THE MESSENGERS OF THE LORD OF HOSTS (The Priesthood)
A Sermon by Rev. Erik E. Sandstrom Cataloged May 4, 1997
“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7).
There have always been messengers of the Word of the Lord. At first, in the Most Ancient Church meant by Adam, the Lord spoke face to face, because there were as yet no angels (see SD 2591). After the first humans had died, however, they became the messengers of the Word. Revelation was thus continual, and the patriarch of each clan passed it on to the rest of the household; thus there was both direct revelation and instruction from the elders (see AE 799, AC 205). Everyone had a perception of the truth and delighted in doing what was good. This was the Golden Age.
With the fall of mankind, however, the perception of truth and seeing into heaven came to an end, and people had a conscience instead. The Word was for the first time committed to writing, which was invented for this purpose (see EU 115). Since angels were always used to dictate the Word to those who wrote it (see AR 959), it was consequently invested with an angelic meaning hidden within the literal text (see HH 254). That is why the Word of the Lord has such power (see SS 37).
Then the Lord Himself came on earth, the Word made flesh. He studied, then fulfilled the Old Testament stories (see AC 1461, Lord 11). For all His earthly life was spelled out in them (see AC 2523) as He said, “And beginning with Moses … He expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:7). “You search the Scriptures, … they … testify of Me” (John 5:39). And the last prophet testifying of Him was John the Baptist.
John was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you” (Mal. 3:1). Malachi means “My angel” or “messenger” in Hebrew, just as angelos in Greek. John was that messenger. Of him the Lord said: “What did you go out in the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? … A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses …. A prophet? Yes, more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:7-9).
A “reed shaking in the wind” means the Word taken literally, “explained at anyone’s pleasure”; “soft clothing in kings’ houses” means the true spiritual sense of the Word in heaven (see AC 9372). “More than a prophet” means angelic wisdom which transcends human comprehension (Ibid.). It was this angelic wisdom or spiritual sense of the Word which the Lord came on earth to reveal, because it is “to be used in the worship of the Lord” (TCR 669).
But when the Lord came on earth, the literal text of the Word was as a “reed shaking in the wind.” He began to restore the Word from His own mouth. He also began to explain the “soft clothing of kings in heaven,” the internal heavenly meaning. No angel could now reveal this, so God Himself took on a body from the world to do it. We read: “The Human whereby God sent Himself into the world is called the Son of God” (TCR 92). God became His own messenger. He explains the truth about the Father and the Son: “All Mine are Thine. He who sees Me sees the Father. I and the Father are one.”
John prophesied this advent of heavenly wisdom, which is why he was “more than a prophet.” It is angelic wisdom given us also here on earth. For we all have a soul and body, and so we can say the same: “Everyone may say the same of his own soul and body, namely, All mine are thine, and thine are mine. You [the soul] are in me [the body] and I in you; he that sees me [the body] sees you [the soul]; we are one in person and in life …. All this makes clear that the Divine of the Father is the soul of the Son, and the Human of the Son is the body of the Father” (TCR 112:5).
That was why the voice saying “This is My beloved Son,” meaning the body, came from the Father or soul of Christ, and why the body cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” to the soul or Father. Christ therefore is God, as to both soul and body, in one Person: the Lord.
We can understand this since every human being has a soul and body, an internal and an external. Both the Word of God and also worship have an internal and an external.
The internal of worship is charity, which avoids, in the Lord’s name, doing any harm to the neighbor. This internal coheres with the external rituals of worship (see Charity 173), which are “formalities of internal worship” (AC 1175). For example, someone who loves good and accepts the truth (see AC 1326) freely adores the Lord (see AC 1947) with rituals; for unless you adore the Lord, there is no worship (see AC 1150).
Such is the internal of worship. That is why there is a commandment to remember the Sabbath day “to keep it holy.” Not that the Lord compels us to worship Him for His own sake. No. We read: “The Lord does not demand [adoration] for His own sake. He has no glory in it … ; but [it is] for the sake of man; … the Lord wills [adoration] for [man’s] own sake … [so that] the Lord can flow in with heavenly good” (AC 5957).
This is the design of church services. That is why internal worship – love of good, accepting the truth and adoring the Lord – must have external ritual along with it. For, we read, although internals of worship can exist without externals, “it does not follow that there ought not to be external worship” (AC 1175). No, external rituals drawn from the Word (see SS 76) are necessary, for there is “nothing of the church in people unless the internals of the church are in the externals” (AC 4899).
A church would not be a church without rituals of worship. Internal adoration calls for external prayers and psalms of praise. But the aim of worship is life. The New Church doctrines explain: “The very worship of the Lord consists in performing uses, … discharging aright your duties in your station, and from the heart being of service to the neighbor” (AC 7038). So church worship begins by remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy, and finishes by keeping the rest of the commandments for the rest of the week.
Now which comes first, church or life? We read, “Regeneration is one thing, worship another; worship is according to the state of regeneration” (AC 10206). Thus we are not regenerated or reborn by worship; instead, our life qualifies our worship. And life can be a struggle.
The Lord began to explain these things too at His advent: “He who keeps My commandments, it is he who loves Me” (John 16). “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) These things seem plain, but He always spoke in parables so that His Word could conjoin angels and humans. These parables were misunderstood early on in Christian history (see TCR 378). The darkness that necessitated the advent returned. The Word became a “reed shaking in the wind,” and had to be fully explained in a second advent. This was prophesied: “I have yet many things to say unto you but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth … He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).
The Lord has made this second advent by another messenger’s giving the meaning of both testaments, in a revelation of Heavenly Doctrine: the Lord now “speaks plainly of the Father” (John 16:25). “Now it is permitted to understand the Word” (TCR 508). We can be instructed in what the Word truly means.
That is the primary use of Sunday – worship. So the Lord commands us to remember the Sabbath. Also “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is not up to us to decide how to worship the Lord. The Lord teaches us how. For on the correct observance of the Sabbath day and honoring parents, we are told, depend all other commandments (see AE 965). Holy worship serves a purpose in and by itself, and when done sincerely, helps in how we live.
Church helps our life. And our life qualifies how we worship. Life is most important, for we are saved by how we live, not by how we worship. We therefore must control our externals of life before attending church. These are meant by a foot: “If you turn your foot away from the Sabbath day, … not doing your own ways …” (Isaiah 58:13). The externals are changed in honor of the internal. That is why it is a use to put aside our own ways and dress for worship. It is from the internal that externals have power (see AR 918). When both cohere in holy worship, there can be an “uplifting to the Lord by the Lord” (AC 10206).
Priests only administer the holy things of worship, which is why dignity and honor are due to priests (see NJHD 317). But the priest’s lips and seeking the law from his mouth means that it is the Divine truth that is the messenger, not any angel nor any priest (see AE 130:8 and PP). The messenger is “the truth of doctrine from the Lord [with those who] love Him” (AE 444:12).
The Divine truth, the truths of doctrine, are the real messengers or angels. Ministers therefore preach the Word so that what is “Divine may be among men” (Charity 130). They are good shepherds who teach the “truths of the church, and by their means lead [the flock] to the good of life” (NJHD 315). It is the truth that leads, not the priest. No priest can compel belief; no lay person may disrupt the church over belief (see NJHD 318). For it is the Divine truth itself that is the honored messenger of the Lord.
Thus we read: “The priesthood is not to be loved first of all and the church from it; but the goods and truths of the church are to be loved in the first place, and the priesthood loved for the church’s sake” (TCR 415).
That is why John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease. ” The message of Divine truth must increase, while all finite messengers take second place to it. Only those ordained may preach (see HH 226; cf. SD 4904). However, now there is rational light beaming from the doctrines of the New Church. Reading them gives light. Hearing gives light. The truths themselves are the messengers, not their angelic or human means. All honor and dignity are finally passed on to the Lord to whom alone they belong. He sent Himself into the world to be His own messenger. Thus we worship the Lord, the Son of Man, who “is Lord also of the Sabbath. ”
The Sabbath serves its function: the truth heard on the Sabbath may be put to practice the rest of the week. Truth becomes good, the church becomes religion, and the human being becomes an angel. The priest’s lips keep knowledge, so we can all go out and see soft clothing in kings’ houses, understand all mysteries, and live by what the Lord says. Amen.
Lessons: Malachi 2:1,4-7, 3:1; Matthew 11:1-10; TCR 112:4,5; 415
True Christian Religion 112:4,5
From the passages quoted, take this one saying of the Lord, “Father, all Mine are Thine, and all Thine are Mine. ” What else does this mean than that the Divine of the Father belongs to the Human of the Son, and the Human of the Son to the Divine of the Father, consequently that in Christ, God is Man and Man is God, and thus that they are one as soul and body are one?
Every man may say the same of his own soul and body, namely, “All mine are thine, and all thine are mine; thou art in me and I in thee; he that seeth me seeth thee; we are one in person and in life.” This is because the soul is in the man, both in the whole and in every part of him, for the life of the soul is the life of the body, and between the two there is a mutuality. All this makes clear that the Divine of the Father is the soul of the Son, and the Human of the Son the body of the Father.
True Christian Religion 415
THE CHURCH IS THE NEIGHBOR WHO IS TO BE LOVED IN A STILL HIGHER DEGREE.
Since man was born for eternal life, and is introduced into it by the church, the church is to be loved as the neighbor in a higher degree, because it teaches the means which lead to eternal life and introduces man into it, leading to it by the truths of doctrine and introducing into it by goods of life. This does not mean that the priesthood should be loved in a higher degree and the church because of the priesthood, but it means that the good and truth of the church should be loved and the priesthood for the sake of these.