Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Incarnation and the Body of Death

"Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" - Romans 7:24-25

"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him." - Colossians 1:21-22

I was struck by the connection I saw in the cry of Paul in Romans 7:24-25 for deliverance from this “body of death”, and the affirmation by Paul in Colossians 1:21-22 that we are reconciled through Jesus in “his body of flesh by his death”. I was also encouraged with the apparent link to the incarnation, helped by the writings an old voice from the 4th century church.

Paul does not just say “thanks be to God” in Romans 7. He also says “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. And, from other places in Scripture, we know that he does not just mean through Jesus as if through a supernatural miracle that mysteriously delivered us from a sinful body and reconciled us to a holy God. He does not just mean through an appearing or a presence. He means through a physical human body and a physical human death. The only way we could be delivered through Jesus, and reconciled, is if it happened through a human body without the sin corruption that we have. It couldn’t have happened through the Spirit, even though the Spirit is without sin. It couldn’t have happened through Jesus appearing as the Son of God only. And it couldn’t have happened through Jesus as a man if he shared any part of our sinful nature. It had to have been through God, in a body of flesh, without sin, through actual physical death. How amazing was the incarnation of the Son of God, and Him taking on our likeness! The incarnation (Christmas), is the miracle that made our deliverance possible. And then the resurrection (Easter), is the miracle that makes our deliverance actual and eternal.

Athanasius explains this idea in his classic work “On the Incarnation”. While these words are translated for the benefit of the “modern reader”, and is according to C.S. Lewis, “written so deeply on a subject with such classical simplicity,” it is still a very lofty arrangement of profound sentences. I pray that the depth and even complexity of these words would stretch your mind and fill your soul, as you contemplate the simply reality that Jesus had to come to earth as a human and die as a human to deliver us from our humanness, which was stained with the corruption of death. Then He rose from the dead to conquer that death forever! Here is St. Athanasius “On the Incarnation”:  

“The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent.”

“For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required. Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his indwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.”  

- Page 35, Popular Patristics Series, St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, SVS Press