THE INCARNATION AND COVID19 Trinity
#1 DEATH TO COVID 29.11.2020
The coronavirus pandemic has been THE story of 2020. It has been the lead story across the media with endless lists of statistics and over the top daily press conferences. It has changed the way we live and relate to and care for others. It has meant economic changes which will impact for 50 years. It has meant the loss of personal; freedoms we had taken for granted.
What will it mean for now, in the lead up to Christmas? 37,000 Australians not being home for Christmas? Churches like ours now having to change programs? A change to personal holiday plans? Less money for Christmas treats?
What if it’s bigger than all that? What if there is a really big link between the birth of Jesus and the coronavirus? What if that link makes a big difference, right now and all the time?
Let’s go a different way today. Let’s dig a little deeper into the meaning of the words in Hebrews 2:14-18, where we may find some diamonds. Then we will ask about Jesus and the coronavirus.
“the children share in flesh and blood” (v14a)
All of us, Christian and non-Christian, young and old, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor – what we could call ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ – we all share in flesh and blood.
That’s this stuff (flesh). We aren’t ghosts, or just ideas in someone’s head. We truly and physically exist.
We don’t speak of animals as ‘flesh and blood’ (though they have both). We reserve the phrase to describe personhood – real humans, beings with human nature.
“he himself partook of the same things” (v14b)
The writer is speaking of the Son of God. Jesus took to himself “flesh and blood” – he took on the same nature that we have.
With one difference, the writer is going to tell us in chapter 4 – he did not inherit our sinful nature. That is the significance of his being born of a virgin, not from an earthly father. That is the one great difference between you or I as man, and Jesus as man,but it is the only one.
The Brereton report into the actions of SAS soldiers in Afghanistan was released last week. Last Tuesday, Andrew Hastie, federal member for Canning in Western Australia, himself as SAS officer who served there, wrote a superb response in The Australian newspaper. The first response he made was that we ought not be surprised that people do wicked things. “First, we have forgotten basic truths about human nature that previous generations of Australians better understood. We live in a bent world. We all carry man’s smudge: people do bad things. Christians call it sin …” One man did not carry that smudge. In every other respect however, he partook our flesh and blood.
Jesus did not become less than God when he took on human nature. He added something. Our humanity, our flesh. The Latin word is carne. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the ‘incarnation’, God coming “in the flesh”.
Why did he do it? Why the incarnation?
So “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (v14c)
When a baby is born, we think of life. When Jesus is born, the big thought is death. He was born to die. He is born to be locked on death row, as it were. The story of the incarnation is empty without the purpose for it.
His death does things our death can never do. His death destroys Satan. Not in the sense of wiping him out, but of wiping out his power. Much as the venom of a brown snake might be milked, so that though he bites you, he cannot kill you.
Satan took on the first man in the Garden of Eden, and won. The result was death and all kinds of havoc. He takes on this man, believing he can crush him, but he gets crushed in the process.
Just how does Jesus do that in his dying?
“he made propitiation for the sins of the people” (v17b)
Propitiation? When, as man, Jesus died, sin was punished, the wrath of God against it was satisfied, and there was no more anger left against those in whose place he died.
Satan might point the finger at me and say to God, “this man has sinned; you should send him to hell.” The Father says: “But my anger against John fell on another man, my own Son. And my demands for the payment for his crimes were all satisfied.”
A dog dying for me would not have been enough. It must be human life for human life. Jesus who took on flesh and blood can swap for me. He is not an angel, so “it is not angels that he helps” (v16). Instead, as man, he dies for men.
If his death of propitiation is the reason for the incarnation, what is the RESULT? Or at least one big result?
He “delivers all those who through fear of death, were subject to lifelong slavery” (v15)
We may one day tame the coronavirus, conquer space and feed the world, but there is one challenge we’ll never beat. The old statistic “one out of one dies” is still true. We may delay it, but we cannot defeat it. It is the unbeatable master which holds us all. It’s like a cloud over our whole lives from our conception.
If Jesus has paid what you owe, and God is satisfied with the payment, then death has no sting in it for you. It may come to you, but it has no power over you, and is certainly not to be feared, however hard the dying may be.
Incarnation for propitiation. Two big words but how staggeringly wonderful they are. What blessings comes because Jesus died as man. Satan’s power is removed and I am set free from fear of death and all that goes with that.
I couldn’t tell you anything more significant or important than that today. This changes everything. It changes Christmastime, and it changes Covid time.
Will I be celebrating the birth of Jesus this year? You bet I will. God did not come as an angel or an animal. That would not have worked, but because he came with my nature, he is perfectly suited to be a wonderful substitute for me. He can satisfy the wrath of God, who says “a life for a life”.
So yes, I will celebrate and rejoice in the incarnation of Jesus. Not because it’s a nice baby story: the baby story gets so overdone that it distorts the Bible’s real picture, but because it tells me he came to die, and is perfectly placed to stand in for real people.
It is because there is a full incarnation there can be a full propitiation. That’s worth celebrating, isn’t it?
The contraction of God to the cell in the womb of a woman is staggering to consider. His birth as a human being is gobsmacking (utterly astonishing; astounding.). As Jim Packer wrote, if you can believe that, then nothing else the Bible says will ever be hard to believe.
So we don’t downplay the incarnation this Christmas. Either by divorcing it from its reason: – death and propitiation and its Satan-smashing power or from the result of that … to set us free from fear of death and from slavery.
All this, like nothing else, speaks also into this
The words “unprecedented”, “social distancing” and “pandemic” are words we now hear every day, along with “stay safe”.
Now being safe is a smart thing to do. We tell our kids not to play on a busy road. We make sure we take our medicine. We wear a helmet when riding a bike, and a seat belt when in a car.
There are plenty of Covid measures which are just smart so that we do not put others at risk, and are not careless with our own known health condition, but the ‘stay safe’ slogan is not smart.
“Stay safe” is part of the cult of personal safety. As if the big deal were just to look after yourself. It’s quite different from helping others to stay safe. Maybe a better slogan would be the one that one man uses as he warns his kids “Don’t do anything stupid”.
If Jesus were committed to the cult of personal safety over and above taking risks to do his Father’s will and loving others, he would not have touched the man with leprosy or invested so much time with the wrong people, the “unsafe” people. Certainly, he would never have died.
If we go his way, there is always risk. There is risk to staying safe when you tell someone a truth they many not want to hear, or which challenges cherished beliefs. There is risk when you surrender personal preferences or comforts to help or defend someone in need, or to welcome strangers. There is risk to jobs and to income if you follow Jesus rather than the party line of the culture.
When you are free from the fear of death, when it has no hold on you because you rest in Jesus’ incarnation and work of propitiation, then none of the other losses, those this side of death, can hold you: loss of health, loss of friends, loss of money or loss of status.
Some people won’t enter a supermarket aisle if someone else is in it, or greet a stranger or hug or touch someone in distress. Is this out of concern for others or because they are enslaved by fear of death?
What about Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
When God looms large, death and loss are small.
Which God? God incarnate. God who steps under the wrath of God, as man, to save us from himself. God who wonderfully and fully satisfies all his own wrath of God against us.
These are realities that are so much bigger that change everything. Certainties that set us free from fear. Not to be stupid but free to relax and take godly risks for Jesus’ sake.
We are free not to have to pretend about death.
“She is not gone, she is just away” says the tombstone, but she is gone. He hasn’t just “passed”, to use the modern expression. He has died. We don’t have to pretend.
We used to have funerals, but now we have ‘celebrations of life’, but we don’t have to pretend about the reality of death.
We used to face the starkness of death with stark rituals, but now we pretend with flowers and balloons and white doves and hawaiian, to cover our fear there might be more.
Tears are frowned on, and light-hearted stories and jokes are in.
It is pretence. In our heart of hearts where God has inbuilt eternity, we know that death is real, final and ugly. We would do so much better to be honest than to pretend.
Pictures of lines of filled coffins in cold storage during Covid time has perhaps been a mercy from God. Maybe we have been seeing that death is more real, and closer and more awful than we have been pretending it is. If that is a lesson we learn at Covid-time, that might lead to the saving of many lives, mightn’t it?
What do we say when we see those pictures, and face our own mortality? In the death of Christ there was death to death. He died as a real man, and sin and death and hell were finally done!
There is so much more to say at Covid time than “wash your hands and keep your distance”? Leave that message to the health officials. We proclaim the death of death in the death of Christ.
What of those suffering through Covid-time? That’s next week, but for now, these realities have everything to do with Covid-time. In fact, every time. Those of us who belong to Jesus do not fear the losses that come from those who can kill the body, but nothing more.
Yes, a Coronavirus death is often very painful. No one wants that but afraid of death itself? Not when there is a real Jesus who is one of us, who killed death and hell in his own death.
Death may still come, but it is not the end. Where is Jesus’ flesh and blood now? Decaying in a grave somewhere? No – it is resurrected and glorified, in the presence of God the Father. It is where my flesh and blood shall one day be once I have passed through death. With him, in the new humanity, in the new heaven and the new earth.
Afraid of that? The incarnation and the propitiatory work of Jesus ask: Whatever for?
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