Friday, October 19, 2012

Lesson 42: “This Is My Gospel” 3 Nephi 27–30; 4 Nephi

Lesson 42: “This Is My Gospel”
3 Nephi 27–30; 4 Nephi

The Things of God, Man and the Devil
3 Nephi 27

The twelve disciples fasted and prayed, wishing to know what the Church should be called.  Obviously, there was contention on the matter among the members of the Church, and perhaps even among the Twelve.  The Lord appeared, telling them to stop their disputing.  He explained that if a church is named after Moses or someone else, then it belongs to that person.  Therefore,

“…if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Ne 27:8).

This might seem like a no brainer issue, but something similar happened in Paul’s day (1 Corinthians 3).  Even in the early days of the Church, it changed its name from “The Church of Christ” to “The Church of Latter-day Saints” and finally to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, but only after the Lord commanded it.

“For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). 

Because of the name change away from the Church of Christ in the 1830s, there were some members in Kirtland Ohio that felt the Church had strayed from its roots and believed Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet.  This is how important a name can be, anciently and today.

But just because a church calls itself after Christ’s name, does not mean it is his Church. It must also be “built upon my (Jesus’) gospel.”  To the extent that a church strays from that directive, it is less and less the Lord’s church.  A Church built upon the gospel will show forth the Father’s works.

if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you” (3 Ne 27:11-12).

Here, the Lord gives us an insight on not only the churches that are in the world, but all organizations and things found on earth.  All things are founded upon the Lord’s gospel, man’s gospel, or Satan’s gospel.  Of the three, only the Lord’s gospel promises eternal joy and peace.  The other two are temporary, and one may find “joy” or perhaps “pleasure” is a better word, in those things. But eventually the things of man corrode and fall apart, while the works of Satan will all end tragically.

How do we determine the things of man?  A simple illustration might help us see this.  Many eons ago, my youngest son asked me to buy him the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game for his Nintendo system.  He told me that it would make him the happiest person on earth.  So, for his birthday, I purchased it for him. Indeed, he seemed like the happiest kid in the world when he unwrapped it.  For days he played the game, almost without stop.  After a couple weeks, I noticed he wasn’t playing it. I asked him why he wasn’t.  He responded that he now had beaten the game several times and was bored with it.  No longer did I see the face of the happiest kid in the world, but someone who needed his next “fix.”

Meanwhile the scriptures explain to us that the things of God fill us with the Holy Spirit, which brings us joy and peace.  King Benjamin insisted that happiness only comes from turning to Christ and His gospel, believing and repenting, then receiving the ordinances and the Holy Ghost as a constant companion (Mosiah 2-5).  A person who continually walks with the Spirit never becomes bored with spiritual experiences, even though they may come in very simple packaging and little fanfare or marketing.

Meanwhile, the things of Satan addict people to evil.  Whether it is sexual perversion, violence, greed, or any other immoral practice, does not matter. Satan gives the person big sensations to experience.  Such feelings are often addictive, which is why people become addicted to sex, drugs, violence, and a variety of other things.  Once ensnared, Satan no longer has a need to support the person, and allows the person’s world to collapse.

It is possible that some churches work under the power of God, or partially under his blessing.  It may be that others work under the doctrine of man’s gospel – not evil, but not virtuous, either.  Then there are some practices and beliefs that are totally wicked.  Here are the three choices set before most of us: Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial life.

I am lifted up

Jesus continues by explaining, 

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.   And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.   And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Ne 27:15-17).

All men will return back into the presence of God, to be judged of their works.  There are two parts of this judgment: those who repent and are baptized, and those who endure to the end.  The first part notes the Justification of Christ’s atonement.  Those who believe and repent (symbolized by baptism) are made guiltless, or sinless.  They are saved from Outer Darkness and spiritual death.  Meanwhile, those who also seek to endure to the end, keeping the commandments and being righteous, are Sanctified by Christ’s atonement and the Holy Ghost.  As a person seeks to grow in righteousness, they receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost, making the person more holy and sanctified than before.

For those who do not believe, repent, nor endure to the end, there is only one place for them: Outer Darkness.  Because we have this life and the Spirit World, we have time to be justified and rescued from eternal hell fire.  However, the longer we wait, the less time we will have to become sanctified to a higher level of heaven than just the Telestial.  So, it is important not to waste our probationary period here on earth.  These teachings are made clearer by Jesus:

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end (Justification)  Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (Sanctification)” (3 Ne 27:19-20).

Jesus then explains we are judged from the books.  The apostle John noted that the Book of Life AND the books of works were brought forth in the final judgment.  Those who have been Justified are found in the Book of Life.  Those not found in the Book of Life are cast out into Outer Darkness.  For those who are in the Book of Life, they are then judged according to the books of works, to determine how holy and sanctified the individual has become (Revelation 20:12-15).

Transfiguration and Translation
3 Nephi 28

The Twelve desired a gift.  Nine of them wanted to live to old age, and then be received into heaven. They were granted this blessing.  However, three of the group wished to dwell upon the earth until the last day. 

Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.  And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.  And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand: (3 Ne 28:7-9).

Here we learn some important concepts of Translation:
1.       They do not “taste of death.”  This could be interpreted two ways.  First, that anyone taking a bite out of on of their arms would conclude they have not decomposed.  That is probably not the correct meaning given (although still valid), given the context.  It means they will not experience death.  They shall die and be reborn in a twinkling of an eye, so quick there is not time to experience what death is.
2.       They will live in a translated state until God accomplishes all of his work and Christ comes in glory at his Second Coming.
3.       Satan has no power over them.
4.       They do not endure normal pain, but will experience the pains and sorrows of the world.  Experiencing sorrow for the sins of the world seems to suggest they somehow experience, at least in part, the sorrow and pain Jesus felt in taking upon himself the sins of the world.

We are told that the translation experience required they be transfigured or changed from a mortal to an immortal body.  Transfiguration is normally expressed in temporary events, such as when Moses or Joseph Smith saw God.  They both returned to their mortal state, but weakened from the experience.  For those who are translated, the transfiguration is a permanent transformation, making them holy and sanctified both spirit and body.  Though not resurrected, they are in between the resurrected and mortal states.

For these three, this was an ascension event.  They likely were brought up to the throne of God where the change from mortal to immortal was made.  It is actually an event that is anticipated in the LDS endowment, when the members are asked to put the temple robes on top of their normal white clothing.  This change from mortal appearance to immortal appearance, or to a transfigured or translated or resurrected state, is important to recognize.

Mormon speaks to us of the forthcoming Book of Mormon
3 Nephi 29-30

Mormon returns to share his thoughts with us.  He focuses on the works of his hands, the abridgment of the large plates of Nephi.  He explains briefly the main and key events and teachings therein.  The Lord lives and all which his prophets have foretold will come to pass.  When the Book of Mormon comes forth, then Israel would no longer be spurned by God.  Since its publication in 1830, we see that the Jews are returning to Israel. They again have their own nation.  Hundreds of thousands of Lamanites (both direct DNA and cultural descendants) have read the Book of Mormon and know that they are of the House of Israel.

Can you imagine how that sounded at the time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated Mormon’s words?  Only a handful of people believed in the work they were doing.  No one but Joseph saw the metal plates until the Three Witnesses. The early Saints were persecuted and driven from place to place, and still there is this prophecy in the book itself stating that its words would come to the House of Israel, and help prepare them for the Second Coming!

And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel. And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.  And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you” (3 Ne 29:2-4).

With the coming of the Book of Mormon, God is beginning to fulfill his work and covenant with Israel.  What a bold statement to make, if this book were made by a fraud.  Instead, we see it coming true.

One thing Mormon does warn Israel and Gentile alike: do not take lightly the revelations and miracles of God.

Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!  Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!” (3 Ne 29:6-7).

In chapter 30, Mormon briefly calls upon the Gentiles to repent.  They must become a part of spiritual Israel, or be destroyed at his Second Coming.  The path is as described many times in the Book of Mormon: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism for remission of sins, and receiving the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Fourth Nephi – the Nephite Millennial Zion

In Fourth Nephi, we begin by seeing the results of the great destruction among the Nephites, followed by the coming of the resurrected Lord, and finally through the teaching of the Twelve.  People throughout the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites repent.  They have a “Millennium” of more than 200 years, before things begin to break down.

What constitutes the key factors behind this Zion period?

1.       “... And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost”
2.       “…the people were all converted unto the Lord” – not just a few. One cannot have a Zion, if some of the people are not converted, truly converted, to the Lord.
3.       “…there were no contentions and disputations among them” – note they had contentions over baptism and the name of the Church, which Jesus had to settle for them.  Now, there were no contentions. Satan had no power over this people.
4.       “…every man did deal justly one with another.”   There were no Gadianton robbers seeking to get gain or advantage over another.  All were honest in their dealings with their fellow man.
5.       “And they had all things common among them….”  Note, this does not say whether the material goods were taken by government via taxes and redistributed.  More likely, they distributed to the poor via the Twelve disciples or an organization set up by them to manage it (local teachers and priests?).
6.       “…they were all made free….”  There were neither slaves nor servants among them. Remember, much of Nephite history deals with one form of slavery or another:  Lamanites seeking to enslave Nephites, Zoramites enslaving their poor, Gadiantons enslaving those who would not join them.
7.       They were all “partakers of the heavenly gift”.  This is a phrase that we could spend lots of pages writing about.  The heavenly gift?  Is it the Holy Ghost?  The 2nd Comforter?  Perhaps.  But I think it more suggests the concept of Zion as a model of heaven.  Enoch’s Zion was made perfect, the whole people were translated (like the 3 Nephites just mentioned above), and Zion was lifted up and taken to heaven.  It was made into a Celestial temple.  Now, the Nephites had their own Celestial temple here on earth.  The heavenly gift is to dwell in unity among a Zion people, who have all things in common – material and spiritual things, who are all converted to Christ, and who are ready to become one with the Godhead.

And so we see that Christ’s teachings have led us to this point, where we find the people, no longer Nephites and Lamanites, but the people of Christ, living as the pure in heart in a perfect society of love, harmony and peace.

Sadly, it only lasts a few centuries.  Then greed, contention and worldly desires set in.  The people quickly devolve from the finest in the world to the worst the world has ever known.  Once a people have been so enlightened by truth and witnessed Christ as they did, they can never again put the genie back into the bottle and be regular people.  There is only one direction, and that is straight down, as if they got too close to the edge of heaven, slipped, and fell straight to hell.

Herein we see a prophecy of the world today.  A people are led by God to discover the promised land. They prosper when they follow God, and suffer when they disobey their covenant with him.  They eventually come to a great destruction, followed by the Coming of Christ and a Millennial reign.  Afterward, Satan is loosed for a season, wherein the demon will gather those sons of perdition to his side.  All of this leads to a grand and ultimate fight at the end of the world, with the wicked destroyed, and the world is prepared for a new, reborn, people.

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