Sermon on February 27, 2022


A new covenant


(Joshua 4)

This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here


Last week we talked about the importance of monuments. Monuments that God has placed in our lives, but also memorials that we can place to remember what God has done in our lives that are thanksgiving, trust in God, reverence, worship and a testimony, that points to God.

We have seen that God specifically ordered His people to stop taking the Promised Land after they have passed through the Jordan and the land is now before them. The people of Israel set up camp in Gilgal. And after they erected a monument of stones in that camp and another one to Joshua in the Jordan, today we’re talking about two more monuments and a new covenant, which is really actually a confirmation of a covenant already made.

We read Joshua 5, verses 2-12

2 At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 3 And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 4 And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. 5 Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised. 6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. 7 And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way. 8 And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. 9 And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. 10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. 11 And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. 12 And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua did what the Lord commanded him. The Israelites were circumcised on the hill of Aralot (“circumcision hill”). For when the people left Egypt, all the male Israelites were still circumcised. But in the meantime nobody was alive who had been of military age at the time. God had sworn to them, “Because you have not listened to me, you will never see the rich land that I promised your ancestors, the land flowing with milk and honey.” Israel was forced to spend forty years in the wilderness, until none of that first generation lived. While the Israelites roamed the desert, they had not had their newborn sons circumcised. But now all the male offspring that the Lord gave to the people at that time were circumcised. The people remained in their camp for some time, until the wounds of the circumcised had healed. Then the Lord said to Joshua:

“Today I have passed on the shame of Egypt from you.”

That is why this place is still called Gilgal (»passing on«). At Gilgal, in the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover festival on the evening of the 14th day of the 1st month. The next day they ate something from their new land for the first time: bread baked without leaven and roasted grain. And on that very first day after the Passover, when they ate some of the produce of the land, the manna failed. Henceforth the Israelites no longer lived on the manna but on the produce of the land of Canaan.

The two monuments that are at stake this morning are the circumcision and the Passover feast and the big question of what they mean here and, above all, what they have to do with us. The first thing we look at is circumcision.

  1. Circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with his people Israel

I’ll spare you a picture for now. 600 years earlier, God had instituted the ritual of circumcision among the males of the people of Israel. Every Israelite boy was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, and later Jesus too. And every foreigner who wanted to belong to the people had to be circumcised. God had made a covenant with Abraham, you can read about it in Genesis 17:6-9:

I will make you exceedingly fruitful. You will have so many offspring that they will become whole nations, and even kings will descend from you. My promise is to you and your descendants in every generation; it is irrefutable for all time: I am your God and I will give you all the land of Canaan, where you now live as a stranger. It shall belong to your descendants forever, and I will be their God.” God further said: “My covenant with you and your offspring imposes on you an obligation that you must fulfill, in every generation to come: every one of you who is male must be circumcised.

So: God promises Abraham descendants, the land of Canaan and that he is their God. That’s actually quite a lot. When you make a covenant, there are always two sides to it, like a contract or the covenant of marriage.

And now you might expect Abraham to do something great in return, but all they’re supposed to do is they’re supposed to be circumcised as a sign of that covenant. A sign that I carry around with me, so to speak, that I am reminded of again and again like a memorial: God made a promise to me and I belong to him, to his people. Later the Israelites were called the circumcised and the other peoples the uncircumcised. Women were included in this covenant over men. Back then, the family structure was different from what we have today, which meant that the women belonged through the men. Why now of all things circumcision as a sign and why not an earlobe or something else, like some African peoples have as a sign of belonging, I have to disappoint you, I can’t answer that. It’s not in the Bible, I even called my old AT professor. Some later said that God brought a health aspect into it because being circumcised seems to be less likely to catch an infection. But today we’re all not circumcised, so I don’t find that very convincing.

In Egypt, all Israelites were still circumcised, but they didn’t practice it further in the desert. So it is a question of obedience and covenant at this point in Gilgal, because whoever is circumcised now has God’s promise that the promised land that lies ahead also belongs to him. And so the Israelites perform this circumcision on all males.

At the end God says: Today I have shifted the shame of Egypt from you. This is what the name Gilgal means. As the foreskin was cut off, all the shame, all the guilt, all the failures, the humiliation of slavery, everything that the Israelites carried around from the past, that shaped them, that was a burden, was taken from them. The past should no longer determine them, they were free for a new time, free for a new country, free for a new relationship with God, free for their destiny. These young people, unlike their parents, had chosen to go forward with faith in God and actually inhabit the promised land. They showed that by crossing the Jordan and now also by this step of obedience to circumcision.

What does all this have to do with us? Why aren’t we circumcised? In fact, there was a dispute among the early Christians, who were made up of Jews and people from other nations. Acts 15 tells of it. In the end, after discussion and prayer, the apostles decide that Christians from other nations do not need to be circumcised in order to belong to God’s people.

Circumcision was a sign of belonging to Israel, but God’s people expand to include all people with the new covenant made by Jesus.

Galatians 5:6: Where people are connected to Jesus Christ, it doesn’t matter whether someone is circumcised or not. Only the trusting faith counts, which has an effect in active love.

Gott hatte schon vorher kritisiert, dass sein Volk zwar äußerlich beschnitten war, aber innerlich nicht so lebte, wie Gott es sich vorgestellt hatte:

So don’t be stubborn anymore! You are circumcised in body, but you must also circumcise your heart! Deuteronomy 10:16

So the outward sign was already one thing for the Israelites, but actually God was concerned with something else, much deeper, namely their hearts. And because God realizes that we as human beings are not able to do this, that our heart is rebellious towards him, that is why he already says to the Israelites:

God himself will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your seed, so that you may love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength, and thereby save your life. Deuteronomy 30:6

In a way, what God promised His people during the wanderings in the wilderness, He does now in Gilgal as He rolls off the shame of Israel. But it’s just a little taste of what he later does in Jesus:

Colossians 2:11-14 In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision that is not done with hands, when you put off your fleshly nature in the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism; you were also raised with him through faith by the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And he made you alive with him, dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, and forgave us all our sins. He blotted out the bill of indebtedness that was against us with its claims, and took it away and nailed it to the cross.

I once mentioned this point:

2. Baptism as a sign of personal devotion to Jesus

Basically we have a double sign for baptism among the people of Israel, namely the crossing of the people of Israel through the Jordan, where we have already seen that Jesus is visible on the cross in the ark of the covenant, and the circumcision.

Paul says we were dead to God, meaning separated from Him for all eternity through our guilt, our shame, our failure.

But then Jesus built a bridge between God and us. He bridges the ditch, he crosses the river of death. He dies on the cross for us and we have a choice. We can accept the gift of forgiveness, we can acknowledge our need for Jesus, and follow Him across the cross, through the Jordan River into the promised land, which the Bible says is a fulfilled life in God’s presence, blessed with all spiritual blessings and we are then heirs of eternal life, so we can continue to live in God’s presence in eternity after this life. Our promissory note is then taken away, nailed to the cross with Jesus.

And not only our guilt is cut off, so to speak. Our whole old life, our being without Jesus, is cut off. As we make clear in baptism, when we put someone in a tomb of water, so to speak:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new man; the old is gone, behold, the new is in the making. 2 Corinthians 5:17

There is, however, an essential difference between baptism and circumcision. Some churches have adopted baptism as the baptism of small babies, analogous to circumcision on the 8th day after birth. In the New Testament, however, it becomes clear that faith, trust in Jesus, is the decisive factor and not the outward sign. Just as God cares about our hearts, as we saw before.

Baptism is then the visible sign of this decision that a person has previously made to accept the gift of Jesus, to end their old life without Jesus, to have it cut short. But it’s an important sign. It is a monument that we erect, that God stands up for and that God also decrees. If we have made this decision to live with him, then we should also be baptized.

If we confess what Jesus did, then Jesus cut off the old life. The power of sin and death is severed.

The old life is gone.

We died with Christ.

We are buried with him.

And we rose with him too.

Now we have a new identity:

You are God’s child, redeemed and free from guilt,

no longer condemned but part of God’s family and citizen of Heaven.

The shame of Egypt, your past has also been passed on to you and it no longer has to determine you.

That’s very important, because we can’t win if we’re always stuck in the past. We do not have a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. I will always find mercy and grace with God when I need help!

But the circumcision of our hearts is a lifelong process that God keeps reminding us of. The Holy Spirit lives in us now and he changes us. And we should support him in this.

When we were old without Jesus, the Bible says we were slaves to sin. We had no choice. But now we belong to Jesus. While we are still in this world and sin still has its influence, we can respond differently. When the devil comes we can tell him we are dead to him. We can trust God and live as He says.

And so, as a practical consequence of this circumcision, we read in Colossians 3:

If you have now been raised to a new life with Christ, direct your whole life towards him. Focus your thoughts on God’s unseen world and not on what the earthly world has to offer. Because you died for her, but God has already given you eternal life with Christ, even if that is still hidden. But when Christ our life appears, it will be seen in glory that you live with him. So resolutely separate yourself from all selfish desires that characterize this world! Colossians 3:1-5

We can claim that God has passed on our old life and our guilt is forgiven. Or if you have never done that, then today is your opportunity that God wants to give you. And just as today we can again separate ourselves from everything that does not fit a life with God, cut everything off so that we are prepared to take the promised land of our life with God together.

As we read earlier, the people remained in their camp for some time until the wounds of the circumcised had healed. Her obedience hurt, it cost her something. During this time they were not only wounded but also vulnerable. But God takes care of them so that nothing happens to them from other peoples.

Obedience can sometimes cost us, too. And it may be that we do not directly experience the blessing of God. After his baptism, Jesus was led into the desert. But we can know, if we live in the will of God, that he is looking out for us and that even difficult times contribute to our maturity so that we can then move forward.

After the people of Israel have been circumcised, they celebrate a festival.

3. The Passah – commemoration of deliverance from Egypt

Only the circumcised were allowed to take part in this festival, as God had decreed. Exodus 12:48 And what timing, it shows that God had it all planned. The Passover should be celebrated on the 14th day of the 1st month. And that day was now – exactly 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt. And so the people remembered deliverance from slavery not only by having the shame of Egypt passed on through circumcision, but also by this festival. They remembered what God had done and that He would take care of them now.

God had asked Pharaoh through Moses to release the people of Israel, who had come there as free people in a famine in the days of Joseph and were later made slaves by the Egyptians. But Pharaoh refused. God sent various plagues to move Pharaoh. There are many parallels to this in Revelation as well, but that is another topic. But the pharaoh stood firm. Finally the last plague came.

The Israelites were to slaughter a lamb without blemish in each house, eat the flesh, and put the blood on the doorposts. Unleavened bread and wine were served with it. The following night an angel went through the land and killed the firstborn in every house, but passed by the houses of the Israelites where there was blood on the doorpost. That was God’s judgment because the Egyptians rebelled against God and wanted nothing to do with him.

At that time the Israelites could not explain what the lamb and the blood were all about. However, Jesus did celebrate the Passover the night before he was betrayed.

4. The Lord’s Supper – remembrance of Jesus’ death and the new covenant

Jesus takes the unleavened bread of the Passover meal as a sign of his body, which will be sacrificed on the cross like the Passover lamb. Just as the Passover lamb was without blemish, the Bible tells us that Jesus was also pure and without blemish. The cup is a symbol of the blood of Jesus Christ that flowed on the cross. It parallels the blood of the sacrificial lamb that the Israelites were to put on the doorposts to be spared death.

Just as the Jews celebrate the great liberation act of God in Passover, as a people that God led out of the slavery of Egypt, so we celebrate liberation from the slavery of sin in the Lord’s Supper and keep reminding ourselves of it.

Jesus makes a new covenant with all who accept this forgiveness. A covenant he seals with his own blood. That everyone who claims this becomes a child of God, is included in the family of God. Again, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the decision that a person has previously made. It is not the Lord’s Supper that saves, but what Jesus did for us on the cross. And just as the Passover meal is for the circumcised, so is the Lord’s Supper figuratively for people whose hearts have been circumcised that belong to Jesus. We are spared from judgment because Jesus gave his blood, just as the lamb was sacrificed and the blood saved the Israelites from judgment by the angel.

In the Lord’s Supper we can reflect on the love of Jesus who gave his own life. The Lord’s Supper gives us hope that Jesus is with us even in the difficult times of our lives and will not leave us alone. The Lord’s Supper also gives us the certainty that Jesus will come again one day because he told his disciples that he would not celebrate it again until his kingdom was visibly established. The Lord’s Supper is also a confession to Jesus. It is a meal of fellowship with one another, because in a family we are not alone. And it is an occasion to examine our relationship with Jesus and neighbor, just as we heard earlier about the practical consequences of living with Jesus, and to have guilt forgiven and to cleanse our relationship with our family members.

God calls us out of love.

He saves us by grace.

He forgives all our debts

He holds us when we fall

He gives us the victory

He hears our prayers

After the people of Israel celebrated the Passover, God’s supernatural supply of manna ceased. In return they were allowed to begin to eat the fruits of the promised land. Strictly speaking, that too is a supernatural provision. We celebrate this every year on Thanksgiving. Because God provides us with the yields of our fields, even if we consider it so natural.

For the Israelites it meant a new kind of diversity. And so it can sometimes be the case in our lives that we experience a special provision from God. When it stops, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us, but that He has something new in store for us.

I said it last time that the people of Israel always go back to this camp where the monument with the 12 stones stands when they conquer the promised land to remember:

Yes, God has done a miracle before, he will be with us now and help us. Equally important was that they remembered the circumcision, that the shame of Egypt was passed on and the Passover, that God delivered them out of Egypt and is with them now.

It is also important for us that we keep reminding ourselves of the monuments that God has placed in our lives and that we have placed ourselves to remember. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are of particular importance. Because in baptism we remember that our old life without Jesus is over. We have accepted Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and confessed that we belong to Him. I am a child of God, redeemed and free from guilt, part of God’s family and a citizen of heaven. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we celebrate it again and again and remember what Jesus did on the cross. He loves me so much that he gave his own life for me. He’s with me now, even if I’m not experiencing him right now and I’m going through a deep valley. He put me in the community with other Christians who are traveling with me.

He will return one day, but until then I can know that He lives and works in me through His Spirit, helping me to take more and more of the promised land in my life. The Lord’s Supper is also an occasion to examine my relationship to Jesus and to my neighbor, to have guilt forgiven and to clean up my relationship with my fellow human beings And that’s exactly how we want to celebrate communion together.

But before that we want to worship God with songs for what he has done and we also want to use this time to let God speak to us where he wants to encourage us, where he might want to show you that there is something else that is you carry around with you what God has long since passed on to you and you can let go today, when you can ask for his help and support, when you can become aware of his love again, or also when God wants to correct you and wants you to cut things out in your life that don’t fit with a life with Jesus and prevent you from experiencing victory in your life.