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: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-8.html

My blog post on the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2012/09/book-of-mormon-lesson-38-old-things-are.html



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 lds.org 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: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-5.html





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.

https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-6.html

https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-4.html


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.