The Doctrine of the Risen Christ: Part 1
Robert L. Millet
Abstract: Robert Millet studies the law of witnesses and its importance in the introduction of the message of the Savior in 3rd Nephi. An investigation is made into the dealing of the Savior with the Nephites, His disciples in the Old World and how He is a witness of Himself. Brother Millet also points out the call to a higher righteousness in the Book of Mormon, and how the Book of Mormon also acts as a witness to us.
Reprinted from FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series
We continue our study of the Nephite prophets and their messages by turning to the ministry of Christ in the Book of Mormon. Over the next few hours, we will consider the central messages of Jesus the resurrected Lord. Remember that he has appeared to the more righteous of the Nephite people, the wicked having been removed. I'd like to have us turn to 3 Nephi 19 to begin, and let's first look at verses 35 and 36. This is a description of the people. Remember that in his own country, Christ had difficulty generating faith among people. For example, in Nazareth he could do no mighty miracle because of their unbelief. Notice the contrast in 3 Nephi 19:35:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
Verily I say unto you, there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard.
So, we have a people of faith. The Nephites are also a people who, for generations, have had among them the fulness of the gospel. They have been a people who have enjoyed the ministry of angels. They have been a people who have enjoyed great signs and wonders. I am thinking, for example, of the ninth chapter of Alma where Alma and Amulek are preaching to the people and indicate that because of those great blessings, if the people should not prove worthy of those blessings, they will fall farther. So, the Nephites were a people who were a little different from the people Jesus had left in the Old World.
Jesus is now resurrected, fully perfected. The atonement is complete; the law of Moses is fulfilled. As you contemplate the risen Christ appearing to the Nephites and the Jesus of the Four Gospels, what differences do you see? What do you learn in the Book of Mormon about Christ? What contributions do we gain that lead us to greater understanding of the Savior here, over and beyond what we see in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
Student answer: One thing I notice is his manner of teaching in the New Testament, where he is speaking in parables all the time; it's a covert way of teaching. In 3 Nephi, Christ is very plain to the people—in fact, he is so plain to them that he speaks words that can't be written because they are so spiritual and powerful; it's a very overt manner of teaching.
That is a very good insight. In fact, how many parables do you discover in 3 Nephi? There are no parables. Do you remember why Jesus gave parables, as described in Matthew 13? Christ gives parables so that people can understand at differing levels. Parables don't generally serve to make things clearer. Parables veil meaning and therefore keep those who are not prepared to understand, from understanding. You don't see parables in the Book of Mormon. You have a people, as you indicated, who seem to be more receptive to Christ's message. Anything else?
Student answer: I notice a difference not necessarily in the teaching but in the way he addresses the people. It seems like he goes to them. In the New Testament, most people come to him. It is like they are a more faithful people, so he can go to them instead of having them come to him.
That is also a good insight. You know and I know that the Jesus of the Four Gospels is compassionate and understanding and tender, but do you sense in the Book of Mormon that this comes out even more? Notice his feelings and how close to the surface they are among the Nephites. Notice how often it is mentioned that when he had done this or when he had heard this, he wept.
I had a passage in mind that I'd like us to look at. It's in 3 Nephi 17. It seems to me that as chapter 17 begins, the Lord basically wants to leave at this point, that is, to end day one. But there is a problem. They don't want him to leave. Let's read verses 1—7: "Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand. I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time" (3 Nephi 17:1—2).
By the way, I hadn't thought about this until this time, but what does that indicate about him? Notice his ability to perceive their weakness. He is a perceptive teacher. Notice he says, "I know you can't understand everything I have said. I know you don't fathom all of this." I remember very well at the October 1972 general conference, President Harold B. Lee said the same thing. He referred to this incident and said, basically, "Look, I know you can't grasp it all, but go home and think on these things. We will come back in six months and do this again."
Let's continue with verses 3 through 7:
Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.
But now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.
And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
This is a very touching description of what the Savior is feeling.
Now look over at verse 18:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.
And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.
And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.
And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
And when he had done this he wept again. (3 Nephi 17:18—22)
And of course, then we have the beautiful scene that follows, with angels descending and ministering to the little children.
Look over in 3 Nephi 19:31—34:
And it came to pass that he went again a little way off and prayed unto the Father;
And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.
And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed.
Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.
That is an indication of the readiness and the receptivity of the audience. I have been in meetings on the other side of this, where a member of the Council of the Twelve would get into a subject, and I would be very excited about what I knew he was going to say. But then he would stop and say, "Maybe we'll talk about this some other time." The Savior was able to speak freely and say everything that he wanted to say to these people.
Anything else you have noticed in your studies of the Four Gospels and "the Fifth Gospel," if you will, or the account in 3 Nephi?
Student comment: Well, I think the atonement was such a traumatic thing for the Savior, and he had just come from people who had rejected him. Then he comes to people who have been ready and prepared for him. That would be a cause to weep and a cause to say thanks to these people who have accepted the atonement.
There is surely, as a teacher or leader, nothing more enjoyable than to enter into a setting where people just want to take everything you can give them. One of the Twelve Apostles said to me once what a joy it was to go into a stake where a stake president wanted to learn. He said that once he had come home from a conference and his wife met him at the airport. He was very tired and worn out. His wife asked if it was a difficult conference and if the members were not open. He said, "Oh, no, they were terribly open. I gave them everything I had!'' I think that is a good insight.
Let's turn to some of the central messages in 3 Nephi. We can't cover everything, but let's try to cover some of the main messages of the Lord and Savior, the risen Savior, to the Nephites. Let's go to chapter 11. I guess we don't really know exactly when Christ came to the Nephites. There are people who take different sides to that issue. It seems to me, from 3 Nephi 11:8—11, that the text indicates several months had passed before he came. It is the ending of the thirty and fourth year (see 3 Nephi 10:18). The destruction began the first month of the thirty and fourth year (see 3 Nephi 8:5). The Savior appears at the ending of the thirty and fourth year.
In chapter 11—I hadn't planned to say anything about chapter 11, but I reread it last night—there seemed to be a message weaving itself through this. I'd like to call this first message "the law of witnesses." Let's pick up with verse 8. The Father has introduced his beloved son, and now it says:
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.
And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying . . . (3 Nephi 11:8—9)
I found myself reading this last night and thinking about the anticipation and eagerness there must have been. These are the first words of the risen Lord to the Nephites, other than his voice being heard in the previous chapters. Now he has appeared, and the opening words would seem to be very important.
. . . Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.
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 . . . (3 Nephi 11:10—11)
Which bitter cup? This is the same message given in Isaiah and modern revelation, where the Savior said, "I . . . have trodden the wine-press alone, even the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God" (D&C 76:107). Our Savior has been to Gethsemane; he has been to Golgatha. He has experienced what he never experienced before—the withdrawal of the Father's Spirit from him. He has known the agony of the atonement now, which he could not have known, even as the mighty Jehovah before the world was formed. So he says: "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."
And so, the first illustration of the law of witnesses is the Savior's witness of himself. What follows is interesting to me. I was reflecting on this last evening. The Lord then calls for the people to come forward one by one and become witnesses of the resurrection. There is, in a limited sense, a congregation of 2,500 people who now become apostles in their own way, because they become witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 14 says: "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." Though the words are not here, you would have to know that another attribute of the risen Lord was his patience. I don't know how long this took, but it had to take several hours. I have been in stake conferences where apostles and prophets have stood to shake hands with everyone that would, and they have stayed for an hour or two. This could have taken several hours for every one of those 2,500 people to pass by. I suppose that even if they only took a few seconds, it would have taken a long time—and some of us would be prone to take more time than that. So, we now have a people who become witnesses.
Verse 15 reads:
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.
That is the same kind of language that John the Beloved used in his epistle. He was writing as one who had seen and felt and experienced. As these people went home at the end of a long and full day with the Savior, what interesting things they must have told family members about what they had experienced!
Let's now go to 3 Nephi 11:27—30; I call this "the importance of a united witness": "And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one." Let's stop there for a second. What do we learn from this? This is an interesting thing. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one. "I am in the Father, the Father in me," he says. What's going on? What is the doctrinal message here? What is he saying?
Student anwer: To me, it seems he is saying how one these people are and how these people have gathered together at the temple as one. He is trying to say to them, "You came as a group, as one, just as we [the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost] are one." To me it is symbolic of the unity of the group along with the unity of the godhead.
Excellent insight. We go to great lengths, as Latter-day Saints, to stress that there is a Father, that there is a Son, that there is a Holy Ghost, and that they are separate and distinct individuals, that they are not somehow mystically intertwined as one spirit essence. But the fact of the matter is that they are infinitely more one than they are separate. They happen to be separate in body, separate distinct individuals, but they are one. The Father is in Christ; Christ is in the Father. That is describing that indwelling relationship that exists between them. And I like your comment about the oneness of the people. I remember Elder Bruce R. McConkie talking in The Promised Messiah about this. Why such stress, why such emphasis on oneness and unity among the members of the godhead? How much more graphically could we illustrate that there is only one way—that people must be united in the faith and that we are to come unto God?1
Let's continue with verse 28:
And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
You may recall that in the first chapter of Alma, we have an incident in the history of the Nephites wherein certain of the members of the church who are being confronted and attacked, because of their belief, by anti-Christians choose to attack back. They become kind of anti-antis. The account is very descriptive concerning what takes place. They lose the Spirit of the Lord and are eventually cut off from the faith. When we contend in this way, in terms of argument or debate, about the truthfulness of the gospel, we have stepped out of context. The Lord doesn't operate that way. It is as if he is saying, "I don't care if you are right. You are wrong if you do it this way." Going on, verse 30 says: "Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away."
The other example of the law of witnesses I see in chapter 11 is found in verses 21 and 22, where the Savior appoints Nephi and calls twelve others to do what? It is interesting to note that these are twelve leaders of the Nephites, and what is their first assignment? What is the Lord going to have them do? Baptize. Of all the things that an apostle can do, what is his first responsibility? To baptize. It is interesting that in Doctrine and Covenants 20:38, the revelation simply says, "An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling [duty] to baptize." We speak often of the Nephite Twelve as "disciples" and try to distinguish them from the Twelve Apostles of the Lord in the Holy Land. The fact is, these Nephite disciples have apostolic duties, they have apostolic responsibility, and they have apostolic power.
It is interesting to me that in the Wentworth Letter, Joseph Smith said this, speaking of the Book of Mormon: "This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings."2 These Nephite leaders are, in very deed, apostles, just as were their Old World counterparts. (Notice that verses 31 through 41 contain a statement, a witness, about the doctrine of Christ. I don't want to cover that now. We will cover that in a later hour as we talk about 3 Nephi 27.)
The first major message of 3 Nephi 11 is the law of witnesses. Chapters 12, 13, 14, contain the sermon—this is important and well-known enough that we will just call it "the sermon." Let's think for a moment about the difference between the sermon in Galilee and the sermon at Bountiful. The Galilean sermon seems to be almost exclusively an apostolic preparation. It is an MTC, a missionary training center, for the Twelve. There are a few other people there, but it is not generally given to the multitude. It is given to the Twelve. In the Book of Mormon, as Jesus speaks, to whom does he speak? He speaks to the Nephite Twelve, but he also speaks to a multitude. One of the very gentle evidences of the truthfulness of this record, in my mind, is the fact that I just don't believe Joseph Smith would have known, at that early age in his ministry, when to break the record and have Jesus turn from the Twelve, by saying, "And then he turned to the multitude and said . . ." And it's so appropriate, as we'll see. There are times when the message is for everybody, and there are times when it is just for the Twelve. An illustration that we probably won't cover in depth is the passage, "Take ye no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink" (3 Nephi 13:25; cf. D&C 84:81). The principle is true for all of us, but it is a specific charge for the apostles and is so designated in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon.
As I thought of chapters 12, 13, and 14, I thought about what is going on here in regard to repeating the same message. Why say something over and over? I'd like you to think about this. When Nephi, very early in our record, was taken into vision and had the same visionary experience that his father, Lehi, had, among the things he saw was that a time would come when plain and precious truths and many covenants of the Lord would be taken from the Bible. Back in 1 Nephi 13, he saw that that would happen. He saw that a time would also come, though, when the Book of Mormon would come forth and other books would come forth, and what would they do? They would establish that Jesus is the Christ, but they would also establish the essential truthfulness of the Bible itself.
Let me refer you to something that I have come to appreciate in recent years. This is a segment of a talk given by President Harold B. Lee in 1971 at an LDSSA fireside:
Fifty years ago or more, when I was a missionary, our greatest responsibility was to defend the great truth that the Prophet Joseph Smith was divinely called and inspired and that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God. But even at that time there were the unmistakable evidences that there was coming into the religious world actually a question about the Bible and about the divine calling of the Master himself. Now, fifty years later, our greatest responsibility and anxiety is to defend the divine mission of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, for all about us, even among those who claim to be professors of the Christian faith, are those not willing to stand squarely in defense of the great truth that our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, was indeed the Son of God. So tonight it would seem to me that the most important thing I could say to you is to try to strengthen your faith and increase your courage and your understanding of the place of the Master in the great Plan of Salvation.
The vital necessity of having that testimony was put in language by a beloved colleague of ours, the late President Charles A. Callis, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and before that served for many years as president of the Southern States Mission. He [Brother Callis] said: "Beautiful flowers do not grow on a rosebush unless the parent bush has its roots firmly planted in rich fertile soil, unless it is watered, cultivated, unless it is pruned and carefully cared for by a gardener. Just so, beautiful flowers of sobriety, honesty, integrity, and virtue do not blossom in a human soul unless the feet of that human soul are firmly planted in a divine testimony of the mission of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."3
That was in 1971. More than twenty years later, we find ourselves living in a society where it is becoming quite the fad to doubt the historicity not just of the Book of Mormon but of the New Testament. We have people rising up on all sides telling us what they are convinced Jesus said and what he didn't say. As you may know, a recent group, called the Jesus Seminar, had the contention that 82 percent of all that was written in the Gospels was never spoken by Jesus. It is okay as long as Jesus talks about flowers and pretty days. But when he talks about Messiah, resurrection, life after death, or godhood, they conclude it couldn't have been Jesus himself who said those things.
It occurred to me as I was thinking about this the last few days what an interesting witness the Book of Mormon becomes. That the Nephite writers would feel moved upon to give to us much of what is in the New Testament—there are slight differences, but it contains much of what is in the New Testament—establishes the truthfulness that the Savior delivered a message that is important. Doctrine and Covenants 20:11 says the Lord said one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to prove to the world that the holy scriptures are true. And so, as we dip into this important sermon, let's keep in mind that one of the things we are doing through the Book of Mormon is establishing that there was a Lord and Savior, that he did preach, and that we can rely, for the most part, on what is in the Bible.
When I teach this sermon, I often tell students to consider that this sermon represents a call to a higher righteousness. For example, let's notice in the Book of Mormon the things that the Lord wants us to know. Look back in 3 Nephi 9:13. Part of the call to a higher righteousness, even before we come to the sermon, is this one. Notice what the Savior says, beginning in verse 13: "O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" Isn't that interesting? In other words, these people are not all glowingly righteous; they are just better than some of the bad guys. Verse 14: "Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me."
You know, it would be an interesting study just to take the word come and notice how it is used by Christ. In the last several years, notice how often we have been given this idea of "come unto Christ.'' We have restated the mission of the Church; it is to invite all to come unto Christ through three means. Notice how many times these verses, verses 15—19, use the words come unto me:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me [there's that phrase again]; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.
I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God . . .
What an interesting idea. I thought we already were the sons and daughters of God. The principle is that because of the fall, we are not only alienated from things of righteousness, but we are alienated from the divine family. Thus the atonement not only forgives sins but reinstates us in the family of God. We become the sons and daughters of God once again, through adoption through the covenant.
. . . And even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.
I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
Therefore, with the redemption of Christ, we are bringing to an end that which had begun a long time before. How long before? In whose days? In the days of Adam. Adam learned about the offering of sacrifices, and now we are bringing, four thousand years later, an end to an important ritual and religious ordinance. We're not going to lose the principle, though: "And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20).
Let's talk about that for a second. The call to a higher righteousness is a call to put away the ordinance of sacrifice for now, but at the same time to put on the principle of sacrifice. It is to gain a broken heart. Why would you ever want to have a broken heart? Most of us who have had broken hearts haven't liked it. Why should we have a broken heart or a contrite spirit? What comes to mind?
Student answer: Before a horse can be ridden and used in the service of man, it must be "broken." And then it is able to be led by the person riding it. We have to know who our Master is. If the Lord is the one guiding us, then we are to be broken and can be guided by him.
Good. So our being broken is the Lord's way of preparing us to receive. It is an interesting thing. As we realize our nothingness without the Lord, and as we realize his greatness, we are more open to be taught, to be trained, to be fashioned. Contrite is a word that implies "crushed spirit." That sounds brutal, but it means that if I occasionally have a heart that can't be molded, it has to be broken. That is so that I can be submissive.
Verse 20 continues: ". . . And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not." What an interesting phrase that is, referring, presumably, to what took place in Helaman 5, where Nephi and Lehi are ministering and a tremendous conversion takes place. But look at this language: they are converted, they are "baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not." As President Benson taught, most of us are born again, changed, and converted, by process and by degree, a little bit at a time. Here a bit, there a bit. Most of the change that comes to us is slow, even imperceptible.4 And verse 21 says: "Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin." And so, the first invitation to a higher righteousness is to gain a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Let's go back to 3 Nephi 12 and begin discussing the sermon. Do you notice right away that as we dive into the chapter, we are introduced to what I suppose could be called two additional Beatitudes? Does anybody know what the word beatitude refers to? It is related to the word beatific, "the glorious," or "the blessed." This is the series of "the blesseds," beginning, "Happy is the man [or woman] who . . ." In the Nephite record, we find two additional Beatitudes, if you will. Let's read 3 Nephi 12:1 and 2 and see if we can pick up on these additional Beatitudes:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
Notice the detail that is there. That is important detail. I am touched by the fact that one of the very first things he says to them is, essentially, "Blessed are those who give heed to the words of the Twelve whom I have chosen." What an interesting way to begin. It seems to me that acceptance of the Lord's servants, eagerness, and willingness to hear their words and abide their counsel really does underlie much of what matters in this life.
It has occurred to me that perhaps there are two sources of spiritual power in our lives. One, the obvious one, is righteousness. The more faithful we are, the more we open ourselves to spiritual power. The more we study scripture, the more we keep the commandments, the more we serve. The second source of spiritual power is not so obvious. It is the idea that loyalty to the Lord's anointed opens us to a spiritual power that we could not have otherwise.
When you read, in the 21st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the blessings and benefits that flow to the members who give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, it is sobering. It says, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against [them] . . . the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before [them]" (D&C 21:6). That is pretty strong language. So it is meaningful to me that the Savior would begin with the idea of giving heed to the Twelve. It would never make any sense to say, "I will accept what Jesus says, but I'm just not going to listen to Peter, James, and John." In our day it would make little sense to say, "Well, I don't care much for the First Presidency. I am just getting close to Jesus on my own." That is absolutely impossible. One cannot reject the mantle of authority worn by the Lord's servants and expect to know the Master. It just doesn't work. So, that is one thing we learn in this sermon.
What comes up in the second verse? Here we see that there are ordinances associated with the full realization of what follows—that is to say, though the Beatitudes, or the blessed state enjoyed by people, can, to some degree, be experienced by everyone, they have a special meaning for those of the household of faith. These things, many of them gifts of the Spirit, can only be had in their full measure by those who have been changed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. So, that second verse implies the importance of ordinances. You have a Christian world, for example, that says being born again consists in receiving the sacraments of the church. You have a segment of the Christian world that says being born again consists in having a personal spiritual experience. Joseph Smith comes on the scene and says that being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances; they are both necessary.
Beginning in verse 3, we pick up with the traditional Beatitudes, the blessedness: "Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit [of course, what is added?] who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." It isn't just enough to be bankrupt in soul, to be bankrupt in spirit, and to acknowledge one's bankruptcy, as it were; it has to be an acknowledgment before the greatness of something else. The message is very clear. It isn't enough just to be humble. To be humble is to acknowledge. It was once said of President Harold B. Lee that his greatness consisted in the fact that he knew that he walked in the shadow of the Almighty. Verses 4 and 5 say: "And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Generally, I think when you mention meekness, people automatically think of humility. They are certainly related, but I don't think Christ would give us the same virtue twice. Meekness is one of the most misunderstood virtues, I suppose. In our day, which is a macho world, we are prone to talk in terms of avoiding meekness. We talk about people who are meek as being "milk toast," as having no spine. That is not what the Lord intended. Meekness has to do with emotional control. Meekness has to do with being in charge of one's emotions, acting with poise under provocation.
In one of my favorite statements on this subject of meekness, President Howard W. Hunter says:
And what of the meek? In a world too preoccupied with winning through intimidation and seeking to be number one, no large crowd is standing in line to buy books that call for mere meekness. But the meek shall inherit the earth, a pretty impressive corporate takeover—and done without intimidation! Sooner or later, and we pray sooner rather than later, everyone will acknowledge that Christ's way is not only the right way, but ultimately the only way to hope and joy. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that gentleness is better than brutality, that kindness is greater than coercion, that the soft voice turneth away wrath. In the end, and sooner than that whenever possible, we must be more like him.5
That is a great statement—"a pretty impressive corporate takeover."
Verse 6 reads, "And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." Can you see the relationship of this concept of hungering and thirsting after righteousness to the Lord's call for us, in Doctrine and Covenants 59:14, to continue in fasting and prayer? Well, you say, fasting is doing without food and water. Yes, and fasting is also hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Verses 7 and 8: "And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God." What comes to mind there is the concept of who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord and who shall stand in his holy place, and that is, "he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart" (Psalms 24:4).
Next, verse 9: "And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Peacemakers. On first blush we think of those who get along with others, those who settle disputes, and that is certainly someone the Lord had in mind. But think also, in a broader way, of how Abinadi defined peacemakers. Go back with me to Mosiah 15:13: "Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed." This is Abinadi talking about Isaiah 53, as we know. "Who were the seed of Christ" is the answer to the question. Go on to verses 14—18:
And these are they that have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace! [So, one description of a peacemaker is one who is declaring peace. He goes on:]
And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!
And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people, yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people.
In other words, the Prince of Peace is Christ himself.
Let's go back to 3 Nephi 12. We can't cover everything, but let's just look at a few things that are here. Look at verse 13: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men." Why would the Lord use salt as an illustration? What property does salt have that the Lord would want to use it to have people be like salt?
Student answer: Salt, until this last century, was used as a preservative.
Yes, as a preservative. So, how is it that he wants people to be preservatives? How are the Saints to be preservatives?
Student answer: Well, men have a tendency to become corrupt. That's human nature. Preservatives can help the race be preserved.
All right. We help preserve the human race. Do you notice how many times in the Book of Mormon the Lord will say something like, "Were it not for the righteous element that is among you, I would destroy this city"? So, the righteous are as a preservative. What else is salt? Well, interestingly, this is not something to really ponder, but it is a purgative. It purges the system of that which is unclean. Salt is also a spice or a flavor. Think about this. It is that which brings out the best in other things; it is a flavor enhancer.
Think about this. In Doctrine and Covenants 101:39—40, we are told that the Savior's commission to us to become the salt of the earth has to do with our acceptance of the covenant gospel. Those who accept that gospel and come into it by covenant are expected to make a difference. That is the whole idea. We are expected to spice up the earth, to flavor the earth, to preserve the earth, to purge the earth. The earth should be better because we are in it. I remember Brother Carlos Asay, at the April 1980 general conference, saying to the brethren in the priesthood session: "Salt will not lose its flavor with age. Savor is lost through mixture and contamination.''6 That is a great message.
Move to the next verse, 3 Nephi 12:14: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." A few years ago I wrote this passage, which kind of reflects my feelings on what it means to be a light unto the world:
In a world which is too often shrouded in uncertainty and doubt, the Light of Life bids us to let out light shine, to stand as beacons in the storms of the night, and to certify our discipleship by preachment and practice. Discipleship entails example. Discipleship involves standing out from the generality of mankind and standing up for what is true and right and good. We come to make a difference only when we are different, and that difference must be substantive enough to be witnessed and then acknowledged by others.7
In connection with this idea, President Harold B. Lee once warned that "any Latter-day Saint in Church circles, in military service, in social life, or in the business community is looked upon not just as an individual, but as the visible Church today. Someone has said, â€˜Be careful of how you act, because you may be the only Standard Church Works some people may ever read.'"8
In a world in which values and direction are set by consensus, the Savior bids his disciples to cleanse the inner vessel within themselves, work in harmony with others of the household of faith, and seek to build up and establish the cause of Zion. Zion, the society of the pure in heart, is a city of light. It stands in marked contrast to Babylon, the abode of darkness, the gathering place of the worldly and the wayward. Babylon is the city of man; Zion, the city of God. Zion is the receptacle of virtue; Babylon, the embodiment of vice. Babylon judges according to ephemeral whims and current trends; Zion, according to the rock of revealed religion. Zion thus becomes the banner, the ensign to which the honest in heart rally when they have become weary of the shifting sands of secularity.9
In verse 17, the Savior makes reference to coming not to destroy the law of the prophets but to fulfill the law. Let me just ask a question. You hear all the time that the Savior "fulfilled the law." What does that mean? Does he do away with things? Well, some things are done away with; we have just read about animal sacrifice being done away. But does he do away with the commandment not to murder, not to commit adultery, and so forth? No. What does he do? If the law, as Amulek says in Alma 34, is the prophecy of Christ and his atonement, then Jesus fulfills the law in the sense that he fulfills the prophecy. Another way of saying it, and I like this statement from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is:
Now Jesus came to restore that gospel fulness which men had enjoyed before the day of Moses, before the time of the lesser order. Obviously he did not come to destroy what he himself had revealed to Moses anymore than a college professor destroys arithmetic by revealing the principles of integral calculus to his students. Jesus came to build on the foundation Moses laid. By restoring the fulness of the gospel he fulfilled the need for adherence to the terms and conditions of the preparatory gospel. No one any longer needed to walk by the light of the moon, for the sun had risen in all its splendor.10
Now, as we look ahead in the rest of this chapter, notice the call to a higher righteousness. It deals with such matters as killing and murder. If that were the original call, what is the call now? Avoid anger. If not committing adultery was the original commandment, what is the call now? It is a call to avoid lust and lustful thoughts. If problems with divorce are the issue, what is the call now? To see to the sanctity of marriage. If the problem were the breaking of oaths, what is the call now? To swear no oaths. (I once had a missionary companion who I think misunderstood this one. He would often, when he stubbed his toe or had someone slam a door on his fingers, say, "Yea, yea, nay, nay!" I never understood what he was doing. He would always say, "Yea, yea, nay, nay!" whenever anything would go wrong. I finally said, "Elder, what is it you are doing?" And he said, "The scriptures say swear not at all, but say, â€˜Yea, yea, nay, nay.'" Well, it is best not to cuss, best not to profane, but I don't think that is what the Lord is talking about.) If, originally, people had somehow been taught that it is well and important and you're commanded to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, now what is the call? Love your enemies.
In verse 48 we come to the highest commission of all: "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect," he now being perfected. Well, this is the beginning of the Savior's commission, or command, for us to come to a higher level, to stand on higher ground. We are not destroying or speaking unkindly of the law. It served an important function. Jesus now calls us to stand on that law and move to a higher level of righteousness. The law of witnesses, the call to a higher righteousness, is the introduction to the message of the Savior. That it is true and that the Book of Mormon bears witness of those eternal truths is my witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 131—2.
2. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 4:538.
3. Paul R. Cheesman, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1988), 23—4.
4. See Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 72.
5. Howard W. Hunter, That We Might Have Joy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 9—10.
6. Carlos E. Asay, "Salt of the Earth: Savor of Men and Saviors of Men," Ensign (May 1980): 42.
7. Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 47.
8. Ibid., 48.
10. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 1:219—20.