The Lord God Jesus Christ
Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusett, September 22, 1996
Isaiah 9:2-7 A
child has been born to us
Matthew 16:13-20 Who is Jesus?
Arcana Coelestia #9303
a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests
upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
it's not Christmas yet! Now that we've had our two special
services for the start of this church year and the start of
Sunday School, I could think of no better way to begin our
regular services than by talking about the beginning of
everything: the Lord God Jesus Christ. In our next two services
I would like to continue this thread by talking about the other
two "essential teachings" of our church: about the
Word of God and the life that leads to heaven. Today we will
focus on the very core of our church's teachings: our belief
about the Lord.
call ourselves Christians, and rightly so, since we worship
Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. Along with other
Christians, we celebrate Christmas and Easter as the great
festivals in our church calendar. We look to the Bible of both
the Old and New Testaments as our most sacred book--as the Word
of the Lord. And we believe in living the Christian life of
"charity," or kindness.
with all these similarities to other Christian denominations, we
also have our own distinctness. This distinctness starts with
the way we believe in and worship the Lord. To make this
distinctness crystal clear, I would like to compare our beliefs
with the general beliefs of the larger Christian church on this
question: Who is Jesus?
is exactly the question under discussion in our New Testament
reading. When Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he
is, they give various speculations: "Some say John the
Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of
the prophets." (Matt. 16:14). Then Jesus asks the critical
question: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter
answers, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living
is clear from this conversation that there has been confusion
and controversy over who Jesus is right from the beginning. The
average person of his day seemed to think of him as a great
prophet--but definitely as human and not divine. If Peter is
representative of the disciples as a whole, the disciples saw
him as something more than merely human. They saw him as the
Messiah (or Christ), the son of the living God.
in other places, Jesus is given even more divinity than that.
The Gospel of John recounts this exchange between Jesus and his
Philip said to
him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be
Jesus said to him,
"Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you
still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, 'Show us the Father?' Do you not believe that
I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" (John
moves beyond Jesus being the son of God to Jesus being God
himself. Indeed, many of the Old Testament prophecies of the
Lord's coming say the same thing, as in the words of our text.
Notice as I read it that the child that has been born is
called "Mighty God" and "Everlasting
For a child has
been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his
shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)
else can this mean but that God himself came to earth as Jesus?
the stage was set early on for a wide divergence of opinion as
to Jesus' real identity. Opinions ranged from his being a mere
man through being the son of God to being God himself. The early
followers of Jesus probably did not feel compelled to resolve
this issue in any rigorous way. They were too busy spreading the
good news of the Lord's kingdom. Besides, they expected Jesus to
return soon, so there would be a higher authority available if
there were the need of any further answers.
as time went on Jesus did not reappear in the way they expected.
Then, two things began to happen. First, as those who knew Jesus
personally were martyred or grew old and died, the collective
memory of Jesus as he really was began to fade, and those who
could answer questions about him with any authority of
first-hand experience became no longer available.
more serious thing happened. The early love and community
feelings of the first Christians began to fade also. With this
fading of love came factionalism and struggles over the growing
institutionalization of Christianity. With the Council of Nicea
in 325 AD, the emperor Constantine made Christianity the state
religion of the Roman empire, entrenching it as a worldly rather
than a spiritual kingdom.
this same time, the Christian church took a theological step
that Swedenborg saw as even more fateful: they developed the
idea of a trinity of distinct persons in God, seeing God the
Father as one person, God the Son as a second person, and God
the Holy Spirit as a third person. In essence, the Christian
church began teaching people to believe in three gods while
calling them one.
this happened, the Christian concept of God began a long
downhill slide, until in the mid-1700's, Swedenborg could
declare that the teachings of the Christian church had been
completely falsified and destroyed. (cf. Apocalypse Revealed
#676, Apocalypse Explained #817a) In Roman Catholicism,
it was the continuation of the early Roman error of making
Christianity into a political rather than a spiritual force that
destroyed Christianity. The Catholic church spent many centuries
amassing wealth and power instead of leading the people
spiritually. Now that this earthly power has been largely
broken, the Catholic church is free to return to something more
like a Christianity that Christ would recognize.
Protestantism, Christianity was destroyed more by intellectual
pride resulting in doctrinal error than by greed and grasping
for power. The clergy developed a very damaging view of how God
works in relation to humans. They called it the "vicarious
atonement." This was the falsified theology that Swedenborg
spoke out against most strongly. It is in contrast to vicarious
atonement theology that Swedenborg's view of the Lord shines
most brightly. Let us take a look at that theology, and then at
our Swedenborgian view of the Lord.
even thousands of books and sermons have been written about what
we would consider the old, falsified Christian teachings about
the Lord. In the Protestant world, most of these books and
sermons go back, either explicitly or implicitly, to the idea of
the vicarious atonement. From a Swedenborgian perspective, it is
hard to explain this theology without making it into a
caricature. Let's see what kind of a Swedenborgian cartoonist I
"atonement" means reconciliation through making amends
for an injury to someone, and "vicarious" means done
for us by someone else. So "vicarious atonement" means
someone else (Jesus) making amends for the things we did wrong.
Here's how it (supposedly!) works:
vicarious atonement theology, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit
from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, disobeying a direct
command from God, they brought upon themselves the death
penalty. Ever since then, we have all been born with
"original sin," meaning we are born guilty of breaking
God's law. God's "perfect" justice requires that the
penalty for our sin is the same as that for Adam and Eve's sin:
death. The problem is, we are all finite, and we can never
satisfy the demands of God's infinite justice. So on our own, we
would all have to die to satisfy the justice of God the Father.
is where God the Son comes in. A finite, fallible human cannot
satisfy God's justice, but an infallible son of God can! So (as
goes this theology) when Jesus died on the cross, that divine
death satisfied God's need for justice. Divine justice requires
a divine sacrifice to satisfy it. Now, since Jesus has paid the
price for our sins (death!), all we have to do is
"claim" that vicarious atonement by stating our belief
that Jesus is our Lord and savior. Once we do this, God's
justice is satisfied in our individual case, and the Holy Spirit
can come to us and give us the gift of salvation.
was not such a caricature after all. For many Christians, it
seems perfectly reasonable--and even forms the core of their
belief. Yet consider what we would think of a human being--such
as a king of a few centuries ago--who acted in this way. This
king decides that because his first subjects broke the law, all
of his subjects deserve the death penalty--even those who were
not born yet when the initial offense took place. So he
sentences all his subjects to death. But his eldest son cannot
stand to let this happen. So the son offers to die himself
instead of all the king's subjects. The king accepts his offer.
His son is publicly executed, and from then on, any subject who
declares his belief that the king's son died for him or her will
be spared the death penalty. Those who do not declare such a
belief will be executed.
would we think of such a king? We would think of him as a
deranged tyrant, not as a king. Yet this is exactly what
vicarious atonement theology attributes to God.
days, it is mostly the conservative or fundamentalist wing of
Christianity that still clings explicitly to this type of
theology. The more liberal denominations seem to want to move
away from the harshness of the vicarious atonement, but they
have not come up with any coherent idea to put in its place--so
they flounder theologically.
is where Swedenborg's idea of the Lord comes in. Swedenborg
skips over all the centuries of human error piled on top of the
simple beliefs of the early Christians and gives us a new and
untainted view of Christ based on love, understanding, and
kindness rather than on satisfying a vindictive form of divine
jewel of our belief is that God always and everywhere loves us,
and never condemns us no matter what we do. Rather, we condemn
ourselves by living in destructive ways. The Lord is always
reaching out to us to try to lift the condemnation that we put
on ourselves. When he came to us as Jesus, it was the greatest
expression ever of the Lord's reaching out to us, not from
anger, but from love.
was never any need to save us from the justice of God the
Father, because God's justice is all about doing away with the
hurtful and evil parts of ourselves and our society, not about
condemning us as people. God loves us. So God came to us
as a human being--as Jesus--in order to show us the way toward
happiness. Not toward temporary, earthly happiness, but toward
eternal, spiritual happiness.
church rejects the vicarious atonement because of the negative
and vindictive picture it paints of God, and because it splits
up the eternal unity of God into three separate persons that
have different agendas. Instead, we believe that there is one
God: the Lord God Jesus Christ. This is a God that is completely
one, and that oneness comes from infinite love and infinite
wisdom. God loved us so much that in order to show us the way,
he was willing to come personally and live with us, never
swerving from the path of divine love and wisdom even when that
meant suffering and dying at our hands.
Jesus we see the human face of God. We see the way God cares for
us enough to do everything in his power to save us from our own
insistence on wrongful and hurtful ways of life. Jesus calls to
us; he chastises us; he prophesies to us; he sits down and
shares meals with us; he dies to show us the depth of his love.
As he said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay
down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
is far more to this than can be fit into one brief sermon.
Before finishing today, we need to ask the question, "What
difference does this make for our lives?"
makes a huge difference. God is the center of the universe. What
we believe about God will affect our beliefs about everything
else--including the way we treat each other. If we see God as an
angry and condemnatory being, it is all too easy for us to
condemn those who do not share our own beliefs. But if we see
God as a being who loves and cares for everyone--Christian and
non-Christian alike--we have no excuse not to follow that
example in our own lives.
came to show us all how to live. Not that we need to emulate the
literal events of his life--martyrdom is not required! Rather,
we need to live by the same spirit of love and mutual kindness
that he both taught and embodied in his life on earth. This is
the difference that our church's view of the Lord makes in our
we each go through our days, then, we can know that the
world--no, the entire universe is, at its core, a good
place because its ruler is infinitely good. We do not have to
fear divine retribution for our wrongs. Rather, we can rejoice
in the knowledge that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns--and that
his kingdom is a kingdom of love and kindness. Amen.