Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 29 & 30 The Body
Have you ever wondered why it is that God had to take on humanity in order to be our savior? The theological word for that is the “incarnation”: God taking on human form and living among us. I suppose if you asked me why the incarnation was so important, why it had to be this way I might answer that it is important that Christ be an example, and so as a human tested like we are, he is our example (The author of Heb says For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted just as we are, yet without sin. (4:15) It was also necessary for Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins and I am sure that as God death was impossible and perfection was already present.
Those are good answers. I am now not sure that they are the best answers. In chapter 29 of the Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer looks at the incarnation and asks some questions. What did the incarnation mean for Jesus? What does it mean for us today?
Jesus took on flesh. This does not merely mean that he had a physical body. Jesus took on a sin nature, the same sin nature that you and I and every other human has a result of Adam’s sin and separation from God. Did Jesus sin? No. Did he have a bent towards sinning while he was here on the earth? Yes he did. And when Jesus was crucified as a perfect sacrifice, the Old man, the old nature that he bore was crucified as well. It died.
And yet Jesus rose again and because of his resurrection we no longer have to be bound to our sinful natures. The purpose of the Incarnation was to destroy the Old Man so that we can be free from the chain, the bond of sin.
The New testament refers to this process as putting on the New man, putting on a new Body. What is this new body? Bonhoeffer says that the new body that Jesus rose with is identified in the New Testament as the Church! 1 Corinthians says we are all baptised into one body, Colossians tells us this Body is the Church, Ephesians says that through his death he created out of both Jews and Gentiles “One New Man”, and Romans tells us that we are baptised into his death and raised into newness of life so that we would no longer be bound by the “body of sin”.
Now I have to admit that I have never identified putting on a new man with being a part of the Church. And yet the same metaphor is used. We, and Christ, have a new body and that new body is identified as the oneness of all believers in Christ with him as the head. This is testified to, not only in the New Testament, but in the Old as well. Bonhoeffer asserts, persuasively I believe, that the Church is the fullfillment of the scriptural witness concerning the temple. When David wants to build a temple for God he is told that God does not need a temple built with human hands but that God himself will build a temple. Never the less, God assures him that his heir will build the temple and that his reign will last forever. Now this of course refers to Solomon, and yet there seems to be reference to more as well. After all, Solomons’ reign was not eternal. And so the messianic expectation was of a savior who would build a temple that would never fall. Jesus self-consciously identified this expectation with his own body: “this temple”, he said, would be destroyed and after three days would be rebuilt. Jesus resurrected body then (the Church) is the temple the Jews were waiting for. Revelations notes that in heaven, the New Jerusalem, there will be no temple for “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple”.
This given signifigance by the purpose and function of the Temple as described in the Old Testament. The temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt in a special way and it was the place where God receives his people. This is all most fullfilled in the Incarnation: Jesus as man has taken on humanity itself. In and through the body reconciliation and atonement have and are taking place. Jesus is the cornerstone of this new building, he is the head of this new body.
You may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all this theology and wondering, what does this mean for me? Last time we were in Bonhoeffer we talked about the place of baptism in the Body of Christ. I argued that baptism marks a point of demarcation between those who have committed themselves to the body and those who have not. Baptism marks a step of obedience that we compared to the call to the Disciples: Jesus told them to follow him and so, as their first step of obedience, they followed. In the same way baptism is set before us as a first step of obedience to be disciples. What then? What does it mean when we are a part of the Body?
First we have to consider ourselves part of an organic whole. Paul’s metaphors for the operation of the Church make it clear that we are not to be spiritual free agents. Instead we are to function within the body for the health of the body. We might start by asking ourselves if this is our intent and purpose as Christians. In the High School Class we have been discussing the biblical metaphors of being sojourners, pilgrims, and aliens. One of the things we have noticed so far is that while the biblical metaphor tells us God wants a people, we think of our Christian experience mostly in terms of our individual relationship with Jesus. The knowledge that we are the people of God, united as a single Body should shape and drive our interaction with world; truly we should be operating as aliens: people whose ultimate loyalties are not to the place in which they dwell.
Secondly we should constantly by aware that corporately we represent Christ on the Earth. It should be signifigant to us that we can more fully portray Christ to a watching world in a corporate sense than we can as individuals. As individuals a watching world can see by our good deeds that there is something different about us. But corporately a watching world can see that a new kingdom is breaking in on a dying world. Keith Green, one of my favorite Christian musicians, said “The Church is the visible representation of Christ on earth. But can people see it? And if they can’t, how will they?” We this morning, gathered together should be so exemplifying the agape Love of God that watchers have no choice but to be amazed and astounded. All our actions should be evaluated with the Criterion of giving glory to God. This morning and every morning we are responsible to be representatives of his marvelous work in his midst. But with Keith, too many times I wonder if people can see it. By God’s grace may we commit each anew to truly be a part of the body.