᛭ INI ᛭
When you look at ALL our readings today, it’s clear that we aren’t just looking at physical healing this week. Those 10 Lepers were, of course, healed from a physical problem, but there’s a spiritual piece to all this, too.
The LORD Jesus goes to their village not just to heal them, but to cleanse them from a deeper problem. Their leprosy, their physical skin disease, is a symptom and can even serve as an analogy of the deeper problem—theirs and ours! That deeper problem is sin.
But we aren’t talking about our sins of thought, word, and deed. It’s not just the works of the flesh that Paul lays out today. It’s the flesh itself! Our human nature—who we are in ourselves as human beings. We’re talking about original sin because “original sin is like a spiritual poison and leprosy, as Luther says.” (SD I § 33)
Jesus doesn’t just solve symptoms. He gets to the “root” problem. He comes to save us not just from our sins but the “chief sin, the root and fountainhead of all actual sins” (SD I § 5) we commit “daily and much.” (SC, Lord’s Prayer, Fifth Petition) Jesus comes to save us from original sin. He comes to save us from our flesh, as Paul describes it today. Or even more directly: Jesus comes to save you from you. Or for the purposes of this sermon:
JESUS SAVES YOU FROM YOUR FLESH BY TAKING ON YOUR FLESH AND GIVING YOU HIS.
((I. What’s wrong with your flesh.))
Okay, so we’re talking about your flesh today, and what the Scriptures say about it. But we first have to define what the Bible means by “flesh.” Flesh means human nature, who we are in ourselves as human beings. It means our body and soul, “heart, soul, mind, and strength” that have been broken deeply by sin.
“This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture.“ (SA III, I, § 3) We only know how bad our situation is because the Bible tells us. We only know how evil our flesh is because God’s Word points it out to us, diagnosis it.
Flesh means that apart from faith in Jesus we can do no good in God’s sight. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people in the world, but that’s only human goodness. It’s not God-pleasing. Without faith in Jesus any so-called good works are actually damnable sins. (It really is that bad!) In fact, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Rom 8:7)
The flesh still lingers in those who have faith in Jesus! It’s a disease and corruption that lasts until death. Paul says, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom 7:18) (That’s Paul talking! Do we claim to be more holy and better off than him?)
The flesh in the baptized still causes all sorts of trouble. As Paul says, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:19) Not an excuse, just reality. As he puts it today, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” It means our flesh produces all sorts of evil, all sorts of works, all sorts of rotten fruit. Lack of fear, love, and trust in God before everything else. Lack of love for the people in our lives.
Such war doesn’t occur in those without faith. They’re comfortable. “Their heart is unfeeling like fat,” the Psalmist says. But the same flesh still dwells in us. And if you want to know what that flesh looks like, let’s listen to a bit more Paul: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7:22–23) Your flesh is your outer self, what you see, this! Look in the mirror! It’s you! (If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe the Bible.)
((II. Jesus comes in the flesh, our flesh.))
“Who will deliver us from this body,” this flesh, “of death?” (Rom 7:24) “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Rom 7:25) JESUS SAVES YOU FROM YOUR FLESH, and He does it BY TAKING ON YOUR FLESH.
The Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is “incarnate.” He is “in the flesh.” “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make [atonement] for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:16–17) Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
Jesus took on your flesh, a human nature, but without sin. With no sin or sinfulness of His own, He claimed all your sins, all the works of the flesh that we do daily and much, and He claimed them as His own. He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) “He is the [atonement] for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2) “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.” (1 Jn 2)
But in His flesh, our flesh, His holy, spotless, pure human nature, Jesus also claimed our sinfulness as His own! “For our sake [God the Father] made [His Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
((III. Jesus delivers flesh, His flesh, to us.))
But Jesus isn’t done saving you from you. He SAVES YOU FROM YOUR FLESH, yes, BY TAKING ON YOUR FLESH, but He also does it by GIVING YOU HIS FLESH.
Only in Jesus is there righteousness. In our flesh there is sin, evil, and death. There’s no behavior modification that can fix it. Our righteousness is not in our works—it’s in Jesus. He gives us His righteousness. Surely in Baptism, but more physically than even that, if I’m permitted to be so bold.
“Whoever remains in Me, bears much fruit,” (Jn 15) Jesus says. That fruit is all laid out in Galatians 5. But who remains in Jesus? Those with faith in Him, of course, His disciples. “If you remain in My Word you’re My disciples.” (Jn 8) But even more tangibly: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I will resurrect Him on the Last Day.” (Jn 6)
The flesh of Jesus, unlike ours, is life-giving. His flesh is “the medicine of eternal life that we would live forever with Him,” when He raised our flesh, our body without the stain of sin. “The corruptible must put on incorruption.” But Jesus’ flesh also gives the new life of sanctification. “Whoever remains in Me, bears fruit.” “Whoever eats My flesh remains in Me.”
Our flesh isn’t good. We need Jesus to heal us, save us. Save us from us! From the leprosy our sin. He does. He’s Savior. He prescribes the medicine of eternal life that will cleanse us, make us holy, and unite us with Him: the Supper of His body and blood.
Luther brings this all together nicely in his Large Catechism:
But if you say, “What, then, shall I do if I cannot feel such distress or experience hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?” Answer, “For those who are of such a mind that they do not realize their condition I know no better counsel than that they put their hand into their shirt to check whether they have flesh and blood. And if you find that you do, then go, for your good, to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Hear what sort of a fruit your flesh is:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. [Galatians 5:19–21]
Therefore, if you cannot discern this, at least believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself. Yes, St. Paul further concludes in Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” If St. Paul may speak this way about his flesh, we cannot assume to be better or more holy than him. But the fact that we do not feel our weakness just makes things worse. It is a sign that there is a leprous flesh in us that can’t feel anything. (“Unfeeling like fat.”) And yet, the leprosy rages and keeps spreading. As we have said, if you are quite dead to all sensibility, still believe the Scriptures, which pronounce sentence upon you. In short, the less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the Sacrament to seek help and a remedy. (LC V § 75–78)
Jesus saves you from you. Your flesh. Your sins. Even the fact that because of our flesh we can’t discern all our sins or even the depths of our sinfulness. But, thanks be to God,