The Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
I think I was seven or eight years old the Christmas I played the part of an angel in our little church’s Christmas pageant. I remember wearing a white sheet sprinkled with gold glitter, and two cardboard angel wings painted white, and a gold wire halo, a little tilted. I had memorized my few lines straight from the old King James, and they have stayed with me to this day: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). With that I made my exit stage left.
I found that by saying my lines over and over, the words began to sink in. By some subliminal pedagogy the words later became the sum and substance of my ministry: Jesus came to save us from our sins. A simple enough truth for a child to grasp and hold on to, but it stuns and staggers the greatest minds.
Today’s Scripture points to something that I learned pretty early: the moral law was powerless to save me. The problem was not with God’s law, but with me. God could command, but I don’t obey. I found the words of the old prayer book to be sadly true for me: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” I do not love God as I ought, nor as I would like, nor do I love my neighbor as myself. The moral law shows itself powerless to deal with sin. But what the law could not do, God sent His Son to do.
That speaks to today’s Scripture and why God sent His Son to become flesh. The apostle Paul says that God did not only deign to send His Son, but He sent Him “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Paul carefully picks his words; he makes each one count. Christ did not come in sinful flesh, but in the “likeness” of sinful flesh, because He was sinless (Hebrews 4:15). Nor did Christ come in the “likeness” of flesh, because He was really fully human. There is fine balance here; clothing Himself in flesh, He did not sin.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, nicely translates the meaning of Paul’s words about the Incarnation like this: “In his Son, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all” (Romans 8:3-4). This means that for our sakes God made Christ “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
For Jesus to deal with sin He had to come into sin’s own stronghold, overcome it and take away its power. Theologian Thomas Torrance describes God’s saving action like this:
God had humbled himself to take our lost cause upon himself by assuming our fallen human nature, our humanity diseased in mind and soul, or actual human existence enslaved to sin and subjected to judgment and death, precisely in order to save us in the very heart of our depraved condition where we are in enmity with God. (Thomas Torrance, “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy”, Scottish Journal of Theology)
Jesus took up our “lost cause”, entered into our utter dereliction and experienced it from the inside, so that He might heal us. He took our flesh, stood in our place and offered up to God the perfect faith and obedience that we are unable to give.
As a young boy playing a role in a Christmas play, I didn’t understand how it was that Jesus saves us from our sins. But in simple faith, I believed it. It took the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo to put it in words: “The Son of God assumed human nature, and in it he endured all that belongs to the human condition. This is a remedy for mankind beyond the power of imagining.” (Augustine, Sermon 185)
- Why did Jesus have to take on “the likeness of sinful flesh”?
- Today’s Scripture describes the law as powerless to deal with sin, so that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh, to deal with sin.” How do you understand Jesus as dealing with sin?
EMBODIED PRAYER: FACE DOWN
In the Bible we frequently see intense prayer expressed as people fall on their faces before God. It is an outward sign of reverence to lie with face to the ground in God’s presence. By this we acknowledge His complete sovereignty and right to rule in our lives.
When God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, Abraham “fell on his face” before the Lord (Genesis 17:3). When Joshua faced great enemies he “fell on his face” in God’s presence until the evening (Joshua 7:6). When a leper desperately seeking healing came to Jesus “he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him” (Luke 5:12). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus “threw himself on the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). Heaven’s angels fall on their faces before God’s throne and worship Him (Revelation 7:11). Praying face down before God is a Biblical expression of reverence to God and submission to His omnipotence and wisdom.
Today and every day of the fourth week of Advent pray the Lord’s Prayer with your face to the ground in God’s presence.