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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some Musings on the Circumcision of Christ

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 (Col 2:11)

Image result for free picture of crossIn Colossians 2,11 there is an interesting phrase, “the circumcision of Christ.” The question arises: Is this the circumcision done by Christ or the circumcision done to Christ, that is his own circumcision? The genitive case here could be either, but the latter seems more compelling. Here's why...

Circumcision and the Cutting off of Jesus 

Circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament. In this ancient rite, a foreskin was cut off, as a sign of judgment for the covenant breaker. A similar ritual with similar language was performed by God with Abraham in the cutting of the animals when signing (the word in Hebrew is in fact cutting) the covenant with Abraham. The cutting meant “let this cutting happen to me if I break the terms of the covenant.” God himself is the one who walks through the cut parts to show his willingness to be the guarantor of the covenant, even if the other party, in this case Abraham, is unfaithful. This foreshadows the death of Christ on the cross, where the Son of God himself is cut off. 

The cutting off of the foreskin in ancient Israel was to be a forever reminder that God's covenant is an incision into the deepest part of our being. Body and soul. A circumcised male would forever wear, in his body, the reminder that pain and death are at the center of love and commitment to God and to his bride. It was a sign of what God would be willing to do to himself, to mutilate his most intimate organ, or symbolically, his offspring, for the sake of staying faithful to his covenant promise to his bride. The union of God and his bride has at the center of its intimacy a bloody ordeal. The “circumcision without hands” mentioned here is the cutting off of Jesus by the invisible hands of the invisible God. Just as Abraham was willing to cut off his son Isaac, his seed, the son of the promise, so God the Father was willing to cut off Christ, the Son of Man, the ultimate Son of the promise and seed of Abraham. But in his case there was no ram substituted. He was the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. 

Life-Giving Headship 

He cut off his beloved Son for the sake of his bride, so that she would never have to be cut off. At the center of his love for us is death. God's promise and the sign of circumcision affect the center of procreation, of intimacy and sexual pleasure for a man. Circumcision was a sign that a man's body even his most intimate part, symbolizing his whole self, including sexuality and procreation ability, did not belong to him, but to God, that his offspring did not belong to him but to God. Adam, the first male, had representative headship over humanity. He was to be a shadow of Christ, a forerunner of the ultimate headship hero. Christ, the last Adam, the representative man, had to bear in his body the ultimate circumcision to reverse Adam’s curse. Adam failed in his task to cut off evil. He failed in his headship. It was supposed to be sacrificial. It could have cost him his life. Instead, he let himself be swallowed by fear, sin and pride. Christ on the other hand, let himself be cut off to save his bride. It is the circumcision of Jesus, done by the invisible hand of God, that allows us his bride to have intimacy with him. Unlike Adam who let himself be deceived, causing enmity and alienation with God, his bride and creation, and ultimately death, Christ bore in his own body the price of the disaster Adam caused. That is true servanthood, true life-giving headship. 

This theme is plain in Colossians as Christ is described as the head of this new body “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“ (Col 2:19). He is restoring all and reconciling all things to himself (to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross Col 1:20). His headship is life-giving not death-bringing! And as a result, Christ becomes the new pattern of what headship looks like, even for Christian marriage. “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them”(Col 3:19), or “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:23-25).

Shadows and Reality 

Because Christ’s circumcision was ultimate, fulfilling what was just a shadow in the Old Testament, men no longer need it and women benefit from the ultimate husband’s faithfulness. Christ, the ultimate and perfect husband, was circumcised for all men, for his bride, the church. Men and women, through regeneration, experience God’s circumcision of the heart, the cutting and stripping off of the old self, and the Spirit’s creation of a new self that has the law of God written on the heart. This heart circumcision was promised in the Old Testament (30:6). The New Testament is no longer a period for signs and signposts but a period of fulfillment and mystery revealed. Once the reality appears, the shadows fall away meaningless. The New Testament covenant sign of baptism as a sign of our union with Christ in his circumcision (death) and resurrection and (made possible by God's Spirit) is only a sign inasmuch as it is a signature on the the down-payment of an actual present reality albeit it limited in this “already” state but this reality will grow into a full-orbed expression under the all-encompassing headship of Christ when the children of God are revealed in glory. Old Testament signs were shadows (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. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Col 2:16-17).  

It is therefore important to note that the "circumcision of Christ” is not so much that Christ circumcises our hearts (though this interpretation certainly would not be wrong) but rather that Christ, the head of the body, was circumcised on our behalf, which allows us to have the reality of the sign and to experience all the benefits that his circumcision wrought for us. His circumcision canceled the debt, his circumcision gave us forgiveness of sins, and in his circumcision he was cut off from God, so that we would never have to experience it. That is why the New Covenant sacrament of baptism can be bloodless for us. His blood fulfilled the demands of the Law on our behalf. Our union with him means we were circumcised with him. We died with him.  In his circumcision, Christ is creating a new humanity engendered by his Spirit, that will experience his resurrection in glory.

 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.

 (Col 2:11-12) 

Another indicator that the invisible hands performing the circumcision of Christ are God’s is in verse 12. God is the one who both cuts Christ off and raises him again. If we were circumcised with Christ, our sinful nature was cut off. Our record was nailed to the cross in the same act of Christ’s circumcision. We are free men and women. This is unfathomably good news for us!

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.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2:13-15)