Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Testament Lesson #10 "Take My Yoke Upon You, and Learn of Me"

Matt. 11:28-30; 12:1-13; Luke 7:36-50; 13:10-17

Our lesson starts with the beautiful scripture:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).


How does this saying jell with all those other things Christ said?  Things like:

"He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38).  A cross is not an easy burden! 

"Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29).  That doesn't sound easy!

"One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21).  Okay, trading in everything you have for a cross?  That does not sound like a good deal.

And what happened to all those early Apostles who did this?  Did even one of them die a natural death?  No.  They were all martyrs for the cause.  Was that an easy burden?

And even in our latter-day luxury, as members of the Church, we are required to give all that we possess, our time, our talents, everything!  There are a whole lot of commandments, expectations and demands imposed upon us by our religion. 

How is that easy?


A paradox is a "statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth" (  Christ's Way is very possibly the greatest paradox that ever was.  David H. Stern, a Messianic Jew (a Jew who believes in Christ), states it this way:  [Christ] speaks of his own easy yoke and light burden.  These two are sometimes contrasted in a way implying that in comparison with Judaism, Christianity offers 'cheap grace.'  But this saying...must be put alongside remarks such as [the "take up your cross" scripture].  The easy yoke consists in a total commitment to godliness through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It at once requires both no effort and maximal effort--no effort, in that the necessary moment-to-moment faith can not be worked up from within but is a gift of God; and maximal effort, in that there is no predeterminable level of holiness and obedience sufficient to satisfy God and let us rest on our laurels" (Stern, p. 44).

So how does it work?  What does this paradox really mean?


Camille Fronk (Olson) listed five ways in which our burden becomes light when we are yoked with the Savior.

1) We can dispose of unnecessary baggage:  sins not repented of; sins repented of but still dwelled upon in guilt; being judgmental or competitive; worldly aspirations; grudges.  We are warned against many of these pitfalls in the Sermon on the Mount

2) We can gain sustaining power through the covenants we make.  They are the primary source of power in life.  When we covenant, God promises to bear us up.

3) We get mutual support from other saints, as agreed in our baptismal covenant.  There is a synergy in the Church.  We help each other, and we gain wisdom from each other's trials without having to personally experience them all ourselves.  We rejoice with each other, and our joy is doubled.

4) The Lord makes us stronger.  We build spiritual muscle through consistent use.  We learn step by step, line upon line.

5)  Christ teaches us how to carry burdens, how to be "meek and lowly of heart."  We learn from him how to never be weary of well-doing, how to be patient in trials, how to submit to God's will.  Jesus knows how to carry a heavy burden.

The vendor in the picture below illustrates how a yoke helps--with the yoke, he can carry a much heavier load than he could with his arms.  Because of the leverage and balance provided by the yoke, the burden is distributed so well that it feels significantly lighter than its actual weight.  The vendor is able to reap the benefits of the heavier burden in his sales.  The yoke is a tremendous boon to him.


Until we take Christ's yoke upon us, we expend a lot of effort checking to see if we have given enough to the Savior.  We have our checklist of commandments.  We have our Mormon culture that adds even more to the checklist.  We have things we need to give up in our lives, and things we need add.  When we try to keep track of our checklist of individual commandments, it is as if this vendor were trying to carry all of these items in his arms.  We don't find the burden easy until we give ourselves over completely, and that is why Christ taught us to "Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you" (Moro. 10:32).  When we take up the yoke of Christ, we throw out the scales and the yardstick.

"It sounds so hard to give in a trusting, unmeasured way.  And yet it is the measuring that wears us out...It is precisely this exhaustion the Lord is adressing when he says, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'...

"Once I believed that I could give well-being to others with no yoke at all--by telling them that they were wonderful just the way they were.  Now I know...I was trying to give them pride.  It must surely have stood in the way of their peace.  A yoke is necessary, I now know, but not a heavy 'checklister's yoke.'  It is the light burden and the easy yoke of giving your whole heart--doing all you can and looking to the Lord to make up for your inadequacy...We can have peace...It comes through identifying that the need of our heart is grace, and that grace comes when the motivation for our unmeasured doing is founded in love" (Rasband, p. 29-30).


This leads us into one way in which Christ teaches us how to carry heavy burdens so that they will be light.
There is really only one commandment: To love.  "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. 5:14).  There are many different ways in which to express that love, including making and keeping covenants, serving in the kingdom, learning about our Savior, giving up our sins through the Atonement.  Often we get confused and base our obedience not on the real commandment, the commandment to love, but on some fear-based motivation.  Therefore, almost every "commandment" we "keep" can be either a heavy burden or a light and joyful burden.

There are two principles of the gospel that work hand-in-hand with love, forming a magnificent trio with which we can "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth" us.  They apply to our very salvation, but they also apply to everyday situations and problems.  In order to achieve goals, make changes, repent of sins, magnify our callings, or make any positive, permanent steps toward becoming more like Christ and receiving his peace in our lives, we must exercise faith, hope, and charity.  These three comprise a true formula for success in any righteous endeavor. 

"Christ truly said...If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me" (Moro. 10:23).  "Faith is a principle of action and of power...True faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action" (Bible Dictionary, Faith).  Faith refers to the works that you do to create the change.  Your faith must be based on Jesus Christ and his ability to help in you in order for it to have full effect.  Exercising your faith gives you reason to hope for change, even "hope for a better world," both in this earthly existence and in the next life.

"...Hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast" (Ether 12:4).  Hope seems an unassuming, ethereal principle, but it is absolutely essential to this process.  "If ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moro. 10:22).  What?  Despair is a sin?  What is the sin?  A lack of faith in Christ.  (See "The Miracle of Peace" in a previous lesson for more on this.)  Faith and love form the breastplate of righteousness, but hope is the helmet, the vision, the perspective, the frame of mind that makes the other two efficacious (1 Thess. 5:8).

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all..." (Moro. 7:46).  Why is charity essential?  Because it is the only thing that works!  Let's look at a familiar scripture:  "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained...only by [the attributes of charity:] persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, unfeigned..." (D&C 121:41).  Let's revisit this scripture, not worrying about what we ought to do.  "No power or influence maintained..."  It isn't just that we should have love; it is that love is the only motivation that will work to effect lasting change.

Plug this formula into any problem you are having, any sin issue you need to overcome, any relationship challenge, any habit you would like to change, any goal you would like to reach, any trial you must endure, and you will find that it is a true formula for success.

Let's take a change that is easy for many to relate to:  Getting in good physical condition.  If the motivation is self-loathing because of your past sloth and overindulgence, and embarrassment over your extra pounds, you may succeed for a while, but eventually the feelings of resentment and deprivation will take over.  For lasting success, the motivation needs to be love-based:  gratitude and respect for your mortal body, greater energy to do the things you love, ability to enjoy nature more easily, longevity of life, etc.  Any motivation that is not love-based is fear-based and works in opposition to the mind of Christ.  "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).

You must also exercise faith.  You must take action.  You must employ a fitness plan that is based on true principles so that you can have faith in the process.  The guidance of the Spirit can help you know which path to take.  You must have faith that Jesus Christ will help you to succeed.  Therefore, you must also have a knowledge that your goal is in line with his plan for your life.  This can be validated through prayer and the ensuing personal revelation.  You must also have faith in yourself and in your ability to change with the Savior's help.

And you must not overlook hope, which so many often do!  Hope is the expectation, the vision, the attitude of success.  You must be positively focused at all times, even when--especially when--the going gets rough.  You need a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish, and an expectation that it will come to pass.

Without an ongoing state of hope, you will lose faith and stop action. 

Without the action of faith, you will lose hope or have a false hope. 

Without love, you will run out of patience and energy before the process is completed with the resulting change solidly in place.

The divine formula of faith, hope and charity is one way that Christ's easy yoke makes our burdens light.


C.S. Lewis wrote:  "The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this.  We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests.  We then admit that something else--call it 'morality' or 'decent behaviour,' or 'the good of society'--has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires.  What we mean by 'being good' is giving in to those claims.  Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call 'wrong': well, we must give them up.  Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call 'right': well, we shall have to do them.  But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes.  In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes.  He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on.  Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.

"As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow.  Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed.  For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on.  The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you.  And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier.  In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, 'live for others' but always in a discontented, grumbling way--always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself.  And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you have remained frankly selfish.

"The Christian way is different: harder, and easier.  Christ says 'Give me All.  I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.  I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good.  I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down...Hand over...the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'" (Lewis, p. 1076-1077).


Now let's go back to those early martyrs.  How was the yoke easy and the burden light for them?  We will let Paul answer for himself:

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:1-5).

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28).

"If God be for us, who can be against us?...For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:31, 38-39).

"Why face life's burdens alone," President Howard W. Hunter asked, "or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter?  To the heavy laden, it is Christ's yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and the strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality."


David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible
Camille Fronk [Olson], "
The Cost of True Discipleship," BYU Women's Conference, May 1999
Howard W. Hunter, "Come Unto Me," Ensign, November 1990
talk given at BYU Women's Conference, May 1999
Ester Rasband, Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem
Joseph Fielding Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 58

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beautiful Painting

For those of you who have read beyond lesson #7 (most of you), I just want to draw your attention to a wonderful painting that was shared by a reader in the comments following that lesson this week.  Shari Lyons shared a link to her husband Howard Lyons' painting of the Savior calming the sea.  It includes his messages about the state of our faith as it compares to the disciples in the boat.  Thank you so much, Brother and Sister Lyons!  That is truly inspirational and absolutely gorgeous!

Here is the link:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Testament Lesson #9 "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God"

Matthew 6-7

Preparation:  Bring a lamp and set it on the classroom table, but don't plug it in.


"The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most significant testimony of our Lord ever recorded. It is a blueprint for exaltation because it bears witness of the Savior’s celestial nature" (Marsh).  Many people jokingly comment that life needs an instruction book.  Well, the Sermon on the Mount is just that.  "It is the constitution of Christian conduct—the rudder that should guide our actions and an important standard against which we can measure our spiritual development." (Bachman)

"The Sermon on the Mount is not an assemblage of disjointed sayings, spoken on diverse occasions, that have been combined in one place for convenience in presentation, as some uninspired commentators have speculated.  It is rather selected sayings, all spoken by Jesus on one day, following the ordination of the Twelve; it is that portion of his words, spoken on that occasion, which the Spirit knew should be preserved for us and for all men who seek truth" (McConkie, p. 117).

"The JST, like the Book of Mormon, makes it clear that the message now known as the Sermon on the Mount was directed to the Twelve Apostles and to the Savior’s disciples, or the baptized, covenant members of the Church...So in one sense the sermon was aimed at preparing the Saints to make covenants with God.  It was a call to a higher level of living as well as a mission call to share the gospel with others." (Marsh)

"This sermon is a recapitulation, a summary, and a digest of what men must do to gain salvation; and the eternal concepts in it are so stated that hearers (and readers) will get out of it as much as their personal spiritual capacity permits.  To some it will point the way to further investigation; to others it will confirm and reconfirm eternal truths already learned from the scriptures and from the preachers of righteousness of their day; and to those few whose souls burn with the fires of testimony, devotion, and valiance, it will be as the rending of the heavens: light and knowledge beyond carnal comprehension will flow into their souls in quantities that cannot be measured.  Every man must judge and determine for himself the effect the Sermon on the Mount will have upon him" (McConkie, p. 116).


Bearing in mind Elder McConkie's statement above, it is easy to understand that there are many ways of viewing, analyzing, interpreting, and explaining the Sermon on the Mount, including those found in the links at the end of this posting.  Even the same person may see it in different ways and learn from it different things at different times in his or her life.  Here is my present perspective on the Sermon:

I.   Directions for Spiritual Development (Matt. 5:1-48)
II.  Pitfalls to Avoid (Matt. 6:1-7:6)
III. Counsel for the Journey (Matt: 7:7-23)
IV. Conclusion (Matt. 7:24-27)

Write the outline on the board, leaving space after sections II and III to fill in details from the discussion.  (Section I was covered in the last lesson.)

(Please notice there are four significant JST additions in the Bible appendix for Matthew 6 and 7 [p. 802-803]).

Start fiddling with the lamp, trying to turn it on, and pretending that you don't realize it isn't plugged in.  Make a comment about how you know this is a really good lamp; why isn't it working?  Some helpful class member is sure to point out the problem, and you can then make the following point.

If I have a lamp with which to read at night, but I don't plug it in, I will not get any light.  No matter how good the lamp is, nothing will change for me; I will still be in the dark.  It must be plugged in to have the power to accomplish the task. 

Set your scriptures next to the lamp.

So is it the case with every gospel principle found in the scriptures.  We can read them, study them, know them, but until they are "plugged into" our everyday experience they won't have the power to enrich, enable, and sanctify our lives. 

So today we are going to discuss how we can "plug" the Sermon on the Mount into our lives.

Ask your class members to be thinking of specific examples of how living the Sermon on the Mount could make their lives happier this very week.  Very briefly review the "Directions for Spiritual Development" section, which was taught in the previous lesson.  Then divide the class up into two groups: one that will look over the "Pitfall" scriptures (6:1-7:6), and the other that will look over the "Counsel" scriptures (7:7-23).  You can use the ideas below to get the discussion started and also to elaborate on and validate the comments they share. 


5:1-11    The Beatitudes (the "Constitution for a Perfect Life")
5:13-16  Responsibility for Example
5:17-20  The Fulfillment of the Law
5:21-47  Examples of the Higher Law
5:48       Conclusion: These things will complete/perfect you

(See the previous entry for more on this section.)


Christ has shown us some specific danger zones that will rob us of happiness on our journey through life.  Anytime we are feeling unhappy, this list of pitfalls might be the first place to look to discover and eliminate the source of our misery.

Doing Good for Praise (Matt. 6:1-18)
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 6:1).

Do we feel diminished in the service we give to our families, neighbors or ward if no one notices/appreciates it?

Are we content having only "our Father which seeth in secret" know the extent of a sacrifice we make? 

Will we get "full credit" in heaven for a fast that includes the components of mentally or verbally whining, focusing every thought on food, and letting everyone know that we are suffering? 

Do we offer a "better" prayer at a church function than we do when we are home beside our bed?

Here is the reward for not doing good to be seen of men:  We are free to have joy in our service, because that joy is not dependant on someone else's opinion of what we have done.

          The Lord's Instructions on Prayer
          Nestled in the center of the Sermon on the Mount,
          we find the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).  Each line
          of the Lord's prayer is a guideline for an effective prayer.
          Elder Bernard P. Brockbank wrote, "I learned the
          Lord’s Prayer as a child, but it was years later that I
          learned that our Savior’s elegant, simple, masterful
          words were actually a commandment. In the Lord’s
          Prayer...he teaches us how to pray and tells us to follow
          his model. Once I began obeying that commandment,
          my prayers were more personal, more purposeful, more

          “'After this manner therefore pray ye,' the Lord instructed.
          Since he had just warned against 'vain repetitions' in
          prayers, we know that he meant for us to use his prayer
          as a model for our own."

          (For more detail and explanation, follow the link to Elder
          Brockbank's article at the bottom of this page.)

Treasuring Temporary Things (Matt. 6:19-44)
"Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth...but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven...For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (6:19-21).

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye [perspective] be single to [focused on] the glory of God, thy whole body [actions] shall be full of light" (6:22 JST).

"No man can serve two masters" (6:24).

"The first words we hear from [Christ's] premortal life as recorded in the scriptures are 'Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever' (Moses 4:2). The first words we have in the scriptures that the Savior spoke as a mortal include 'I must be about my Father’s business' (Luke 2:49). In Gethsemane He prayed, 'Not my will, but thine, be done' (Luke 22:42). His final words on the cross were 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46) and 'Father, it is finished, thy will is done' (see JST, footnote to Matt. 27:50). From His premortal existence throughout His entire life, the Savior’s eye was single to doing the will of His Father.  To follow in the Savior’s footsteps is to assist the Father in His work and glory, which is 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39)." (Marsh)

Do we give priority in our schedules to gospel study, service, temple & family history work, church callings, care of our family, prayer, etc.?

Do the principles of the gospel excite us?  Do we find ourselves thinking about them throughout the week, and trying to apply them to situations we face?

Do we love serving others, or does it feel like a frustrating interruption in our schedule? 

If our friends do not share the same values, standards, and beliefs that we have, do we change to meet theirs, or do we stand as an example of the believers?

Do we fill our home environment with art, music, and media that reflect our eternal perspective?

Of course, if we are spending time enjoying sinful activities, it is clear that we are serving the wrong master altogether.  We cannot live a double life for long.

Here is the reward for not treasuring temporal (temporary) things:  We free ourselves to be more happy, because our happiness is not based on things that will not last, but on eternal things.

Worrying (Matt. 6:25-33 JST)
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?...Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (6:25-33 JST).

Although the JST makes it clear that this was counsel to the Apostles as they were about to leave their livelihoods and start their full-time ministry, there is good counsel here for us as well.

Do we spend more time getting physically ready for church on Sunday, or getting spiritually ready for our communion at the sacrament table?

Do we worry excessively about money, health, safety, or things that are beyond our control despite doing our best to be prepared? 

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow...sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (6:34).  The Lord advises us to focus on the things in the present, where we can take action, rather than wasting energy on worries about the future, which we cannot see.  Of course, we must make plans for the future.  But if we think about it, the Spirit will sometimes prompt us to do something tomorrow or next week, but most often it will prompt us about what we should do today.  We are "of little faith" (6:30) if we think we have to anxiously micro-manage our lives, as well as worry about things that are beyond our control, rather than living by the Spirit and trusting the Lord to guide us and care for us day by day.

Here is the reward for not worrying:  We can feel at peace, and all our energies can be spent on things that we can control.

Judging (Matt. 7:1-5)
Righteous judgment involves distinguishing between good and evil, and we must make those judgments.  But in this instance, we are talking about avoiding unrighteous judgment, which puts us in a state of opposition to others.  Judging almost always involves comparison--comparing others with ourselves.  We may judge someone else to be better than us in some way, or worse than us in some way.  Either way, one of us is going to look good, and the other is going to look bad, and we are going to have a feeling of enmity.

Another way of looking at it is that judging effectively puts us on a different team from the other person.  Remember the Father's work and glory is to bring to pass their exaltation, as well as ours, and if we are going to be on His team, that means we are going to be on their team.  Any offenses or inadequacies, then, can be viewed from a merciful vantage point.  We can assume the best was intended even if we cannot understand it.  We can accept that another's way of doing things is different from but very possibly just as good as ours.  We can always keep in mind that everyone's spiritual development is in a different place on the road to perfection.  We can always attempt to view others through the lense of Christ's love.  We then avoid the feelings of jealousy, anger, intimidation, irritation, superiority, disgust, and any other competitive misery, and replace them with compassion.

Here is the reward for not judging:  If we stop comparing, our own peace and happiness are no longer related to what others have, do, or are.

Not Treating Sacred Things Casually (Matt. 7:6-7 JST)
The JST links up two seemingly unrelated thoughts in the Sermon.  "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (7:6).  Many have had the disheartening experience of sharing a very sacred memory, testimony, or even miracle with others, only to have them doubt its divine origin.  The JST therefore counsels, "Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Bible appendix, p. 803).   Rather than convincing others of our relationship with God, we are to teach that each person who will put forth the effort can have his own intelligence from God, his own personal miracles and transforming experiences.

Here is the reward for not treating sacred things casually:  The Lord will bless us with more sacred experiences, because we can be trusted.


How to Get Help (Matt. 7:7-11)
Take special note of the words "ask," "seek," "knock."  Effort is required.

"Spiritual knowledge is not available merely for the asking; even prayers are not enough.  It takes persistence and dedication of one's life" (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 389-390).

"The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them...We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ...Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ's name at all; they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man's heart" (Bible Dictionary, Prayer, p. 753).

How to Treat Others (Matt. 7:12)
The natural outgrowth of receiving the blessings from our Heavenly Father for which we ask, is the desire to bless others. This is what we call the Golden Rule: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets [the teachings of the scriptures]" (7:12).  Possibly the top of the list of things we would like for men to do for us would be to forgive us of our shortcomings, errors, and sins, so this would be a good place for us to work on in keeping the Golden Rule.

Which Path to Take/Who To Follow (Matt. 7:13-14/Matt. 7:15-23)
There are many philosophies of men that teach "ask and ye shall receive," as does the Sermon on the Mount (7:7-8), but most of them disregard the truth that "strait is the gate and narrow the way" (6:13-14) to a full and rich life here on earth and in the eternities.  Therefore, the counsel is very wise to "beware of false sheep's clothing".  It could be that their advise will rip us apart as wolves would, make our lives bitter as rotten fruit will, and keep us from a true relationship with our Father in Heaven! (6:15-23)


The parable of the wise man and the foolish man is the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, and it is a perfect ending.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell; and great was the fall of it" (7:24-27).

Here is a little object lesson for this parable:  In a 9x13 cake pan, make a little sand hill using a small bowl packed with damp sand.  (You may not want to invert it into the pan until you are in the classroom, so it won't fall apart.)  If you can't get any sand, you can make a "sand" hill out of packed brown sugar.  Put a good-sized rectangular rock next to the sand hill in the pan.  Tell the class to imagine a house built upon each of these hills.  Pour a pitcher of water over the two.  The sand hill will, of course, disintegrate, while the rock will, of course, retain its form.

Notice that the rain, the wind, and the flood attacked both houses.  No one escapes the storms of life, not even the disciples of Christ.  But the difference is in the effect they have upon us.  If we build our lives upon the foundation of the Rock found in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, we may get wet, but we will still be standing.  "The Savior’s message in the Sermon on the Mount is that the basis of real happiness does not lie in trying to subdue the storms outside us, but in sacrificing our sins and allowing the Savior to activate righteousness within us" (Thomas).

There is no guarantee for those who base their lives on anything else.

"Much of the unhappiness we feel in this world comes from a refusal to let go of those things that cause our unhappiness. Often as we seek relief, we aren’t able to discern the real problem, and we have trouble shaking off a sense of dissatisfaction.  For those suffering spiritual and emotional distress, the Sermon on the Mount offers relief" (Thomas).


Jeffrey Marsh, "Prophetic Enlightenment on the Sermon on the Mount," Ensign, Jan. 1999
Danel Bachman, "Sermon of Sermons," Ensign, Mar. 1981
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 2
Bernard P. Brockbank, "After This Manner." New Era, Dec. 1981
Catherine Thomas, "Blessed Are Ye," Ensign, June 1987

Although I didn't use it in this lesson, a good article you may want to use which focuses on how the Sermon on the Mount gives counsel for improving marriage is "Your Marriage and the Sermon on the Mount," in the Sept. 1995 Liahona, or the August 1991 Ensign, by Paul K. Browning.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Dear Readers,

The Sermon on the Mount is a challenge!  It is taking me a little longer to get it ready for posting.  Please check back; I hope to have it up tonight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Testament Lesson #8 The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5


"And seeing the multitudes, [Jesus] went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him..." (Matt. 5:1) 

Why did "seeing the multitudes" result in Jesus going up into a mountain?  Generally speaking, in the scriptures, a mountain is an outdoor temple.  The temple at Jerusalem had been defiled by moneychangers, so the mountain in this case may have been more sacred.  Jesus was setting himself apart, into a more holy place, where those who were really seeking truth would have to put forth the effort to come to him, so he would be left teaching only "disciples."

"The English word 'disciple' fails to convey the richness of the relationship between a rabbi and his [followers] in the first century...The essence of the relationship was one of trust in every area of living, and its goal was to make the [disciple] like his rabbi in knowledge, wisdom and ethical behavior" (Stern, p. 23).

It was to this devoted audience that Jesus shared the powerful Sermon on the Mount.  He began the sermon by offering to these disciples instructions for achieving a state of blessedness.  The word used for blessed (makarios in Greek, asher in Hebrew) "means 'blessed,' 'happy,' and 'fortunate' all at once, so that no one English word is adequate" (Stern, p. 23)


President Harold B. Lee said,  "In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfectand in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives...

"In that matchless Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given us eight distinct ways by which we might receivejoy. Each of his declarations is begun by the word 'Blessed'...These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christian world as the Beatitudes...They embody in fact the constitution for a perfect life."

The Beatitudes are related and interwoven, and therefore, different interpretations and explanations of them can each be correct, and can complement each other.  My favorite analysis of the meaning of the Beatitudes is this one, offered by Camille Fronk [Olson]. 

"The Holy Spirit’s role in transforming us into Christlike beings is outlined in the eight Beatitudes. The first four teach how we go from being poor in spirit to being 'filled with the Holy Ghost.'

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit. I first recognize that I am lacking the Spirit, bankrupt in the Spirit, or poor in Spirit. Considered alone, lacking the Spirit is not a blessing. The Book of Mormon, however, provides the missing piece in Christ’s instruction: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me' (3 Nephi 12:3; JST Matthew 5:3). Only when I come unto Christ with my realized need can I hope to eventually be filled with His Spirit.
  2. Blessed are they who mourn. Turning to Christ when I lack the Spirit illuminates weaknesses and sins that caused the Spirit to depart from me in the first place. That discovery causes me to mourn. Feeling 'godly sorrow' (2 Corinthians 7:10) because my shortcomings bring pain to the Savior encourages me to sincerely repent. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord communicates when my repentance and mourning have been accepted, and I am comforted by Christ’s forgiveness.
  3. Blessed are the meek. Having newly tasted of His grace, I become meek and teachable. In this state, I am desirous to obey the Lord in whatever He asks. I will gladly go where He asks me to go, cheerfully say what He asks me to say, and have the faith to become whatever He tells me I am capable of becoming.
  4. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. That spirit of obedience leads me to hunger and thirst after righteousness, a desire that is answered with the very gift I longed for from the beginning: I am filled with His Spirit (see JST Matthew 5:3–6; 3 Nephi 12:3–6). Notice again that I am filled with the Spirit only after I recognize my need for the Spirit’s presence in my life, sincerely repent of subsequently illuminated shortcomings, and become meek in willingness to accept and do whatever the Lord may require.
"Now 'filled with the Holy Ghost' (3 Nephi 12:6), I am in a position to change and become more Christlike. The fruit of the Spirit can now develop in me, enabling me to reflect the light of the Savior in everyday living. The fruit is thereby identified in the concluding four Beatitudes.

  1. Blessed are the merciful. Filled with the Spirit, we naturally feel merciful toward those around us. We have just experienced the Savior’s mercy and we want to show that mercy to people who frankly don’t deserve it any more than we did. As an example, we will graciously allow a driver to bulldoze her way into our lane of the freeway without taking offense or retaliating. In short, we feel a natural inclination to be kind whatever the circumstances when we are filled with the Spirit.
  2. Blessed are the pure in heart. Our hearts are so pure when we are filled with the Spirit that we see God everywhere we look. We not only see Him in nature but in neighbors and coworkers, people whose weaknesses and faults are all too apparent. Being filled with the Spirit, we find ourselves treating them with respect and reverence. We listen more attentively, show consideration for their responsibilities and time constraints, and express genuine appreciation for their contributions to the overall good of the family or company.
  3. Blessed are the peacemakers. We become peacemakers, or as Isaiah described them, those who 'publish peace' (Isaiah 52:7; see also Mosiah 15:14–18). We want to share the glorious good news so that others can be filled with the selfsame Spirit. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are 'ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us]' (1 Peter 3:15).
  4. Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my [God’s] name’s sake. Finally, we can withstand any manner of persecution that the adversary may inflict upon us (see Matthew 5:7–12; 3 Nephi 12:7–12). Being filled with the Spirit, we cannot be offended even when others intend evil against us. We simply turn the other cheek and 'overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:21).
"Completing this cycle once does not immediately make us like Christ, but it does bring us closer. We know more about the Spirit and can discern sins and shortcomings that were not apparent before, and then the cycle repeats. With such divine tutelage and a willingness to endure to the end, we are gradually becoming like our Savior! We are changing from the inside out! We are learning to love as He loved—to receive the greatest fruit of the Spirit, charity, 'the pure love of Christ' (Moroni 7:47).  (Fronk, P. 87-103) 

The first four Beatitudes involve the inward workings of our souls, specifically our relationship with Christ, and the second four involve the outward manifestations of that relationship, our actions in relation to others.  The Beatitudes, therefore, can be seen as the instructions for living the two great commandments, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind...and thy neighbor as thyself."  As we develop that vertical relationship (our relationship with God), we are grounded and better able to manage our horizontal relationships (our relationships with people).

(President Lee's interpretation is slightly different than Sister Fronk's.  He sees "Meek" as having to do with relationships with others, and "Pure in Heart" having to do with our relationship with God.  Of course, both explanations are completely accurate because gospel principles cannot really be compartmentalized, but all weave and flow together.  [Follow the link in the "Sources" below to read his interpretation.])


Of course, one of the disciples listening intently to the Sermon on the Mount was the apostle Peter.  "Peter was one of the greatest of men.  It is true that the New Testament recounts some mortal weaknesses, but it also illustrates that he overcame them and was made strong by his faith in Jesus Christ" (Bible Dictionary).  We can follow the record of Peter's life and see that he set an example as one who learned and then truly lived the Beatitudes.

Upon receiving the miracle of the fish at his call to the Apostleship, Peter immediately realized that he was spiritually poor in comparison to the Master and, mourning over his sins, he "fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). 

Despite his great catch, he did not regard his business as more important than the Lord's, but meekly he "straightway" left his  net [which, of course, was completely loaded with fish], and followed him (Matt. 4:19). 

It is clear that Peter hungered for righteousness, since he followed Christ everywhere he went.  When Jesus went to a solitary place to have time alone with his Father, "[Simon Peter] and they that were with him followed after him.  And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee" (Mark 1:35-37).  Peter even tried to walk on water as he saw the Savior do, and with the Savior's help, he succeeded (Matt. 14:29-31).

So Simon Peter developed a relationship with his Savior, such that when he was asked, "Whom say ye that I am?  [he] answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:15-16).

Peter was the one who asked, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21-22), after which he related the parable of the unmerciful servant, so that Peter might understand the importance of being merciful

After the resurrection, Christ returned to the earth to teach his disciples even more, at which time he gave Peter the imperative to, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).  Peter spent the rest of his life spreading the gospel of peace.

Along with the other early saints, Peter endured persecution.  He was imprisoned (Acts 12:6), and "it is generally believed that he suffered martyrdom at Rome" (Bible Dictionary).


Of course, progressing through the Beatitudes is not a one-time event.  We must continually, day by day, recognize our weaknesses, meekly learn the lessons set out for us, mourn for our sins of the last 24 hours, seek for greater righteousness, exercise mercy, apply for the purification of our hearts through the Atonement, and share the gospel with others.  If we are persecuted by men, or chastised by the Lord, or smacked down by life, we must endure it well for Christ's sake.

In the remainder of chapter 5, Christ elaborates on the necessity of living the Beatitudes in order to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."  He gives examples of ways in which our relationships with others will be different if we live the Beatitudes, rather than the letter of the Law of Moses.  If we "love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]"--in other words, if our attitudes and actions regarding our fellow men come from the Lord's constitution for a perfect or charitable life, rather than as a reaction to what others do--"[we] may be the children of [our] Father which is in heaven" (v. 44). We will clearly recognize that he loves them as he loves us, taking care of their needs for sun and rain just as he does ours (v. 45).  And then he delivers his famous injunction, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (v. 48).

“I am convinced that the Master was not merely thinking relatively when he said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’...Would you suppose the Savior was suggesting a goal that was not possible of attainment and thus mock us in our efforts to live to attain that perfectness? It is impossible for us here in mortality to come to that state of perfection of which the Master spoke, but in this life we lay the foundation on which we will build in eternity; therefore, we must make sure that our foundation is laid on truth, righteousness and faith. In order for us to reach that goal we must keep God’s commandments and be true to the end of our lives here, and then beyond the grave continue in righteousness and knowledge until we become as our Father in Heaven."  (Lee)

I like this analogy by C.S. Lewis:  "I find a good many people have been bothered by...our Lord's words, 'Be ye perfect.'  Some people seem to think this means 'Unless you are perfect, I will not help you;' and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless.  But I do not think He did mean that.  I think He meant 'The only help I will give is help to become perfect.  You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less" (C.S. Lewis, p. 1065). 

Mr. Lewis then compared the Lord to a dentist; you may go to a dentist only wanting relief from a toothache, but the dentist is never satisfied with just that.  He insists on going over the whole mouth, and he will find other teeth that have problems which he will want to fix as well.  He won't stop until everything is in perfect order.  Give a dentist an inch, he said, and he'll always take a mile.  And so it is with Jesus.  He won't be satisfied with us until we are completely overhauled and fully developed.

Each Sabbath we have time for reflection on Christ during the Sacrament.  What a great time to check our spiritual progress against his Constitution, the Beatitudes!  Here is a little scripture bookmark that you can print out and use to guide your thoughts during the Sacrament.


David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary 

Camille Fronk, "The Mission of the Holy Ghost:  From Believing to Becoming," Salvation in Christ: Comparative Christian Views, ed. Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005)

Harold B. Lee, "Striving For Perfection," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:  Harold B. Lee

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible