How stunning this is when you see it in context! After twelve "I will . . . you will" statements, God's primary requirement of Abraham is to bear the sign of God's faithfulness to the covenant, not Abraham's faithfulness. His role is to point himself and his family and everyone in the kingdom to the covenant faithfulness of God. His role is to bear the sign that points away from his ability and toward God's ability to deal somehow with our sin. Abraham knew of this dealing with sin in such a limited way, through the foreshadowing that he glimpsed in the sign of circumcision. You and I, however, know of this so much better, for we know the truths of salvation to which the sign points.

But for now, note that this sign places Abraham in a position much like the transportation department worker who stands on a road under repair, holding a sign that points away from the workers as they wave drivers off, a sign that points to where drivers should direct their attention. Abraham similarly is to direct attention away from humans to God's faithfulness. What's the direction of your life's signage? Do you attract people's attention to you or to Jesus?  Do you take center stage in your ministry, or do you gladly step aside as God's power is seen elsewhere: in other people, in other elders, in other staff? Your ministry and life point somewhere! Dare to ask yourself, "To whom does my life point?"

The sign itself is shocking!12 I think we must admit it. Though culturally common then, still circumcision is stunning. I suspect that I might have responded to God by saying, "What! Did you say that the sign of the covenant is circumcision? Excuse me, but that seems a bit strange. Perhaps I can understand that you want to remind me that there will be no forgiveness for my sins without the shedding of blood, but please prick my finger or my ear lobe or perhaps my heel. Why such a sign? Why there? This is a bit odd!"

No, on the contrary: rather than odd, it is supremely brilliant and pointedly vivid!

To explain this, we must refer to Colossians 2:11 and the following verses that identify the cross of Jesus Christ as "a circumcision [not] done by the hands of men." So, connect the dots! We infer that God is saying in Genesis 17 by this sign that no God-ordered ministry will be done, or can be done, without remembering the cross. He seems to be telling us: 

  1. We must remember the cross so vividly . . . it is even scarred into the flesh. The law was merely nailed to doorposts or woven into hair and head garments.13 But the gospel is "cut" deeply into our person.
  2. We must remember the cross in a place (the location of the sign) in which we will not often think of spirituality and theology and truth and God.
  3. During our moments of sexual intimacy with our spouse, we should even be mindful of the cross.
  4. We must remember the cross at the moment a child is conceived.
  5. We must remember the cross every time we change a diaper.
  6. We must be "cross-eyed" as we look at all children and every marriage and experience of human love and physical intimacy and passionate sexuality and family.
  7. Basically, we should only be able to look at all of life "crosseyed."

I have personally evaluated my grasp of God's intent with this sign by asking all three of my children, who are now grown, to leave the room on one evening during family devotions when they were quite young. I invited them back into the room one at a time so none of them could hear their siblings as I asked them a single question; "What is the most important truth that I have taught you as your father?" My eldest son said to me, "Always do the right thing!" My younger son said, "Always keep the rules and do your best." But my youngest child, my daughter, then in preschool, simply said, "Jesus loves me." I looked at my wife and said in sorrow, "Great! I've raised two Pharisees and one Christian." Although in many ways that is an oversimplification, there is great truth in it. It is an oversimplification because all three of my children have become believers in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to the Sovereign King of grace and glory!