What should we do to use our bodies to express our faith? In the previous post, I mentioned church attendance. But an embodied faith must go well beyond church worship service attendance. So look to Jesus. Jesus had a human body, and he showed us how to live. Jesus invites to do what he did.
Turn to Luke 4:1. In Luke 4, we’re right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has just been baptized by John the Baptist, and in so doing John has essentially launched Jesus’ ministry. John has been the forerunner, paving the way for Jesus. Now Jesus will take over.
What is Jesus’ first act of ministry among the huge crowds of people that came to be baptized by John? Read Luke 4:1-2.
Kinda crazy, right? Jesus leaves the crowd behind and goes off into the desert. He has a wonderful crowd to minister to, and he ditches them. He goes to be alone. There he fasted, eating no food. Remember that Jesus had a body! What he is doing, or rather what he is not doing, is very much affecting his body. The silence, the solitude, the lack of nourishment. For 40 days!?!? That’s definitely in the realm of the miraculous. The human body can’t live without food and water that long, so we read in Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this time in the desert, that angels ministered to Jesus. Think about what was going on in Jesus’ body during those 40 days. The hunger pangs. The weakness. The emotion. The loneliness.
But it gets worse! We then read that the devil tempted him. To what degree or how the devil tempted him during the entirety of those 40 days, we don’t know. Matthew’s version of the story sounds like the devil’s temptation was the whole purpose of the 40 days in the desert! Imagine what Jesus was going through, in his body and in his spirit, during those 40 days.
I’ve had some hard physical experiences, and maybe you have too. What has been your most difficult one? I’ve endured a week of three-a-day soccer practices, and I’ve trained for and run marathons. Each of my marathons were about four hours, and they were excruciating experiences, especially the last hour, which was about 5-6 miles of nothing but pain every step. As grueling as that was, I have no idea what the fasting, the isolation, and the temptation must have felt like for Jesus.
Wouldn’t it seem that he was just barely hanging on by a thread? I get it…he was God, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and angels ministered to him, so there is obviously something supernatural going on here. But still, as we read, he was hungry. My guess is that means very hungry.
One of my favorite writers on the topic of how humans have a spiritual side and a physical side, and how that matters to Christians, is Dallas Willard. Willard says, surprisingly, that Jesus, at his temptation, was almost certainly not at a place of spiritual weakness. He was at a place of spiritual strength. Think about it. Jesus had just spent 40 days using his body to connect with God. Imagine how you might feel if you spent 40 days with God! Just you and God.
When we go on a retreat or a mission trip, we often feel so close to God, and that is because we are using our bodies to be close to God, or to serve God, and the result is no surprise. We feel close to him! Now extrapolate that to 40 straight days of doing nothing but being alone with God, depending on God, striving for God. So what we see in this story is that Jesus was showing us how to use our bodies to grow our spirit.
Then look at what he does next. Read Luke 4:3-13.
What do you notice? Jesus’ meditates on Scripture. When the devil tempts him, Jesus just responds in Scripture. He literally speaks only the words of Scripture. Think about that. It means that Jesus has used his body and mind to know Scripture, and not just to memorize it, but to dwell on it. This is part of what the Biblical writers call meditation. It is not eastern meditation which is often about emptying the mind. Biblical meditation is about filling the mind, with Scripture.
This kind of meditation on Scripture, as Jesus demonstrates for us, is an important practice. It is using our body to dwell on the truth of Scripture. Sometimes all you need is one word of Scripture to center your mind on God. I have done this many times when the stress of life is intense. I will pray, “Peace” thinking about God’s peace that he wants to bring. It’s a simple prayer. One word! But it is based in Scripture, which means that it is focused on God’s heart. God wants our bodies and spirits to experience peace.
So to experience God in the depths of body and soul, let’s do what Jesus did, practicing silence, solitude, and meditation on Scripture. Because we are embodied souls. How will you practice these in 2021?
Just like Jesus, we might have to open up space in our busy lives to make time for an embodied faith. He didn’t have time. He was training 12 men to take over for him. He was trying to keep up with friends and other followers. He was leading an itinerant preaching ministry to thousands. Jesus’ ministry, if he wanted it to, had the possibility of being 24/7. There was always more people to heal, more people to talk with. But he made sure to include regular pauses in his life, for rest, for time alone his Father. Jesus practiced an embodied faith.
We, too, can make time for God in our lives, even if we are busy. It might mean stopping a less important thing in order to make space for what is vital. So what gift does Jesus want? This week we have learned a principle just as we did in each of the previous weeks on Honest Advent: Jesus wants us to give him gifts that he first gave us. He came to earth and embodied humanity for us. He humbly became the creation that he created. Now he leaves the Holy Spirit to make a home within us. To embody us. He wants us to acknowledge that, to know the truth of that, to care for our physical bodies like the temple of the Spirit they are, to care for and pay attention to the fact that we are spiritual beings, that we are the embodiment of the living God as we walk around here on this earth. That we are pro-life in all senses of the word. Loving people. Learning to love God more and more, not just with more head knowledge, but to know and love our good and gracious and good God.