By Whose Authority?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Olivet New Church, Toronto.  March 25, 2007

Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him And spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” (LUK 20:1-2)

As we approach the Easter Season it is useful for us to reflect on some of the events that took place during the final week of the Lord’s earthly ministry using the chronology provided in the gospel of Luke. It begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we now call “Palm Sunday.” We’re told that as He approached the city He “wept over it.” The Arcana tells us that:

Jerusalem, over which Jesus wept, or which He pitied and over which He grieved, was not only the city Jerusalem, but also the church; the last day of which, when there would no longer be any charity nor consequently any faith, is meant in the internal sense; and hence from pity and grief He wept (AC 5480).

The Lord was here in this time and place because it had come to this, that the Jewish Church had to come to an end and needed to be judged and removed so that a new church could take its place. It is our very nature that we grieve when one state comes to an end and we begin another – even when we leave something good for something better, as every homesick college student knows. And even when we leave hard times or difficult situations, there are still elements within them that we can look back upon with fondness. So too the Lord grieved for the Jewish Church at its end, and He pitied those who, in spiritual freedom, had chosen to follow the loves of self and the world. And yet He continued into the city to finish what had to be done for the sake of the eternal welfare of all people.

Once He entered Jerusalem, the first thing He did was go to the temple. One might have expected Him to go to the Palace – but He didn’t. Instead of cleaning out the corrupt governors, He cleaned out the temple, showing yet again in yet another way, that His kingdom was not of this world.

Remember that the Jewish tradition of sacrificial worship had declined by steps until it was almost non-existent. With the division of the kingdom, the northern tribes had no access to the temple in Jerusalem. They either ignored the rituals altogether, or broke the commandments by sacrificing in other places. When the Jews were carried captive to Babylon, they were not permitted to make sacrifices at all, and it was there that they invented reading the scriptures and discussing them as a substitute for sacrifice. In the Lord’s day, they retained the idea of scripture reading and discussion, but they had also restored sacrifice to some extent. For the convenience of Jews who had to travel some distance to make their sacrifices, and who might have currency issued by a variety of nations, there were convenient merchants within the temple itself so that visitors to Jerusalem could change their money (and pay a small fee, of course), and then purchase the appropriate animal for the ritual sacrifice. As you can imagine all this activity, the noise of the animals, the shouting and haggling over exchange rates, would have a profound effect on the sphere within the temple. It explains why the Lord called it a “den of thieves” instead of a house of prayer.

For the next several days He took over the temple. He recognized as a “rabbi” or teacher, and therefore allowed to conduct public lessons in places of worship. It wasn’t an official position like an ordained priest today. It seems it was more a matter of when people began to speak about scriptural issues, the speaker’s eloquence and reasoning marked him as a learned person and such a person would be given the honory title of “rabbi” and given deference in future discussions.

His actions in cleaning out the market stalls, and the ideas that He was teaching in the temple infuriated the chief priests and the scribes and the leaders of the people. No doubt the merchants had been paying rent for their space inside the temple, and the ideas challenged their authority over the common people. They were beside themselves with anger. They wanted to destroy Him, but they were afraid to because they could see with their own eyes that there were crowds of people who came to the temple every day to hear Him, and the people were “very attentive.” (LUK 19:48)

Finally, the anger boiled over and the priests confronted Jesus:

Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him And spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” (LUK 20:1-2)

We like to think of the Lord as a gentle shepherd, a heavenly Father who can answer any question. We may even be a little uncomfortable with this picture of a confrontational Jesus who, instead of answering their question in a kindly way, instead snapped back with one of His own.

Sometimes people ask questions when they don’t really want to know the answer, rather they are trying to introduce a new subject, or create an opening to give their own answer to the question. And sometimes, like politicians in a debate, they just want to trip the other guy up. The Lord didn’t answer their question because it wasn’t really question but a statement, like when you find your child finger painting on the walls, and you ask “What are you doing?” What the child is doing is obvious. The real question the parent is asking is “How dare you challenge my authority by doing something I don’t want you to do?” The leaders of the church were angry because He was questioning their authority, so the Lord, knowing this, asks them to address the question of authority by asking them a question about the authority of John the Baptist.

But He answered and said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, and answer Me: “The baptism of John – was it from heaven or from men?” (LUK 20:3-4)

Notice how their answer shows that the leaders of the church had no concern for the TRUTH.

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it was from. (LUK 20:5-70)

Notice what the church leaders didn’t say: They didn’t ask each other what they believed. They didn’t refer to scripture. Without any regard to the truth, they considered the political implications of the answers available to them. Since they didn’t like the results of either possible answer, they refused to answer. Unable to solve the problem of Jesus’s teaching and leading through confrontation and argument, the leaders of the church resolved to move to the next level.

The Jews and Israelites had 2 kinds of capital punishment: stoning and hanging on wood. Stoning was used to punish those who sought to destroy truths relating to worship which were commanded by the Lord because a stone represents truth, or in the opposite sense falsity.

Hanging on Wood was used to punish one who sought to destroy the goodness of life because wood is a sign of good and in the opposite sense the evil belonging to evils desires.

When someone steals something, we say that he took our “goods.” Remember that when the Lord was crucified, there were two thieves crucified at the same time, men being punished for taking away the goods of another.

Blasphemy is the contradiction of what is held to be true so stoning is the appropriate punishment. Since the scribes were about to contradict the belief in John’s holiness, they were correctly afraid of being stoned. Several times the people threatened to stone Jesus for saying that He was God.

But what about stoning for adultery? Many of us think first of stoning as the prescribed punishment for adultery, and that does not seem to fit the system described. To our way of thinking, adultery seems to be a perversion of something good – the marriage, not a matter of falsity. The Arcana explains it this way:

If a damsel were married, and the tokens of virginity were not found in her, she was to be stoned, because she had wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house (DEU. xxii. 20, 21). This was because by “whoredom” was signified the falsification of truth, thus its destruction. If a man lay in a city with a damsel, a virgin betrothed to a man, they were both to be stoned (DEU. xxii. 23, 24), for the same reason, namely, because of whoredom, for spiritual whoredom is the falsification of truth. (AC 7456:7)

When they finally came to try destroy the Lord, they sought to crucify Him, which is the punishment of hanging on wood. This shows that it wasn’t the truth of the doctrine that He taught that condemned Him. In fact, He actually agreed on most points with the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in the Divine Origin of the books of Moses. The Pharisees believed in the importance of following the Mosaic law. The Pharisees, unlike the Saducees, also believed in a life after death.

If Jesus had only limited Himself to political activism, the Pharisees could easily have supported Him, even teamed up with Him to overthrow the Roman government – but He challenged their authority over the church and the people instead of working with them. And so He had to be destroyed.

It wasn’t the new doctrine that they hated, it was His challenge to their way of life. Remember the scene when Pilate tried to release Him to them? Pilate knew that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death. He knew that the church leaders were terribly frustrated and could not think of another way to make the problem go away.

Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. (LUK 23:20-23)

This reveals the real issue for the Jews was not doctrinal differences. If it had been, they would have demanded that He be stoned. But they gave no reason to Pilate, just screamed their hatred of Him. The reason that drove their hatred was that He challenged their way of life. Jesus had not stolen their goods. Rather, He had made it obvious to them that they were without good, that in spite of their traditions, and their laws, and their teachings, they had failed to apply those teachings to their own lives. They had made the laws of Moses of “no effect.” The wooden cross became a symbol of that nation’s destructive evils.

So what is it in us that separates us from God, from the church, and from each other? The appearance is that it’s a difference of ideas, of doctrine. That’s certainly what appears on the surface. But remember what the Word teaches about the Ancient Church, that there was with that church a great variety of doctrine, a great variety of form and they were still unified into one church because there was an underlying recognition of the importance of charity. In the Easter story, it appears to be the Lord’s teachings that cause the anger, but in the last analysis they could not explain themselves, there was no argument over forms or teachings. It was the loves of self and the world overpowering everything else until it became pure hatred. When asked for a logical reason, all that hatred can reply is “crucify him.”

That underlying love of self that expresses itself as hatred and contempt for others is what put the eternal salvation of the entire human race at risk. Hatred can only be conquered by love. That the Lord allowed Himself to be crucified was also a symbol of the power of His Divine Love for the salvation of the universal human race – it could overcome even this.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (JOH 3:14-17)

Amen.


Lessons

First Lesson: Luke 20:1-8

Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him {2} and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” {3} But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: {4} “The baptism of John; was it from heaven or from men?” {5} And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ {6} “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” {7} So they answered that they did not know where it was from. {8} And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Second Lesson: AC 7456

[2] As regards the signification of “stoning,” be it known that there were two death penalties among the Israelites and Jews, with whom the representative of a church had been instituted, of which the one was stoning, and the other was hanging upon wood. Stoning was for any one who desired to destroy the truths of worship that had been commanded, and hanging was for any one who desired to destroy the good of life. That those were stoned who desired to destroy the truths of worship, was because a “stone” signified truth, and in the opposite sense falsity; and that those were hanged upon wood who desired to destroy the good of life, was because “wood” signified good, and in the opposite sense the evil of cupidities.

[8] In Luke: [The chief priests, scribes, and elders] concluded among themselves that if they were to say that the baptism of John was from heaven, He would say, Why did ye not believe him? But if they said, From men, all the people would stone them (xx. 5, 6); where also “stoning” is predicated of what is contrary to truth.


Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

The Lamb of God

 

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?” (Mark 14:12)

  1. Introduction
    1. We are now in the midst of celebrating Easter with observances of Palm Sunday, the institution of the Holy Supper, and Easter itself.
    2. Just as the Lord repeatedly warned His twelve disciples about events that were about to take place, it is good for us to ready ourselves for such important festivals by reflecting on their importance and meaning in our lives.
    3. Today, our purpose is to reflect on the reasons why the Lord chose the festival of the Passover to bring His earthly ministry to a close and complete His process of Glorification.
  2. Joseph in Egypt
    1. 70 people1 enter the land of Egypt, 600,0002 adults (plus children) leave from slavery.
    2. Moses (and Aaron) raised up by the Lord to lead them out.
    3. Pharaoh encouraged to resist so all could see the power of Jehovah.
      1. Hardened heart” made it clear that it was Jehovah’s power not Pharaoh’s kind heartedness that set them free. Other examples of this:
          1. Gideon and the 300 conquer the Midianites.
          2. The Battle of Ai.
    4. Series of 10 plagues, each more punishing than the last until the angel of the Lord “passes over” the land, and the firstborn sons are killed.
      1. The sign that protects the innocent? The blood of a lamb.
        1. A lamb ritualistically slain for that purpose.
      2. Lamb of God – Jesus in Revelation
        1. Lesson: Rev. chapter 7, and many other references such as:
        2. (Rev 12:10-11) Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. {11} “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
      3. Jesus was God’s first-born son.
      4. So we see the spiritual reason why Passover was chosen as the time to bring His ministry to its conclusion.
        1. Symbolic slaying of the Lamb
        2. Maximum impact on the church because of all the people gathered in Jerusalem for the festival.
        3. Symbolic establishment of a new church.
          1. The Passover was a dramatic event that spelled the end of the state where the Jews were slaves in Egypt and forced them out into the wilderness where in order to survive they had to form an organization, depend on each other, and follow the rules set out for them by Jehovah.
          2. The Last Supper signalled an event of similar spiritual importance. It was the last ritualistic act of Jesus as the Jewish rabbi, and in changing it, He established the first truly Christian sacrament.
  3. The blood of the Lamb that was slain.
    1. AE 329
      1. He who does not know that there is a spiritual sense in the Word believes that “blood” here signifies the Lord’s blood upon the cross; but this is not at all the meaning in heaven; but to the angels there the paschal supper here described has a like meaning as the holy supper instituted by the Lord, in which, in place of the paschal lamb, there are the bread and the wine
    2. Arcana Caelestia 3994
      1. [6] That in the supreme sense the paschal lamb is the Lord, is well known; for the Passover signified the Lord’s glorification, that is, the putting on of the Divine in respect to the Human; and in the representative sense it signifies man’s regeneration; and the paschal lamb signifies that which is the essential of regeneration, namely, innocence; for no one can be regenerated except by means of the charity in which there is innocence.
    3. Jewish doctrines of atonement.
      1. Once a year the sins of the congregation were put upon an innocent animal, which was then driven into the wilderness, taking the sins with him.
    4. The traditional Christian doctrine of Redemption borrows heavily from the Jewish idea
      1. Jesus, the “innocent one” takes all sin upon Himself and then dies with it, purifying us all with His blood, His sacrifice.
      2. As appealing as this may be, there are two very basic problems with it.
        1. First, the sin that He is taking away is “original” sin – Adam’s sin that caused God to be angry with all humans and condemn them to eternal death! Where in the Word does it teach that we are to be punished for sins committed by others?
        2. Secondly, how does having someone else take my punishment free me from my own sin?
          1. Has it ever happened that a friend or a sibling got punished for something that you did? Did it make you feel better, or did it make you feel worse that someone else got a a punishment that you deserved? How does punishing the innocent help the sinner?
    5. Compare to the NC doctrine of Redemption.
      1. Innocent has two meanings here.
        1. Innocent can mean someone who didn’t commit the sin – like a sibling or a friend.
        2. Or, it can mean the One who is without Sin, God Incarnate.
      2. If, as traditional Christian doctrine would have us believe, He died to take away our sins, why do we still feel their pull?
        1. He didn’t die to take them away, but to conquer hell.
          1. By allowing Himself to die when He had the power to miraculously prevent it, He overcame in His final and greatest temptation, thus defeating the hells and their influence over us.
          2. We are redeemed, not by the removal of sin, but by having the freedom to reject it as-from-self.
        2. The blood shed represents the effort taken on our behalf to put hell back into its proper bounds.
  4. This is My blood of the new testament that is shed for many for the remission of sins. (14:24)
    1. Why does the Lord call the wine of the Holy Supper His blood?
      1. Some are vaguely uncomfortable with that image
      2. But, seen in the context of the larger picture, we can see how it fits.
        1. Blood = truth
          1. Jews ate meat without the blood to signify that their obedience was without an interior understanding of why they were obedient.
        2. Blood is a symbol of effort and sacrifice
          1. This is especially seen in the process of regeneration.
            1. Regeneration requires learning the truth and compelling self to live according to it (effort).
            2. Regeneration requires giving up our beloved evils (sacrifice)
        3. When we make that effort, we are cleansed
          1. Washed in the blood of Christ. (See REV 1:5)
            1. Which only makes sense if blood is a symbol for truth/falsity like water.
  5. Conclusion
    1. Sacrifice of Isaac (and the substitution of the ram)
    2. Passover
      1. The Paschal Lamb, the protection of its blood, and the rule that none of its bones were to be broken.
    3. Laws of Moses about blood in the sacrifice and food.
    4. Jesus as the “lamb led to the slaughter”
      1. ISA 53:6-7 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
    5. Jesus asking the disciples to “drink His blood.”
    6. John’s vision of the “Lamb that was slain”
    7. All go to create a picture, a single message repeated to many states in many ages.
      1. Do these things, because they are as much a part of Me as My own flesh and blood, and by doing them, you become one with Me.
      2. (Mark 14:22-26) And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” {23} Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. {24} And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. {25} “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” {26} And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Amen.

First Lesson: Isa 53

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? {2} For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. {3} He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. {4} Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. {5} But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. {6} All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. {7} He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. {8} He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. {9} And they made His grave with the wicked; But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. {10} Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. {11} He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. {12} Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 7:9-17

{9} After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, {10} and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” {11} All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, {12} saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” {13} Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” {14} And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. {15} “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. {16} “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; {17} “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Amen.

Third Lesson: AE 329

Since it is said, “Thou didst redeem us to God in Thy blood,” and since this is understood within the church entirely according to the sense of the letter, and not according To any spiritual sense, I will also show that “blood” does not mean blood, or the Lord’s suffering on the cross, but Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, and the reception of it by man; thus that “Thou didst redeem us in Thy blood” means That He has delivered and freed from hell those who acknowledge Him, and receive Divine truth from Him. In illustration of this matter I will cite the following. Because all things that were commanded in the Israelitish Church were representative of things celestial and spiritual, and not the least thing was not so, it was also commanded, when the paschal supper was first instituted:-

That they shall take of the blood, and put in on the two sideposts and on the lintel upon the houses wherein they shall eat (the paschal lamb); and the blood shall be for you for a sign upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, nor shall there be a plague upon you from the destroyer when I shall smite the land of Egypt.3

He who does not know that there is a spiritual sense in the Word believes that “blood” here signifies the Lord’s blood upon the cross; but this is not at all the meaning in heaven; but to the angels there the paschal supper here described has a like meaning as the holy supper instituted by the Lord, in which, in place of the paschal lamb, there are the bread and the wine; and the Lord then said that the bread was His flesh and the wine was His blood; and every one knows, or may know, that bread and wine are what nourish the body, bread as food and wine as drink, and that in the Word, which in its bosom is spiritual, these things also must be spiritually understood, “bread” standing for all spiritual food, and “wine” for all spiritual drink. [2] Spiritual food is all the good that is communicated and given to man by the Lord, and spiritual drink is all the truth that is communicated and given to man by the Lord. These two, namely, good and truth, or love and faith, make man spiritual; it is said, or love and faith, because all good is of love, and all truth is of faith. From this it can be seen that “bread” means the Divine good of the Lord’s Divine love, and in reference to man, this good received by him; also that “wine” means the Divine truth that proceeds from the Divine good of the Lord’s Divine love, and in reference to man, this truth received by him. Since the Lord says that His flesh is bread, and His blood is wine, it can be seen that “the Lord’s flesh” means the Divine good of His Divine love, and “to eat” it means to receive it, and make it one’s own, and thus to be conjoined to the Lord; and that “the Lord’s blood” means the Divine truth that proceeds from the Divine good of His Divine love, and that “drinking” it means to receive that truth and make it one’s own, and thus be conjoined to the Lord. Amen.

1GEN 46:27

2EXO 12:37

3EXO 13:7