Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 4 - “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” Matthew 3-4, John 1:35-51

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 4 - “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”
Matthew 3-4, John 1:35-51

Jesus’ baptism

Matthew 3:13-17

John baptizing Jesus

Early Christians viewed the baptism of Christ as a singular event. Many Gnostic Christians, in particular, viewed Jesus’ baptism as the specific event that denoted his becoming Christ. Some early sects used the text in Luke regarding Jesus’ baptism to demonstrate this, as some early manuscripts of Luke have God’s voice stating, “Thou art my Son. Today I have begotten/chosen you.”

Some Gnostics went so far as to believe that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings. The mortal Jesus was baptized, upon which the Spirit of Christ entered into him, and remained with him until the cross. When Jesus exclaims, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” it is because the Christ has left the mortal to suffer on the cross alone. For his sacrifice, the dead Jesus is resurrected and given a great responsibility to teach the apostles. It would be due to such heresies that the apostle John and others would warn of anti-christs: those who claimed the Christ never was mortal or resurrected.

Today, modern revelation through latter-day prophets show that Christ’s work began before the world began. Nephi saw in vision the birth of Christ by the virgin Mary, and this event was one of two condescensions of God, the other being Jesus’ baptism (1 Nephi 15). Each of these events is a sign of his divinity, as Christ was fully human, but also fully divine. That even God had to receive the ordinances of the Gospel meant that he was not above men. It also meant that as he would later be lifted up on the cross, he would be able to lift up those who followed him.

In considering Jesus’ baptism, we can see that it was a day in which he was chosen or spiritually begotten, just as all of us are spiritually begotten of God when we are baptized. It officially began his earthly mission, which culminated not on the cross, but at his resurrection.

Temptation in the Wilderness
Matthew 4:1-11

Imagine beginning one’s mission with head-on temptations of Satan! Most new missionaries pass out after missing two meals while fasting, yet Christ fasted for 40 days. This is one of the special numbers in Israelite belief, representing the 40 days Moses fasted, the 40 days and nights of Noah’s Flood, 40 years Israel wandered in the wilderness, etc.

Each of these events ties in closely to Jesus’ fasting and temptations. Moses and Jesus both fasted for 40 days, prior to beginning an important mission for God. Moses’ fasting brought forth the Ten Commandments for Israel to follow, Jesus’ fasting would allow him to call his apostles and begin his preaching. While the children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness due to disobedience, and the earth was destroyed by 40 days of flooding; Jesus came to save the disobedient and rebellious. His 40 days would prepare him to take upon himself their sins, even the pains and sorrows of the whole world.

Jesus then experienced three temptations, even the three main temptations any of us face in our own lives: temptations of the flesh, pride, and the riches and power of the world. In each instance, Jesus did not discuss the temptation with Satan. Nor did he evaluate or consider all aspects of it, especially when Satan quoted scripture to him. Instead, the Savior quoted scripture to establish the right. Only in quickly and fully dismissing the temptation was Jesus triumphant, and he shows us that pattern in doing so. Had he stopped to think about it in the moment, rather than making the complete decision before and in its final form, he would have faltered and failed. If we choose ahead of time what our full decision must be, then in the moment of temptation, we will not have to think twice. The decision will already be made.

While Jesus was tempted with hunger (turn stone into bread), we also face the temptation of many other physical appetites: lust, desire, jealousy, anger, doubt, fear. Each of these can crush our spirit, as the physical body seeks to overthrow it, because it wants its appetites sated. But physical appetites never are satisfied. As with a fire, when you add wood, it only grows hotter and higher. Jesus understood that you starve a fever, or any other physical temptation.

In the Book of Mormon, we find that: “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction” (Moroni 8:27). Pres Ezra Taft Benson, in warning us against pride, noted:

“Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance....Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.”

Satan was hitting Jesus below the belt. He sought to create enmity between God and God, Father and Son, by tempting Jesus to misuse his powers. The temple’s corner was very high, and below it was one of the major market places in the city. For Jesus to toss himself down and be caught by angels would mean all of Jerusalem would quickly know that Jesus had huge powers. Rather than quietly using those powers to bless others, it would have only been used to satisfy his own pride, instantly distancing himself from Heavenly Father, and invalidating his ability to save mankind.

In the third temptation, for Satan to insist Jesus worship him in exchange for great wealth and power was a sign of pure hubris. Nothing belongs to Satan, and everything already belongs to God! Satan was cast out of heaven for trying to place himself above the throne of Heavenly Father, and now sought to place himself above the Son of God, by having Jesus worship him!

Yet, as crazy as the story seems, how many of us walk away from God, bought off with the riches of the world? How many of us do not pay tithes or keep the Sabbath holy, because our money and time are more important to us than God? How often do we say “no” to God, but “yes” to the world? It reminds me of an LDS actress, who has stopped doing most things Mormon for now while she is enjoying her moment in the Hollywood Sun, even though she acknowledges that someday she will return to her Mormon roots and lifestyle. In other words, she has put God off for now while she worships Mammon and fame.

An Israelite Indeed!
John 1:43-51

After the temptations, Jesus called forth his apostles. One disciple, Philip, sought out his best friend, Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), and told him that the Messiah had been found in Nazareth. Nathanael’s response was quick, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” For those in Jerusalem, the area of Nazareth was viewed as the scum of the earth. Much of this view came from the strong Roman influence in the area, but also perhaps from its distance from the big city of Jerusalem, and therefore being a country hick area.

Yet, when Nathanael saw Jesus, the Lord called him an “Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael was stunned that someone who did not know him could make such a pronouncement. When Jesus said he saw Nathanael praying under a tree in a vision, it was all that was needed for him to become a disciple.

Today we live in a world where few are so easily convinced to believe. Worse, few are “without guile.” Guile means crafty, fraudulent, or deceptive. To be without guile means you are honest and faithful in all things. Few are without guile in modern society, where “greed is good” and it is okay to “dig a pit for your neighbor” as long as you get ahead. Among Mormons and other Christians today, do we seek to be an “Israelite indeed” without guile? It seems that such are the type Jesus looks for in his closest and most trusted disciples.


Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted:

Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities:

Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride:

Karl D’s NT lesson 4:

Jim F’s NT lesson 4:

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