and resurrection, God has released to us, those who believe on His name and have been changed by the washing of His blood, the authority over all powers of darkness, all powers and principalities, all spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. That through the Name of Jesus we can execute judgment against all the works of darkness!
Because of all that has been worked as a result of true repentance, we are made free from the laws of sin and death and made alive together unto the resurrection and life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Together, as one body, redeemed from the earth into the heritage of the First Born among many brethren, we are seated with Him in heavenly places. We no longer have to walk in the perspective of earth but He has granted to us the perspective of Heaven!
As you can see clearly, the importance of having a heart circumcised cannot be overstated. It is this very process that Jesus was speaking of when He said that we must take up our own cross and follow Him to be worthy of Him. It was for this reason that He came to suffer and die for us so that we do not have to take up that judgment of sin in our lives. That if we believe in Him, our sins will be forgiven and we shall be given a new life along with the power to become sons of God.
Taking up our cross is a daily event because once we take ownership of our sins and accept His just and righteous judgment against us because of the wickedness we see in our own heart, then we can truly see that the sacrifice He made for us erases forever that judgment against us and by looking to Him on that cross, taking our place, we are given that ability to follow Him wherever He leads us. Only by taking ownership of our sin, seeing it for what it truly is, can our hearts be circumcised and in this way, that stubbornness of pride and arrogance is removed and we are enabled to love The Lord our God in our spirits and our soul, forever and ever!
The cross of Christ represents our deliverance from the bondages of sin once we acknowledge our own sin and agree with Him that we are worthy of all condemnation and yet, when we ask for mercy, He is there to extend His mercies towards us and forgiveness of sins. So now, we understand how the cross is actually that circumcision of the heart that God said He will perform on all those who believe in Him and He promises this same thing to our children!