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Christmas and the Gift of a Body (Hebrews 10:4-10)

December 19, 2021 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)

Topic: Christmas Passage: Hebrews 10:4–10:10

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I. Hating the Body?

In her 2018 book, “Love Thy Body”, writer Nancy Pearcey describes something called “personhood theory” and some of its expressions or implications. Personhood theory is a “two-tiered view of the human being—one that sees no value in the living human body but places all our worth in the mind of consciousness.” She continues,

Personhood theory thus presumes a very love view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us. For if our bodies do not have inherent value, then a key part of our identity is devalued... this same body/person dichotomy, with its denigration of the body, is the unspoken assumption driving secular views on euthanasia, sexuality, homosexuality, trans-genderism, and a host of related ethical issues.”

Now, you may be thinking to yourself the same thought a Christian college professor once expressed to Pearcey: “It seems to me that people tend to go in the opposite direction—they make an idol of the body.” This man has in mind, of course, our “ridiculously high value on physical appearance and fitness... [on things like] diets... bodybuilding, cosmetics, plastic surgery, botox, anti-aging treatments, and so on.” The writer then provides a response:

...to be obsessed with the body does not mean we accept it. [She goes on to quote theologian Beth Felker Jones] 'The cult of the young body, the veneration of the air-brushed, media produced body, conceals a hatred of real bodies.' [Pearcy adds a second critique] the idea of 'instrumentalizing' the body, which means treating it as a tool to be used and controlled [or overcome and subdued] instead of valuing it for its own sake.”

In light of this cultural context, I think we have to ask, “How do we, how do you, think about the body; about your body?” Let's keep these things in mind as we turn to our main passage this morning, Hebrews 4, verses 4-10.

 

II. The Passage: “A Body Have You Prepared for Me” (10:4-10)

In the opening verses of Hebrews 10, the author continues hammering home the ultimate ineffectiveness of what we might call 'old covenant worship'. Were things like the temple and the sacrificial system bad? No. They were simply (v. 1) “shadows of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities”. Look at how he continues in verse 4...

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. [5] Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; [6] in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. [7] Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” [8] When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), [9] then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. [10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

So obviously, the writer here has moved from the “shadows” to the “true form”, and he's done this by, once again, pointing us to Jesus Christ. We can't forget the original audience here. These were Jews who had confessed Jesus as Messiah, as Lord. But some of them were being lured back, and in some cases, pressured to return to the “shadows” of the sacrificial system. This is why the author is doing what he's doing in this extended sermon we call Hebrews: he is showing them, point by point, why Jesus is so much greater and so much better than what came before.

And he often does this by first demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the the old system. That's what we see in verse 4: For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. If you simply stop and think about it, how could an animal ultimately stand in for a human being. Such sacrifices were undoubtedly instructive. They served as powerful reminders year after year. But only human beings are made in the image of God. No amount of animal blood, of animal death, could atone for human sin against a holy God.

But please look again at where the author goes next. He turns to Psalm 40 in order to argue now, not from the ineffectiveness of the old, but in light of the anticipated effectiveness of the new. In doing this, I want you to see there are actually two arguments here in verses 5-10, both based on Psalm 40. The first is the main, overarching argument here. It's concerned with doing God's will. The second argument in this passage is less obvious, but still critical. It's concerned with how we do God's will. Let's unpack each of these ideas.

 

1. To Do God's Will (vs. 5-10)

So as you probably noticed, the idea of verse 4 flows directly in verses 5, 6, and 8. All of these verses are concerned with the idea of animal sacrifices. If the writer has said so matter-of-factly in verse 4 that such sacrifices are of no ultimate or eternal value when it comes to atonement and forgiveness, can he back that up from Scripture? Yes, he can. He does this in many ways. But in verses 5-10, he tackles this issue by appealing to Psalm 40, verses 6-8.

Notice the two elements of his main point: first, as the psalmist indicates, “sacrifices and offerings you have not desired [or 'delighted', as we find in Psalm 40:6]”. He goes on in verse 6 of our main chapter: “in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” That's also a quote from verse 6 of Psalm 40. So clearly, the psalmist is arguing (at the very least) that there is something that God desires or is please with that is even more important than these kinds of sacrifices.

That's where the second element of this first argument comes in. In the statement (v. 7), “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” we find something even more valuable than a multiplied offerings or sacrifices”. We find a yielded spirit. We find a heart that (in the words of Jesus) hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Listen to the Hebrew text of Psalm 40, vs 7-8:

Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: [8] I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

What does the writer mean by “in the scroll of the book it is written of me”? Well, the ancient title of this psalm indicates that it is a song by David. When we know that, and when we consider words like “scroll” and “book”, and when we keep in mind the theme here of heartfelt obedience, it sure seems like a good case can be made that David here is referring to Deuteronomy 17...

And when [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law... And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up...” (vs. 18-20a)

So it's as king over Israel, it's as the anointed one, it's as the messiah, that David writes about God's will over and above “burnt offerings and sin offerings”. As the author of Hebrews concludes from Psalm 40 in verse 9, “He does away with the first [the animal sacrifices] in order to establish the second [the king's doing of God's will]”.

 

2. How to Do God's Will (vs. 5b, 10)

And this is precisely where the second argument from Psalm 40 comes into play in Hebrews 10. Now this is the less obvious argument. Look back at Hebrews 10:5... Consequently, when Christ [when the Messiah] came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me...

Now what's clear to scholars about this passage is that the writer of Hebrews is using the Greek OT translation. If you were to turn back to Psalm 40 in your Bible, you'd find a translation based directly off the original Hebrew text. And the Hebrew in Psalm 40:6 does not say, “but a body you have prepared for me”. It says, “but you have given me an open ear”. Actually, to translate is quite literally, it says, “ears you have dug for me”. So how do we make sense of these two different translations?

Well, it appears those who translated the Hebrews Scriptures into Greek saw in Psalm 40:6 a statement about God as Creator, about God as the One who gave us ears to hear. They may have also understood this strange phrase about 'dug out ears' to be a Hebrew figure of speech for both hearing and obeying, that is, 'God created our ears to hear his will and bodies to do his will'. That idea certainly fits with the theme of heartfelt obedience in these verses.

It's also that idea that drives the second argument in our main passage, an argument spelled out in verse 10: And by that will [the will of God accomplished by the Messiah, the King] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. This emphasis on the literal body of Jesus is not a new idea here in chapter 10. Way back in chapter 2, verse 14, the author was clear about why this was so important:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...

As Psalm 40 hinted at a thousand years before Jesus, the Messiah would accomplish the will of God through the body God gave him; something animal sacrifices never could achieve. And that truth has been fulfilled, bodily, “once for all”, in Jesus, the Son of David, in an amazing way that even David could not have foreseen.\

 

III. The Value of the Body

Brothers and sisters, friends, it's so important that we grasp and rehearse and rejoice over the fact that the Incarnation, that is, the 'en-fleshing' of God the Son, the very thing we celebrate at Christmas, took place in order to redeem our bodies through his body. Verses like I John 4:3 reveal that it didn't take long for this idea to be attacked. Some in the ancient world believed that matter, that physical stuff (including bodies), was essentially evil. Therefore, for these people, Jesus couldn't have really come in the flesh. His body must have been some kind of an illusion.

Today, we are faced with similar thinking; not that the body is evil, but that it is secondary; that your body is only you (and only valuable) because of your inner self. But Christ came, not simply to redeem the inner you. He came to redeem the whole you, which includes your body. Your body is an essential part of who you are. God made us to be embodied. While God the Son always was, is, and will be, his existence as Jesus Christ would not make sense without the body that was prepared for him; the body which he sacrificed in love for you and me.

I'd lover to have you consider two points for application, for truly living out these profound truths:

First, rejoice this Christmas in the glorious reality of Christ's physical body. Don't simply rejoice in the incarnation as a theological idea or spiritual truth. Rejoice in the 'nitty gritty' of human bodies. Jesus was not born with some kind of antiseptic body. His mother had to change his diaper. He had snot and pus and gas and indigestion and fat. He sweat. He got tired. He got sore. He got cold, he got sick, and he very well may have snored. This Christmas rejoice that in the manger there is a crying baby, most likely with a dirty diaper. Why rejoice? Because these truths are precious in that they remind us that (Heb. 2:17) “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect”. And because He was made like us, we can become like him... for all eternity.

Second, live each day in light of the value of the body Jesus died to redeem. Yes, this body is winding down. In the words of II Corinthians 4:16, “our outer self is wasting away”. And yes, it will one day die, but then be glorified. But right now, your body is a tremendous gift. If it were not, verses like these would make no sense:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19–20),,, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)... Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteous-ness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:12–13)

It is with my body that I'm sharing God's word, and it with your bodies that you're hearing God's word. Just think about all the amazing, God-honoring things we can do with our bodies! No matter the condition of yours, no matter the challenges, will you give thanks this Christmas for the gift of your body, and will you steward it well? But we can't forget about all the heinous and hurtful things we can also do with our bodies. If each day we are to (in the words of Romans 12:1) “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice”, then we need the transformation that only Jesus can bring to our hearts because of his death and resurrection. Though we so often use our bodies to glorify ourselves, Jesus used his to glorify God. And because He did, we can experience inner change today; and one day, outer change... bodily change. And this change is possible only by faith, because of God's grace. Will you trust him for that change this morning?