While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts of the Apostles 15:1-11 NLT)
It is often difficult to change our practices when we have done things a certain way for so many years. For centuries, two millennia (2000 years), the Jewish people had practiced the ceremony of circumcision on their males. This began all the way back at the time of Abraham. In Genesis 17:9-14, God instructs Abraham that each male born in the Jewish home was to be circumcised. This included any Gentile that was a follower of the Lord God Jehovah (Hebrew derivative of God's name) and any slaves that were in their homes. This was the ceremonial seal of the Abrahamic Covenant. The male foreskin was cut away as an act of removing the flesh. In the process, blood was shed. By cutting away the flesh from the male, this was symbolically indicating that each male was dedicated to God. This was to be done on the eighth day after birth (see Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3). From my understanding, there is a clotting factor present in a male’s blood on the eighth day that isn't present prior to that.
This can be looked at even deeper. The circumcision of the male also represented the commitment of the seed from the man as he would pass this seed along to his wife and they both would see the product of a child that God had given them. As each child would then be born, the covenant would be passed from generation to generation by circumcision.
It was a foreshadowing of what would come through Jesus. Through the loins of Abraham came the Messiah (Christ - see Matthew 1 and Luke 3 for a genealogical record). The apostle Paul deals with this in its finest in the book of Galatians. If you haven't read that book, please do! Jesus is the New Covenant fulfillment of this Old Testament symbolism. He, and He alone, could bear our sin (which the word flesh represents - our fallen state of human life apart from God). Only Jesus could bear our sin on the cross. By being God (Immanuel - God with us - Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14; 8:8,10), He was sinless. Though He was sorely tempted (Matthew 4; Luke 4; and Hebrews 4:15), He never once sinned. As the one, and only, acceptable sacrifice, once and for all, He took upon Himself, in his flesh, the sin of us all (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). By giving His life as a substitution for ours, He redeemed (purchased back by ransom) our dying, cursed lives. When we accept Jesus as the payment for our sins, the flesh (old nature) is removed, and the new man is resurrected (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Jews, particularly the former Pharisees, wanted to keep practicing circumcision as a part of salvation (the act of saving from eternal destruction). Their error was simple. Jesus had fulfilled all that was required for our salvation. Only our acceptance and trust in Him will bring us in right standing with God. Several scriptures declare this clearly (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 5:1; 6:23; 10:8-10,13; I John 5:13 and others). So let's be abundantly clear! Jesus, and Jesus alone can save!!!!!!!
Rev. Curtis Norris