“Behold the man!” proclaimed the unwitting preacher Pontius Pilate in one of the shortest yet most profound sermons ever recorded. This will be our endeavor this Lententide and Easter Sunday. Behold the man, God in human flesh, Jesus. His incarnation will provide the basis for our meditation and proclamation on His Passion. And His real bodily suffering and death will provide the basis for our full-throated proclamation on Easter morning of a bodily resurrection, not just of Jesus but also for His saints. Real bodies that have suffered, wept, bled, prayed, eaten, hoped, and more will be those raised incorruptible from their graves on the day of Jesus’ return.
We will fix our eyes and our preaching on the man Jesus, contemplating the inescapable fact—indeed the most important fact in the course of human history—that God became man. The Second Person of the eternal triune God, whom we confess in the Nicene Creed as “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God . . . of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made,” became a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human being, a man.
In some ways, you can understand that the first heresy the Christian Church had to contend with was that of Gnosticism, the hyperspiritual religion that held that because no man could be God, the Christ could not be God. Gnosticism is alluring because it tidies everything up, gives Christianity a more attractive spiritual veneer, and pulls its adherents out of the mire of this world and gives them something otherworldly to strive for.
Considered correctly, it becomes pretty hard to spiritualize Christianity—a religion that bases its existence on the enfleshment, the incarnation, of God—into the mess of disembodied, matter-rejecting, hyperspiritual Gnosticism. When God has flesh and blood, skin and teeth, cells and nuclei, DNA and RNA, it’s difficult to contend for the disembodied spiritual against the material. If God has a body, bodies must matter.
In case you aren’t convinced of the pervasiveness of the second-century heresy of Gnosticism, even in our twenty-first-century context, attend a funeral. If you hear talk only of heaven with nary a word of a bodily resurrection, you’ve witnessed firsthand modern-day Gnosticism. If the preacher doesn’t deal with the body in the casket as the real person whose death has assembled the mass of grieving relatives and friends, if he talks only about the bodyless soul in heaven, he hasn’t preached a genuinely Christian funeral. In other words, if he gives preference to the spiritual over the material, he succumbs to the Gnostic heresy the earliest generations of the Church sought to guard against by preaching the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.
This Lent, we will consider what it means that God became man. In preparation for the celebration of a real, bodily, flesh-and-blood, bone-and-sinew resurrection, the resurrection without which our faith and our preaching are all in vain, consider the body of Jesus that exists in order to be nailed to a cross. The spiritual, bodyless Son of God became the embodied, enfleshed, incarnate Son of Mary. In Jesus, God has human flesh, a body, just like you. What could be more profound?
Each week, we’ll consider a different aspect of the body of Jesus Christ. What does it mean that, in Jesus, God has hands, feet, lungs, lips, eyes, and ears?