Sunday, March 17, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

My previous blogging on this lesson is here:


In this lesson, Jesus gives many of his parables. The word "parable" comes from the Greek, "parabole" which means a comparison of parallel things. In this context, Jesus' parables take every day events and compares them with the Kingdom of Heaven - the promise that heaven would come to earth for the Millennium. Unlike fables, which often give animals human characteristics and include magic, parables are ordinary and mundane normal events that have a spiritual meaning. The Hebrew form of the word, "mashal"also suggests something hidden, as in a riddle.

Here we have several parables, some long, others short. Each with a particular lesson. The parables were designed to have a hidden spiritual meaning, which only the true followers would understand. For the Pharisees, the parable of the sower would only seem like a story of someone planting a garden. For the believer, it would have far more important connotations, telling them what kind of people accept the gospel and retain that faith in their hearts.

In the same sense that these parables were hidden to the nonbelievers, so it was with the kingdom Jesus was building. The kingdom was hidden, initially being found only in the person of Christ. Only later would it expand to engulf much of the world through Christianity. In this instance, as with the good seed of the sower, some Christian faith would yield 30, some 60 and some a fullness (hundredfold - the full Restoration of the Gospel).

Framing the Parables
In chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus encountered opposition by the Pharisees. They insisted he was healing by the power of Beelzebub (Lord of the Flies). Jesus countered that a house divided cannot stand, and so Satan could not heal and remain Satan. They then asked to see a sign, of which he only gave them the sign of Jonah (3 days in the fish/ground), calling them vipers, snakes that lie in wait to strike and poison.

It is in this context that Jesus begins speaking in parables. Even though the Pharisees had seen miracles, they still demanded a sign. When he did show miracles, they insisted it was from Satan. While miracles are sacred, Jesus' teachings were even more sacred. He was not about to throw his pearls before the swine. Instead, he taught openly through hidden means, parables. In this way, true disciples would understand through the Holy Ghost, while unbelievers would remain clueless.

Finishing his parables, Jesus is rejected by those he was teaching. They were amazed at his authoritative teachings and miracles, but in a bad way, "And they were offended in him" (Matthew 13:57).

Even speaking in hidden forms, the people were offended and rejected Christ. Mormon had similar results from the Nephites, in writing to his son Moroni, he noted:

"Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them." (Moroni 9:4)
 Now, think of those who proclaim to follow the Savior today, but who reject the teachings of living prophets. Even among the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many who reject the apostolic warnings against modern sins and worldliness. When the prophets speak in parables, or quietly and kindly, they are ignored. When they speak with strong words, they are condemned for being the white male patriarchy.

Christ explained the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth in parables. For us, with all the commentaries and books on the New Testament, we are able to see many hidden teachings without pondering on the things of the Spirit. Yet, that knowledge doesn't help us anymore than the Pharisees and people seeing the miracles Jesus performed, and then rejecting him.

As in the parables, we must seek Him diligently as did the widow seek her coin, the man sought to obtain the pearl of great price, or in leavening our own spiritual bread. As the seed in the story of the sower, we can let it land in a good heart, or allow our hearts to be hardened as rock.

Previous blog post on this lesson:

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

The Twelve are Ordained
In discussing Matthew 10, 19th century Bible scholar Matthew Henry noted:

This chapter is an ordination sermon, which our Lord Jesus preached, when he advanced his twelve disciples to the degree and dignity of apostles. In the close of the foregoing chapter, he had stirred up them and others to pray that God would send forth labourers, and here we have an immediate answer to that prayer: while they are yet speaking he hears and performs. What we pray for, according to Christ’s direction, shall be given,

 In chapter 9, Jesus implored them to pray for laborers/missionaries to share the gospel. Immediately, the Lord now is preparing the way by setting apart his 12 apostles. They have been told to follow Jesus, and would be "fishers of men," and now will have the authority to do so. Jesus teaches them their role as apostle: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and preparing a people for the coming of Christ.

Previously, there was no established process to develop an organization of prophets. The Old Testament mentions a school of prophets, but rarely do we see how a prophet is called, especially to replace the previous one (Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha are the main examples). Usually, we just see that a prophet is called of God, and he proclaims himself as such. Now, Jesus is establishing an organization that will plant the seed for his message to go throughout the world, and not just stay in Israel. Without a quorum of 12 apostles, there would have been no mission to the Gentiles, and the mission of Jesus would soon have failed after his crucifixion, as there would have been no witnesses to tell the tale of Christ's triumphant mission and resurrection.

Is It Easier to Heal or Forgive?

In the story of the palsied man who is let down through the roof to Jesus, we find an interesting teaching moment by Jesus. Instead of just healing the man, he first states that he forgives the palsied man of his sins. When the Pharisees murmur about blasphemy (for who can forgive sins, except God?), Jesus then responds with a question.  Which is easier: forgiving or healing?

Our first thought, and that probably of the Pharisees, was that forgiveness was easier. And in some ways it probably is easier. Forgiveness only requires an emotional effort towards empathy. Healing requires faith and the power of God. However, in today's world, we find that mankind can now do an amazing amount of healing through technology and nutrition. Yet, it becomes harder and harder for us to forgive those around us, those who offend us (intentionally or not). We are eager to condemn others and hold onto grudges for decades, instead of seeking to forgive, as Jesus so freely offers to all of us.

Would it be more important to us to be healed of a long term illness, or to receive forgiveness of God and those around us? Yet, we will jump at medical miracles to heal us of aches, pains, and rejuvenate our skin through plastic surgery. Meanwhile, we move much slower in forgiving others, even though Jesus proclaimed in teaching the Lord's prayer that we must forgive others, so that God will forgive us our trespasses.

Healing is a miracle. Forgiveness from God is an even greater miracle.

The Disciples of John the Baptist

John is imprisoned. His disciples understand that he may not have long to live. John sends them to Jesus with a question to ask, not for himself, but for his disciples to hear: Art thou the Messiah?  They needed to be weaned off John and onto Jesus, who was the Promised Savior. They did not need to look any further for a Messiah. Jesus' answer was clear, he was doing the works that were foretold the Messiah would do: healing the sick and afflicted, and proclaiming the gospel.

Humans tend to connect to their leaders, seeing them as saviors. This can include modern politicians, philosophers, singers, actors, and even modern day prophets. Listening to and considering what they have to offer is a good thing. But when it comes to true discipleship, we must ensure we are not following John the Baptist, while Jesus is available. We do not want to love a dead prophet so much, that when the Lord speaks something new through his living prophet, we stick with the old discipleship of dead prophet worship. Whether John the Baptist lived or died, discipleship to his being a prophet should have been overshadowed by discipleship to the Messiah.  John understood this, which is why he frequently sent his disciples to join Jesus.  Because of John's devotion to leading people to Christ, Jesus could not say enough good things about him. He was definitely among the greatest of prophets, who allowed himself to diminish so that Christ's role as Messiah could increase in the faith and lives of all Israel.


Matthew Henry:

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Image result for jesus healing lds

Matthew and the Miracles
Many scholars believe that most of the events in Matthew 8-9 probably occurred prior to the Sermon on the Mount. However, Matthew combined them. As the 3 chapters on the Sermon on the Mount focus on the spiritual teachings of Jesus, these two chapters focus on the miracles Jesus performed.

Each of these miracles suggest a particular power that Jesus possesses. The first miracle, likely occurring immediately after the Sermon, was the healing of the leper.

This healing is very important, because leprosy was viewed differently than any other disease. Under the Law of Moses, leprosy was an uncleanness that reached to the very soul of the person. A leper could not dwell in Jerusalem, attend the temple, and clean people quickly learned to avoid them to avoid being contaminated themselves. In healing the leper, Jesus showed that he had power over clean/unclean, righteousness/sin.

While Matthew has Jesus asking for discretion on not broadcasting around his miracles, Mark seems to encourage it, as when he tells a young man he cures to return to his family and tell them of the miracle.

The Centurion
Jesus not only heals the unclean, but also gives time and consideration to the Gentiles in the area. A Centurion was a Roman military man in charge of 100 soldiers. While it is possible this was a centurion under Herod Antipas (and thus, a Jew), it is more likely to have been a Roman centurion. He notes that he is not worthy of having Jesus enter his house, as he is forced by Caesar's decrees to worship Caesar and other deities, as well as perform some terrible military actions. In this healing, Jesus shows that he is not only the Messiah of the Jews, but of all the Roman world. He is to be worshiped and believed in, even though the world forces down terrible paths. Even when we deem ourselves unworthy, Jesus is there to heal us when we call upon him.

Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with the blood issue
In this dual story, we find Jesus healing a rich and powerful man's daughter, and a poor woman considered unclean. This story shows the power of faith, as Jairus' daughter dies as Jesus is en route to heal her. The faithlessness of those mourning her death and mocking Jesus was palpable. But so was the faith of Jairus and his wife. It was a living faith that sent Jairus perhaps several miles to seek a miracle. Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so he had power over life and death. Jewish belief was that the spirit remained with the body for 3 days, and so was recoverable by a miracle as this. Later, Jesus' bringing Lazarus back from the dead on the fourth day, will show he has complete power over death.

For the woman with a blood issue (a menstruation cycle that never stops), the woman was considered unclean. Women were unclean during their menstrual cycle, and had to go through a cleansing period afterward, so they could be considered clean to enter the temple, to touch others, and to be accepted into all of society. For this woman, her issue was as bad as being a leper. She could never become clean. The scripture notes she saw many physicians, to no avail. Given how terrible medicine was practiced back then, it could have been painful, embarrassing, and harmful to go through the prescribed treatments. In this instance, only faith was sufficient to heal her. Unlike the leper, who walked through the crowds up to Jesus, this woman quietly sought a secret healing and then to go on her way. Having felt his power heal her, he stopped, even though the crowds pressed on him and his disciples. Jesus didn't have to stop. He could have continued walking. But the woman needed a moment to be recognized by her Savior, who looked upon her lovingly, saying her faith made her whole.

"Peace, Be Still"

In going by water to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus made an interesting choice. He could have easily went around by land. The storm that occurred would seem to have awakened the average person, but Christ continued sleeping on his pillow in the back of the boat, even while the others struggled to keep it afloat. The waters came in and the boat began to founder. Only then did they awaken Jesus, afraid they would perish. In saying, "Master, we perish," were they pleading for him to save them, or were they informing him that all, including Jesus, were about to meet a watery grave?

In commanding the storms to be still, Jesus showed that not only did he have power over disease and do over the elements. Taming the waters of a great sea is reminiscent of Moses controlling the Red Sea. Jesus, then, showed he had the same power and authority that Moses had. He was not just a prophet, but a new Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, he replaced much of the Mosaic Law with the Christian Law. As with Moses, Jesus performed many miracles. Now he tamed the waters.

"We are Legion"

Arriving on the opposite shore in the land of the Gadarenes, Jesus encounters two men (one man in Mark), who are possessed by several demons. They are powerful, being able to break fetters and chains. Upon seeing Jesus, the demons proclaim who he is, and pray he won't torment them.

I've pondered without success, why demons would go out of their way to approach Jesus and proclaim him as the Son of God? Why didn't they go hide in a cave or elsewhere, until Jesus departed a few days later? What invisible force caused them to come before him?

Interestingly, those who had fought against God in the war in heaven, now came to Jesus for mercy. They did not want to be cast out of the country they were in, but to be cast into some swine instead. What did it do for them to enter the swine, when the swine immediately ran over a cliff into the sea? The swine were probably being raised for the Romans and other Gentiles in the area to eat, as Jews wouldn't have come near them even to care for the pigs. So, the town people likely were not Jews. Seeing a Jew with such power as to heal the possessed, while also destroying two thousand pigs (possibly one of the town's major livelihoods), would have unnerved those not accustomed to such power. Was the slaughter of the pigs partially due to the Jewish cleanliness laws, which taught that swine were unclean?  What does it mean when an unclean demon enters into an unclean swine? What is the symbolism beyond Christ seeking to cleanse the land of all uncleanness?

We do learn one important thought from this story. Jesus does not remain long with those who reject him. As the Gadarenes asked him to leave for killing their swine, so Jesus will not remain long with us when we ask him to depart from us, as well. We can use whatever reason we have to reject the Lord,  and he will not force himself upon us. Whether through sin, or a conscious demand to have him out of our lives, Jesus will not remain where he is not wanted. Still, he is not far off. Christ did not threaten them, brush his feet off as a testimony against them, nor anything else. He simply left at their request.

Yet, we also learn from those he healed, that when they came to him and asked him to bless them, he was ever ready to lift them up. He forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storms, but only when the people first sought him and then exercised faith in Christ. As we turn to him in faith and ask him for his blessings, we will not be turned away.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 6-7

Come Follow Me - Matthew 6-7

(My previous blog post on this lesson: )

Image result for sermon on the mount

Traditional Christianity's Continuing Struggle with the Sermon on the Mount

This lesson continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. For modern scholars, as discussed somewhat in last week's lesson, the Sermon on the Mount means different things.  For Luther, it was Jesus describing what is impossible for us to accomplish, and so it doesn't mean anything in regards to salvation by faith/grace without works. Michael F. Kearney noted,

Some thinkers, such as Albert Schweitzer, have placed so much emphasis on the eschatology* of the Sermon on the Mount that they have rendered it meaningless—Schweitzer’s work led him to believe that Jesus was mistaken in His anticipation of an imminent eschaton**, and if one understands the Kingdom of God to be solely expressed in an earthly rule under the absolute sovereignty of God as the King, then this places the Sermon in a sort of limbo, not having a home in this present world with its [presumably] unfulfilled arrival of the Kingdom.
Such are the struggles for traditional Christianity, which does not have the blessings of the Restoration. Jesus believed and taught that his kingdom would come forth on earth, literally and completely. The purpose of spreading the gospel in the days of the original apostles and in our day, is to prepare the way for that great moment when Jesus returns a second time in power and glory.

Earth life isn't expected to go on forever as it always has, but to have an ending to the telestial world it now is.  Jesus' teachings in chapters 6-7 prepare us to think, live and prepare ourselves for that day. Further, many teachings have both a spiritual and temporal fulfillment, and often times will have many partial temporal fulfillments. While the fullness of the kingdom may not yet be here, there are things that bring it partially into fulfillment.

The Lord's Prayer
Interestingly, Jesus begins with common activities, which he felt the Jewish leaders (he calls them hypocrites) are doing wrong. Two of the most common activities in religion are alms giving and prayer, which he discusses first.

In the Lord's Prayer, we read:

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Matthew 6:9-13)
Breaking down the prayer, we first find Jesus establishing the proper relationship with God. He calls him Father, but not just any father. He addresses Father in Heaven. And to ensure the relationship is a respectful and reverent one, Jesus notes that even the name of God is hallowed or sacred.

Next, Jesus notes his belief that God's kingdom will come upon the earth. Many Christians no longer believe in a Second Coming, but that the earth will go on forever in its current state, perhaps becoming better on its own in a Star Trek fashion, where there is no longer hunger or need (as one can whip up a nice meal using a replicator).  But there is a kingdom and it will be on earth, even as it is in heaven.  And the only way it can be done is by doing God's will here on earth, even as his will is done in heaven.

He asks for the basic need of life: bread. He doesn't ask for lands, gold, power, or fame - but only the basic necessities needed to maintain physical health.

More important are the spiritual needs: being forgiven and delivered from evil. These require some work on our part, as we must forgive to be forgiven, and we cannot be running towards evil while God is trying to keep us from temptation.

Finally, Jesus reiterates the importance of God's kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all things belong to God, not us. This focuses us on other important teachings we will read in the Sermon - such as seeking first the Kingdom of God, and not spending our entire lives seeking material goods that perish and are stolen.  God will provide an open path for us, if we seek him first, a path that leads to all God's blessings and promises.

The Sermon on the Mount as a Temple Experience

LDS Scholar John Welch showed that the Sermon on the Mount, with the additional concepts from Jesus' Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 11-14) are directly connected to concepts in the temple. As the temple ceremonies take us from the basics (baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost), to higher laws, commandments and teachings, so the Sermon on the Mount begins with the beatitudes, which begin with simple actions (poor in spirit, meek), and move higher up the righteousness ladder to pure in heart, peacemaker, and being a prophet (and persecuted like a prophet).

Then Jesus discusses concepts that turn the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Jews on their head. Alms are to be done in secret. Prayer is to be done in secret. Let God reward you, don't seek the praise of men.  Judge only righteous judgment, for you will be judged as you judge.  Fix your own problems (beams) before you focus on others' weaknesses (motes). 

In chapter 5, Jesus mentions adultery as a sin we must avoid, but adds onto it that we cannot covet another man's wife in our heart, either (the word "lust" is used in English, but Moses' law against coveting comes closer to what is meant).

In the context of the modern LDS temple, where one moves upward to higher knowledge, covenants, and blessings, the Sermon on the Mount makes great sense.

The Kingdom

As mentioned, Jesus stated that the kingdom of God was at hand. For Latter-day Saints, we are called to build the kingdom of God today. The Restoration is all about preparing a people and the world for the Second Coming of Christ. A portion of the kingdom is already here: the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the key to the mysteries of godliness and of seeing God. Today, we have over 200 temples in operation, under construction, or announced. Inside the temple, we find the kingdom of God here on earth, as each Celestial Room represents the presence of God and his kingdom. With each ordinance for the living or for the dead (vicarious work), we are establishing the kingdom of God in individual's lives.

Then, as we walk out the front door of the temple, returning to this world, we seek to live the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, until the day comes when we can obey the highest commandment Jesus gave in his sermon:

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)


"The Sermon on the Mount: Is It Livable?"  Michael F. Kearney

*Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

 **Eschaton:  the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.

John W. Welch. "The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple". Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009

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"