By Rev. Joel C. Glenn
Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham, Part 1: Beginnings
A Sermon by Pastor Joel Christian Glenn
30 April 2017
We all know that the Word, or the Bible, is about God. That’s not hard to believe. But shortly after His resurrection Jesus pushed this idea to another level. When He appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus, it says, “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). From this we can gather that all of the Scriptures are not just about God, but are about Jesus Himself. That’s a concept that is harder to grasp. Yes, there are the prophecies that are clearly about Jesus. But what about, say the story of Creation? Or the Exodus from slavery in Egypt? The many kings of Israel, both good and evil? Or all the many lists of laws and genealogies, are even those about Jesus?
The truth of the matter is that the whole of the Word is not just about Jesus, it is Jesus. Listen to these verses from the opening of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is a clear reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Word, the Word that is also embodied in the Word of God, our Old and New Testaments.
If you feel that it is hard to grasp how Jesus and the Word are one and the same, you are not alone. It is difficult to comprehend how a living, breathing, person and an apparently lifeless slab of paper can be one and the same. The Writings for the New Church acknowledge this difficulty and offer a way around it. This is from the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture:
Few understand how the Lord is the Word, for it is generally supposed that the Lord, by means of the Word, can enlighten and teach people, and yet He cannot, on this account, be called the Word.
So as we’ve said, it makes sense that the Word is about the Lord, and it is the Lord’s way of teaching us, but that doesn’t mean He is the Word. The passage however continues:
It should be known, however, that every person is his own love, and consequently his own good and his own truth. A person is a person for no other reason than this, and there is nothing else in him that is a person. For the same reason that a person is his own good and his own truth, angels and spirits also are people; and for all good and truth proceeding from the Lord, is in its own form, a person. But the Lord is Divine Good itself and Divine Truth itself; thus He is Personhood Itself, from whom every person is a person. (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 100)
There is a lot going on in that passage. What it all boils down to is a definition of humanity that transcends having a physical body, a definition that helps us see how a book and a person can be one and the same. As the passage said, a person is a person because of his loves, and therefore because of all his good and truth that stem from that love. In short, you are what you love, and what you love makes you human. Think of it this way: if we were to transplant your brain from your body into someone else’s, and this new person loved the same things you love and in the exact same way, and so behaved as you would behave, wouldn’t we say that it is still you, even though the body is completely different? Take that a step further and think of death. Even your brain will die, but your spirit, your spirit in which resides everything of your love, will carry on. Even though there will no longer be a shred of “you” left on this earth, you will still live on. So that’s what makes a person a person: the mind, especially the love within the mind.
If a person is a person because of what he or she loves and so thinks from that love, then anything that reveals our love or our thought reveals us. We know this instinctively from other books we encounter. Have you ever read a book that you loved immensely, and felt that in some way you were connected to the author, as if you understood each other even though you’d never met? I’m not just talking about biographies either. You can read a book that never once refers directly to its author and yet still feel connected. That can happen because the book is a kind of extension of the author, since it reveals the authors loves and ideas.
We now come to the Word. The Word, more than any other book on earth, reveals the mind of its Author. This is so deeply the case that we say that the Word is one and the same with its author, the Lord. Yet unlike with some books that engross us, the Word can feel like a tangled mess that reveals little about the true character of God, much less the inner workings of the mind of Jesus. I have here two images that can help us understand this. On one side there is a brain scan. On the other, an open copy of the Word. At first glance these pictures have little to do with each other. But think about what this brain scan really is. To you and I and most other people it reveals little. But to a trained doctor it would reveal a great deal about what is going on in a person’s mind at a given time. It is a snapshot into someone’s inner life, but one that we can only read if we have the proper training to understand it.
On the other hand we have a copy of the Word. As with the brain scan it reveals what is going on in someone’s mind at a given point. In this case it is the mind of the Lord that is being revealed. And like the brain scan, even though any particular story we might open up to reveals the Lord’s mind, we need the proper training to understand it. If we read this document correctly than we will discover the loving mind of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Every page, every sentence, contains insight into how He thinks and what it is that He loves and cares about. The purpose then of exploring the stories of the Word in light of how they reflect the life and mind of Jesus Christ is that we will then be better equipped to follow His example, not only following the path He set with His words and actions, but going deeper to follow the path He set in His mind.
With this in mind, over the next three weeks we will be looking to the story of Abraham. Even though Abraham lived thousands of years before Jesus was even born, his life perfectly reflects the inner life that Jesus experienced. When we can see this connection we will be better able to not only understand the Lord, but to understand how to model our lives on His. This week we will spend a short time getting a glimpse of how this works. Over the next two weeks we will go deeper into the story of Abraham and into the mind of Jesus. We begin with the first inkling that Abraham had that God had chosen him for a special purpose. As a side note, early on Abraham was known as Abram:
Now the LORD had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran….
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. (Genesis 12:1-4, 7-9)
Prior to the moment described here Abraham did not know of Jehovah in the slightest. He was in fact an idol-worshipper like most people of His day. Yet when he heard the call from the Lord he responded and moved with his family and everything he owned into a new land. This moment may not seem significant but it is the beginning of the epic saga of the Children of Israel, and the land to which the Lord sent Abraham would one day become the Kingdom of Israel. What began as the simple travels of one man from a faraway country into the heart of the Holy Land would lead to momentous things in the future. What we see here is simply the seed being planted, but a seed that would grow to become a great nation, a nation of which the Lord said it would become a blessing for all the nations of the earth. That is the reason that God called Abraham in the first place.
What can this simple beginning tell us about the mind of Jesus? Like the Kingdom of Israel, the great works that Jesus would do needed a beginning: a seed had to be planted that would grow into something greater. That seed was planted in Jesus early childhood. Just as Abraham was called to enter into the heart of what would become the earthly Kingdom of Israel, Jesus from the very beginning was brought to the heart of His own heavenly Kingdom. That heart, the heart and soul of heaven, is childlike innocence and love. Now as with Abraham, the journey does not end there: for Abraham, many centuries would pass before his people were a great nation. And for the Lord it would take years of temptation and struggle before He could fulfill His mission. But all of it, every last bit, stemmed from that first seed planted in childhood.
It might seem odd to think that everything the Lord needed to face the hells, to put them in their place, and to conquer them was established while He was still a little boy, but it is so. It is in fact the case for each of us that something essential to our life is planted within before we are even aware. Listen to this passage from the Teachings of the New Church that speaks to how powerful our childhoods are for our later lives:
The Lord had first of all to be endowed from infancy with the heavenly things of love - the heavenly things of love consisting in love towards Jehovah and love towards the neighbour, and in innocence itself present in those loves. From these, as from the very sources of life, flows every single thing, for all other things are simply derivatives. These heavenly things are implanted in a person primarily in the state of infancy through to childhood. (Secrets of Heaven 1450)
As a child Jesus received deep stores of love and innocence. This took place before He could even talk or conceptualize these things in His mind. They were simply blessings of love that would remain with Him for the rest of His life, and indeed, to eternity.
This stage of the Lord’s life was not trivial. Without these perfectly innocent and heavenly remains sitting at the core of His being He never would have been able to face the onslaught of hell later in life. That which would later give Him strength in temptation, even on the Cross itself, had been received in childhood innocence and stored away, hidden, until such time as it would be needed. Every loving word and parable, every miracle, every demon cast out and every sickness made well, all flowed from the fountain of love, a fountain established in His youth. We all know the power of little children and their heavenly innocence. There was never a moment that that innocence of infancy dissipated. We don’t often think of the fact that while that innocence recedes and is hidden, it never leaves us.
We all have those same heavenly remnants left over from our childhood. Before we were born the Lord was with us in the womb. He has blessed us, as Jesus was blessed, so that now we have all the innocence and power of a child. As does every human being you will meet. The boss who frustrates you to no end, the spouse that drives you crazy, the acquaintance you can’t stand, all were once little children that would have been beautiful to hold and love, that were beautiful and were held and were loved. None of that goes away. It is always there, part of you, making you who you are. And any time you make an effort to show true love, you are only able to do so because love was once the only thing you knew.
So what do we do with this information? Abraham heard the call of God and left his home to dwell in a new land. Jesus felt a call from deep within His soul and left his own desires to accept the heavenly love that was welling like a fountain within Him. Can we follow the example of both Abraham and Jesus? Will you answer the call? Will you remember when times are hard that once in this life all you knew was love? That deep within your heart beats the love and innocence of childhood? That every human you ever meet has that same source of love and innocence within them? And finally will you use that love to become a blessing to those around you? Jesus answered this call. He continues to answer this call. And He calls on us to do the same. Will you answer? Amen.
(Read the next sermon in this 3-part series, about Bargaining)
By Jonathan Rose
This video is a part of the Spirit and Life Bible Study series, whose purpose is to look at the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible through a Swedenborgian lens.
Title: Saving the Tree of Life
Topic: First Coming
Summary: The Lord's salvation takes two forms: an ongoing saving of individual souls that respond, but also a one-time rescuing of the whole human race from destruction and oblivion.
Use the reference links below to follow along in the Bible as you watch.
Matthew 20:25, 28
Luke 2:9-10; 3:2, 4-6
John 12:44, 47
Acts of the Apostles 13:47
1 Timothy 2:1-4, 6; 4:10
Genesis 1:27-28; 12:1, 3; 13:4; 15:5; 22:17; 28:12, 14
Acts of the Apostles 6:7
Spirit and Life Bible Study broadcast from 3/9/2016. The complete series is available at: www.spiritandlifebiblestudy.com