Friday, 29 March 2013

Reflections for Good Friday: 2, The Body That Died for Sin

Talk 2: Colossians 1:15-23, The Body That Died For Sin
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
We began our time together this afternoon thinking about the body in which God dwelt. And it is this body which, the Bible tells us, died for sin.
Once again, we are told that this was the body in which God dwelt. In v 19 Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”
But we are also told, in no uncertain terms, that it was the actual death of this body which achieved God’s purposes in reconciling us to himself. In v 22 Paul says God,
... has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body [lit. his body of flesh] through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation ...
Now why should the death of this body be so important? We may get some idea when we think about ourselves as souls and bodies.
A lot of people think of the soul as like a driver and the body as like a car. Your soul sits in your body, looking out through the windscreen of the eyes and driving it around to get where it wants and do what it likes.
But in that case, death doesn’t really count for much. It’s just having a nasty crash — the car is written off, but you get out and walk away. So the body dies, but the soul just carries on.
But the biblical view of the soul and body is rather different. The Bible doesn’t view us as souls in bodies but as a combination of body and soul together.
Think of a performance by a concert pianist. The pianist sits at the piano, bashing away, and out comes this wonderful music. That music is ‘you’. Your soul is the pianist and your body is the piano and you are the tune.
The tune is played on the piano by the pianist, and the piano won’t play itself. But if there is no piano, there’s no tune. And if the piano is damaged the tune won’t be the same.
It is like that when old age or disease affects our brains. The pianist, the soul, is still there bashing away at the keys, but there are notes missing, the tune isn’t at all the same.
What then, if in the middle of a performance someone comes in with a sledgehammer and smashes up the piano? The tune stops completely and the pianist is left helpless.
And that is more like what death is like according to the Bible. The framework within which you are you stops, even though your soul goes on. Paul writes of this in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4,
1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
This image of a ‘tent’ is familiar from elsewhere. John 1:14 says literally that Jesus ‘pitched his tent’ — ‘tented’ — amongst us. The body is like a tent, says Paul, but we need a tent. We cannot go about naked. If what is mortal dies, it needs to be clothed again with what is immortal to know what it is to live.
So the death of Christ’s mortal body — what Colossians calls ‘his body of flesh’ — is a real death for him, as it would be for any of us.
But remember what we considered in our first talk. This is the body in which God dwelt. And so this is not just ‘any old’ death. This was the one, as it says Colossians, who was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” by whom and for whom, “all things were created”, the one who is “before all things” and in whom “all things hold together.”
He is the one in whom heaven and earth hold together. He is the key to creation — not just to its physical matter but to every physical and spiritual creature that exists: thrones, powers, rulers and authorities.
This one dies. And our minds can only be staggered by the fact. But this one also lives, and we will consider that in a moment.
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