Sunday, November 29, 2009

How Wicked Were the Jews that Demanded Christ’s Crucifixion?

I’m certain I am not the only one who has contemplated the depth of hatred and wickedness that consumed the souls of the Jewish leaders who demanded that the Romans crucify Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible and secular accounts, such as Josephus, teach us that several chief members of the Sadducees and Pharisees witnessed many miraculous events at the hand of Jesus on numerous occasions. Blind men received their sight, people were raised from the dead, the lame walked, the leprous were cleansed, and the maimed healed - all in the presence of these leaders. It always baffled me how the Jewish leaders could witness such marvelous works, and yet harbor such hatred against the Savior.

From the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that the Lord has created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33). “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations” (Moses 7:30). And yet, of this Earth the Lord exclaimed to Enoch: “[A]mong all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren” (Moses 7:36) (emphasis added). In other words, our Earth has known greater wickedness than can be found among any of the billions of God’s creations; sadly, our Earth stands preeminent in wickedness, especially the people of Enoch’s day.

So, do the Jewish leaders in Christ’s day outrank those individuals in Enoch’s day on the ole’ wickedness meter? Yes, in fact they do.

Jacob, Nephi’s brother, teaches that “it must needs be expedient that Christ…should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God” (2 Nephi 10:3) (emphasis added). Think of the enormity of this statement! It is a sad distinction to be identified as the most wicked of nations on an Earth that had been identified as the most wicked of all God’s creations.

Could that wickedness ever be replicated today?

Of the persecutors of the Latter-day Church, Joseph Smith commented that “[t]his generation is as corrupt as the generation of the Jews that crucified Christ; and if He were here to-day, and should preach the same doctrine He did then, they would put Him to death” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 328). Thus, there seems to be a common link between the detractors in Christ’s day to those of the Prophet’s day.

Have you ever wondered how you would have reacted to Christ’s message if you were living at the time? What of the words and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith? Both these men taught seemingly strange doctrines that could only make sense with the eye of faith. I often wonder if I would have been one to discount their message as outlandish and peculiar.

I take heart in this statement by Bruce R. McConkie:

If you believe the words of Joseph Smith, you would have believed what Jesus and the ancients said. If you reject Joseph Smith and his message, you would have rejected Peter and Paul and their message. If you accept the prophets whom the Lord sends in your day, you also accept that Lord who sent them. If you reject the restored gospel and find fault with the plan of salvation taught by those whom God hath sent in these last days, you would have rejected those same teachings as they fell from the lips of the prophets and Apostles of old” (Conference Report, October 1981, p.69) (emphasis added).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Don’t Remember Reading That Before…

I recently began a new study of the Book of Mormon. It always amazes how many new and interesting things jump out at me each time I read that book. I guess it all ties into one’s personal spiritual progress; and if that’s the case, let’s hope we find new and interesting things each time we read the Book of Mormon.

The following two scriptures jumped out at me so far this time into my study, and I thought I would share:

1st Scripture

Prepare your souls for that glorious day when justice shall be administered unto the righteous, even the day of judgment, that ye may not shrink with awful fear” (2 Ne. 9:46) (emphasis added).

When we think of God’s justice being meted out, we typically stress the negative, in that God will eventually punish the wicked and ungodly. Of this there can be no doubt. But I don’t ever remember reading that God’s justice would be also administered to the righteous. We normally think of God’s mercy being extended to the righteous, but not his justice. How will this justice be extended to the righteous? Will the wrongs committed against the righteous be made right at this time? How will this occur?

As a side note, notice how Alma personifies “justice” and “mercy” in the following verse:

For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (Alma 42:24).

Isn’t it interesting that the personal pronoun for justice is masculine, and the personal pronoun for mercy is feminine? Children typically think of the father as meting out punishment, whereas the mother generally provided the loving comfort of mercy. On occasion, I recall my mother warning me with, “you just wait until your father gets home.” This personification is also consistent with Paul’s characterization of charity as a feminine trait in 1 Corinthians 13:5.

2nd Scripture

Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin” (2 Ne. 9:48) (emphasis added).

When God’s people are holy, the Lord is willing and pleased to speak of holy and sacred matters. When they are sinful, however, he speaks of the awfulness of sin and the necessity of repentance.

This makes me wonder where the Church stands as a people today. If there were a spiritual barometer measuring from 1-10, where 1 is unholy and 10 is holy, where does the Church stand today? Are we hearing the same things over and over again because we are sinful and aren’t getting it, or is it because we are a global Church now, and the more sacred things should not be revealed over the pulpit but instead through personal study?

When I read some of the General Conference addresses from the 1800’s, and even some in the early 1900’s, I am impressed at how much our leaders felt at liberty to divulge to the Saints. There is obviously the argument that our current leaders do teach sacred doctrines, but only “those with ears may hear” and understand. But honestly, there is a stark contrast between the tone and content of the talks from a century ago (and even a few decades ago with the McConkie era) and what we hear every six months today.

We can only imagine what profound topics would be discussed if we were only more prepared.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Shield and a Protection

Soon after I had received my endowment in preparation for my mission I recall seeing a 60 Minutes report (April 1996) on the Church that featured a few famous Mormons. One Mormon guest was Bill Marriott, the owner of the Marriott hotel chain. On the topic of temples and the garment received by the faithful LDS within the temple, Marriott explained to Mike Wallace that the garment offered its wearer physical protection. As an example, Marriott proceeded to relate a fantastic story of how, when he was in a fiery boating accident, his garment protected him from being burned.

During my mission I heard several other tall tales of missionaries surviving knife thrusts, machete blows, and even gun shots where the garment was not penetrated. Anyone that has served a mission is likely to have heard a variation of at least one of these stories. The stories are fantastic, but is there any truth to them? When a person receives the garment, the promise is given that as long as that person is faithful, the garment will serve as "a shield and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer until you have finished your work here on earth." But does the protection extend to physical maladies? Could the cotton-poly mesh really stop a .38 caliber bullet? Maybe just the 100% polyester blend...

It is well-documented that when Joseph Smith went to Carthage jail he not only went “as a lamb to the slaughter,” but he also went without the protection of the temple garment. Before leaving Nauvoo for Carthage, Joseph instructed those that were to accompany him that they should remove the garment prior to leaving, possibly to avoid potential ridicule and mockery of the garment if it were to fall into the hands of an enemy. Accordingly, John Taylor and Hyrum Smith removed their garment. Willard Richards, however, refused to do so.

Interestingly enough, it was the three that had removed their “shield and protection” that were eventually either killed or injured during the ensuing melee, thus giving rise to the idea that one’s garment could serve as a bona fide physical protection. “[Heber C. Kimball] Spoke of Elder Richards being protected at Carthage Jail -- having on the robe, while Joseph & Hyrum, and Elder Taylor were shot to pieces” (Heber C. Kimball's diary for 21 Dec. 1845 kept by William Clayton as cited in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, p. 117).

Through modern-day mission stories, this theory is alive and well. In fact, I recall one Ecuadorian companion of mine declare that he was not worried about physical harm during his mission since he had complete faith that the garment would wholly protect him. This theory, however, is not entirely correct.

In a First Presidency Letter dated October 10, 1988, members of the Church were counseled as follows:

Church members who have been clothed with the garment in the temple have made a covenant to wear it throughout their lives. This has been interpreted to mean that it is worn as underclothing both day and night. This sacred covenant is between the member and the Lord. . . . The promise of protection and blessings is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness in keeping the covenant.
. . .
Endowed members of the Church wear the garment as a reminder of the sacred covenants they have made with the Lord and also as a protection against temptation and evil. How it is worn is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.

Thus, modern-day Church leaders have clarified that the garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil" that is "conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness," instead of it being some type of bullet-proof vest. On a side note, the last sentence of the previous quote, once correctly understood, should completely trasnform how the wearer of the temple garment treats the "shield and protection."

A similar principal applies to the promise given to the Apostles that “[t]hey shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” (Mark 16:18). The Lord’s disciples cannot be justified in testing the Lord’s promise of protection by seeking out these dangers. “[W]hen a man designedly provokes a serpent to bite him, the principle is the same as when a man drinks deadly poison knowing it to be such. In that case no man has any claim on the promises of God to be healed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 72).

[NOTE 1: For further information on Joseph Smith removing the garment prior to the martyrdom, see Did Joseph and Others with him Remove their Garments in Order to Avoid Being Identified as Polygamists?, found at the FAIR Wiki.]

[NOTE 2: For a great article on proper garment usage, see The Temple Garment: An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment, by Elder Carlos E. Asay, Ensign, August 1997]