Sunday, October 11, 2020

Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 20-25


  Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 20-25
The Sacrament again
3 Nephi 20

Jesus provides the bread and wine to the Nephites.  He administers to his twelve apostles, who then administered to the twelve groups of Nephites.  As noted in previous lessons, while baptism sometimes seems like an individual ordinance and covenant, we see in the renewal of those covenants via the Sacrament that it is a communal experience.  The people renew their covenants as a group.  This is part and parcel of Christ’s desire to make them one people, by having them covenant together as one.
Note that in this instance, Jesus blessed and gave the Sacrament to his Twelve, who were then commanded to bless the Sacrament and give it to the people. Here, Jesus is showing His Order. He does all things through his servants that is possible. While we seek God individually through prayer, study and meditation, there is a communal component to salvation that requires us to go through the proper chain that Christ has set forth.  
We can get close to Christ and be saved on an individual basis, but we cannot be exalted alone.  For example, Alma the Younger was able to escape hell by personally praying to the Lord for rescue, but when he saw the light, he saw Lehi with God and the Divine Council from a distance. Alma wished to be with them. This part required becoming part of the community, the divine council. To become part of the Community of God, one must become one with others in a communal covenant. This communal covenant is represented by the Sacrament, and shows that it is through Christ's flesh and blood AND through priesthood power (the Twelve, in this case) administering ordinances that we become one covenant people.

Jesus teaches of Isaiah

Afterwards, Jesus commands the people to study the words of Isaiah, especially in regards to the Lord’s promises with Israel (as we read in 3 Ne 16:18-20).

“…when they (Isaiah’s words) shall be fulfilled then is the fulfilling of the covenant which the Father hath made unto his people, O house of Israel” (3 Ne 20:12).

Isaiah foresaw the coming of the gospel to the Gentiles, their later apostasy. Now the Lord would return the covenant to the house of Israel and the few humble Gentiles that continue to believe.  The final gathering of Israel will occur at that time.  Currently, we are primarily involved in the spiritual gathering of Israel.  In the last times, we will see the physical gathering of Israel.  They will come to know their Lord and follow him.

As for the Gentiles, if they reject God and work against Israel, the Lord tells the Nephites:

Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver….And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles….And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people (Israel); yea, even I will be in the midst of you.” (3 Ne 20:16-22).

Israel (whether the Jews or the descendants of the house of Joseph, etc.) will have the covenant with God.  He will make them powerful and lead them to victory.  Only those Gentiles who humble themselves and repent shall avoid the destructions of the last days.

Again, Jesus references the covenant with Abraham.  This covenant is all about the people as a group, and not an individual.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob symbolize the Godhead, and Israel are their children, invited to be the Divine Council.  When Israel learns to be one as a covenant people, they become holy and God can dwell in their midst.  In conjunction with the Abrahamic covenant, the Lord quotes Isaiah to place a well known quote into the context of the covenant people:

And then shall they say: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings unto them, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings unto them of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!” (3 Ne 20:40, Isa 52:7).

This is how the Divine Council will acclaim God's glory in these days and in the last days. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah was transported to the Celestial Temple, where he saw the chief angels (seraphim) surrounding the throne of God, praising Him and his works. After being cleansed, Isaiah joins the Divine Council and takes active part in bringing to pass God's plan. 3 Nephi 20:40 is a hymn or psalm from the Divine Council to their Lord Jesus Christ, and if we are true, we will also be invited to join that council someday.

Depart from Babylon

“And then shall a cry go forth: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch not that which is unclean; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (3 Ne 20:41).

Here we see two concepts: leaving Babylon behind (both physically and spiritually).  Babylon represents the evils and sins of the world.  The Gentiles will forsake God in exchange for the wealth and prestige of Babylon.  They will spiritually decay and canker.

The “vessels of the Lord” represents the holy items connected to the Temple or Tabernacle (Ark of the Covenant, table of shewbread, Mercy Seat, Menorah, etc).  When the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, they took with them a portable temple, the Tabernacle of Moses.  The priests and Levites were the only ones allowed to carry the sacred items from one site to another.  Once reestablished, the priests were to offer sacrifice and perform other important ordinances within the holy sanctuary.  Whether carrying incense burners or the Ark of the Covenant, the priesthood holders were expected to be clean or holy.  When one priest offered strange fire to the Lord, he was destroyed.  As the Ark of the Covenant was being carried and tipped a little, a Levite tried to steady the ark. Since he was not allowed to touch it, he was not clean nor allowed to be near the ark.  The Lord destroyed him, as well. 

That these comments are tied to the Sacrament helps us to know just how sacred the bread and cup are. We are to be holy, as if we were to take upon ourselves the Ark of the Covenant, or to stand within the Holy of Holies in front of God's Mercy Seat between the two cherubim.

There are many Gentiles among us today who seek to steady the ark, even though they have not the authority.  Many heavily criticize the doctrines and teachings, the Brethren and other leaders, whom the critics see as weak or foolish.  These doctrines and leaders are not required to be perfect.  They are expected to be clean.  In humbly seeking to be holy, the Lord sanctifies them.  Meanwhile those who offer strange fire or steady the ark will find that the Lord will destroy them someday, if they do not humble themselves and repent. Our responsibility is not to divide the people of God, but to join ourselves to them, even if we have differences. We are to join our strengths to the people of God in humility, following his servants who are authorized of God, knowing that God will work out the imperfections over time.

The Gentiles and Israel
3 Nephi 21

“ behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles, for this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel;
And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel” (3 Ne 21:6-7).

The Lord gives the sign of the last days to Israel.  The Gentiles will receive the writings of the Nephites and deliver them to the lost tribes of Israel.  At that time, the fulfilling of the covenant with Israel shall commence.  When the Gentiles, by and large, reject the gospel truths they once embraced, then the house of Israel will be restored completely to the covenant.  Those Gentiles who humble themselves will become a part of the house of Israel.  This includes most of the members of European, Asian, and African heritage.
Finally, the Lord will do away with Babylon.  It will be destroyed.  Anyone involved with the enticements of Babylon risk being destroyed.  

In this last day, Jesus states that the “work of the Father shall commence.”  It is a work that is tied directly with the believers and followers, those of the spiritual and physical house of Israel. They shall learn, as a people, to call upon the Father in Jesus’ name.  This work is one of spiritually converting and physically gathering Israel to the promised lands: Jerusalem and Zion.  It is to make us one people, a Divine Council. The righteous will not have to leave in haste, as Lot had to escape Sodom.  But they will gather under the power of God in Zion and her stakes, as well as the Jews in Jerusalem.  This will be the refuge for the righteous. They will learn to be united, or they will not be Zion. Once united as a people, they then can be accepted by Christ as His people, and welcomed into the holy councils of God.

3 Nephi 23
Jesus again encourages the people to study the words of Isaiah. In the Book of Mormon we've been encouraged many times to study Isaiah. Nephi and Jacob quote him. Abinadi explains Isaiah's teachings on the Suffering Servant, and whose feet are blessed on the mountains for publishing peace. Yet, so many of us are leery to study Isaiah, because his prose and teachings seem so complex and confusing. We are as first graders given the challenge to learn algebra. The secret is not to give up, but to improve our focus. Seek the guidance of mentors, tutors, teachers, and experts. Little by little, we gain a greater grasp of what Isaiah teaches, until we are no longer first graders, but have become experts ourselves in spiritual algebra.

Jesus then peruses the records. Clearly, writings are of utmost importance. What records are we preparing and saving for future generations? Perhaps a refocus on writing occasionally in our journal, or blogging about key important spiritual issues, teachings and events (as I do with my blog here) is needed.

Note that Jesus finds that the teachings of Samuel the Lamanite are missing from the record. I gain two insights from this. First, what is missing from my own records that I need to write down and share? Is it time to write my life's spiritual history? What needs to be included in it and not left out?

Second, the Nephites did not include an important set of prophecies in their writings. Why? Did they presume the Lamanites would maintain their own records? Were they a bit prejudiced against Lamanites preaching to Nephites? While we do not have the answer, the question is important and can help us to consider those we exclude in our own lives.

3 Nephi 24-25

Malachi's prophesies regarding the Coming of Christ are the only ones found in all four books of Latter-day Saint scripture. In this instance, Jesus is already with the Nephites. He has come suddenly to his temple in Bountiful. Now he casts their minds to the future, when the final fulfillment of this prophesy will come to pass. There will be a great Coming of Christ to all the world, and it will be similar to His Coming in glory to the Nephites. It will be preceded by great destruction. Isaiah notes that the Sun and Moon will be darkened (Isa 13:10).  

We have seen some of this prophecy come to pass. Jewish tradition for Passover is to set aside a chair at the Seder (sacred dinner) for Elijah. A child is sent to the front door to check if he has arrived.  For Latter-day Saints, Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple during Passover (D&C 110). He gave them the power to turn the hearts of the fathers and children to one another, so that the earth would not be wasted at Christ's coming.  That power includes the sealing powers that united families and friends together for eternity in the Temples of God. This is God's work to create a united Zion people, a Divine Council, an eternal family all sealed to God through Christ.
As of this writing, there are 168 temples throughout the world. Twenty more will have ground breaking ceremonies in 2020. Others are in construction phases or recently announced. Brigham Young once foresaw that there would be hundreds of temples during the Millennium, with the work of God feverishly being done day and night, to offer up the ordinances of exaltation to any living or  deceased person willing to receive them. This is the work that is turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, as their children bring saving ordinances to their deceased ancestors. It is no wonder that during this time of Corona Virus quarantine, we are still encouraged to seek out our ancestors through genealogical research, and prepare them for the day when they also can have their ordinances performed vicariously, once the temples fully reopen again.

Meanwhile, we reach towards our children through home church, supported by programs and Sacrament meetings held in our chapels. 

We are building a Zion people on both sides of the veil. We are preparing a covenant people, ready to be One in Christ, a Divine Council.


Supplanter No Surname said...

This is wonderful. I love reading your reflections on the Book of Mormon.

We just read chapter 20 a few nights ago and I was astonished at how good it was. I don't remember it being that wonderful! But here is a question I have had for a long time. The Savior quotes Micah 5:8-9 in verses 16 and 17. He also quotes those verses two other times in the Book of Mormon. Why? What is that about? I have read and reread those verses about the remnant of Jacob going through as lions among sheep and I have imagined all kinds of things, both scary and triumphant. Do you have any kind of insight on those verses?

rameumptom said...

As I understand it, the Book of Mormon connects the ancient with themselves, but is also forward looking.
So, the coming of Christ in glory is something the Nephites, from Lehi on, look towards with hope. For the people in 3 Nephi, they are experiencing a foreshadowing of the Millennium.

Jesus is now teaching them of the last days, and how it will reflect recent Nephite history. The Nephites are mostly evil, but God has armed prophets like Nephi, son of Nephi, with great power. He performed great miracles, including raising the dead.
This pattern is also seen in Enoch's time, preparing a people to escape the Flood. They formed a Zion people that terrified the wicked, including the giants.
Micah foresaw a time when Israel would terrify its enemies. This has a partial fulfillment in the nation of Israel today. It will have a greater fulfillment with Spiritual Israel. When we establish Zion and her stakes in these last days, it will be in the midst of the secret combinations of today's most wicked. D&C 45 notes the wicked will be fighting themselves, but afraid to fight Zion, because Zion will be like a lion, tearing apart its adversaries. It will be a refuge from evil. From Zion will go forth missionary-prophets with the power of Nephi son of Nephi. It will be like the City of Enoch prior to the Flood.

Hope this helps!

Supplanter No Surname said...

That is very helpful. Thank you!

Not only is that interpretation inspiring, it's electrifying!