When Jesus obediently took on flesh, that was the beginning of the End.
Jesus’ End Times ministry marks the end of the Old Age of sin and death, just as His End Times resurrection marks the beginning of the New Creation. As those who by faith belong to Jesus, we live between the beginning of the End and the end of the New Beginning. Though we still know the struggle, sin, and pain that constitute the Old Age, we have already been born into the Life of the World to Come. Though our wills are already shaped by the same Spirit which filled Jesus on His earthly sojourn, we still struggle with our old, sinful nature as we look and long for the Day when all things are made new.
Hebrews 10 is drawing a distinction between the Old Testament sacrificial system, which did not have the power to make people holy “once for all” (verse 2), and the offering of, “‘...the body of Jesus Christ,’ Who does make us holy, and that ‘once for all” (verse 10).
Of course, since we are talking about sacrifice, the death of Jesus is in view. But this is Advent, not Lent, and the author to the Hebrews has something more than the cross in mind. Though a variant reading gives us “the blood of Jesus Christ” in verse 10, “body” seems to fit the context better. After all, Psalm 40:6-8 is placed on Jesus’ lips not as He goes to the cross, but as He goes to the Incarnation: “When Christ came into the world, He said...”
(I love how naturally the author to the Hebrews applies this Psalm directly to Jesus, almost as if we should read the whole Old Testament through the lens of Christ. I know we do not know who actually wrote this book, but if it was not Barnabas, my personal choice, then I am pulling for one of the Emmaus Road disciples, just because of the way Hebrews uses the OT feels like it belongs to the seven-mile hike where Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and their hearts caught fire.)
Hebrews 10 quotes Psalm 40 with two important implications for preachers: (1) we get to preach the Incarnation as salvific; and (2) our hearers live between the Ages (and they need to know what that means).
Since this reading touches on sacrifice, it would be natural to move from Christmas directly to Good Friday. But before you do, notice the importance the text places on the Incarnation. “When Christ came into the world, He said ...a body you have prepared for Me ...I have come to do Your will” (Hebrews 10:5, 7).
Look up the reference in Psalm 40:6 and you will find a slightly different phraseology: “You have given me an open ear” (ESV). This is because your Old Testament is following the Masoretic Text, while the author of Hebrews is quoting the LXX. The shift in language from boring open an ear to fashioning a body is a shift from the part standing for the whole to the whole standing for the part. In either case, the purpose of the open ear and fashioned body is the same: To hear and do God’s will (see F.F. Bruce’s NICNT The Epistle to the Hebrews or your favorite Hebrews commentary to untangle that further).
The purpose of the open ear and fashioned body is the same: To hear and do God’s will.
We often focus on Christ’s obedience unto death. Here, the focus is on Christ’s obedience unto Incarnation. The great Luther hymn, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (LSB 556), comes to mind, especially verses 5-6: “God said to His beloved Son: / ‘It’s time to have compassion. / Then go, bright jewel of My crown, / And bring to all salvation.’ ... The Son obeyed His Father’s will, / Was born of virgin mother; / And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, / He came to be my brother...”
Here, Luther and the author to the Hebrews (not Luther) are both confessing the faith declared in the Nicene Creed. It is faith in one Lord Jesus Christ, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”
The Incarnation is “for us and for our salvation.” The Incarnation is Jesus hearing and doing God’s will, God’s delight, God’s good pleasure. The Incarnation is Jesus being obedient in order to save those who have not delighted in God’s will or walked in God’s ways.
Of course, the Incarnation makes the Atonement possible. Taking on human flesh allows Jesus to die on the cross. But in this text, the turning point is not primarily the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Instead, when Jesus assumes the body prepared for Him to do God’s will, the end of an old era has arrived, and with it, the beginning of a new.
This text invites you to preach the Gospel of the obedient Incarnation and avoid the theological pitfall David Maxwell called a “zero sum mindset,” a way of reading Scripture which, “...assumes that if the cross saves us, then nothing else that Christ does can.”
Jesus’ coming into the flesh inaugurates the beginning of the End. That means (1) you get to preach the Incarnation as salvific, and (2) your hearers live between the Ages. Your hearers know they have been saved, rescued, redeemed, and made holy once for all by the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Yet, they also know what it means to struggle with petty sinfulness and to experience the wages of sin in their own bodies and in the death of people they love. It would be easy to lose sight of the “once for all” finality of this text or to ignore the reality of the everyday experience of your hearers.
Precisely because Jesus’ First Coming into the flesh fulfilled God’s will and purpose, by that same will and purpose we look and long for Christ’s Second Advent, when all creation will be restored.
You do not have to avoid going to the cross when you preach this text. Just make sure you emphasize the Incarnation, then move to the cross, and the open tomb, and perhaps most importantly, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
In its original context, the Nicene Creed professes the beginning of the End when it says Jesus, “Came down from Heaven.” Jesus’ First Coming is intimately tied to His Second Coming. Hebrews 10 gives us the chance to trust that Jesus’ coming into the flesh was for us and for our salvation, and to look and hope and long for Jesus’ Second Advent, when we will finally be done with the remnants of sin and death which still cling to us this side of eternity.
On that Day, we will belong to Jesus without remainder, and we will be done with imperfection once and for all. Come quickly, Lord!
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Hebrews 10:5-10
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Hebrews 10:5-10.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Hebrews 10:5-10.