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The Doctrine of the Risen Christ: Part 2
Robert L. Millet
Abstract: Brother Millet continues to study the resurrected Christ's dealings with the Nephite people in the Book of Mormon. He explores the higher law presented by Christ and the implications these commandments have for us. Brother Millet also shares some experiences with the application of the higher law in our lives.
Reprinted from FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series
In the last hour we talked about the Savior calling us to a higher righteousness. We talked in 3 Nephi 11 about the Lord's system, or law, of witnesses. I want to look again at this call to a higher righteousness by saying a few more things about 3 Nephi 12. There is a sense in which perhaps the Savior is hedging, or "fencing the Torah," as the rabbis used to say. If the commandment were "Thou shalt not A," then the Savior seems to be telling us to avoid anything that would come close to A.
In the early 1970s Elder Hartman Rector Jr. gave a fascinating talk in general conference about how when he was in the Navy, he and his copilots used to see how close they could come in their planes to the tops of the trees. It occurred to them that if the engine should even cough, they would be in trouble. The Navy had a rule that went something like this: "Thou shalt not fly thy planes through the trees." Elder Rector and his friends decided that to avoid the real problem, they would establish their own rule: "Thou shalt not fly thy planes lower than 1,000 feet above the trees."
If the command is "Thou shalt not kill," then surely we would want to avoid anything that would get us in the path of that. So, the Savior tells us, in verse 21 and thereafter, to avoid anger. Let's go to 3 Nephi 12:23—24: "Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you." I think we usually read that this way: If you want to come unto the Lord and you know you have bad feelings toward someone, work them out. But that is not what he said. He said, if you want to come unto the Lord and you know that someone has bad feelings toward you, you better go work on them. Our tendency is to say, "That's his problem." The Lord is saying that it is your problem too, indicating that you and I have a responsibility to do what we can to work out unkind feelings that other people have toward us. Now, we may not be able to do that, but we can try.
Verse 27 repeats the command against committing adultery, or sexual sin. And so, if we are to "fence the Torah," if we are to draw a line before that law, what do we do? We learn to control lust and lustful thoughts. Thus, in modern revelation, in Doctrine and Covenants 42:23 and 63:16, the Lord specifically says that when a man looks upon a woman (we presume that also means when a woman looks upon a man) with lust, he or she loses the Spirit and denies the faith. If the person doesn't repent, he or she will lose membership in the Lord's church. Verse 30 reads: "For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell."
Then comes verses 31 and 32. This is hard doctrine. We can't tell to what degree the Nephites may have had difficulty with marriage laws, as was the case in the Old World. You are probably aware that in the Old World, Jesus was essentially trying to slow down the quick-and-easy divorce that was so prevalent among his people. There were both conservative and liberal rabbis, as you know, but among the more liberal rabbis, the reading on divorce and marriage went something like this: A divorce could be had just because you were tired of this person, or because she burned your beans, or because you found yourself more attracted to a younger woman. Jesus comes onto the scene and says, essentially, "Wait a minute. It was never intended to be this way. If I had my way, if things were as they should be, the only time that divorce would be permissible and appropriate would be in the case of serious violation against that marriage through sexual transgression." In the Old World, Jesus was calling them to a higher righteousness in regard to the sanctity of marriage. Even that standard didn't hold in his day, though.
It is what Brother Benson used to call "the Samuel principle." President Benson said that ancient Israel wanted a king, like all the nations. Samuel said, "You don't want a king. If you have a king, this will happen." The people cried, "No, we want a king. We want to be like all the nations." And they insisted, so the Lord gave them a king. The principle Brother Benson went on to teach is that sometimes the Lord will allow some things that are less than the ideal, because that is all the people are then ready to receive. I think it is like this in our day in regard to marriage and divorce. Divorces are permitted today in the true church for reasons other than sexual transgression. If the Lord had his way, if all things were as they should be, the higher standard would hold. But inasmuch as all men and women cannot abide by that high standard, other things are practiced. The principle at stake here that we would abide by is that the present practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture.
Again, whether the Nephites had that kind of problem with divorce, I don't know. I can't tell. If they did, then it is wise that the Savior repeats the same counsel. But even if they didn't, it seems that the Lord is trying to let the people in the New World know what he taught in the Old World. Look at 3 Nephi 15:1: "And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and said unto them: Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father." So, if for no other reason, the Lord presents it to the Nephites so they would know what the people in the Old World received.
We talked about verses 33 and 34 last time, where it speaks of swearing oaths. Let's just make this clarification: The oath was the most sacred, most solemn agreement into which an individual could enter; the swearing of an oath was something that was not taken lightly. You may remember in the Book of Mormon how seriously oaths were received. It is written in the Nephite account that "when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him" (1 Nephi 4:37). That is an indication of how strong an oath was.
Remember that oaths were such that even bad guys didn't break oaths. One of the enemies of the Nephites refused to enter into an oath of peace by saying, basically, "I will not make an oath that I know I will break" (see Alma 44:8). It was unheard of to break oaths. Oaths, for a time, served a function, but over time, by the time of Jesus, oaths became loopholes. People began to swear by things over which they had no control. In the beginning people would swear an oath and therefore certify that they would not do this or would not do that, and you could trust them. After a while people began to swear by the moon, by the stars, by the earth—things over which they had no control. Jesus calls people to a higher righteousness, and what is the call? Let your word be your bond. If you say, "Yea," mean yea; if you say "Nay," mean nay. "Whatsoever cometh of more than these is evil," he says in verse 37 (see also Matthew 5:37). And in verse 38, he says, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." There were, in ancient Israel, as you know, laws of reparation and damage. Under the law of Moses, the system was that if an injury was done to you, it would be appropriate on your part to expect someone to repair the damages. Ancient Israel didn't live under some barbaric idea that if someone happened to accidentally poke your eye out, you should search them out and poke their eye out. That is barbaric. No, it was the idea of repairs and damages. The Lord again calls us to a higher level of righteousness.
Verse 43 of 3 Nephi 12 is very interesting. It reads: "And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy." As you know, that also appears in the New Testament. The haunting thing about this is that I am not aware of any passage in the Old Testament that speaks of loving your friends and hating your enemies. Jehovah never told people to hate their enemies. It may well be that in New Testament times, Jesus was responding not to the Old Testament but to a tradition that was very strong among the members of the Qumran community, the Dead Sea Scrolls community. They had as a part of their tradition their manual of discipline, which held the idea that "thou shalt love the sons of light and hate the sons of darkness"—i.e., hate those outside the faith. It seems that maybe the Lord is responding to that and saying that a higher call would be to love your enemies.
Let's go to 3 Nephi 13. This chapter seems to be a call not only to a higher righteousness but to a higher motivation. I don't know and you don't know all the reasons people do what they do, and the Savior is going to warn us soon enough to be careful about judging people's motives. I know me, and it seems to me that I can do the right things for the right reason or the right things for the wrong reason, and maybe I can do the wrong things for the right reason and the wrong things for the wrong reason. That seems to be a discussion that is going on here. It is the call not only to do the right things, but to do them for the right reasons. You will occasionally hear people say, "Oh, the way I feel right now, it would be better not to go to church." No, it is better to go to church. "With the way I feel about this, I shouldn't even pay tithing." No, we should pay tithing, but the Lord calls us to try to gain a new motivation.
So let's pick up with 3 Nephi 13:1—2:
Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor [alms meaning good deeds, kindly things, giving money in some cases]; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.
Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
What does that mean by "they have their reward"? That is a spooky phrase. Someone give me a commentary on that.
Student comment: That is what they really want—the praise of men—and they got what they wanted.
Therefore they shouldn't expect any glory or blessings hereafter. They got their reward, so they are fine. They wanted the praise, so they got the praise. Verse 3 says: "But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." What a strange phrase—"Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." What is the meaning? This is the call to try to avoid ulterior motivation. I believe this chapter is a call to do among the most difficult things we are called to do as Christians. It is one thing to ask people to do the right thing. It is another thing entirely to say, "Oh, by the way, do it for the right reason." This is a call to try to see to it that we are not doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The right hand not letting the left hand know what it is doing, or vice versa, is a call for us to see to it that our motives are pure. Verse 4: "That thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly."
Okay, so we've discussed good deeds. Now let's go to prayer.
Verse 5 says: "And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." You know, what comes to my mind—and I'll just turn to this—is this wonderful parable that the Savior spoke in Luke 18, starting with verse 9: "He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican [meaning a tax gatherer, a people who were hated]. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, [and that is a great way of saying it] God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:9—13). Jesus says, "I tell you, this man [the sinner] went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:14). So, there's that same idea that they have their reward.
We are talking about praying. Let's go on, with 3 Nephi 13:6—8:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.
Think about this one. It says, "Use not vain repetitions." I think sometimes as we teach this in the Church, we place emphasis in the wrong place. I have heard people say that we should be careful that we don't have repetition. I don't think that is the problem. How many different ways can you bless the food, for instance? Do you have an original prayer every time you bless the food? If you do, I want to talk to you, because I don't. The issue is not the repetition. The issue is not the number of times you are going to pray. The issue is not how many times I am going to ask God to bless me with his Spirit (I will generally do that every time I pray). The issue is the vainness. Vain means "empty" or "shallow," "impure," "having no substance."
Let me give you an analogy. A man is out in the water swimming and I am on the bank, and I see him begin to go under and hear him gulp, "Help!" I look carefully and see that he's coming up again, and he yells, "Help!" I see him go under the third time, and just before he does, he says, "Help!" The odds are that I wouldn't say, "Well, there's no way I am going to help this guy. He couldn't be sincere. He said the same thing three times." We are kind of like the drowning man. There are only so many ways to ask the Lord for blessings. The issue is not repetition. The issue is the vainness, when what you say doesn't mean anything, when it is empty.
Let's jump down, if you will, to verse 16. Now we come to fasting:
Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
But thou, when thou fasteth, anoint thy head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
What comes to mind? What do you think about when you read these verses?
We've talked about alms, or deeds; we have talked about prayers; we have talked about fasting. Why would anybody want to appear to fast? Why would you want to look disheveled or hungry?
Student answer: It goes along with the reward of man. People would say, "What a righteous man he is because he is fasting."
So what is the Savior asking us to do? To avoid producing that. This gets interesting. Consider these words from the Doctrine and Covenants, when the Lord says, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (D&C 121:40; see also D&C 121:34; Matthew 22:14). And why are they not chosen? Because "their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world [and then what is the language?], and to aspire to the honors of men" (D&C 121:35). There is nothing wrong with having the honors of men. You are not evil if someone honors you. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be better, but notice what the problem is—aspiring to the honors of men. It isn't a bad thing to fast to become more spiritual, and it isn't even a bad thing to fast to become more spiritual and have people know you are fasting. The issue is to what degree we try to manage an appearance so that it appears that we are what we are not.
Some years ago I happened upon an interesting little book—in fact, it was Elder Jeffrey Holland, many years ago before he was Elder Jeffrey Holland, who got me to look into this book. This is a book written by a German Lutheran theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. Let me read just two paragraphs. Bonhoeffer is trying to reconcile what he sees as a paradox, or a seeming contradiction, between "Let your light so shine" and "Be careful about tooting your horn." Do you see the challenge? Let your light so shine, but don't do things to be seen of men. That is an interesting challenge. He says:
How is this paradox to be resolved? The first question to ask is: From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader [Jesus] who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or of what we are doing. We must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only in so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary, but quite ordinary and natural. Thus we hide the visible from ourselves in obedience to the word of Jesus. . . .
All that the follower of Jesus has to do is make sure that his obedience, following and love are entirely spontaneous and premeditated. If you do good, you must not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, you must be quite unconscious of it. Otherwise you are simply displaying your own virtue, and not that which has its source in Jesus Christ.1
When you think back at "Let your light so shine before men," what is it that we are supposed to let people see then? How does the rest of that sentence go? "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Thus, the concept of holding up the light is not me as the light. I am at best a dim lamp. He (Christ) is the light. Look over in 3 Nephi 18:24: "Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do."
This has very practical implications. You give a talk in church and someone comes up and compliments you. How do you receive a compliment? It is tough, isn't it? You are shy; you don't want to take a compliment. I learned once from a wise man. As he was complimented, I listened to what he would say. He would say, "There was a good spirit here, wasn't there?" Or he would say, "Well, the Lord came through for us, didn't he?" He would say, "Thank you very much. I am humbled by the fact that we had a great experience." It was a constant deflecting from himself.
So, we are to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose we do some things, the wrong things, for the right reasons. Let me suggest how that is possible. It seems to me that because we are fallen and we live in a fallen world, we do the wrong things not because we planned it, not because we premeditated upon it, but because we just did it in a moment of weakness. On the other hand, if I were sitting at my desk and said to myself, "You know it is about time for me to go home and spank my child. The little bug has been getting away with things more than he should, and he's deserving of something like that." And I plot out how to do it (e.g., I am going to provoke him to upset me). That is a different matter from raising my voice in a moment of weakness. The Savior is telling us not just to do the right thing, but to do it for the right reason. It is a very interesting challenge—in fact, I don't know of anything more challenging than to get my heart right. I don't know how to do that other than pleading constantly that the Lord will help me become unaware of myself, help me that I don't see me, help me that I don't focus on me, help me that I am not constantly trying to draw attention to me.
There is this principle called modesty. When we think of modesty, we usually think of dress, but modesty is a principle where people seek to draw attention away from themselves. It may be in dress, it may be in hairstyle, it may be in whatever, but to be modest is to focus attention elsewhere.
Let's look over in 3 Nephi 13. Here's the summary of the whole matter of motivation. It begins in verse 19. Let me just tell you a story before we read this. I was sitting in Salt Lake City in the home of a very dear friend only hours before I was to leave on a mission. This young man had married after coming home from his mission, and the way I knew him was he had been on a mission in Louisiana and was one of the finest missionaries I had ever known—maybe the most effective, deeply spiritual man I had ever known, and he still is. I had a few moments with him, and I simply said, "I have to leave soon. What counsel could you give me?" Of all the things he could have said, he snapped right back with this. "You keep an eye single to the glory of God, and you will be successful." I thanked him and thought to myself that surely he could have said something more profound than that. Maybe he could have taught me how to find people more effectively. Surely he could have said something about how to teach with power. I wasn't out two days before I realized that what he said was the most centrally significant thing he could have said. Why we do what we do affects what we do and the outcomes. If people are constantly doing what they are doing for praise and applause, in the long run the outcome will not be as great. Our impact is not as great if we are not a clear, clean vessel. The Lord kind of gives the antidote to this sickness, beginning in verse 19:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (3 Nephi 13:19—24)
Some years ago, I was thinking about this idea, thinking about what my model of missionary work had told me and reflected in these words upon it:
Holding back or giving less than is required always produces divided loyalties. We need not have our membership records in the great and abominable church in order to be disloyal to the kingdom of God; the issue is not where our records are but rather where our hearts are. The divine word is certain; "there are many called, but few are chosen," because their hearts are set upon the things of this world, rather than upon those things which have eternal worth (D&C 121:34—35).
James explained that "a double minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8) [I was thinking about that in light of these verses]. The instability comes much less from lack of native strength than from lack of concentration and focus. Whatever receives from us less than our best will bring forth less than the best results and less than the best reward. Joseph Smith thus taught that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.2 Those who refuse to give their all to the Lord, whether by public declaration or by private volition, cannot enjoy the peace and power of single-minded obedience. Cain and his followers "loved Satan more than God" (Moses 5:13, 18, 28). It is not necessarily true that they did not love God. They may have. They simply loved Satan more! Their lives were centered upon Lucifer's enticements, upon his values, upon his rewards. . . . Whenever we reserve our religion for one day in a week, we come awfully close to loving the things of a fallen world more than we love the things of the world to come. . . .
Our hearts cannot be wedded to another endeavor.3
Notice what Christ says: "No man can serve two masters." Here we get at the interesting point. I think that is saying that I can't serve God and me, I can't serve God and my applause, I can't serve God and my image. "Our might or strength cannot be spent in secondary causes. Our minds cannot be committed to another enterprise. In the words of the early brethren of this dispensation, It must be the kingdom of God or nothing! Those who fail to place the Savior at the center of their lives rob all other vital relationships of the potency that might otherwise be possible."4
Let's look at the last part of 3 Nephi 13, following up on this idea of light of the body being the eye and the eye being single to the glory of God. Notice, beginning in verse 25, what the Savior turns to now:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. . . . [Notice how consistent it is with the New Testament sermon, in which the Savior taught this same message to the Twelve.]
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (3 Nephi 13:25, 33)
See, what he is teaching is in contrast to seeking your own righteousness, seeking your own goodness, seeking your own praise and applause.
Let's move on to 3 Nephi 14. As a final part of this call to a higher righteousness, the Lord is still dealing with our emotions, with our feelings. He gives some interesting counsel in the opening verses of this chapter. Let's read the first two verses:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
I think there are few principles that are misunderstood more than this. This is the Savior's invitation to you and me to rise above attributing motivation to others. On the one hand, he is telling us to guard our own motives, to be careful of the purity of our own reasons for doing things. But he is also saying to be careful telling why this person did that. You don't know what's acting upon him. You don't know what caused him to do it. In our effort to make certain that we don't judge another's motive, I find too often, especially in young people, that we are afraid to make judgments for fear we be guilty of judging. Some years ago I visited with a young woman at BYU who happened to mention to me that she didn't get much sleep. "Why don't you?" I asked. She replied that she was up very late every night. I asked why. She said that her roommates and friends were there until 3:00 in the morning. I said, "Why don't you ask them to leave?" She said, "Well, wouldn't that be judging?" You and I are required to make thousands and thousands of judgments.
There comes to mind a passage in Moroni 7 (this is Mormon speaking):
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. . . .
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. [There he is saying to use some discernment, and he is going to tell us how to gain that discernment.]
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. [In other words, that is how it should be. We should be able to make that discrimination with no difficulty at all.]
For behold, the Spirit of Christ [and we could call it the light of Christ] is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. (Moroni 7:12—18)
In the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew on the passage that mirrors this, what we read is, "Judge not unrighteously, . . . but judge righteous judgment" (JST Matthew 7:2).
Look back to 3 Nephi 14:6: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." That is a very brutal-sounding verse. I am going to turn now, though it reads here basically as it does in the King James Version, to the Joseph Smith Translation on this passage, Matthew 7:9—11, because I think it is a wonderful addition to our understanding; it reads:
Go ye unto the world, saying unto all, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you [Notice, this that is added by the Prophet]. And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls unto swine, lest they trample them under their feet. For the world cannot receive that which ye, yourselves, are not able to bear [That is interesting. How can the world handle that which you don't even handle well? it is saying]; wherefore ye shall not give your pearls unto them, lest they turn again and rend you.
The same concept comes through in Alma 12:9, where Alma says, "It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless, they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him" (that is, only as the Spirit of the Lord tells them to).
We are skipping a little, but let's go to 3 Nephi 14:24:
Therefore, whoso heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock—
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand—
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
I was thinking the other day as I read these verses about the modern revelation in section 90 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is recorded about the time that the First Presidency is being reorganized in this dispensation. Notice the language in Doctrine and Covenants 90:3, 4, and 5:
Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come;
Nevertheless, through you [speaking to Joseph Smith, the president of the Church] shall the oracles be given to another, yea, even unto the church [So, you can have people who are oracles, the living oracles, or you can have the living oracles in the form of continuing revelations].
And all they who receive the oracles of God [this is a sobering thought], let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation, thereby and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.
Section 90 seems to give real force to what we have just read in 3 Nephi. It is the acceptance of the servants of the Lord that builds that foundation. Remember how the Savior began that sermon? Isn't this an interesting way to end it? What is the first Beatitude in the Book of Mormon account? "Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve" (3 Nephi 12:1). How does he end it? "Give heed to the living oracles." It's the same message.
So, this is a call to a higher righteousness. Two of Christ's messages are the call to a higher righteousness and a law of witnesses. Let's consider a third major message from the Savior: the power of the scriptures. It is interesting that the Savior quotes from Micah, Isaiah, and Malachi. Don't you think that is a little odd? This is the Savior, the Lord of life. Why does he have to quote scripture? You would think he would come with a major message. Why is it that when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, he spent much of the night quoting scripture? This was an angel appearing to Joseph Smith quoting from Isaiah and from Acts and from several other books of scripture. What is the message?
Student answer: The message came from Christ originally.
Right, he gave it originally. What else comes to mind?
Student answer: It is a pattern an example, of humility. The Savior is setting a pattern for us. He is saying that he is taking the words from the scriptures, the words of the prophets, so we must do the same thing.
In fact, what does he say about Isaiah? You see, it is one thing to quote the Lord; it is another to have the Lord quote you! That is a pretty good recommendation! In fact, let's just look at 2 Nephi 23, at the opening verses where Nephi quotes or refers to passages from Isaiah. Before he does so, he gives pretty strong recommendations about Isaiah. He has just quoted what we know as Isaiah 54. Then he says:
And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. (2 Nephi 23:1—2)
Notice what he says next in verse 3: "Great are the words of Isaiah." Why? Because he spoke to both the house of Israel and the Gentiles. That about covers the bases. Is there anyone else? Verse 3 says: "And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake" (3 Nephi 23:3). What would that verse mean? What does he mean by "all things that Isaiah spake, have been, and shall be even according to the words he spake"? Does it mean he spoke the truth in saying that these things are going to come to pass? I guess there is another possibility too. This verse may imply, and I don't know if it does, but it may imply a pattern prophecy—that is to say, what he said here will be fulfilled there, but perhaps it will be fulfilled again. We have an illustration of that in the New Testament on the Day of Pentecost. As the people were speaking in tongues, other people who were in the area who didn't understand what was going on concluded that these men were all drunk. Peter said, "They're not drunk. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, who said that in the last days, people would enjoy spiritual gifts."
Interestingly, when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, he quoted many chapters of prophecy, including Joel and the prophecy that has just been cited, and said, "This has not yet come to pass, but it will soon." What is that saying? That a prophecy can be fulfilled many times. Let me give you an example from Isaiah that is just off the top of the pile of examples.
"And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of the book that is sealed, which [men] delivere to one that is learned . . ." (Isaiah 29:11). You may remember that prophecy from Isaiah 29. There is no question but that that was fully fulfilled during the ministry of Joseph Smith when Martin Harris took the manuscript to New York City to Professor Charles Anthon, and so forth. But it surely must have meant something in Isaiah's day also. Does it not also refer to a time when the apostasy would be so dark and thick that it would be like having a book that could not be read, as if were sealed? I think it comes to pass in Isaiah's day. And it comes to pass in a day after Isaiah's day, and it comes to pass in our day too.
So, in chapter 23 we get a strong recommendation about Isaiah. I'd like us to look at verses 7—11:
And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept.
And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said:
Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
And Jesus said unto them: How is it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
That is to say, as far as I can tell, that Samuel prophesied that at the time Christ would be resurrected, others would be resurrected with him. Jesus said, "Did that happen?" They answered, "Well, yes." And Jesus said, "Why wasn't it written down when it happened?" Then the scripture says, "And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written. And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded" (3 Nephi 23:12—13). So, there's a recommendation on Isaiah.
What does Christ do next? He quotes two chapters from Malachi. Why would the Nephites need that? Why Malachi? What do I need to know about Malachi? Well, when does the Nephite journey to America take place
Student answer: In 600 B.C.
Malachi is not going to live for another one to two hundred years. So whatever of significance the Lord revealed to Malachi, the Nephites would not have had, unless the Lord gave them another revelation. So, things pertaining to tithing, things pertaining to appropriate sacrifices, things pertaining to the coming of Elijah the prophet—these things the Nephites would not have known unless the Lord gave it to them as he had given it to Malachi.
I would like us to look, if we could, at 3 Nephi 23:14: "And now it came to pass that when Jesus had expounded all the scriptures in one, which they had written, he commanded them that they should teach the things which he had expounded unto them." Let me put you on the spot. What does it mean by "he had expounded all the scriptures in one"? Jesus is our teacher. He is talking to the Nephites, and he expounds the "scriptures in one." What comes to your mind? What is he doing?
Student answer: Putting the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah together. He expounds what the others have already learned.
Yes, it sounds like, in one sense, the scriptural records are now merged, and the testimony of one and the testimony of the other will be joined. Good. I think that's what happened. What else?
Student answer: There's a pattern in the Book of Mormon for missionary work, where missionaries will start from the creation and go all the way down to present times or even into the future as the people of those times knew it. I think that's what Christ was doing here. He could have explained all of these things to them as they were found in the scriptures.
Good. He explained the scriptures by going from beginning to end. I think those are excellent ideas. Let me propose something in addition. Let me read you something from the New Testament, from Luke 24. This is the occasion when the resurrected Jesus is walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and they don't know who he is. Remember that? They were a little upset, because they really thought that Jesus was going to bring about the redemption of Israel. So let me read Luke 24:25—27: "Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Wouldn't it be marvelous to have the Son of God standing before you bringing all the scriptures to bear and showing how in reality that they all testify of him, things we hadn't realized in past readings or things we just wouldn't have perceived? Surely if we had his vision and his perspective, we would be able to see, in incidents and historical events in brief passages, that truly all things testify of Christ. Isn't that wonderful language? "He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."
Look over in 3 Nephi 26:1:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had told these things he expounded them unto the multitude; and he did expound all things unto them, both great and small.
And he saith: These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations.
And he did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory. . . .
And then it talks about down to the Second Coming and the introduction to the Millennium.
Look over at verse 6:
And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;
But behold the plates of Nephi [meaning the large plates]do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people [Mormon is our narrator now]; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.
And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith [that is, when the Book of Mormon should come forth, what is it going to do? Try our faith], and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things [in the Book of Mormon] then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people. (3 Nephi 26:6—11)
That is kind of a frustrating passage to read, isn't it? What does he mean that he is going to use the Book of Mormon to try the faith of his people? How? That is an odd use of words. How will he try the faith of the Latter-day Saints with the Book of Mormon? If there are greater things yet to come, how will he assess our readiness to receive them?
Student answer: The way we treat the Book of Mormon would be equivalent to the way we would treat Heavenly Father and Christ, and if we take what little we have been given and really search it and pray about it and ask for more, then he will know we are ready to receive more.
Yes. It is as if he is saying that if we have been faithful with that we have been given—"Thou hast been faithful over a few things," now I will give thee greater things (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Again, it is fascinating to me that the Savior, while visiting his people, should focus so much attention on scripture. Maybe it is getting after the principle that comes through the Book of Mormon again and again and again—that there is power in the Word. Let's close on that thought. This is from President Benson, from a talk never delivered but given to the Ensign to be published in May 1986, entitled "The Power of the Word." President Benson said:
Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts, and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.5
What a tribute to scripture that the master of scripture should command us to be involved in scripture—that he should quote them, that he should expound upon them. It also provides a pretty strong recommendation as to how we as we meet together as Latter-day Saints ought to conduct the meetings of the church. We should look for occasions to teach, to quote, to paraphrase, holy writ.
The call to a higher righteousness—the Lord extends it to us. That we might rise to and respond to that call is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller, rev. Irmgard Booth (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 175—7.
2. See Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, comp. N. B. Lundwall (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.), 58.
3. Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 7—9.
4. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory, 9.
5. Ezra Taft Benson, "The Power of the Word," Ensign (May 1986): 81.
Continue on to Part 3 of The Doctrine of the Risen Christ