Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 39: “Behold, My Joy Is Full” 3 Nephi 17–19

Lesson 39: “Behold, My Joy Is Full”
 3 Nephi 17–19

3 Nephi 16 will be discussed in the next lesson.

Pondering upon the words of Christ
3 Nephi 17

“Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again” (3 Nephi 17:3).

Jesus is giving the Nephites a temple experience.  They have seen God.  He gave them new power and authority, as well as a new baptism ordinance.  He received them by this covenant (and soon will do so with the Sacramental bread and wine), healing their sick, allowing all believers to touch his hands and feet as a witness that he is the Christ.

Now, he wants them to go home and ponder this experience.  As with the modern temple initiate, the first experience with the endowment is like drinking from a fire hose.  One cannot understand it all in one sitting.  We do not begin to understand Jesus’ teachings in the scriptures, from his prophets in Conference talks, the temple ordinances and covenants, or our own personal revelation, without pondering it.

Without understanding, truly understanding, what we now know, we are unable to receive more.  We must understand what we now have, so we can then prepare our minds to receive more.  If a person does not understand multiplication and division, that person will be unable to understand algebra or calculus.  To not seek to understand what we are taught today, we are not ready to receive more knowledge and truth.  Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why so many people do not receive a testimony of the gospel of Christ: they have not prepared their minds sufficiently in the right manner – through prayer and faith.

Jesus prayed and wept

Jesus knelt with the people and prayed to God for them.  

“And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father” (3 Nephi 17:16-17).

Previously, Jesus told them how to pray.  Now, he is demonstrating to them how the highest form of prayer is done.  The prayer is so deep and moving that there are no words to describe it.  We do not know whether the things Jesus said cannot be spoken or written because they are forbidden or too sacred to write, or whether they are just so powerful they cannot be put down in mortal terms.  Clearly it was not in the Nephite language, which could be written, but in a heavenly language they could understand – even though it still was something their hearts could not fully conceive. 

I wonder: how often do we pray so intensely that it makes such an impact on the hearers, whether our families, our fellow worshipers, or even just each of us alone?

The children join the Divine Council

Jesus then had the children come forth and blessed them.  Unlike the adults present, who were still in the process of repentance (remember the wickedness and destructions they just went through?), the children were pure, innocent and holy in Christ. Of such are the kingdom of heaven.  The adults were tasked with pondering the teachings given them – they were not ready to receive more just yet.

And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Ne 17:23-24).

In 1 Nephi 1, Lehi had a vision wherein Christ and his 12 apostles descended to him, and included him in the Divine Council of angels.  The brothers Lehi and Nephi, sons of Helaman, also had angels descend in the midst of fire to them in the Lamanite prison (Helaman 5).  Now, we have the children of the Nephites become part of the Divine Council.  In essence, this was their temple endowment, bringing them back into the presence of God and other divine beings.  The adults likely saw their children surrounded by holy burnings and seraphim, but were not allowed to join the experience.  As with Alma the Younger when he was saved from his sins, he saw Lehi with God and wished he could be there (Alma 36), so we can view this event from the adult side of things.  They were allowed to watch from a distance, but not participate.

Again, this is one of the key concepts in the Book of Mormon: bringing people back into the presence of God.

The Sacrament
3 Nephi 18

Next, Jesus implements the sacramental bread and wine.  This is noted to be particularly for those who have been baptized, as a continuation of the covenants made with God and Christ.  Remember from the previous lessons that Christ’s purpose is to have all the Nephites become one covenant community, united in all things.  While baptism can be seen as an individualized ordinance, the Sacrament is an ordinance and covenant shared by the community.  It is what brings our individual baptisms together into one whole as believers who seek to build Zion, a people of one heart and mind.

Why are we not to partake of the sacrament unworthily?  Because the Sacrament reflects all of our covenants we make with God and the community.  In partaking of the Sacrament unworthily or without believing, we mock the sacrifice of Christ and his atonement.  We are to bring forth a contrite spirit and broken heart.  Those who are unworthy bring forth pride and rebellion to the Sacramental table.

Note that the Sacrament also symbolizes the table of showbread in the Tabernacle/Temple of ancient times.  The bread represented the manna sent from heaven to feed Israel while they were exiled in the wilderness.  As manna had to be gathered each day, so the showbread was replaced daily.  Also found on the table was wine.  These were an offering to God, as well.  In this we see the Sacrament has a connection with the ancient temple, as well as with the temple of Christ’s body. 

In partaking worthily of the Sacrament, Christ promised us to have the Holy Ghost always with us.  The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead.  This is how all initiates begin to enter into the presence of the Godhead, by first receiving the Holy Ghost.  We receive the Holy Ghost, as well as the atonement of Christ, by covenant and an ordinance.  These prepare us for further interaction with the Godhead, until we enter fully into their presence.

Prayer again

Christ again speaks on prayer.  This time he expanded upon his previous teachings: where, when and how to pray.

In conjunction with teaching the Sacrament, Jesus is explaining that both bring unity.  Pray for our wives, children, those who are unworthy to partake of the Sacrament.  Jesus teaches and re-teaches the key things to make us one with the Godhead.

The Disciples teach the people
3 Nephi 19

Once Jesus had ascended, the people went back to their homes and spread abroad that the Lord would return the following day. Many sought to be there for his return.  While awaiting the return of Christ, the apostles were active teaching and performing ordinances. What exactly did the 12 disciples teach?

They divided the great crowd into 12 groups.  They taught the things Jesus taught the day before.  They had them kneel and pray.  

And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
 And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Ne 19:8-9).

The initiates, now prepared with prayer and basic teachings, were prepared to go into the waters of baptism and then receive the Holy Ghost, the thing they desired most of all.  Interestingly they would desire the Holy Ghost.  Why not to see Jesus or God the Father? Because the 12 taught them the proper order of things.  They would first learn to know the Spirit before ascending into the presence of the Son and Father.  As they were baptized, the people were filled with the Spirit of God, making them holy.

“And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them” (3 Ne 19:14-15).

As with the pure and holy children from the day before, now the baptized and purified initiates are worthy to join the Divine Council of heaven.  This time, they experienced the divine angels, who ministered to them, making them more holy.  Only then did Jesus come down and they received of a fullness.

It is worth noting that the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood include the “ministry of angels”, while the Melchizedek Priesthood’s keys include the “mysteries of godliness” and seeing the face of God.  This is noted in the ordinances connected to each priesthood (D&C 84:19-26).  We see baptism as an ascending from a telestial state to a terrestrial state, with the guidance of the Holy Ghost.  From there, we may receive the ordinances and covenants of the higher priesthood and enter the presence of Christ.  Finally, Jesus will lead us into the presence of the Father.  All of this ties directly into our modern temple’s teachings, ordinances and covenants.

Again, Jesus prays to the Father concerning the Nephites, who have now prepared their minds and received baptism, and so are ready for the blessings and visions they have received.  This is the pattern: Faith in Christ, repentance, baptism/ordinances/covenants, receiving the Holy Ghost (or Christ, or Father in certain instances).  In following the pattern, we become one even as the Godhead is one.

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