Sunday, February 17, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 5; Luke 6

Come Follow Me - Matthew 5; Luke 6

In these two chapters, we study the beginnings of Jesus' first Sermons. Scholars disagree on whether the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke) were originally the same sermon or not. While there are similarities, there are major differences.

Matthew's Sermon is a spiritual discourse. It views Christ as the King of the Jews, and as King, he describes what the residents of his kingdom are like.

Christ in red and blue robes, sitting on a large rock and teaching, while a large group of people sit around Him listening to His words.

Luke's Sermon

Meanwhile, Luke focuses on issues that relate to the Gentiles, who would not understand the Mosaic Law (eye for an eye, adultery/lusting, etc), but would understand social justice (caring for those who are poor).  For Luke, it isn't a description of who merits the kingdom, but divides the righteous from the wicked. The poor (not poor in spirit, but those living in poverty) will receive the kingdom. The poor, regardless of their actions, works, etc., have a ticket into God's kingdom. With Christ, the hungry will literally be fed, which we find later when he feeds the multitudes. Those who mourn/weep, shall laugh and have joy.

Insightful are the woes or curses that Luke adds. They are the exact opposite of the blessings given. The rich, those who are not hungry, those who laugh now, and those who are accepted by the people, shall all be rejected.  Because of his focus on division between those well off and those who suffer, many Bible students only focus on Matthew's sermon today. I do believe there is greater value in Matthew's sermon, which focuses on the spiritual inner workings of mankind, rather than on a physical need of humans to have the comforts of life. In this instance, Jesus seems to be attacking the wealthy and comfortable, while preserving his kingdom only for those who suffer.  And yet, the gospel promises us help and joy (laughter) not only in the next life, but also in this one.

As it is, the word "poor" that is used here can also mean "pious." In fact, the two terms were often seen together, just as "rich" and "wicked" tend to be synonymous.  

Matthew's Sermon

For Matthew, the Beatitudes are a Prologue to the rest of his sermon. They set the stage for his comparing the Law of Moses with his own set of higher Laws. The Law of Moses established what was necessary to dwell in the Land of Israel. Jesus' Law established what was necessary for living in the Land of Christ's Kingdom.  The Mosaic Law is calculated to have over 600 rules, not including the additional rules added by the Pharisees in order to build a wall of protection around the Books of Moses (Torah). Jesus' rules fit in 3 chapters of Matthew.

Unlike the Pharisaic rules that focused on outward practices, the Beatitudes establish an inner spiritual self. They are challenging, as they progress from being "poor in spirit" to meekness, to hungering after righteousness, and finally to being pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted with the prophets.  In this progression, we learn to become "perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

Scholars disagree as to how one reaches perfection. Martin Luther considered both the Law of Moses and Jesus' teachings in this sermon as impossible to achieve, and used it to insist that we are saved purely by grace, without works. Others see it as possible to earn one's own salvation by living everything noted in the Sermon. Yet there is a better and more correct way.

We learn from taking the entire restored gospel as a whole that the Sermon on the Mount is achievable, but only through the sanctification of Christ's blood and the justification of the Holy Ghost. Christ makes us sinless, so then as we receive the Holy Ghost, we can learn to become ever more perfect in meekness, purity, and righteousness. So, as Christ received grace for grace, going from grace to higher grace (John 1, D&C 93), we can obtain a fullness as well. For many of this, this may not come in this life, but through Christ, it can and will come to us as we strive in the Spirit to follow our Savior's path.

Looking at our own lives, the lives of those around us, and the life of Christ (which we learn in the scriptures), we may be able to score ourselves from 1-10 on how we are developing our meekness, hunger for righteousness, avoiding lust, loving our spouse, and saying quality prayers that reach heaven's gates. In doing so, we must be cautious not to be making Pharisaic checklists of our outwardly actions, but score on what is going on inside our hearts, minds and spirits.

The Beatitudes and Psalms

Jesus' beatitudes were not necessarily original. In fact, Psalms begins with a blessing:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (Psalms 1:1)

There are about a dozen Psalms that begin with "blessed." And Jesus' beatitudes not only reflect, but quote the words of the Psalmist:

But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. (Psalms 37:11).
Here, the Psalmist reflects two of the key components of Jesus' blessings (meek and peace).

Psalms are closely tied to the workings of the temple. For Jesus, the temple was his Father's House, and represented the Kingdom of God on the earth. In a coming day, when Jesus would come for his Second Coming, the earth would literally become a holy place, which the meek would inherit and the Savior would rule. Until then, the connection to the temple, Psalms and the Sermon on the Mount are unmistakable. This holds true for modern Latter-day Saint temples, as well. The teachings from Psalms and the Sermon become alive in the temple, as disciples embrace the atonement of Christ, learn to listen to and follow the Holy Ghost, and partake of covenants and ordinances that lead us to become perfect in Christ.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.(Psalms 84:4-10).

previous blog post on Matthew 5:

My blog post on the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Come Follow Me - John 2-4

Come Follow Me - John 2-4

The Gospel of John's makeup

Scholars are uncertain where Cana is, but believe it was near the Sea of Galilee. John's Gospel is the only one that mentions the marriage event and is the only gospel that does not mention Mary by name. Instead, Jesus uses the honorific term, "woman."  This term ties Mary to Eve in the Garden of Eden, being the "mother of all living."  As Woman, she also represents the consort of God, called by several names in the ancient Near East. In the Bible, the first woman (goddess) is known as Wisdom (Proverbs 8), and is co-existent with God.

Changing water into wine is the first miracle, according to John. Christian tradition makes it the first public miracle. For John, it is the first of seven signs that Jesus is the Messiah.  John's book is often broken up into four sections by scholars: The Prologue (John 1:1-18), The Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50), The Book of Glory/Exaltation (John 13:1-20:31), and the Epilogue (John 21).

Within the Book of Signs, the seven signs are as follows:
  1. Turning water into wine at the marriage at Cana (John 2)
  2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum (John 4)
  3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5)
  4. Feeding the 5000 (John 6)
  5. Jesus walking on water (John 6)
  6. Healing the man, who was blind from birth (John 9)
  7. The raising of Lazarus from death (John 11)
Some scholars vary on this list, for example replacing one of the above signs with the cleansing of the Temple, as John notes this as a "sign."

These tie into the concept of New Creation Theology, with Jesus' resurrection being the implied 8th sign, representing a new creation for all mankind.  Basically, the world was created in 7 days. There are seven 1000 year periods to the earth's telestial existence (according to early Biblical concepts). The eighth day represents a new earth beyond the Millennial reign.  In these miracles, Jesus shows control over illness, paralysis, blindness, the elements, and death. In the resurrection, he also shows he has power over death, hell, immortality and eternal life.

The Marriage in Cana

Turning water into wine, and not just any wine, but according to the steward, it is the best wine. Normally, the best wine was served first, with the poorer wine later, usually when the celebrants were drunk and wouldn't notice. For the steward, this change in protocol was highly unexpected, but welcome.

One of Moses' first miracles was changing the Nile River water into blood. Turning water into wine become symbolic of the fact that Jesus was a prophet like Moses. Both performed great miracles. Both brought forth the Law of God and salvation.

Symbolically, as the water turned into the best of wine, so too is Jesus the best news for all of us. We make the best we can of life, usually expecting it to get worse as time goes on. Yet, with Christ, we can go through all the good and bad times, with hope that all things will get better. Our lives are plain water, but with Christ, he enriches life here in mortality and in the eternity.

Reborn of Water and Spirit

Nicodemus was an older man, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He is mentioned three times in the Bible: John 3 as he secretly comes to Jesus at night, John 7 as he reminds the other members of the Sanhedrin the proscribed rules for condemning someone, and in John 19 as he and Joseph of Arimathea anoint the dead Jesus' body with oils.

Why did he seek Jesus at night? Likely it is because going to him in daytime, when others were watching, he would have risked his position in the Sanhedrin leadership. There were many major Jewish sects and subgroups in Jesus' day: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, John the Baptist movement, etc. Now there was a new sect rising up.  However, this one was different. Rumors of miracles and new teachings would create a powerful interest for many to hear and consider what it had to offer.

For most of the Jewish ruling class, the struggle for preeminence between the Sadducees and Pharisees was palpable. Like Republicans and Democrats in Congress, they held an uneasy share of power. One thing they agreed upon, they were suspicious of other parties that could possibly upset the balance. Essenes continually claimed to be the rightful proprietors and priests of the Temple, and awaited the time when they would kick the Sadducee priests out of office. Meanwhile, Zealots were continually producing new Messiahs that promised to rid Judea of all Romans and other foreigners.

It isn't hard then to imagine Nicodemus, cautious about new claimants, approaching Jesus at night. He was probably expecting Jesus to proclaim himself a Zealot Messiah and beginning to gather his own little army to fight the Romans.

Instead, Jesus told him that to enter heaven required rebirth. This was very unexpected to Nicodemus, even though he may have had discussions on resurrection, after life, and even baptism (Pharisees having checked out John the Baptist's ministry in the wilderness). It's reasonable for Nicodemus to ask for clarity from Jesus, as this would have been the first time anyone would have posed the idea of rebirth to him (or anyone else).

As the Lord earlier taught Adam:

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:
“That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
“For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:58-60).
To understand scripture requires understanding symbolism. Here, rebirth is compared to natural childbirth. A child is born of water, spirit, and blood.  When a woman's water breaks, the baby is born life sustaining blood and spirit. When we wish to be reborn, it also requires water, blood and spirit. In this case, the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit, and the blood of Christ are the three things that give us eternal life.

We do not receive remission of sins by water baptism. Water baptism is the ordinance we must obey (the commandment), in order to receive a remission of sins. It is the blood of Christ that sanctifies us, giving us a remission of sins. It is this remission that turns us from evil to good. On a number line, our sins would put us in negative territory. Jesus' atonement and resurrection bring us back to a positive state (number 1). Then, the Spirit can work upon us, justifying us and making us more and more holy (increasing our positive number count). In John 1 and D&C 93, we learn that this process moves us from grace to grace, and we receive grace for grace, until we receive a fullness (eternal life).

      Sin {---- -4 -3 -2 -1  0  1  2  3  4 ----} Fullness

This was a revolutionary concept that Jesus introduced to Judaism. While others had been washed or even baptized previously, none had made the connection between water, spirit and blood. Nor had they connected it to entrance into heaven.

Living Waters in Samaria

Image result for samaria 

Samaria in Jesus' time was located north of Judea, and covered much of the original territory of the original Kingdom of Israel, after the split of Israel into the two kingdoms in Rehoboam’s (son of Solomon) day. Then, 700 years before Christ, the nation of Israel was carried off by the Assyrians, leaving just the poor in the land. Assyria brought many from other lands to dwell in Samaria, leaving it with a mixed genealogy.

When the Jews returned from their Babylon captivity, the Samaritans wished to help them build the new temple. The Jews refused to allow it, as they were not pure blood Israel. Josephus tells us that the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Archaeologist Yitzhak Magen has been excavating the site for 25 years, and has found signs of its existence.

Still, even in the times of Jesus, the Samaritans were treated as second class citizens by the Jews. They were not allowed into the temple at Jerusalem, and their form of worship for God had changed over the centuries, a mixture of Israelite faith and pagan belief. In this environment, the Jew Jesus Christ went north to Samaria and sat by a well to speak with a Samaritan woman.

“9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

She was shocked that a Jew would even talk with her. His response was wholly unexpected:

“10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

The Lord then explains to her that he is the living waters that save the soul. The Samaritan faith system was flawed, and needed major fixing. In speaking of these things, the woman notes that Samaritan belief looked forward to the Messiah, who would teach them all things. At this moment, Jesus noted that he was the Messiah, even the Anointed One, they sought.

Their temple works and faith were all fulfilled in Christ. He was and is the living waters that flow next to the Tree of Life, which both symbolize the Love of God (1 Nephi 11:25).

“God is a Spirit”

In talking with the Samaritan woman, the Lord explained to her:
“22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
“23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
“24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Verse 24 contains one of the few verses used by traditional Christianity to express that God is [a] Spirit. From this comes the development of the belief in the Trinity, established with the Nicene Creed three centuries after Christ. Then and now, it is a contentious issue. As discussed in New Testament lesson One in my blog, there were differing views on the Trinity/Godhead.

Discussing religion often in their later years by letter, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams discussed how they viewed Christianity. Both were Christian, yet differed greatly from ertain traditional beliefs. Jefferson was a Deist Christian, believing God wound up the universe and then pretty much left it alone to wind down on its own. Adams, known as a strong Christian of his day, still questioned certain issues. He wrote Jefferson once saying, “Ye will say I am no Christian” because he disagreed with the concept of the Trinity. He noted that Jesus said “God is [a] Spirit” and agreed with it. But then asked, “what does that mean?” The concept of Trinity expands further than what the Lord states in John’s Gospel. For John Adams, it meant that God is real, He lives, and he is our true God.

That God is a Spirit is true. The Bible also tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and a “consuming fire” (Deut 4:24, Hebrews 12:29), This does not mean either of these statements is the only thing God is, but only descriptive of some of his attributes. For we also know he is the “father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9), and Christ commanded us to call God, “our Father which art in Heaven.”

God is our true Father of spirits, and Christ is our Messiah, the living waters who will cleanse us, purify us, and bring us back into the presence of the Father.

My previous blogging on  this lesson:

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Come Follow Me- Matthew 4; Luke 4-5

Come Follow Me- Matthew 4; Luke 4-5

I highly recommend my previous blog posts on the New Testament, regarding these chapters. Especially interesting is my discussion on how the synagogues performed their Sabbath rites. Jesus declaring his Messiahship in the synagogue, quoting Isaiah, becomes a very bold event.

Image result for jesus reading isaiah lds 
Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness

There is a pattern set by Jesus in preparing for his mission:
  1. Receiving the ordinance of baptism 
  2. Receiving the Holy Ghost
  3. Preparing himself spiritually with prayer and fasting
  4. Facing his devils early, so he can move forward with confidence in God
Whether preparing for a mission, a major call to serve in the Church, marriage, children, or any other lifetime major event, we can learn from this pattern.

As I noted in previous Come Follow Me lessons on Jesus' baptism, we are establishing the Doctrine of Christ (2 Nephi 31; 3 Nephi 11). In these two chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi and Jesus give us a pattern to the gospel and success in all spiritual and temporal things.

  1. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are "One God." While this sounds very Trinitarian, it actually establishes the social relationship between the three separate and distinct deity. We can determine this, because humans are then called upon by Nephi and Jesus to become one with each other and one with the Godhead by following an important pattern.
  2. This pattern is: Faith in Christ,  Repentance, Baptism/Outward ordinances, Receiving the Holy Ghost, Enduring to the End. As with washing one's hair, we must rinse and repeat this pattern.
Each of us meets our demons along the way. Sometimes they are very real devils that we must face. Other times, they are the inventions of wicked men, or of our own folly.  Jesus was tempted with physical hunger, pride, and power. Each of us fight a constant battle with these temptations, often on a daily basis. We do not need Satan to carry us up on a mountain top to show us what we can gain from following him, we only need to look at the world we live in.

People in much of the world work their lives, not to care for their families needs, but to get gain and power over all those around them. Convenience matters over substance, as children are now aborted full term, employers pay the lowest wages possible to employees, and the bigger the house the more God must have blessed us (regardless of what we had to do or not do to obtain it). Meanwhile, the poor, sick and afflicted are not our problem. Today, we leave the government to do the dirty work of relieving the sick, the widow, and the poor - so we don't have to do so.

Jesus' time in the wilderness was a time of sanctification for him. He received the Holy Ghost at baptism, and immediately went into the wilderness. Fasting and prayer infused the Holy Ghost within him, making him more spiritually powerful than before. He was able to withstand Satan's snares by using the power of quoted scripture. Such points tell me that Jesus was not just a carpenter's son, but one who had intensely studied Torah and the Prophets all of his days. The scriptures he needed were instantly there for him to use. He didn't need a time out to search his Gospel Library app for a good response to Satan (who also tried using scripture). He prepared. Jesus was a gospel scholar as he began his mission. It is unlikely Joseph and Mary could have taught him so well alone. Clearly, Jesus spend much time in synagogue learning, asking questions, and memorizing scripture - similar to his experience at the temple when he was 12. If Jesus was focused enough to fast for 40 days, clearly he used that same effort to learn the gospel and his place in the work of God.

Christians are very poor at learning the gospel. Perhaps because Latter-day Saints have more scripture, they tend to be somewhat better well versed. Still, there is a difference between being acquainted with scripture and being a gospel scholar. While Satan may not ever directly question us in such a manner, what happens when a friend, family member, teenage child, asks a tough question?

A Prophet Is Not Honored in his Own Country

In preaching and healing in the area around Capernaum, Jesus seems to have had much success in gaining followers. However, when preaching in his own town of Nazareth, the people ask if this is not "Joseph's son?" When Jesus declares himself the Messiah, the town folk insist on seeing proof, miracles as he had done in Capernaum. Because of their disbelief, he notes that prophets are not honored in their own country.

We live in a time of tough questions. The world questions the divinity of Jesus. The world attacks Joseph Smith as a "sincere fraud" at best, and a "false prophet" at worst. Commandments are inconvenient, often because they go against the convenience of modern lifestyles. The Proclamation on the Family pushes against many of those lifestyles today. Revelation is often questioned as whether it really is from God, or just the personal value system of a bunch of old, white men in a stifling patriarchy.

Such things were also brought against Jesus. His revelations, teachings, and even miracles would be questioned. How dare he heal on the Sabbath!!! Prove you are the Messiah by performing a miracle!

Today's Pharisees and Sadducees are actively engaged in promoting their own philosophies. What was once considered right and good, is now condemned as evil. For ancient Israel, a child was alive at the "quickening" (when the baby would kick). How is it that we are debating such things today, with many people celebrating abortion as a great thing?  God has established eternal roles for man and woman, and yet the world celebrates inventing new genders, turning children of God into something else. And the prophets are not honored for their bold stance in honoring God and the eternal family.

Acceptable Year of the Lord

According to the Law of Moses, every 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee. This was a year when all debts were forgiven. Anyone sold into slavery during the previous 49 years was set free. It was a time of redemption, especially for the poor. Lands returned to their original owners, ensuring inheritances were not lost. Even the fields were left alone, unplowed, so that the earth could lay fallow and rest that year.

Sadly, Israel had not celebrated a Jubilee in centuries. Isaiah mourned that the princes and wealthy were stealing lands from the poor and grinding widows' faces, with no Jubilee to restore what was rightfully theirs.

Christ was come to bring about a spiritual Jubilee. Through healing the sick, he restored health. By feeding the masses, he restored health. By preaching the gospel of repentance, he opened the door to heaven that the Pharisees had shut tight. As Jesus cleansed lepers, by preparing the atonement, all sinners could be forgiven and become clean again. In providing a universal resurrection, Jesus redeemed all from the grave.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Come Follow Me: Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

Come Follow Me: Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

The previous lesson dealt with the Gospel of John's discussion on the baptism of Jesus. This week, we look at what the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke are related gospels) say on the matter.

Where Did John Come From?
John the Baptist's background is important here. Luke 1 gives us a divine beginning to the Baptist, his birth proclaimed by the archangel Gabriel. During his infancy, his father was killed by King Herod, who was searching out all male children to slay.  Elizabeth took John into hiding in the wilderness. Some scholars believe that John was taken to the Qumran area, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and dwelt with the exiled priests in the desert.  There are many similarities between John's teaching and those of the Essenes who lived at Qumran.

"James H. Charlesworth asserts that he is “convinced that the similarities
between John the Baptizer and the Qumranites are too impressive to be
dismissed as merely an example of a shared milieu.”
Charlesworth then gives five “striking points of similarity:”
1. Both John and the Qumranites come from similar geographical
2. “They both share a preference for prophecy, especially Isaiah.”
Here Charlesworth comments on the connections with Isaiah 40:3.
3. They both used water as a means of expiation.
4. Both were eschatological (focused on death, judgement and the end of the world).
5. Both were ascetic and even celibate. He concludes by saying that “John
the Baptizer was one who refused full initiation because of the institutionalized
hatred of all who were not within the community.” (John the Baptist and the Qumran Connection, Alan Taylor Farnes).
 Many scholars believe John the Baptist began his training among the priests of the Qumran Community. At some point, he left the community, because his calling was to go forth among the people and call repentance. The Essenes viewed themselves as those "crying in the wilderness" (Isa 40:3) as a witness against the evils they believed going on in Jerusalem and the temple. However, John the Baptist understood he was the one called to prepare the way for the Messiah.

 What Other Jewish Groups Were There?

The Essenes, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, were once in control of the temple and the religion of the nation. During the period of the Maccabee rulers, the priesthood authority was wrenched from them and given to other priests. The Essenes fled to Qumran, next to the Dead Sea, and began a cloistered community. There also were other Essenes who were not celibate, who married and dwelt in the villages of Judah, who followed a somewhat different set of standards and expectations. They did not baptize as we do today, but did immerse themselves frequently in water for purification. As a group, they ate a common meal and drink each day, expecting to one day partake of these sacraments with the coming Messiah.

The Pharisees were perhaps the largest group of Jews in Judah. While they did not have many priests in their group, they did control and teach in most of the synagogues. This gave them great influence over most of the people, as they taught the average Jew the gospel from their perspective. They included oral traditions that were external to the Biblical writings, attempting to build a wall of protection around the writings of Moses and the Prophets, with the writings of Rabbis and others. Their rules often greatly expanded those given by Moses, including rules prohibiting certain knots being tied on the Sabbath day, or walking more than a certain distance on the Sabbath. After the destruction of Israel in 70 AD (and again in 135 AD with the Bar Kokhba revolt), rabbinic Judaism would rise from the ashes of the Pharisee cult, and is what Jews base their current religion on 2000 years later.

The Sadducees included priests and aristocrats that controlled the temple and the sacrifice. These did not believe in resurrection. They strictly followed the Bible, without any external interpretations.

Zealots were groups of Jews seeking a temporal Messiah that would rescue Israel from its external enemies (Rome, etc). Among them were many proclaimed Messiahs, including Barabbas (literally "Son of Father"), who was arrested and sentenced to die by the Romans for insurrection.

The Herodians were a small group that supported King Herod as King of Judah. Sometimes this would include individuals or groups from the other sects, who connected themselves with the ruling party.

The Baptist Movement - even John the Baptist had disciples who followed him until his death. On a few occasions, John attempted to have his disciples follow Jesus, not always succeeding in doing so.

The Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods
It was necessary for John the Baptist to be a Levite and a descendant of Aaron. In having this lineage, he had authority to baptize. The Pharisees and Sadducees who questioned him did not ask where his authority came from, but why he was baptizing. They knew what baptism was, and that various sects performed washings in slightly different manners. For John, the evolution from the Essene purification washings to a baptism for the remission of sins, was a simple step. It drew crowds, because Essenes were not known to proselytize.

They were used to self-proclaimed Messiahs to suddenly appear and them flame out as Roman guards would execute them. However, they had never seen someone come forth crying repentance, stating that someone else would soon come forth as Messiah!

John explained that through his priesthood, he could baptize with water for remission of sins. However, the Messiah would come forth with a greater power, a priesthood that would call down the Holy Spirit and Fire upon the recipients of Messianic blessings.

In the Encyclopedia Judaica, under the title, "Aaron", we learn that Aaron was the brother of Moses. He was called of God to perform sacrifices in the temple. Through his rod, Aaron performed some of the ten plagues of Egypt, under Moses' direction. No descendant of Aaron would perform such miracles afterward, such would be reserved to Moses and the prophets. In discussing Aaron from a Christian context, the Encyclopedia Judaica then tells us:

“As the ancestor and founder of the one priesthood entitled to offer acceptable sacrifice to God, Aaron was taken as the type of Christ in the New Testament and later Christian tradition; he offers sacrifice, mediates between the people and God, and ministers in the Holy of Holies. The typology is developed especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews which stresses the superiority of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice to the animal sacrifices of the Aaronic priesthood. Jesus, the high priest of the New Covenant, is foreshadowed by Aaron, the high priest of the Old Covenant, but Christ’s priesthood, which is “after the order Melchizedek,” supersedes and replaces the inferior priesthood of Aaron. Influenced by this distinction, the Mormons distinguished in their hierarchy between a lesser, Aaronic priesthood, and the office of igh priest which is according to the order of Melchizedek.”  [R.J. Zwi Weblowsky]

As Aaron was a type for Christ, so is John the Baptist. John, being the descendant of Aaron, held the rights to serve in the temple, offering animal sacrifices and serving in the Holy of Holies. As Aaron's service in the temple prepared for the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, John's baptism would prepare the way for Jesus' baptism of fire and Spirit.

John the Baptist and the Qumran Connection, by Alan Taylor Farnes

Encyclopedia Judaica, "Aaron"

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Come Follow Me: John 1

Come Follow Me, John 1

Unlike the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are known as the Synoptic Gospels (they correlate many of their stories), John's gospel is set apart, standing alone with several stories that are not found in the Synoptic Gospels.

Many scholars today believe that Matthew and Luke were written, based upon Mark's gospel (considered the earliest written gospel) and a separate source called Q (for the German word Quelle, meaning Source).  It would be a document of sayings, much like the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

There still are many scholars that believe the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, or perhaps by some of their disciples.  Many of the Christian writings were originally given as oral histories. Matthew and Luke were not present at Jesus' birth, and so would have later heard two different stories of the event. Could there have been angels, Gabriel, shepherds AND wisemen and an escape to Egypt both occur, but preserved in different oral histories? Of course. Still, there are discrepancies. Luke has Joseph and Mary come from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and return after the birth of Jesus. Matthew seems to have them already living in Bethlehem in a house, they escape to Egypt, and only afterward go to Nazareth.  Considering that decades separated the original birth of Christ and the writing down of these stories, we should not be surprised that some conflicts occur in the stories.

In John 1:19, we find that even John the Apostle, who was in the center of the Lord's ministry, depended upon others' records to write his gospel.

And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
Here, we see that the apostle John notes that he gets his record of Jesus' baptism from John the Baptist. We don't know whether this is a written or oral history.  As John was likely one of the two disciples of John the Baptist (along with Andrew), it may be that John learned of this the day after Jesus' baptism.  It seems when the Baptist baptized Jesus, his disciples were not with him at the time, as the next day when Jesus walked by, John proclaimed him as Messiah to his two disciples, and they followed Jesus thereafter.

In the Beginning wasThe Logos

John begins his testament differently than the other three: "In the beginning was the Word/Logos..."  In this, John links the birth of Christ with the Creation story in Genesis 1.  John speaks of Christ creating the world, as God did in the beginning. John notes the darkness that does not comprehend the light of Christ, as the Lord commanded, "Let there be Light" and controlled the chaos of Darkness, so with the coming of Christ would come a spiritual light that would dissipate the darkness and chaos in the world.   Of course, in Genesis, the culmination of God's creation is man and woman. So it is in the new spiritual creation Christ would bring, making us all sons and daughters of God.

John is directly linking the coming of the Savior in the flesh with the Creation of the World. With the Creation came mortal life. In the atonement and resurrection of Jesus would come Immortality and Eternal Life.

The Power of Christ's Grace
As part of his power, Christ would give light, life and the gift of grace. Linked to John 1 is D&C 93, which begins by saying we can see Christ face to face. It then discusses that Christ "did not receive a fullness at first," but that he went from "grace to grace", receiving "grace for grace", "until he received a fullness." This same path is established for us to take. We can't be perfect now, but as we turn to Christ, we are infused with his grace through the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us and makes us more holy. It is a cycle, based on the Doctrine of Christ (2 Nephi 31, 3 Nephi 11), which states that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God, and we are to be optismne with them and each other, by growing in Faith in Christ, Repentance, Baptism/Ordinances, and Receiving the Holy Ghost. As we grow in faith, we desire more to repent. We partake of ordinances and covenants, and then receive a greater infusion of the Holy Ghost. This lifts us up to a higher level of righteousness and grace. We are then ready to go through the cycle again and again, until we receive a fullness: receiving all that the Father has as full heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

As important as Jesus' birth is to us, for the gospel writers, his baptism seems to be of greater import. All four write about John the Baptist (Luke writes of Gabriel's annunciation of John and his birth), and note his importance as the forerunner of the Messiah, long ago prophesied by Isaiah.

We get some conflict in the stories, as some note John proclaiming Jesus as Messiah before his baptism, while John's Gospel insists that the Baptist did not know beforehand.

And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (John 1:33)
John was able to proclaim Jesus the Son of God, but only after seeing the Holy Ghost descend and remain with Jesus. Interesting to note, John the Baptist states that someone sent him to baptize with water, but we aren't told exactly whom that is. Was it an angel? Was it a believing prophet/priest who preceded the Baptist? We aren't told, but it is interesting to note that John the Baptist didn't just start baptizing one day, but was sent forth to do so.

Come and See
John didn't retain his two disciples very long, The day after baptizing Jesus, as John was with his two disciples (Andrew and the future apostle John), he witnessed of the Messiah walking past and sent them to Jesus. When they spoke with Jesus of where he was staying, Jesus' invitation was, "Come and see."

Later as the disciple Philip would tell his friend, Nathanael, about the Messiah, and Nathanael had doubts, Philip would also say, "Come and see."

For those with an open mind, who will accept the invitation, Jesus is waiting to bring them in. For Nathanael, who had heard bad things about Nazareth his entire life, his open mind and heart were quickly converted, when Jesus noted that the young man had prayed for guidance under a fig tree. Nathanael, being an "Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile," would easily believe and be promised to see even more.  In other words, Jesus was already giving grace to his new disciples, and promising more as they continued to follow in Christ's footsteps.

Here is a link to my previous blog post on John 1:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Come Follow Me: Matthew 2, Luke 2

Come Follow Me: Matthew 2, Luke 2

For the 2011 Sunday School lessons, I wrote this post on the birth of Christ, and how it tied to Adam and Eve.

Christ and Creation
After reading the link, I want to add to the concept of Christ's birth being tied to the Creation.

The Bible has several Creation stories, the most common ones in Genesis 1 and 2. Isaiah, Proverbs and Psalms also mention important issues of Creation, not mentioned in Genesis. Then, for Latter-day Saints, we also have still more versions of Creation in the Books of Moses and Abraham, and in the temple. There are similarities and big differences in these stories, suggesting that while some events (such as Adam and Eve) are historical, some events in the Creation may be parable - a method through which God can teach us about his power and our relationship to Him.

One of the keys of Creation is God's overcoming Chaos, and introducing Order into the World being created. Matter is eternal, and so God did not create things ex nihilo (from nothing). Rather he formed the chaos around him to create the world. In so doing, God fought the Chaos of water and darkness. Darkness was put into abeyance by creating Light, the sun, moon and stars. The waters were tamed by two things, creating land, and conquering the great sea dragon, Leviathan/Rahab (Isaiah 51, Psalms 74), who represented Chaos.  In Revelation, Satan would be described as a sea dragon, inflicting chaos on the world until chained at the Millennium.

How does this tie to Christ? Jesus, born to a mortal woman and being the Son of God, was the pure essence of Order. He would be Emmanuel, "God with us." While the earth laid in apostasy for ages and Satan chained the souls of men to death and hell, Christ came to bring new order. Through his mission, he would heal those suffering from the chaos of illness, injury, hunger, and sin. Through his atonement and resurrection, he would defeat the chaos of death and hell. Satan's claim on the body, spirit and soul of each person ever born, would be denied by the triumphant Christ.

And with the Second Coming, Christ will again return to restore order on a chaotic world. Satan, the god of Chaos, will be bound. All mankind will be resurrected. All but the sons of perdition will obtain a kingdom of glory and order.

Two Birth Stories
Scholars differ as to whether the four gospels, as we now have them, were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I believe the gospels were written by these early Church leaders. That said, none were around when Jesus was born, and only John was present at Jesus' baptism. Mark was converted as a young man just prior to Jesus' death, and Luke was a gentile convert of Paul (probably baptized around 50 AD). So, all of the writers must have used at least some oral histories to explain some of the events in their accounts. Luke's account would have been entirely based on oral histories he had heard from others.

So, why two different birth stories? Luke has the angel Gabriel, shepherds, and a chorus of angels. Matthew tells us about the wise men, a star, King Herod's hatred, and escape into Egypt.

Some possibilities are these:
First, two oral histories were passed on to two different areas. Matthew focused his gospel for the Jews. Seeing a battle between magi from Babylon (where many Jews still lived) and wicked Jewish King Herod, sets the stage for his battle between the false kings of the world, and the true King of Israel (remember, in Matthew 1, Jesus' genealogy was already presented as a proof that Christ was the genuine royal article.).

Second, Luke wrote his gospel to the Gentiles. Reading about a few magi seeing a child, would not be as impressive to Greeks and Romans, as would angels proclaiming divine kingship of Jesus, among other miracles.

Each oral history focused on events most important to their listeners. Oral histories sometimes were imperfect, but the concept of historicity was different then, than it is now. The Bible has history in it, but the historicity (factual part of history) sometimes may be adapted by the writer to prove his point, whether it is the Creation story or the birth of Christ. For Christians, the actual historicity of Christ's birth cannot be proven, but it can be believed, because there are various accounts and witnesses, even if they are occasionally in conflict in their stories. There's nothing wrong with a Christmas movie showing both shepherds and wise men, as long as we understand these are actually two separate oral histories provided by two different disciples, possibly decades and a thousand miles apart from one another.


The world does not believe in miracles. It refuses to recognize the virgin birth, believing Jesus was actually born of Joseph, and his disciples later invented the virgin birth to change the narrative. Of course, these same people believe that Jesus faked his own death and resurrection.

The traditional Christian world struggles to remain faithful to the miracles of Jesus' life. Many Christians now only see him as a teacher of righteousness, but not one who would raise the dead and be the Judge of the earth.

For Latter-day Saints, we can see the wisdom in God to provide the Restoration of the Gospel when he did. Joseph Smith was called as a prophet just prior to new concepts that radicals would twist to deny the Christ, miracles, and an after-life.

With the Book of Mormon, we have Nephi's witness of the virgin Mary, symbolized by the Tree of Life, giving birth to the fruit of eternal life, Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and continued work as Redeemer and Judge of the earth. It testifies of many of the events given in the Gospels of the New Testament. This tells me that I can have faith in the teachings and stories of the Gospels, even if some are given imperfectly, due to oral histories being passed down.

Secondly, the witness of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and many others, who have seen Jesus Christ, is a testimony to me that these things, if not perfectly historical, are still true. Because of this, we can believe the writings of the New Testament, because modern prophets quote from them and bear witness of the truth of these things.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 1; Luke 1

Come Follow Me - Matthew 1; Luke 1

Something different we find in this manual than in previous Sunday School manuals, is it asks lots of questions. We need to do ourselves the favor of not skipping over them, These and other questions we bring up ourselves are important in the learning process. It forces us to get out of our comfort zone, to expand our pondering and learning, and increase our faith.


The earliest manuscripts for the Gospels are decades after Jesus' death. Thee earliest fragment for Mark is dated about 80AD, with Matthew, Luke and John fragments appearing in the 2nd century.  The two earliest fragments of Luke are fragmentary and do not include the first two chapters. We do not know if this is because that part of the fragments decayed, or if it wasn't originally included. Meanwhile, Mark does not have a birth story, but begins with Jesus' baptism.

Possible reasons are available for these possible concerns. First, anciently most stories were passed down from generation to generation via oral history. Until Paul wrote his letters, it doesn't seem that early Christians were interested in writing the Christian history. Jesus' baptism was likely the most important beginning event for Christian teaching, as it announced the beginning of his mission and showed us the path to follow Jesus.

Only later, when Gnostic Christianity emerged, do we see the importance of a birth story. Many Gnostic sects believed that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings. Jesus was mortal, and Christ divine. Their belief was that Jesus was a regular person, until at baptism the Holy Ghost placed the divine Christ into him. This led to an interpretation of God's voice in some Luke manuscripts saying, "Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee." Then, upon the cross, Christ leaves Jesus to die alone (My God, why hast thou forsaken me?).

Because of such apostate beliefs, it was necessary for early Christians to write down their oral birth stories of Jesus, to prove he was both human and divine from the very beginning.

We see similar actions like this in the Restoration. In the early years of the Church, the focus was on preaching the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Few ever taught the First Vision, as an official version had not been written down. Earlier written versions, such as the 1832 version, focused more on Joseph Smith's receiving personal forgiveness for sins, and avoided controversial statements (such as seeing God and Jesus) because such had caused him great grief in the past. However, in 1838, there was a need to have an official version of the Vision, to establish the very beginning of the Restoration prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Unlike Joseph's earlier version, this one focused on things important to the Church, not just the personal concerns of a teenager.

So, why do we have two different and sometimes conflicting stories in Matthew and Luke? First, remember that neither Matthew nor Luke were present at the birth of Jesus. In fact, Luke was a Gentile convert of Paul, so his story comes to us decades after Jesus' death. Clearly, they both relied on oral tradition to develop their stories. They took the best information available to them, clearly from two different memory sources

In providing genealogies for Jesus, they also sought to establish his right to be King of Israel.  This establishes the case for Jesus to be who he claimed he was as Messiah and Son of God, just as the First Vision establishes Joseph Smith's claim to be a modern day prophet.

What can we learn from Matthew 1 and Luke 1?

The manual sets up some excellent questions and points to consider. Ponder them and write down your impressions.

Elizabeth's barrenness reminds us of similar stories in the Old Testament. The mothers of Samuel and Samson were both elderly women. In giving birth to special children anointed of God for a purpose, they were able to do great things. As Judges, Samson defeated Philistines and Samuel united the kingdoms under Saul and David. From these stories, we see the future roles of Jesus. Samson defeated his enemies, even in his weakness and apparent defeat. With Samuel, we see Jesus as the head of a nation and priesthood. Samuel stood between God and Israel in all things. He was judge, priest and kingmaker.

Jesus, although beaten, wounded and crucified, would overcome the enemies Death and Hell. He is High Priest, Judge and King of Kings.

Mary and Elizabeth were normal women. Neither came from royalty. Both would become widows. For Jesus, mothers and widows held a very special place. We can imagine them being the role models that would have Jesus condemn the Pharisees and Sadducees for stealing the houses of the widows and enriching themselves on the backs of the poor.