Christians have always warred with or wiggled their way uncomfortably around the idea, the reality, the thought, of “body”. Heresies have taken root in the denial of the greatest mystery of salvation, the hypostatic union—the holy God entering his creation, clothing himself in human flesh. A body.
The tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews explains the necessity of the Saviour taking on a real body:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you [God] have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:4-10
The Lord Jesus, in this passage, takes over King David’s words from Psalm 40:6-8 and applies them to himself. If you compare the two passages you will see how Jesus claims the authority of God.
Each Person of our triune God was intimately involved in our Lord Jesus’ earthly body:
the Father prepared and designed it;
the Holy Spirit fashioned it;
and Jesus assumed it.
Consider the exchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel, who was sent to announce to the young woman the plans God had for her: she would become pregnant and give birth to a son, whom she would name Jesus, because he would be the Son of the Most High, the everlasting God:
Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
Jesus’ human body was physically baptized with the approbation of the triune God:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:16-17 (emphasis added)
(A side note: the word “baptism” was imported into English from the Latin and Greek by early Bible translators because it meant “immersion”, and the ruling practice was to sprinkle babies with a few drops of water, not to immerse confessing converts to living faith. In other words, “baptism” was coined to save embarrassing the clergy and the church. In fact, to be baptised is to offer our physical body to God in obedience and faith.)
Jesus needed a physical body to enter, fully, his creation, to live as a man in a particular place and time in history:
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
The Lord Jesus also needed a physical body because he was to be a sacrifice. Not just any sacrifice, but the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect offering who would put to an end the sacrificial system of the Jews that he himself had instituted as a shadow of the perfection to come.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the one fundamental, unshakable, non-negotiable conviction of Christianity. Even in this obscenely liberal age of the (in particular Western) Church, the Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection of the crucified body of the Lord Jesus Christ:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:17-23
Jesus’ rising from the dead is described as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [meaning died]” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Not only he but we Christians will be a multitude with heavenly resurrection bodies.
By his death he “perfected for ever a holy people”.
Up to now we have considered the word “body” as a noun.
But Jesus also used the word as a verb. “The Word became flesh,” that is, “bodied forth”—a move from what appears abstract to that which became material.
God bodied forth Creation.
God bodied forth the birth of Jesus.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, also (and perhaps one might say, more immediately!) bodied forth the birth of Jesus.
He bodied forth in his physical baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. This action, in the body, by the Son of Man, is to be the pattern for all believers, in:
1. the public declaration of faith by a physical act, as we body forth into the waters of baptism, symbolizing the death of the old creature, and the resurrection to new life. Though we remain at baptism in our sinful flesh, in God’s eyes we are already glorified, sanctified by the atoning, sacrificial death of Christ in his sinless body on the cross; and
2. our bodying forth with the gospel to a lost world, witnessing to the truth through our experience and the word of God, and then hearing in our bodies the confession of new converts:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Even unbelievers may body forth. They have been blessed, though they do not know it. They too experience the reflected light of God’s love in this world, which, whether we recognize it or not, is kept from the evil that might reign by the restraining power of the Holy Spirit:
In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men.
The results of this light are seen in the physical, the real, embodied, as it were, in art, in music, in literature, in all of life. The abstract moves to, and must inevitably find its expression in, the material. Joy, hope, grief, ecstasy, horror, love, pain…
Franz Schubert said:
“My music is the product of my genius and my poverty, and that which I have written in my greatest distress is what the world seems to like the best.”
Franz Liszt said of Schubert:
“Schubert has tones for the most delicate shades of feeling, thoughts, even accidents and occurrences of life. Manifold though the passions and acts of men may be, manifold is Schubert’s music. That which his eye sees, his hand touches, becomes transformed to music.”
The great, short-lived Christian writer Flannery O’Connor said:
“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”
Or consider the truth about art embodied as expressed by Fra Lippo Lippi, the frustrated artist monk in Robert Browning’s epic poem (from which our website takes its name):
…you’ve seen the world
The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises,—and God made it all!
For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,
For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,
The mountain round it and the sky above,
Much more the figures of man, woman, child,
These are the frame to? What’s it all about?
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,
Wondered at? oh, this last of course!—you say.
But why not do as well as say,—paint these
Just as they are, careless what comes of it?
God’s works—paint any one, and count it crime
To let a truth slip.
Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. The time we particularly celebrate the in-body-ing of our great God into his creation. A time followed closely by the advent of a new year, and the making of many resolutions about bettering our lives in the next twelve months.
So what are the gifts through which you “body forth” your faith, and how are you going to stretch them this Christmas, and through 2017?
Bodying forth encompasses every area of life. Sometimes it’s doing the dirty jobs, the unheralded jobs.
Sometimes it’s being bodily extended beyond belief by the demands of family.
A couple we met recently are adopting a child. For Christians particularly, adoption is the most beautiful bodily expression of gratitude to God for his adopting us into his family.
We often meet people of nebulous faith who say, “We’re all God’s children, right?”
We are all the offspring of God. All made in his image. But we are only his legitimate children by legal adoption. And that is only possible through the finished transaction Jesus made on the cross with his Father.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
What should you be doing to “body forth” your faith this Advent season?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
As Saint Flannery also said:
“The life you save may be your own.”
God rest you merry, gentlemen (and women!)…