Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Testament Lesson #26 "To This End Was I Born"

Matthew 26:47-27:66; Mark 14:43-15:39; Luke 22:47-23:56; John 18-19

THE BETRAYAL, ARREST, TRIAL & CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST
FROM EACH PERSPECTIVE OF THOSE INVOLVED

Judas Iscariot (Betrayal)

Judas' name "Iscariot" meant "man of Kerioth."  "If Judas indeed came from the town of Kerioth, he was the only Judean among Jesus' disciples.  [The rest were Galilean.]  Judeans looked down upon the Galileans as crude frontier settlers.  This attitude may have alienated Judas Iscariot from the other disciples"  (J.I. Packer, M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 529).

When Judas was in the Upper Room with the disciples, Jesus said to him, "That thou doest, do quickly, but beware of innocent blood.  [Then Judas went to betray him] for he turned away from him and was offended because of his words." (JST Mark 14:28, not included in the LDS Bible.  For more on the JST see a previous post.)

After the deed was done, Judas "repented himself and brought again the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.  And they said, What is that to us?  See thou to it; thy sins be upon thee" (Matt. 27:3-5 including JST footnote).

To the Jews, "shedding innocent blood pollutes the land and brings 'bloodguilt' on the people" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1908).

The Other Disciples (Abandonment)

"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.  And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.  And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them, and said unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch" (Mark 14:36-38, JST in the LDS Bible Appendix, p. 805). 

"From this passage we understand that the apostles had begun to question whether Jesus really was the Messiah.  We may imagine that the more Jesus suffered, the more the apostles doubted his messianic identity.  After all, the King-Messiah, in the minds of most Jews, was not supposed to suffer, not supposed to fail in restoring the great Davidic kingdom of ancient times, not supposed to collapse under the weight of spiritual distress nor retreat in the face of expectations of great demonstrations of power, signs, and wonders.  Obviously, the apostles did not fully comprehend the true and varied roles of the real Messiah" (Andrew C. Skinner, Gethsemane, p. 108)

When the mob came to get Jesus, the disciples were still with him.  They wanted to fight the officers, but Jesus said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53).  A Roman legion was 6,000 infantry and 120 cavalry (Harper-Collins).  "But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (Matt 26:54). 

The JST gives the impression that it was Christ's words "But the scriptures must be fulfilled" that terrified them and caused them to flee:  "And the disciples when they heard this saying, all forsook him and fled" (JST Mark 14:49-50, not in the LDS edition).  David H. Stern lists 20 Old Testament prophecies of the evil that would befall Christ, with their corresponding New Testament fulfillments (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 79-80).  They realized there was nothing they could do to help him, no hope of saving him, and undoubtedly were terrified of their own fates, which had been prophecied by Christ during his Olivet Discourse, to be rather dire:  "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations [possibly referring to all the races of people in the area] for my name's sake" (Matt. 24:9).

Peter had promised the Lord that he would go with him "both into prison and to death" (Luke 22:33).  Peter did not entirely forsake his promise: he went with him, after a fashion, following him "afar off" (Luke 22:54).

Christ told Peter he had prayed for him that his faith would fail not, "and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32).  We might think that Peter had been converted by this point in time, being one of the first to follow Christ, and a member of the inner circle of three disciples who had been with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, but Peter had not yet received the baptism of fire that would convert him into a new man.  The Gift of the Holy Ghost was not given him until after Christ's death.  (See a previous post for more on this.)  Without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, he was not strong enough to withstand his fear, but after he received it, his faith became unshakeable.  (See Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 4, p. 20.)

The Chief Priests and Elders (Jewish Trials)

"Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees (temple guards), cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus saith unto them, I am he.  And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.  As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground" (John 18:4-6).

Why were the men so shocked that they fell backwards?  Wasn't he just identifying himself as "Jesus of Nazareth," the person they were seeking?  No.  The King James Bible Translators took great care to be precise and convey the exact meaning from the original language.  At times, they added a word to make the meaning clearer, and whenever they did this, they italicized the word, so the reader would know it was not in the original text.  (For more on the King James Version, see a previous post.)  When we remove their italicized word here, we understand why the officers were so appalled:  Jesus was not saying, "I am he, Jesus of Nazareth," he was saying "I Am," which was one name for the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah.  (Remember, when Moses asked who he should say sent him to free the enslaved Hebrews, he was told, "I Am that I Am" [Exo. 3:14].)

He repeated the phrase immediately, in case anybody missed it (v. 8), thus inflaming the mob.  This cemented their desire to have him killed, and they sought a judgment against him that would deliver that end.

"The primary object of the Hebrew judicial system was to render the conviction of an innocent person impossible" (James E. Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 647).  But the chief priests and elders broke just about every law in the book to convict Christ during the night trial recorded by in Matthew 26 and Mark 14.  Here are a few:
  • An arrest at night was illegal.
  • An arrest by treachery (using an accomplice such as Judas) was illegal.
  • A trial before a single judge (such as Caiaphas) was illegal.
  • A trial at night was illegal.  The Sanhedrin itself was only allowed to convene court during certain hours of the day, after morning devotional.
  • The Sanhedrin had not the power to originate the charges, only to judge after a case was brought to them.
  • A trial during Passover or on the eve of the Sabbath was illegal.
  • A trial resulting in the sentence of death could not take place in only one day.
  • Impartiality on the part of the judges was required.  Here the Sanhedrin was serving as both prosecutor and judge.
  • The charge of blasphemy, the focus of his entire conviction, was extremely loosely used.  Blasphemy was actually defined as cursing God's name, which Christ never did.
  • There must be two or more witnesses against the defendant, but the Sanhedrin "sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none [that witnessed his charge of blasphemy].  At the last came two false witnesses."  And all they testified that Christ had said was, "I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." (Matt. 26:59-61)  Or according to Mark, "many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together" (Mark 14:56).
  • It was illegal to use a man's confession of his own guilt as evidence against him.  Jesus knew this and "held his peace" when asked if he was God, until, according to Matthew, the high priest "adjured" him "by the living God." (Matt. 26:63).  In respect for the position of high priest, he finally answered, "I Am" (Mark 14:62, see also Matt. 26:64).  Jesus' conviction, therefore, was based solely upon his own testimony, his own "admission of guilt" that he was the Christ (Mark 14:62).  "Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, 'What need we any further witnesses?'" (Mark 14:63).  Well, yes, according to their own law, they most certainly did need further witnesses!
(James E. Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 645-648; also Harper-Collins Study Bible)

Pilate (Trial)

After the illegal nighttime trial, it appears that there was a formal trial before the Sanhedrin, although the details are uncertain.  In any case, following the Jewish trial, Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor over the province of Judea.  Pilate asked for the charge: "What accusation bring ye against this man?" (John 18:28-29).  They answered that there certainly was a good one: "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee" (v. 30).  Pilate replied, "You're Hebrews, he's a Hebrew, this is a Hebrew offence--Take him and judge him according to your Hebrew laws."  (See v. 31.)  But the Jewish leaders did not have the legal power to put him to death, which was what they wanted, so they needed the conviction and sentence of a Roman judge.

Their own conviction of Jesus, under Hebrew law, was that he had committed blasphemy.  But the Romans couldn't care less about that, so the Jews brought three false charges against him, tailor-made to incense a Roman leader:
  1. "perverting the nation" or forming a revolt
  2. "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar" or sedition
  3. "saying that he himself is Christ a King" (Luke 23:2).  A Hebrew could be king--Herod, for example--but must be appointed by the Romans (Harper-Collins).
When Pilate asked Christ about the accusation, he believed his reply that his kingdom was not of this world.  As Jesus said, "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight [for takeover with me]" (John 18:36).  And, indeed, there was no evidence of his forming a revolution since nobody in the world, at the present moment, seemed to be on his side.  Even when his disciples tried to fight the temple officers who took him from Gethsemane, Jesus had stopped them.

None of the chief priests or elders were personally present for this examination by Herod because they didn't want to "defile" themselves by entering a Gentile's home during the Passover.  So Pilate had to go back and forth between Christ and the Jewish mob outside.

Pilate found no criminal offense in him (John 18:38; Luke 23:4), but this inflamed the crowd (Luke 23:5).  So Pilate sent him to Herod, the Hebrew political leader (Luke 23:6-7) who was in town for the Passover.  Herod had sought unsuccessfully for the title "King of the Jews" from the Romans for himself.  Christ wouldn't answer a word to Herod to appease his curiousity, so he finally gave up, mocked him with his soldiers, and sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate called together the accusers so they could personally hear his verdict, "not guilty" (Luke 23:13-16).  The mob was infuriated to hear this declaration, and they scared Pilate.  He was a serious fence-sitter, afraid of both sides of the situation.  He believed Christ innocent, and possibly even had a small testimony of his holiness.  He was also afraid of convicting him because of a warning his wife had received in a dream (Matt. 27:19).  He knew the accusation was totally false (Matt. 27:18).

But, on the other hand, he was afraid of the Jews and they were the more immediate danger.  He had only been in office a short while and in that time had committed many blunders and acts of violence and offence against them.  The Roman government had a policy to be generally tolerant of occupied nations, and Pilate had not conformed to this.  Therefore, petitions had been previously sent to the Roman emporer by the Jews, including four of the Herodian princes, to have Pilate removed from office.  "He realized that his tenure was insecure, and he dreaded exposure.  Such wrongs had he wrought that when he would have done good, he was deterred through cowardly fear of the accusing past" (James E. Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 649).

It was a Jewish tradition that at Passover their governor could release one prisoner of their choice (Matt: 27:15; Mark 15:6; Luke 23:17; John 18:39). So Pilate tried to get out of this sticky situation by using their own custom to give the Jews a preposterous choice: letting them choose between Christ who was totally innocent and hadn't harmed a soul or been convicted of a crime, and Barrabas who was a murder involved in insurrection with no doubt as to his guilt.  Had they chosen Christ, they would have solved Pilate's problem, but they were so black of heart, they chose Barrabas.

Pilate said then, "What should I do with Jesus?  He's innocent."  "But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him" (Luke 23:21).  "The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7).

Although one of the hymns of the Passover sung that very week proclaimed to God, "We have no God but you" (Harper-Collins), when Pilate said, "Shall I crucify your King?" the chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15).

Crucifixion was a horrible, torturous death, as you can imagine.  In fact, death by crucifixion sometimes took as long as nine days (Illustrated Manners & Customs, p. 520).  Therefore, the Romans would weaken the person to make death quicker by scourging them, and also requiring them to carry their own cross, but it was only the crossbar that they carried: the stakes were permanently in place, as we will later see in a video (Harper-Collins).

It was customary to put the crime of the convict up on his cross as a deterrent to others (Harper-Collins).  It was unusual, however, to put it above the person on his cross (Matt: 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-20).  Pilate went to the extra care to post Christ's charge in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, so that everyone could read it.  The priests wanted the sign changed to read, "He said he was the King of the Jews," but Pilate, for once, stood up for his own belief and refused to change it.  So the charge symbolically became reversed, plainly convicting the Hebrews of killing their own king, "The King of Jews."

The Roman Soldiers

The soldiers then cast lots for his clothing (John 19:23-24).  The outer "garment" was a single long piece of cloth, which could be useful for other things if cut into pieces.  The "coat" was an ankle-length tunic, T-shaped, and woven in one piece--much more useful untorn (Harper-Collins).

"Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (meaning the soldiers who crucified him)" (Luke 23:34 with JST footnote).  Jesus many times accused the Jews of knowing exactly what they were doing.  But later, when Jesus died and the earth reacted in commotion "the centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27:54; also Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47-48).  (Although, we shall see a couple of lessons from  now, that even the Jews who called for Christ's crucifixion were offered his mercy.)

The Other Convicts

Jesus was hung between two thieves.  Matthew and Mark report that both of them reviled him, but Luke writes that one of them defended him (Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32; Luke 23:39-43).  So which was it?  Once again, the JST clarifies, although it is not found in the LDS edition:  All three in the JST agree with Luke's account. 

Friends of Jesus (Burial)

Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin who had been a follower of Christ, "but secretly for fear of the Jews." He had the power because of his position to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Christ (Matt. 27:57-58; Mark 15:42-43; Luke 23:50-52; John 19:38)

Nicodemus, also a member of the Sanhedrin and secret believer in Christ "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight" (John 19:39).  Myrrh is a dried resin from a tree, used as medicine, perfume, and in embalming the dead.  "So valuable has it been at times in ancient history that it has been equal in weight value to gold" (Wikipedia).  Aloe was an aromatic wood from a tree, not the succulent plant we refer to as aloe vera today.  Portions of the trunk heavily saturated with resinous substances where the wood has been attacked by fungi are particularly valuable.  It was used for perfume and incense.  (Here are 2 sources on that: (1)(2).)  Both myrrh and aloe would have been in powdered form (Harper-Collins). 

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, these substances of great value in healing, beautifying, and staving off the decay of a dead body are best created as a reaction to a wound in the tree, just as Christ's Atonement, the greatest source of healing, sanctifying, and overcoming death was created through his immense suffering and injury in the Garden and on the tree.  The amount Nicodemus brought was the equivalent of 75 lbs. today--much, much more than was necessary for a burial (Harper-Collins).  It was a gift of great honor, respect, and love.

Joseph offered a sepulchre he owned as a burial place for Christ.  It was unusual in that it had never been used before (John 19:42).  In a sepulchre, there was a niche or alcove cut in the wall with a shelf for the body to lie on.  Sepulchres were difficult to come by and were often reused, the bones from the previous occupant being put in a hole in the floor (Illustrated Manners and Customs, p. 521).  Christ's sepulchre had no one else's remains in the floor.

The Jewish Nation (Common People)

Pilate had literally washed his hands of the business, an action which decreased his legal liability, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see that ye do nothing to him.' Then answered all the people [the word translated here means more than just the mob of chief priests and elders, but the nation as a whole according to Harper-Collins] and said, 'His blood be on us, and on our children'" (Matt. 27:24, JST in italics, not included in the LDS edition).

This was a terrible cry which was, thirty years later, answered upon their heads and the heads of their children as, in that very spot, 3,600 Jews were victims of the fury of Rome.  Many were scourged and crucified right there, including the nobles, the chief priests and elders.  In the words of the historian Edersheim, "A few years more, and hundreds of crosses bore Jewish mangled bodies within sight of Jerusalem.  And still have these wanderers seemed to bear, from century to century, and from land to land, that burden of blood;  and still does it seem to weigh on them and their children" (Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 648).

However, it is good to remember that Jesus "died for all, not just for Jews: the righteous Messiah died for everyone who is unrighteous, which is to say, for everyone.  Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is a sinner.  By sinning, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, killed him" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 83).  We all may not have been there crying, "Crucify him," but "he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:5) and we all contributed to the agony which he suffered in order that we might be healed.

As he died, "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost" (Matt. 27:50, JST in italics, not in the LDS edition). 

And here comes the triumphal moment, the beginning of the happy ending which we will study and rejoice in during our next lesson:  "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom" (Matt. 27:51).  This veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.  Only the high priest was allowed to pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), to symbolically approach God and offer an atonement for his sins and the sins of the people.  Of course, this was a type of Christ.  Once Christ had died and offered the real Atonement, the veil was destroyed, symbolizing that now anyone could approach God himself and seek his own Atonement through the merits of Christ (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 84).

VIDEO PRESENTATION

You may want to end the class with the last 8-9 minutes of the poignant video "To This End Was I Born" from the Church's New Testament Video Presentations.  Begin the video or DVD at the spot where the disciples are singing the hymn at the end of the Last Supper, and end it after the stone is rolled over the sepulchre and the picture fades to black.  (The complete video segment is 16 minutes long.)

If you would like a different and thought-provoking ending to the movie, you can turn on a recording of the American spiritual "Were You There?" on a separate CD or mp3 player while fading out the sound on the video.  Do this at the point in the video when Christ is nearly at the top of the cross and the words will align very nicely with the images if you use a version of the song that is just over 3 minutes long.  It is on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's album "O Divine Redeemer" and the single mp3 is also available from i-Tunes for 99 cents.  Another gorgeous version (my favorite) is on the album "My Soul Delighteth: The Best of the Gibbons Family," produced by Deseret Book several years ago, and still available from Amazon.com, either new or used.  (The entire album is really beautiful and peaceful and worth the purchase price in my opinion.) 

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Testament Lesson #25 "Not My Will, But Thine, Be Done"

Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

Imagine standing at the bottom of a great canyon looking up at the cliff above.  The cliff is so high that you cannot even see the top.  Imagine that the people you love the most (your parents, grandparents, spouse, children...) are at the top of this cliff, and the only way that you will ever see them again is if you climb this cliff.  In fact, your very life depends upon getting to the top of the cliff.  At the bottom is a swiftly moving, muddy river, full of treacherous rapids, ready to sweep you away if you step away from the narrow bank, or if you fall from your climb.

On the other hand, you know that at the top of the cliff is not only the great joy of the reunion with your loved ones, but the most beautiful view imaginable, and the most glorious and happy existence.


Unfortunately, you are no climber.  You have never tackled even a small hill before, but now there is this huge rock face before you, and no way out but up.  You wonder how you ever got in such a predicament.  As you look around, however, you see that there are steps, fingerholds and toeholds, cut into the rock in a stairway as steep as a ladder going straight up.

So you put your hand in one crack, and you wedge your toes in another, and you start to push yourself up.  You climb and climb with all your might.  The rocks are slippery, though, and your hands get scraped and sore from the rocks, sometimes you can't see the next handhold, and then you start to slip.  Suddenly you realize that you are falling down, down, down, scraping all along the cliff side as you tumble down, and soon you will be in a bloody heap at the bottom.

OUR TERRIFYING FALLEN EXISTENCE

(Draw the following diagram and add to it as the lesson progresses.)

Here is the top of the cliff.  Here is where you started.  Here is the raging river.  Here is the climbing path.



What is this diagram?  It is the plan of salvation.




"The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam" (Mosiah 3:19).  Ever since we entered this mortal existence, we have found ourselves at the bottom of this cliff, inches away from the raging river.

As the scene stands, there is absolutely no way to succeed.  Every person who tries to climb this pathway is going to slip, or get tired, or suffer an injury, or be pulled down by someone else who is falling, or run out of handholds partway up, and they will all, every one, land in a broken heap at the bottom and be swept away to their deaths by the muddy, ferocious river.

That's not a very nice story, is it?  Fortunately, there is something missing from this picture.  And this brings us to the scriptures.

SOMEONE IS THERE TO SAVE US

"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.  And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.  And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them, and said unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch" (Mark 14:36-38 JST, p. 805 in the LDS Bible Appendix).

"And he went forward a little and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him" (Mark 14:35).  In the original language "prayed" here implies a repeated action; he begged several times (KBYU, "Our Savior in the Gospels" televised scripture discussions with BYU religion professors).

"And he said, Abba, Father..."  "Abba (Aramaic), a child's intimate address to its Father" (Harper-Collins Study Bible).  In the U.S., the equivalent would be "Daddy."

"...all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me; nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36).

"If...the Messiah and God the Father are one, how could their wills ever differ?  ...As a human being [Jesus] was in every respect...tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin.  'Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings.'  It was as a human being, not as God, that he experienced the process of learning to conform his will to his Father's will, since as God, who is omniscient, he did not need to 'learn.'" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 145-146)

Luke's version validates the idea that Jesus prayed repeatedly to have this trial removed from him.  "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.  And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:42-44).

But Christ completed the trial, he conquered the foe!  "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:16-19).

BACK TO THE FALL

So back to our cliff and our fall down, down, down, and our bloody hands and kness, and our bumps and bruises, and the certain death below.  What could save us from this fate?

Suppose when you started the climb, you strapped on a harness.



And then suppose you clipped it with a carabiner onto a sturdy rope which was being held most securely by someone incredibly strong at the top of the cliff who was watching your every move.  Then what would happen when your fingers slipped, or if the climb took more energy than you had, or if you had received an injury down by the river before you even started that made it impossible for you to climb well, or if you reached a point where you couldn't find a handhold?  Would you fall to certain death?  Never!  Not a chance!  As long as you kept your harness on and clipped to that rope, you could get right back on the rock.  That person at the top of the cliff could even pull you up a little higher to a good resting spot that you couldn't have reached yourself, and then you could get more strength to keep going.

Who is that person at the top?  Jesus Christ, our Savior, of course!  He is the only one who made it to the top of the hill.  It was unbelievably hard for him.  He was bruised and bloody and broken and exhausted and filled with terrible grief and loneliness as he made this awful climb all by himself in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of Calvary.  It was a terrible task, more terrible than we can ever imagine, and he had no rope.  But he did it, and who did he do it for?  You and me.

(Add to the diagram, but leave the scripture off until it comes up a little bit later in the lesson.)


The first step of our ascent is baptism.  As we make that step, we clip on the harness, the keeping of our covenants.  The river is the evils of the word, the wiles of Satan, the fallen existence in which we live.  The handholds and footholds on the cliff are the keeping of commandments, endurance of trials, efforts to become like Christ, following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  The rope which Christ holds out to us is the power of his Atonement, also known as Grace.

SAVED BY GRACE, OR SAVED BY WORKS?

When I was at a weeklong piano institute once, I was lined up with a born-again Christian roommate.  She came to me late one night and said, "You are a Mormon, aren't you?"  I said yes.  She said that her grandmother was a Mormon.  Her grandmother was the best person she knew in the whole world, the kindest, and the most Christ-like, yet once when she asked her grandmother whether she thought she was going to heaven, her grandmother said, "I don't know."  She just couldn't believe that her grandma, being so good, did not know whether she qualified to go to heaven!  She asked me why our religion would cause her grandmother to be uncertain about her salvation.

I understood the grandmother completely--I had felt exactly that way my whole life!  Fortunately, I had just recently read Stephen E. Robinson's Ensign article, "Believing Christ," which has since been expanded into a book.  The article had straightened out my understanding of the plan of salvation, and I was able to explain it to her.  I only wished I could have explained it to her grandmother.

The problem was that her grandmother (along with many of us) thought she had to climb that cliff all by herself.  She thought she had to do everything right, and never make a mistake, and then she might barely crawl up over the top.  But every time she came across an inadequacy or a mistake, the possibility seemed less likely.  She didn't understand what it meant to have faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

My roommate, however, had the opposite problem.  She thought that all you had to do was grab onto that rope, declare Christ as your Savior, and he would pull you all the way with no other effort of your own.

Each of them was halfway right.  It is "by grace we are saved after all we can do" (2 Ne. 25:23).  (Add the scripture to the diagram.)

A MAGNIFICENT COMBINATION

Question #1--What would be wrong with a plan in which we just climb and be good and do our best without the rope? 

We'll never make it!

"And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent [or all-powerful]" (Mosiah 3:17).

The steps do not go all the way to the top for us.  No matter how strong we are, no matter how righteous we are, no matter how hard we try, we can never get to the top on our own merits.

Question #2--What would be wrong with a plan in which we just accept Christ as our Savior, grab onto the rope, and let him pull us all the way to the top?

What happens to your legs when you climb?  They get stronger.

What happens to your heart when you try your very hardest?  It expands.

What happens when you hike instead of ride?  You have all kinds of wonderful experiences and you see all kinds of wonderful things.

What happens when you try every day to climb like Christ climbed and live like he lived and love like he loved?  You become more like him.

If you were just "beamed up," like on the old TV series "Star Trek," there would not be much point in the journey, would there?

To get to know Christ through prayer and scripture study and repentance and belief and trust and the testimony of the Holy Ghost while you obey the commandments and keep your covenants and serve your neighbors--That is how you use the rope and the stair.

So, to validate these concepts, let's turn to the scriptures and remind ourselves of the definition of Eternal Life.  "...to believe in [Jesus Christ]..." (take hold of the rope) "...and to endure to the end..." (keep climbing the ladder) "...which is Eternal Life" (2 Ne. 33:4).


THE SCOPE OF THE ATONEMENT

How far does the power of the Atonement extend?

Some people have been hurt by someone at the bottom of the cliff who should have been helping them.  Maybe even their parents mistreated them.  Now they are so damaged that they can hardly climb at all, and none of it is really their fault.  Is there any hope for them?

Some people are trying their best, but they just keep slipping up.  Each day they think they will be kind and loving and patient and exercise self-control, and every day they mess up again and blow up at their family members, or gossip about their neighbors, or treat their coworkers meanly, or return to their addiction.  Is there any hope for them?

Some people have gotten sick or injured partway up the stair, or maybe they were born with a defect.  Maybe they got cancer or they were hurt in a terrible car wreck or they have been afflicted by a mental illness, and now they are so sad and discouraged and overwhelmed, they cannot even see the next step.  Is there any hope for them?

Some people had good, kind parents, and family home evening, and scripture study every day, and partway up the path, they just got distracted by something down below and decided they would rather go swimming in the river or play on the beach than climb the cliff.  Is there any hope for them?

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).

"Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith:  Come unto me all ye ends of the earth..." (2 Ne. 26:25).

OTHER KINDS OF SORROWS


"Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5).

There are many types of sorrow.  It is wonderful that, through the Atonement, we can be forgiven of the stupid sins we commit, but the Atonement wipes away other types of tears, too.  Elder Bruce C. Hafen in his marvelous article, "Beauty For Ashes," in the April 1990 Ensign, wrote that "the degree of our personal fault for bad things that happen in our lives [is on] a continuum ranging from sin to adversity; the degree of our fault dropping from high at one end of the spectrum to zero at the other."


Elder Hafen writes, "Bitterness may taste the same, whatever its source, and it can destroy our peace, break our hearts, and separate us from God."

The purpose of the Atonement is to reunite us with God.  So which of these sorrows can the Atonement compensate for?  Every one of them!  (Circle the whole chart.)  Elder Hafen continues, "[The Atonement] is the healing power not only for sin, but also for carelessness, inadequacy, and all mortal bitterness.  The Atonement is not just for sinners."

WE ALL CAN REACH THE TOP

Jesus Christ can and will save anyone who will leave the world at the bottom of the cliff, get baptized, and begin the climb of obedience and covenant-keeping the best they can, and repent and pray and love with all their hearts and conform their will to his and rely on the rope of the Atonement to help them and lift them each and every step of the way.
 

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:13).

"Hast thou not known?  Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?  There is no searching of his understanding.  He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:  But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:28-31).

You may want to close the lesson with a soloist or the class singing "I Stand All Amazed" or "Come Unto Jesus."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New Testament Lesson #24 "This is Life Eternal"

John 16-17

THE GREATEST GIFTS

What is the greatest gift offered to men in the eternal scheme of things? 

The answer is in D&C 14:7:  "And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God."


What is the greatest gift available to men while they are mortals on the earth?

The answer was given by President Wilford Woodruff:  "Now, if you have the Holy Ghost with you—and every one ought to have—I can say unto you that there is no greater gift, there is no greater blessing, there is no greater testimony given to any man on earth. You may have the administration of angels; you may see many miracles; you may see many wonders in the earth; but I claim that the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon man"  (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, Chapter 5: "The Holy Ghost and Personal Revelation").


Elder Bruce R. McConkie also said that the greatest gifts we can receive are “the gift of the Holy Ghost in this life, and eternal life in the world to come; one is the greatest gift obtainable in mortality, the other in immortality” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–73, 2:435; quoted in John B. Dickson, "The Incomparable Gifts," Ensign, Feb. 1995).

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST (John 16)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is so important that after telling his disciples that he would be going away, Christ said to them (and I am using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible here because I think its translation makes the meaning clearer): 

"Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.  Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [Gift of the Holy Ghost] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears [from me], and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you."  (John 16:6-14 NRSV).

When Joseph Smith was asked by the President of the United States what made his church different than others, President Smith replied that our church "differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.  We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Teaching of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 97; also David A. Bednar, "Receive the Holy Ghost," Ensign, November 2010).

In 1847, Brigham Young had a marvelous dream in which the Prophet Joseph Smith appeared to him.  When Brigham asked whether he had a message for the brethren, Joseph said, “Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it...They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1846–1847, compiled by Elden J. Watson, Salt Lake City, 1971, page 529; quoted in James E. Faust, "The Gift of the Holy Ghost--A Sure Compass", Ensign, Apr. 1996).

In October of 1880, President Woodruff was visited in a vision by President Brigham Young, who had died three years earlier.  Guess what his message was?  "I want you to teach the people—and I want you to follow this counsel yourself—that they must labor and so live as to obtain the Holy Spirit, for without this you cannot build up the kingdom; without the Spirit of God you are in danger of walking in the dark, and in danger of failing to accomplish your calling as apostles and as elders in the church and kingdom of God.”

The Gift of the Holy Ghost and the ability to heed its direction is so important that two prophets came back from the Other Side to emphasize that message.

President Woodruff said, "The Church of God could not live 24 hours without the spirit of revelation."

This was the truth that Jesus Christ also knew, so he promised his Apostles that he would leave the Gift of the Holy Ghost with them:  "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.  And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:26-27).

WAIT...WHAT?  THE APOSTLES DIDN'T ALREADY HAVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST?

Why wouldn't the apostles, the special witnesses of Christ, already have had the Gift of the Holy Ghost?

Let's look at a history of the Gift of the Holy Ghost throughout the ages to see why this was something new at this time.

A HISTORY OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST

The Gift of the Holy Ghost was available both before and after Christ's ministry on earth.

"That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved--Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life, as well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son" (D&C 20:25-27).

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST BEFORE CHRIST'S MINISTRY

At the very beginning of time, the Gift of the Holy Ghost was available. 

"And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Moses 5:5).

Adam was baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost.  (See Moses 6:64-66.)  There are two ways in which the Gift of the Holy Ghost can be bestowed, and both require the Melchizedek Priesthood:  1) by the laying on of hands by one holding the Melchizedek Priesthood; 2) by descent straight from heaven if there is no priesthood holder on the earth.  The second instance is rare.  We find it in the case of Adam, the first man on earth, and in the case of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the first to receive the gift after the Great Apostacy (see JS-H 1:73).

Historically, the Melchizedek Priesthood was not passed on by lineage from father to son as the Aaronic Priesthood was, but individually by calling, according to personal righteousness.  (See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 478.)  The body of the church was left with only the Aaronic Priesthood in the time of Moses, although individual prophets may have received it possibly in a similar manner to the way Joseph Smith did, by the visitation of angelic or translated beings or by the laying on of hands by another singular prophet upon the earth.  We have no record regarding this, so we don't know for sure, but it seems likely considering the power that some prophets exhibited.

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST IN AMERICA

The Nephites left Jerusalem and sailed to America in 600 B.C.  Whether Lehi was one of those few prophets who held the Melchizedek Priesthood before he left Jerusalem, or whether it was bestowed upon someone among the Nephites after that time is unknown, but it was present among them at the time of Alma.  Alma, in calling the Nephites to repentance, stated that they had been "favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people," and one of those favors was the gift of the Holy Ghost.  (See Alma 9:20-21.)

Alma testified of many who were ordained high priests "after the order of the Son," which is the original name for the Melchizedek Priesthood (see JST Gen. 14:25-28) and it seems within the context of his preaching that he was speaking of Nephite high priests, and offering that opportunity to Nephites who would repent.  (See Alma 13:1-14.)

Alma certainly held the Melchizedek Priesthood, since he "set apart" his fellow missionaries as they left to reclaim the apostate Zoramites by "clapping" his hands upon them, after which "they were filled with the Holy Spirit."  (See Alma 31:36.)

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST AFTER CHRIST'S MINISTRY

At the Day of Pentacost, after many powerful manifestations of the Holy Ghost, "Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

Interestingly, the Samaritans whose religion and race had become corrupted and who were therefore looked down upon by the Jews, were some of the first converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, having heard and believed the testimony of the woman at the well (See John 4), and were also some of the first to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

"Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: "For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:14-17).  Lineage, past history, and outward appearances do not matter to God, only the sincerity of the heart.

Then, after Saul was struck blind by the Lord as he went about persecuting the Saints, he was brought unto "a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias," and Ananias restored his sight, baptized him, and bestowed upon him the Holy Ghost.  (See Acts 9:1-18.)

Later, Saul, now renamed Paul, was recorded as rebaptizing and then conferring the Gift of the Holy Ghost on twelve disciples who were in Ephesus.  (See Acts 19:1-7.)  Possibly they were local Church leadership who would then be able to confer the Gift upon their members.

Of course, there are many latter-day scriptures about the Gift of the Holy Ghost being present in the restored Church.  (See, for example, JS-H 1:69-73; D&C 20:41; D&C 33:15; D&C 68:25; D&C 84:64.)

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE NEXT LIFE

It is even necessary for those who join the Church in the next life to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  Not only are we baptized vicariously for the dead, but we also receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost for the dead.  (See D&C 138:32-33.)

So if the Gift of the Holy Ghost is that important, why was it not present during the ministry of Christ?

THE HOLY GHOST DURING CHRIST'S MINISTRY

The power of the Holy Ghost has been available in all times, to all peoples (1 Ne. 10:17-18).  It is through the Spirit that the testimony of Christ is received.  It is the "whisperings" and "promptings" that good people of all races, religions, and ages, including the Dark Ages, have responded to in order to further God's work in their own sphere.  But the Melchizedek Priesthood, as stated above, left the earth with Moses, and so did the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  John the Baptist was a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, as was his father before him, which is why he "baptized with water only, not the Holy Ghost" (Acts 1:5).  Jesus, when he was baptized of John, received the Gift of the Holy Ghost straight from Heaven, not through John (Luke 3:22; 2 Ne. 31:8).

The Gift of the Holy Ghost was not given to the disciples in Jesus' time "because that Jesus was not yet glorified, for the Holy Ghost was promised unto them who believe, after that Jesus was glorified" (John 7:39, with JST footnote).

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith stated that “The disciples of Jesus did not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost while he was with them. The reason for this, in part at least, was due to the fact that they had with them to guide and teach them the second member of the Godhead, even Jesus himself. While he was with them there was no occasion for them to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Before the Savior left them, he promised to send them the Comforter, or Holy Ghost.” ( Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:159, quoted in Institute Manual, section 24-6.)

When Jesus returned to the earth after his resurrection, he bestowed the Gift of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples.  "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.  And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.  Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.  Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:19-22).  (So maybe there are actually three ways of bestowing the Holy Ghost, if this is a correct translation--being breathed upon by Christ being the third way.)

When promising this Gift to his disciples during the days before his death, the Savior said, "The comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:26-27).  This same gift of peace he has left with us in our day, even the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost can pass messages to us so true that it is as if Jesus were here personally directing our lives.  The Holy Ghost is more like a relay station than a mutual friend.  "He will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.  He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14).

President Faust aptly framed the wonder and the glory of this gift when he said, "If in this life we cannot live in the presence of the Savior as did Simon Peter, James, John, Mary, Martha, and the others, then the gift of the Holy Ghost can be our Comforter and sure compass.

"I testify that as we mature spiritually under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, our sense of personal worth, of belonging, and of identity increases. I further testify that I would rather have every person enjoy the Spirit of the Holy Ghost than any other association, for they will be led by that Spirit to light and truth and pure intelligence, which can carry them back into the presence of God" ("The Gift of the Holy Ghost--A Sure Compass", Ensign, April 1996).

THE GREAT INTERCESSORY PRAYER (John 17)

After teaching of and promising the Gift of the Holy Ghost, Jesus offered a prayer in behalf of his followers--a blessing upon them before he left.

(All of the following comments in blue come from a Messianic Jewish scholar, David H. Stern, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 203-204I could not find a good LDS commentary on the intercessary prayer, but Mr. Stern's comments align with LDS doctrine beautifully.)

"In this intercessory prayer we see deeply into the Messiah's heart--into the intimacy of the relationship between the Son and the Father on the one hand, and between the Son and his [disciples] on the other.  The depth of this prayer exceeds that possible to any mere human; it presupposes that Yeshua [Jesus] came forth from God, had the Father's glory before the world existed (v. 5), shares all that belongs to the Father (v. 10), can give the Father's glory to believers (v. 22), is eternal (v. 5, 24) and has uniquely intimate knowledge of the Father (v. 25).

V. 1-3: "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that the Son also may glorify thee; As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

"Eternal life is not merely survival after death, which everyone shares, but having intimate "knowledge" of the Father and the Son.  The Hebrew word for "knowledge" [used here] is "da'at," [and] denotes not only the comprehending of the acts and circumstances of the world, but also the most intimate experiencing of the object of knowledge."  It is knowledge gained through experience. 

According to LDS.org Gospel Study, "Eternal life is the phrase used in scripture to define the quality of life that our Eternal Father lives."

V. 4-5: "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was."

"This verse teaches the pre-existence of the Messiah."

Skipping ahead--

V. 14-16: "I have given [my disciples] thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."

"Believers are expected to be involved in...repairing the world.  [They] are not to separate themselves altogether, but to act like yeast causing the world's dough to rise...not being conquered by evil but conquering it with good.

V. 17: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

"To sanctify is to separate for holiness, to set apart for God.  This separateness is not a physical removal from other people and their concerns but a spiritual relocation into God's sphere of being."

V. 18-20: "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word."

"Here Yeshua is praying for all the millions down through the centuries who have come to trust in him because these twelve faithfully communicated the Gospel.  The ensuing verses are Yeshua's one prayer specifically for us."

V. 21-23: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."

The Greek word translated here as "in" is "hard to convey by a single English word, for it can mean 'in the sphere of, in connection with, within, inside, by, on, near, among, with.'  Overall, the word conveys intimacy and involvement: Yeshua and the Father are intimately involved and concerned with each other's existence, even to the point of being 'one.'  Thus Yeshua prays that the unity between believers and himself, between believers and the Father and between believers and other believers will have the same character as the unity between himself and the Father."  In LDS terms, Jesus is praying for a Zion people!

V. 24-26:  "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.  And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou has loved me may be in them, and I in them."

I think there is something highly significant about names that we of the present century do not comprehend.  All names in the Bible have meanings which relate to the character of the person, the purpose of his or her life, and/or the circumstances in which he or she is found.  For example, in Ruth 1:20, after the deaths of her husband and sons, Naomi (which means "pleasant") says she must now be called Mara (which means "bitter").  Christ changed the name of Simon, the first apostle, whose name meant "to hear, or to be heard," to Peter, which meant "rock."  Even though Christ changed his name, the first name did not entirely go away, and very often he was called Simon Peter.  Considering that Joseph Smith said that the "rock" upon which Christ would build his church was not Peter himself, but the revelation that Peter would receive to guide the church, it is interesting that "to hear, or to be heard" was retained as a part of his name.  He was the one who would "hear" the word of the Lord and "be heard" as he taught it to the people through the "rock" of revelation!

So when Christ said "I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it," he meant he had declared unto them his Father's character, his mission, his purpose.  The next word in the verse is "that", which is a much more significant word than we might think: it links a cause to an effect.  His declaring his Father's name is what would bring seekers to that intimate knowledge of God, or a state of unity in which "the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."

The way that he declared his Father's name is found in v. 6-8:  "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.  Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.  For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me."  It was through his being one with the Father and then acting on the earth as the Father would, serving all with great love and power that his disciples gained knowledge of their Father in Heaven.

We too can receive the great blessings Christ desired for us in his intercessary prayer:

V. 9-13:   "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.  And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee.  Holy Father, keep through thine own name [by demonstrating thy character, thy purpose, thy power] those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name [by demonstrating thy character, thy purpose, thy power]; those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.  And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves."

So if we desire to be beneficiaries of this great intercessory prayer, this is what we must do:  We must take upon us the name of Christ, meaning we must take upon us his character, his mission, his purpose.  We become his kin.  Then we must serve and teach others with great love and power as he would.  That is what it means to take upon us his name.

Fortunately, we have the marvelous Gift of the Holy Ghost, which makes it possible!  Through the Holy Ghost, we can know the will of the Lord.  Through the Holy Ghost, we can comprehend the word of the Lord.  Through the Holy Ghost, we can feel and share the love of God.  Through the Holy Ghost, we can act with great power.  Through the Holy Ghost, we can attain a state of godly peace and joy, even while in our mortal life.

Who wouldn't want that?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Question for You

Just a quick question to make sure I am meeting your needs:  Are my lessons being posted at least a week before you need to give them?

And thanks for all your kind comments!  I so appreciate them!  Besides being very gratifying for me, they lend a sense of community between all of us as we teach the same lessons all over the world.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New Testament Lesson #23 "Love One Another, As I Have Loved You"

Luke 22:1-38; John 13-15

ATTENTION ACTIVITY

(If you have access to rectangular children's blocks, or wooden 2x4's that are each about 6 inches in length, you can build this pyramid.  If not, you can draw it on the board.)
Which block is the most important? 

(Knock off the top block and nothing happens.  Then rebuild or redraw the pyramid, inverted.)


Which block is the most important now?

(Flick off the same block--now on the bottom--and the whole pyramid collapses.)

This is what happens when the greatest becomes the least.  His actual importance (or influence) becomes much greater.  This was the main topic of Christ's last counsel to his Apostles during his last week on the earth.

WHO IS THE GREATEST?

Jesus wanted to eat the Passover Feast with his disciples, his last meal with them before he died.  Apparently none of them had a safe place for this in the City of Jerusalem, which was now dangerous for Christ.  So Peter and John asked, "Where wilt thou that we prepare?  And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.  And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?  And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready" (Luke 22:9-12).  The disciples did as they were told and very easily discerned who they should ask, even in the great city bustling with Passover pilgrims, because a man bearing a pitcher of water was a highly unusual sight. (Please check out Michaela Stephen's great insight on this in the comments below the post.)

As they sat to eat, there was a dispute among the disciples about who was the greatest among them (Luke 22:24).  Possibly this was because of the traditional seating arrangements at the Passover table.  Jesus was the honored guest and so it would have been appropriate for the next in authority to sit next to him. 

It seems a petty deal for the Apostles of the Lord to worry about, but maybe two considerations make it seem not quite so silly.  One is that Jesus was continually telling them that he would be dying, and he had just barely restated that prophecy.  Naturally they would have wondered then, who would be the leader when he left?  The other consideration is that the Apostles likely were not the aged, wizened, bearded men picture in all the paintings.  "Most lived into the third and fourth quarter of the century [so] they must have been only teenagers when they first took up Christ's call" (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 525).  The New Testament often depicts them as being impetuous--Peter and John especially--so they were likely very young and inexperienced.

CHRIST'S VISUAL/VERBAL/TACTILE ANSWER

"[Jesus] said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.  But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.  For whether is greater [in the eyes of the world], he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth?  Is not he that sitteth at meat?  but I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke 22:25-27).

Christ actually had been trying to teach this to his disciples on many occasions before.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all recorded him saying that one must become as a little child in order to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:32; 18:1-4; Mark 9:33-36; Luke 9:46-48).  And all four gospel writers record him telling them to find their lives by losing them in service (Matt. 10:39; 16:25-27; Luke 9:24; 17:33; Mark 8:35; John 12:25), but apparently it hadn't quite stuck.  So this time he added a terrific visual, tactile aid they could not forget.

It is helpful to understand the differences between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Gospel of John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all wrote their books about Jesus' ministry before John wrote his.  When John was writing, much later, he very likely had the other three texts in front of him as a reference.  Therefore he usually did not write the same details they wrote, but filled in things he noticed were missing, particularly things that were important for the members of the Church to understand.  (See Bible Dictionary, "Harmony of the Gospels" for a chart that illustrates this.)  This is one of these occasions. 

And this is what John wrote:

"Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end"  (John 13:1).

"He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.  After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (John 13:4-5).



This was possibly a new ordinance Christ was introducing to his disciples, probably related to some of our temple ordinances today, although not a lot of detail is given about that.  (It is alluded to in the JST Appendix to the Bible, p. 809, in the John 13:8-10 entry.)  But even if it was a ceremonial washing, he did not put on high-priestly robes.  Instead he stripped himself down to take on the appearance of a Roman slave.  The Jews were so modest that what they called "naked" was to have one's elbows and knees showing, so by this shocking state of un-dress, Jesus got the Apostles' attention in a way they would not soon forget.  His actions actually caused Peter to recoil and protest, "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (John 13:8).  Jesus then explained that he was offering a spiritual cleansing (vs. 8-11), and that he was trying to teach them a vital lesson.

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?  Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them"  (John 13:12-17).

CHRIST'S MODEL OF HIERARCHY

Jesus clearly illustrated to them that God, the greatest of all, is a servant, not a boss.  And it's true:  He issues commandments for our happiness, but he never forces us to do anything.  Yet he is always there ready to help us when we ask.

Church positions, such as theirs or ours or anybody else's, are opportunities to practice this type of service.  Our roles in our families, in our neighborhoods, and even in our workplaces also give us these opportunities.  What we might consider the "highest" position in a ward is the bishop, right?  But the Greek word from which the word bishop came means literally, "chief slave."

Christ was warning us that we must not turn a service position into a status position.

(Credit for this model goes to Logan Institute teacher, Rhett James.)

During the years that my older children were in elementary school, we had a school secretary and a school custodian who were both nearing retirement.  The secretary was famous for refusing to help unless it was part of her job.  The parents, students and even teachers learned to tiptoe around her. 

The custodian, however, contributed to every activity.  If we were setting up chairs for the PTA, Gary put down his broom and took over.  If we had a meeting after school, he stayed and helped with the setup.  If we couldn't get the microphone to work, he'd fiddle with it until it did.  When one of my children was falsely accused of pulling the fire alarm, he jumped to his defense because he knew the children well enough to know that although this child might have enjoyed pulling the fire alarm, he wouldn't have lied about it if he had.  He loved the kids, he loved the teachers, and he loved the parents.  He was everywhere, offering his service.  If we needed help with anything, we could rely upon Gary and we could know that he would never be annoyed by our asking.

Guess which one we sorely missed when they both retired?  It was a little like the collapsing inverted pyramid when the custodian left.

CHRIST AS THE LEAST

Christ was the greatest of all who ever lived on earth, yet he offered himself as the servant to every single one of them.  He lived his ministry upon the earth as a service, healing, blessing and teaching great truths, and then he gave his great sacrifice, the Atonement, which allows every one of us the opportunity to be resurrected, to repent, and to live with and become like God.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

Jesus commanded his disciples to follow this model.  "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35).

He encouraged his Apostles by telling them the immediate result, while still here on earth, of following his model of love and service:  "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:10).

Wait a minute!  Does God only love us when we keep his commandments?  Isn't his love unconditional?

The answer is that we are always loved, but we can only abide or live in that love, i.e. feel its effects in our lives and character, when we are obedient to the commandments.  If we don't keep his commandments, we are "beyond feeling"--we don't experience the comfort of his love even though it is there.

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11).  If we abide in God's love, our joy will be full.  We abide in God's love by keeping his commandments.  And what are the commandments? "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13).

Our lives will be calmer, happier, less stressful, more joyful, if we can only love God and our fellow man well and in every situation.  We can die for our friends as Christ did, or we can live for our friends, as John "The Beloved" is still doing--either way we are laying down our life for them.  Dying seems like the ultimate sacrifice (and in Christ's case that is actually true), but living for your friends has its own challenges in that you have to keep doing it again, day after day, placing yourself at the bottom of the pyramid.

USING THE SACRAMENT TO SANCTIFY OURSELVES

At the Last Supper, Christ introduced the sacrament, as his "parting gift," something significant with which to remember him.  (Credit goes to my friend LeAnn Whitesides for that idea.)  Michael Wilcox also looks on it as an opportunity to "breathe heavenly air" when we experience that "longing for home" mentioned in the hymn "More Holiness Give Me" (Of These Emblems: Coming Closer to Christ through the Sacrament, p.5).

"And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.  Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament [covenant] in my blood which is shed for you" (Luke 22:19-20).

In D&C 27:2 we are given a clarification:  "[It is to remember] my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins."

"This verse indicates the two main things Christ did for us that we are to remember.  Jesus laid down His body that He might take it up again and thus bring to us all the gift of the Resurrection.  He also shed His blood that we might receive a remission of our sins through the compassion and mercy of the Atonement...As we partake of the sacrament we are invited to ponder, receive hope, and be comforted by the twin thoughts of Christ's dual victory over the two deaths...The sacrament is a memorial of both gratitude and hope" (Wilcox, p. 4-10).  The broken bread can remind us of the broken flesh of his body, which brought us the hope of resurrection.  The water can remind us of the blood which flowed from every pore as he suffered for our sins, offering us the hope of peace through repentance in this life and sanctification for Eternal Life.

We can also use the sacrament as a weekly reminder to ponder Christ's model of serving with love and consider how we could better use it in our lives this very week, this very day, this very hour.  Every few minutes of our day we are given the opportunity to choose between service or status.  With every opportunity we use to fit ourselves into the service position, we will become just a little more like Christ.

THE PROMISE TO RETURN

In Chapter 14 of John, Jesus helped to prepare his Apostles for his coming death by letting them know He would not be gone for good, and that, in the meantime his influence would remain. 

Note: We'll discuss the gift of the Comforter in more depth with the next lesson.) 

First he said, "Let not your heart be troubled...I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also.  And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know" (John 14:1-4)

Then he said, "I will not leave you comfortless:  I will come to you" (John 14:18).

And then, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).

And, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23).

And finally the grand promise, which circles back to the first, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid"  (John 14:27).

What he was telling them is a great and marvelous truth that is a comfort to us as well:  the struggling Kingdom of God on earth would be (and is now) linked with the Kingdom of God in Heaven.  We are never separated from the love of Christ.  (See Romans 8:35-39.)  Through our Christ-like service to all around us, and through our weekly sanctification at the sacrament table, we draw our earthly existence closer to heaven.


Elder Holland gave a beautiful conference address on the sacrament with very practical ways to remember Christ in October 1995.  Read it here.