Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Our God
July 07, 2002
This is what the Lord says--he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited--he says: "I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants, 'Seek me in vain.' I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.
"Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry around idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. Declare what is to be; present it--let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago? Who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other." (Isaiah 45:18-22)
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white, and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." (Revelation 4)
Reading from Swedenborg
There is one God, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and he is the Lord Jesus Christ. This can be briefly illustrated in the following way: It is a certain and established truth that God is one, and his essence cannot be divided; and also that there is a Trinity. Since God is One, and his essence cannot be divided, it follows that God is one Person. And since he is one Person, the Trinity is in that Person.
It is clear that this Person is the Lord Jesus Christ from the fact that he was conceived from God the Father (Luke 1:34, 35), and thus as to his soul and life itself he is God. Therefore, as he himself said, "He and the Father are one." (John 10:30); "He is in the Father, and the Father in him" (John 14:10, 11); "Anyone who sees and knows him sees and knows the Father" (John 14:7, 9); "No one sees and knows the Father but the one who is in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18); . . . and "He has all power in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). From this it follows that he is the God of heaven and earth. (Brief Exposition #44)
There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21, 22)
This is the first of a three part series on the basic teachings of the New Jerusalem Church. The sermons will draw on the Book of Revelation--the strange and mysterious final book of the Bible that has been the basis of so many apocalyptic visions of future cataclysm that would engulf the entire earth.
Of course, our view of Revelation is quite different. We see it as a book symbolic of deeper, spiritual events rather than outward material events. After all, these visions were seen by the Apostle John, not with his physical eyes, but with his spiritual eyes while he was "in the spirit" (Revelation 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). So it stands to reason that if these events were seen in the spiritual world, John was describing spiritual events, not physical ones. In fact, we view the Book of Revelation as a prophecy of the great inner, spiritual changes that are taking place in our world right now, as the Lord renews Christianity--and the entire world along with it. This is why the book of Revelation has sometimes been called "The Charter of the New Church."
The sections of Revelation that we will be drawing on very nicely point to the three essential teachings of the New Church: on the Lord, the Bible, and the life that leads to heaven.
However, though the vision of God on the throne in heaven is the inspiration for today's theme, I have chosen to focus on a text from the Book of Isaiah. It is a text that could very well have come from the New Testament, or even from the Book of Revelation itself. To repeat it once more:
There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
To make my main point this morning, I offer a parallel passage from the New Testament, this time from Acts 4:10-12. The Apostle Peter is speaking to a group of antagonistic Jewish leaders after he and John have healed a crippled beggar:
Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is "the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone." Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
Did you notice it? Through Isaiah, Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe, says that he is the one and only God, and the only Savior. And if that passage weren't clear enough, two chapters earlier in Isaiah we read:
Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord [Jehovah], and apart from me there is no Savior. (Isaiah 43:10, 11)
Then the Apostles Peter and John, two of Jesus' closest disciples, declare that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. Now, does the Bible contradict itself, or are we being told plainly that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, God himself come to earth to rescue us from evil and sin? If there is no God and Savior besides Jehovah God, and yet the New Testament tells us that salvation is found nowhere else but in Jesus Christ, then the answer is clear.
Jesus left us in no doubt about the answer--though in his usual freedom-respecting fashion, he used language that could be interpreted differently by those who were not ready to accept him as the Apostle Paul did: as the one in whom "all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). Speaking to the Jews who were accusing him of being "a Samaritan and demon-possessed," Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I Am." And we are told that "at this, they picked up stones to stone him" (John 8:48, 58, 59). Why did they want stone him? Because they understood perfectly his reference to Exodus 3:14, in which God responded to Moses' request to tell him his name by saying, "I Am That I Am. This is what you are to say to the children of Israel, 'I Am has sent me to you.'" In saying, "Before Abraham was born, I Am," Jesus was declaring himself to be, not only the Son of God, but God himself, the eternal I Am, present on earth in human form.
This belief is the very core and focus of all of the teachings of the New Jerusalem Church. As Swedenborg expresses it in A Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church, #44, "There is one God, in whom there is the Divine Trinity, and he is the Lord Jesus Christ." All of our other teachings hinge on this one central belief in the full and absolute divinity of Jesus Christ who, as he himself said, is one with the Father (John 10:30).
It may seem as if I'm a bit exercised this morning, with all this Bible-quoting. And the fact is, I am! Why? Because during the past week I've been having an email conversation with the webmaster of one of those fundamentalist Christian sites that claim to identify and point out the errors of various so-called "cults." I had received one complaint too many from a fellow Swedenborgian about the damaging and downright incorrect statements that appeared on this particular site's page about Swedenborgianism.
Yes, they think we're a cult. I'd like to invite them to church one of these days, and see what they think. Of course, they classify anyone who doesn't agree with their particular beliefs as a cult. And we certainly qualify on the basis of our disagreements with their theology!
To be fair, when I sent a long list of corrections to the Swedenborg page at this site, the webmaster did incorporate many of them into his statement of our doctrines--as he had earlier told me he would if I could point out and document incorrect statements. As a result, what is written in the "Doctrines" section now sounds much more like what we actually believe. However, the webmaster's comments at the end start by saying, "This is a dangerous mystical non-Christian religion."
When I read that statement, I couldn't help but think of the popular saying, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" Only in this case, I would modify it to read, "What part of the statement, 'Jesus Christ is the one God of the universe' is non-Christian?" Or to use our traditional statement of faith, "What part of, 'We worship the one God, the Lord, the Savior Jesus Christ, the redeemer of the world; in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit' is non-Christian?"
My conversation with this person will continue, and I may yet be able to convince him that a church that worships Jesus Christ as the one and only God of the universe is, in fact, a Christian Church. However, I can tell you right now what causes so much misunderstanding of our beliefs among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians: We do not accept the three cornerstones of their version of Christianity: a Trinity of three Persons in God, the doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement, and the doctrine that faith alone saves. It would take more time than we have this morning to demonstrate that none of these are really based on the Bible. Besides, this is a church, not a theological school! For now, I will simply point out:
- Though the Bible does speak of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it never calls them "Persons," but many times makes it clear that they are in one divine being.
- Though the Bible does say that Jesus came to save us from our sins, it never says that he died to pay the penalty for our sins, as is claimed by the Vicarious Atonement.
- The phrase "faith alone" is used only once in the entire Bible; and in that one place, it is specifically rejected as saving. The apostle James writes, "You see that a person is justified by his works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24).
Further, none of these three teachings that are now used by Fundamentalists as litmus tests of "true Christianity" was ever taught, or apparently even conceived of, until at least two centuries after Christ and his original disciples died. By that time, the Christian Church had already begun to get embroiled in various power struggles, which had a corrupting effect on its doctrine. And the teaching that "faith alone saves" never became a major part of Christian doctrine until Luther and the other Reformers broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, fifteen centuries after Christ lived on earth.
I say all of this, not because I particularly enjoy debating Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but because before the genuine Christianity taught in the Bible, and highlighted in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, can stand out in the light, the errors of the old, doctrinally corrupt and non-Biblical Christianity must be cleared away like so much deadwood that has been choking the life out of the Christian Church for centuries.
Are you ready to move on? I am! Let's spend our remaining time together this morning looking at the comforting, enlightening, and beautiful teachings of our church about the Lord Jesus Christ, the one God of heaven and earth.
The essence of our belief about God can be summarized in two very simple statements: God is One, and God is Love. Both of these are clearly taught in the Bible, and every teaching of genuine Christianity must agree with them.
The next step of belief is to understand that together with Love, God is also Wisdom (or Truth) and Action (or Creative Power). And though we can name these three attributes of God separately--Love, Wisdom, and Action--they can no more be separated in reality than can our own feelings, thoughts, and actions. All of these are infinitely one in God.
The love that is the very being of God is also the soul and substance of God. The wisdom or truth of God is also the structure and visible form of God. And the creative and saving action of God occurs when God's perfectly united love and wisdom flow out into the universe in general, and into human beings in particular. The analogous parts of us--created as we are in God's image--are our soul, which is our inner essence; our body, which is the way our soul shows itself; and our actions, which flow from our soul and our body working together to accomplish our goals.
This, in its simplest form, is the New Church doctrine of the Trinity in Jesus Christ. The Father is the Divine Soul: the Divine Love from which everything comes. The Son is the Divine Truth: the outward expression of God's love. And the Holy Spirit is God's love and truth acting together, reaching out to us, reaching into our souls to lift us out of our worldly and self-absorbed lives to the true salvation and blessing of living abundantly from a warm and burning love for God and for our neighbor, in the brilliant light of God's truth.
And the greatest beauty of the Christian Church is that God did not stay distant and aloof from us, leaving us to fend for ourselves here on earth. No, God came to us personally to share our joys and sorrows, to struggle with all the same things we struggle with at a far deeper level than we can ever fathom, and to be with us as our Master, our Savior, and our Friend forever.
Yes, we can know God and have a loving, personal relationship with God in the one Divine Human Person of Jesus Christ, our Lord. This is the same powerful God who reigns supreme on the spiritual throne of heaven. Amen.
Dear Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, we thank you for your infinite love, your infinite wisdom, and your infinite power. We thank you for creating the universe and everything in it, and for creating each one of us. And we thank you for coming to live among us, sharing all our joys and our sorrows, our struggles and our triumphs. Be with us personally today and every day. Open our minds and hearts to your presence, and move us to love one another as you have loved us. Amen.
Rev. Lee Woofenden