Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Testament Lesson #2 "My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord"

Luke 1; Matthew 1

Preparation:  Make cards with one of each of the following names on them: Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, Mary, Joseph.  Tape the cards under chairs in the classroom.  (If you typically have a lot of empty chairs in your room, this might not work as well.  In that case, you can either just pass them around, or have people look under all the chairs near them until all the cards are found.  Cards under the chairs would work better with teenagers or young adults rather than older people who may have a hard time kneeling down or bending over.)


Ask the class to check under their chairs for a card listing one of the first Christians in the New Testament.  Ask those who have cards to think of something to share about this person; something they admire, something interesting they know, whatever.  (If someone doesn't want to participate, let them give the card to another.  Sunday School should be a place where people feel comfortable.  Those who don't read well or are afraid to speak out shouldn't be afraid to come to class.)  If your class is not terribly knowledgeable about scriptural figures, you can list a scripture on the board for each of the names (from the notes below), and give them a few minutes to read about their person and learn something to share.  Use the ideas below to supplement what the class members share.  You can discuss the individuals in any order that the class members choose.


Read Luke 1:5-10.  "In the court of the priests stood the great altar of unhewn stones whereon the sacred sacrifices were offered; this was open to the view of the people.  Entrance was gained to the Holy Place through two great gold-plated doors.  In this sanctuary were the two tables--one of marble, one of gold--on which the priests laid the candlestick with its seven lamps and, most importantly, the altar of incense.

"It was into this sacred sanctuary that Zacharias went, accompanied by another priest who bore burning coals taken from the altar of sacrifice; these he spread upon the altar of incense and then withdrew.  It then became the privilege of [Zacharias] to sprinkle the incense on the burning coals, that the ascending smoke and the odor might typify the ascending prayers of all Israel"  (McConkie, p. 307)

Keep in mind it had been 400 years or so since Malachi, the last prophet we have record of in the Old Testament, had been on the earth, and we don't know of any angelic ministrations that had happened in the interim.  So those people undoubtedly thought such things were in the past.  (See Talmadge, p. 77.)

Read Luke 1:11-13.  "What prayers did Zacharias make on this occasion?  Certainly not, as so many have assumed, prayers that Elisabeth should bear a son, though such in days past had been the subject of the priest's faith-filled importunings.  This was not the occasion for private, but for public prayers.  He was acting for and on behalf of all Israel, not for himself and Elisabeth alone.  And Israel's prayer was for redemption, for deliverance from the Gentile yoke, for the coming of their Messiah, for freedom from sin.  The prayers of the one who burned the incense were the prelude to the sacrificial offering itself, which was made to bring the people in tune with the Infinite, through the forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of their lives.  'And the whole multitude of the people were praying without [meaning, outside] at the time of incense'--all praying, with one heart and one mind, the same things that were being expressed formally, and officially, by the one whose lot it was to sprinkle the incense in the Holy Place." (McConkie, p. 307-308)  So why did the angel say, "Thy prayer is heard and thy wife shall bear a son," if he wasn't then praying for a son?  Because of the son's role:  Read Luke 1:16-17.

"The last words Zacharias had uttered prior to the influction of dumbness were words of doubt and unbelief...The words with which he broke his long silence were words of praise unto God in whom he had all assurances, words that were as a sign to all who heard, and the fame whereof spread throughout the region"  (Talmadge, p. 79).

Read Luke 1:18-20.  But this sign made the visitation much more obvious to the people.  When Zacharias emerged deaf and dumb, it was a testimony to everyone, in addition to what he might have told them.  So maybe that was part of the reason that the angel was so hard on him.

Zacharias died a martyr.  Jesus blasted the Jews for it: "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel [the first martyr] unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias [the most recent martyr], whom ye slew between the temple and the altar" (Matt. 23:34-35).  It is confusing because the prophet Zechariah of the Old Testament was killed in the same manner and his father was named Barachias.  But Zacharias' father must have had the same name, because Joseph Smith specifies that this Zacharias is John the Baptist's father:

"When Herod's edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey.  When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, [he] was slain by Herod's order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said" (Smith, p. 261).

Zacharias' testimony is recorded in Luke 1:68-79.  It has been set to music and performed over the centuries in the Roman Catholic Church under the title "The Benedictus."  Add in the JST change that is not included in the LDS Bible for verse 77 and an additional insight is gained:  "...salvation unto his people by baptism for the remission of their sins."  (If you would like to know how to find JST changes that are not in our LDS edition, follow this link to a previous post on the JST.)


Read Luke 1:5-7; 24-27; 39-45; 56-60 for Elizabeth's story.  Elizabeth was both the daughter and the wife of a priest.  She was righteous before God and blameless.  She was childless until old age.  We know that she also knew that the baby should be named John, whether from the Spirit or from her husband.  We know she had an intimate relationship with Mary (Luke 1:40-45).  She had loving and supportive family and friends (Luke 1:58).  We know from Joseph Smith that she raised her little boy, John, in hiding in the wilderness without her husband.  (See notes on Zachariah.)  We have her testimony (Luke 1:42-45).


The scriptures specifically tell us that John was of priestly descent through both parents.  "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth" (Luke 1:5).  "This lineage was essential, since John was the embodiment of the law of Moses, designed to prepare the way for the Messiah and make ready a people to receive him" (BD, p. 714).  There was never any doubt in the Jews' minds that John had priesthood authority, and this created big problems for those who did not want to believe his witness.  When the chief priests and elders challenged Christ's authority, He had only to refer them to John's authority to flummox them.  They could not publicly doubt John's authority, as it was fully established.  Yet, if they acknowledged it, they would also have to acknowledge his testimony of Christ as the Son of God.  So they did not answer at all.  (See Matt. 21:23-27.)

Why was it so important that the baby be named John, and not Zacharias?  Couldn't he just as well have been "Zacharias the Baptist?"  Well, just as there is a meaning for every number for the Hebrews, there is also a meaning for every name.  The name John, Jochanan in Hebrew, means "the grace or mercy of Jehovah."  John was foreordained to be the one who would go forth ahead of Jehovah to proclaim his grace and mercy.  (See McConkie, p. 335)

What do we know about John's childhood?  We know he was raised in the wilderness.  And modern-day revelation tells us more fascinating details.  "And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.  For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power" (D&C 84:26-28).

John was the forerunner in almost every instance.  He was born just before Christ and testified of Him even from the womb, as he leapt in His presence.  He started his ministry before Christ started his, declaring that there would be a greater One to come.  He laid down his life for the testimony of Jesus before Jesus died, and therefore he was also the forerunner into paradise to announce that the captive spirits would soon be free.  And in the final dispensation, ours, he came again to prepare the way for the Second Coming by restoring the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth so that others could be baptists.  (See McConkie, p. 302)

So John has ministered in three dispensations on the earth:  "He was the last of the prophets under the law of Moses, he was the first of the New Testament prophets, and he brought the Aaronic Priesthood to the dispensation of the fullness of times."  (BD, p. 715)

Let's read what John the Beloved wrote about John the Baptist:  "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came into the world for a witness, to bear witness of the light, to bear record of the gospel through the Son, unto all, that through him men might believe.  He was not that light, but came to bear witness of that light, which was the true light, which lighteth every man who cometh into the world; Even the Son of God.  He who was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" (JST John 1:6-10 in the Bible Appendix).

John the Baptist's testimony of Jesus Christ is found in the same scriptural location, JST John 1:15-33.


Read Matthew 1:18-25 for information about Joseph.  Matthew and Luke both give genealogies of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38).  The genealogies are different, but this only testifies to their validity.  The genealogy of Matthew is the sequence of the legal successors to the throne of David.  The account from Luke is a personal pedigree of actual father/son relationships, also demonstrating descendence from David.  Both of them offer claim to the throne.  Luke's record is thought to be the pedigree of Mary even though it is Joseph's name that is mentioned, and Matthew's is thought to be Joseph's.  Where in Matthew it says Joseph's father is Jacob, Luke says Joseph's father is Heli.  Jacob and Heli were brothers, and Mary and Joseph, their children, were therefore first cousins.  Elder McConkie thinks Jacob was Joseph's father-in-law and Mary's father (McConkie, p. 316).  Never did the Jews accuse Jesus of being ineligible to be the Messiah based on his heritage.  With the great emphasis that the Jews placed on genealogy, this testifies that his genealogy correctly placed him as King of the Jews (Talmadge, p. 86-87).


Mary's history is found in Luke 1:26-45, and Luke 2.  "Jesus Christ was to be born of mortal woman, but was not directly the offspring of mortal man, except so far as his mother was the daughter of both man and woman.  In our Lord alone has been fulfilled the word of God spoke in relation to the fall of Adam that the seed of the woman should have power to overcome Satan by bruising the serpent's head" (Talmadge, p. 83).  (See Genesis 3:15 and Moses 1:21.)

"In respect to place, condition, and general environment, Gabriel's annunciation to Zacharias offers strong contrast to the delivery of his message to Mary.  The prospective forerunner of the Lord was announced to his father within the magnificent temple, and in a place the most exclusively sacred save one other in the Holy House, under the light shed from the golden candlestick, and further illumined by the glow of living coals on the altar of gold; the Messiah was announced to His mother in a small town far from the capital and the temple, most probably within the walls of a simple Galilean cottage" (Talmadge, p. 82).

Her testimony is preserved in Luke and, like Zacharias', has been set to music and performed many times over the centuries in many Christian churches under the title "The Magnificat."  It is found in Luke 1:46-55.


We have a written testimony from each one of these first five great Christians except Joseph, and his testimony is manifest in his works.  How did all of these great early saints gain their testimonies in these unbelievable circumstances?  Through the same power by which you and I gain ours and continue to strengthen them:  The power of the Holy Ghost.  John, as we read in both Luke 1:15 and D&C 84:27 "was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb," and that is how he knew that the unborn Christ was near.  Elizabeth, when she greeted Mary "was filled with the Holy Ghost" (Luke 1:41) and that is how she knew.  Zacharias was "filled with the Holy Ghost" at the naming of his child (Luke 1:67).  Mary, Joseph and Zacharias all had the additional privilege of seeing an angel, but even seeing an angel does not necessarily give a person a testimony--Laman and Lemuel saw an angel and it made no difference to them (1 Nephi 3:29-31).  We don't need to see an angel to know that Jesus is the Christ, and that His gospel is the Way; we have the Holy Ghost, and that's all we need. 

"When a man has the manifestation of the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased.  It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force.  A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase" (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter 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. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:13-18).  What is "this rock?" Joseph Smith asked.  He answered his own question:  revelation through the Holy Ghost.  (See Smith, p. 274.)

Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 1
James E. Talmadge, Jesus The Christ
Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Bible Dictionary


Brent and Ashley said...

I'm currently in Iraq and was searching for supplimentary info for next week's lesson that I get to teach. Great stuff, thanks for your efforts. I'm sure my guys will like it.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

I'm so glad I could help the members of our military!!! Thank you for your service. I have a son in the Army, currently stationed in Germany--Blackhawk Brigade. Give the guys my love!

Nanette said...

Nancy, I live in Eastern Oregon, and have the blessing of teaching the teenagers in my ward. You have some wonderful stuff that I think the kids will find interesting. Thank you. I am a Cache Valley girl myself. I miss it so much!

Kara P said...

Thank you for your good ideas! I have a BIG class of 14, 15 and 16 year olds. This is a great way to jump into the New Testament.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, you help me every week with my Sunday school class. I teach the YSA in Florida, Thank you for taking the time to post these wonderful gospel messages, they are indeed helpful:)

Linda C said...

Thanks,'re a wonder!

Unknown said...

I teach the Gospel Doctrine class for my ward and have used your lessons to give me thought and ideas on how to present my own lessons. I appreciate you and your insights as this calling as has been a stretch for me and has pulled me out of a rut more than once!