The Lord’s Temptations

The Lord’s Temptations

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 1, 2010

O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

The Lord’s last week on earth in the human was the culmination and focus of all the preparations, all the teaching, healing, and miracles, that had gone before. He entered Jerusalem, the Holy city, as a king on what has come to be known as Palm Sunday. He went into the temple and threw out the money changers who had made His house into a den of thieves. He then spent each day teaching in the city, retiring to the mount of Olives each night with His disciples to rest. This unrelenting pressure on the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem, the very center of their own power, was more than they could bear. He wasn’t such a threat to them while He was teaching out in the country, but now He was teaching to large crowds in the capital every day. They had to meet this direct challenge to their authority.

The Lord, knowing that the situation was about to reach the breaking point, secluded Himself in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John to prepare Himself for the final battle. At stake was nothing less than the eternal lives of every living soul who had ever been born in the earth, or who might ever have been born. On the one side was the Lord in His as yet infirm Human. On the other side was arrayed the Jewish Church, the whole of Hell, and even the whole of the angelic heavens.

And so, He prayed. We’re told that prayer is speech with God, a time when thought is directed towards internal, eternal things. When we genuinely pray, we draw our minds away from things of this world, and into the sphere of the spiritual world. The result is that we can actually leave the light and thought of this world and come more and more into the light and thought of the spiritual world as we open ourselves up to the life of the spirit. It is not of order that we should actually become conscious in the spiritual world as the result of prayer, but we can in fact borrow something of the sphere of that world which brings a sphere of peace and consolation into our life in this world. This is why the Lord prayed. He did not pray to the Father as another distinct person, but rather He turned to prayer as a way of lifting Himself above the finite, material limitations of His human body and mind so that He could more clearly perceive His inner Divine Soul. He was lifting Himself up out of the uncertainties and confusions of this world and receiving the strength He needed from perceiving His own Infinite love of the universal Human race. This restored Him. This strength of pure love prepared Him for the final battle.

At this time of year, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the joy of Easter morning, we are necessarily drawn to consider the terrible events that preceded His resurrection. Sometimes we are filled with depression and guilt as we wonder how we ourselves would have reacted to the Lord had we lived in Jerusalem in those days. We wonder if we would have had the courage and insight to be a disciple, or if we would have shouted “Crucify Him!” with the mob. We wonder why the Lord, if He was truly the all-powerful God, allowed this to happen. Why couldn’t He have worked out some other, less painful way? Why couldn’t He have simply sent an army of angels to do battle with the devils and drive them back into hell where they belonged?

Human beings are born into the natural world for a very important reason: so that evils from the hereditary nature can show themselves, be recognized as evils and shunned. By this exercise of our freedom of choice in spiritual things we make for ourselves a character that is stored in the organics of the brain and forms a vessel for eternal, spiritual life.

The Lord had to come into the world and submit to the attacks of the hells for a similar reason: While He remained above the heavens, He was unapproachable, and the evils remained hidden, subtle, able to take away men’s freedom of choice in spiritual things, destroying men like a cancer deeply hidden in the body. The Lord took on a human in the world to make Himself approachable, to draw the hells out where they could be seen for what they truly were, where men could understand what they were and freely choose to turn away from them. Unless the Lord had sustained temptations, the whole human race from the time of the Most Ancient church would have perished in eternal death. (See AC 1676)

The Lord had to undergo temptation, real, painful temptation, the same kind of temptations that we ourselves go through during our life. The Lord’s temptations were very similar to our own in many ways, and yet they were also very different in some ways. One of the first and most important differences is that the Lord fought against the hells from His own power, while when we fight, it is actually the Lord who fights for us — our part is to choose to fight as of ourselves. The Lord fights the actual battles and changes our loves for us. All we have to do is hold true to the truth which we know.

Another important difference is that the Lord was never tempted as to His loves, but only as to His wisdom. The Lord is frequently referred to in the New Testament as the “Son of God,” and also the “Son of man.” The internal sense of the Word tells us that whenever there is reference to the “Son of God” it has to do with the Divine Love, and reference to the “Son of man” has to do with the Divine truth. Whenever He is teaching, healing, or doing miracles, the reference is to the “Son of God.” Whenever the text speaks of suffering or temptation, it refers to the “Son of man.” We know that the Lord alternated between two states while He was in the world, the states of Glorification and humiliation. The “Son of God” is another name for the state of Glorification, and the “Son of man” is another name for the state of humiliation.

The “Son of God” could not be tempted, because it represents the Divine Love. The reason for this becomes clear if we ask ourselves what the Divine Love is, what the Lord’s ruling love is. The Lord’s ruling love is that there should be a heaven from the human race. This is the pure love which is the power behind the creation of the universe. This is too high, too fundamental a love to ever be approached or challenged by any lust from hell. The Lord’s loves, being pure, cannot be tempted. Ours can, and frequently are. (See AC 2813)

But the “Son of man” could be tempted, for it stands for an aspect of the Divine truth. The Writings tell us that it was not the Divine Truth itself that was tempted, for that, like the Divine Love itself, is above all temptation. What was tempted was “rational truth, such as the angels have, consisting in the appearances of truth” (AC 2814). The Heavenly Doctrines frequently point out that men in the world seldom possess real, rational, truth, for there are too many confusing elements in the natural world. Rather, what we have in the natural world is the appearance of truth — how truth appears in our minds. The Doctrines frequently speak of dawn as an example of an appearance of truth. We say that the sun “rises” in the morning, even though we know it is an appearance that is the result of the earth’s rotation. It is an appearance of truth that is firmly rooted in our minds, an example of a falsity that everyone accepts as truth, even though the truth is known.

The Lord, while in the human, must then have experienced appearances of truth, and He was tempted to accept them as truth. He may have thought that He should use His power to miraculously come down off the cross, thus convincing everyone that He was the Messiah. He may have been tempted to think that men would be better off after all if they did not have freedom and were all saved by pure grace. He may have been tempted in ten thousand ways that are above our understanding to do something other than bear the humiliation of the cross. We will never know the millionth part of it.

But we do know that He was tempted so severely that he sweated blood while He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. And we also know that He accepted the temptation because it was necessary, and it was in accord with the Divine Will that there be a heaven from the human race, a heaven of men who had freely chosen to be there.

One of the most difficult things for people to think about when considering the Lord’s temptations, is the idea that the Lord doubted His own ability to conquer in temptations. It seems to be a paradox that the All-Knowing God would not know the outcome of His own trials.

The clear teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines is that “every temptation is attended with some kind of despair (otherwise it is not a temptation) … He who is sure of victory is not in anxiety, and therefore is not in temptation. The Lord also … could not but be driven into states of despair” (AC 1787). These were the states of His humiliation, where He was drawn into the perceptions and feelings of the infirm human that was not yet completely glorified. The more closely His thought was focused on the things of this world, the more distant seemed Divine things, and so they became relatively clouded to Him. While in the depths of temptation, while fully in the state of the Son of man, He despaired, He doubted, He wondered if He was doing the right thing. He was never tempted as to whether He would order the heavens, establish a new spiritual church, and save men, for this was His ruling love. He only wondered what the best way to accomplish this end was. Even so, His temptations were more difficult than we can ever imagine, for temptations are as the loves are. The higher and more deeply held the love, the more difficult and painful the temptation. The Lord’s love was the salvation of the whole human race, and it was the sum of the affection of good and truth in its highest degree. Against these all the hells raged. But still the Lord conquered them by His own power. (See AC 1820:5)

He fought against the hells throughout His whole life on earth. Each time He fought, He won. The evil spirits find their greatest delight in destroying what is good, which is why they attack, tempt, and torment men. But when they perceive that a man is of such a character that he can resist them, then they flee away for the lusts of their lives are threatened. (See AC 1820:5)

Thus, by victory in temptation, the Lord achieved a strength, a confidence that He would continue to win. There was consolation in temptation as promised in the Word. Each of us can feel that consolation when we resist temptation and the hells flee away. This is why hell flees from the angels — because they have learned how to resist their temptations.

So, while in His state of humiliation, the Divine within seemed distant and weak to the Lord, and He was in doubt as to how best to save the human race. But as He continually faced these temptations in increasingly greater degrees, He was also in continual victory! These victories then gave Him an inmost confidence and faith that because He was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race from pure love, He could not but conquer.

Was the Lord the Lord really in doubt? Yes and no. With the Son of man, while fully in the state of humiliation, there was an appearance of distance from the Divine that brought anxiety and despair over the best way to save the human race. His continual victories in temptation brought an inner strength, a confidence that He would continue to win as long has He fought. At the same time, the Son of God, the Lord in His state of glorification was one with the Divine and did not entertain any doubts at all but simply went forward with the task at hand with the power of pure love.

A temptation is an attack on a love. The severity of the temptation is directly related to the quality of the love that is being attacked. Therefore, we can form some idea of the severity of the Lord’s temptations by comparing our ruling love with His. By the same token, we can have some idea of the power with which He fought against hell for the sake of our eternal lives by comparing our love of the human race with His.

Actually, there is no ratio between the infinite and the finite, so there can be no real comparison, but it can serve to illustrate how great is His love for us, and the power that He can bring to bear on hell for the sake of our eternal lives. He conquered death and hell so that we no longer need be afraid of death. He did it by His own Divine and Infinite power, and He has offered to use His power to all those who simply ask for it by living a life according to His commandments and resisting the temptation to do what is evil. Every victory against hell allows the Lord to implant new loves in our new will, and draws us closer to Him. Every victory gives us new confidence to face the next fight. In the depths of temptation, if we turn to the Lord for strength, we will find consolation and hope, just as He prayed for strength in Gethsemane and then went forward with confidence and strength to the final battle. AMEN

Lessons: Gen. 22:1-15, Mat. 26:36-46, AC 2813-14

An Heritage of the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, October 18, 2009

          Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward Psalm 127:3.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that every human being, every one of us, has been created with an innate belief that there is a God and that He is one. We see evidence of this when we are with little children. They readily acknowledge heavenly truths such as that the Lord is their Heavenly Father, that they are under the protection of angels, that everything in the universe is living and good because it was created by Him. It’s as they get older, and more experienced in the ways of the world that they become more callous, questioning, cynical – more like adults. But we all do begin with this basic premise:  that there is a God, and that He is one. This is the primitive doctrine or religious point of view of every man.

It is also true that from the moment of birth our environment, hereditary inclinations, our educational experience, and the results of our own free choices begin to add to the basic doctrinal view. We experience the delights of good behaviour, and the pain that comes from bad behaviour – and we adjust and add to our doctrine to account for the ways other people react to us. People whom we trust and love tell us that certain things are true, and we believe what they say because we love them, whether we fully understand what they say or not. We become aware of the kinds of things the people in our home community do and think, and we consciously and subconsciously either adjust our own view to fit, or we begin to associate more and more with others outside our home group. Over the years each of us builds up a doctrine as unique as our own personality, and depending on what our life’s experience has been, it may bear little resemblance to the primitive idea placed there by God at birth.

Such is the nature and completeness of our spiritual freedom that we may take what God has freely given us, and make of it whatever we wish, make it totally and uniquely our own. However, the fact remains that the Writings teach that all humans begin with the same doctrinal basis. Since this is the case, we should be able to see some evidence of that common religious background in all peoples.

For example, we note that in almost every known form of society, whether pagan or God-fearing, whether ancient or modern, there is some form of practice or ritual in which people may thank God for His gifts. The Ancient Canaanites ritually sacrificed their first-born children. Ancient farmers would place the first produce of their fields at the foot of the statue of their local god. The children of Israel brought a sacrifice to the temple as a symbol of their willingness to give their children to Jehovah, a practice that was commanded by God to replace human sacrifice with them, and which continued for thousands of years. Recall that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple with the sacrifice of the first-born son. Even in our day, in many countries throughout the world, a day is set aside for national thanksgiving at about the time of harvest.

Why is it, in a world that seems to be increasingly materialistic and godless, do these ancient practices survive? Why do people continue to feel a need to thank God when important milestones in their life are reached? Why is it that in a world where marriage is increasingly viewed as a purely natural contract that can be broken the moment it ceases to be convenient, that people still want to be married in a church? Why is it that people who haven’t prayed in years suddenly find themselves fervently praying to God that a loved one will survive a time of severe trouble or illness. Could it be that, for all our sophisticated veneer and technological advances, most people still have the voice of God within them, whispering that He is there and that He wants to bring reassurance and peace into our lives? And people instinctively want to respond to that knowledge by turning to Him at the important milestones of life, at those times in our lives when our attention is turned away for just a moment from those natural material things that occupy most of our time and attention. When we come to church to witness a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral, we are prepared to consider some eternal truths that we might not be willing to consider at any other time.

The 127th Psalm speaks about the part the Lord plays in life’s events, and beautifully phrases the Psalmist’s thanks to Him for His help. The Psalm begins with the words, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it,” and as the opening idea it sets the tone for all the rest of the psalm. Through much of our life we work very hard, we put a lot of thought and effort into the things we do, and to a great extent we want to take credit for them to ourselves. The farmer clears the field, plows it, plants it, cultivates the new plants, waters it during drought, and harvests it in its season. He works from dawn to dusk through the whole season – and yet he gives thanks to God for the good harvest. And it is very important for him that he do so, for the knowledge and acknowledgement that God alone lives is the “celestial confession” – but through His gift we have the joy and the pleasure of performing uses in the world as-if-of-ourselves.

Our text focuses on the idea that children are an inheritance of the Lord, that they are a reward from God for a good life. But at the same time we must know that having and raising children is not always rewarding – it can be expensive, frustrating, and difficult, so we must ask ourselves how to understand this promise. The Heavenly Doctrines speak specifically to this point when they say, “Since there is no other offspring born of spiritual marriage, and a male offspring is truth and good in the understanding and consequent thought and a female offspring is truth and good in the will and consequent affection, therefore by ‘a son’ in the Word truth is signified” (AR 543:2).

The Doctrines further explain who the heirs of God are:  “All who are in the heavens – are heirs of the Lord’s kingdom; for they all make one heaven. It is that which is internal that causes any one to be an heir. That which is internal is love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbour; in proportion therefore to the love and the charity which they have, in the same proportion they are sons and heirs, for in the same proportion are they partakers of the Lord’s life” (AC 1802).

Wherever the Word speaks about children, it is telling us about the good that we can have when we live according to the truth that the Lord has given us from heaven. And the more we live the life of charity, the more we will be prepared to receive our inheritance and our reward from God. “The heavenly kingdom should be given as an inheritance to those who from charity have faith in Him” (AC 1865).

In the church we often speak of the marriage of good and truth, and how when this occurs, uses are the result, but how can we get a feeling for what this really means? When God created the universe, He did so by uniting His Divine Love – His desire to have a human race to care for – with His Divine Wisdom – His plan for an orderly development on all planes to eternity. The result was the spiritual world, the natural universe, and all the living things therein.

By correspondence the same thing happens in marriage. The love of creating and nurturing new life – (the wife) is united to the intelligence and wisdom to teach new life (the husband) in the marriage, and on the natural plane this expresses itself as a new human being, an eternal life that is loved unconditionally by its parents. We should not be surprised that the conjugial delights of marriage are so wonderful when we see that they represent nothing less than the joy that God felt when He created the human race. God’s purpose in creating the universe was so that there would be a heaven from the human race that He could care for, and that would be free to return His love. Children are meant to be angels of heaven, and we have been given the marvellous privilege of sharing with God in the process of creating a heaven from the human race! No wonder children are the cause of such wonder and joy, for they give us a taste of God’s own delights.

But our children grow up so fast and move away from home. They too soon begin their own lives and families, and the parents who centred their whole lives on them are soon left alone. This cannot be the order God intended. If children are our heritage and our reward, why do they leave us when they are grown?

We have both natural and spiritual children. Both can give us great pleasure. Both are serious responsibilities. Natural children are a great deal of work, and considerable worry, and yet they are our prime source of joy and satisfaction in this world. How much more, then will be the joy and satisfaction we experience when we produce spiritual offspring and when we can spend eternity watching them grow.

The Lord loans us children for a time to teach us some important lessons about Himself and His universe. He wants us to have some small knowledge of why and how He created the universe when He shares with us the delight of the miracle of creation of new life, He wants to give us a taste of heaven when He gives us the celestial spheres of little children, and He wants us to know what an eternal life of use will be like when He gives us the opportunity to take part in the education and upbringing of a child.

Raising children in this world teaches us how to raise spiritual children, that is, how to do be genuinely useful to others. When after practice and conscious effort we form a good habit, when some truth from the Word is so ingrained in our hearts that we do it without thinking and from delight, it is called a marriage of good and truth. And when good and truth are married, there are spiritual offspring, that is, uses. When you form good habits from the Word, the things that you do are useful to others and express your charity and love to the neighbour. These actions are your spiritual children. They will be with you to eternity. They will bring you continual pleasure. Your sons will be the charitable thoughts you have, and your daughters will be the delights you feel. Eternal life is our inheritance, freely given by God to each of us His children. But the reward, the delight of heaven comes only to those who themselves produce children, that is, who produces spiritual offspring – goods and truths, for children are an heritage of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is His reward. AMEN.

First Lesson:  PSA 127

(PSA 127) Unless the LORD builds the house, They labour in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. {2} It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. {3} Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. {4} Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. {5} Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. Amen.

Second Lesson:  TCR 685

…The three uses of baptism cohere as a unit, like first cause, mediate cause, and effect, for the sake of which the former exist; for the first use is that the man may be called a Christian; the second, following from this, is that he may know and acknowledge the Lord the Redeemer, Regenerator and Saviour; and the third that be may be regenerated by Him; and when this is done man is redeemed and saved. As these three uses follow in order, and are conjoined in the last, and consequently in the conception of the angels cohere as a unit, so when baptism is performed, read of in the Word, or mentioned, the angels who are present do not understand baptism, but regeneration. Therefore, by these words of the Lord:  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark xvi. 16), the angels in heaven understand that he who acknowledges the Lord and is regenerated will be saved. And for this reason baptism is called by the Christian churches on earth the laver of regeneration. Let every Christian know, then, that he who does not believe in the Lord even though he has been baptized, cannot be regenerated. Also that baptism without faith in the Lord has no effect whatever. Every Christian is well aware that baptism involves purification from evils, and thus regeneration, for when he is baptized in infancy, the priest with his finger makes the sign of the cross, as a memorial of the Lord, on his forehead and breast, and afterwards turns to his sponsors and asks whether he renounces the devil and all his works, and accepts the faith; to which the sponsors, in the place of the infant, answer, “Yes.” The renunciation of the devil, that is, of the evils that are from hell, and faith in the Lord, are what effect regeneration.