A Body You Have Prepared for Me

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings You 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’” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
“Frost glistens in the light as it melts from the back of wooly lambs, gleaming and shimmering and dripping as the animals doze. The lambs rise to stretch. They shiver, steam wafting from their warm legs and bellies. They look up expectantly toward a man standing near their gate. He leans on the edge of the pen and looks the herd over carefully, wondering which lambs to feed and which to choose for the morning sacrifice. It is a great and festive day—most holy. And yet, tomorrow he will have to choose again, and so the next day, and the next” (The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 2103).
It was a bloody cycle of death, repeated daily in the temple and multiplied in intensity during festivals and holy days. The temple in Jerusalem had, in fact, been dedicated by David’s son, Solomon, with a sacrificial offering of 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen. All of this happened according to God’s will and in accordance with the covenant He had established with His people Israel. All the sacrifices that time and time again were carried out in the innermost courtyard were constant reminders of the essence of sin and the seriousness of guilt. Because of sin we were separated from God. We deserved to die. The penalty for sin is death. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. The people confessed this as they brought their sacrifice. They prayed for purification and forgiveness. That purification, however, could never be complete; it has to be constantly repeated.
All of this was a foreshadowing. When the Messiah came, it was to finally, once and for all, fulfill the things that the sacrifices promised and depicted. Jesus had received a human body so that He, through His body, would carry our sins upon the tree, so that He could shed His holy precious blood to purchase and redeem you and me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.     The words of our text are a quote from Psalm 40:6-8. It’s a beautiful conversation that the Son carries on with the Father, and it describes Jesus’ constant attitude toward His Father during His life and ministry here on earth. “When Christ came into the world” refers to His entire incarnation, beginning at His conception, when He first took on a human body.
Sacrifices of any kind were not what the Father desired. Rivers of animal blood and mountains of animal carcasses were not what God really wanted though He had commanded them in the Law. Also, God could not be pleased with just the outward repetition of such sacrifices if willing, obedient hearts were not behind them. These sacrifices were only pleasing to God when offered through faith. Moreover, the sacrifices themselves would not have been effective were it not for their fulfillment in Christ. What God desired was that to which all those Old Testament sacrifices pointed—the willing sacrifice of His Son.
“A body have You prepared for Me” refers to this willing sacrifice. The scope of that sacrifice is emphasized with the Messiah’s words: “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.” Wherever we unroll the Old Testament scroll, we find reference to the Son’s wholehearted delight in carrying out His Father’s will. Even when the divine will entails suffering that a human being would naturally seek to avoid, Christ is obedient to the holy will of His Father. Christ comes in the flesh to fulfill the Law, to satisfy God’s justice, and to redeem the human race. This is not a random accident, but the eternal plan of God foretold in the prophetic Word.
In one of our Lenten hymns, we have the flavor of this heavenly conversation beautifully captured: “‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘and free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’ ‘Yes, Father, yes, most willingly I’ll bear what you command Me. My will conforms to Your decree; I’ll do what You have asked Me.’ O wondrous Love, what have you done! The Father offers up His Son, desiring our salvation” (LSB 438:2,3).
And so we ask the good Lutheran question: What does this mean? What does it mean for you and me that the fruit of the Virgin’s womb, the Baby born in Bethlehem, is given that body to sacrifice Himself on your behalf?
A couple of things: one is about Jesus and the other one is about you.
The one about Jesus is this: the miracle of Christmas is God taking on a body to be your Savior. Along with the cross, this is the scandal of Christianity. Many are happy to acknowledge that they believe in a “God out there somewhere,” and many are happy to coo about a cute little baby in a manger in Bethlehem. But it is only by faith that one can point to the Infant in Mary’s arms and say, “That is the Word made flesh dwelling among us. Mary is holding the body of her Creator in her arms. Mary is truly “the mother of God” (SD VIII 24).
Nearly all the major heresies about Christ begin with a rejection of this point, this God-become-flesh. You can find them in the history books. You can also find them in religious thought today. By the grace of God, we confess the truth that Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” It is vital to do so, and it is what the Scriptures teach. He had to be true man to die in our place. He had to be true God to die for us all. So whether it be when you peer into the manger five days from now, or months later, hold fast to this truth: the Son of God became flesh, without sin, to save us from our sin. To lose that confession is to lose so quickly your certainty of salvation.
The second point is about you and your body. The Christian faith is not just concerned about your soul or the thoughts of your mind, but your body, too. Adam and Eve were created to live forever—both body and soul. That’s why Jesus honors your body by taking on a body like yours in order to save you, all of you. It may well be that you don’t give your body quite the credit it deserves. You’re tempted to see yourself as a soul wrapped up in a body, with only the soul really counting before God. You’ll sometimes get that idea at a funeral, where the focus is on the soul of the deceased now in heaven, but sadly, little or no mention of the greater hope we have of “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” 
I guess that higher view of the soul over the body is understandable. After all, you can see the effects of sin on your body in the form of pain, injury, and disease. You can’t see the effects of sin on the soul—you take that on faith. And because we are usually trusting our eyes more than our ears, you’re going to tend to think “soul: good, body: bad.” But once you start doing that, you’re in trouble.
Take, for instance, your view of other people. They have both bodies and souls, created by God and died for by Jesus. The world will argue that it’s only the body that matters, and so it is useless for the Church to devote itself to the care of souls. The world is wrong, of course. The Lord appoints rulers, doctors, farmers. and others to tend and protect bodies, so body-care is pretty well covered. The Church is the only institution appointed by God to care for the soul, and to do so in His Word and Sacrament. So we are careful to focus on the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified with the knowledge that redemption is for both body and soul.
However, you’ll be tempted to say, “Since I’m caring for the soul, I need not worry about my neighbor’s body.” James warns, “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” (2:15-17).
This is not just about others, but also about you. Your body is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and your body has been redeemed by Christ on the cross. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the devil will tempt you in all sort of ways to believe that your body is a throwaway, that God only cares about the soul.
One of the first heresies that early Christians had to contend with was Gnosticism, which taught that physical bodies were evil and God only cared about souls. The Gnostics were divided into two camps. Some said that because the body was evil, you needed to deprive your body of any sort of pleasure and comfort whatsoever. This meant staying in a perpetual state of hunger, sleep deprivation, etc. The other camp said that since the body was evil and didn’t matter before God, you could use your body for any sort of activity that gave you pleasure.
Gnosticism is false teaching to the core, but this view of the body slips into Christianity, too. Consider the attitude of the medieval monk, who said, “Because my body has sinful desires, I must punish my body by fasting, whipping, and sleep deprivation. In doing so, I will prove to God my desire to follow Him.” When you commit sins of the flesh, you may have the same desire to punish your body, too.
We must make two important points: one is that hurting your body doesn’t get rid of your sin; forgiveness does. The other point is that your body certainly needs discipline, but that’s different from punishment. For example: should you regret using your eyes to fill your mind with wicked images, the answer is not to gouge them out. The answer is to confess your sin, be forgiven; and then discipline your body to avoid those images and fill your mind with godly things instead.
Punishment of the body is perhaps more common than we might think, especially when one includes eating disorders, cutting, and other troubles we find especially among youth. These certainly have a psychological side that needs to be treated, too. But do not neglect the spiritual part, for punishment of the body indicates trouble between that person and God.
We must move on to the temptations of the other camp of Gnostics, the ones who said that you can do anything you want with your body because God only cares about your soul. This is a much more popular temptation because indulging is always preferred to punishment. In a pleasure-driven society like ours, it is far too common for Christians to excuse sin by compartmentalizing their lives. In cooperation with your sinful flesh, it is far too easy to say, “I can indulge in immorality or addiction, or whatever, but this doesn’t affect my faith.”
It is a striking demonstration of sin that one can convince himself that he can terribly misuse the gift without offending the Giver. But your body is God’s gift, created and redeemed by Christ’s blood. Thus, Paul declares in Romans, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13). Do not give up your body to sin and pretend your soul is fine. This will kill your faith.
When confronted with this truth, your sinful flesh will say, “But I’m so weak! God’s grace is enough to strengthen my soul, but not my body against temptation.” This is only self-serving, and it accuses Jesus’ cross and forgiveness of being insufficient. His grace is sufficient for you. Repent. Be free. Pet sins may haunt you for life, but that does not make them acceptable to God. Repent and rejoice that the blood of Jesus Christ covers the sins of His repentant people.
We have time for one more application, one that has to do with sickness and especially the end of life. When it comes to discussing end-of-life decisions, the world seeks to justify euthanasia by arguing that there is a point where life becomes too much of a burden. But life is never a burden; life is a gift of God. The curse of sin is a burden that afflicts life. The solution is not to get rid of burdensome life, but continue to live a repentant life, joyfully looking forward to the time when the Lord delivers you from this vale of tears to life everlasting.
Likewise, when it comes to health issues, it is tempting to start to view the body as the problem. The body is not the problem. It is a creation of God. It is corrupted by sin, but it is still God’s gift. Disease and injury are the trouble, not the body itself. Therefore, we do our best to take care of the body, always looking forward to the time when Christ will raise us from the dead. St. Paul writes, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:18-21).
There’s that miraculous statement again! Jesus Christ has a body. A glorious body. A real body and real blood for real sin and real sinners. He was born of Mary to have a body, and with it, He has borne our sins to the cross. He rose again three days later—body and all, and He kept that body as He ascended into heaven. He even continues to give you His body and blood, His very real body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins. His embodiment, His Incarnation, is what Christ is about. And it says to you that there is no part of you that is not redeemed. He has saved you, body and soul. He will raise you up to eternal life, body and soul, for He has reversed the curse of sin, and He will not leave any part of you in the grave.
In the meantime, you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body. You are the Lord’s, body and soul, because His grace is for all of you. You are His, body and soul, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Hospice for Sinners

Small Church Sunday

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro