Scripture Reading — Romans 4:1-12
He received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the right-eousness that he had by faith. — Romans 4:11
We all bear marks that identify us in one way or another. We have scars, or birthmarks, or wrinkles, or wedding bands. We have tattoos, or bald spots, or a limp, or a favorite shirt. Those who believe in Jesus are marked with baptism, showing we belong to God.
For the Roman army it was customary to mark recruits as a sign of their enlistment. Their mark was called a signaculum, often made by tattooing the hand or the forearm with an abbreviation of the name of their general. Another word, sphragis, signified a mark that an owner stamped on her possessions. It also described the sign that shepherds used to brand their sheep to distinguish them from the sheep of others. In Romans 4:11, the Greek word sphragis describes Abraham’s circumcision.
In the first centuries after Christ, church leaders used these terms to give emphasis to baptism. When someone was baptized, pastors made a sign of the cross on the person’s forehead. It was a way to say, “You now belong to Christ. You are now branded as part of the flock of Christ or the army of Christ.”
The mark was a seal of protection as well as ownership. John Chrysostom said, “As the sphragis is imprinted on soldiers, so is the Holy Spirit on those who believe. Baptism is an enlistment in the service of Christ.” How have you shown your branding in Christ?
Father, let our baptism symbolize to us your holy, perma-nent seal that we are in your care. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.