Grammar of Heaven
Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
10 August 2018
The word "flesh" is not used in the same way in every text of Scripture. Sometimes the sacred writers use the word to refer to the substance created by God when He formed and fashioned Adam. When used in this way the sacred writers intend to speak of the flesh as the very good creation of God, without considering its impairments through the fall. At least at that level, the flesh created by God deserves to be honored and cared for by us humans. It is a divine gift, not merely a burden. This is the sense in which husband and wife become "one flesh" (Mt 19:5), through the divinely-given gift of marriage. This joining is God's act (Mt 19:6) and must be good. In the joining of the flesh of husband and wife, God makes the two one: one flesh. If this were a curse, God would have given it neither to Adam and Eve, nor to us. Fleshly joining is commanded by God and is good in His sight (Gn 1:28).
Flesh itself in this sense is not sin. Otherwise, the texts that say that Christ was made flesh, and that He had fleshly needs, burdens, and weaknesses according to the flesh would leave us in a quandary. While the Word was made flesh, He knew no sin, so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest. He chose to adopt our sin, so to speak, taking its burden and guilt into His own perfect and holy person that we might be freed of our sin and guilt in Him. Adoption is a choice, and He graciously adopts our sin, choosing to become sin for us, without any compulsion to do so except His compassionate desire to save sinners, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2Co 5:21). His pure flesh absorbed our sin, sucking out our depravity into Himself.
Scripture also uses the word "flesh" in a pejorative way; to refer to flesh as a locus of sin. Paul speaks this way of his own flesh, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rm 7:18). As the locus of sin flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Co 15:50). Like many things we must understand the meaning of flesh from varying perspectives. As a created thing, it is God's good gift. As a thing bent to our own perverse will, it is sick unto death, subject to damnation, unequal to the tasks of the kingdom. Thus when we live according to the flesh rather than according to God's Spirit we will die. Wherever the sacred writers talk about the flesh as the locus of sin, death is always in the neighborhood (e.g. Rm 8:10-14), either ours if we live in the flesh, or Christ's whose death in the flesh cleanses our own.
Our heavenly Father wants to change the situation in which we find ourselves through the fall. The flesh needs to be redeemed out of sin and death. He is not about to give up on what He has created and what He has redeemed at extravagant expense to Himself. How could God just shrug His shoulders and say, if we are lost, "Oh, well, easy come, easy go." We seldom say that about even the most worthless things, such as our 401k. What makes us think that God would throw away what is so valuable to Him by reason of the cost He offered to win us back? Only God Himself will ultimately reconcile the sacred writers use of the word "flesh," so that what is subject to death through the law, is only reconciled to Him and redeemed through the gospel. The gospel's final triumph will come when the flesh now subject to corruption will be raised incorruptible. The grammar of heaven will be so much easier, because it will be the grammar of the gospel.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

"You hold to the Scriptures in which the flesh is disparaged. Grasp also those in which it is ennobled. You read whatever passage abases the flesh. Direct your eyes also to that which elevates it. 'All flesh is grass' (Is 40:6). Well, but Isaiah was not content to say only this; but he also declared that all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is 40:5). They notice God when He says in Genesis, 'My Spirit shall not remain among men, because they are flesh' (Gn 6:3); but then He is also heard saying by Joel, 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh' (Joel 2:28). Even the apostle ought not to be known by just any one statement in which he reproaches the flesh. For although he says that in his flesh dwells no good thing (Rm 7:18); although he affirms that 'those who are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rm 8:8), because 'the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit' (Gal 5:17); yet in these and similar assertions which he makes, it is not the substance of the flesh, but its actions, which are censured.
"No blame can fairly be cast upon the flesh, without tending also to the castigation of the soul, which compels the flesh to do its bidding. However, let me meanwhile add that in the same passage Paul says, 'I bear on my body the marks of Jesus"(Gal 6:17). He also forbids our body to be profaned, because it is 'the temple of God' (1Co 3:16). He makes our bodies 'the members of Christ' (1Co 6:15); and he exhorts us to exalt and 'glorify God in our body' (1Co 6:20). If, therefore, the humbling of the flesh thrusts off its resurrection, why shall not its high prerogatives rather avail to bring it about, since it better suits the character of God to restore to salvation what for a while He rejected, than to surrender to damnation what He once approved." 

Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 10
Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
Lord Christ, You have made us flesh and blood, but we have infected that good gift with death. Daily its decay works upon us. Keep us from denying the reality of that infection in our flesh. Help us to be truly repentant for our own wickedness and depravity. We beseech You to raise us to life through the cleansed flesh which You assumed of Mary. Lead us to die every day to sin, and rise every day to newness of life. Amen.
For all those suffering from MS, especially Joanna Karner, that God would grant strength where there is none

For President Dale Meyer, the Board of Regents, the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary, that the Lord Jesus would continue to lead them to teach and proclaim the divine truth
For Memorial Lutheran Church, that God's people would be motivated to serve their church, that the gospel might be spread to all nations
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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