Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 28, 2003


Isaiah 63:1-9 The day of God's vengeance and redemption

Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward with tremendous strength?

"It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save."

Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?

"I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeeming work had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled that no one gave support. So my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I crushed them, and poured their blood upon the ground."

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us--yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, "Surely they are my people--children who will not deal falsely." So he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Luke 1:26-38 The angel Gabriel foretells the birth of Jesus

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

But she was very perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

True Christian Religion #92 The Son of God

The Lord said on many occasions that the Father sent him and that he was sent by the Father . . . . He said this because "being sent into the world" means coming down and associating with human beings. He did this by means of the human nature that he took upon himself through the Virgin Mary. And this humanity really is the Son of God, because it was conceived from Jehovah God as the Father, as is stated in Luke 1:32, 35.

The Lord's human nature is called "the Son of God," "the Son of Man," and "the Son of Mary." "The Son of the God" means Jehovah God in his humanity; "the Son of Man" means the Lord as the Word; and "the Son of Mary" means the actual human nature that he took upon himself.

I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled that no one gave support. So my own arm worked salvation for me. (Isaiah 63:5)

At our Christmas Eve service on Wednesday, I responded to the question "What child is this" by saying that this child Jesus was and is "God with us," as the prophet and the Gospel say. With that as a preface, this week I would like to introduce the new series we are now beginning on the inner life of Jesus Christ.

I was inspired to this theme by the beautiful little book A Life of Jesus Little Known, by the Rev. William L. Worcester, originally published in 1905, and still available in a 1980 reprint edition. In this series, we will follow the Lord's life as told in the Gospel stories, together with the deepest level of meaning in the Bible story as illuminated by Emanuel Swedenborg in his great work Arcana Coelestia, or Secrets of Heaven.

For today's introduction, I would like to look a little further into the question of who Jesus was, where he came from, and why he came to earth. Without knowing these things, we cannot possibly understand what was going on within the Lord's mind and heart during his life here on earth.

Of course, we limited humans can never do more than scratch the surface of the divine depths of the Lord's mind and heart. And I don't expect to do any more than that in this series. But on our own human level, we can, with the help of the Bible and Swedenborg's writings, gain some understanding and appreciation for who the Lord was, what he went through during his life here on earth, and why. My hope is that this will help all of us to increase our understanding of the Lord, and our love for the Lord, so that we may have a closer and deeper relationship with the One who is both our Creator and our Friend.

Our starting point this morning is where we left off before: that Jesus Christ was "Emmanuel," which means "God with us." And as I mentioned before, even this has been a matter of debate among Christians ever since the Christian era began. Traditional Christian theology holds that Jesus represented the second Person of a three-person God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each seen as distinct persons . . . and yet, in contradictory fashion, God is said to be one God.

One of the problems that may have led to this irrational belief is a confusion between names and persons. There is a science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clark called "The Nine Billion Names of God" in which a group of monks in a remote monastery buy an advanced computer in order to list all the names of God, believing that once they do, the purpose of Creation will have been fulfilled, and the universe will come to an end. I'm not sure there have been nine billion names used for God. But without too much exaggeration, I think I could say there have probably been a million. And in some parts of the world at some times, each of those million names was considered to be a separate deity.

The Bible, too, has many names for God--Jehovah, God, Lord, and so on--including the ones we read last time: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. If each name that the Bible gave for God were a separate person, we Christians would be polytheists with the best of 'em. Traditional Christianity has gotten it down to three. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each considered God by themselves. The New Church gets it down to one God, where it belongs, by understanding that a distinct name does not mean a distinct person.

Our reading from Swedenborg mentions three other names of God, each focusing on the "Son" aspect: "the Son of God," "the Son of Man," and "the Son of Mary." It then goes on to say:

The Son of the God" means Jehovah God in his humanity; "the Son of Man" means the Lord as the Word; and "the Son of Mary" means the actual human nature that he took upon himself.

In other words, even though these names sound like they are describing a separate person, they are, in fact, describing different aspects, or "essentials," as Swedenborg says, of one Divine Person.

In the case of names that involve the "Son," it is talking about the human side of the Lord, as compared to the divine side. These are not two, but one, as the Divine Humanity. Yet we can think of them distinctly in our minds. And when we do, metaphorically speaking, the human side is the "son" of the divine side, since it comes from the divine side.

Even physically, Jesus Christ was the Son of God, since it was from God that he was conceived, and his soul came. Yet unlike human souls, which differentiate themselves from their parents, the divine soul is infinitely one, and cannot be divided. So in the unique case of the Son of God, the Son, rather than separating from the Father as human children do, remained together with the Father. In the course of his life on earth, Jesus Christ left behind everything that didn't come from the Father, and in the process become fully one and the same Divine Person with the Father--only with a human nature that he had not possessed before.

This is the first and most basic concept we must understand if we are to even begin to grasp the process that Jesus went through inwardly while he was here on earth. Jesus was the Son of God, meaning that his inner soul was God himself, while he, as a human being here on earth, came from that divine soul.

This is not merely an abstract, theoretical idea. It assures us that the Jesus Christ we pray to, and who comes to us, guides us, strengthens us, and leads us in good times and bad, is, indeed, both our Creator and our Friend. When we pray to Jesus, we are praying to one who loves us with an infinite love, who understands us with infinite understanding--and with personal experience of what we go through here on earth--and who has infinite power to lift us up and lead us toward heaven.

However, Jesus Christ also came from Mary--a finite human being. And this is also essential to grasp in order to understand what he accomplished here on earth. Our reading from Swedenborg last time mentioned that Jesus came in order to redeem and save humankind, and that he did this by taking on a human nature. The human nature that he took on came partly from the divine soul, as the "Son of God." But it also came partly from his human mother, as the "Son of Mary." And where these two human natures met, he was also able to meet all of human evil . . . and conquer it.

Human evil cannot approach God directly, nor can God approach human evil directly. If he did, it would be like the sun approaching the earth in order to "cleanse" it. The "cleansing" would utterly destroy the earth. In the same way, if God came to us pure, as he is in himself, in order to cleanse us of our evils, he would destroy us in the process. It would be like encountering the sun by flying directly into it: we would be instantly vaporized! So God had to come to us in "accommodated" form--a form in which he could approach us finite human beings, approach the evil that had accumulated among us, fight against it, and conquer it without destroying us in the process.

He did this by taking on a finite, fallible human nature from Mary, and using that as a field where the combined human evil that we know of as the Devil, Satan, and hell could approach and attack him, and where he could, from his divine power, overcome that evil and bring it into subjection to the divine will once and for all.

This is a second concept that we must understand in order to grasp the process Jesus went through here on earth. We see in the Gospel stories Jesus battling the entrenched religious orthodoxy of his time. And we get a few brief glimpses of the corresponding inner battle: his temptations in the desert after his baptism; his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion itself. These are brief glimpses of a war that was going on within him throughout his life on earth. Jesus Christ was fighting continual battles against hell and evil almost from birth. And Swedenborg gives us a much more sustained look at these inner battles in Arcana Coelestia.

This, too, is not merely some theoretical concept. It tells us that in all the inner battles we go through in this life, as grievous, painful, and harrowing they may be, the Lord is with us every step of the way. The Lord went through things far worse than we will ever face, and came through them victorious. And he will give us the victory in our spiritual battles, too, if we turn to him, have faith in him, and fight from the power of his truth and his love.

And that is a final concept that we must understand in order to grasp the inner life of Jesus, and the Lord's relationship with us. Everything Jesus did, everything God does--whatever the outward appearance may be--comes from love, and is expressed through truth.

Some churches and Christians view God the Father as angry, vindictive, imposing harsh penalties on those who do not live up to his standards. If the Bible is interpreted in this way, it becomes the story of God the Father's "wrath and justice," eventually tempered by the love of God the Son. Our reading from Isaiah this morning then becomes the story of God literally engaging in "a day of vengeance" against all his enemies.

But these words are spoken according to the human appearance of things, in order to reach us where we are when we are far away from God. In the deeper meaning, God's wrath becomes what it really is: God's love. It is a love that motivates and drives everything God has done throughout history, everything God did while he was on earth as Jesus Christ, and everything God does for each one of us every day of our lives. Amen.


Music: Fairest Lord Jesus