By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
December 13, 1998
Third Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 53:1-6 By
his wounds we are healed
believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been
revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of
dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his
appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by
others--a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom
others hide their faces, he was despised, and we considered him of no account.
Surely he took
up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. We thought he was punished by
God--struck by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was
upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone
astray; each of us has turned to our own way. And the Lord has taken upon him
the iniquity of us all.
Luke 4:14-21 The
year of the Lord's favor
to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the
whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to
Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went to the synagogue on the
Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the
prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to
the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the
Then he rolled
up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of
everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to
them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Coelestia #1846.3 The Lord overcame the hells
Isaiah 53:3, 4
refers to the Lord's temptations. When it says, "He took up our
infirmities and carried our sorrows," it does not mean that believers
will never go through temptations, nor that he transferred our sins to himself
and in that way bore them in himself. Instead, these words mean that the Lord
overcame the hells through struggles and victories in temptation. In this way,
he was willing to endure the temptations of believers all by himself, in his
pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The
punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are
healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to our own
way. And the Lord has taken upon him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5, 6)
the interest which the Christian world would feel in the discovery of a new
Gospel, another record of the Lord's life here on earth more full than the
records of the evangelists, entering more deeply into the secrets of that
life, and telling many things which they leave untold." This is the
tantalizing opener of the Rev. William Worcester's classic and very beautiful
pamphlet, A Life of
Jesus Little Known.
writers who opened in such a way would have to concede that we do not have
such a new Gospel. Worcester, though, from his Swedenborgian perspective, is
able to deliver for his readers by showing how the Old Testament itself
provides us with a Gospel that is both ancient and new at the same time. For
as Worcester points out, if we look beneath the literal surface of the Bible
to the deeper meanings within, we find the story of Jesus' inner life told
with such depth and clarity that we discover whole new dimensions in the
versions written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
season, we have looked into the Swedenborgian perspective on why the Lord came
into the world, and what the Lord's personal presence can do for us that no
impersonal God or universal life force could do. Today, let's follow William
Worcester's lead and dig deeper into the inner life of Jesus, whose birth we
are preparing to celebrate. As we will see, the life and teachings of Jesus as
recorded in the four Gospels is only one side--the most visible side--of the
Lord's life work.
It is true that
without the Gospel records of the Lord's life and teachings we would be
without the core truths on which our faith is based. Without the teachings
given to us in the Gospels, we could no more live a Christian life than modern
astronomers could study distant stars and galaxies without telescopes through
which to see them. The Gospels are a spiritual telescope enabling us to
see at a distance of nearly two thousand years the blazing star of the Lord's
physical presence here on earth.
Yet as with a
telescope looking at a distant star, the literal Gospel record does not give
us the level of detail about the inner processes of the Lord's life that we
would like to have. In the Gospels we read about the Lord's birth and infancy,
about one incident when he was twelve years old, and then about a few years of
public ministry leading up to his death in his early thirties. The bulk of his
life is missing from the literal story. Trying to fill in all the gaps and
details of that life from the Gospels would be somewhat similar to the
astronomers' current efforts to locate planets around other stars: a few
Gospel verses give us some vague hints, just as almost infinitesimal wobbles
in a distant star's path give us a hint that a huge planet is circling that
star. But what we really want to know is whether there are little
planets like ours out there; planets teeming with life--especially with
intelligent life. And that our telescopes can't tell us.
Yet through our
church's teachings about the deeper meanings of scripture, we are able (to
continue our metaphor perhaps a little too far), to step into a spaceship and
zoom at warp speeds right up to the distant planet of the Lord's inner life.
We can learn in a very direct way about what he was going through in his mind
and heart as he walked those dusty roads of Palestine. We can discover the
Lord's deeper accomplishments, which, as we find out, made it possible for us
to be spiritually free and growing human beings.
thorough picture of the Lord's inner life would involve many years of study.
Even then, as finite human beings we could never hope to do more than scratch
the surface of the infinite depths of experience within the divine being who
inhabited that physical body for a few decades. Still, even in the short time
we have this morning we can find some pearls of wisdom about the Lord if we
look at a couple verses of scripture and draw out their meaning in the light
of the new revelation given to us through Emanuel Swedenborg.
Few verses in
the Old Testament scriptures have been more misunderstood that the
words of our text from Isaiah: "He was pierced for our transgressions; he
was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon
him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray;
each of us has turned to our own way. And the Lord has taken upon him the
iniquity of us all." We will do well for now if we can simply unpack some
of the meaning in these few words and discover in them an initial
understanding of how the Lord Jesus redeemed us by his birth and life in this
pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. . . .
The Lord has taken upon him the iniquity of us all." In Evangelical
circles, the meaning is clear: since Christ struggled and suffered instead of
us, our struggle and our suffering is taken away. By simply accepting Christ's
free gift of salvation, which he gave to us by dying in our place, all our
sins are washed away, and we are clean and pure in God's sight.
Yet even when
we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior--which we as Swedenborgians must do
just as much as the most Evangelical of Christians--we are still fallible
human beings. We still have within us and around us the accumulated weight of
our past life; we still have the same emotional issues, the same relationship
issues, the same struggles and failings we have always had. Both psychology
and common sense tell us that we human beings cannot be transformed from
darkness into light in an instant. Rather, when we consciously accept the Lord
into our lives and make a commitment to follow the path the Lord lays out for
us, we begin a journey of spiritual healing and growth that will, in
time, replace the darkened parts of our lives with new realms of light and
warmth from the Lord.
And so we read
these words of Isaiah from a different perspective. The Lord did indeed take
our iniquities upon himself; but this does not mean he took them away so that
we would never have to experience any struggle or temptation, any sorrow or
grief. Rather, the Lord was--and is--willing to come down from the infinite
heights of divine love and wisdom where he resides, and bear our struggles and
our sorrows with us, just as we share our struggles and sorrows with
those we love most closely. The Lord was willing to come among us as one of
us, to share in all the passages of our lives with us, and to give us far
greater strength to overcome in our struggles than any human being could give.
The Lord did
something through his life on earth that no mortal human could ever have done.
We get glimpses of this in our reading from Isaiah: "He was pierced for
our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that
brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like
sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to our own way. And the Lord
has taken upon him the iniquity of us all." Yes, each one of us has gone
astray in one way or another. Not a single one of us has lived a perfect and
blameless life. We all make our mistakes--and sometimes we go beyond mistakes
and intentionally hurt other human beings. We have our areas of
selfishness and greed, which sometimes lead us to say and do things that are
hurtful and destructive.
Now imagine the
total weight of all human greed and selfishness, of all human malice and
folly, focused against one life. That life was the life of the Lord Jesus
Christ. Jesus was born into a dark chapter in our world's history. Unthinking
cruelty and oppression were the norm, as one empire succeeded another, each
more brutal than the last. The light of religious truth had nearly gone out,
and we were in danger of snuffing ourselves out spiritually in much the same
way that we have more recently been in danger of snuffing ourselves out
physically through the buildup of weapons of mass destruction.
All our human
weapons of spiritual mass destruction were focused on the Lord's life.
While he was going about his outward business of teaching, preaching, and
healing, he was inwardly going through fierce spiritual battles against the
accumulated weight of human evil that would have swept any one of us away like
a speck of dust. The Gospels give us only a hint of these terrible inner
struggles--telling us, for example, of Jesus' three temptations from the
devil, and of his struggle in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
Our church's teachings give far more detail through the spiritual
interpretation of Old and New Testament Scriptures. And we learn, both from
them and from a careful reading of Scripture itself, that Jesus did indeed
take upon himself the iniquity of us all. Through punishing and wounding
struggles against the combined forces of evil, he overcame all evil in the
universe, and gained the power to save each one of us from our own little
slice of evil.
Does this mean
that we humans have no more work to do? That as soon as we accept Jesus our
slate is wiped clean? No. It means that through his birth, life, death, and
resurrection, the Lord took for himself the power to overcome all that is
selfish and evil within us. It means that now, if we will dedicate ourselves
to following the Lord by living according to his teachings, then the Lord
Jesus will always be there for us, offering us the strength and support, the
insight and the love that we need to endure our own struggles, and to come out
of them stronger, deeper, and more loving people. Amen.
Music: We Three Kings