On My Failing Flesh (and the Flesh of Jesus) – Harold Senkbeil

It was a rough July. Twice I was unexpectedly hospitalized and needed the whole nine yards of medical intervention: ER, ICU, and regular hospitalization. No, not for the reason you might expect. In fact, I’ve tested negative for COVID-19 twice.

I’ve never tried to hide my age, but I have recently bragged in print that since I’m now an old guy, I’d like to be a spry old guy. I watch my weight (sort of), I exercise (usually), and do my best to maintain overall vim and vigor. True, I’m well past the biblical lifespan of three score and ten—halfway through my eighth decade of life, actually. Yet overall I’ve been in good health for a man my age.

When I was a teenager there was an old pastor (much younger than I am now) who impressed us with his vivid exposition of Ecclesiastes 12, the Bible’s poetic lament over the ravages of aging. We kids, though captivated by his performance, couldn’t really imagine our vigorous youthful bodies suffering decline and decrepitude: trembling limbs, teeth falling out, fading voices. And of course “failing desire” was unthinkable to hormone-drenched teens. But the pastor was persuasive, and the Bible compelling, so we believed him. In theory.

When Mortality Gets Real

Fast forward to July 8 of this year. I had a routine biopsy of my prostate—a significant yet by no means unusual procedure for males my age. Despite precautions, I was one of the 2 percent of biopsy recipients who suffer post-operative infection. Quite a severe case, actually—I have no memory of my son taking me to the hospital, nor of my first several hours in the ER. I won’t insult your sensitivities with “too much information,” but undergoing an infection of the nether regions and its aftermath does indeed impress one with the complexity of the human body—even its plumbing. Fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed (Ps. 139:14).

About four days later I was home, and a week later I was back to normal with all systems fully functional. Or so I thought.

My impressions were premature. Blood clots had formed in my body, which all of a sudden broke loose and settled in my bronchial area. Undertaking a few minor household chores, I was calamitously short of breath, head reeling and heart pounding. I laid on the floor and shouted to my wife to call 911. Minutes later a team of EMTs were at my door, which they proceeded to break into since they couldn’t navigate our lockbox (note to self: fix that in the future).

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say my vital signs were at a precarious level: my heart and lungs could not long sustain life under those conditions. Blissfully, powerful anticoagulants soon relieved the immediate crisis and, some four days later, I was again released. Now with the help of a team of competent specialists, overseen by my diligent and insightful physician, I’m slowly working my way back to being a spry old man. 

Miracle of Miracles

All those years ago as a teenager, I already knew I wouldn’t last forever. The words of Ecclesiastes 12 wouldn’t (and haven’t) let me forget:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth . . . before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. (Eccl. 12:1, 6–8)

None of us lives forever. But what I took home from the hospital this time is the profound, yet humbling, awareness that God so loved us all that he entered weak human flesh in order to redeem us.

Jesus, from the instant of his conception, took on our frail infirmity and carried our human sorrow in his own body to ransom us out from under the grip of sin, death, and hell (Isa. 53:4). The mystery of the faith we profess indeed overwhelms: not merely that he was taken up into glory, believed in the world, proclaimed among the nations, seen by angels, and vindicated in the Spirit, but also—wonder of wonders—manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16).

Let that sink in. The eternal Son of God appeared here, in time, in a human body. Like you, Jesus was knit together in his mother’s womb. Heart, lungs, nervous system, intestines, kidneys. Every aspect of male physiology was his—and in that very human body he bore the sins of humanity, that he might bring us back to God. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). By his sacrificial death and with his holy, precious blood, he has ransomed humanity so that one day soon every woman, man, and child who believes in him will share in his eternal triumph. Raised from death, he will transform our lowly (read: declining and decaying) bodies to be like his own glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

Like you, Jesus was knit together in his mother’s womb. Heart, lungs, nervous system, intestines, kidneys. Let that sink in.

God made your body. It’s the only one you have—so take good care of it. But let your body, in its frailty, move your heart to wisdom as you contemplate the sheer wonder of a Savior who would stoop low enough to take on a body just like yours, to make you just like him in his resurrection. 

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Eccl. 12:13–14)

He’s worth our fear, our love, our trust. Let’s give it to him.

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