Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 14: “Who Is My Neighbour?” Matthew 18, Luke 10

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 14: “Who Is My Neighbour?”
Matthew 18, Luke 10

Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 18:1-6

The disciples of Jesus were very competitive. Many sought to be the greatest. One mother would ask the Lord to place her sons, one on each side of him in heaven (Matthew 20:21). The answer was a surprise to them all. They had to be like a little child.

Tradition tells us that the small child that Jesus picked out of the crowd and blessed was Ignatius, who would later be one of the great early Christian Fathers and martyrs of the Church. Ignatius would grow up to be a disciple of the apostle John, and later become bishop of Antioch. Roman Catholics believe him to be one of the successors of Peter as Pope of the Christian Church. He sought his entire life to emulate Christ. He wrote several letters to the Christians, encouraging them to be faithful in their testimonies. Several of these were written as he traveled in chains to Rome, where he was slain by lions in the Coliseum.

Such is the testimony of a small child that continues in the testimony of Christ his entire life. He eagerly seeks to emulate his Master, and to encourage others to do the same. He is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but will preach it in the face of death. When things get difficult, he does not seek a way out, but seeks the way up to God.

And as the disciples of Christ learn to be child-like, they also become as little ones, worthy of the special blessings and considerations of the Savior.

If thy hand offend thee
Matthew 18:7-14

As a continuation of the discussion on the little ones above, the Lord warns us not to offend. It is better for us to remove the thing that offends the child of God, than to allow it to remain. Offenses often drive people away from Christ, and it is a matter for which the Lord will some day ask us how we treated those around us. So important is it to refrain from offending that the Lord stated it would be better to pluck out the offending eye or cut off the offending arm (both important body parts that we can live without), than to drive ourselves and those around us to hell.

In discussing the lost sheep that we must go out to find, we learn that we must not only avoid offending, but also seek out those who have been offended in the past and recover them.

The early Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea gives an account concerning the apostle John that had been passed down to his day. In his travels to establish churches, John found a wonderful youth who converted to the gospel and eagerly followed the teachings of the apostle. As John prepared to leave to other cities, he directed the bishop of the city to care for the youth. The bishop accepted his charge.

“8. But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.
“9. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.
“10. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.
“11. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all” (Eusebius, book 3, chapter 23).

Here, due to neglect and then sin, the young man became offended. The bishop assumed he only had to do some quick preparations and then baptize the boy, and then everything else would work out just fine. Instead, the child went from being among the faithful to being one of the most feared crime bosses in the area. He led a gang of youth in the worst of crimes, thinking there was no longer any salvation for him and that no one cared about him anymore.

After making rounds throughout the area, the aged apostle John finally returned to the town. Upon meeting with the bishop, John’s first words were:

“12...'Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.'
“13. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, 'I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,' the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, 'He is dead.' 'How and what kind of death?' 'He is dead to God,' he said; 'for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.'
“14. But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, 'A fine guard I left for a brother's soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.' He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers' outpost.
“15. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, 'For this did I come; lead me to your captain.'
“16. The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.
“17. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, 'Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you have still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.'
“18. And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.
“19. But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection” (Ibid).

Who among us would, at any age, ride into harm’s way and pursue the lost until we brought them back? Or would we be as this bishop, chocking it up to bad fortune, and counting the child forever lost? Even with his many violent crimes, John was able to promise the child forgiveness, peace, and joy in the atonement of Christ.

Matthew 18:15-22

How often shall we forgive? Seven times? Seventy times seven times (490)? In the previous stories of small children being the chief in heaven, of searching for the lost sheep, and of casting off the offending thing, we find a common story: thinking of the other person before ourselves.

We are not always going to agree with everyone. Some we will never agree with. But there is a right way and a wrong way to dealing with such. Many are quick to hire an attorney over every little thing that occurs. For example, imagine a judge suing a dry cleaners for millions because they ruined his favorite pair of pants. Such lawsuits, though seemingly crazy, happen all the time when people do not follow the teachings of the Savior.

In telling Peter that we must forgive “seventy times seven” times, Jesus was telling Peter that we must not stop forgiving. The Lord gave no exceptions, when he commanded,

“10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64).

Forgiveness is not only a commandment, but it is necessary for us to experience the true peace that Jesus offers us. To hold onto anger and judgment is to establish that we are no longer one of the little ones, but among those who offend. Instead of plucking out the offending eye, or cutting off the offending arm, we allow them to become gangrenous, spreading poison throughout our system until we too are offensive. Eventually, the poison leaves no room for the Spirit, and it departs from us. We forget how to be one of the little children, as we become one of the offenders.

Who is my neighbor?
Luke 10:25-37

In the Mosaic Law, we are commanded to love our neighbor, but “hate thine enemy” (Matthew 5:43). The Lord was asked what must be done to obtain eternal life. In his teaching, he commanded that all must love their neighbors. Perhaps one of the most important questions asked in the New Testament was this: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus would give the Jews an entirely new way to look at this commandment through the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Samaria was located north of Jerusalem. More than six hundred years before Christ, when Israel and Judah were carried off by Assyrians and Babylonians, the area was resettled by foreigners who mixed in with the few Israelites still dwelling in the land. When the Jews returned from the Diaspora, they refused to allow the Samaritans to assist them in building the temple, because their blood lines had been tainted by the mixing and intermarriages among Israelites and Gentiles. There were few peoples worse than Samaritans, according to Jewish belief.

So, when a good Jewish man is injured by robbers in Jesus’ story, the first two people to come across him were a priest and a Levite. These were supposed to be men of God, but each gave their own reason to walk on the other side of the road to avoid contact with the injured. Only the Samaritan, he who was hated by the Jews, came forth to help. He went beyond helping, in fact, as he paid for the man’s care and feeding in an inn.

The Samaritan did not think about what was in it for him. This is plainly what the Levite, priest, and judge who sued over his ruined pants did. Instead, he looked outside himself and asked, “what is it that I can do for this little one of Christ?” In searching for the lost lamb, he didn’t have to travel far - just across the street. But once there, he didn’t think, “I’ll do only a little.” Instead, he asked himself, “What would Christ have me do that is sufficient or more than sufficient to bind this man’s wounds and heal him?”

The stories and teachings in this lesson come together in this one thought: What must I do to be Christ-like?


Wesley on Matt 18:1-6 and Ignatius being the child:

St Ignatius of Antioch - wikipedia:

Eusebius’ account of John the Beloved (book 3, chapter 23):

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: “I Will Give unto Thee the Keys of the Kingdom” Matthew 15-17

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: “I Will Give unto Thee the Keys of the Kingdom”
Matthew 15-17

Matthew 15:1-9

Several Pharisees from Jerusalem came to Jesus to question him. The Pharisees believed in protecting the Torah by building a wall of tradition and rules around it. This would prevent people from seeking loop holes on what they felt was important. One of the traditions of the Pharisaic Jews was to wash their hands before eating, as a symbol of being clean. Jesus was not into traditions, but into commandments and the Law of Moses.

He turned straight to the Ten Commandments, the most important of all the laws of Moses.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).

This meant that children needed to not only speak kindly and with respect to their parents, but to also take care of them in their later years. However, in the new Pharisaic tradition, if a person chose, he could offer sacrifice “a gift” once a year at the temple in place of caring for their parents. This enriched the temple priests and Sanhedrin (who obtained a portion of the gift, as well as sometimes receiving a contribution), but did nothing to strengthen the family.

Today society has the same attitude towards honoring parents, especially the aged. We expect the government to care for their needs. We put them away in nursing homes and only visit when it is convenient for us. We do not take the time to learn their stories or history.

Recently, I visited my own mother, who lives hundreds of miles away. It was an opportunity to ask her questions regarding her own childhood. She recalled growing up in the farmland of western North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her grandfather (who I knew when I was a child) left to find a better place to live, outside of the great Dustbowl. He soon found a place in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. He wrote my grandfather and told him to bring everything. My grandfather built a second seat on the truck, loaded up everything. My mother sat next to grandfather as they drove 500 miles on dirt roads to their new home. By the time they arrived at the Bitterroot Valley, my grandfather had 25 cents left in his pocket. My mother has a photo of the old homestead my grandfather and great-grandfather purchased and then expanded on in Montana. What a great story that I can now share with my own family!

How often we forget the wonders our ancestors went through, even a generation or two ago, because we are too busy with our own lives. Instead, we send a gift to assuage our conscience. But it is we who are losing out.

Canaanite woman begs for scraps
Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus traveled to the border of the Jewish nation along the Meditterranean coast to the city of Tyre. Not far from Tyre was the town of Sidon, which was a Gentile town. In this setting, Jesus was accosted by a Canaanite woman to heal her child from demonic possession. The Canaanites long had been neighbors of the Israelites, but were often enemies. Centuries before Jesus, the Canaanites were major competitors of Israel and its God. Canaan’s major god, Baal, competed against Yahweh for primacy in the days of Elijah. The Canaanite Jezebel and her husband Ahab, king of Israel, introduced Baal worship to the kingdom. Family members would later bring Baal worship to Jerusalem’s temple. There was a very long period of distrust and feuding between the two gods and their nations.

As the Canaanite woman begged for help, Jesus chose not to do so. He told her he was sent only to the House of Israel. Not long before, he commanded his apostles to

“not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israe”' (Matthew 10:5-7).

Not until years after Jesus’ death would Peter receive the vision to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. But Jesus was not sent to the Gentiles, only to Israel. In clarifying this view, he explained to the woman that the dogs do not eat from the Master’s table. The term he used is closer to the idea of a lap dog than that of a wild dog, often used in the Middle East as a derogatory term towards other men. But the Gentiles were not Israel, and could not eat at the table. She took up the idea of lapdog and ran with it. The lapdogs still ate the scraps from the table. Because of her faith and determination, she succeeded in receiving the blessing she sought.

To this day, we do not know why God occasionally limits who shall receive gospel blessings. But it has happened often in Bible times. The Levites were the holders of the priesthood for most of Jewish history, but this meant others could not have the same benefits or blessings. Later, the gospel of Christ would be limited to Israel until after Jesus’ death. With the family of Cornelius accepted by the Lord, Peter could extend the gospel to all mankind, opening the door for Paul’s missionary efforts.

Again, we do not understand the full reason for this. However, God has promised that the “first shall be last, and the last first.” Those at the end of the line will be brought forward first. Their conversion will be a bigger event than that of Jews who had been raised with the expectation of a Messiah, and so their reward will be given them first in the heavens to come.

Thou Art the Christ
Matthew 16:13-20

Alone with his disciples, it was time to question them and see what they had learned of most importance.

What do others think of Jesus? He is a prophet, John the Baptist, Elias, or Jeremiah back from the dead. They knew Jesus was special, because of the miracles he performed. Yet they placed their sites too low.

Peter was able to say, “
Thou art the Christ (Anointed One, Messiah), the Son of the living God.”

Jesus proclaimed that Peter did not learn this from anyone else, since they all thought Jesus was a dead prophet. Instead, Peter gained the witness through revelation from God.

This is how any of us gains faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many believe in the Bible, call themselves Christians and believe in Jesus. Yet to ask them, most cannot explain how they have such a belief. I’ve had many tell me because the Bible tells us. But for the logical thinker, we could ask why we believe the Bible and not in any other ancient book. Why don’t we believe in Buddhism, or in Zeus?

It is because God wishes to speak to each of us. And he does it through personal revelation. He wishes to reveal to us who Jesus Christ truly is. As the angel explained to the apostle John, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). If we have a testimony of Christ, it is because God has witnessed it to us. This occurs through the power of the Holy Ghost. He is a member of the Godhead, whose main purpose is to reveal God and Christ to mankind.

As Nephi discovered in talking with the Holy Spirit concerning his belief in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life,

“6 And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired” (1 Nephi 11:6).

Each of us must do as Peter and seek our own witness of the Christ. It is through that personal revelation that we not only logically learn about Jesus, but we have a spiritual rebirth. We are born anew in the witness we gain of Christ. Jesus miraculously fed thousands, but most walked away when the bread was gone. But Peter stayed. It was because of the spiritual witness he gained from Heavenly Father concerning Jesus the Christ. He knew that the Messiah came to not only feed us bread, but to feed us with the Bread of Life. Because of Jesus, death would soon have no sting. Jesus is the only one who can take us back into the presence of the Father. He is the Christ.


Jewish tradition of giving a gift instead of caring for parents:

The Canaanite woman:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: “I Am the Bread of Life” John 5-6, Mark 6, Matt 14

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: “I Am the Bread of Life”
John 5-6, Mark 6, Matt 14

The Pool at Bethesda

The pool of Bethesda (House of Mercy) was a place believed to be enchanted. Occasionally, an angel would dip its foot in the pool and stir it. The disabled person who was first into the pool would be healed. Dozens of disabled and sick surrounded the pool, hoping to be the first in. Jesus found one man who was unable to enter the water soon enough to be healed, and healed him. We do not see in the story the Savior stayed long enough to heal anyone else. Instead, the healed man is soon approached about carrying his bed on the Sabbath, and he claims that his healer told him to do so. Arriving at the pool, the man and the Pharisees do not see Jesus among the sick. Obviously, the Lord has not stayed to heal others. Why not?

Here we have an event that is extraordinary. Whether an actual angel healed randomly at the pool, we do not know for certain. However, recent archaeological digging has uncovered a pagan healing shrine next to the pool, dating back to the times of Christ. The shrine is to the Semitic God Eshmun, the god of healing. The pool of Bethesda lies outside of the city walls, and therefore not considered part of the holy city or in the suburbs of the temple. It is near a Roman fortress, Antonio. Therefore it is very possible that this pool was believed to be magical due to the angel of a god or goddess.

Even as Moses confronted the priests and magicians of Egypt, and Abraham confronted Pharaoh for priesthood primacy (Book of Abraham 1), Jesus would confront the pagan god of healing. Christ showed forth his power to heal the disabled, and demonstrate his divine status at the altar of a pagan god. Others would have seen Jesus heal someone who laid by the pool for years without being healed by the pagan god. This would give Jesus potential divine status, not only among the Jews, but among the Romans and foreigners in the city, as well.

Jesus: Son of God or blasphemer?

This would also explain the reactions of the man who was healed. When the Pharisees asked him why he was disobeying the Sabbath by carrying the bed, he had no problem in helping them find Jesus. The healed man, though probably grateful to an extent, was definitely not a disciple of Christ. Perhaps he was also not a Jew, as he sat at a pagan healing shrine for years waiting to be healed. Keeping in line with the religious leaders in Jerusalem was politically smart for someone eager to enjoy his new life.

So incensed that Jesus would challenge their interpretation of the Sabbath Day rules, they sought to kill him. Jesus then incensed them even more, stating:
“17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
“18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5).

Jesus now claimed godhood as the literal Son of God. He challenged the pagan god. Now he would challenge the defenders of Yahweh’s temple and the Torah (writings of Moses). Jesus was changing the long held beliefs and rules of the Sabbath. Why? Because he was the Son of God and had the power to do as he thought best on that day. Second, the Savior’s claim that he was the Son of God put them into the position of either accepting that he was worthy of worship, or to reject him as a blasphemer, worthy of death. There would be no middle ground or sitting on the fence. Either he was the Messiah, or he was not. The Jews chose to believe he was a fraud and despite healing an invalid, they decided to plan his death.

Law of Witnesses

Jesus understood the law of witnesses. If a man witnessed alone, his testimony was left in doubt. But if the man had solid witnesses, then he could be considered trustworthy in his testimony. Jesus first provided John the Baptist as a witness for him. Second, God himself would be a witness. How?

"19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
"20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
"21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will....
"36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me."

Jesus saw that God the Father could heal and raise men up. God raised men from the dead through prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, and others. If Jesus were truly God’s son, then he would also have this power, which indeed the healing of the disabled man was proof of. Jesus’ miracle was proof that the Father had shared his power with the Son. This was the testimony given by God of his son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus then foretells the resurrection, He will be the actual force behind the resurrection of the dead:

"28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
"29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
"30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me."

The Savior then explains that the Jews have never experienced the revelation of God, for they have rejected the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the “key to the mystery of godliness” (D&C 84:19-27). Left with only the Levitical priesthood, they cannot see God’s face. But if they were to accept Jesus, they could again return into God’s presence:

"37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
"38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
"39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
" 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."

The Jews would not or could not receive a witness of Jesus through the Spirit. They rejected that personal revelation and witness from God. The only witness available to them were the scriptures. Sadly, the Jews thought their eternal life came from obedience to the law of Moses and the sacrificial rituals therein. They focused on keeping the Sabbath holy by not carrying beds, and in focusing solely on the literal letter(s) of the law, they missed the verses prophesying of the coming Messiah. True eternal life does not come from the scriptures, but from devotion to God through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Jews had the scriptures, thinking they were saved by studying it copiously. Instead, it became an albatross around their necks, preventing them from accepting the Son of God, even he who commanded Moses in the first place! And because they would not come unto Christ, they would not have eternal life.

Interestingly, many Christians, including Latter-day Saints, use verse 39 out of context, as encouragement to study the scriptures. In context, we find that the scriptures are good to learn about Jesus, but they will not save us, heal us, or return us back into the presence of God. The Jews showed that the scriptures, when used improperly, can be used to justify a lifestyle that is blind to true devotion to God. The Bible, while the word of God, is not where one obtains God’s authority nor power. Instead, Jesus showed that he was the true source of power and authority. The scriptures may help us to understand Jesus and his holy work, but they are not a replacement for having an actual devotion and covenant with Christ the Savior.

"45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
"46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
"47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?"

Moses would condemn them, for Moses’ law and teachings were geared to lead mankind to Christ. Since the Jews had twisted the prophetic words to the point that they now were an ends to themselves, they could lead no one to the Messiah. In other words, Moses is one last witness for Jesus Christ, and a true believer in Moses’ words will find his way towards belief in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are reconciled to God. No prophetic writing could ever do that for us.

Feeding the Five Thousand

Thousands followed Jesus into the wilderness, where he taught them his gospel. Through a miracle and a lad’s fish and loaves, five thousand people were fed. Afterward, many decided,

"14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
"15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone" (John 6).

To the people, this was that prophet, the Messiah. Many Jews believed the Messiah would come, destroy the Roman yoke of servitude off their necks, and feed them manna for the rest of their lives. Eagerly they accepted many false Christs, hoping they had indeed found the real one and install him as their king. Jesus realized that they were going to make him king, so he could drive out the foreign invaders and give everyone plenty to eat.

Just as the Jewish leaders were “looking beyond the mark” in their approach to the scriptures, so the people were beyond the pale in their hopes for a new King David. They were not interested in Jesus’ teachings of being peacemakers, merciful, and repentant followers of God; looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and exaltation in God’s presence. Instead, they sought their own Garden of Eden. And if Jesus would not give it to them willingly, they were willing to take it by force. This is similar to the attitude of the people at the Tower of Babel. They sought heaven, but sought it in their own way. They sought to build a tower to heaven, then overthrow God and his angels, so they could have the place for themselves. Instead of embracing Christ as their Savior, they wanted to bottle up his power, using it for their own wicked purposes and evil designs.

The Living Bread

Jesus escaped the people, but they soon caught up to him the next day.

"26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, anot because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
"27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
"28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
" 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
"30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?
"31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
"32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
"33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
"34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
"35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
"36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not."

Jesus offered them celestial glory. They only wanted food to stuff into their cheeks. Moses offered bread/manna that lasted only a day, and then they were hungry again. Jesus offered them spiritual bread that would crown them children of God. When they asked, “evermore give us this bread”, they wanted actual bread. They did not want the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The day before, Jesus fed this people and they decided he must be the Messiah of God. Now, as Christ would not feed their faces with what they wanted, they rejected him.

"41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.
"42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?”

Still, Jesus tried to explain to them, He is the true bread of life. Those who ate Moses’ manna were dead and buried. But those who embraced Christ as Savior of mankind and as the Son of God would live forever in God’s presence. Again, the Jews scoffed him. They were pretended ignorance to Jesus’ teachings, refusing to partake of his flesh in symbolic form so they could be saved.

“66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

Today, many people only serve God when there’s something in it for them now. Right now. Given the world as it is, most people do not think much on Christ, except in times of great need. In most cases, it is a request to be physically fed or cared for. This is not what salvation is about. We are to come unto Christ in all times and places, hoping on his resurrection to heal us spiritually. So that even if great worldly tragedies fall upon us, we can have joy and peace; assured that Jesus Christ has paid for our sins if we will just repent and place our hand in his. Discipleship comes at a price: rejecting the world and embracing Jesus and God.

Walking on Water

In this lesson, there are a few accounts of Jesus walking on water. Perhaps the most detailed and interesting is in Matthew 14.

While Jesus prayed alone in the mountains, his disciples set off for a night time crossing of the Sea of Galilee. The waters were rough, and the disciples struggled. In the fourth watch, or between 3 and 6 in the morning, when they saw a person walking towards them on the water. At first they were afraid, but the Lord told them it was he. Peter asked if he could join him on the water, and Jesus told him to come to him.

"26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
"27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
"28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
"29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
"30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
"31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"

Occasionally, the Lord asks us to step out of our comfort zone in order to build faith. Peter stepped out with faith. After all, he spent the previous day watching Jesus heal many people. Initially, Peter walked with faith and boldness. But then he was distracted by the crashing waves around him. The distraction caused him to forget his Savior and the power of the Son of God. He was instantly caught up in his worldly fears and they paralyzed him. Fear replaced faith, and without faith he could not stand. He began to sink into the rough waves.

Jesus miracle only worked based on Peter’s faith. While Peter believed, he could perform the miracle. When he feared, God had no power to save him. For each of us this becomes a clear warning. Satan and the world will throw many waves to crash around us. We may allow ourselves to become distracted and dismayed at the sight. Our whole world may feel like it is sinking down around us. Panic may sit in as we helplessly see ourselves go under for the third time. But the Lord would have us to focus on him. Do not let the world distract us with scary fears, politics or video games. Our focus should remain steadfast on Jesus Christ. Where our heart is, there will also be our treasure. If our focus is mainly on the distractions of the world, whether good or bad, then we are not focusing on Christ. Our faith cannot grow if it is neglected or transplanted by fear.

Miracles occur when we focus our faith in Christ. He can heal us physically, emotionally, spiritually. He can give us hope when all seems lost. He can help us look forward to a better world, even when we are still engaged in this one. He can resurrect us and give us Eternal Life with God and our families, if we but believe and focus on that belief. Our faith must grow, if we ever hope to be able to have sufficient faith for Jesus to exalt us. As with Peter, we must focus on the face of Christ, and not become distracted by any wind or wave of false doctrine, thought of fear, or even pleasant distraction that keeps us from developing an eternal relationship with God.


Eshmun pagan shrine at Bethesda:

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 11: “He Spake Many Things unto Them in Parables” Matt 13, Mark 4

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 11: “He Spake Many Things unto Them in Parables”
Matt 13, Mark 4


The term “Parable” (Hebrew mashal; Syrian mathla, Greek parabole) means a comparison of parallel things. In the Bible, about one-third of the Lord’s teachings are in parables, and they are found in all four of the gospels, though mostly in the synaptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Jesus normally gave a story or event that was common for the people of his day. This story would also include a symbolic spiritual component to it that would be understood by those who truly sought out its meaning.

Wikipedia tells us, “Christian authors view them not as mere similitudes which serve the purpose of illustration, but as internal analogies where nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world”. While fables focus often on animals with human characteristics, parables mostly deal with humans and everyday events: baking bread, fishing, planting, finding a lost coin, etc.

Parables were known by the Jews in Jesus’ day, as they are also found in the Old Testament The Hebrew term ‘mashal’ may also be interpreted as “riddle.” So a parable is a simple story with a riddle or hidden meaning that the listener must figure out. Since Jesus was often speaking to mixed crowds of believers and non-believers, it may be that he spoke frequently in parables that the believers could understand, but that the scoffers could not; sort of a secret teaching given out in the open.

For example, the parable of the Sower would sound just like a normal story of a man broadcasting seed across the field. In Jesus’ day, furrows and planting seed as we do today was not common. Instead, the field was generally prepared, and then seed spread about in a wide cast. This allowed for some seed to fall in many places, both good and bad areas. For the non-believing Pharisees, they might be confused why Jesus would give a story of planting that led to no real teaching. But for the followers of Jesus, they knew there was a deeper meaning, and asked him for the interpretation after the crowds had left. Herein, Jesus explained that the parables would bless the believer, but leave the unbelievers in the dark about his teachings.

Unlike myths or fables, parables are about ordinary people and things. There are no giants, magic, nor superheroes in any of the parables. Instead, we find people quietly going about their normal businesses, and acting upon a regular event (Good Samaritan, woman finding the coin, man buying the pearl of great price)..

Although modern parables are often obvious to the listener, the parables of Jesus were not. George Fyler Townsend explained it as "the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves, and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer or reader."

Mysteries of Kingdom of Heaven

One of the key concepts of Jesus’ parables was to prepare mankind for heaven. Only those who had the seed of faith sown in good soil of the heart would grow in the gospel faith. Those who had sinned or lost their faith could search diligently for it, even as the woman sought for the lost coin, and in finding it may rejoice with the saints of God. Those who recognize the gospel as the truest treasure, even a pearl of great price, will sell all they have and do anything necessary to possess it. The kingdom of heaven requires a valiant and lifelong effort to attain. It cannot be had by lip service, but only by true service.

That Jesus meant for the parables to be understood only by his true followers is affirmed by his own words:

“9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
“10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
“11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
“12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
“13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
“14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
“15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13).

Jesus followed his own advice of not casting pearls before swine. When people are ready to hear the gospel, they shall humble themselves and learn to truly hear.

The apostle John would use such teaching with the seven churches of Asia:

“7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
“11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
“17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

“26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
“27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
“28 And I will give him the morning star.
“29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 2).

"4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
" 5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
" 6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

“12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
“13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

"21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
"22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 3).

We see that learning to have a listening ear and heart, allows us to understand the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” Today, much of this we learn in the temple, where modern day parables teach believers the sacred secrets of being like Christ-like and prepare them to enter into the presence of God. For those with a listening heart, they can see that Jesus’ and John’s parabolic promises for the true hearers are tied with the teachings in the temple. And it is there that we find the pearl of great price: Jesus highest teachings for those seeking to know the mysteries of heaven.


Parables of Jesus - Wikipedia:

Parable - Wikipedia:

Parable - Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10 - Take My Yoke upon You, and Learn of Me - Matt 11-12, Luke 7, 13

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10 - Take My Yoke upon You, and Learn of Me - Matt 11-12, Luke 7, 13

The 613 Mitzvot

In a society built upon numerous and complex rules, the Jews were muzzled spiritually by the law of Moses. In the current Mosaic Law, there are 611 Mitzvot (laws/rules) for the people to follow. Added to these are the two commandments given to Adam and Abraham (multiply and replenish the earth and male circumcision), making a total of 613 commandments. These range from the 10 Commandments, to dietary laws, to how far a person could walk on the Sabbath.

All of these were officially codified and numbered by the Jewish master Maimonides (b. 1135 AD). According to him, there are 365 negative commandments, one for each day of the solar year. However, there are only 248 positive commandments, equal to the number of bones and organs in the human body. According to Maimonides, the three negative commandments for which it would be better to die than to commit are: murder, idolatry, and sexual sin.

Due to the loss of the 2nd Temple, most of the laws cannot be followed today, including the laws regarding sacrifices. And of the 77 negative and 194 positive commands that can be followed today, there are 26 that only apply within Israel itself. Maimonides’ list include laws on worshiping God, obeying the commands of God’s prophets, to be kind to other Jews, etc. But they also include some strange rules, such as: not to plant a tree in the Temple courtyard, one must afflict himself and cry out during hard times, a man cannot remarry his ex-wife after she has married someone else, a rapist must marry the woman he assaulted, and you cannot slaughter an animal and its offspring on the same day.

And then there were additional rules created to ensure people were keeping the rules of the Torah (Books of Moses). These were formed to build a wall of protection around the Torah, so no one could discover loopholes for their own benefit. For the Sabbath, there were rules about which knots could be tied. You could not set a broken bone on the Sabbath, although you could save someone from a burning house. Some laws became very exact and burdensome.

It was in this situation that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day.

Take Upon You My Yoke

In this environment, Jesus called forth to the people:

“28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus rules would be few: have faith in Christ, repent of your sins, receive the ordinances as a symbol of obedience and faith, Love God and neighbor with all your heart.

In recent discussions I’ve had regarding sin and repentance, we find in LDS belief that we must repent:

“16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
“19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
“20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit” (D&C 19:16-20)

What we find here is that a complete and full repentance is required if we want to be saved by Christ’s atonement. It requires full submission. We are either yoked with him, or we are not. We cannot be partially yoked. If we choose not to be yoked with Christ, then we take upon us the full brunt of our own sins: the Spirit is fully withdrawn and we face the pangs of guilt, sin, and perdition, even until we do humble ourselves enough to surrender completely to Christ, and take his yoke upon us.

What kind of pain? Even as Christ suffered from Gethsemane, where he bled from every pore, to the cross, where he cried out: “My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:1, Matt 27:46). Here, God the Father left Jesus utterly alone, even without the presence of the Holy Ghost, so that he could fully taste perdition and hell, so that he would know how to “succor his people” (Alma 7:12, Hebrews 2:18).

Alma the Younger experienced this great suffering. As he went about seeking to destroy the Church, an angel called him to repent or be destroyed. He collapsed into a coma, and experienced what some believe to be a Near Death Experience. He later related the experience to his son, Helaman:

"12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
"13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
"14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
"15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
"16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
"17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
"18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
"19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
"20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
"21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
"22 Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.
" 23 But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.
"24 Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost" (Alma 36:12-24).

Alma was bereft of the Holy Spirit or Light of Christ (not the same as the Gift of the Holy Ghost), which giveth light to all mankind. Forced to face his sins, fears, and thoughts all alone, he knew just what he had become. Only in surrendering totally to Christ could this burden be forever removed, and he could return back into the light and even the presence of God (which Alma saw sitting on His throne).

So, Jesus does not just remove the long list of rules that burden us, but he offers an escape from the sufferings for our sinful choices. He will bear all pain and hell for us if we but yoke ourselves completely to him, and follow his lead.

The Sabbath Day

How many of us who seek to keep the Sabbath day holy find it to be burdensome and hard? Perhaps it is because we overburden ourselves with rules on how to keep it holy. Many have hard and fast rules: no television, no shopping, no sports, etc. These are all decent rules to live by on the Sabbath. However, the average child hears these and thinks the command is: “Thou Shalt Not Do Anything At All on the Sabbath!” or “Thou Shalt Be Bored on the Sabbath Day!”

We end up creating rules as did the Jews. While we may not establish rules for which knots we can or can’t use, we can often make very tough distinctions on what can or cannot be done.

Yet Jesus taught by example: is it okay to do good things on the Sabbath? This threw the Pharisees completely off guard, because this did not fit in with their many rules. Today we may say we do not go on walks or have dinners with others on the Sabbath. But what if by doing so we lift someone who is struggling and down?

Christ taught that by the Jewish law it was okay to pull an animal out of the mud on the Sabbath. Given that humans are more important than animals, healing a person should be even a better work to do on the Sabbath. And so Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

Perhaps this is the way to truly observe and keep the Sabbath holy: not by what we avoid doing, but by who we seek to bless. Did my efforts this past Sunday end up making me bored and anxious to see the Sabbath end? Or did I use the day as an opportunity to heal others?

Think of the many ways we can do this: writing letters to military members, visiting the sick and troubled, making cookies for the neighbor next door, taking the widow’s dog for a walk. In doing such, we ensure that the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.


613 Mitzvot - wikipedia: