Sunday, June 16, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19

 Come Follow Me - Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19

 The Crucifixion

The lesson discusses the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Each event is a tragic comedy of errors as the ensuing events represent not only Jesus being betrayed, but all things good.

First, as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane in one of his most difficult times, he asked his disciples to pray with him. Yet they slept.

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, which is a key symbol of love, devotion and trust.

Trial by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, was supposed to be done in the day time, as a public event. The importance of a fair trial was set in stone as part and parcel of the law set down by Moses. The accused was not to be mocked nor hit, nor was the high priest to rent or rip his clothing. No one asked Jesus if there were any witnesses for him. False witnesses were supposed to be rigorously questioned to ensure their charges were not drummed up.

Jesus, the literal Son of God, was found guilty of blasphemy. Since the Jews were not allowed by the Romans to pass the death sentence, they sent him to Pontius Pilate. In bringing Jesus to the Roman procurator, they changed the charge from blasphemy (not against Roman law) to treason. Yet Jesus had not been tried originally for treason.

Pilate ruled an unruly people. In normal times they were difficult to control with his small Roman contingency. This occurred in the middle of Passover, when perhaps a million or more people were in Jerusalem. His troops were already overwhelmed trying to keep the peace.

In questioning Jesus, he found that Jesus was not seeking to topple Caesar, but called himself the king of an other worldly realm: not a treasonous offense. To prevent the Jewish mobs from erupting into violence, he sent Jesus to his neighbor, King Herod Antipas.

Herod was not only Jewish, but also reigned over Galilee, where Jesus was from. Previously, Herod was responsible for John the Baptist’s death, even though Herod feared and believed John’s prophetic call. He had heard much concerning Jesus and his miracles, and now hoped to see a miracle performed. Rather than finding a bold and outspoken prophet like John, Herod found Jesus to be quiet, timid, and less than inspiring. Herod mocked him and returned him back to Pilate for trial.

Pilate tried to convince the mobs to release Jesus. Traditionally, the Roman procurator would release one prisoner to the people on Passover. He offered a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was on trial for treason. As a member of the Zealot sect, he sought to violently overthrow the Roman occupation using murder and mayhem as his weapons. Bar Abbas was a terrorist. It is possible he was viewed as a militant messiah, as many Jews believed the coming Messiah would free them from Roman bondage. Meanwhile, Jesus was the Prince of Peace, the true Messiah. Instead of leading uprisings and rebellions with murder, he healed the sick and preached love and repentance.

The name Barabbas can be read as Bar Abba, or "Son of Father" (God). So, Pilate offered the Jews a choice between the Son of God and the literal Son of God. The Jewish mobs chose the imitation Savior.

Jesus was led away to be brutally whipped, mocked and tortured by the Roman soldiers, prior to crucifixion. The soldiers beat him, placed a crown of skin-piercing thorns on Jesus’ head, and placed a purple robe of royalty upon him. They mockingly bowed before him, then slapped him many times. Little did they know that the day would come when every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord.

In being crucified, the perfectly harmless and innocent Son of God was given the capitol punishment reserved for the most wicked and evil. Crucifixion was not the only form of death given by the Romans. It was the most severe and public, so as to show the people what happened to those who committed heinous crimes. Crucifixion was first invented by the Persians about 300-400 years before Christ. The Romans perfected it.

On the cross, a person slowly and painfully died of asphyxiation and organ failure, the heart and lungs failing as blood drained from the wounds and difficulty breathing failed to provide sufficient oxygen to the body. Those accused of robbery often had their arms tied to the cross, allowing them to struggle for several days. One nailed with his arms straight out, as was Jesus, would not be expected to live more than 24 hours. The legs were nailed to the sides of the cross, through the ankle bones, with the knees bent at a 45 degree angle. This forced the person to hang from his arms most of the time, intensifying the pain and increasing the difficulty of breathing.






While soldiers selfishly divided his clothes at his nailed feet, he focused his attentions elsewhere: “Mother, behold thy son”, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The two thieves on either side of Jesus seemed to magnify the disparity between good and evil occurring on that fateful day. One thief mocking him and demanding to be saved, not understanding that Jesus was virtually saving him as he cursed. The other thief recognizing his own sins and that through faith he would be saved. Even as with the young Alma, this thief had experienced hell, but through repentance and faith would escape torment and hell, being saved in Jesus Christ (Alma 36).

Finally, after hours of pain, thirst and suffering, Jesus would meet his most difficult moment. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had God’s strength and power with him. God pronounced his Son at Jesus’ baptism, and again on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even while praying in agony at Gethsemane, God sent Jesus an angel to strengthen him. While Jesus was always there for his apostles, and is always there for us, he would not be given the same in return.

His apostles having deserted him and his mother sent away, only the disbelieving Romans and the apostate Jews remained to watch him on the cross. Still, God remained with him up to the last moments.

But now, he would be absolutely alone. “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” A necessary step in bringing to pass the atonement was for Jesus to face the pains and sins of this world all alone, and without the spiritual guidance or strength of Heavenly Father. God fully withdrew his presence.

No longer protected by his Father’s love and strength, the utter most depths of hell roared up to meet Jesus. But for a few moments he needed to endure this. To rise above all, he first had to descend below all things. In order to save any of us from the blackest of eternal nights, he first had to go there. Alone.
Moments of agony passed. He endured and triumphed. Reaching the climax of his mission, he simply said, “Father, it is finished. Thy will be done.”

And he died.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18

Come Follow Me - Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18

Gethsemane

We now go with Jesus to the place where the Lord began his atoning sacrifice, Gethsemane. Why did he go to Gethsemane to pray? He was in the city of Jerusalem, with a million people in attendance for Passover. The place should have been crowded, perhaps with individuals camping out on the hillsides. Gethsemane was a garden, or better said, an olive tree orchard. In the orchard is found at least one olive press. Gethsemane means “olive press”. This press is within a cave located in the middle of the orchard. Outside of harvest time it would have been used, especially during the major festivals, as a place for travelers to stay. It is quite likely that Christ entered the cave, asked his disciples to remain nearby while he prayed privately inside. This poetically ties Jesus’ birth in a cave/manger to his atoning sacrifice in cave/Gethsemane and ultimately to the cave where his body laid interred until his resurrection.

The cave would also symbolize a Holy of Holies, where the greatest offerings by the high priest were offered to God. Being in a Garden, we see a tie with the Garden of Eden, where mankind began in innocence and lost that innocence, introducing death and sin into the world.






The Beginning of the Atonement

For Catholics and some other Christians, Jesus’ great work was done solely on the cross. However, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus’ atonement began in Gethsemane and culminated on the cross (to be discussed next lesson). Jesus had to overcome both physical and spiritual death. The physical death of the cross would be trumped by resurrection. The spiritual death, or mankind cast out from God’s presence, would be healed by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that began in Gethsemane and continues to this day for each of us.

In Gethsemane, we know that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11)

Or, as Nephi explained,
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21).

Of the connection between Adam and Christ, the apostle Paul noted, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). We will not only all resurrect, but we will all be made spiritually alive in Christ, brought back into the presence of God, upon the condition of faith and repentance.

We understand little of the spiritual atonement. We know that it was a dreadful experience, even for Jesus.

“41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22).

He had begun the process of taking upon himself all the sins of the world. So spiritually painful was this that it caused the blood vessels around his sweat glands to dilate and burst. Then, as he sweat, it mixed with the blood, coming out of his pores in drops.

As noted, we do not really know how the spiritual atonement works. There are various theories available, some are indirectly noted by modern apostles of the Church. The theories include, Ransom, Substitution, Satisfaction, Punitive theories of atonement (see below for links).

LDS Christians have also provided other theories of atonement. My two favorites are Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion Theory (again, see below), and Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory.

In Ostler’s theory, Christ is not punished nor ransomed directly for our sins. Instead, we have fallen from God’s presence and there is no way we can return by ourselves. When we exhibit faith and truly repent of our sins, the Savior embraces us in his love and forgiveness. As he accepts us into his compassionate embrace, we are filled with His love, compassion, and light. Yet, while he embraces us, Jesus takes into himself our pains and sorrows brought on not only by our sins, but by the hardships of life. In Gethsemane, he felt the pains and sorrows of all those who to that point had sinned or sorrowed, but then sought deliverance from God. Today, he continues feeling momentary pain as he embraces us in his love, engulfing our hurts within that love. So, in this theory, the atonement is ongoing. Every time a person reaches to Christ because of spiritual or physical pain, the person is healed through the atoning and loving embrace of our compassionate God and Savior.

As we ponder just how much pain each of us suffers, whether from sin, fear, mental anguish, or physical pain, we can truly “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.”

Odds and Ends

In an interesting twist in the story in Mark 14:51-52, a young man in a linen cloth is caught by the Roman guards. The young man is able to slip away naked. Why add such an odd story?

Some scholars believe Mark was speaking of himself. It is possible that he was literally asleep when these events occurred. However, for LDS members, it is also possible that the cave was being used by the Christian-Jewish sect to perform temple ordinances. The cave may have been used as a makeshift temporary location to perform ordinances, such as initiatory and endowments.

In the initiatory, the person is washed and anointed with water and oil, as a symbolic cleansing prior to receiving the other ordinances of the temple. It could be possible that the young man was receiving this ordinance when the soldiers showed up.

This concept is strengthened by the controversial Secret Book of Mark. Scholar Morton Smith claimed to have found an old letter attached to the back of a medieval book. The letter was supposedly from Clement of Alexandria, who described a portion of a Secret Book of Mark, wherein a young man (Mark?) receives a secret ordinance at night from Jesus, while wearing nothing but a linen cloth.

There is lots of scholarly controversy surrounding this letter. Some claim Morton Smith created it to fool the scholarly community. Others think it might be a medieval forgery. Still there are some who think it to be authentic.

Christ Does Not "Make up the difference."

In a recent discussion I had with a friend, he mentioned how wonderful the atonement is, and that Jesus "made up the difference" for our failures and sins. In thinking about that statement, one I've heard many Latter-day Saints use, I realize how wrong the concept it suggests is.  For Christ to make up the difference, suggests we are doing the lion's share for our salvation.

But he is not the God of the gaps. Just like the resurrection provides immortality and resurrection for ALL people, regardless of their circumstances or choices, the atonement pays entirely for all of the events of mortality. He has already paid for all of the sins we do, and even the potential sins we could do. He isn't making up the difference. He IS the difference. My sins? Already paid for in full. Your sins? Already paid for in full. Salvation is free.

So what is our part in salvation, if salvation is free? It is to embrace Christ and the atonement. To the level and extent we embrace Jesus' act of love  and grace, we receive that level of  salvation. Why is it that even murderers (including Hitler) can obtain at least to the Telestial Kingdom (described in D&C 76 as a glorious place beyond description)? Because Hitler isn't paying for his sins. Christ has done it. Once Hitler begins to believe and repent, the atonement snatches him from spiritual death and plants him within the power of God's glory. As with Alma's conversion, while in a coma (Near Death Experience?), he was in complete darkness (Spirit Prison). There was nothing he could do to rescue himself. Only in thinking on Christ, and praying for salvation and forgiveness, was he rescued. And that in an instance. Note that he was in light and it was exceedingly joyful, and while in God's presence, he was afar off wishing he could be closer.

For Alma, he would get closer. Not because he was checking off check lists of commandments, but because he sought after Christ and became as Christ. He increased his ability to stand in God's presence, because he was more like God. He loved the light. He loved the commandments. He loved having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the ministering of angels. He loved to talk to God in prayer. He loved to meditate on the things of God. Alma was totally saved by Christ, not of any works he did. Alma just had to embrace that free gift of grace.

As Christ loves us and seeks to approach us,and as we lovingly and eagerly approach Him, we are totally saved from death and hell through the eternal event that occurred in the Meridian of Time: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.



Bibliography

The olive press cave of Gethsemane: https://www.bib-arch.org/online-exclusives/easter-03.asp

also: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=21&Issue=4&ArticleID=14

Sweating blood, or hematohidrosis: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t018.html

Ransom theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_%28Ransom_view%29

Satisfaction theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_theory_of_atonement

Substitutionary theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitutionary_atonement

Punitive theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_substitution

Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion theory of atonement: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2006/08/jacob-morgans-divine-infusion-theory.html

Secret Book of Mark: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2009/10/clement-of-alexandria-and-secret-book.html

Friday, June 07, 2019

Come Follow Me - John 13-17

Come Follow Me - John 13-17


Jesus’ week in Jerusalem now comes near its close. The Passover feast was prepared and eaten on Thursday evening. This symbolized the preparations the children of Israel made before leaving Egypt’s flesh pots and following Moses into the wilderness towards the Promised Land.

During the Passover week, Jesus spent most days teaching in the temple, often in the women’s court, where both men and women could hear him preach repentance. He has preached forcefully against the Pharisees, Sadduccees and the scribes of the temple. He has openly declared himself to be the Messiah, the Angel of the Lord’s Presence, and explained his Messiah-ship in a way they considered blasphemous: he was the literal Son of God, a divine being from the Presence of the Father, worthy of worship himself.

With the Passover feast, Jesus created a new feast and what it represented. The Passover feast included the Paschal lamb, a lamb without blemish that was sacrificed and eaten in preparation for leaving Egypt. Its blood was spattered on the lintels to ensure the angel of death passed over those in the household.

Jesus now stepped in as the Paschal Lamb. The bread and wine represented his flesh and blood. His disciples were to partake and drink of Him, so that the angel of death would pass over them, as well. They were to depart spiritually from among the wicked, and allow God to guide them to the spiritual Promised Land.


“29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
“30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22).

The Promised Land promised them was the kingdom of heaven, where they would eat at Christ’s table in the royal household, and be rulers over Israel. Israel under Moses could never have imagined such a promise! They complained over the hardships they temporarily bore, wishing to return to Egypt. But had they focused forward with faith in God, they would have also received such promises as did the apostles.

Washing of Feet

The washing of feet was a very important lesson Jesus sought to teach his apostles. He was soon to die, and needed them to understand their true role. While most kings and self-declared Messiahs were worshiped, honored, and cared for; Jesus taught that he who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the servant of all.

In the Middle East, the body parts closest to the dirt are the worst. To wash one’s feet was to display utmost humility. It meant the servant was lower than the dust upon the other person’s feet. Jesus sought to show such service, so that his disciples would also serve in like manner after he was gone.

Interestingly, Simon Peter not only desired his feet to be washed, but his entire hands and head, as well. We do not see that Jesus rejected the request. The ritual of washing feet, hands and head is still a part of the temple ceremony. It symbolizes becoming clean from the wickedness in the world. Now was a moment when the apostles needed to be cleansed, for the world as they knew it was about to crash down upon them.


The Comforter
John 16

Jesus again prophesied of his death. Though the prediction caused his disciples to sorrow, it was necessary for a few reasons. First, their hearts had to be prepared for the tragedy. Second, Christ had to go in order to fulfill his mission and prepare a place in heaven for the repentant. Finally, if Christ did not leave, they could not have the Holy Ghost as a Comforter for them.

Neglected by many Christians is the concept that the Holy Ghost is sent to us as a guide and a comfort through the trials of life. Even more is the concept of the Holy Ghost as the third member of the Godhead, with the responsibility of testifying of the Father and the Son to all mankind.

As noted in previous lessons, Christ explained to the Pharisees that there were three witnesses of his Messianic call: himself, John the Baptist, and the Father (as demonstrated by the miraculous power given Christ by God). For the disciples, they would also be given three witnesses, the first leading them to the next.

The First Comforter is the Holy Ghost. His responsibilities include testifying of the Father and the Son and of the truths of the gospel. He can guide us into “all truth”, and speaks the things He hears from the Father and the Son. More importantly, his responsibility is to prepare us to receive the Second Comforter, Jesus Christ. So, John 16 explains how the Holy Ghost works with us, and prepares us for the higher teachings found in the next chapter.

This is Eternal Life
John 17

We learn in verse 3 that Eternal Life means “knowing” God and Christ. We gain this information after learning about the Holy Ghost, or First Comforter. He is the first and key step in the pathway to knowing God and Christ.

The Holy Ghost prepares us to enter into the presence of the Second Comforter, even the presence of Christ. It is then Jesus who prepares and leads us into the presence of the Father.

Chapter 17 of John contains Christ’s Intercessory Prayer, where he pleads for his disciples. They are not of the world, but still are weak and tend towards sin. Jesus asks that they may be one, even as he and the Father are one. For those who believe in the Trinity, this causes them to have to explain the term “unity of persons” differently for humans than for the Trinity itself. The belief is that the Father and Son are two persons, but one God and substance. Jesus does not mean that his disciples shall also become persons and also one being and substance. Instead, he is teaching that they shall be united in thought, desire, love, compassion, faith, hope, charity, and purpose. Just as the Holy Ghost speaks only those things which he hears from the other members of the Godhead, so the disciples shall speak and act as one. Yet they are physically separate persons. For LDS, the Godhead also consists of physically separate persons, who are yet “one” in all the important things. So, when Jesus states that he is in the disciples, even as God is in him, we understand that it is not a metaphysical joining, but a joining of hearts, desires, and minds. It is the perfect relationship.

The Perfect Relationship

Bible.org’s Exegetical Commentary explains what “Eternal Life” and “know” mean in regards to Jesus and God:


The Evangelist here defines “eternal life” for the readers. It is not just unending life in the sense of prolonged duration. Rather it is a quality of life, with its qualitativeness derived from a relationship with God. Having eternal life is here defined as being in relationship with the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. Cristov" is not characteristically attached to Jesus’ name in the Fourth Gospel; it occurs elsewhere primarily as a title and is used with Jesus’ name only in 1:17. But that is connected to its use here: the statement here in 17:3 enables us to correlate the statement made in 1:18 of the Prologue, that Jesus has fully revealed what God is like, with Jesus’ statement in 10:10 that he has come that people might have life, and have it abundantly. These two purposes are really one, according to 17:3, because (abundant) eternal life is defined as knowing (being in relationship with) the Father and the Son. The only way to gain this eternal life, that is, to obtain this knowledge of the Father, is through the Son (cf. 14:6). Although some have pointed to the use of ginwvskw here as evidence of Gnostic influence in the Gospel, there is a crucial difference: for John this knowledge is not intellectual, but relational. It involves being in relationship.

Theophany

The relationship that Jesus has with the Father extends to us. We are invited to join them in this intense and loving experience by first learning to be one with each other, and so then learning to be one with the Godhead. In following Christ, we take upon ourselves his name at baptism and promise in the Sacrament of bread and water to “always remember him” and again take his name upon us. Through repentance, atonement, faith, obedience and ordinance, we become holy. We enter a relationship with Christ, guided by the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost will eventually lead us into the Divine Presence or “Shekinah” of God, even Jesus Christ. The Savior then leads us into the Presence of the Father.

As we read from Bible.org:

Now Jesus turns his attention to the disciples. He begins by asserting that he manifested the Father’s name to them. The mention of the Father’s name will occur again in chapter 17 in verses 11, 12, and 26, but it is not often mentioned elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel (only in 5:43, 10:25, 12:28). What are we to make of this? In one sense the name represents the person (cf. 1:12) and thus Jesus in saying that he has made known the Father’s name is saying that he has fully revealed who God is and what he is like (cf. 1:18 and 14:9). But there is probably another meaning as well in the Fourth Gospel: Jesus himself is identified with God repeatedly (10:30, 14:11, etc.) and nowhere is this more apparent than in Jesus’ absolute uses of the phrase ejgwv eijmi without a predicate (8:24, 8:28, 8:58, and 13:19). The name of the Father which Jesus has made known to men is thus the Divine Name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14.

We receive the name of Christ in baptism. We receive the Divine Name from Christ prior to entering into God’s presence. This is the teaching of the Theophany - entering into the Presence of the Divine God.

In ancient texts, we find that Paul went to the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4), and in the Apocalypse of Paul was guided by the Holy Ghost from one level of heaven to the next, until he was in the Divine Presence. In the Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet also rose through the levels of heavens, until he was in the presence of the Godhead. The Prophet Enoch was given the title Metatron the Archangel, was placed upon God’s throne and worshiped as a member of the Divine Family.

Ezekiel, John the Revelator, Lehi, Jacob, and many other Bible and Book of Mormon prophets also experienced this divine theophany - entering into God’s presence and being one with God. Here, in Jesus’ culminating teachings of his mortal ministry, he shows the apostles and us the purpose of his life and ministry. Jesus would prove worthy of entering into Father’s presence and receiving a fullness of His glory. Jesus would also be the gatekeeper by whom we must pass in order to enter into God’s presence, where we also may enter into the Divine Relationship with the Godhead, receive a fullness of God’s glory and Eternal Life.


Bibliography

Wikipedia on Initiatory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_and_anointing

John 17 Exegetical Commentary: http://bible.org/seriespage/exegetical-commentary-john-17

First/Second Comforter, LDS Bible (KJV) Dictionary: http://lds.org/scriptures/bd/comforter.p1?lang=eng&letter=c

Metatron/Enoch - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metatron

Apocalypse of Paul: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html

Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ascension.html

3 Enoch: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2024701/Hebrew-book-of-3-Enoch

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Come Follow Me - Joseph Smith—Matthew 1; Matthew 24-25; Mark 12–13; Luke 21

Come Follow Me - Joseph Smith—Matthew 1; Matthew 24-25; Mark 12–13; Luke 21

Matthew 24, JST Matt 1, D&C 45

Death and Return of Christ

Jesus was speaking more and more of his impending death. The apostles could sense the tension created by such a teaching. Yet they would have to deal with it. He spoke openly of the destruction of Jerusalem and of his own death. To this end, the disciples privately asked him regarding the end of the world and Jesus’ return.

Jesus did not know when his return would be (Matt 24:36). Only God the Father knows this. For Jesus, it could very well have been in that same generation, and so he tells the apostles that some in that generation may still be alive when these things occur:


“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt 24:34).

For some, this shows Jesus made a mistake in his prophesy. That may be true, however there are other possible reasons for his statement. First, we are looking at statements written down decades after the death of Jesus, which may not be fully accurate. However, I do believe that this is an accurate statement of Jesus, which leads to a second possibility: that Jesus’ prophesy has a double conclusion, one in his time, and then again in the latter days. For Jesus and other prophets, the people of their day did live in a “last days”, whether it would be the very final “last days” before Jesus’ Second Coming OR a day in which judgment and destruction would come upon the people. For all people, their final judgment IS imminent at death, if not before.

The Last Days of Jerusalem and of the World

He first warned the disciples not to be deceived. Many would come claiming to be the Christ, but the true Savior would come with power and glory. It would be in a time when there would be “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters of all types. We are told not to be troubled by these things. Why?

Because these are only the “beginning of sorrows.” Yes, it gets worse.

Then the world will turn against the church of Christ. It will provide its own prophets of salvation to show the path out of the destructions going on around everywhere. However, we must note that just because there will be false Christs and prophets, does not mean they are all false. For the true Christ will come, and assuredly he will prepare the way of his coming through true prophets.

“The love of many will wax cold.” True love, the love of Christ, is replaced by a cheap substitute, lust. People no longer stay married, developing the kind of love and trust that carries a couple through both thick and thin. Instead, physical attraction causes an intense feeling, but it isn’t actually love. Chemical reactions replace choice whenever Lust kills off true Love.


Abomination of Desolation

In Matthew 24:16, the Lord warns them to watch for the “Abomination of Desolation” prophesied by Daniel. His disciples are to flee to the mountains when they see it come to pass. He told them, “stand in the holy place” (v. 15).

For Jerusalem, the Abomination of Desolation began with the war against Rome (66 AD). As Rome’s imperial power pushed Jews further and further away from their own roots, radical elements sprang up. Many of these belonged to the Jewish sect called the Zealots (named after Simon Zealotes). These Jews pushed the Romans out of Jerusalem, forcing the Roman general Titus to lay siege to the city for 1 ½ years.

Titus was ingenious in his siege. He allowed over one million Jewish pilgrims to enter Jerusalem for Passover, only to refuse letting them out again. Those who sought to sneak away had their throats cut by the leaders of the Zealots. Food and water became scarce. By the time the Romans successfully took the entire city, Josephus claims that over one million Jews died from starvation, disease, or the sword.

Inside the city, the rich were as bad off as the poor. Mobs of robbers roamed the streets, looking for food and bounty. Josephus tells us:

“The madness of the seditious did also increase together with their famine, and both those miseries were every day inflamed more and more; for there was no corn which any where appeared publicly, but the robbers came running into, and searched men's private houses; and then, if they found any, they tormented them, because they had denied they had any; and if they found none, they tormented them worse, because they supposed they had more carefully concealed it. The indication they made use of whether they had any or not was taken from the bodies of these miserable wretches; which, if they were in good case, they supposed they were in no want at all of food; but if they were wasted away, they walked off without searching any further; nor did they think it proper to kill such as these, because they saw they would very soon die of themselves for want of food. Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer. When these had so done, they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the corn they had gotten; some did it without grinding it, by reason of the extremity of the want they were in, and others baked bread of it, according as necessity and fear dictated to them: a table was no where laid for a distinct meal, but they snatched the bread out of the fire, half-baked, and ate it very hastily....children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives: and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious every where came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor. “ (Josephus Flavius, War of the Jews, , Book 5,Ch 10).

Even worse things happened in the city, however. The mobs drove many of the people to suicide, murder, and cannibalism. Josephus tells of a wealthy woman named Mary, who was plundered, raped, and pillaged so often by the mobs that she turned to insane actions:

“She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews." As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, "This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never so much aftrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries” (Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3).

When Titus finally did take the city, a fire was started that went out of control. It was not his intention to destroy the temple, but to convert it for use by the Roman gods. But the fire spread throughout King Herod’s temple complex, bringing it to destruction.

So we see just what the Abomination of Desolation was all about. The story is that the Christian Jews foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and did flee into the wilderness and mountains, escaping the terror and horror of the Abomination of Desolation of 70 AD.

Indeed, the Savior told them, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)” (Matt 24:15). For the disciples, this meant fleeing to the mountains for safety. Interestingly, when Titus made his final assault on Jerusalem, many Jews fled to the temple, believing it was a holy place which would save them. However, the temple had long ago been desecrated and rejected by the Lord. There would be no sanctuary in Jerusalem anymore, at least not until the end times.

Modern Prophesy of the End Times
D&C 45, 87, 88, 133

Joseph Smith’s revelations contain additional information regarding the destructions and trials of the last days, preparing us for the Second Coming of Christ.

“89 For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88).

In the last days, the world will be divided into following Christ and the Anti-Christ. In LDS parlance, we call it Zion and Babylon. These will be religious/political ideologies that are very different from on another. In the last days, the world (Babylon) will establish itself in many places with great power. Yet, regardless of its attempts at control, will actually cause much chaos in many places.

Even America will go through a period of chaos and mobs. In such a time, righteous people of many faiths will gather together to form Zion. Zion is any place where righteous people of Christ gather. For Latter-day Saints, we religiously set up such locations throughout the world, and call them “stakes”. These are gathering places for times of destruction, war, and chaos. There will be a center stake or city to Zion. It is to such places that the righteous will flee for refuge in the last days:

“66 And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God;
67 And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy” (D&C 45:66-71).

We are frequently told in the Bible and other LDS scripture to “stand in holy places, and be not moved” (D&C 87:8). Such places for our day may be in our homes, if we keep them sacred. But they are also the stakes of Zion, and in holy temples established in the midst of those stakes.

Christ’s prophecy of the last days happened in the days of his disciples, but will also happen in our day. When the Abomination of Desolation flows over the earth, we must stand in holy places.



Matthew 25

What is heaven like, and how does one make it in? Jesus shares a few parables to explain these.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

In a June 2007 Ensign article by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, we are encouraged to think of the Parable of the Ten Virgins as connected to the temple. Elder Robbins remarked, “When speaking of His Second Coming, the Lord has said, ‘I will suddenly come to my temple’ (D&C 36:8; see also D&C 42:36; 133:2; Malachi 3:1; 3 Nephi 24:1). Because He will come to His temple, we would be wise to prepare to meet Him by being temple worthy.”

There is much we may consider in light of the modern temple experience and the Parable of the Ten Virgins:

1. The Virgins are good people. They are, after all, virgins. The question is, will they remain steadfast in their purity until they are called forth? Or will they allow their purity dim before they arrive at the marriage feast?
2. The temple is the House of the Lord. It is where we prepare to see the Face of God and be in His Presence (Shekinah). To become part of the Groom’s family (i.e., his bride) means you have full access to Him, his presence, and the blessings of his riches.
3. The temple is a place for marriage, particularly eternal marriage, but also where we bind ourselves to God through sacred oaths and covenants of obedience and faithfulness.
4. To enter the temple, one must be worthy. While we do not have to be virgins, we must be chaste and holy. Our light must shine and not be distinguished. We must endure to the end and not falter or let our lights dim prior to our appearance before the Lord.
5. There is a “keeper of the gate” in both the parable and in the temple. This person ensures only those properly prepared may enter. Brigham Young taught that "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." (Journal of Discourses 2:31). This “keeper of the gate” is well attested to in ancient Jewish and Christian writings (see Apocalypse of Paul).
6. The lamps of oil were used as part of the procession. They lit the way to the actual wedding, and were a necessary part of the procession. To have one’s light go out while going to the wedding was an insult to the groom and his family. In modern terms, we have to provide righteous desires and acts to establish our character and worthiness to be a member of the wedding party.

In choosing to be a wise Virgin, we prepare for the wedding of the Bridegroom and to enter into His Presence. As with the Virgins, there should be no other thing more important than to prepare and wait for him to call for us.

Parable of the Talents

Bryce Anderson notes not only Elder Robbins’ connections regarding the Ten Virgins, but also in his second blog post on Matthew 25, a relationship between the Parable of the Talents and the temple.

He explains that Christ is the man who has traveled far from home (heaven), leaving his treasures and business in the hands of his servants. God “endowed” each of us with certain talents or gifts, and charged us to do something useful and productive with those gifts. Whether we think of these talents in terms of money, artistic abilities, or spiritual endowments of knowledge and power, it is the same.

Anderson notes regarding the person with five talents: “The first disciple was true and faithful to the talents that he had been given of the Lord, and upon giving them back to the Lord was allowed into the Lord’s presence, the celestial kingdom, to be made a ruler, a king and a priest.”

In considering the Parable of the Talents, we may consider it in another way. God gives to Latter-day Saints callings and responsibilities. Not everyone will be an apostle, stake president or bishop. Each is given a responsibility, however. Whether it is a large task, where 5 talents is given to be an apostle, or a smaller task as nursery leader requiring two talents, it is the same to God. When both individuals performed faithfully and did their best, both were promised great rewards in the kingdom of God. This is practiced in the temple. Righteous members enter the House of the Lord dressed in their best, whether it is a $500 dress from Neiman-Marcus, or the best one can find at Goodwill. All enter and change into simple white clothing that makes all of us equal before God. All receive identical ordinances. All receive the blessing of entering into the celestial room, representing the Presence (Shekinah) of the Lord. All are promised eternal lives and exaltation.

It doesn’t matter to God how many talents each of us receives, but what we do with what we have. And in being faithful, we will receive of His fullness.

For the last servant, God did not attempt to overburden him. He gave him just one small responsibility or talent to develop. But the servant rejected the call to serve and develop that talent. As with the foolish virgins, he allowed his light to go out. He intentionally buried the gifts of God, so that he would not have to work and produce and become holy. There are many members of the Church that promise and covenant to keep commandments, serve, and obey. Yet there are few who actually follow through. Only a small percentage of members enter into the temple and receive all its promises. The only reason why so few enter, is that most bury their spiritual gifts. People do not wish to pay tithes, live the Word of Wisdom, obey the law of chastity.

In rejecting and not developing the talents and covenants given them, they have shut the door on their exaltation. When the gifts are so fully rejected that we bury them completely away where we do not have to deal with them at all, the person has become an enemy to Christ, and is not worthy of his kingdom. There is only one place for a son of perdition, who has despised the spiritual gifts and promises made to him. Even if he had partially worked with the talent given him, he would have been worthy of some reward in the heavens. But he not only ignored the talent, he intentionally buried it, called the Lord a hard man (blaming the Lord and setting up an adversarial relationship).

In the temple, we learn that we may develop a loving and eternal relationship with God. However, we also learn that some choose to be an adversary instead. Such are sent away, not allowed into the wedding chamber, nor rewarded with greater blessings of the Lord.

Conclusion


Jesus taught that heaven is a great feast, where we are made rulers over many things. However, to enter into the feast, one must be prepared. We must take the lamp we are given and fill it with oil, with enough to spare, so that it does not go out. We must not bury the lamp or talents, but do the best we can to develop and grow. Our light must shine before the world as a witness to the Bridegroom, so that others may see our good works and glorify in God as well (Matt 5:14-16). As with the wise Virgins, we are to invite others to the wedding, encouraging them to go out and obtain their own oil and good works, so that when the Lord does come, we will all be ready to enter into His Presence.

 


Bibliography


Siege of Jerusalem (wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70)

Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews Book 5, Ch 10:
http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/war-5.htm

Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3
http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/war-6.htm

Doctrine and Covenants 45
http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/45?lang=eng

Doctrine and Covenants 87, the Prophecy on War
http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/87?lang=eng

Doctrine and Covenants 88, the Olive Leaf
http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/88?lang=eng#

For my personal understanding of D&C 87 as a prophecy leading up to the last days, go here:
http://rameumptom.weebly.com/dc87.html


Elder Lynn G. Robbins, “Oil in Our Lamps”, Ensign, June 2007


Bryce Hammond’s Temple Study blog, “Temple Imagery in the Parables of Matthew 25”:
Part One: http://www.templestudy.com/2008/03/06/temple-imagery-in-the-parables-of-matthew-25-part-1/
Part Two:
http://www.templestudy.com/2008/03/07/temple-imagery-in-the-parables-of-matthew-25-part-2/

Apocalypse of Paul (gatekeeper in the heavens):
http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 21-23; Mark 11; Luke 19-20; John 12

Come Follow Me - Matthew 21-23; Mark 11; Luke 19-20; John 12

With this lesson, we return to the final week of the Savior's life, much of which I covered in the Easter post, found here:

https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2019/04/come-follow-me-easter.html

Much of today's post will be based on information from the excellent book, "The Bible Tells Me So, Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It", by Peter Enns (Bible scholar). 

Enns notes that the Bible is not a basic instruction book, as many Christians think. The Bible "misbehaves" and does so a lot. Unlike the Book of Mormon, where Mormon compiled the majority of the text, and so was able to pick and align stories to fit his narrative, the Bible was written over a long period of time by several authors, each with his own political agenda.

So, we have the books of Samuel and Kings telling the story of both the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel, not sparing David and Solomon from their follies and poor choices. Chronicles, on the other hand, only speaks of the Southern Kingdom, and completely ignores David's dalliances and murders - because the author sought to make David and his lineage the hope of Israel.

All these stories began as oral histories, but ended in a major problem: the destruction of Israel by Babylon. How does one explain the eternal covenant God made with Israel, the temple being God's House, and David being promised an endless lineage on the throne, when all were destroyed? Even after Judah's return, they spent most of the next 500 years in captivity to other nations.

Understanding much of the Bible in this context meant the development of new methods of interpreting old books. This is why the Pharisees built a wall of protection around the Torah (Books of Moses), of countless rules and regulations that sought to explain what remained of the covenant.

By Jesus' time, the books (not yet gathered fully into one collection) of the Old Testament/Jewish Bible, were expected to be interpreted in new and informative ways that made them useful and living scripture for the people of the age. In such an era, Jesus would show himself as a master interpreter of scripture, taking it further than anyone previously had done.

This is why Mark 1:22 explains:

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
In Matthew, we're going to see a couple examples of Jesus making the scriptures new, and unique, in that he uses them to point the people towards him as Messiah.

Jesus used parables in the temple to lambast the Pharisees and others who opposed him. He compared them to wicked husbandmen, who killed servants (prophets) and finally the son (Jesus) of the Lord. For them, the Lord would destroy the husbandmen (Jewish leaders) and give the vineyard to others (Gentiles).

In another parable, Jesus would note the wedding of the King's son (Jesus). Guests are invited, but they ignore the request with impertinence, even killing some of the sent servants (prophets). Finally, the King kills the murderers, and sends servants among the roadways to find others to fill the banquet hall. These others would be the Gentiles.

In response, the Jewish leaders sent various groups to try and stymie Jesus. Herodians (followers of King Herod and Caesar) tempted him with a Roman coin. Jesus put them in their place by stating, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is God's." In reality, all things belong to God, but the statement ended their snare, as it separated the things of God from the things of the world.

Next came the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection. In responding to their question on marriage, Jesus followed it up with an interesting interpretation of scripture. When Moses asked God who was sending him (Moses) to save Israel, God answered, "I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."  For Moses, these were ancestors that had long ago died. This is how most of Israel viewed the statement. But for Jesus, he reanimated the patriarchs by insisting that God would not have said he was their God, if they were not still alive!

Later, Jesus would give an even greater change to scripture. In Psalms 110:1, we read,
A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
This was normally understood as a third person (perhaps a temple priest) stating "God said unto my Lord (David), sit thou at my right hand....

However, Jesus took the Psalm literally. It begins, "A Psalm of David", and so for Jesus, he could state, "David himself spoke by the Holy Spirit" that God told David's Lord (the Messiah) to sit at God's right hand. This interpretation would shine a new light on Messianic prophesy, that the Messiah would even be greater than David!

Christ's time in the temple would be to denounce the wicked, who led people away from a belief in the Messiah, and that he, Jesus, was the very Messiah the people were seeking.

Links

"The Bible Tells Me So", Peter Enns
https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Tells-Me-Defending-Scripture/dp/0062272039


My blog on Easter
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2019/04/come-follow-me-easter.html

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 19–20; Mark 10; Luke 18

Come Follow Me - Matthew 19–20; Mark 10; Luke 18


Matthew 19

Marriage and Divorce

Ellicott's Commentary notes on divorce allowed by Moses:

The force of the answer lies (1) in emphasized substitution of “suffered” for “commanded.” The scribes of the school of Hillel had almost turned divorce into a duty, even when there was no ground for it but incompatibility of temper or other lesser fault, as if Deuteronomy 24:1 had enjoined the writing of divorcement in such cases. 
 In other words, some Pharisees viewed divorce as a rule, rather than an exception. It allowed men, who were bored with their current relationship to file divorce for any reason, including to marry someone younger and different. Sound familiar to how many people today deal with marriage today? Once they find their current marriage is an inconvenience, they take the quick way out. This ignored the teachings of Christ AND Moses that husbands should treat their wives with respect and kindness. Jesus noted that marriage from Adam on down to Abraham was a very sacred thing, and was to be avoided except in issues of adultery or abuse.

The Proclamation on the Family explicitly explains the importance of marriage and family in God's eternal plan. The roles of father and mother are clear. Fathers and mothers are equals that must lead their families with love unfeigned, patience, kindness and charity. Sadly, many marriages today are suffered because we do not give ourselves fully to Christ and spouse. Selfishness turns loving newlyweds into spiteful abusers. We have frequently heard the prophets warn us and call us to repentance for not accepting our personal responsibility to sacrifice our own selfishness to bless our homes and marriages.

That said, if you are in an abusive relationship, God allows for divorce in such a case. There is no sin in escaping danger, and seeking a new marriage that offers greater hope and joy of eternal blessings. Such decisions should be prayerfully considered, and not taken lightly, especially if children are involved.



Matthew 20

The Parable of the Laborers

In this parable, we see that the Lord calls upon more laborers every hour. As each works, the Lord continues hiring whom he needs. At the end of the day, paying the last first, those hired first anticipate receiving even more. All are paid the agreed upon wage. Why is this fair? Because God promised, "all that my Father hath shall be given unto him." (D&C 84:38)

This parable is especially important in LDS doctrine. In 1840, Elder Lorenzo Snow was preparing for a mission to England. He was listening to a member discourse on the parable of the laborers.

“While attentively listening to his explanation, the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me, and explains Father Smith’s dark saying to me at a blessing meeting in the Kirtland Temple, prior to my baptism. …
“As man now is, God once was:”
“As God now is, man may be.”
“I felt this to be a sacred communication, which I related to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.” (Eliza R. Snow, pp. 46–47; italics added. Brigham Young was President of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time.)

 Joseph Smith later confirmed this revelation, though it technically is not LDS core doctrine. Why not? Because we do not know the details of what this means exactly. What does it mean for us to become like God? And what does it mean that God was once like us? Does this mean Jesus was once like us? Or does it refer to God, the Father? Or both? 

LDS believe in the couplet, yet we cannot go further than the couplet, because we do not have revealed details on what it means to be God, or (except for Jesus) what it means for God to be human.


God Hears our Petitions
Luke 18

The Unjust Judge and the Widow

The theme of this chapter, as relating to the lesson are regarding prayer and offering petition to God. Jesus has just discussed concepts regarding his Second Coming (Luke 17:20-37). He explains that there will be destruction for those who do not follow him with their whole heart. “Remember Lot’s wife” is a warning to those who would look back to their old existence, rather than keep their face focused forward on following the Savior. The last days would be like in the times of Noah, where some would claim to be the Savior in various locations, but we should not believe it, for Christ will come in glory. In the days of Noah, Enoch’s city was translated or raptured from the earth. As the Flood neared, the last of the righteous either died of old age, or were carried up to the heavenly city of Enoch. God prepared a refuge for the righteous (either in Enoch’s city or in the ark). However, everyone else lived each day as the last: eating, drinking and marrying in a form the seemed righteous, but was only a shadowy apostate version of Christ’s form of righteousness. These were left behind for destruction in the Flood. And in the last days, destruction awaits those who do not await the Lord.

It is in this instance that we compare the unjust judge to the wicked in the days of destruction. He is comparable to the wicked in the days of Noah, the last days before the 2nd Coming, or the days of Christ prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD. The judge spent his time eating, drinking and marrying in his apostate way that focused him away from God and towards material pleasures.

He was basically a circuit court judge, traveling from town to town, and only seeing those cases on his agenda. It usually required bribes to be placed on the docket. The widow had two strikes against her: she was a woman, and she had no money for a bribe. She doesn’t want any advantage in her case, she just wants to be heard and to receive proper justice.

Yet, even in his wickedness, he could not stand to listen constantly to the whining demands of the widow. He insisted that he cared not for the things of man or God, since he was a self-made man with no time for fools or deity. He denied the two great commandments: love God and man. Yet, he would grant her request just to get her out of his hair.

Jesus explained that God is righteous and just, and therefore eager to fulfill our righteous prayers in his time and way. He does not ignore the prayers and pleas of the widow, nor anyone else. Given this is tied to the 2nd Coming of Christ, we learn that we must not give up hope and faith, for God will deliver us from our enemies, giving us justice, at the last day (if not before).

The Pharisee and the Publican

Publicans are tax collectors. When the Romans desired taxes to be collected, they would contract out the work to publicans. The publican would add a fee on top of the tax for his work. Many publicans added stiff fees and penalties, some contrary to the Law of Moses. Publicans were often viewed as traitors to Judaism, the Law of Moses, and were despised by Jews in general.

Pharisees were among the main religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They closely followed the teachings of Moses. So strict was their interpretation of the Law, they built a wall of rules around the Torah (writings of Moses) to protect them from anyone looking for loop holes. Pharisaic laws prevented tying certain knots on the Sabbath, as well as anyone healing on that day. Jesus compared the two men.

Who is more righteous: the Pharisee who publicly prides himself in prayer of how he pays his tithes and offerings and does so many other wonderful things for the world to see? Or the publican, who quietly finds a corner of the room, and beats himself on the chest repenting for how wicked he has been?

“14 I tell you, this man (the publican) went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

The Blind Man

Not long afterward, along the road to Jericho, a blind man heard the noise of a crowd. When he asked what was happening, someone told him that Jesus was passing by. Here was the man’s chance to receive his sight. He began to cry out for the Lord to have mercy on him and heal him. Some tried to shush him, but as with the widow’s cries to the unjust judge, he only became louder. When Jesus heard his cries, he immediately went to the rescue. Asking what he could do for the man, the man begged for his sight and then received it.

“42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.”

Interestingly, we find that it is faith that saves. Had the man not believed in Jesus, he would not have received his eyesight. And without faith, we cannot be saved from hell through Christ’s atonement. Faith leads to repentance, and repentance is the necessary step towards this rescue. Then, the man’s life from here on out would determine what level of glory in salvation he would receive from Jesus. Celestial works receive celestial glory. Telestial works receive a telestial glory (D&C 76, 88).


Links

Lorenzo Snow and the parable of the laborers: https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1982/02/i-have-a-question/is-president-snows-statement-as-man-now-is-god-once-was-as-god-now-is-man-may-be-accepted-as-official-doctrine?lang=eng

Commentaries on Jesus and Divorce: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/19-8.htm
  
Family Proclamation: https://www.lds.org/study/manual/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Come Follow Me - Luke 12-17; John 11

Come Follow Me - Luke 12-17; John 11

Finding that which is Lost
Luke 15


Sheep
Jesus found himself again in controversy.


“1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”

For the Pharisees and scribes, it was not lawful to sit and eat with the unrighteous. As noted in the Connections blog (see link below) they had a form of shunning that was extremely severe. While in an Amish shunning, the shunned could still eat in the same room with the family (only at a different table), in 1st century Palestine, one could not associate in any manner with sinners. And for many Jews, there were no greater sinner than the publicans (tax collectors). Tax collectors would contract with the Romans to collect taxes from the people, adding a surcharge for their own services. Often, this additional surcharge was extreme (or at least seemed so from the perspective of the tax payer), and so were considered sinners for getting gain as usury (interest) from other Jews.

Jesus expressed his belief in the parable of the 99 and 1 lost sheep. If a shepherd has lost a sheep, he will secure the 99 in the sheepfold (corral), then go out and look for the lost one, until he has found it. The ancient loving link between shepherd and sheep was strong. The sheep recognized their shepherd’s voice and would follow it. If a sheep was missing, the shepherd would know it and seek for it, as if his own child were lost. In reality, sheep wander off as they graze in the mountain pastures. They become easy prey to predators. For a shepherd watching 100 sheep, it would not be hard to have one sheep wander away. However, the rescue is what is important.

According to the early church historian, Eusebius, after returning from being banished and exiled, the apostle John converted and prepared a young man in the gospel. As John prepared to leave for other cities, he charged the local bishop with care of the lad. At first, the bishop taught and cared for him, soon baptizing the young man. Once baptized, the bishop thought the youth would be strong enough to continue in the faith on his own. But he fell in with other youths who took him along in their night time activities, including robbery. Finally pressed into joining their gang, the young man quickly rose through the ranks to be the leader of the robbers. A few years later, the aged John returned to the city and immediately asked the bishop about the youth. The bishop sighed and admitted the child was lost. John instantly left the safety of the town and entered into the dangerous foot hills in search of the lad. The apostle was nabbed by the robbers and brought to the youth, who recognized John and in feeling regret and remorse, tried to flee. But the apostle gathered his energy and caught up with the young man, returning him to the fold once again.

As with Jesus’ shepherd, John went into danger to recover the lamb that had wandered astray. He stood among the wicked, those who should have been shunned, in order to rescue a precious soul. In the parable of the lost sheep, when the shepherd returned he called his friends and they celebrated. We will see this attitude frequently in these parables of the lost. The Lord stated that there would be greater joy in heaven for the lost sheep who repents, than for the 99 who were already saved.

Silver Piece

Jesus did not end with that story, but gave another parable of a lost silver piece. The woman had ten silver pieces, supposedly her entire wealth. So in this instance, she lost 1/10 of her wealth. Unlike sheep, money does not walk away by itself. Inanimate objects get lost because they are carelessly misplaced.

The woman lights a candle to aid her in the search. Obviously, for someone whose wealth consists of only 10 silver pieces, a candle would be an expensive item used only on rare occasions. In today’s (May 2019) high silver prices, if the pieces weighed one ounce each, would only add up to $200.

The woman sweeps the house. The floor is made of dirt, and perhaps an occasional wind can leave the floor with a thick layer of dirt. Sweeping allowed her to stir the dirt up enough to possibly find the coin. she seeks “diligently until she find it”. She does not rest until it is found, as it represents a huge chunk of her wealth. On finding it, she also calls her friends over to rejoice with her. Again, the Lord says that there will be great joy in heaven over one who repents.

The Prodigal Son

Image result for prodigal son

(There is a great series of blogs on the Prodigal Son written in April 2011 at the Connections blog. Check the link out below. This portion is based on her blog articles).

A wealthy man had two sons. The day would come when he would divide the inheritance between the two. According to Jewish custom, the older son would receive a double portion (in this case, ⅔) of the property. This would normally occur when the father was old and no longer able to work the farm himself. However, out of rebellion, the younger son demanded his inheritance early. This was a shocking thing to do under the Mosaic Law. First, it showed huge disrespect for the father - possibly a crime punishable by stoning. Second, it risked the inheritance. Mosaic Law required that inherited lands remain in the hands of the family from generation to generation. To sell the lands, particularly to a Gentile, was a sin against all of Israel. It didn’t take long for the son to sell the property, after which he departed into a foreign country. He had been shunned by the Jewish community for his actions.

The lad quickly spent his wealth in “riotous living.” You can always find friends when you are willing to foot the bill. But when the money was gone, the friends disappeared. Suddenly, the reality of life was forced upon the young man. No one offered to help him out in his time of trial. No one offered to feed him, as he had fed them. They abandoned him. He was forced to work as a pig farmer’s helping hand. For a Jew, working with pigs was a major sin, as they were unclean. Worse, to eat the slop given to pigs meant you were lower than unclean. You truly were the dregs of the world.

Finally tired of the tragic life he lived, he came to his senses. He remembered the life he once had in his father’s home. Even the workers had a much better living than he did.


"18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."

He was in the beginning stages of repentance. He turned away from his Father and the faith of his Father. He was unclean, and hoped as a servant to rise above his current circumstance.

“20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”

His Father saw him come while he was still a long ways off. The boy would have to travel through the neighborhood, where the community shunned him years before, perhaps being ostracized again by the town. But, Father had been looking for him continuously for years. He never stopped looking. He always had the hope that his son would return. When Father saw his returning son, he ran through the crowded town, passing by all the shunners and gossips. It didn't matter, his son had returned. When he returned, a huge celebration occurred, because the Prodigal Son came home. Father showed the others in town that the shunning was over. It was, instead, a time to rejoice.

In discussing the symbolism of the parable of the Prodigal Son, some things are rather easy to understand. The Father is God. His Promised Land is the inheritance he wishes to give to all of us, if we will just choose and follow Him. However, some choose their own path, a path that leads to rebellion (such as the 1/3 part of the host of heaven demanding their inheritance and rebelling).

Turning his back on righteousness, the rebel is shunned by the community, kicked out of the presence of God and family. He quickly moves to the land of the Gentiles, an unclean land whose king is Satan, where they encourage him to sin and waste his life in riotous living. Spiritually empty and starving both in body and spirit, the person is left with the inheritance that Satan provides: the husks that the pigs will not eat. He is literally in hell. And if the Prodigal Son remains in this condition, he will remain in Outer Darkness, with no inheritance whatsoever to speak of. Only in humbling himself and confessing his sins in true repentance, is he able to escape the lands of hell and return to the Promised Land of inheritance.

The Father sees the humbled and repentant child and welcomes him home. There is no deep questioning at this time regarding what he has done with his inheritance. That may come later. Now comes the celebration. As the older and obedient son sulks over the celebration over the lost sheep, the Father reminds him that the inheritance that remains is his. The repentant son has lost his huge inheritance, but still will inherit. How much he ends up inheriting depends on the future. Will he act like a true son, as a servant, or rebel once again? Only when it is the proper time for the Father to divide his inheritance with his children, will they know what is theirs.

In the heavens there are three main degrees or levels of heaven (D&C 76, 1 Corinthians 12:1-4). From these, there are probably many minor levels within. We are all saved from death and hell when we believe and repent of our sins. Then, according to our diligence and faith, we will inherit a kingdom that fits who we have become. If we have been valiant and constant throughout, we will inherit all that the Father has (even as the righteous son). For those who are noble, but not valiant, there is a wonderful reward of glory. And for those who were wicked and only repented when compelled by circumstance to be humble, there is a lesser glory, but still wonderful nonetheless. This is how God loves each of us. I’ve discussed more in detail His grace and love in another blog noted below.

The Ten Lepers
Luke 17

Leprosy is a hideous disease, now treatable and rare in most nations. In Jesus’ day, it was one of the key events that made a person unclean. Unlike touching a dead person or doing something that made a person unclean, leprosy was usually a life sentence. Lepers did not live in regular Jewish cities, but in leper colonies, away from the rest of society. They were unclean personified. Not even family could approach them, for fear they too would contract the disease.

Leprosy causes necrosis or death of the skin and organs. Small sores or wounds on the hands, feet, ears or nose can quickly cause gangrene and the limbs must be removed to preserve life. Lepers were often disfigured by the scaly skin it left behind, as well as from the loss of limbs and facial parts.

Jewish law required Jesus to not approach the lepers. Yet he spoke with them and sent them to the priest, the official responsible for determining if leprosy really had healed, so the person could again be pronounced clean. Along the way, all were healed. Nine went to be pronounced clean, while only one returned to thank the Lord.

The nine received their earthly reward. They did not seek the higher and heavenly reward that heals us from spiritual leprosy. After returning to Christ and receiving forgiveness of his sins, the one man was pronounced clean both physically and spiritually by the chief high priest, Jesus the Messiah.

While we may have to await the resurrection to have our physical disabilities healed, we can be healed spiritually now and every day of our lives by calling upon God the Father in the name of Christ, asking Him to heal us. We do not have to remain unclean. Admit that you are unworthy to be called his son, and then allow him to take you into his embrace and fit you with a ring containing the family crest. We can be healed through Christ. He can rescue us from an earthly and eternal hell, if we will but stop our rebellion, forgive those who have neglected or hurt us, and allow ourselves to be found.

And when we are found, what great rejoicing there will be in heaven!

Bibliography

Jim F’s Lesson 18 at Feast Upon the Word Blog: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/04/26/nt-lesson-18-jf-luke-15-17/

Connections on the Prodigal Son (several part blog): http://donna-connections.blogspot.com/2011/04/pursuing-father-part-1.html

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 23 on John rescuing the youth: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm

Amazing Grace: How God saves us through Christ: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/amazing-grace-how-christs-atonement.html