Sometimes we assume others know what we’re talking about. For instance, I remember not long ago talking with a young man in jail about God, Jesus, the Bible etc. and I couldn’t seem to find any spiritual footing with him. Eventually I landed on the story of Noah and the flood. Everyone’s heard the story of Noah haven’t they? Wrong!
As I spoke with this young man, probably 20 yrs. old, it became obvious to me he had absolutely no background experience with church or the Bible. I have to admit I was somewhat shocked at the time thinking to myself; the History Channel has even had shows about Noah on before. I mean you don’t even have to go to church or read a Bible to have heard this story. It was as though I was talking to a foreigner and had to come up with something else to relate to him. If I’m not mistaken I ended up sharing the story in Luke 15 about the younger brother, also known as the prodigal. That is a story that perfectly demonstrates our trying to run our own lives and the merciful heart of our heavenly father.
Just a few days ago during our usual Sunday Bible study at the jail we had a similar experience. As we read Matthew 8 the terms Jews and Gentiles came up and a young man was confused about whether Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Jewish and what that meant. My friend Brian Coatney said to him “Yes the Old Covenant was made with Israel (Jews).” Once again it became clear to me how much I assume others know about the Bible and what it is all about.
There are some very fundamental things we need to understand when reading the Bible one of them being the importance God places on the nation of Israel as Abraham’s heirs both natural and those that are grafted in. I have come to realize most Christians struggle to reconcile what they have read in the Old Testament with what the New Testament is all about. At first glance they can appear to be at odds with one another but that’s only because we haven’t understood each of them in context.
When God called Abraham out of his homeland he told him to go to a land he would show him. He later made a promise to him that he would make him into a great nation. Circumcision was the sign of the agreement with Abraham and any others that were included. The promise God gave to Abraham he also gave to Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob whom God later renamed Israel. Israel (Jacob) had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. So Abraham’s descendants really did become a great nation after all, just as God had promised.
As time went on Israel ended up in slavery in Egypt, and God called Moses to go and free them and lead them to the land he promised them. That of course is the story of Israel’s 40 yr. adventure of wandering in the desert. In fact all but two of them died in the desert because they didn’t believe God would give them the land. Instead they believed their eyes, and their eyes told them the giants in the land were too much for them to overcome. God instead gave the land to their children that had been born to them during the 40 yrs. of wandering.
The New Covenant is in Jesus’ blood. The Old Covenant was between God and Israel and it too was inaugurated with blood only it was the blood of animals. You see the Old Covenant was really there as a guide until Jesus Christ came. Once Jesus gave himself on Calvary, as the perfect final sacrifice, there is now no need of the Old Covenant. Now we are brought into Covenant relationship with God only through the blood of his only begotten son. Truth be told animal blood never could take away sins but in fact was a yearly reminder of them. Now though the blood of Jesus we can come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy in our time of need.
So when it comes to discussions about Jews and Gentiles you see the Old Covenant was only for Jews. Of course if a Gentile wanted to be included they would have to be circumcised. Thankfully, in the New Covenant we discover God isn’t really after a physical circumcision, but instead he’s looking for a deeper cut. The Apostle Paul told us in Romans 2 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” The real circumcision took place on the cross of Christ.
One more bit of insight from the letter to the Galatians clarifies for us that the promise to Abraham was to his “seed” singular. Paul then goes on to explain that singular seed is in fact Jesus. So if we have Jesus Christ we are an heir to the promise whether Jew or Gentile. So when it comes to the Old Testament you had to be born into Abraham’s natural family to be a part of the Covenant with God, but now in the New we must be born again of the Spirit. So whether you are a natural Jew or not we are all on the same footing in Christ.
As we wrapped up our time with the men in jail that same young man looked at Brian and me and said, “I guess I can take it that you two are Jewish?” We just laughed a bit and Brian said, “Well, I have a Jew living in me…Jesus.” Well, I guess you could say, according to the Bible, we are true Jews because we have had the circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.
Written by Louie