The Song of the Covenant (Genesis 17:9-14)

Way back at the beginning, Moses tells us, God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden, into the wilderness east of Eden.

And over the years, many people have thought, “Hey, if the God of the bible is supposed to be so loving, why didn’t he just let them stay? Sure, they had rebelled against him, but it is clear from the text that they were very sorry. They were repentant. So why didn’t God just say, ‘You are forgiven, please stay back and we will start over’?”

Well, it is true that Adam and Eve were very sorry, very repentant. But the text also makes it clear that their rebellion had changed them in a fundamental way: their eyes had been opened. Right away they saw how they had corrupted themselves, and a few minutes later they discovered that the presence of God’s perfection made their personal sense of corruption infinitely worse by comparison. And the text makes it clear that this was a terrible experience for them.

So what this means is that it was not enough for God to simply forgive Adam and Eve, he also needed to restore them. He needed to wipe away their corruption, and make them truly holy again, before they would be able to see God without being consumed by self-loathing and terror.

And this restoration needed to be done without wiping their memories, because for God to reboot them like that would have been a violation of who he had created them to be: persons made in his image, with the authority and the responsibility to make choices that really matter.

Well, the good news is: God had a way to make Adam and Eve holy again without destroying them or violating their personhood.

The bad news is: it would take many generations for God to prepare humanity for his work.

So, in order to buy time, God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. This saved them from the agony of living in his holy presence, and gave them the chance to live and reproduce in hope that one day one of Eve’s sons would come and make them holy again, just as God had promised.

And for a long time after, that is all we knew: God had a plan, and it involved one of Eve’s sons. We had no idea what this plan would look like, or how it would work — until we got to the story of Noah.

At that point in history, Moses tells us, God provided one righteous son of Eve: blameless among the people of his time, a man who walked faithfully before God. And God made a deal with him: if Noah would be obedient by building a very large boat, then God would make a covenant with him: he would gather Noah and his family into that boat and save them from the coming judgment.

And, Moses tells us, Noah obeyed God in everything. So on the very day the flood judgement began, Noah and his family and all the different kinds of animals entered into the ark, and they were saved. And after the flood, as they emerged onto a new earth, God commissioned a visible sign — the rainbow — as an everlasting reminder of the fact that God keeps his promises.

And that whole episode gave us the general shape of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

First, it confirmed that salvation will come through the obedience of one, righteous man: a Messiah.

Second, it showed us that this Messiah would save people from judgement by building a new holy place, and gathering his people into that holy place.

Third, it showed us that the gathered people are going to be one family.

And fourth: it showed us that not every person who is gathered into God’s family in God’s holy place is ultimately saved. Remember Noah’s son Ham? He was gathered into the ark and saved from the flood judgement — but later on he rebelled against his father, and fell under God’s curse.

So the Noah episode taught us a lot…but it also left at least one very important question unanswered: how is the coming Messiah going to make God’s people holy enough to safely re-enter God’s holy presence?

And for a long time that question went unanswered. We knew God had a plan, we knew it involved a righteous Messiah, a new holy place, a new holy people. But we did not know how God would do this. How do you purify a people whose every instinct has been corrupted, while at the same time leaving the essence of who they are untouched?

And then, finally, Moses introduced Abraham. And to make sure his readers understood that Abraham is the new Noah, he introduced Abraham with the same words he used when he introduced Noah: God shows up and says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” Exactly as Noah was described. Then, exactly as he did for Noah, God went on to offer Abraham a deal: “If you do this, then I will make my covenant between me and you.”

And then God went on to be specific, verse 9: “As for you — this is what I want you to do — you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. [10] This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. [11] You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

So this is the pattern Moses wants us to notice: Noah was told to build a boat, and through that boat God saved Noah’s family. Now Abraham is told to circumcise every male in his household — so does this mean that, through circumcision, God is going to save Abraham’s household?

Well, perhaps, in order to answer that question, we had better answer some other questions first, like: what is circumcision? What does it mean? And why did God choose circumcision instead of something else?

Let’s start with the first question: what is circumcision?

Circumcision is the ritual cutting of the foreskin of the male reproductive member. And back in Abraham’s time this was a fairly common custom: the Egyptians and Ethiopians practiced it, and various Canaanite peoples as well. So Abraham would have known what it was.

But what did it mean?

For many of those pagan nations, circumcision was a purification ritual that was — obviously — related to sex and reproduction. Some cultures circumcised a boy when he hit puberty, other cultures circumcised him when he got married, but the idea behind it was the same: cutting a man’s foreskin and making it bleed was a way to sacrifice a man’s reproductive member to the gods. But clearly this was a symbolic sacrifice: the man keeps physical ownership of the member in question, while the gods get spiritual ownership of it. And the hope was, of course, that any childen who were born to a circumcised man would be considered extra holy to the gods, under their special protection. That is what it meant.

Which leads us to the last question: why did God choose circumcision as the sign of his covenant with Abraham?

Well, because circumcision was a purification ritual: a ritual designed to make men holy — or, at least, to make one part of a man holy. And, if you remember, making people holy is a necessary part of God’s plan.

So: Noah was told to build a boat, and through that boat God saved Noah’s family. Now, Abraham is told to circumcise every male in his household, does this mean that circumcision is going to save Abraham’s household…?

Yes, apparently. In order for Abraham’s family to be saved, they need to be made holy again. Circumcision is a ritual designed to make men holy. Therefore, circumcision must be an essential part of God’s plan to save Abraham’s family.

Which is very interesting. And it gets even more interesting when God goes on to redefine the concept of family:

[12] “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. [13] Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.”

Pagan nations believed that a man had to make himself holy by choosing to be circumcised. And so they restricted circumcision to adults, because obviously children cannot understand the concept of holiness.

But Abraham’s God knows that a man cannot make himself holy, he needs to be made holy. And so God told Abraham that circumcision is not only for adults, it is also for every baby boy.

Pagan nations also believed that the blessings of the gods should only be given to certain special people. And so they restricted circumcision to people that they thought deserved it, usually relatives.

But Abraham’s God has already told Abraham that he is going to be a blessing to all nations, and he wants that distribution of blessings to begin now: God wants every man in Abraham’s community to be circumcised, including servants and slaves and their sons, even if they are all foreigners from other nations.

So when we say that, through circumcision, God is going to make Abraham’s family holy, we have to realize that, for God, “family” does not just mean those who are related to Abraham, “family” means everyone in Abraham’s household — slaves and free, infants and adults. God wants every one of them to be made holy through circumcision, whether they understand it or not, whether they are worthy of it or not…

Basically, through circumcision, God is asking Abraham to dedicate the entire future of his entire household to God. Through circumcision, God wants Abraham to hand complete control of his family over to God, so that God can make them holy, so that God can fulfill his promises.

This moment is intended to be a test of Abraham’s faith. Back in Chapter 15 we were told Abraham believed the Lord’s promise of a son, and God counted it to him as righteousness. That was great! — but in Chapter 16 Abraham tried to “help” God fulfill his promise. So now here in Chapter 17 God wants to know, “Hey, Abraham, are you ready now take your hands off the controls and let me fulfill my promises without your help?”

Really this is the same test of faith Noah went through. He built a boat in faith that God would keep his promise to save him, and then he entered that boat in faith that God would keep his promises to save him. And in the end, Noah received the rainbow as an everlasting sign of God’s covenant promises.

The difference in Abraham’s case is that the test and the sign are the same thing.

Let me put it another way: in Noah’s cycle, the ark was the holy place where Noah’s family were purified and made holy by faith — because they had absolutely no control of the boat. And then the rainbow came later as a reward for Noah’s faith.

But in Abraham’s cycle, the circumcised household is the holy place where Abraham’s family will be purified and made holy by faith — because they have absolutely no control over the future anyway. And circumcision is also its own reward for Abraham’s faith: a permanent mark, a permanent reminder, that God has already made an unbreakable covenant with him.

Another important difference between Noah’s situation and Abraham’s is that, in Noah’s case, it was a one-time deal: he built the ark, everyone got on board, and they were saved. In Abraham’s case, it begins as a one-time deal: Abraham must decide, for himself and for his household, if he is going to trust God’s plan. But then, every man of every generation that follows is going to have to decide, for himself and for his household, if they are going to continue to trust God’s plan.

If they decide to trust and circumcise and carry on, they will continue in the covenant. “But,” God goes on to say in verse 14, “any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Which makes perfect sense: if you don’t believe in God’s covenant promises, why would you want to stay in Abraham’s covenant household? And why would God force you to stay? God created human beings in his image, with the authority and the responsibility to make choices that really matter. So if a man wants out of the covenant, God is going to let him out, even if that man’s decision leads him and his family directly to death in the wilderness.

And, Moses tells us, Abraham obeyed God in everything, just like Noah: on that very day when God told him to, Abraham’s whole household entered into circumcision, and they were saved from the judgement that followed.

And what we have seen here is that, while the covenant with Noah gave us the foundational concepts of God’s plan, the covenant with Abraham has deepened and expanded some of those concepts.

For instance, Noah was called to build a holy place out of wood, a physical structure. But Abraham is called to build a holy place out of people, a relational structure.

Also, Noah was called to gather his immediate family into the holy place. But Abraham is called to gather everyone in his household, regardless of their ethnic background, their status, or their age.

So the covenant with Abraham is revealing more details of God’s redemption plan. Most importantly, it has answered the question we were asking at the end of the Noah episode: how is the coming Messiah going to make God’s people holy?

The answer is: through circumcision. Circumcision is what makes God’s people holy, what gathers them into God’s holy place, and lets them live in his presence.

But that just leads us to another question: how does circumcision make people holy?

I mean: yes, we can see that it provides symbolic holiness…but symbolic holiness does not get rid of internal corruption. Because if it did, no one would ever rebel against God and his covenant the way Ham did. So, clearly, circumcision does not make people fundamentally holy.

Well, Moses was aware of this. And so, later on in his writings, he told his people — the ancient people of Israel — that just circumcising their bodies was not actually enough: they also need to circumcise their hearts. That external mark of faith was supposed to reflect an internal reality of faith. That external mark of obedience was supposed to reflect an internal reality of obedience.

But…there is a fundamental flaw in that concept. Because the problem with internal corruption is that it cannot be fixed by the one who is corrupted. It is impossible for a man to circumcise his own heart. It is impossible for a man to make himself holy. Only God can make a man truly holy: that was one of the core concepts that circumcision was designed to illustrate in the first place.

And Moses was also aware of this. He knew that his people would prove unable to circumcise their own hearts. He knew that in the generations to come his people would be tempted to believe that the ritual of circumcision literally saves them, literally makes them holy. He knew that this false understanding would lead them to be complacent about the need to actually believe in God’s promises and obey him. And Moses knew that the eventual consequence of all this would be exile. God would have to drive his people out of his presence, into the wilderness east of their promised land, and they would be scattered throughout the nations of the world.

But Moses also knew that after this terrible lesson, then God’s plan to make his people holy would be completed. This is what he wrote near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy: after all this has happened, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. And then the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

And so we are finding that Moses has answered the question we were asking at the end of the circumcision episode: how does circumcision make people holy?

The simple answer is: circumcision makes people holy only when it is applied to the heart. And obviously this is something that only God can do.

But this just leads us to yet another question: how is God going to circumcise the human heart and make it holy? What is that going to look like?

Well, good news: even though Moses did not answer these questions, later on God sent another prophet who did answer these questions: the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who actually lived during the time when the Israel was exiled and scattered. And so, in the midst of all that horror and confusion, Ezekiel actually repeated Moses’ prophecy in all its details…and then added more details to it.

And Ezekiel’s words are actually printed here in our worship guide on Page 4, we read his prophecy together during our Promise of Forgiveness. So here it is, God’s answer to our question: what is heart circumcision going to look like?

These are the words of the Lord: “After all this horror and confusion is finished, I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

So how is God’s Messiah going to circumcise the human heart and make it holy? He is going to do it by sprinkling God’s people with clean water on the outside, and by giving them God’s Spirit on the inside.

The Old Testament began with a question: how is God going to make his people holy enough to live again in his presence?

The Old Testament ends with this answer: he is going to have to come and live within his people and transform them from the inside out. Through sprinkled water and the Spirit, he is going to circumcise their hearts so that faith will become obedience. Only then will he be able to gather his people safely back into his presence, without fear, without shame, without judgement.

The New Testament begins with the same answer. God sends one more prophet: a man named John. And just as Ezekiel had repeated Moses’ prophecy and expanded on it, so also John repeats Ezekiel’s prophecy and expands on it. This is what he says: “I baptize you with water, but a man is coming who is going to baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and gather you safely into his barn.”

And sure enough, a man showed up who claimed to be the Messiah. And he proved that he was the Messiah by doing many amazing things throughout his life. But he also claimed to be the literal Son of God, and in the end this got him killed, because according to the ancient Jewish law, claiming to be the Son of God is the same thing as claiming to be God, which is blasphemy. And the punishment for blasphemy was death.

But then something unexpected happened: this Messiah came back to life. He rejoined his disciples. He told them that he was leaving soon, but that after he left, he would send “the promise of my Father” to them. He told them that, after he left, they would finally be baptized with the Holy Spirit, just as God had promised through John and Ezekiel.

And then he disappeared. His disciples said that he had been lifted up into his Father’s presence, and was ruling the world from there, but there was no evidence of this — until 10 days later.

On that very day, the Day of Pentecost, this Messiah proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he really was — is — the Son of God by doing exactly what he said he was going to do: he baptized his people in the Holy Spirit. He took away their hearts of stone and replaced them with hearts of flesh. He made his people holy, truly holy, not just symbolically holy. And he gathered them into one family, one ark, one Church.

And when others in Jerusalem heard what was going on and asked how they could join, this is what Peter, the Messiah’s chief disciple said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Basically: “Be baptized with water on the outside, and by the Spirit on the inside.”

And then Peter went on to explicitly link Jesus’ baptism to Abraham’s circumcision: “This promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.“ In other words: God’s holiness can be given — should be given — to infants and foreigners, just like Abraham’s circumcision. And this makes sense, because we would expect Christ’s baptism to be more effective and more widely applicable than Abraham’s circumcision.

And, in fact, it is! Abraham’s Old Testament circumcision was intended for every man in the household, whether slave or free, infant or adult, and that was a radical departure from the customs of Abraham’s day. But Jesus’ New Testament baptism is even more radical, because it is intended for absolutely every kind of person: men and women, slave and free, infants and adults. Through the sprinkling of clean water, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, every kind of human being on the planet can be made really, truly holy, without wiping their memory, without violating their personhood.

And so, as Peter says later in the New Testament, it is baptism that now saves us — not the simple removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. Just like Noah’s rainbow, just like Abraham’s circumcision, baptism is a sign, an everlasting reminder that God has already kept his promise and poured out his Holy Spirit upon his Church, and that this Spirit is available to anyone who asks.

So what does this mean for us, then? Does this mean that every person who receives baptism automatically receives the Holy Spirit, and is guaranteed salvation?

Well, when we look back at the patterns of the Old Testament, we have to say: no. All of Noah’s sons entered the ark, and yet, later on, one of them chose to fall under God’s curse. All of Abraham’s sons entered into circumcision, and yet, later on…but I don’t want to spoil the story for us. In the same way, the entire nation of Israel was baptised into Moses when they followed him through the Red Sea, but later on that entire generation chose to fall in the wilderness.

And this is confusing. Because the bible says that baptism saves you. But if baptism really saves us, if baptism really makes us holy…why do some people fall away?

And over the years Christian theologians have come up with three main explanations:

Some churches have tried to resolve this issue by saying that, yes, the ritual of water baptism literally saves you. The Holy Spirit is literally poured onto the person along with the water. They also say that, by committing certain serious sins, you can lose your salvation. But then they say that you can get your salvation back by repenting and confessing to a priest or a pastor, who then officially restores your salvation.

Unfortunately, this view of baptism strongly resembles the ancient Israelite view of circumcision, the false view that led them into complacency. Complacency is not actually what those churches teach, but that is the idea many of their members seem to pick up: it is a weakness of that system. However, this is a very old approach, it has been around for well over 1000 years.

Other churches, in the last 400 years or so, have reacted against this approach and gone to the opposite extreme. They say that water baptism is only symbolic. And because it is only symbolic, it is only really effective if the person being baptized understands the symbolism and accepts it by faith. And so, as a result, these churches restrict baptism to adults only.

Now, these churches mean well, their hearts are in the right place, but unfortunately this view of baptism strongly resembles the ancient pagan view of circumcision: it tends to give people the impression that, through baptism, a person can make themselves holy. Now, I want to be clear: that is not actually what many of those churches teach, but it is often the impression their members seem to pick up; this is a weakness in that system.

Now, our church follows the third explanation, the most ancient and well documented explanation: we try to fly between the two extremes. We do not want people to put their faith in the ritual of baptism, which can lead to complacency; we also do not want people to put their faith in understanding the symbolism of baptism, which can lead to self-righteousness. So, when we search the scriptures carefully, we find that circumcision was both a sign and a seal of the holiness Abraham received from God. In other words: it was symbolic, and it was real. And then the scriptures go on to tell us that baptism is both a sign and a seal of the holiness we receive from the Holy Spirit. So we believe the salvation that comes through baptism is both symbolic and real. We teach that holiness comes to us from God and yet it also comes to us by faith.

And what this means is that our church’s position, this third position, also has a weakness: it is very hard to explain, because our human minds struggle to understand how something can be both symbolic and real. The human brain prefers black and white thinking, we prefer extremes. And that is why the other two views of baptism tend to be very popular: they are easily understood, easily accepted, even if they do not accurately reflect the nuances of scripture.

And yet, difficult as it is, we find that this third view is the only one that actually answers the questions we are asking: if baptism really saves us, if baptism really makes us holy…why do some people fall away?

So I am going to try to explain this by using music as an analogy:

Noah’s ark was real, and it provided a literal salvation from judgement. But it was also symbolic of God’s future salvation. And so we could say that Noah’s ark was like a piece of sheet music. Now, sheet music is real music, right? So when one musician says to another, “Hey, is this the music?” and the other one says, “Yes, that is the music,” they are telling the truth. But we also know that a piece of paper is not music, because music is actually sound waves in the air. So sheet music is real music, but it is also only symbolic of real music.

And non-musicians can generally tell that a sheet of music is a sheet of music, they can recognize what it is. But only trained musicians can read the symbolism and translate it into music.

Well, Noah’s ark was the same way: most people could tell what it was. But only some people could read the symbolism and realize that it pointed to a greater salvation. Those were the people who remained faithful; the ones who could not read Noah’s sheet music fell away.

Then Abraham’s household came along as a development of Noah’s ark. Circumcision was also real, it literally marked Abraham’s household as holy to God: it was as real as a signature on a contract. But it was also symbolic of God’s future salvation. And so we could say that Abraham’s circumcision was like the recording of Noah’s sheet music. And a recording is real, right? So when one friend says to another, “Hey, do you have that new song by so-and-so on your phone,” and the other friend says, “Yes,” they are telling the truth. And yet we also know that a recording, a sound file, is not actually music, it is a mathematical formula encoded in 1’s and 0’s that only becomes music if someone presses play.

And that is why we can say that Abraham’s circumcised household was a development of Noah’s ark. Noah’s ark was like sheet music that could only be played by specialists. But Abraham’s household was like a recording that could potentially be played by anyone. In circumcision, the symbolism and the reality of salvation were closer together, easier to grasp, easier to play.

And that is what Moses was urging his people to do: he was telling them to press play on their circumcision. He was urging them to take the reality of their physical circumcision and, by obeying God’s law, turn it into the reality of heart circumcision.

But they were unable to do this. They pressed play, they did their best to obey God’s law, but still many of their hearts went uncircumcised: many of them fell away.

Now: why? Why didn’t circumcision work?

This is why: see, sheet music is music, but not really, because music is actually sound waves. A sound file is music, but not really, because music is actually sound waves. But guess what: sound waves are music — but not really, because sound waves are actually nothing more than vibrations in the air until those vibrations hit an eardrum that is able to interpret those vibrations as music.

Does that make sense?

Let me try again: anybody can load a sound file onto their phone and then press play. But only people with working ears will hear the music. A deaf person can press play on an audio file, and the file really is playing and they might even feel the buzzing of the phone’s speakers in their hand — but those vibrations are not music for them. Music does not become music until it strikes a listening ear. Music cannot move you and transform you unless you can hear it.

And the fundamental problem for mankind, ever since Adam and Eve sinned, is this: our eyes were opened to the reality of our corruption, but our ears were closed to the song of redemption. We could see that God is absolutely blindingly terrifyingly Holy, but we could not hear his voice as a Father saying, “My children! Come to me and I will make you holy!” And so our human race has lived in terror ever since.

But then Christ’s baptism by water and Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost. And on that very day two things happened: Jesus finally pressed play on the great song of redemption — and he opened the ears of all who belonged to him, and gathered them in so they could live in the presence of God.

So what this means is that, where Noah’s ark was the sheet music, and Abraham’s household was the sound file, through baptism Christ’s Church is the concert hall where the great hymn of redemption never stops playing, where the Holy Spirit is the musician who both brings the music to life and gives the listeners ears to hear. So when we, as a local church, baptize an individual or a family, what we are actually doing is ushering them into the concert hall where the music is already playing.

The concert hall is real, the song is real…and so we believe that baptism is real. It literally marks Christ’s people as holy to God, and the holiness of belonging to God is as real as the water, as real as the signature on an adoption certificate. It is true holiness whether the person understands it or not. And that is why our church opens baptism to everyone, to every kind of person: to adult believers of every ethnic and religious background, and to their children. We believe — no, actually: we know, it is an established fact — that even babies can hear music and be moved by it, even though they cannot possibly understand it.

So we believe that baptism is real, it has a real effect. But we also believe that baptism is symbolic. Simply sprinkling a person with water does not guarantee that their heart has been — or will be — sprinkled with the Holy Spirit. When we are dealing with adults, we try to make sure that the Holy Spirit has already opened their ears before we officially usher them into the concert hall. But honestly, we don’t know for sure at the moment of baptism. We baptize adults in faith that, if their ears really have been opened, then over time they will be inevitably transformed by the power of the song of redemption. If, over time, a person becomes moved to follow God’s decrees, and careful to keep God’s laws, then their heart has truly been circumcised by the Spirit.

But if that person is only pretending to hear the music, or if they are self-deceived…then that, too, will become obvious, and they will fall away. Their baptism will remain only symbolic; the symbol will never grow into reality.

And really, we baptize our children in the same way we baptize adults: in faith, believing that the best chance a child has to hear redemption’s song is for us to bring them in to where the music is playing the loudest. Because even deaf people at a concert can tell that there is music playing: they can feel the sound waves on their skin, the vibration of the ground through their feet. And our prayer is always that, as our children grow up in the presence of the musician and the song, the Holy Spirit will have mercy and create a hunger in them to hear the music for themselves, so that they ask for the ears to hear, and receive, and be moved and transformed and go on to eternal life in the presence of the Holy God and Father of us all.

So what should we do? What is our practical application?

Well, if you are here today and you are skeptical about what you have heard, then do this: ask God to give you the ears to hear. I dare you. After all, you don’t believe in our God anyway, right? So what do you have to lose? Ask, and see what happens.

If you here today and you are hearing the song of redemption, if you are finding yourself strangely moved by some hope that shame and fear could actually be lifted from you, then do this: tell someone here. We would love to pray with you and talk with you some more. Ultimately, we would love to baptize you and usher you into the concert hall where you can meet the source of all music.

If you here today and your ears are already filled with the song, then do this: do not hold back. “Sing!” the prophet Isaiah commands us, “burst into song, shout for joy. Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back.” Do not restrict baptism to certain special adults from certain special families or ethnic groups. Do not close the doors on those that you think are incapable of hearing the music. We do not get to make that decision! Our job is simply to go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. “And surely, Jesus says, “I am with you always. You will be my people, and I will be your God, even to the very end of the age.”

This promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.

So let’s enlarge the place of our tent: Jesus is going to need more room in his concert hall. 

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