THANKSGIVING

THANKSGIVING

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (Isaiah 12:2,6)

Our text for today is taken from the twelfth chapter of book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a complete list of the things that we need to acknowledge in our life in order to genuinely benefit from the Lord’s Divine Providence. It is our intention to examine this chapter section by section so that perhaps we will be able to perceive the message of humble gratitude that was inspired by the Lord and hidden in the sense of the letter.

Each year we set aside one Sunday in the fall to celebrate the Harvest Festival and turn our attention to the many gifts given to us by the Lord during the normal course of the year. It is proper for us to put aside some time each year to get together with family, enjoy the bounty of the earth, and be thankful to the Lord for all the good things in our lives. It is right that we should do this because the busy nature of our pursuits in the natural world distract us from spiritual things. Our worldly concerns limit our vision of the spiritual blessings that fill every day of our lives, things we could easily see if we would only take the time to notice. It is good to take time off from the normal routine to pay attention to our spiritual blessings, and give thanks to the Lord who constantly provides them.

While we can easily see that we must give thanks to the Lord for His many natural gifts, we must remember to thank Him for the many spiritual gifts we receive from Him as well. For example, the fact that the Lord, and the Lord alone, has the power to raise all mankind to Himself in heaven, is cause for giving thanks. We can be certain that the Lord, through His Divine Providence, is continually drawing each one of us to Him if only we do not refuse Him. He not only has the power to do this, it is His ruling love. All other blessings that we enjoy flow from this, His ruling love of providing for our salvation.

We must remember that all conjunction with the Lord is reciprocal, that is, we must respond to His leading as of ourselves. The directions we must follow are given in every verse and sentence of the Word. It is through the Word that the Lord makes His advent to every one of us in the church. It is through the Word that the Lord instructs us in the way to eternal life, and because of this, Isaiah said, Sing unto the Lord, for He has done excellent things (Isaiah. 12:5).

The opening phrase of the chapter in Isaiah from which our text was taken says, and in that day, and it signifies the Lord’s advent, or coming (see Lord 4), for whenever the Word says, and in that day, it refers to the time when the Lord will come. In fact, the Lord’s coming is the subject of all the Prophets (see Lord 3). It follows then that we should rejoice and be glad because the Lord came into the world to execute a judgment, subdue the hells, establish a new church, order the heavens, and glorify His Human. That the Lord did this in time is a blessing, for by so doing He preserved spiritual freedom for all people everywhere. The real cause for joy is that He will come and be born in the heart and mind of any one who will invite Him in.

It may appear to us sometimes that the Lord is angry, but the truth is that the Lord is never angry. When we are in an evil state it appears to us that the Lord is angry with us in the same way that a child fears the anger of his parents. What the child sees as anger should be love in the form of zeal to preserve and protect order. Thus, the “anger” of the Lord is said to be “turned away” and that the Lord “comforts” because a person has seen his own disorder and turned away from it as if of himself, so restoring his state of peace and order. When a person puts himself in order, there then comes a state of blessing, peace and spiritual freedom from the Lord; and that brings a state of comfort. When that happens, we can, like Isaiah, say, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).

The real strength that can carry a person through life in this world to the life of heaven comes from the Lord Jehovah alone. By our nature, we are lazy and always looking for an easier way. This has some natural benefits for it can lead to many material blessings. It is incredible how hard and long some people will work to create a device or process that will reduce work. When it comes to saving labor, people seem to have limitless energy and ideas. This is not wrong, for there could be no time for reflection and thought about the things of the Word unless the daily requirements of food and shelter could be taken care of with some time to spare. Indeed, civilization itself has its roots in the development of tools and processes that allowed the necessary work to be done by fewer people in less time, leaving room for specialization in art, literature, thought and religion.

In the same vein, men have put considerable thought into developing religious philosophies that describe an “easier” way into heaven. These fall into two general categories: works alone and faith alone. These doctrines may seem like blessings because they teach a simple, instantaneous way to the promise of heavenly bliss, but they are not blessings, for the short-cuts derived from man’s self-intelligence simply do not work. As it happens when a person is building something from a kit: it is far easier to do it right the first time, according to the instructions, than to have to go back and take it apart and repair your work after doing it incorrectly. The Word is our instruction book for salvation, the well from which we draw the living water with which to quench our thirst for spiritual truth. It is far better for us to read the instructions carefully and do it right the first time, for it is not likely that we will get a second chance to repair our work.

Anyone of us, whatever we may wish to do, can know the truth from the Word, and so can drink from the well of living water. But that truth is not living in us until and unless we make it a part of our as-of-self life. To be conjoined with the Lord requires not only spiritual knowledge from the Word, but also the love that binds that knowledge to the will. This becomes our own when we hold ourselves in order according to the truth that we have from the Word, because it is from the Word. This is our salvation, our conjunction with the Lord. When this happens, we are ready to call upon the Lord.

And in that day you will say: Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, makes mention that His name is exalted (Isaiah 12:4). When the Word speaks of the “name” of the Lord, it does not actually refer to His name, but instead it represents and stands for everything that has to do with our worship of Him, and because He is worshipped in accordance with the doctrine in a church, by His “name” is understood everything of doctrine, and in the universal sense, everything of religion (see AR 81, AC 2009:3). To call upon the name of the Lord, then, is to ask Him to teach the way of life that leads to heaven, that is, the doctrine of the church, or everything of religion. We should give thanks to Him because He has provided such a doctrine that is accommodated so perfectly to our understanding that we can each approach him in our own way, according to our own loves and abilities.

Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst (Isaiah 12:5,6). This passage also reminds us of the blessing of the Lord’s advent, because the form that the Divine Truth itself took on in the world, and is now glorified, was that of the Divine Human (see Lord 40). That He is seen in the midst is also important, for ‘In the midst’ signifies in the inmost, out of which the things that are around, or are outside, draw their essence… (AR 44, see also AE 313:4) The Lord in His glorified Human is the source of life for the church. Without Him as its center, a church has no life. Without Him as our center, we are without spiritual life. On the other hand, that the central faith of the New Christian Church is in the Lord in His Divine Human is cause for giving thanks. The promise of eternal life in return for living our lives according to this faith is cause for joy because of the awe-inspiring power of it, the potential for happiness that this knowledge and life can bring, the incredible mercy and Providence of the Lord who designed the universe to work in just this way. And yet at the same time, the sight of such a grand plan for human happiness, the way that the Lord’s love for each individual person and at the same time for all of mankind that shines so brightly, can draw us up short when we see ourselves reflected in that true light. We do not always act according to our knowledge of the Lord’s will. This can bring on a feeling that we do not deserve the rewards that He has promised, that we will never be able to earn them. In other words, when we acknowledge our own base nature, as we must from time to time, we are humbled before the Lord. This humiliation, when seen in the proper light, is also a blessing, for it is the confession that the Lord Alone can save mankind through His own power.

Confession is a state that is of the heart or will of a person, and shows itself only in a state of humiliation–if at the same time there is the affection of good (see AE 326:3). Before we can truly follow the Lord, we have to become convinced that His is the only way. In order to learn this as-of-ourselves, it is necessary for us to attempt to guide our own lives from self-intelligence first, and see that it does not work. Until we have been convinced by our own personal experience of the matter, until we are convinced by bitter experience of life, we will not accept the Lord’s way. Key to this is the affection of good that leads us through these times of trial and temptation. If we are really trying to reach out for eternal, spiritual ends, and if we allow ourselves to be led by the affection of good that is given to us from birth by the Lord, then the Lord will protect us in our struggles, and prevent us from going too far astray, or causing genuine spiritual harm to ourselves. Then, when we are really ready to listen to the Lord, ready to listen because we have come to realize how powerless we are by ourselves, when we are humiliated, He will hear our cry and pick us up, and lead us to the well of living, spiritual waters.

The Lord only leads; He does not drag. He waits for us to ask, and even then, He bends us towards heaven, never breaking our affections. He leads us according to the distinctly different combination of loves that each of us has. We do not have the power or knowledge to do this for ourselves, so we need to confess our need of Him to the Lord, for He alone has that power, and then He will be with us, and from that knowledge, our spirits will begin to sing.

‘And they were singing…’ signifies an acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord because He Only is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth (AR 279). We have many things to be thankful for: friends, family, and the Church. But most of all we have the knowledge that the Lord is waiting patiently to be invited into our hearts and minds when we are ready for Him, and He will then lead us to eternal life, conjoined with Him.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (text) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 12, John 4:5-26, Lord 3

DLORD 3. Briefly stated, the subjects concerning the Lord that are treated of in all the Prophets of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, both in general and in particular, are these:–

i. The Lord came into the world in the fullness of times,

which was when He was no longer known by the Jews, and when, consequently, there was nothing of the church left; and unless He had then come into the world and revealed Himself, mankind would have perished in eternal death. As He Himself says in John: “Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins” (viii. 24).

ii. The Lord came into the world to execute a Last Judgment, and thereby to subdue the existing dominance of the hells; which was effected by means of combats (that is, temptations) admitted into his maternal human, and the attendant continual victories; for unless the hells had been subjugated no man could have been saved.

iii. The Lord came into the world in order to glorify His

Human, that is, unite it to the Divine which was in Him from conception.

iv. The Lord came into the world in order to set up a new

church which should acknowledge Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and be redeemed and saved through love to Him and faith in Him. v. He at the same time reduced heaven into order, so that it made a one with the church.

vi. The passion of the cross was the last combat or

temptation, by means of which He completely conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human.

OBEDIENCE

OBEDIENCE
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida May 13, 1990

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Our text occurs seven times in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. It is the concluding exhortation of each of the messages to the seven churches. Indeed, the Lord frequently ended His instruction to the Jews by saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear … ” (Matt. 11:15, et alia). The fact that this phrase and similar admonitions occur frequently throughout both the Old and the New Testaments warrants our consideration of its purpose and meaning.

In the Arcana Coelestia we are told that “to hear” in the Word does not mean simply the physical act of hearing, but rather the reception of that which is heard, first in the memory, next in the understanding, then in the will, and finally in the life (AC 9311).

Two of the five senses, we are told, especially serve man in perfecting the mind: the sense of sight and the sense of hearing. These are also the primary senses involved in man’s reformation and regeneration, for they are formed to receive those things which contribute to this end. The things which enter the mind through the sense of sight enter the understanding and enlighten it. For this reason when “seeing” is mentioned in the Word and it is frequently mentioned it refers to the enlightenment of the understanding. However, the things which enter through the sense of hearing enter both the understanding and the will, and for this reason when “hearing” is mentioned in the Word it refers to perception and obedience (see AE 14).

That “seeing” refers to understanding and enlightenment, and “hearing” to perception and obedience, is evident from ordinary speech. When we want to know if something is understood we ask: “So you see what I mean?” And if it is understood the answer is given: “Yes, I see.” Also we say of a person endowed with an unusual intelligence that he or she is bright or brilliant. Or if a person is low in intelligence we say he or she is dull. “Dull,” “bright,” and “brilliant” are attributes of light, and thus of sight.

That “hearing” refers to perception and obedience is also clear from ordinary speech. When somebody has been explaining something to us which he considers important, and we get the message, we say: “I hear.” Or, when we are trying to exact obedience from a child in a certain matter, we end by saying: “Do you hear me?” And if the answer is “Yes,” we expect obedience from that child.

These expressions, we are told, flow down into human speech out of the spiritual world, where man’s spirit is, by correspondence. Furthermore, in the Grand Man of heaven, those who are in the province of the ear are in obedience from perception. This province is said to be the axis of heaven, that is, the whole of the heavens have direct relation to those who are in obedience from perception because the ruling perception of heaven is that if a thing is true it must be done (see AE 14; AR 87).

In communication between people the function of the ear is to receive the speech of another and convey it to the mind so that we can perceive what is in the mind of the other person. Thus “to hear” is to perceive. The function of hearing is to transfer what a person is speaking from his thought, into the thought of another, and from his thought to his will and from the will into deed. Therefore to hear also involves obedience. The circle of communication, then, is from the will into thought, and so into speech, and from speech through the ear into another’s thought and will (see AC 5017).

The most important of all communication is that which exists between the Lord and mankind. And the medium of this communication is the Word. The Lord’s ardent love for the eternal happiness of mankind descended into His thought and from His thought into words, which were communicated to those who were prepared by the Lord for the office of revelator, who wrote them down. For the circle of communication to be completed these words must be conveyed to the understanding of man and from the understanding to the will, and from the will into life. When the Lord’s love is received in a person’s will, conjunction between the Lord and that person takes place. It is not enough that the Lord’s wisdom contained in the Word be communicated to our understanding; this merely produces presence but not conjunction. This is the reason the Lord has established a church and instituted worship so that His Word may be heard, that there may be an appeal to the very will itself.

Thus in the church we have the written Word and the spoken Word. To develop our understanding we should read the Word and presentations on its Divine doctrine and reflect calmly and deeply on their meaning. In this way we will grow in spiritual intelligence. But if we wish to grow in wisdom also, we should hear the Word read and preached. In hearing there will be, or should be, an added appeal to the affection. Thus it should enter into our will and from that into our life where the will is terminated and made permanent.

In His wisdom the Lord has provided that the mind of man may be reached through both of these senses through “seeing” and “hearing.” The written Word is almost devoid of emotion except for the emotion which the words themselves convey. Thus the intellect is appealed to so that the mind can come to know, understand, and believe the truth which the Lord teaches, simply because it is true. The spoken Word is then added to appeal to both the intellect and the will. The ideas expressed by the words are received in the understanding but the tone of voice and the inflection affect the will, so that what is said may be received in the will and cause a person to do that which is heard. From this we may see that there is a use and a need for both kinds of communication, and we can see what our response to both should be.

We are taught in the Word that to hear the voice of the Lord means to obey what is proclaimed from the Word; and that they who do so become rational and spiritual, but that they who do not become sensual and corporeal. “Those become … sensual and corporeal,” we read, “who have … known the things of the spiritual world and have afterward rejected them, and have imbued themselves with principles of falsity contrary to truths; and as to life, have looked solely to worldly, bodily, and earthly things, and from this have believed that life ought to be enjoyed with every pleasure, saying: `What has man more while he lives? When we die we die!’ … If anyone by rational arguments sets them thinking at all about eternal life, they think that they shall fare no worse than others, and immediately relapse into the state of their former life.

“With such there is a closing of the passage for the light of heaven and its influx, and light of heaven in their natural becomes thick darkness, but the light of the world … becomes brightness, and the brightness is so much the more brilliant as the light of heaven is more darkened; hence it is that such see no otherwise than that the evils of their life are goods, and that consequently the falsities are truths. It is from this then that a person becomes sensuous and corporeal” (AC 6971).

In other words, if we do not obey what we hear from the Word, we degenerate. Instead of becoming rational and spiritual, we become sensual and corporeal our minds are darkened and our will vitiated.

Compare this state with that of the angels of the celestial heaven. The wisdom of the angels of the inmost heaven consists in wishing to be led by the Lord and not by themselves, in loving what is good and delighting in what is true. Because they love nothing so much as being led by the Lord, whatever they hear from the Lord, whether through the Word or by means of preaching, they do not store in the memory but instantly obey it, that is, will it and do it (see HH 278). “In that heaven, love to the Lord is willing and doing Divine truth” (HH 271).

In the teachings which have been presented, we see sharply contrasted the final lot of those who hear only with their ears and those who really hear with the ears, with their understanding and with their will. We should need little convincing as to which state is preferable. But we may well ask ourselves: “Where do we fit in this picture?”

To find the answer to this question we should ask ourselves more particular questions. To what extent have we allowed the truths we have heard to enter into and change our lives? What is our usual reaction to the truths we hear preached? Do they enter only as far as the external ear and then vanish beyond recall? Are we momentarily stirred but cannot remember several days later what it was that moved us? Or do we see and perceive an important truth a truth which, if lived, can change our lives and make us better men and women? Do we will that truth and determine within ourselves to obey it?

Speaking generally, the purpose of a sermon is to draw a particular truth from the Word, to put it into perspective by showing its relationship to other truths, to examine it from several different aspects so that its nature and quality may be perceived, and to indicate the application of that truth to life. A sermon is not preached merely to uplift and soothe, nor is it intended to upset or depress the congregation, and certainly it is not to weary them. The Word is studied and its truth presented with the hope that it may be received, perceived and obeyed.

In the Arcana Coelestia where it treats of the reading of the covenant by Moses to the Children of Israel, we are told that to “read in the ears of the people” signifies hearkening and obedience. For when anything is read, it is that it may be heard, perceived and obeyed (AC 9397).

In the passage from the Apocalypse Revealed which we read for a third lesson, we are assured that if we read the doctrine of the New Jerusalem with a desire to know that doctrine, if we hear the things which are taught from it, and if we live according to it, then we will be blessed. We will be, as to our spirits, in communion with the angels of heaven even while we live on earth (see AR 8).

What, then, should be our attitude and response to the reading of the Word and the preaching from it that we regularly hear in Sunday worship? The nature of our response is clearly indicated in the Word itself. We should say in our hearts with conviction and determination: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and hear” (Exodus 24:7). Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 24:1-13; Rev. 1:1-3; 2:1-11; AR 8

Apocalypse Revealed 8

Verse 3. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein” signifies the communion of those with the angels of heaven, who live according to the doctrine of the New Jerusalem. By “blessed” is here meant one who as to his spirit is in heaven; thus, one who, while he lives in the world, is in communion with the angels of heaven; for as to his spirit he is in heaven. By “the words of the prophecy” nothing else is meant than the doctrine of the New Jerusalem, for by “prophet” in the abstract sense is signified the doctrine of the church derived from the Word, thus here the doctrine of the New Church, which is the New Jerusalem; the same is signified by “prophecy.” By “reading, hearing, and keeping the things which are written therein” is signified to desire to know that doctrine, to attend to the things which are in it, and to do the things which are therein; in short, to live according to it. That they are not blessed who only read, hear and keep or retain in the memory the things which were seen by John is evident (n. 944). The reason why “a prophet” signifies the doctrine of the church from the Word, and “prophecy” the same, is that the Word was written through prophets, and in heaven a person is regarded according to that which belongs to his function and office. From this also is every man, spirit, and angel named there. Therefore, when a prophet is mentioned, because his function was to write and teach the Word, the Word is meant as to doctrine, or doctrine from the Word. Hence it is that the Lord, because He is the Word itself, was called the Prophet (Deut. 18:15-20; Matt. 13:57; 21:11; Luke 13:33). To show that by “prophet” is meant the doctrine of the church from the Word, some passages shall be adduced, from which this may be collected. In Matthew: “In the consummation of the age many false prophets shall rise up and shall seduce many. There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and, if it were possible, they shall lead into error the elect” (Matthew 24:11,24).

“The consummation of the age” is the last time of the church, which is now, when there are not false prophets but falsities of doctrine. In the same: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man shall receive a just man’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).

“To receive a prophet in the name of a prophet” is to receive the truth of doctrine because it is true; and “to receive a just man in the name of a just man” is to receive good for the sake of good; and “to receive a reward” is to be saved according to reception. It is evident that no one receives a reward, or is saved, because he receives a prophet and a just man in the name of such. Those words cannot be understood by anyone without a knowledge of what “a prophet” and “a just man” signify; nor can those which follow: “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” By a “disciple” is meant charity, and at the same time faith from the Lord. In Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, so that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28). This is concerning the church which was to be established by the Lord, in which they would not prophesy but receive doctrine, which is to “prophesy.” In Matthew: “Jesus said, Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? but then will I confess unto them, I have not known you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22, 23).

Who does not see that they will not say that they have prophesied, but that they knew the doctrine of the church, and taught it? In the Apocalypse: “The time is come for judging the dead and for giving reward to the prophets” (Rev. 11:18); and in another place: “Exult, O heaven, and holy apostles and prophets, for God hath judged your judgment” (Rev. 18:20).

It is evident that a reward would not be given to the prophets alone, and that the apostles and prophets would not alone exult at the Last Judgment, but all who have received the truths of doctrine and have lived according to them. These, therefore, are meant by “apostles” and “prophets.” In Moses: “Jehovah said unto Moses, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (Exod. 7:1); “a god” here means the Divine truth as to reception from the Lord, in which sense the angels are also called gods, and by “prophet” is meant one who teaches and speaks it, therefore Aaron is there called a prophet. The same is signified by “prophet” in other places, as in Jer. 18:18; 23:15,16; 5:13; Isaiah 28:7; Micah 3:6; Jer. 8:10. In these passages, by “prophets” and “priests,” in the spiritual sense, are not meant prophets and priests, but the entire church, by “prophets,” the church as to the truth of doctrine, and by “priests” the church as to the good of life, both of which were destroyed; these things are so understood by the angels in heaven, while by men in the world they are understood according to the sense of the letter. That the prophets represented the state of the church as to doctrine, and that the Lord represented it as to the Word itself, may be seen in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord (n. 15-17).

THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAH

THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAH A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Westville, South Africa April 1990

“A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 16:4).

The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were often found nearby when the Lord was preaching to the crowds that followed Him everywhere He went during the last stages of His ministry. Each of these three groups of Jewish leaders had something to fear from the Lord, because His teaching threatened the established order, the order from which they themselves benefited and derived their power. Skeptics and scoffers, they tried to discredit Jesus, to turn the crowd’s adoration and attention into laughter and scorn; and so, as the Lord taught, they would call out to Him, asking for a sign, a testimony, some miracle that would prove that the things He taught about would actually come to pass. They were demanding proof of Him, and as they were sensual, natural men, they would not believe unless there was some sign that they could hold onto with their own hands, see with their own eyes. If they could not feel it with their own senses, as far as they were concerned it did not exist. They demanded a miracle because they believed He could not give them one. In their hearts, they wanted Him to fail.

The Lord performed many miracles while He was in the world, as we all well know. He performed miracles of feeding by changing the water into wine, and feeding the 4,000 and 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes. He performed miracles of healing natural illnesses and of spiritual illnesses. He even raised the dead. Ultimately, His greatest miracle was the redemption of mankind by raising Himself from the dead, but we shall speak more of this later.

The Lord used miracles throughout His ministry, and yet we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that miracles compel belief, and as compelled belief is not free, so miracles are no longer permitted. We wonder, therefore, why the Lord used miracles at that time but not now, and what special conditions existed that permitted Him to perform miracles and yet allow all men spiritual freedom.

I think the answer lies in mankind’s incredible ability to ignore anything they see that does not agree with what they already believe, or even what they would like to believe. Remember the story of the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt. Here was a group of slaves who witnessed one of the most incredible series of events that has ever taken place in the natural world: the ten plagues upon Egypt. They saw rivers turn to blood, darkness descend upon the land for days on end, and pestilence descend only on the Egyptian lands and flocks but not on their own. They witnessed the passover, where every Egyptian first-born died in one night, and finally they saw Pharaoh’s army drowned as the Red Sea closed over them.

When we read these passages and try to imagine what these things must have been like, we think that surely if we had seen those things, there would be no question that we would believe in the power of God with all our heart! From that moment on, we would obey His every word! And then we read that within a few days of this experience, the Children of Israel were complaining that Jehovah had brought them into the wilderness to kill them, and were dancing around the golden calf.

We have an incredible ability to ignore the obvious. It comes with the gift of freedom of thought in spiritual things. If a person is to be truly free to think about and believe in things from the Word, he must also be free to think about and believe in all manner of absurd and false ideas.

The Lord performed miracles in the world knowing this, and the miracles He performed did not in any way remove anyone’s freedom, but instead served several important uses. First, they served as a confirmation to those who already believed. A married couple knows rationally that they are in love, but they also enjoy confirming their love with kisses and embraces. Kisses and embraces in themselves cannot cause love to occur where it does not already exist, but if love is there, the outward signs and gestures confirm it with them. This in itself is a miracle! But no one has ever been forced to love someone against his will through a simple kiss. A kiss does not cause, or force, love, but confirms and enhances the love that is already there.

In the same way, there was no danger of anyone’s freedom being taken away by the Lord’s miracles. We can imagine a skeptic who had been to see the Lord reporting to his friends that, “Yes, I saw Jesus heal a blind man, but it must have been a trick. I didn’t know the man. He was probably just pretending to be blind.” On the other hand, we can imagine one who was hungry for the Lord’s teachings saying to his friends that he had heard the Master preach words of the hope of spiritual life, “and when He gave sight to that blind man it was as if He opened my own eyes, for then for the first time I truly saw the truth in what He had been teaching.”

We can imagine that many people in those days maintained a tough, skeptical outer shell, for they were hard times, both naturally and spiritually. Many people longed for the Messiah to come, but there had been other claims that had proved false. Many claimed to be prophets in those troubled times, and few of them gave any satisfaction. The Lord performed the miracles to move these skeptics, to make sure that they heard of His deeds, to make sure that they would be curious enough to come and see just once; for once they heard Him speak, they would be moved by His words and be converted. We can see that the Lord used miracles to gather crowds to Himself, and also to help them to confirm their belief in Him.

But the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were a different matter. There was no question that these groups did not have any desire to listen to the Lord. They sought only to discredit Him in any way they could. When they asked Him for a sign, as recorded in Matthew chapters 12 and 16, He responded to them in apparent anger, calling them “adulterers” and a “wicked generation” (text). He told them that the only sign they would accept would be the sign of the prophet Jonah, and this would be the sign that He would give them.

To this day, when we speak of the prophet Jonah, the first thing that springs to mind is the memory of the story of Jonah and the whale, for this is one of the most memorable stories in all of Scripture. It has all the elements of a great story: it begins with a call to a Divine mission; then there is Jonah’s attempt to flee from the Lord; the drama of the storm which would sink the innocent ship unless Jonah confesses his crime and is punished by being thrown overboard; and the great fish which swallows him whole. It is all fantastic and hard to believe, but possible enough that we want to believe it.

Most of us forget the rest of the things that Jonah did after he escaped from the fish because the story is much less interesting by way of comparison. No doubt, when the Lord told His critics that He would give them the sign of the prophet Jonah, they, being students of Scripture, immediately thought of Jonah in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights before being spewed up on dry land, and wondered what this had to do with proof of the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah.

When we study this story from our own perspective, knowing that the Lord was crucified, was in the grave, and rose on the third day, we can see the connection immediately. We see that the three days in the great fish is a symbol for the three days in the grave, and that being spewed out safe on dry land to go on to preach and to save Nineveh represents that the Lord’s work of redemption was now begun in earnest.

But the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees did not know what was going to happen. They could only guess at what the Lord meant by this, until such time as all the events had actually unfolded. Once the Lord had in fact risen from the grave, then the disciples, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and everyone else who was interested in the Lord’s teachings for whatever reason, finally began to understand what it was all about as they remembered what He had said, and what He actually had done. The message was not only for them, but for the spiritual scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees the skeptics who would read the New Testament in generations to come.

Another important difference between the way we see things today and the way they were viewed at the time of the Lord pertains to the great fish or whales. Today many people see the whale as a gentle and intelligent creature, deserving our protection and care. In ancient times, however, perhaps because boats were smaller and sea travel dangerous, the whale was seen as a dangerous monster. In some passages in the Word “leviathan,” “crooked serpent,” “dragon,” “serpent,” and “whale” are all possible translations of the same word (see AE 714:30). To a certain extent, the way things are perceived by men, and therefore are used in their language, has an effect on the things animals represent. Since both whales and dragons are large and fearsome, their names are linked linguistically, and so the gentle whale comes to have the same representation as the dragon. The whale (and the Heavenly Doctrines are quite specific that it was a whale) represents “scientifics which pervert the truths of faith” (AC 7923:2), and the belly of the whale represents the things which are lowest, or “nearest to the earth” (AC 247).

These representations tell us something about this state of temptation. Do we ourselves not feel that we are “swallowed up” by our own problems? Haven’t we all said about something that frustrates us that it just “kills” us? Do we not sometimes get so wrapped up in “facts” that we miss the truth of the matter?

This is the sign of the prophet Jonah that the Lord gave to all “wicked and adulterous generations.” When we are in temptation and feel spiritually dead, we can know that the Lord has the power to save us, to lift us up out of our states, because He has gone before He has given us the hope of salvation by doing it for Himself first! He has shown us this most important fact about Himself. He has given us the sign that no other prophet could have given the sign of the prophet Jonah.

There have been other prophets who could perform miracles. There have been others who could heal the sick, and even some who have raised the dead. But there is only one who has been dead and then raised Himself from the grave. He did this to show us the way, to show us that death can lead to eternal life, to show us that we have nothing to fear, to help us believe with our hearts what we hold in our thoughts, to lead us up out of the depths of the various hells that we create for ourselves into the heavenly kingdom that has been prepared for us.

When we are in temptation, and when we examine ourselves in preparation for the Holy Supper, we should pray to Him, as Jonah did in the belly of the whale: “The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God” (John 2:5,6). Amen.

Lessons: John 2:1-10; Matt. 12:38-42, 16:1-4; AE 706:6

Apocalypse Explained 706:6

In the Gospels: “The scribes and Pharisees said, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answering, said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth” (Matt. 12:38-40; Luke 11:16, 29, 30).

A “sign” plainly means attestation that they may be persuaded and believe that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, for the miracles that the Lord wrought in abundance, and that they saw, were no signs to them, because miracles, as has been said above, are signs only with the good. “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,” and this was taken for a “sign” because it signified the burial and resurrection of the Lord, thus the complete glorification of His Human, “three days and three nights” also signifying completeness.