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Thursday, December 8, 2016

December 8: Jesus, Cut Off that We May Enter In

He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half . . . 
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram - Genesis 15:9-10, 17-18a
Jesus Fulfills the Abrahamic Covevant,
Being Cut Off in Judgment That We Might Enter Into Blessing
illustration from the 1728
Figures de la Bible;
illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others
Sometimes the Bible is just strange. Why would God attempt to reassure Abraham's faltering faith by having him cut up animals? What does the shedding of blood have to do with God keeping His promise? Well, this event from Genesis 15 does indeed seem very strange to us, but it was not so strange to Abraham. The typical way to make a covenant in the cultural context of the Old Testament involved shedding blood. In fact, the Hebrew expression for "to make a covenant" is literally "to cut a covenant." In Bible language, a covenant is something made by cutting, by shedding blood.
More importantly, you may be asking, "What does Genesis 15 have to do with Christmas and the coming of Jesus?" Well, in Genesis 15, God makes a solemn covenant promise to Abraham. one which would ultimately require the birth of the Son of God as a human baby boy in order to keep. 
God promised Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan, but the deeper promise was for the blessing of God to rest upon Abraham and his descendants and, through them, to flow out to all the nations on earth. In Genesis 15, Abraham is old and still childless and wondering how God could keep His promise. 
God has Abraham cut up animals because God is sealing His promise to Abraham with an oath. This elaborate and bloody covenant ceremony was an oath, like "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." God is vowing to keep His promise to Abraham, or else He will be cut up like the animals. Imagine God obligating Himself to a human being in such severe terms! 
Two chapters later, in Genesis 17, God has Abraham do some cutting again, but this time the covenant sign is circumcision. This time, the knife cuts through Abraham's own flesh and the flesh of all the males in his household. Ouch! This cutting puts obligation on Abraham to walk before God and be blameless. With these two covenants, both sides of the relationship are now obligated by bloodshed, kind of like becoming "blood brothers" with a bloody handshake. 
Here's where the sad truth of history intervenes: Abraham's descendants did not keep their end of the bargain. They sinned, rebelled, rejected God, worshiped idols, committed immorality of every description and basically broke their covenant vows in every imaginable way over and over again. But God was still obligated on His side to bless them and give them an inheritance from Himself. What was God going to do?
Jesus was born on that first Christmas as the God-man, as the Son of God and the Son of Abraham. Because of the uniqueness of who He is, Jesus is qualified to represent both sides of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham. As the Son of Abraham, Jesus comes in order to perfect the obedience that neither Abraham nor his offspring ever could. Thus, Jesus fulfills the commandment to "walk before Me and be blameless" from Genesis 17:1. But because Jesus was also fully God, He could also keep God's bloody vow in Genesis 15.
When Jesus hung on the cross, bearing the sin of God's people, He was fulfilling both bloody covenants, Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. He was reconciling these two alienated parties in His own flesh. This is another way to understand Christmas: Jesus was born to be circumcised, to be cut off in a bloody death, that God's people might receive the promise made to Abraham. 
In the course of fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant, Jesus expands one of its central promises: "The meek shall inherit the earth," not just Israel. And through Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the promises of adoption, blessing and inheritance spread to every nation throughout all generations! Praise God for such wonderful faithfulness! 
Heavenly Father, when You made Your covenant with Abraham, You knew very well what it would cost You to keep it. You made it willingly, lovingly, knowing how faithless Your people would be and how faithful You would be. Thank You for Your covenant faithfulness! Thank You for Jesus our Savior! Amen.      
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"Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you" - powerful words from "What Child is This?" - 

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