Sunday, April 26, 2020

Come Follow Me: Mosiah 4-6

Mosiah 4-6

King Benjamin’s discourse continues in this lesson.  After declaring to the people that all of them are fallen and not worthy of anything, and then explaining the atonement of Christ, we find that the people are converted.

“...behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 3:1-3).

Here we see the pattern to change and the conversion to a spiritual life.  First, we must humble ourselves, seeing ourselves as “less than the dust of the earth.”  Without such an attitude, our pride will always prevent us from having a full spiritual experience.  We cannot fully repent, as long as we hold onto any sin or belief that binds us to the material world and the natural man.  Instead, we must see ourselves as unworthy of anything we have received.  We cannot think that the world or anyone owes us a living, because the Lord has already given us life and agency.  For forgiveness, mercy and at-one-ment to occur, we must surrender our hearts to God.  Anything less will not give us the entire blessing.

And what is that blessing? As Benjamin’s people repented, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, which testified to them that their sins were forgiven, filling them with exquisite peace and joy. This was a free gift to those who fully accept the gift and do not resist receiving it through a lack of faith. As with them, it required “exceeding faith” to obtain a clear conscience and to be redeemed from the Fall.

“For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
And this is the means whereby salvation cometh” (Mosiah 4:5-8).

Here are the steps to salvation: 1. recognize we are nothing and are fallen from the grace and presence of God, 2. recognize that God is good and wishes to save us if we believe and trust in Him, keeping his commandments until the end - not as a way to earn salvation, but as our way of showing faith and repentance enough to receive his grace and not defy it.  In verses 9-10, Benjamin reiterates his stance. We must believe in God and that he is all powerful. Then we must repent, and repentance means leaving sin behind and following Christ demonstrated by keeping the commandments.

In following this course, Benjamin notes,

“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:12).

As such, the Nephites did not receive a remission of sins because they were already keeping the commandments nor trying to earn heaven, but because they truly believed and repented. Then, as the Holy Spirit fell upon them, we find it changed them forever.

“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

The mighty change of heart they experienced caused them to want to do good. Not because the Mosaic Law demanded they follow a checklist of rules, but because the Spirit had filled them. Pharisees tried keeping every rule in the Mosaic law, and then some. They were excellent at minutiae. Where they failed was they did not have the right faith nor humility to repent.  Some modern Christians (including some Mormons) mistake keeping a checklist of rules with having been changed through the atonement of Christ and to now desire to obey for they no longer desire evil.

While we are saved only in faith and repentance, our works are still very important.  Our future works determine if we are continuing in the grace of Christ, or are drifting back toward the "natural man, which is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19).  Only in casting off the natural man, and then putting on the man of Christ, can we ever hope to obtain the presence of God.

Benjamin notes ways in which we should “desire to do good continually.”  He lists the importance of teaching the gospel to our children, providing for the sick and needy, and doing good to all mankind. For those who deny helping out the beggar, thinking the person obviously deserves his poverty, the prophet-king proclaimed:

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:18-19).

Could God not determine that we deserve the struggles we go through, and not provide, for the same reasons we judge those around us?  The Ghost of Christmas Present mocked Ebenezer Scrooge, using his own words against him: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? “  Imagine if God were such a scrooge with his charity and grace!  None of us would get out of this world alive.

“And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another” (Mosiah 4:20-21).

We would not give an addict more heroin.  But if he were to ask for something that could actually help him, is it not our responsibility to do so?  If we wish to be true Christians, then yes.  And in doing so, the Lord will then shed upon us his grace, salvation and Spirit, filling us with exceeding joy and peace, even in such a troubled world as we live in.

The Covenant

Again, in Mosiah 5, we find that the people are completely changed. They no longer desire “to do evil, but to do good continually.”  Their disposition was now towards following Christ.  They were now ready to enter into a covenant with God.

“And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God” (Mosiah 5:5).

As with the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), we follow a pattern: Faith in Christ, Repentance, Making a Covenant (often tied to an ordinance like baptism), and Receiving the Holy Ghost. In the modern LDS Sacrament/communion prayer, we covenant to “ take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us], that [we]may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Moroni 4:3). This, of course, is the eternal round or the cycle of progression.  

When we develop faith in Christ, or even begin to desire to believe (Alma 32), we then determine we are unworthy and require rescue.  That rescuing comes through repentance and making a covenant to live a Christ-like life for the remainder of our days.  On making such a covenant, symbolized by ordinances like baptism, sacrament, ordination, endowment or sealing, we are filled with the Spirit of God, which imbues us with new spiritual life. We enter into the presence of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, and have begun our ascension into the presence of the Lord.  As we exercise ever more faith, we desire more change, and so we repent of more weaknesses we recognize in ourselves, commit or renew a covenant, and are imbued with even more of the Holy Ghost.  Eventually, we receive the great promise:

“...then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45-46).

The Holy Ghost is our constant companion and we can stand with confidence in the presence of God.

Benjamin uses wordplay with his own name to strengthen the idea of this covenant. Ben = son/child, and Jamin=right hand, or Son of the Right Hand. He explains that all can become children of God, sitting on the right hand of God. This is a major part of the covenant with God: becoming one with God and joining the Heavenly Family.

With the covenant we make at baptism, we receive a new name, even as King Benjamin’s Nephites received:  

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters
"And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
"And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:7-9).

Through Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, we become spiritually reborn as His children.  We become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).


Book of Mormon Central: Benjamin - Son of the Right Hand

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Review: 2nd Nephi - a brief theological introduction, by Terryl Givens

Book Review: 2nd Nephi - a brief theological introduction, by Terryl Givens

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.” Alexander Pope

2nd Nephi, by Terryl Givens, is the second book in a series by the Maxwell Institute on theology in the Book of Mormon (see 1st Nephi by Joseph Spencer, here).

Theology is the study of God. While other religions have a theological base that determines and establishes their doctrines and beliefs, Latter-day Saints have only begun to study or "do" theology in the last few decades. Yes, we are very good at history, "likening" the scriptures to our day, apologetics (defending the gospel), and finding archaeological  discoveries that support the Book of Mormon, but we have not spent the time to intensely study the text of the Book of Mormon. As noted in the book series, C.S. Lewis remarked that in studying the gospel, we tend to be "hurried tourists" who only spend a few moments in the entry way. This series is a beginning for the average reader of the Book of Mormon to begin to sober up by drinking deeply.

In its short 93 pages, Givens gives a refreshing and stimulating look at what he sees as the key points taught by Nephi, Lehi and Jacob in 2nd Nephi. The book is divided into four chapters or sections:
1. The New (and Very Old) Covenant
2. They are not Cast Off
3. To the Convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ
4. More Plain and Precious Things

There are many amazing insights in the book, and I'll share a couple, knowing I cannot do the book justice.

Givens explains why Nephi divided his works into two books, and why he separated them where he did.  In 1st Nephi, Lehi tells us that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. There is doubt among some of his followers. Laman and Lemuel attempt several times to return to Jerusalem, even though their father has made such an incredible claim. 2nd Nephi begins with Lehi telling his family that he saw Jerusalem destroyed in a vision. Just think of the shock this would be to the whole family!

Palestine had been the Promised Land since the days of Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant and the land were inseparable. Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and returned them to the land of promise. Under King David, Jerusalem became the capitol of the Promised Land. Solomon built the temple. It was the place with the ark of the covenant, the Presence of God.

Imagine being an astronaut, suggests Givens in a thought experiment, headed to a new colony on Mars. Your history is earth. It is the place of your birth and the place of your ancestors. It is where your loved ones are, whom you communicate with over the expanses of space. After living on Mars for a time, you suddenly get notice that earth is destroyed. There is no return trip, no communication with loved ones. "Planet earth, their home, with teeming cities and myriad peoples, with its cultural monuments and holy places, with its childhood haunts and familiar vistas--is no more."

Suddenly, we find ourselves in the realm of Laman and Lemuel, knowing the city and life they loved, was no longer there. All of their beliefs and hopes lay in ruins, as the promised land was destroyed. In this scenario, Lehi and Nephi can describe a new Land of Promise, with Lehi's family as the seven Tribes of Israel. Nephi's newly constructed temple replaces the once majestic temple of Solomon, which now was rubble. The ancient covenant continued with Lehi's family.

Givens discusses how the "new and everlasting covenant" is one that has been around not just since Adam, but since the premortal existence. While the rest of the Christian world condemns Adam and Eve for our sinful nature, the Book of Mormon celebrates their choices, which was part of the eternal plan. He explains several traditional Christian doctrines, such as original sin and predestination, which the Book of Mormon proclaims as wrong. It also explains why they are wrong, and why at birth we are closer to a "blank sheet" of paper with agency to choose, rather than depraved and evil with no redeeming qualities nor any ability to choose good for ourselves.

2nd Nephi discusses two of the key concepts that Moroni placed on the Title Page of the Book of Mormon: that the Jews/Israel are not cast off, and that Jesus is the Christ. Givens shares important insights into both of these key issues. In speaking of the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, Givens notes that since "those earliest heavenly councils, the everlasting covenant depended upon and centered around the grace-drenched offer of Jesus Christ to be the Atoning One, our healer and guarantor of life eternal."

While the Bible discusses the life and mission of Jesus, it does not do so to the level and depth that the Book of Mormon does. As Catholic scholar Stephen Webb* once noted, the Book of Mormon emotes high-Christology throughout the volume. Givens gives several examples in 2nd Nephi regarding the importance Jesus Christ, the atonement and resurrection, really are to Nephi and his contemporaries.

There are so many more gems to be found in this small book. In reading Givens' 2nd Nephi, I know that the next time I read the Book of Mormon, I will study it with new eyes, a new heart, and a better understanding and appreciation for what Lehi's family was experiencing, and how the everlasting covenant, through Jesus Christ, is more than just a piece of land in Palestine. With this book and series, we no longer need to sip from the Pierian Spring, dizzy from an occasional spiritual moment. Givens' 2nd Nephi will help us drink deeply and experience the true spiritual power of the Book of Mormon.

Available at

* My live blog post on a Fireside with Alonzo Gaskill and Stephen Webb

Review also available on Millennial Star blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Come Follow Me: Mosiah 1-3

Come Follow Me: Mosiah 1-3


Most of the books in the Book of Mormon begin with a colophon, an introduction by the author. So, we get “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....” (1 Ne 1:1) as a colophon.  However the Book of Mosiah does not have one.  Why?

LDS scholars believe that it has to do with the 116 lost manuscript pages story. While translating the first portions of the plates, Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith if he could take the manuscript to show to his wife and a few others.  Joseph was told “no” by the Lord on a few occasions, but then was allowed to do so with strict requirements. Martin Harris became complacent, and allowed the 116 pages of manuscript to be stolen.  The lost manuscript would begin with the writings of Lehi, and it seems, end with the first chapter or two of Mosiah.  So, where we have Mosiah chapter 1, was probably chapter 2 or 3 in the original.  The small plates of Nephi, appended to the back of Mormon’s abridgement, would then become the first portion of our modern scripture, possibly with some missing information, such as the first portion of Mosiah.

According to Don Bradley in his great book, "The Lost 116 Pages" he shows that the 116 pages were probably closer to 300-400 pages. One of the stories suggested from his research is that when King Mosiah 1 led his people away from the land of Nephi, they still were using the Liahona. Along the way, they encountered the Interpreters. At that point, the Liahona stopped working and so Mosiah began using the Interpreters as his key method of revelation.

In the Book of Mosiah, we see the aged King Benjamin preparing for what would possibly be his last great sermon to the Nephite and Mulekite peoples.  The gathering equates to the ancient Middle Eastern Year Rite.  In the Year Rite, the king proclaims the wonderful things he has done for the people in the previous year, protecting them from enemies and crop failure, among other things.  Often, the Year Rite would contain a symbolic crowning or anointing of the King.  The king would either symbolize God (the King of Heaven) or as with the Egyptians, the Pharaoh-King would be god!  In this instance, Benjamin would proclaim Mosiah as his successor in the divine right of Nephite kings, but as we shall see, will teach the people to focus not on Benjamin or Mosiah, but on the real King.

This Yearly Rite would also be a Festival of Booths/Tabernacles, where the followers would set up tents facing the temple.  In the Mosaic tradition, the Festival of Booths represented Moses coming down from Sinai (the temple) with the plans for the Tabernacle, a mobile temple. Israel recognized that their little tents symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, wherein was the Presence of the Lord.  This was symbolic also, because each man was Lord of his own Tent, bringing his family to be in the presence of the king, who represented God.

Benjamin’s Sermon
Mosiah 2

As mentioned, the Year Rite was a time to present the king to the people, so he could show all the wonderful things he has done for them.  But Benjamin changes the Year Rite to remove himself out of the center of the picture.

“I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man” (Mosiah 2:10).

He quickly explained that he is just as frail and weak as the rest of them, even though he has sought to serve them all his days.  Interestingly, most ancient Middle Eastern kings did not see themselves as servants of the people, but as divine sons of the gods, with the expectation that the people serve and worship them!

The people clearly loved Benjamin for his service.  Yet, Benjamin does not want their praise.

“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mos 2:19).

Where many kings saw themselves as divine mediators between heaven and earth, Benjamin only sees himself as a messenger boy.  He is not mediating anything.  At most, he has sought to be an example for the people of service and humility.  But the thanks and glory will go to God the king, and not to a mortal man acting as a king.  This must have especially been a significant concept for the Mulekites, given their people had spent centuries under the Jaredite yoke of oppressive kings and their wars, before escaping south to the place they named Zarahemla.

The Grace of God

And here is where Benjamin’s teachings get very interesting:

“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mos 2:20-21).

Benjamin gives us a reason for worshiping God, but also how useless we are in trying to do so. Here is the first part of what God has done for mankind.  God has given us life, protected us, given us moments of happiness and peace. He has given us air and agency, supporting us from moment to moment. After all, it only would take a moment for the Sun to erupt and eliminate the earth, for something to occur to destroy our atmosphere and have all oxygen sucked away, or to have a world of continual death and destruction in all places, with no place to escape.

The king notes that even if we spent our whole lives thanking and praising God, we still would be “unprofitable servants.”

“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you” (Mos 2:22-25).

He asks for obedience, and in so doing we will prosper in the land. Scriptures suggest that righteous people tend to have fewer wars, pestilence, or other tragedies. To “prosper in the land” goes back to the promises made to Lehi by the Lord. If the Nephites were obedient, they would prosper. Wickedness would bring destruction.  That Lehi and Nephi symbolically equated the Promised Land as being in the “Presence of the Lord” is an important concept here.

God has given us everything. If we were to keep the commandments, he blesses us more. In being paid or blessed for our obedience, we still remain in debt.  Benjamin notes we are not “even as much as the dust of the earth”, referencing back to Adam and Eve (“to dust shalt thou return” Gene 3:19).  While Latter-day Saints do not believe in “Original Sin”, we do believe we are in a fallen state.  No matter what we think we could possibly do, we could never achieve a higher form of living without God’s help. Without God, we really are nothing but “dust in the wind”.

Adam and Eve fell because they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree teaches that life is full of tangible, material things.  We can and will all experience birth and death, happiness and sickness, light and darkness, pleasure and pain.  The Tree of Knowledge only offers us what this world can offer, and no more.  We literally are not worth more than the dust, as we shall all return to it someday, taking nothing with us.  In such a miserable concept, Benjamin will offer us something better, something that makes the Tree of Knowledge bearable and useful to us.

Benjamin notes that mankind must learn to follow God and not “out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mos 2:37).

The problem with the Tree of Knowledge, is that we know we fall very short of obedience to God. Each time we disobey, we are in “open rebellion against God” and are obeying the evil spirit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden.  As with Adam and Eve, when we partake of the Tree of Knowledge, we fall from God’s presence, there is no place for God within us, nor our unholy selves within God’s holy temple.  We are cast off, just as dust is swept out the door.

To stay in this awful state of sin, causes mankind to “shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mos 2:38).  There is no mercy for those who remain at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge.

Jesus Christ - the Tree of Life and Mercy
Mosiah 3

So, how do we escape the fact that we will all suffer and die, both physically and spiritually?  We cannot find the answer with the Tree of Knowledge. Its reach is only to this material world, and no further.  It requires only those things we can commonly experience.  The Tree of Knowledge is not evil, but it is the source of knowledge of good and evil things.  

It offers no way out.  We will die. Period.  Man has not found a way through his science, math, literature, history, nor any other accomplishment to permanently bring men back from the dead.  From before the days of Nimrod with the Tower of Babel, mankind has sought its own methods and purposes to acquire heaven and eternal life, but have always failed.

Only the fruit from the Tree of Life can bring mankind back to life and into the Presence of God.

Benjamin is awakened by an angel, a messenger who is to lead him through a vision of things to come.

“For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay...” (Mos 3:4-5).

The king has told the people they were no more than the dust under their feet. But now, there is a new reality, one of hope in the future.  The Lord would come down among men and lift them from dust.  God would change frail mortal men into children of God.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary....
also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mos 3:7-12).

Suddenly, those who died without knowing God have or who have sinned out of ignorance have a way out. Even little children are saved through Christ (Mos 3:15).They do not have to be under the pain of original sin and death, but are rescued by the Savior. Imagine the billions of people who lived and died having never heard of Jesus Christ or the Bible, but sought to live decent lives, and now being rescued from eternal death and hell!

“...whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them” (Mos 3:13).

Here we see what activates the Tree of Life in our lives.  Alma taught that planting and nourishing the seed of faith in our hearts causes the Tree of Life to grow until it bears fruit (Alma 32).  Where the Tree of Knowledge gave mankind information and experience, including that given through the Law of Moses (see Mos 3:14-15), the Tree of Life rescues us through faith in Christ and repentance.  This belief also required hope of future things, the resurrection and atonement, which will save all mankind who will but partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.

“ drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mos 3:18-19).

The natural man is the man who only believes the experiences before him. He has never seen a person resurrect, and so refuses to believe.  He sees no need to believe or repent, because for him there is no merit in doing so.  Only in yielding, or repenting and believing, can he receive the Spirit into his heart, and allow the great change from natural to spiritual man to occur.  As with Lehi, one must walk to the Tree of Life and then partake. Otherwise, as in his vision, mankind will find itself forever lost in mists of darkness.

The day will come when all people will be judged according to their faith and faithfulness to Christ and God.

“...if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen” (Mosi 3:25-27).

In the resurrection, all will be brought back into God’s presence for the judgment. Those who refused to believe and repent will shrink from God’s presence. They will receive another kingdom, simply because they refuse to repent.  Joy is only found in the light and joy of Christ. If one refuses that light and joy, what else is there but the darkness and damnation?

Adam was forbidden to partake of the Tree of Life while in the Garden.  He needed time to learn the gospel, believe and repent.  But he did not have forever to choose to symbolically partake by believing God and his Christ.  We also must partake of the living fruit of Jesus Christ and live.


Festival of Tabernacles/Booths:

 Don Bradley, 116 Lost Pages 


Sunday, April 05, 2020

Come Follow Me - Easter in the Book of Mormon

Come Follow Me - Easter in the Book of Mormon

Last week, I shared links to some of my New Testament articles on Easter week. Today, we will look at some of the teachings in the Book of Mormon.

Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life

In 1 Nephi 11-15, Nephi experiences his father Lehi's Vision of the Tree of Life. The focus of these visions is a Tree that is white and whose fruit is white and most delicious. This is the Tree found in the Garden of Eden, guarded by an angel. It is also the Tree found at the end of the Book of Revelation, when the Millennium begins.

Nephi sees that the Tree is accessible NOW. We do not have to travel back to the Garden, nor forward to the end times to partake of the Tree.

In his vision, Nephi understands that the Tree represents the Mother of God (both Mary and Heavenly Mother). The fruit is the Love of God, which is a symbol of Jesus Christ.

14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. (1 Ne 11:14-23)

What is the condescension of God? First, that Christ came to earth as a mortal being. He was born, with no memory of his divine past. He would be taught and raised by mortal parents. He would have to rediscover who he is, and then learn what his mission would be.

The second part of the condescension would be that he would choose to follow the path Heavenly Father set out.

26 And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God!
27 And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken; and I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him; and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.
28 And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him; and I beheld that they cast him out from among them. (1 Ne 11:26-28)
 Jesus, though perfect and in no need for repentance, still fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized. Then, as with thousands of others who have followed him, Jesus served his mission to preach repentance and to bless others with the gospel. But then, the people turned on him.

32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.
 Nephi does not discuss Christ's resurrection in Jerusalem. Instead, his vision turns to the Americas, where he sees the contention, fighting and sin among his own people. It is during these great tragedies that the sun turns dark for several days, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other destructions cause a giant upheaval.

5 And it came to pass after I saw these things, I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth; and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord.
6 And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.

 For Nephi, the resurrection's impact is upon his own people. Because of the crucifixion, the resurrected Jesus came to the Nephites and blessed them.

King Benjamin's Discourse on Christ

King Benjamin gathered the peoples of Nephi and Mulek prior to his death to teach them about Christ.
1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.
2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. (Mosiah 3)
The angel explains just what is the source of that great joy:

5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
His mission was to condescend to earth, live a mortal life and serve a mission of mercy.  First, Jesus showed he could heal the physical diseases and demonic possessions and temptations.

Next, he suffered for our spiritual sickness. Sin is spiritual sickness. Imagine being in such pain that "blood cometh from every pore" as Christ anguished for our souls.

9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
What does it mean for Christ to "come unto his own?" It means he prepared his entire mortal life for this final week leading up to Easter. They would "consider him a man" and reject his divinity and Messiah-ship. Christ was scourged by Roman soldiers and then crucified - the most painful and terrible torture imaginable.

But, through the tragedy of death came the triumph of the resurrection. Having descended first into mortality and then into death, Jesus now arose with healing in his wings. He becomes the Father of our salvation. He is the Judge of the earth. His mission is to save all mankind from death and hell. The only requirement for salvation is to turn to him for that salvation. He gives all mankind a free resurrection and rescue from death and hell based on our repentance and faith. Even those who die in ignorance will be saved through Christ's atonement and resurrection.  The only ones to be lost are those who become enemies to God, who refuse to turn to Christ and repent:

19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
In knowing that Jesus has offered not a cheap grace, but a costly grace: costly to Jesus, which only requires we turn to Him for that salvation, we can find joy, hope and peace throughout our mortal lives. This is the experience of Benjamin's people:

1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4)
 As they turned to Christ, they were forgiven, received a remission of their sins, and filled with joy and peace of conscience.

Alma Teaches us About the Atonement of Christ

Alma taught us important things regarding the atonement and resurrection. 
7 For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people. (Alma 7)

 While there were many things to come in the future, the coming of Jesus was the most important thing of all. The Spirit of God tells Alma to call the people to repentance and believe in Christ.

10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
11 And 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.
Have you ever thought about the pains and sicknesses you have had in your life? Years ago, my younger sister suffered from cancer, which metastasized in her bones. Every movement caused pain. She suffered from seizures, one of which was so strong, it broke her thighbone. She spent months in intense pain, which no amount of pain medication could assuage.

Jesus experienced her pain. He took upon himself her pain, my pain, your pain. In doing so, he understands how to succor or assist and heal us. 

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

The world is full of great injustices, all of which cause great suffering. Jesus descended below all things that he can understand, empathize, and heal us from those pains - either in this life or in the next. Jesus overcame death that he can also bring us back to life through the resurrection. So,  through the terrors of our life and death, he is with us in every moment.

And then, we see the witness of our Savior of his own work:

6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:
7 Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.
8 And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them.
9 And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying:
10 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.
11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.
12 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven.
13 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying:
14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
16 And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:
17 Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.(3 Nephi 11)
 "Hosanna" means, "Save Now." 

And Jesus has saved us. Happy Easter!