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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:God's Covenant with Abraham extended to his household
Text:Genesis 17:10-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016-09-18
Added:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise

NKJV

Psalm 128:1

Psalm 108:2

Psalm 87:1,2,3,4,5

Psalm 71:3

Psalm 128:3

 

Read:  Genesis 17

Text:  Genesis 17:10-13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have recently started attending this church it will not take you long for you to discover that we baptize children.  We are blessed with a lot of young families at our church and when a baby is born, normally within a couple of weeks he or she is brought to church and baptized. For most of us this is a normal part of church life and we don’t think too much about it: it is simply what we do here.  But if you are new to our church you might be surprised at this, perhaps even a bit uncomfortable.  Why is this done?  What does this baptism mean?  And is it biblical?

  There are some churches that teach that we should not baptize children but only believers. Baptist, Brethren, Charismatic and Pentecostal churches teach that baptism is a sign by which a person declares that he already believes in Jesus Christ and that he now wants to belong to him forever.  Now if baptism really is your declaration of love and commitment to God, then Baptists are correct in saying that you have to be a believer before you can be baptized.  But if, on the other hand, baptism is really God’s promise to you, then it may not be as simple as that.

  But not everybody baptizes babies for the same reason.  Roman Catholics, as well as many Anglicans and Lutherans teach that babies need to be baptized because the baptism itself washes away sin.  By being baptized, Roman Catholics believe, both your original sin as well as your personal sin is washed away.  The theological term for this is “baptismal regeneration”.  But that is not the reason why we baptize children in this Reformed Church.  We do not agree that the water of baptism itself washes away sin; rather, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins, and we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and by God’s grace alone.

But then why do we baptize children?  We baptize our children because we believe that baptism is not our decision to be joined to God but rather that through baptism God seals His relationship with us and declares to us that He is our God and we are His people.  And, just as was the case in the Old Testament, this promise is not just for believers but also for the children of believers.  And therefore just as children were circumcised in the Old Testament, so they are baptized now, in the time of the New.  One of our church’s confessions of faith, the Belgic Confession, puts it this way in article 34 –

“We believe that these children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as infants were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises which are now made to our children.”

This is what I wish to preach to you about this morning. Turning to Genesis 17 we will see that when God called Abraham and made his covenant with him, the promises of God’s covenant were not just for Abraham but also for his children and, in fact, his entire household.  And what God did for Abraham and his household in the old covenant He also does for us in the new.
I preach to you the word of God under the following theme:

God’s covenant with Abraham extended to his household.

  1. Covenant heirs. 
  2. Covenant community.

1.  Covenant heirs.

Just as most of us are used to baptizing not just adults but also their children so we are also used to hearing that the baby boys of Israel were circumcised when they were eight days old.  It seems normal, it seems natural that they would be circumcised.  But there is nothing normal or natural about this: it is in fact remarkable that God not only commanded that Abraham be circumcised but all the males in his household.

  To begin with, it is remarkable that the baby boys were to be circumcised when they were just 8 days old.  When the LORD commanded that Abraham and his house be circumcised this was not a new idea.  Circumcision was, in fact, quite a common practice in the Ancient Near East and it was most certainly practiced by the Egyptians at that time.  But nobody circumcised their sons at 8 days old; instead boys would be circumcised when they reached the age of puberty, when they transitioned from being boys to men.  But not in Abraham’s family.  To Abraham the LORD said in Genesis 17:12

“He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.”

Why is that?  Why is it that the LORD commanded boys to be circumcised at 8 days of age and not when they came of age, when they became a man? 

  The answer to this question is that circumcision was a sign and a seal of God’s covenant and God made that covenant with all of Abraham’s household.  Genesis 17:10,11 –

“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” 

Circumcision was a sign and a seal of God’s covenant.  And since God’s covenant extended not just to Abraham but also to his household, it was not just Abraham, nor just the adult males who were to be circumcised but all the male children from 8 days old and upwards.  In this way the LORD confirmed that He would not just be the God of Abraham but also the God of Abraham’s children from generation to generation.  Genesis 17:7 says,

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”

So the reason why the LORD commanded that the children of Abraham’s household were to be circumcised from eight days and older was because God’s covenant promises were given to them as well.  Abraham’s children were born into the covenant.  From birth onwards the LORD came to them and He said, “I am your God; you belong to Me.”

On the one hand that is surprising but on the other hand it is not.  When we go back to the first pages of the Book of Genesis we learn that the LORD has always worked through the generations and from the very beginning God has not just been concerned with adult believers but also with their children.  In Genesis 3:15 already, after Adam and Eve had just fallen into sin, the LORD spoke to the Serpent saying,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.”

Now we know that this “seed” or “offspring” of the woman, Eve, was ultimately the Christ.  But what we see here is that the LORD is promising something great not just for the woman but for her seed, her descendants, her offspring.  And Adam responded to this in faith by calling his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all living.  (Genesis 3:20).  And from there on the Book of Genesis followed two lines, two families, two genealogies:  the family of Cain who were “the sons of men” and the family of Seth, who were “the sons of God”.  When Seth was born his mother Eve named him Seth saying,

“For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.”  Genesis 4:25.

And then Genesis 4:26 says,

“And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh.  Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.”

And from there on we are told about the genealogy, the descendants of Adam, the “seed” that came from Eve.  And these descendants included Enoch, Methuselah and Noah.  Now in the days of Noah the people were corrupt and it grieved the Lord to see such wickedness.  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD and so the LORD saved Noah.  But not only did the LORD save Noah: He also saved Noah’s household, his family.  That is emphasized again and again as we can see for example in Genesis 6:17,18 where the LORD says,

“And behold, I Myself am bringing flood waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark – you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

At that time the LORD could have selected seven random people to enter the ark with Noah, but He did not: He chose Noah and Noah’s household along with him.  In Genesis 7:1 the LORD said to Noah,

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you [Noah] are righteous before Me in this generation.”

And the fact that God saved both Noah and his household is repeated in Genesis 7:7,13,23; chapter 8:16,18; and chapter 9:18.  The author of the Book of Genesis does not want you to miss this:  when God makes His covenant with Noah, He includes Noah’s family.

  And then following the Flood we have another genealogy, the genealogy or the family line of Shem that concluded with Abraham. 

  I have spent a bit of time on this point with you this morning but what I want you to see is that from the beginning the LORD was not only concerned about individuals, but also with their families, with their seed, that is, with their descendants.  We are used to noticing this because one of Eve’s – and Noah’s – and Abraham’s – descendants would be the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must also recognize God’s grace in that He is concerned not just for us but also for our children.

  And what was implicit in the first chapters of Genesis becomes explicit in the covenant God makes with Abraham where He said,

“And I will be God to you and to your descendants after you, throughout their generations.”

And to underline this as a guarantee or as a seal of His covenant the LORD commanded that not only Abraham but also his descendants, indeed all male children from 8 days and older, be circumcised.  To be circumcised and, for the females, to live in the house of those circumcised, meant to live in covenant with God.  And to live in covenant with God meant that you were an heir to the promises of God: those promises were not just for others but they were for you too.

This does not mean that circumcision saved anyone.  In fact we know that both Ishmael and Esau were circumcised but that they both ultimately rejected God’s promises and therefore did not receive the covenant blessings.  But circumcision pointed God’s people to the God who claimed them.  Since they were circumcised almost from birth, the children of Abraham were to learn from an early age that they were separate from the uncircumcised heathens around them.  They were separate and holy to the Lord.  They were not free to choose their own gods because they belonged to the one true God and so they must submit to Him and follow Him. 

  And that is what it means to live in covenant with God.  It means that God has claimed you for His own, He has given you His promises and He calls you to walk before Him and be blameless. 

But there is something else we need to take note of in Genesis 17.  When the LORD made His covenant with Abraham and his household, he did not only include Abraham’s children but He also included Abraham’s servants.  Genesis 17:12 says,

“He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.”

That’s amazing!  That teaches us something about the wideness of God’s covenant mercy.  Not only did He make His covenant with believing Abraham, not only did He make it with Abraham’s children and their children, but He also made His covenant with Abraham’s servants – yes, all those who under him and a part of his household.   In those days a servant was seen as the property of their owner – in this case Abraham.  But God saw them not as mere slaves but as heirs of His covenant.  This was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.  And therefore all the males of Abraham’s household were commanded to be circumcised.  And all the members of Abraham’s household, both male and female were to learn about the LORD and were called to serve Him.

But what about today, what about us in the New covenant?  Our households are different and we no longer have bonded servants, but do God’s covenant promises still extend not just to believers but also their children?

What does the Bible say? 

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were clearly a part of God’s covenant and congregation.  The promises of the covenant were not just for the Fathers but also for their descendants.  But what is striking is that we see the same sort of language coming back in the New Testament.  Already in Luke 1:50, the song of Mary says,

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

And at Pentecost, when Peter told the people to repent, he told them who the promise of God’s covenant was for:

“For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:39)

Just as in the Old Testament, so also in the New Testament, children who remain under the authority of a believing parent are included in the Covenant of Grace.  And that is why 1 Corinthians 7:14 calls the children of believers holy:

“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.”

And that is also why in Ephesians 6:1-3 children can be called to obey their parents in the Lord (for they belong to Him).  And that is also why the promise of the fifth commandment, “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” was repeated in Ephesians 6:3, for it is a covenantal promise for the children of believers also in the New Testament. 

And that is also why when the head of a household became a Christian and was baptized, his entire household was baptized with him.  For when the head of the household believed, his whole house was placed in covenant with God.  This is clear, for example, with the conversion and baptism of the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16.  An accurate translation of Acts 16:34 states that the Jailer, along with his entire household rejoiced that he, the jailer, had believed in God.  As was also the case with Zacchaeus in Luke 19, salvation came not just to him but to his house.

And so we see that the Old Testament principle of the LORD extending His covenant promises to believers and their children did not change in the New Testament.  The covenant God established with Abraham, which was an everlasting covenant and continues into the New Testament, was for believing parents and their children.  To receive what was promised in the covenant, these children would, in time, need to accept those promises in faith.  But the children of believers are blessed to receive the promises of the covenant, and they are holy, separated from the children of unbelievers. 

 

2. Covenant Community.

The question of who belongs to God’s covenant and who should receive the sign of God’s covenant is an important one but we can not stop there.  The point is not simply whether or not a person should be baptized but we need to understand what it means for our children to be a part of God’s covenant, a part of His church.  When God told Abraham to circumcise the males of his household that was not the end of it.  Listen to what it says in Genesis 18:17-19 when the LORD was about to tell Abraham what would happen to Sodom and Gomorrah:

“And the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?  For I have known him in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice,  that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’”

Did you hear what God said here?  The LORD knew Abraham, He made His covenant with him, so that Abraham might command his children and his household to serve the LORD.

Circumcision never saved anybody but those who were circumcised were commanded to turn to the LORD and to love Him with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength.  Those who were set apart to the LORD outwardly were to be set apart to the LORD inwardly.  As the Bible puts it, they were commanded to circumcise their hearts.  And the same applies to baptism today.  Baptism neither saves us nor our children but through baptism our children are officially grafted in to God’s covenant where He says “I am your God and you are My child.”  And therefore we must see our children as God’s children – and bring them up accordingly. 

  The world does not like this.  The world will insist that you should not be teaching your children about God, nor about His ways.  The world says that you should let your children grow up to decide for themselves who they should follow.  But God says “No!  Your children are My children!  And therefore you must bring these children up as heirs of My Kingdom and as members of My covenant community, the church.”

  And that is biblical basis for our Reformed, covenantal schools.  We recognize our children to be God’s children, children who must be taught God’s ways.  It is for that reason that we have a truly Christian school with Christian teachers, teaching our children what it means to be a Christian, what it means to belong to God’s covenant.   And so we have it that what is taught in church, what is taught in the home and what is taught at school is the same teaching where we tell our children:  “The LORD calls you to be His!  Turn to Him, believe, and walk in His ways!”

But sending our children off to school is not all.  We need to instill in ourselves as well as in our children a deep sense of covenant consciousness.  We need to instill in ourselves and our children the awareness that the LORD is our God and that we are His children.  And that must govern the way we conduct ourselves in our families every single day. 

But how does that look in your family?  How does that look in your house – whether you are one person or two or a family of ten?  Think about this example.  It was not so long ago that everybody would get together at night, sit around the table and eat their dinner together.  And in a Christian home not only would people talk about things that are wholesome but God’s Word, the Bible, would be opened and normally the father, as head of the house, would lead the family in prayer.  And I recognize that most of you here in church today are still used to that.  But is that still your focus?  Do you still see the importance of these things?  Or have meal-times become a “help-yourself” affair where everyone in the family just goes and does as he pleases?  Have you perhaps left the dining room table to sit with your food in the living room in front of the TV?  Or have your sporting commitments, your soccer program, your gym attendance or whatever it may be trumped your family meal times so that you are not consistently gathering together before God and His Word?  No, the Bible does not insist that the evening meal be eaten in a certain place and in a certain way – although I find it striking that Psalm 128 speaks about your children being “like olive plants all around your table” – but the Bible does insist that our families be covenant keeping families and that our lives be centred around God and around His Word. 

That’s what Old Testament Israel had to do.  “You shall teach God’s laws to your children” Moses commanded them in Deuteronomy 11, “speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”  And that is what New Testament believers must do also.  Ephesians 6:4,

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

Parents, you also have the duty to do these things.  You have the duty to teach your children who the Lord is, what it means that He has established His covenant with us, and how we are called to respond in faith and obedience.  Teach your children about their baptism.  Teach them how their baptism testifies of their sin, their need to be washed clean, how they can not wash themselves but need to be cleansed with Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit.  Teach them how this washing is received by faith alone.  Speak about how their baptism is a call to a new life, to daily putting off sin, to daily crucifying the flesh, to daily following the Lord in righteousness and holy living.  Teach your children how baptism is the promise that the Holy Spirit has been given to them to enable them to obey the Lord, love their neighbor and to give themselves as living sacrifices. 

It is a high calling to raise our children as those belonging to God and that is why we never take baptism lightly, doing it out of custom of superstition.  But our baptism and the baptism of our children do not point to ourselves and what we can do but baptism points to God and what He has done.  And that is a most wonderful thing about God’s covenant with us.  Because what we could not do God has done for us in sending His Son Jesus Christ.  And now God calls us to turn to this Jesus, the One in whom all His covenant promises are Yes and Amen.  And when we turn to Him then we can be sure that He will do what He said.  We can be sure of that because He has said so and because we are His.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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