Sunday, September 19, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #37 "Thou Hast Done Wonderful Things"

Isaiah 22; 24-26; 28-30

(Note:  This lesson will focus entirely on the beautiful prophecy of Isaiah 25-26.  In a following entry, details, helps, and interpretations for the other chapters will be offered.)

INTRODUCTION

My brother is a most amazing defense lawyer.  He wins every case he takes to trial, regardless of the merits of his defendant.  No matter what crime the defendant has committed, as long as my brother is his lawyer, the person is guaranteed freedom.  That's because the judgment is not placed on the merits of the defendant, but on the merits of the defense attorney.  He stands before the judge and says, "This defendant has made some mistakes, but he's really sorry.  He begs forgiveness.  He'd like a new start.  You know what a great attorney I am, so I see no sense in wasting any more time in court.  Based on my abilities, I would like to ask you to release the defendant."  The amazing thing is that the judge agrees!  And the defendant goes free, without a mark on his record!

Unbelieveable, don't you think?  Preposterous, wouldn't you say?  What an incredibly unfair way to run a trial!  But it is true.  My Brother is Jesus Christ, and the courtroom scene above is the Judgment Day for all those who enlist Christ as their Defense Attorney.  The plan of the Atonement was never intended to be a plan of fairness; it is a plan of mercy.  The Judgment Seat is the only court in which the defendant is freed solely on the merits of the Defense Attorney.  Our merits, as the defendants, are necessary, but clearly insufficient.  The Defense Attorney is willing to argue our case, but much more is involved than that:  He gained the merit required to get us off scot-free by paying the price for the crimes himself, in advance.  (Robert Millet)

TRUSTING IN THE MERITS OF CHRIST

The words of the missionary Aaron:  "And since man [plural] had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory..." (Alma 22:14)

The words of Father Lehi:  "Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.  Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.  Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise." (2 Nephi 2:6-8)

The Words of the Lamanite King Anti-Nephi-Lehi:  "And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son."  (Alma 24:10)

The Words of the Apostle Paul:  "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."  (Romans 10:1-3)

The only thing that will keep us from being saved is to not have confidence in Christ that He will save us. 

A PORTRAIT OF CHRIST

Isaiah 25 paints a beautiful portrait of the mercy of Christ through Hebrew poetic imagery.  (To emphasize this idea, mount a large, inexpensive print of Christ with children or as a shepherd onto posterboard, and then cut into 16 puzzle pieces.  [Draw the puzzle shapes on the back of the posterboard.]  On the back of each puzzle piece, write one of the verses of Isaiah 25:1-26:4.  Hand them out to class members.  Have each person read his or her verse, in order, and fit the puzzle piece onto the board, so that as you read and discuss the imagery of the scriptures, the picture of Christ becomes more clear.)

Here are a few relevant notes:

v. 4--The poor and needy aligns well with the "poor in spirit" and the "meek" of the earth, mentioned in the beatitudes. (3 Nephi 12:3, 5)

v. 6--"Mountain" refers to a temple.  In the temple, the Lord of hosts (a reference to His might and power as the Captain of the armies of heaven) will prepare a glorious feast for all nations (see footnote).

v. 7--In the temple, the Lord will dissolve the barrier ("the face of the covering," or "the vail") between the people and their knowledge of their God.  In Old Testament temple worship, a veil covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was the place in which man could meet God, but only the priest could go, as a representative of all the people, and even he could only go on one day of the year.  On the day of Christ's death, the veil of the temple was rent, top to bottom, a symbol that Christ's Atonement had opened the way for man to return to God.  In the latter-day temples, each person individually passes through the veil for himself, or in proxy for one other deceased individual at a time, into the Celestial Room where he can commune with God.  With the revelation on the Priesthood (D&C Official Declaration--2), and the explosion of temple-building around the world, "all people" and "all nations" can enter into the Celestial Room.  This is symbolic of and preparatory to entering God's presence in the Celestial Kingdom after earth life.

v. 8--"The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces."  "Think of the select few individuals you would allow to wipe tears from your face.  Even close friends and lifelong neighbors would not be granted such an [intimate] expression.  No, this is a moment reserved for spouses [or] for a parent and child." (Mark Eastmond)  What a touching image!  (You may want to ask class members to be thinking of times that God has wiped tears from their faces, to be shared later in the lesson.)

v.9--"This is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us."  Those times in mortal life in which it looked like it wasn't paying off to follow the Lord will now be rewarded.

v. 10--In the temple, "shall the hand of the Lord rest."  Love that imagery!  Not for all, though, only for those who waited for him.  Moab, the unrighteous, will be trodden down.

v.11--There will be no escape for Moab.  The Lord will fully extend His reach to bring down their pride, just as a swimmer will fully extend his arm and thus set in motion all the water around him.

v. 3--Here is the key to "perfect peace:" "staying our minds on the Lord."  The verb "staying" implies a conscious effort, not passive.  It takes effort to remain focused on the Lord, it is not a default setting in the human brain.

v.4--Only four times in the King James Version of the Old Testament is the name "Jehovah" written out, and this is one of them.  The name "Jehovah" was the formal covenant name for the God of Israel, meaning the unchangeable one, the great I AM, the one who exists independently.  Although the name "Jehovah" was found abundantly in the Hebrew Bible, it was so holy that  the Jews never spoke it aloud, but always substituted another name for God.  The early Hebrew written language did not include vowels, so the original pronunciation has actually been lost.  The King James Translators, out of deference to the Jewish custom of reverence for the name, substituted the title "LORD" in all capitol letters, each time the name "Jehovah" was found, except for these four key references (Bible Dictionary, "Jehovah").  The other three occurences are found in Exo. 6:3 (notice the JST footnote), Psalms 83:18, and Isaiah 12:2.

A PERSONAL SAVIOR

Christ's appearance to the Nephites was a foreshadowing of His reunion with each of us at the end of our mortal existence.  As in Isaiah's prophecies, those who were "more wicked" were destroyed (3 Ne. 9:13), and only those who gathered around the temple in a desire to learn of Christ (3 Ne. 11:1-2), who were willing to "open their ears to hear" and who put forth the effort to "understand" (3 Ne. 11:5-6), were blessed by Christ's "arm of mercy [which was] extended towards [them]," and were converted and healed (3 Ne. 9:13-14).

3 Ne. 11:14-15--Christ did not have the leadership come up, and then send them out to minister and testify to the congregation, although that is the effective and necessary way He has us, as limited mortals, administer His church on the earth.  He had 2,500 people come up "one by one" to build their testimony of the Atonement and the Resurrection, and to develop a relationship with Him, their personal Savior.

3 Ne. 17:7-9--Jesus offered to heal any who were afflicted in any manner.  He did not heal them as a group, although He certainly could have done so with His great power.  He healed them "every one".

3 Ne. 17:21--"He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them."

The Atonement was infinite, and applied to everyone everywhere who was human and therefore fallen, and to every sin they might commit.  All mankind was saved in one event.  But in Christ's personal mortal ministry, both in the East and the West, the service He gave and the relationships He built were one-on-one.

(This would be the time to ask for class members to share experiences in which Christ personally wiped away tears from their eyes.)

Christ's example extends to us:  Maybe we can't do everything for everybody, but we can wipe away one person's tears, heal one person's spirit, bless one child at a time.  We can be true disciples of Christ if we simply ask each day, "Which one person can I serve next?"

(This may be a great place to end the lesson, especially if there is a lot of sharing from class members, or you can continue with the following testimony of someone in our day who personally knew Christ.)

TESTIMONY

Those of us who are old enough will always remember the final testimony of Elder Bruce R. McConkie.  It was a moment that stood still in time, like September 11th or the fallin of the Berlin Wall.  Those who experienced it can remember where they were and how they felt as if it were yesterday.  Even as I write this blog, all those emotions come flooding back, and my eyes are filling with tears.  Elder McConkie had been suffering with cancer and improvement in his health had been reported, but as he began his talk, we all knew that we would not hear his voice again:

"I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare, and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"His atonement is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation's dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity...

"It is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform.  Through it, all of the terms and conditions of the Father's eternal plan of salvation become operative.

"Through it are brought to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  Through it, all men are saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment.

"And through it, all who believe and obey the glorious gospel of God, all who are true and faithful and overcome the world, all who suffer for Christ and his word, all who are chastened and scourged in the Cause of him whose we are--all shall become as their Maker and sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever in everlasting glory."

That was how one of the greatest doctrinal geniuses of the latter days, who could have addressed any topic comfortably, who wrote the chapter headings and many of the footnotes to the LDS scriptures chose to begin his "Last Lecture." And here is the memorable end:

"And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God--I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world.  He is our Lord, our God, and our King.  This I know of myself independent of any other person.

"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God's Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way."  (May 1985 Ensign)

(If you have access to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir CD "Hymns of Faith," you may like to play "I Believe in Christ" as a conclusion to this lesson.  Elder McConkie was the lyricist, and his voice narrates several of the verses as an interlude to the choir's singing of the others.)

Note:  Reader Shel has found a YouTube video of Elder McConkie's last testament.  See her comment below, or follow this link.  Thanks, Shel!

Sources:

Robert Millet, "Rest and Hope in Christ," BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2002.

7 comments:

Susan said...

I love your blog but am anxiously awaiting lesson 38! I actually have about 60 people that I have forwarded your site to and we are all hoping that you continue your efforts. Our lessons on sunday happens to coincide with your schedual -
PLEASE DON'T STOP!! We all love your comments and insights!

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Thanks, Susan. I took a brief sick break, which fortunately coincided with General Conference. The next lesson should be posted by Friday.

Shel said...

Thank you for all of your lessons. They help me sooo much with my SS class each Sunday! I am trying to upload a YOU TUBE video to show Sunday at the end of lesson with this, it is wonderful. If anyone reads comments and wants a great one to show it is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5yBITJKgWg&NR=1
I love the puzzle idea as well. You are saving me sooo much time this weekend which is just what I need as I teach HS English online and never can prepare until 10pm Sunday night and usually up until 2 or 3 am then up at 6am to finish my lessons. Your thoughts add soo much to my lessons! Next time I visit my BFF in Cache Valley....I am bringing you something WONDERFUL!!! Feel in debt to you =) Thanks again.

Laura said...

I love your blog. Keep the lessons coming. You had some great ideas here. I like the puzzle and the Bruce R. McConkie testimony. Thanks!

Erika said...

I'm so glad I found your blog! I have recently been called to Gospel Doctrine teacher and your insight has helped me so very much. Thank you for taking the time to share your lessons and thoughts. And Shel--any tips on how I can show this clip to my class? Thanks.

BJ said...

Great lesson - I'm using your opening story, then I'm going to show "The Mediator" parable narrated by Pres. Packer from the Book of Mormon Seminary DVD.

Jeri said...

I so appreciate your lesson ideas. I give you credit in class - trying not to plagarize! It helps so much considering my ward here in Provo is full of very intimidating students :) I especially love your creative ideas to bring interest and help people remember difficult ideas. The concerto last week was a perfect way to introduce Isaiah! Thank you!

J